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Lately I’ve been feeling pretty guilty about slacking off in my college literature courses, so I’ve been going through my bookshelf to find things I was supposed to read but never did. In a dusty corner, I found both The Laughing Policeman and Never Look Back, which I’ll be reading for my 2015 challenge. I guess that I did read part of this book, because I found a bookmark about a quarter of the way in, but I remembered literally nothing of the plot when I restarted it a couple days ago.

The setting of The Laughing Policeman is 1960’s Stockholm, and an unknown gunman has just rocked the country with its first mass murder. Nine citizens are dead, including an off-duty police officer, and not a shred of evidence was left at the crime scene. The media is in a frenzy, the general public is panicking, and the police are stumped. It’s not long before the killer is dubbed a madman, but police superintendent Martin Beck doesn’t believe that fits with the careful and precise nature of the crime.

When it comes to Swedish novels, this is neither the best nor the worst that I’ve read this year. In fact, The Laughing Policeman is in a different sort of category than most of the mysteries I’ve read this year. It’s very psychological, taking place in a time before computers, electronic databases, cell phones, and really any kind of advanced technology. Beck and his fellow detectives rely almost solely on their intuition and brainpower to solve this puzzle.

While The Laughing Policeman is overall a fine story, I did take issue with a few things.

For one, there are way too many detectives. I couldn’t keep them all straight! We have Beck, of course, who is easy enough to differentiate from the rest. But then we also have Larsson, Kollberg, and a whole host of others whose names I don’t even remember. There are far too many suspects, as well. I think at one point the detectives narrow it down to something like nineteen? And, of course, we’re given all their life stories, which seems excessive in a book this short.

I found the treatment of women a little problematic, especially given that this book was written by a husband and wife duo. I understand that it was written in the 1960’s, so I can’t expect modern attitudes, but I can’t think of a single female character who was described in a positive light. Most of the wives constantly complain and nag their husbands. The unmarried women are overwhelmingly described as promiscuous. Even when the women are greatly aiding in the investigation, it seems that they’re looked down upon by the men.

I actually had to look up whether Sweden had a prohibition or temperance movement in the late 1960’s because I think every character who’s meant to be a bad person is an excessive drinker. The only thing I found relates to alcohol rations, so I can’t see where this attitude comes from. The detectives actually ask things like “Well, was he a drinker?” or reference that a character was a teetotaler and therefore obviously not involved in any criminal activity. I personally am not a big drinker, but this particular use of alcohol stood out to me as unusual and kind of offensive.

Finally, nothing happens in the first 150 pages. Keep in mind that this book is only 211 pages. The plot does start ramping up in the last quarter, and suddenly, in the last ten pages, the brilliant detectives have figured everything out. I’m tempted to say that the ending falls into the deus ex machinacategory, because after about 175 pages of flailing around and utterly failing at their jobs, the detectives get one tip that miraculously resolves everything.

Overall, The Laughing Policeman is an average kind of book for me. If you’re into police procedurals and dark Swedish novels, or if you’re looking to expand your reading horizons, definitely give this one a shot. For just a casual mystery reader, there are definitely better uses of your time.

Final rating: ★

In no particular order, we have my top 14 books of 2014!  Links to Goodreads are below, in alphabetical order.

The Abyss Beyond Dreams | Boomerang | Cress | The Evolutionary Void | Glitter & Glue | The Help | In the Blood | Landline | My Life Next Door | Necessary Lies | Red Rising | Then and Always | The Truth About Alice | The Tyrant’s Daughter

Which books did you enjoy most this year?  Do any stand out above the rest?

Giveaway alert!

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be approved for an advance copy of A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab.  While the publisher requested that I hold off on posting a review until closer to the release date, I can say that it’s a great book and I really enjoyed it.

Now, Goodreads has 10 copies available through its First Reads program.  Click here to enter the giveaway!  It ends January 27, 2015.

Goodreads | Amazon

In the interest of full disclosure, let me just say that I am an enormous fan of Veronica Mars. I’ve seen every episode of the tv show multiple times. I saw the movie in its opening weekend. I pre-ordered The Thousand Dollar Tan Line, and I had Mr. Kiss and Tell on my Christmas list (and would have pre-ordered it if I hadn’t received it). So when I saw the title available on Netgalley and I got the chance to read it a couple weeks early… well, I jumped at the chance.

Even more than The Thousand Dollar Tan LineMr. Kiss and Tell reads like an episode of the show. And in this particular episode, Veronica delves into yet another rape case, this one involving an undocumented immigrant and the ritzy, glitzy Neptune Grand hotel. A young woman from Veronica’s past claims that she was raped, brutally beaten, and left for dead in a landfill by a man who has conveniently been deported to Mexico. Due to the extent of her injuries and the fact that the incident occurred months ago, her memory is foggy at best. Add to that the fact that she refuses to provide the name of the wealthy boyfriend she was meeting that night, and the police, and the hotel, think that she’s lying. Veronica is hired by the hotel to determine whether their employee was involved in any way, but in true Veronica Mars fashion, the case spirals into something much bigger.

Mr. Kiss and Tell is a very quick read. I read the majority of it over just a few hours on the day after Christmas. It really is just like an episode of the tv show – plot twists abound, and just when you think Veronica has found the culprit, something happens and she’s proven wrong. Another character turns out to be suspicious, or the DNA evidence doesn’t match up. 

I was pleased to find that this book contains the witty banter of the show, which I felt was lacking in The Thousand Dollar Tan Line. The dialogue is much more true to the characters, particularly with Veronica and Mac, but also with Keith, Weevil, and Logan.

“Please. Endless stacks of evidence and unsorted information to sift through? You’re thrilled. This is Veronica Mars catnip.”

“Yeah, better get your spray bottle at the ready in case I start rolling on a pile of carpet-fiber spectrographs,” Veronica said with a mock scowl. “This is why you shouldn’t hire your friends. It’s all nice and professional until the insubordination starts.”

Speaking of the other characters, they all have their own stories to tell. Keith and Weevil pick up right where they left off in theVeronica Mars Movie, trying to uncover the corruption in Neptune that led to police planting evidence on Weevil at a crime scene. Logan is back from his military service and looking to settle down with Veronica. We find that Mac has been keeping close tabs on her birth parents. And Leo’s back, and ready as ever to help Veronica catch the bad guy.

Overall, Mr. Kiss and Tell is a great continuation of the Veronica Mars world. However, keep in mind that this is a book for devoted fans, not the casual mystery reader. If you haven’t watched the show, seen the movie, and read the previous book, you will have difficulty understanding what’s going on. Previous plots are referenced. Past characters are introduced, usually with little indication as to how they fit into the story. In this case, you do need that foundation to truly understand what’s happening.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy!

Final rating: 

[Mr. Kiss and Tell is the second in a series of books based on the Veronica Mars tv series and movie.  See my review of the first book, The Thousand Dollar Tan Line, here, or on Goodreads.]

Book review: Red Rising by Pierce Brown

Goodreads | Amazon

“I would have lived in peace. But my enemies brought me war.” 

At only sixteen years old, Darrow is happily married to Eo, the love of his life. As a Red, in the lowest class of Mars society, he spends his days mining helium-3 in an attempt to make the surface livable for future generations. His will be a short and dangerous life, but he knows it’s worth it… until Eo discovers that everything has been a lie. The surface is not uninhabitable, as they’ve been told their entire lives. It’s fully developed, run by the cruel and powerful Golds. With Eo’s inspiration and his uncle’s help, Darrow joins a mysterious organization with the aim of bringing down Gold society, which is crueler and more complex than he could have ever imagined.

Going into this book, I didn’t know what to think. I hadn’t read the summary. I hadn’t read any reviews. I just knew that it had been getting a lot of attention, and it had won in this year’s Goodreads Choice Awards. Even my boyfriend, who is notoriously picky about his books, told me this book was “really good.” So I borrowed his copy, and let me tell you, I had a difficult time putting it down.

The world of Red Rising is so intricately built that it does take some time to put everything together. At the beginning, you learn that there are Reds and Golds, but that’s not all. Later, we learn that there are a number of castes – Pinks, Coppers, Obsidians, Grays, Violets, Yellows, and more. They all have their roles in society. They all prop up the Golds in different ways. There can even be multiple levels within a Color. The Golds have their Peerless Scarred, and the Reds can be High or Low. I’ll admit that there is a lot to remember, but I never found it confusing. I’m more impressed at the extent of this world than anything else.

My favorite part may have been the characters. Darrow, the hero, propelled to new heights by his anger at what was done to his wife, and his desire to live out her dream. Eo, a visionary, who deserved better than the life she was born into. Harmony, Dancer, and Mickey, who work to transform Darrow from Red to Gold. Cassius, the first Gold friend Darrow makes. Pax, who is so much more than he initially seems. Roque, Sevro, Mustang… I could go on and on about these characters. I felt something for every one of them, whether it was love, hate, amusement, anger, or sorrow. There are no throwaway characters here. Everyone was well-developed. Everyone had their part to play.

When I realized where the book was going, I was afraid that it was going to be another Hunger Games or Divergent. I had seen Darrow compared to Katniss on more than one occasion, and while I loved her story, I didn’t need to see it rehashed with a male lead. Fortunately, aside from the general gist of the plot – children fighting to get ahead in an obviously unequal society – there is really no comparison. The plot of Red Rising has all the pillars of a typical dystopian story: a member of a low class realizes that life is unfair and fights to equalize society, making friends and enemies along the way. The thing that makes Red Rising different is its execution. I’ve never seen a dystopian novel, particularly one marketed for young adults, that is quite this cruel, or quite this heartrending. Pierce Brown has no qualms with killing off favorite characters and throwing in enormous plot twists. I won’t spoil the ending, but I will tell you that I was yelling at Darrow for his (admittedly politically sound) decisions.

Finally, the writing. It’s hard to believe that this was Brown’s debut novel. It’s also hard to believe that we’re almost the same age. The writing flows beautifully, from the dialogue to Darrow’s inner thoughts. Of all the books I’ve read this year, this one is definitely at the top of the list when it comes to writing style.

I was surprised and impressed by this book. Initially, I had given it four stars. Writing this review, I can’t think of any reason why I should give it less than five.

Final rating: ★★★★★

Book review: Kallocain by Karin Boye

Kallocain by Karin Boye
Rating: ★★★★☆
Links: Amazon • TBDGoodreads
Publication Date: 1940
Source: Purchased

This is a novel of the future, profoundly sinister in its vision of a drab terror. Ironic and detached, the author shows us the totalitarian World-state through the eyes of a product of that state, scientist Leo Kall. Kall has invented a drug, kallocain, which denies the privacy of thought and is the final step towards the transmutation of the individual human being into a “happy, healthy cell in the state organism.” For, says Leo, “from thoughts and feelings, words and actions are born. How then could these thoughts and feelings belong to the individual? Doesn’t the whole fellow-soldier belong to the state? To whom should his thoughts and feelings belong then, if not to the state?”

As the first-person record of Leo Kall, scientist, fellow-soldier too late disillusioned to undo his previous actions, Kallocain achieves a chilling power and veracity that place it among the finest novels to emerge from the strife-torn Europe of the twentieth century.

I’m just going to put this out there: I wasn’t the most responsible student. It should be pretty clear that I love to read, and it will probably come as no surprise that sometimes I took two or three lit classes in a semester. The problem was that I would end up with reading assignments of 600 or more pages each night, and I’d have to pick and choose which ones I was going to do. (I may love to read, but 600 pages every night is a little much for even the most voracious reader.) The classes with pop quizzes and upcoming exams or papers always won. My Scandinavian literature in translation course, while I loved it, was usually on the back burner because the professor didn’t believe in quizzing us on what we were reading. So some books, like this lovely Kallocain, fell to the back of my bookcase and were never thought of again.

Kallocain was originally assigned to me in the spring of 2011. I finally read it in December of 2014. I don’t know what I expected. I have only a very vague recollection of the professor explaining it in class. Maybe I was imagining something like the boring, formulaic dystopias of today. But that’s not what this is.

This is a wonderful story of a scientist, Leo Kall, who develops a truth serum (Kallocain) while working in one of the Worldstate’s chemistry laboratories. Leo is excited about his discovery and knows that it will greatly benefit the Worldstate by alleviating some of the pressure on the legal system. After all, now suspected criminals will just be given a dose of Kallocain and confess all their crimes!

When Kallocain moves into human testing, Leo finds that many of his fellow-soldiers harbor negative feelings toward the Worldstate. He knows that the individual is of no importance aside from what he can offer the Worldstate, and that so many people feel otherwise is baffling to him. Thank goodness for Kallocain, he thinks, because now these thought criminals can be prosecuted. But soon, Leo begins fearing the consequences of his drug. What if Kallocain were to be misused? What might Leo himself reveal if he were forced to undergo an injection? Has he made a great mistake?

Written over seventy years ago, Kallocain was surprisingly ahead of its time. In such a short book (just around 200 pages), it’s difficult to delve into specifics without spoiling the plot. Let me just say that the book is extremely well-written and still relevant to today’s society.

If you enjoyed 1984 or We, you will likely enjoy Kallocain.

Giveaway alert!

Earlier this year, I read Best Kind of Broken by Chelsea Fine.  As the first book in the Finding Fate series, it explores the relationship of childhood friends Pixie and Levi, who were torn apart after a terrible accident.  It’s a sweet (though angsty) romance that I really enjoyed.  If it sounds like something you’d like, Goodreads First Reads has 15 copies available, ending January 12.

Click here for your chance to win!