Mid-autumn reads

As the title suggests, this reading list was spread through parts of April and May. I devoured at least two of these books last month: Dynamo and Gone Girl. However, I finished the latter in early May. Regardless, only Redbreast was a full May read. This is a bit of a mixed bag. Dynamo is a scintillating biography from a world-famous magician. Gone Girl is a standalone thriller which became a runaway hit. Author Gillian Flynn has parlayed that success into a screenplay for an awesome film. Finally, The Redbreast is the third instalment in the Harry Hole series and a perfect introduction. They all had different styles and were set in varying locales. In spite of the contrast in themes, they were truly convincing.

  1. Dynamo: Nothing is Impossible. This biography forms my initial read. I was able to get this brand new on the cheap. The amount of illustrations and pictures separate this from most of my other reads. With biographies, there are only certain sections dedicated to colour pics. However, this book is brimming with them – both in black and white and coloured. Dynamo tells the story of Steven Frayne, the boy from the estate who went on to be a superstar magician. Life wasn’t always easy for Steven; he had to prove himself as a scrawny and sickly kid. He had an absentee father and lived with his great-grandparents. As an undersized teen, he was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. To this day, there are many things he cannot do as a result of his rare condition. 

His ‘Gramps’ introduced him to magic. This became his escape and his ticket to fame. He turned popular in classes after being a nobody. Yet despite discovering magic at age twelve, he trekked an arduous path. At one point, he was hospitalised for four months due to a stomach abscess. Far from denting his resolve, this experience pushed him to go further. From selling CD’s to performing at clubs, Dynamo yearned to be recognised and to put a smile on people’s faces. Even as a pre-teen, the power of magic awed him. Magic opened doors and built bridges where none existed, and patched people’s differences.

In 2011, he finally got his TV show. He saved the best bits for last: walking down the Thames, levitating Lindsay Lohan, and descending the side (unaided) of the LA Times building. He’s travelled the world, but the delights of Rio hold a special place. Along the way, he’s also met big names: from Jay-Z to Prince Charles, Chris Martin to Will Smith. The series was a smash hit for UKTV Watch, with millions of viewers tuning in each week. Upon starting the programme, Dynamo became a national treasure. Following your dreams is a central theme to the book. Wherever you’re from, whatever the odds, rise up to the challenge. He admits that he has idols, including Houdini, David Blaine, and David Copperfield. They inspire him to achieve more. He also acknowledges that you have to put in the work to be great. As a teenager in Northern England, he maintains to have practiced for thousands of hours trying to perfect his craft. Action packed and breezy to read though at times recurrent, there’s much to love in this work.

Rating: 4.6/5

2. Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn). In 2014, I saw the film version; I liked Fincher’s adaptation. Upon reading the novel, I noted how faithful the screenplay was to the source material. Of course, Flynn wrote the script. Gone Girl is different, especially when pitted against Grisham or Dan Brown. The book is replete with flowery words and has a surreal feel, making it more of a neo-noir thriller. However, when taken that way, it finds a niche with other titles such as Woman in the Window and Girl on the Train. The book tells the story of Amy Elliott Dunne, a housewife who simply disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary. Her husband is seen as the culprit and his behaviour arouses suspicion.

Nick and Amy’s marriage has been on the rocks these last few years. From being madly in love, they couldn’t stand each other. They realise that they’ve been pretenders all this time. Amy’s disappearance becomes headline news, while Nick is treated like a pinata. Amy has always been the spoiled rich kid from Gotham, the only child. Her parents immortalised her through the Amazing Amy series, once a bestseller but now forgotten. Meanwhile, Nick is the country boy from Missouri whose parents divorced when he was twelve. During their anniversaries, Amy loves doing scavenger hunts. This time, Nick is convinced that Amy is using the clues to expose his infidelity. When his affair is revealed, Nick becomes public enemy number one. Furthermore, his wife’s pregnancy is disclosed, festering his wounds. Everything points to Nick killing his wife while Amy is having a break. He hires a celebrity lawyer for damage control.

Unbeknownst to everyone, Amy is only a few hours away. She’s staying in a bed and breakfast while her photos dominate the news. She watches as her husband becomes a pariah, sees her parents plead. While the town brands her husband a villain, little do they know that Amy per se is just as cunning. When an unfortunate incident leaves her penniless, she approaches Desi, her high school sweetheart, and stays at his lake house. She sees Nick’s remorse on telly and loathes Desi’s manipulation. She makes up her mind and murders the latter. In the picture, Neil Harris portrays Amy’s lover. ‘They didn’t treat him well in that movie’, my friend admitted.

She then returns North Carthage, where she is welcomed back with open arms. She uses her vulnerability and lies to outwit the police, her family, the press; basically, the entire town. The book is a slow starter with entries from Amy’s diary dominating the first third. However, the action picks up, while continuing to shift between Amy’s and Nick’s perspectives. As the chapters progress, both of them become unreliable narrators. Victims of Amy’s scheming shows that she is not what she seems. With more than enough twists and magic tricks, Gone Girl quickly becomes a page-turner. Exploring themes like marriage, trust, friendship, and love, this reads as more than just an engrossing thriller.

Rating: 4.17/5

3. The Redbreast (Jo Nesbo). The third Harry Hole book sees Nesbo at the peak of his powers. Four different storylines transpire just in the first four chapters. While there is a surfeit of characters, Nesbo’s beauteous prose reconciles them all with ease. Redbreast tells the story of Neo-Nazis, bureaucrats, the crime squad, and families. World War 2 casts a shadow on the events occurring five decades later. Detective Harry Hole loses Ellen, his indefatigable partner. Ellen nursed him through his dark days and cared for him like family. Meanwhile, the purchase of the vintage Maiklin rifle sends ripples to the force. The closely spaced murders in Oslo as a result of the Maiklin gets the authorities’ attention. The scenes alternate between a cold present and a war-torn past. Nesbo does a masterful job of painting the scene, from the snowy winter to blooming spring and the sounds of summer. Unlike Larsson, he does not overdo the description of fjords and chalets. Scenic Akershus Castle in Oslo, which was depicted in this instalment, is pictured above.

As mentioned, Redbreast staggers between two time periods. The doomed status quo is on hand, with murdering neo-Nazis both old and young. Hole tries to piece together a mystery that grows more confounding by the day. While trying to solve the puzzle, he is exiled to a small Swedish town for no reason. There are still packets of strong Nazi sympathy within Norway. On the other hand, we are introduced to an array of characters amid the War. Places like Leningrad, Vienna, and Sennheim all feature in the plot. At the text’s close, these identities come together in a stroke of genius. Clearly, Harry Hole is there to save the day. Redbreast pools together the ingredients of a great crime thriller: mastery of place and time, evocative description, captivating dialogue, a robust plot, and of course, lots of twists. For most of the book, you will never guess who the villain is, even though you’re reading into his thoughts. Tall, clean-shaven, and headstrong, Harry Hole is the Norwegian Bosch. Even his creator has admitted the Connelly influence. Redbreast was voted as the Best Norwegian Crime Novel ever.

Rating: 4.41/5

That’s the wrap: three titles, two novels, and one biography. One standalone thriller and a serving of a famous series. At the moment, I am reading Relentless by Tim S. Grover. I’ll be back to let you know my thoughts on that and share even more reads.

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