Monthly Motif Challenge

REVIEW: I’m Travelling Alone by Samuel Bjork

When the body of a young girl is discovered hanging from a tree, the only clue the police have is an airline tag around her neck. It reads “I’m travelling alone”. In response, seasoned investigator Holger Munch is charged with assembling a special homicide unit. That means tracking down his former partner – Mia Krüger – a brilliant but troubled detective who’s plans are to die. Reviewing the file, Mia finds something new – a thin line carved into the dead girl’s finger nail; the number 1. This is just the beginning. To save the other children Mia must push aside her own demons and see the bigger picture before the murderer becomes a serial killer.

I’m Travelling Alone is told from multiple perspectives meaning that the action never really lets up and while you may have more information than the detectives, that doesn’t mean you can see how everything’s connected straight away. There’s subplots that on the surface don’t look to be related to the main case but slowly the people become connected and the way everything is interwoven together is very natural.

The chapters are very short, often less than 10 pages, and they nearly all end on a mini cliff-hanger which makes this over 500 pages story a quick read. I’m Travelling Alone is often tense and it definitely has some unexpected twists and turns as the case develops and it becomes clear that there’s something seriously disturbing about the killer.

Mia and Holger are very different people but the way they work together is great. There’s the mentor-mentee relationship but Mia is so good at seeing patterns and the connections between things that she’s often smarter than Holger. That doesn’t mean Holger’s an idiot though, they each bring something to the partnership and the scenes when they bounce ideas off each other are enthralling. The whole team is great and it’s clear why they have been brought in on this case and they all bring a unique perspective to the team.

I’m Travelling Alone does end somewhat suddenly. Everything’s been building and building, and then it doesn’t really have the closure that I was expecting. Besides from that, it is an enjoyable and engrossing detective story. 4/5.

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REVIEW: Goldfinger by Ian Fleming

After the Secret Service is informed that the Bank of England’s gold is being stolen, 007 James Bond is put on the case to track down the mysterious Auric Goldfinger and find out how he’s been accumulating so much gold. But as Bond delves deeper, he discovers Goldfinger’s dangerous connections and that he has much bigger plans when it comes to gold.

While I have watched the film version of Goldfinger a number of years ago, enough time had past that I didn’t remember much of the plot, and even if I had the book was it’s own unique thing compared to the film adaptation.

After having the physical book on my shelves for years, I listened to the audiobook narrated by Hugh Bonneville who did a great job. Goldfinger is a fast-paced story and Bonneville did a great job at getting inside Bond’s head. The action sequences were exciting but the slower, spy stuff was just as compelling.

I love the character of James Bond in this story. He’s a mess, and an argument could be made for him being depressed when we’re first introduced to him in the opening chapters. He’s sick of his job, the travelling and the killing and he’s so very tired of it all. The thing I loved about Bond is that while he is a good spy, he is human and makes mistakes. Also, when times are tough and he’s in real mortal peril, his inner-monologue is emotional and reflective. James Bond also has a sarcastic sense of humour which I loved and there’s so many times he uses either wit or sheer luck to get by. For instance, at one point he blames a cat for something in the hopes that Goldfinger doesn’t figure him out.

Goldfinger and his trusted bodyguard Odd Job are both intimidating foes in different ways. Goldfinger is very smart while Odd Job is deadly. The language used to describe Odd Job and the other Korean workers Goldfinger employs is definitely racist and can be sometimes uncomfortable to listen to. I guess that’s the sign of the time it was written in.

The same it can be said of the way women are presented. Pussy Galore is a lesbian and the book states this multiple times. However, by the end it’s alluded to that she was only a lesbian because she hadn’t met a real man like James Bond yet. It’s eye-rolling stuff. That being said, while Bond is a self-confessed womaniser, there are moments, especially at the start of the novel, where it does show he can and does respect women. There may be some rather outdated views of them, but on the whole there’s less than one might expect from a James Bond story when all you’ve seen previously are the film adaptations.

I enjoyed Goldfinger far more than I was expecting to, to be honest. It’s a fast-paced thriller and Bond is much more interesting, funny and layered character compared to the almost archetype that’s seen in the various film adaptations. 4/5.

If you’re interested, as a part of my Bondathon three years ago I watched and reviewed the film adaptation of Goldfinger, along with every other Bond film. You can read that review here.

REVIEW: Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman by E.W. Hornung

A collection of short stories about A.J. Raffles, a cricketeer and gentleman thief, who doesn’t need to commit burglaries and steal money and jewels, but enjoys the rush of it, and his former schoolmate Harry “Bunny” Masters who he ropes into being his accomplice.

Written in the 1890’s, these stories are set in Victorian London and they’re a lot of fun. Raffles is a charming, loveable rogue, he likes to gamble and take risks. He’s a very cunning guy who can read people and is usually one step ahead of everyone else – especially, Bunny.

Bunny is the one downside to these stories. They’re told from his point of view I found him a bit wet as he kept flip flopping between enjoying his escapades with Raffles and then getting a conscience and panicking about what he’s involved with. Bunny is also not particularly trusting of Raffles when it comes to the crimes they’re planning to commit together. Part of that is because of a lack of communication between the two, Raffles rarely tells Bunny all his plans so Bunny then acts in a way that may put them both in danger, so you can see where Bunny’s frustrating is coming from.

Possibly because of the Victorian setting and how Raffles know London like the back of his hand, this collection reminded me of Sherlock Holmes – especially the films featuring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. There’s also the dynamics between the two main characters, there’s some similarities between how Holmes and Watson act and how Raffles and Bunny act, however Raffles definitely talks down to Bunny more than Holmes does with Watson.

All the stories are no more than 25 pages long so they’re fast-paced and get to the crimes themselves very quickly. The crimes are often clever and don’t go the way you’d expect. Naturally there’s some stories I enjoyed more than others and it took me some time to get used to the Victorian vernacular, but they were all engaging reads and I loved the adventurous and often over-the-top vibe these stories had. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Japan: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

The edition I listened to was translated by Phillip Gabriel.

Tsukuru Tazaki had four best friends at school, they were a solid group of people, three boys and two girls. By chance all their names, bar Tsukuru’s, contained a colour. One day Tsukuru Tazaki’s friends announced they didn’t want to see or speak to him ever again – giving Tsukuru no explanation. For years Tsukuru floundered without the support of his friends, unable to make meaningful connections with anyone else. But then he meets Sara, who tells him its time for him to find out what happened sixteen years ago that made his friends shut him out.

This is a book that’s been sitting on my shelves for years but after borrowing the audiobook (narrated by Michael Fenton Stevens) from my library, I’ve finally read it – audiobooks are a gift and I didn’t figure that out till 2018.

I found there to be a distance between Tsukuru and myself as the reader, I couldn’t connect to him and I didn’t really like him much either, and there’s a few possible reasons for this. Firstly, I feel the narrator might have been a factor, I wasn’t too keen on how his narration was quite monotone, so I’d sometimes find myself not really listening to what he was saying. I think the way it’s written as well was very matter-of-fact and there’s little room for emotion. And thirdly, I think maybe you’re supposed to feel that way about Tsukuru. The major point of his story is that he can’t form intimate connections with people and maybe that extends to the reader as well.

I’ve never noticed this in any book previously, so that’s either because I don’t tend to read adult fiction written by a man, or I was just unaware until social media pointed it out, but the way women’s bodies are described is just eyeroll-inducing. The way a woman’s neck, breasts and legs were described was just over the top and almost creepy at times, which was probably another reason I couldn’t take to Tsukuru. He seemed very much like the typical “nice guy” that wasn’t so much a nice guy.

The mystery of why Tsukuru’s friends shut him out and never attempted to reach out to him over the years is a sad one, though while Tsukuru gets an answer, it’s not a fully satisfying one. it is interesting to revisit his old friends, seeing how they and he have changed over the years, and how some friendships can survive the test of time and conflicts while others cannot.

Tsukuru builds railway stations and enjoys learning everything about them. The scenes where he’s sat in a station, people watching, were very enjoyable as not only are you given the facts and figures of Japanese railway stations and the people who pass through them, it feels like a snapshot at every day life for the average Japanese commuter.

This was the first book by Haruki Murakami I’ve read, but if Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage is an indication of Murakami’s writing style and the type of characters his stories are about, I doubt I will be reading any more of his work. 1/5.

REVIEW: Zorro by Isabel Allende

A child of two worlds – the son of an aristocratic Spanish gentleman and a Shoshone warrior woman – young Diego de la Vega cannot bear to see the brutal injustices the helpless face in late-eighteenth-century California. And so, a hero – skilled in swordplay and acrobatics and with a persona formed from the Old World and the New – the legend known as Zorro is born.

My knowledge of the character Zorro solely comes from the films starring Antonio Banderas, especially The Mask of Zorro (1998) so this was a nice insight into the potential origin story of the masked vigilante. In the original stories, Zorro was already a hero for the downtrodden, so this book is more about the boy who would become Zorro.

I really enjoyed the historical setting of this book. It spans from 1790-1815 and takes place in both California and Barcelona. I knew little about the history and politics of late-eighteenth/early-nineteenth century California and Spain, especially how the California was a Spanish territory and what happened to the Native American who lived there. The book is rich in the historical details without it ever really taking away from Diego’s story.

I enjoyed Zorro more as it progressed because you first see how Diego’s parents meet and I wasn’t too interested in that, but once Diego is born and you start to follow his adventures and how he slowly begins to learn about the good and evil in the world it became more interesting to me. Diego’s relationship with Bernardo, a boy who is more like his brother than a friend, is great because they have an almost telepathic connection. How their friendship develops over time is wonderful because Bernardo acts as a foil for Diego’s exuberance and his schemes probably wouldn’t be a success without Bernardo’s input.

The action, when it happens, is exciting and the sword fights are thrilling. Zorro is a mixture of a lot of different genres, family drama, romance, and action and adventure. The story is of Diego’s first twenty years and he fits a lot into them and it’s interesting to see that as he evolves, he is becoming the hero we’ve heard of before.

Zorro is a well-written story about an adventurous young man who is a purveyor of justice, destined to become a legend. It’s always fascinating to read an origin story of an almost mythic character and Isabel Allende does a brilliant job with this one. 4/5.

READ THE WORLD – Senegal: So Long a Letter by Mariama Bâ

Recently widowed Ramatoulaye, writes letters to her childhood friend Aissatou chronicling her life and her struggle for survival after her husband Modou decided to take a second, much younger wife.

So Long a Letter is a very short book. At 95 pages it’s a reasonably quick read, once you’ve learnt who’s who in Ramatoulaye’s life. She has a dozen children, and then there’s the friends and family of her husband’s second wife as well, there’s a lot of characters for such a short book.

So Long a Letter is all about women, their relationships and their struggles with living in a social environment where the attitudes and values that dominate, deny them little independence. What I thought was clever was that it would’ve been very easy for Ramatoulaye to hate her husband’s second wife, but instead she almost pities her and leaves the hatred and bittiness towards her husband. That’s not saying Ramatoulaye is best friends with the woman, she doesn’t like her but she can see that she’s just as much a victim of circumstance as Ramatoulaye is herself.

Ramatoulaye’s relationships with her daughters is lovely. She makes mistakes as a mother but she doesn’t try and shield them from the world and there’s some great moments between her and her daughter Daba. Daba is forceful and forward-thinking, and it was interesting to see her grow and get in a relationship of her own.

So Long a Letter was a bit weird to start with as while Ramatoulaye was chronicling her own life story in these letters, it involved “telling” Aissatou so of the events that happened in her own life. Obviously, it was so us as readers could get a better understanding of these two women and their history, but it felt weird that someone was recounting someone else’s major life events back to them.

So Long a Letter was like a quick snapshot into the lives of women in Western African society in the late 1970’s. It was nice being a part of Ramatoulaye’s life for a while, see both her struggles and her strength, but it wasn’t really an engaging or memorable book.

Books of 2018

Here are all the books I’ve read this year. This year, to make things interesting, I’ve signed up for a few challenges; these are Beat the Backlist, A to Z Reading and Monthly Motifs and you can find out more about the challenges here. I will also continue to make my way through my Read the World Challenge this year and once again I’ve set my goal to read 50 books and to review at least half of what I read. You can find out more about what I’m reading on my Twitter or Goodreads.

Without further ado, here’s what I’m reading in 2018! Any titles with asterisks are rereads and if it has a link that goes to my review.

January:
Artemis – Andy Weir
City of Clowns – Daniel Alarcón and Sheila Alvarado
So Long a Letter – Mariama Bâ
Gould’s Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish – Richard Flanagan
A Certain Woman – Hala El Badry
Flame in the Mist – Renée Ahdieh

February:
And the Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini
Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan
Zorro – Isabel Allende
Heidi – Johanna Spyri

March:
All Day at the Movies – Fiona Kidman
– The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness
Reading the Ceiling – Dayo Forster
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami
The Hotel Tito – Ivana Bodrožić
– Animal Farm – George Orwell
– The Life and Loves of a He Devil – Graham Norton

April:
The Devils’ Dance – Hamid Ismailov
Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman – E.W. Hornung
– The Ask and the Answer – Patrick Ness
The Nowhere Girls – Amy Reed
Boy: Tales of Childhood – Roald Dahl
– Monsters of Men – Patrick Ness

May:
Othello – William Shakespeare
Queens of Geek – Jen Wilde
One Day I will Write About This Place – Binyavanga Wainaina
Goldfinger – Ian Fleming
Love, Hate and Other Filters – Samira Ahmed

June:
Bleak House – Charles Dickens
I’m Travelling Alone – Samuel Bjork
– The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson
– The City of Brass – S.A. Chakraborty
Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash – Eka Kurniawan
Who Runs the World? – Virginia Bergin
– A Thousand Perfect Notes – C.G. Drews
– Nyxia – Scott Reintgen
Kartography – Kamila Shamsie
– I Stop Somewhere – T.E. Carter
– Light Years – Kass Morgan

July:
– DeNiro’s Game – Rawi Hage

Currently reading:
– Smaller and Smaller Circles – F.H. Batacan

Books Read: 40/52
Books Reviewed: 28/26

Book titles in italics are just suggestions for now as to what I might read for the challenge – it’s not set it stone.
The A to Z Reading Challenge is to read a book beginning with each letter of the alphabet during the year.
A – Artemis – Andy Weir
B – Boy: Tales of Childhood – Roald Dahl
C – City of Clowns – Daniel Alarcón and Sheila Alvarado
D – The Devils’ Dance – Hamid Ismailov
E – Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
F – Flame in the Mist – Renée Ahdieh
G – Gould’s Book of Fish: A Novel in Twelve Fish – Richard Flanagan
H – The Hotel Tito – Ivana Bodrožić
I – I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith
J – ???
K – Kartography – Kamila Shamsie
L – Love, Hate and Other Filters – Samira Ahmed
M – The Murders in the Rue Morgue – Edgar Allan Poe
N – The Nowhere Girls – Amy Reed
O – Othello – William Shakespeare
P – The Power – Naomi Alderman
Q – Queens of Geek – Jen Wilde
R – Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman – E.W. Hornung
S – Secret Son – Laila Lalami
T – The Time in Between – Nancy Tucker
U – Uprooted – Naomi Novak
V – Vengeance is Mine, All Others Pay Cash – Eka Kurniawan
W – Who Runs the World? – Virginia Bergin
X – ???
Y – ???
Z – Zorro – Isabel Allende

Book titles in italics are just suggestions for now as to what I might read for the challenge – it’s not set it stone.
The Monthly Motif Challenge is to read a book that fits a set theme each month of 2018.

JANUARY – Diversify Your Reading
Read a book with a character (or written by an author) of a race, religion, or sexual orientation other than your own.
So Long a Letter – Mariama Bâ

FEBRUARY – One Word
Read a book with a one-word title.
Zorro – Isabel Allende

MARCH – Travel the World
Read a book set in a different country than your own, written by an author from another country than your own, or a book in which the characters travel.
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami

APRIL – Read Locally
Read a book set in, or a main character from, your country, state, town, village
Raffles: The Amateur Cracksman – E.W. Hornung

MAY – Book to Screen
Read a book that’s been made into a movie or a TV show.
Goldfinger – Ian Fleming

JUNE – Crack the Case
Mysteries, True Crime, Who Dunnit’s.
I’m Travelling Alone – Samuel Bjork

JULY – Vacation Reads
Read a book you think is a perfect vacation read and tell us why.
???

AUGUST – Award Winners
Read a book that has won a literary award, or a book written by an author who has been recognized in the bookish community.
???

SEPTEMBER – Don’t Turn Out The Light
Cozy mystery ghost stories, paranormal creeptastic, horror novels.
???

OCTOBER – New or Old
Choose a new release from 2018 or a book known as a classic.
Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut

NOVEMBER – Family
Books where family dynamics play a big role in the story
???

DECEMBER – Wrapping It Up
Winter or holiday themed books or books with snow, ice, etc in the title or books set in winter OR read a book with a theme from any of the months in this challenge
???