Book Talk: do you re-read books?

I once read an opinion somewhere on the internet concerning the act of re-visiting media that you have already experienced. Watching movies that you have already seen, for example. Re-playing a videogame that you’ve previously beaten, to name another. This person stated that doing such a thing is one of the biggest wastes of a human being’s time.

I can see where they were coming from with that. For starters, shocking plot twists and masterfully crafted mystery are the sorts of things that can ONLY be experienced once and once only with the full impact. That’s not to say that re-living these things would be unenjoyable, but the prior knowledge of what’s coming absolutely guarantees that the second time around won’t leave you so breathless.

To tie that into books, I reviewed two fantastic Peter Swanson thrillers here on this blog – The Girl With a Clock for a Heart and The Kind Worth Killing – but as much as I couldn’t get enough of either, I don’t believe I could/would read them again. Those two books in particular were built entirely around mystery, suspense and momentous twists that changed everything. I don’t doubt that I would still enjoy reading either of those books but, until a device is invented that can wipe selective portions of our memory, there is no way that I could be sucker-punched by the same shocks.

Aside from being familiar with entertainment that you have already consumed, you also have to remember just how much there is still to discover – especially when it comes to books. There is certainly an argument for not spending time with stuff you’ve already read when there are thousands upon thousands (maybe even millions) of books out there, waiting for you to try them. Why limit your horizons and stay with what you know?

All of that said, I can’t completely agree with this viewpoint. While I am making it one of my missions to expand my scope and read new things by a wider pool of authors, I also see the value in revisiting an old favourite. It’s about striking a balance, isn’t it?

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A well-read copy of Stephen King’s IT. I could be reading something totally new to me but, right now, I’d much rather invest myself in this.

Last night, for example, I suddenly decided that I fancied reading Stephen King’s IT again. Nothing to do with all the fuss about the recent movies; it was simply one of my absolute favourite Stephen King books and I hadn’t read it for many years. I dug the book out from where it was buried and you know what? I couldn’t wait to start it again. I was genuinely excited and I don’t feel that way about many new books, let alone books that I have already read before. Why deny that feeling?

I got through the first seventy pages last night and enjoyed every one of them. Obviously, I do remember how IT unfolds, but that doesn’t detract from the quality of the writing, the world-building and the characters. Even now, as I’m typing this post, I’m looking forward to getting stuck into the next seventy pages and beyond. That feeling is utterly priceless as far as I’m concerned.

Do YOU go back to the books you have already finished? Or are you exclusively interested in brand-new experiences?

Book Talk: The Girl With A Clock For A Heart (Peter Swanson, 2014)

TGWACFAH“What if your college sweetheart, the girl of your dreams, suddenly disappeared? Twenty years later she’s back, she’s in trouble and she says you are the only one who can help her…”

That’s the blurb from the back cover of Peter Swanson’s The Girl With A Clock For A Heart and I will openly admit that it didn’t necessarily grab me by the throat. After all, years of consuming books, movies and videogames have probably desensitised me to most blurbs. Nevertheless, that same veteran imagination had been pleasantly surprised by the excellent The Kind Worth Killing so I had already decided to work through the rest of Swanson’s back catalogue, beginning here.

Straight out of the gates, I will say that I didn’t think this book was quite as enthralling as The Kind Worth Killing but that’s saying a lot when that book was sooooo good. This one is still a real page-turner. George Foss is just your average guy living a predictable, unexciting life; a fact that he is very much aware of and has come to terms with. Routine is turned on its head however when he chances upon his old college flame, Liana Decter. What should be a pleasant encounter is thrown into question however because Liana had pulled a vanishing act twenty years ago after involving George in a tangled web of deceit that concluded with George discovering that his girlfriend had likely killed on more than one occasion. George should stay the hell away from Liana – this he knows – but she represents a time in George’s life when he felt alive and the future hadn’t seemed so mundane. Not to mention the fact that Liana is incredibly beautiful and bewitching or that George has been searching for her on and off ever since, having never really gotten over what they’d had.

Against better judgment, George makes contact with Liana and finds himself once again embroiled in a dangerous, cryptic game of Liana’s doing. George is torn between preserving his own life – by rejecting Liana and the trouble she brings – and helping her, fuelled by the naive hope that she might just stick around this time. George has always been hurt, emotionally and physically, by Liana and her accompanying drama but at the same time, he finds himself powerless to refuse her. She is a sweet poison that he can’t fully expel from his life and part of him doesn’t want to.

“While she paid the check, Liana walked past again. This time George could stare at her retreating figure, that familiar walk. She had grown into her body too. George thought she’d been his ideal in college, but if anything she looked better now: long tapering legs and exaggerated curves, the kind of body that only genetics, not exercise, will ever get you. The backs of her arms were pale as milk”

The book hooks the reader by keeping them guessing and providing endless questions. What did Liana do in the past that was so bad? Why has she used multiple aliases throughout her life? What happened to her relationship with George? Most importantly, what does she truly want this time? Is she all she seems? The answers are drip-fed as the book alternates between past and present, neither timeline giving everything up until the parallel stories begin to explain one another and current events make greater sense in light of revelations from the past. I really enjoyed this structure and couldn’t put the book down as I simply had to find out what happened next. The opening prologue is pretty clever too because it actually forms part of the book’s finale (and you will see a good chunk of it repeated there to bring the book full-circle). At the outset however, it makes little sense other than acting as one of several hooks to snag a reader.

As with The Kind Worth Killing, Swanson shows his affection for the femme fatale. Liana is beautiful, slippery and masterfully manipulative. She gets what she wants and is rarely as she seems. Whenever George thinks he has her figured out or second-guessed, she surprises him again…and again and again. She is aware of her power over him but is she consciously abusing that power without harbouring any sort of romantic feelings towards George? Was what they had in college real? Does she love George at all in spite of how she moves him about like a chess piece?

I personally love the femme fatale archtype whether it’s calculating, manipulative women like Liana Decter, cold wet-work experts or mentally shaky psychopaths. I gave The Girl With A Clock For A Heart and Swanson extra points for another fascinating, mystery-shrouded female that you would want to ward off while you lusted after them.

“There was still some part of George that wanted to believe that Liana was innocent, that she was not behind the robbery and the murder. He wanted to believe this not because he thought she wasn’t capable of such crimes, but because he hoped she wasn’t capable of using him for those purposes. Just as George had always stayed a little bit in love with Liana, he hoped that she had always stayed a little bit in love with him”

My only criticism of the book is that the ending doesn’t quite live up to the twisty nature of the book as a whole. It feels as if the book blows its load a little too prematurely; not so early as to spoil the fun but a little sooner than I would have liked. The puzzle pieces are mostly all in place at a little over three-quarters distance and after a dramatic endgame for the main characters, the final explanations are delivered in a fairly flat fashion that somehow makes the unpredictable events seem obvious and no longer so wild. The conclusion also appears to set up for a potential sequel but I’m not convinced that a follow-up would work or is at all necessary for that matter.

That said however, I did enjoy The Girl With A Clock For A Heart and it certainly sustained my interest in Peter Swanson’s books. If you enjoy thrillers that go for a modern day noir feel with relatable characters, constant suspense and a sexy femme fatale then you will be well-served here. This was an addictive read that was difficult for me to put down and that’s usually all I need to recommend a book.

Book Talk: The Kind Worth Killing (Peter Swanson, 2015)

worth1Upon finishing The Kind Worth Killing, all I could think was “wow”. Granted, my buzzing response to this book could well be down to the fact that my fiction intake has been 90% Stephen King over the past few years. Am I perhaps overreacting and viewing Peter Swanson’s thriller as ‘fresh’ just because it’s something different written in a different author’s style? I won’t rule out the possibility but the fact is that I seriously enjoyed this book and couldn’t put it down. I devoured it like a starving man presented with a McDonalds.

The Kind Worth Killing was first published in 2015 and it has been on my radar ever since I read a magazine recommendation (FHM of all places…). It’s taken me four years to get around to picking up a copy but it was well worth it. The basic premise sold to me by that magazine recommendation is that Ted Beaumont is on his way back to the US when his flight is delayed. He meets a beautiful stranger – Lily Kintner – in the airport bar and they agree to play a game. Since they agree that they will never see each other again, they decide to take it in turns to reveal absolute truths about themselves, no matter how personal. Ted reveals that he knows his wife has been cheating on him and jokes that he wants to kill her.

After hearing his story, Lily takes Ted aback by revealing her view that the death of a person such as Ted’s wife is no loss to the world and she even offers to help him do the dirty work. What begins as a random airport meeting and a flippant musing about Ted’s wife’s adultery rapidly escalates into plotting an actual murder. Ted is initially on the fence and inwardly concerned at how easily he agrees to murder his wife but his misgivings don’t last long. After all, Miranda has suckered him in with calm lies and expert manipulation to get at his wealth. For Lily’s part, she has killed before – several times in fact. Ted doesn’t know this but suspects it and continues to go along with her anyway. The fact that Lily is described as being incredibly beautiful in a delicate, waif-like way probably helps. It’s clear that Ted is fascinated by Lily and falling in love with her even as they plan a murder.

“What I really want to do is kill her” I smiled with my gin-numbed mouth and attempted a little wink just to give her an opportunity to not believe me, but her face stayed serious. She lifted her reddish eyebrows.

“I think you should” she said, and I waited for some indication that she was joking, but nothing came. Her stare was unwavering.

I can’t go into much more of the plot without spoiling it and it really is a story that doesn’t deserve to be spoilt. Each chapter switches between the different perspectives of the characters, initially limited to Ted’s present and Lily’s recollection of her past. These perspectives are from a first-person standpoint so the reader becomes a guest of the characters’ headspace and privy to their true motivations and views of the other main characters. The book is broken into three main acts with each act climaxing in some big twists. The end of the first act for example turns the entire book on its head and leaves you wondering just what else is going to happen. Plenty of surprises, double-crosses and didn’t-see-that-coming developments follow. As a result, I found it incredibly hard to put The Kind Worth Killing down and regardless of any other reason(s) for why I enjoyed it so much, that is a cast-iron sign of a good read in my opinion.

Swanson does a great job of making you like bad people. This book has several unsavoury characters and rotten personalities and even though I wanted some of them to get their just desserts, I was no less fascinated by them. Lily in particular was the star of the book for me. Calm, calculated, somewhat aloof and with a very different regard for life, she would probably be described as psychotic by our society. The fact that she has already killed several people and isn’t particularly perturbed by her actions would cement this. However, through Lily’s own perspectives in the book, you get to know her and even sympathise with her motives. She is dangerous and clinical but at the same time, I couldn’t help rooting for her to the end. It also made me ponder on the subject of beautiful psychos in fiction and cinema and why we – men – are so attracted to them despite what they are capable of. That’s a topic for another post though.

There were only a few criticisms that I levelled at The Kind Worth Killing but it wouldn’t be a review if I gushed over the book without mentioning them. The first is that it’s difficult to relate to the characters because most seem to be incredibly wealthy with little of the surface level hardship in their lives that us ‘normal’ folk battle against day-to-day. This didn’t detract from my liking for the book’s cast but it also felt very convenient and and a little unrealistic. Speaking of unrealistic, a lot of the events that happen in the book are incredibly far-fetched and people get away with so much, so easily. Obviously this is fiction so realism has to take a backseat to a degree but when the book is set in the real world and dealing with crime and murder, then the ease at which plans are made and successfully followed through does stick out a bit.

Those minor gripes aside, The Kind Worth Killing is a genuine page-turner that I can’t recommend enough. If you love thrillers and villainous characters that you can’t help but love then this is for you. If you want to be kept guessing and unable to predict what happens next then this is also for you. I will definitely be looking for Peter Swanson’s other books after this.