Archive for April, 2014

The Devotion of Subject X by Keigo Higashino

TDoSXpbYasuko lives a quiet life, working in a Tokyo bento shop, a good mother to her only child. But when her ex-husband appears at her door without warning one day, her comfortable world is shattered. When Detective Kusanagi of the Tokyo Police tries to piece together the events of that day, he finds himself confronted by the most puzzling, mysterious circumstances he has ever investigated. Nothing quite makes sense, and it will take a genius to understand the genius behind this particular crime…

One of the biggest-selling Japanese thrillers ever, and the inspiration for a cult film, The Devotion of Suspect X is now being discovered across the world. Its blend of a page-turning story, evocative Tokyo setting and utterly surprising ending make it a must-read for anyone interested in international fiction.

I was very much looking forward to this book as it was recommended by one of my trusted members, and her recommendations never disappoint. Filled with intrigue, suspense and the unusual knowledge of what crime was committed, and by whom, this book kept me interested until the very last page. Although we know all of the facts (or we think we do) there is still a deeply woven sub-plot that unfolds throughout the story. One that I didn’t see coming and unravelled quite a dramatic ending.

Although this was somewhat different from your normal crime novel, the group enjoyed reading it and it kicked off some interesting discussions. The book itself was quite an easy read, and I managed to finish it in just three sittings, but the story wasn’t hindered by the easy style and Higashino manages to evoke a real sense of place right in the heart of Tokyo life. Many of the group thought that the sub-plot seemed a little unusual and almost pointless, but as we discussed the events that lead to the ending we actually began to see what a wonderfully crafted piece of work this book really was. What at first seemed irrelevant later became a piece of genius and I for one was very impressed by the detail and complexity of the novel. Having said that, the book wasn’t confusing or over-filled with information. In fact, it read very well and I’d be happy to read another novel by this author.

Some of the group did have reservations about this book in that it wasn’t quite the ‘next Stieg Larsson’, but as we discussed the book in more detail I could see people changing their views and opinions once we had all aired our views. It’s one of the things I love about book group meetings because I’m normally the one who changes my mind after hearing what others have to say. Sometimes, our own views can be clouded by certain niggles and issues but once we discuss these out in the open we can sometimes see the bigger picture. This seemed to be one of those books.

An unusually written and plotted novel that has all the hallmarks of an excellent thriller, but with that exotic flavour of something that bit different. Certainly worth a read for any crime and thriller fan. Give it a whirl – you might be pleasantly surprised.

I also found a trailer to the film and found it quite interesting. Take a peek here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SaiS32Oblgg it won’t spoil it if you haven’t read it. Promise!

The Universe versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

15984268Alex Woods knows that he hasn’t had the most conventional start in life. He knows that growing up with a clairvoyant single mother won’t endear him to the local bullies. He also knows that even the most improbable events can happen – he’s got the scars to prove it. What he doesn’t know yet is that when he meets ill-tempered, reclusive widower Mr Peterson, he’ll make an unlikely friend. Someone who tells him that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make the best possible choices. So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at Dover customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the passenger seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he’s fairly sure he’s done the right thing…

This is probably one of my top five favourite book group reads. This book was an absolute pleasure to read and deals with some heavy issues in such a beautiful and sensitive way. Packed with humour, well written and an interesting and thought provoking storyline will keep you engrossed until the very last page. Everyone enjoyed this book and it brought to the table some interesting moral dilemmas.

The book starts off with the ending, which is cleverly done and gets the reader asking questions right from the very start. Personally, I didn’t like the beginning because I didn’t understand Alex and I didn’t understand his problems, but that was my only negative. The humour is probably – as a group – our most enjoyable part of the book, followed closely by the plot and the writing. Especially at the beginning when Alex lets loose one of the most offensive words used today. Quite frankly: it was hilarious! The way in which Alex deals with his bullying, difficult home life and the introduction of his new friend (Mr Peterson) is truly wonderful, and I was smiling to myself on nearly every page.

Towards the end of the book things start to get serious and the way in which Alex steps up and helps his friend out in the most extreme way is both heartwarming and emotional. Never does it feel as though the author is forcing the story, or throwing in something extreme, just purely to drag out a plot. To be both poignant and yet beautiful at the same time is a work of genius and I take my hat off to the author for such a great accomplishment.

The journey undertaken by both Alex and Mr Peterson is wonderful to read and I would definitely say that this is a must read for anyone who likes reading – literally. If you like reading quirky books that are well written, with a good storyline, a wonderful plot peppered with humour and ending in a delicately written social and moral dilemma, then this is the one for you. A definite keeper for me.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

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Major Ernest Pettigrew is perfectly content to lead a quiet life in the sleepy village of Edgecombe St Mary, away from the meddling of the locals and his overbearing son. But when his brother dies, the Major finds himself seeking companionship with the village shopkeeper, Mrs Ali. Drawn together by a love of books and the loss of their partners, they are soon forced to contend with irate relatives and gossiping villagers. The perfect gentleman, but the most unlikely hero, the Major must ask himself what matters most: family obligation, tradition or love?

This was quite a charming little story and brought out a few opinions on both sides. Some of our group thought that it was a bit far-fetched and unrealistic, whilst others felt that it was wonderfully written with a good, strong storyline. For me, it was a bit in the middle. It was a nice read but it lacked in depth when it came to the real ‘nitty gritty’ of the story, and I felt there were some areas that could have been dealt with in a little more detail.

I felt that the unlikely relationship between the two main characters (Major Pettigrew and Mrs Ali) seemed quite curious at first, and I wanted to see where it went, but it didn’t quite explore the realms that it could have done and for me that was a bit disappointing. This book reminded me of a few others that we’ve recently read that have various themes and issues, yet none of them are explored in much depth. Touching the surface of a few different issues doesn’t quite work for me, but others in the group disagreed. They felt that as it was particularly well written that in itself carried the story. Sometimes we don’t need the explosive ending, or the amazing twists, we just need to be taken on a journey that is pleasant to follow and keeps us turning those pages.

The humour throughout worked very well, and we particularly enjoyed the last couple of chapters. There’s something quite amusing about the characters who don’t mean to be funny, but happen to make us laugh, rather than the ones that set out with the sole objective of cracking a laugh. There were quite a few scenes that managed to make you chuckle and this is what kept me turning those pages. Although I did find some of the book lacking in detail, the quirky one liners and wacky scenes made up for it. An unusual and creative story that is certainly worth a read.


About the group

The Tees Valley Book Group meets at Stockton Central Library at 6.30pm on the first Tuesday of the month.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit www.newwritingnorth.com/submit/join-tees-valley-book-group.

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