Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The Girl Who Played With Fire - Stieg Larsson


This is the second book in the notorious Millennium trilogy, written by Steig Larsson. The book was originally written in Swedish and was published in 2006 - it was translated into English and published in 2009. This sequel was also adapted into a film in 2010, which took just less than half a million pounds in its opening weekend in the UK alone. According to 'The Bookseller' magazine, 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' is apparently the first and only book which has been translated into English to reach number 1 in the UK hardback charts. It's easy to see why this book is so popular...

Larsson had just delivered his manuscripts for his three books to the publishers in 2004, when he tragically and suddenly died aged just 50. He never saw his books published, and never knew of their worldwide popularity. However, we do know from his life-long partner Eva Gabrielsson that Larsson regarded writing as a relaxation method, through which he could follow up mysteries and conspiracies without putting himself or Eva in danger...fans of his can take solace in the fact that he died after completing something he loved doing!

Interestingly, the original Swedish title of this book translates as the same as the English title - 'The Girl Who Played With Fire', whereas for the first book the Swedish and English titles are completely different (see my review on the first book, dated 24/06/2011). Perhaps it was this book, which is widely seen as being more successful than the first, which gave the publishers the inspiration to create the brand that is the Millennium Trilogy.

---The Plot---

Mikael Blomkvist has returned to Millennium magazine, and is working with journalist Dag Svensson and his partner, PhD student Mia Johansson on a massive project to expose some big names in the world of sex trafficking. But when Svensson and Johansson are found shot in their apartment, a murder hunt gets underway.

At the same time, the social outcast that is Lisbeth Salander has been trying to create some stability in her life, after a year of travelling, and several years prior to that of rather dodgy enterprises. But when it's her fingerprints on the gun that killed Svensson and Johansson, she shoots straight to the top of the suspects list (excuse the pun). The problem is that she can't be found or contacted for love nor money.

Blomkvist has worked with Salander before, and is convinced that she's innocent, so sets out to help Salander clear her name. But with Salander hiding from the police, and all the evidence stacked against her, is she really innocent?

---The Verdict: To Read Or Not To Read?---

When I read this book, throughout most of it I found myself comparing it to its predecessor. As a result, I made two clear comparisons between the two, simply comparing the first hundred pages or so, like for like. Firstly, I found that the first book was a lot slower in getting started, whilst 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' threw you straight into the thick of things, with lots of excitement and intrigue straight from the off. On the other hand, my second observation was that the actual mystery - the content of the story, so to speak - was quite slow to get off the ground in this book, although it started much earlier in the first book. So, in a nutshell: 'The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo' offers a slower build-up of excitement although a quicker start to the story; 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' sees the actual story start more gently, but he excitement's there straight away.

So, carrying along with the idea of the thrill of the ride, 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' has it in bucket loads. The writing is pacy - much more so than in the first book of the trilogy, and found that it really is a page-turner.
However, despite all my comparisons, this could be a stand-alone book in its own right. During the first chapter or two, Larsson outlines the plot and the key character attributes from the first book - having already read it, I immediately understood what he meant and it acted as a good reminder for me, but if this had been my first venture into the Millennium books I would have been provided with enough information to understand the basics of the characters and their pasts.

Nevertheless, there were other things mentioned in 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' which referred back to the plot of the first book. For example, the Wennerström affair was briefly touched upon: it plays a big part in the first book, and if I hadn't known that, the reference would have gone straight over my head. It seems to me that you don't need to have read the first book first, but it might help from time to time!

On to the characters...

Mikael Blomkvist is as hard-working, focused and loyal as ever, and Salander is her usual 'under-the-radar' self. In fact, for the majority of the book Salander isn't involved, which is surprising considering the whole book focuses around her. It is a clever technique on Larsson's part to do this, though, as in a way it gives a sense of what it must have been like for Blomkvist and the police. I often found myself thinking: 'Come on Lisbeth, give us your side of the story, I want to know what you're getting up to!', probably in a similar way to many of the characters. For a lot of the time she's a very distant character in this book, but when she comes out of the woodwork she does it in style. Action scenes abound, as Salander brings this book to life.

I won't comment on Blomkvist or any of the other characters which appeared in 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo', as they're much the same in both books. Wouldn't want to repeat myself, and all that...

I mentioned in my review of the first book that I was worried about getting confused from the Swedish names, but it didn't really end up being a problem. In this book, however, it was a bit more confusing as a lot of the names were quite similar to each other. Svensson, Johansson, and Eriksson, not to mention Blomkvist, Berger, Bjurman and Bjork, were all names which had me carefully think and sort out who was who. With a bit of thought it's possible to remind yourself which name corresponds with which character as within their own contexts you can figure it out - it's just that I don't always want to be getting confused over the characters in a book, as it's always better to read it smoothly and easily with no confusion at all. This was the one factor which I felt really let the book down, and I was considering knocking off a star for it...but when the book as a whole is better than the first book, I couldn't really do that now could I?!

Finally, the ending to the book is quite something in itself. Don't worry, I'm not about to give anything away! All I'll say is that it ended in some ways a bit abruptly, and wasn't rounded off as completely as it could have been. Although I would see this as a disadvantage under normal circumstances, I don't in this case as the third and final book in the series carries on from where this one left off. 'The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest' not only rounds off the trilogy, but it rounds off the story of 'The Girl Who Played With Fire', too!

As I say, this book is, in my opinion, better than 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo'. The plot and storyline are exciting, thrilling and intriguing, and had me guessing right until the very end. I found it nail-biting reading and finished the book in a matter of days. Once again, it's the characters that really make this story as they're so credible and easy to understand that they're a joy to follow. I went on to start the 'The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest' with unabated anticipation!

---Last Thoughts---

If you're still not sure, please don't just take my word for it. During my research for the 'Background' section of this review I found that many critics also expressed their opinions that the second book in the Millennium series was better and more enjoyable than the first. We can't all be wrong...!

Once again, if you're given the choice between the book and the film I'd recommend reading the book. I haven't seen the film, but at any rate if you read the book first, you can see how you enjoy it and make your own mind up about whether or not the film would ruin the magic of the book, as I fear it would.

A paperback copy of 'The Girl Who Played With Fire' is currently available to buy for £4.49 from Amazon, or a Kindle copy can be bought for the slightly lower price of £4.27. To me, this seems well worth it and I'd thoroughly recommend buying it, especially for such a good price!

Just to let you know, I won't be reviewing the third book in the series, 'The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest'. Although I have read it, I didn't enjoy it as much as the first two books in the series and wouldn't recommend it as strongly.

I used the following websites for reference, and to gather some information included in the 'Background' section:

Summary: Even better than 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo'!
Rating: 5/5 :) I'd give it more if I could!

Friday, 24 June 2011

Book Beginnings on Friday

I’ve recently stumbled upon this great blog, A Few More Pages, which hosts the weekly Book Beginnings meme. I love this idea, so have decided to give it a go (as much as time permits, sometimes I don’t have as much time to read as I’d like so won’t be able to give you a new first line each week). The premise is this: share the first line of the book you are reading, and give your first impressions of the book based on this line alone. Then, link it back to A Few More Pages, and have a look at what everyone else is reading! So, for the first time, here goes…

This week I’m reading ‘Port Mortuary’ by Patricia Cornwell. Here is the opener:

“Inside the changing room for female staff, I toss soiled scrubs into a biohazard hamper and strip off the rest of my clothes and medical clogs.”

To be honest, this first line doesn’t really do a lot for me. Given that it’s my first Patricia Cornwell novel I’ve read, of course I’m intrigued to find out who this female protagonist is who works in some sort of medical field, but that’s about all the intrigue this sentence creates! The second sentence does more for me, and it was that which really drew me in. As a teaser, I’ll give you the second sentence, too:

“I wonder if Col. Scarpetta stencilled in black on my locker will be removed the minute I return to New England in the morning.”

Why is she leaving? Why New England? What’s happened that she thinks her name will be erased from her colleagues’ memories straight away?

Let me know your thoughts!

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo - Stieg Larsson


This is the first book in the world-famous Millennium trilogy, by Stieg Larsson. Larsson was Swedish, and consequently the books have been translated from Swedish into several other languages, including English. It was also adapted into a film in 2009, which took the equivalent of nearly £2million in its opening week in Sweden. As of this time last year, Larsson had sold more than 20million copies in 41 countries - the entire series has clearly been resoundingly popular all around the world, and the titles have become household names.

Stieg Larsson died in 2004 at the age of 50 after a sudden heart attack. He had just delivered the texts for his three books to the publishers, so sadly he never saw his books published - or indeed the worldwide phenomenon that his works became.

As a result, he was obviously never able to comment on or give interviews about his books, but it is quite clear where he found his inspiration. When he was 15 he witnessed the gang rape of a young girl called Lisbeth - he never forgave himself for not being able to help her, and if you've read the book you'll realise the relevance of this.

The original Swedish title of 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' was 'Män Som Hatar Kvinnor', or 'Men Who Hate Women'. I think that perhaps this direct translation would have been a more fitting title for the English version, as it certainly describes a prominent theme which runs throughout the text.

---The Plot---

Mikael Blomkvist is an investigative journalist, convicted of libel after publishing a damaging article on a prominent Swedish businessman, Wennerström. His magazine, Millennium, starts failing dramatically as a result, so Blomkvist decides to take some time away from the magazine to let things die down, before he can start rebuilding the magazine along with a further attack against Wennerström.

Around the same time as he decides to distance himself from the magazine, Blomkvist is approached by another prominent Swedish businessman, Henrik Vanger - former CEO of the Vanger Corporation, and head of the complicatedly-entwined Vanger family. Vanger makes Blomkvist a proposal: live for a year with the rest of the Vanger family, and write a book to chronicle the Vanger family history. However, Vanger wants this to hide Blomkvist's true objective - to investigate the mysterious disappearance of Harriet Vanger (Henrik's granddaughter) almost forty years previously.

Blomkvist takes up Vanger's offer, and as he starts to unravel the complicated history of the Vanger family, enlists the help of the socially-awkward, often-underestimated but super-sharp computer hacker, Lisbeth Salander.

Together, the unlikely pair delves deeper and deeper into the Vanger family's secrets, discovering lies, betrayal, madness - and a lot of skeletons in the closets. As things become increasingly dangerous for them, they begin to realise the strength and power of the Vanger family...someone is out to stop their investigations. But who? And why?

---The Verdict: Is It All It's Cracked Up To Be?---

Absolutely is it all it's cracked up to be! But let's not get over-excited, take things one step at a time...

First thing's first. The beginning of the book (I'm talking the first chapter or two) contains quite a bit of detail about the Wennerström Affair - the article that was published by Blomkvist, which led him to be charged with libel. It's all about finance, and the structure of Wennerström's companies, which was at first a little intimidating. I know next to nothing about how large companies are structured, financed or run - let alone those in Sweden, and I remember thinking that the book wouldn't really be my thing. However, I stuck with it, and it turned out that a lot of the detail given is superfluous. All you really need to know is that Wennerström ran some dodgy and underhand operations, and that he was a bad man! Don't let all the detail put you off: getting bogged down with trying to understand all of it won't be worth it, as it's not really relevant to the rest of the story. Just stick to the basics with all the financial and business jargon!

Having said all that, I'm making a bigger deal of all that than it actually was - it certainly wasn't worth knocking anything off my rating of it, it doesn't detract from the story, and it didn't last long at all. For me, plot and characterisation are the two most important things in any book - and in 'The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo', both are executed brilliantly.

The characterisation is superb - Mikael Blomkvist is one of the easiest characters to relate to that I've ever come across. He's laid back, has a vice for no-strings-attached sex with his long-term friend and colleague Erika Berger, and becomes frustrated when he can't stand up for what he believes in - all these characteristics are beautifully and effortlessly conveyed, and make him seem, well...human.

Lisbeth Salander's character is so striking that in real life she'd probably be too unusual to live as she does in the book. However, she is described so clearly, and her incredible intelligence means you can visualise her and understand her point of view as if it were your own - no matter how unconventional (or illegal!) it may seem.

There aren't lots of fancy adjectives or other techniques used to describe any of the characters - I can't really describe how it's done, but the bizarre partnership, along with their interactions with Erika and the Vanger family, seem like the most natural relationships in the world.

As for the plot: I can't fault it. The main story follows Blomkvist's search into the Vanger family's past, but there are several sub-plots to follow as well. Each is clearly defined by paragraph breaks, and the character and settings make it immediately clear what's being spoken about in each part. When it comes to the plot, there is no confusion whatsoever.

The plot is pacy, but not overly so. You may feel it slows down quite a lot in certain places, but far from becoming boring it works with the rest of the book - too much pace and excitement can also get a bit tedious. The mystery of what happened to Harriet is enticing and leaves you as the reader both interested and guessing the whole time.

Larsson's writing style is so simple and clear that this book is consequently very easy to read. Add this to the excitement that you'll get from the plot, and this book is definitely a page-turner. I couldn't put this book down - and the sun we've had recently gave me the perfect excuse to work my way through it!

I could go on for hours talking about this book, but I'll try not to go on for too long!

One thing I was worried about before I started reading was all the Swedish names. It's bad enough when I read an English book and all the characters have similar names; Joe, John, Joshua, Gill and Jenna...I'm all over the place and have no idea who's who! I certainly worried that this problem would increase tenfold with all the Swedish names. Plus, on opening the book I was provided with a Vanger family tree - this set alarm bells ringing as any book that needs the illustration of a family tree is bound to be confusing!

However, I needn't have been worried at all. The characters all had totally different names, as the brothers Henrik and Harald Vanger were about the most similar they came. Thankfully, I was rarely left confused about who a character was, and found I didn't even have to refer to the family tree once! I think this clarity was down to the clear writing style, and that excellent characterisation, once again...

For me, this book definitely lived up to the hype and deserves every bit of credit and recognition it gets. I'm finding it virtually impossible to put my finger on exactly what it is that makes it so special, but there's no doubt that this book is in a league of its own. The storyline is both impeccable, intriguing and exciting all at the same time, and it's written in such a way that it's so easy to read. I think it's the characters that really make this book, though, as they're compelling to follow yet so easy to relate to at the same time. It's the characters who enticed me into making my way through the second book in the series (which, by the way, is just as brilliant!).

It's just a pity that Larsson died so young, with so much untapped potential left inside him...

Everyone I've spoken to who has read this book has been amazed by it - it's already become one of my favourite books, and is no doubt one of the books you must read before you die!

---And Finally...---

You get the book...and you get the film. I was very keen to see the film a few months ago, and now that I've read the book I'm glad I didn't see the film. It's the type of book where it's so exciting and interesting to visualise in your mind's eye, that for me, any attempt to recreate the scenes on film would just ruin it. I haven't seen the film and don't wish to, but if you're toying about which to do first, I'd recommend you read the book.

You can currently buy a new copy of this book for £3.89 from Amazon (BARGAIN!!), or for £6.39 from The Book People.

I used the following websites for reference, and to gather some of the information included in the 'Background' section:
Summary: The mystery is intriguing; the characters captivating; the writing exceptional
Rating: 5/5!

Friday, 17 June 2011

Too Close To Home - Linwood Barclay

The Cutter family's neighbours (Albert, Donna and Adam Langley) are gunned down in their own home, with apparently little in the way of a motive. Teenager Derek Cutter is immediately the main suspect, as he was hiding in the Langley home at the time of the murders. From this point onwards, the Cutter family's life is thrown into turmoil, with secrets, lies and betrayal being dug up from the past. But how do they all fit together to reveal the truth? And is Derek Cutter really guilty?

On reading the blurb of this book I was quite excited - I had never read any of Linwood Barclay's books before, and the premise sounded thrilling. The Cutters discover that whoever murdered their neighbours went to the wrong house, that they were actually the intended victims. Don't worry, this isn't a spoiler, as if you've read the blurb on the back of the book you'll know that already! What could be worse than finding out your neighbours have been shot, but that it should have been you in their shoes? Eagerly, I opened the book and started reading...

Apart from the prologue, the whole story is written in the first person, from the point of view of Jim Cutter, father to Derek and husband to Eileen. Jim runs his own lawn cutting and garden maintenance business, which he was forced to take on after he lost his job as the town Mayor's driver. Jim is a no-nonsense kind of guy, who doesn't make idle chat for the sake of it, and is often curt and to the point.

I felt that often he was a little too brief to be normal, but I suppose this can be understood when you realise how much him and his family were going through. Nevertheless, he is a very likeable character; perhaps the fact that it is written in the first person means that we can feel his anger, sympathise with his sadness and understand his shock, almost in a cathartic manner.

Jim's wife Eileen is a much deeper character than she first appears. She seems like she should be the quiet, caring, doting wife and mother - I'm not saying she's not - but sometimes she comes across as a much more complicated person than I expect her to be. Perhaps it's just me being closed-minded, as Barclay may have purposely portrayed her as a sort of postmodern woman...but when you consider the rest of the book (which I will come to later) she doesn't really seem to fit. As well as that, her revelation - more than that I won't give away for fear of ruining the story - is a bit silly for me. It is feasible that it could happen in real life, but for some reason just felt a little unbelievable.

The Cutter family, for the most part, seemed like your average family... Yet they didn't seem to be overly bothered about the fact that a family was murdered in the house next door. If it was me, I'd barely be able to go into my own house, let alone keep walking and driving past the house where the murder took place. However, the Cutters seemed to ignore this fact and focus on other aspects of the plot. I think I was just expecting more tension or fear from them as a family.

With regards to the rest of the characters, there aren't actually that many to get your head around. I think this is great, as there's nothing worse than having hundreds of characters and losing track of who's who. Most of the rest of the characters are balanced and well-developed, even those we don't see much of. The only exception is Conrad Chase (Eileen Cutter's boss) and his wife Illeana. They both seemed too gregarious and self-important for the town in which they live, and it's extraordinary that in this prejudiced society of ours that a couple such as Conrad and Illeana would voluntarily befriend grass-cutting Jim. It actually seemed like they would be characters more suited to a film than a book...did Barclay have big ideas for this novel...?

Now, I'm going to have to be careful about how I word my views on the plot, as I don't want to give too much away. Apologies to anyone if I accidentally and unknowingly say something which reveals the truth!

I was actually a bit disappointed by the plot. By the time I'd reached the end of the book I was left baffled - a fairly large portion of the book and its focus ended up being totally unrelated to the outcome of the story. Yes, it may have helped to develop the characters and give them some depth, and you may even be able to argue it away as being a sub-plot...but it is such a large sub-plot that I thought it was the actual plot. By the end, I felt like I'd wasted a lot of time reading about something which was totally irrelevant. I mean, I've heard of red herrings and all, but this is taking red herrings to the next level!

Furthermore, the way the plot is constructed seems a bit simple. It actually reminded me a lot of a story I wrote for my English homework when I was in Year 8: one thing happens, which the characters focus on and investigate, then another thing happens, which the characters then focus on and investigate, then a third thing happens, which the characters go and focus on and investigate...and so on. What I'm trying to say is that everything happens one thing at a time. There are never lots of things going on at once, and I felt that the story lacked some depth. I suppose that this structure makes it a quick and easy read, but I personally prefer books which have more layers to them and which do not lay everything plainly out in front of me.

Having said that, when it became clear what was actually happening regarding the murders, it was something that I hadn't thought of at all. With crime books I like to be kept guessing as to what will happen next, and I hadn't guessed the truth at all. I wasn't surprised by it, but it hadn't occurred to me either. As I neared the end of the book, the tension mounted effectively and I felt myself holding my breath as I waited to see what would happen next. The ending is certainly gripping and thrilling...I only wish it could have been like that the whole way through.

The language used in the book is all very easy to understand. Any legal matters, especially regarding Derek Cutter, are glossed over so as to avoid drowning the reader in too much legal waffle. As I mentioned earlier, this is a quick read - I think it took me roughly ten hours in total to read, although this was with many interruptions such as conversations and texting! The chapters are all fairly short - not as short as in James Patterson books, but short enough that you can stop reading at frequent intervals.

Overall, would I recommend this book? ...I would and I wouldn't. I would because it is a quick read, which does become more gripping and thrilling as it goes along. However, I wouldn't recommend the book due to the facts that the structure is basic and a large portion of the plot was irrelevant to the outcome. It just ended up being totally different from the book I was expecting. After I'd finished it, I re-read the blurb again and actually couldn't figure out what part of the story the blurb was referring to. I even commented to my mum that it seemed like the blurb was printed on the back of the wrong book! The book wasn't what I was expecting, and it wasn't the best written or constructed book I've ever read, but it was a good, tense, quick read.

My paperback copy has 466 pages and has a RRP of £7.99. It can currently be bought on Amazon for £5 (from other sellers the new price starts at £1.78 and used starts at 1p). I think the RRP is a bit steep, but if you can get it a bit cheaper then you'll be getting a fair deal.

Summary: A good, thrilling book...that's not necessarily the best you'll ever read...
Rating: 3/5

Friday, 10 June 2011

Little Face - Sophie Hannah

'Little Face' starts when new mum Alice Fancourt returns home from her first trip out, three weeks after giving birth to her daughter. Her shock and distress are unimaginable, when she becomes adamant that the baby she left at home with her sleeping husband David has been swapped for another baby - not her own. Of course, no-one, except the likeable but weak Detective Simon Waterhouse, believes Alice, least of all her husband or controlling mother-in-law.
Although Alice is portrayed as a slightly irrational and crazy woman, you can't help but be drawn to her as she tries with increasing frustration to convince the world around her of her sanity. Some of the other characters such as David and his mother Vivienne are hard to relate to as we never see their points of view and their reactions to Alice are often impossible to advocate. As I'm not a mother myself, I cannot even begin to imagine the 'living nightmare' which Alice goes through, so I assume that this book would be even more gripping for mothers who can relate to Alice and her feelings.
As Alice feels more and more isolated amongst her family, David's treatment of her is horrific. It is not something I expected of what appears to be a loving father, and the person who should be Alice's rock in her time of trouble. What makes it even worse is that he gets away with it, twisting it to make Alice seem more crazy than usual. Her desperation and frustration is entirely realistic, as unfortunately this abuse is something totally possible.
The book is also written from the point of view of Detective Simon Waterhouse, as he tries to piece together Alice's situation. As he is the only person to believe Alice, he becomes very likeable and you begin to trust what he says, although his relationships with Alice and his female boss Charlie are sometimes frustrating. Simon is often accused by Charlie of having a 'thing' for Alice, which in a way becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as he becomes preoccupied with proving Alice's point of view to be correct. At the same time, Charlie tries in vain to make her feelings for Simon known, and for them to be reciprocated. Simon cannot allow himself to get involved with Charlie after an embarrassing mistake of a fling some time before, which just makes Simon seem a bit soft and weak in character. These emotional entanglements, for me, got in the way of the plotline a bit. Had they been omitted, Simon would have been a very admirable character indeed.
As the story unfolds and the conclusion draws nearer, the reader is left guessing as to whodunit and how everything fits together. I think this is exactly what makes a thriller thrilling - the process of trying to fit everything together yourself whilst still being thrown clues and red herrings as you go. The desire to find out what did in fact happen to the baby will keep you reading to the end, if nothing else will, at which point all loose ends are tied up.
However, this process of finding out whether Alice was right or wrong and what happened to the baby is rather drawn out. It seems a little like Sophie Hannah is trying to keep you guessing a little too long, and when she eventually lets you know what happened, she says the same thing several times over just in different ways. She could have cut the 'final chase', as I like to call it, down to half the length but still achieved the same effect. The answer is something you probably won't have guessed yourself, so is still quite shocking, but had it been given to the reader more swiftly it may have packed more of a punch.
If you like thrillers you won't be able to put this book down, although near the end the pace slows down a bit which does let the book down. Other than that, it is a good read and something I would recommend, although it's not the type of book I can see anyone going back to read several times again. I won't be forgetting it in a hurry, but I think that mothers would be a more suitable audience for this book. For mothers, I imagine it would be especially engrossing as you would be able to relate to Alice's situation, emotions and reactions a lot more easily.
What would you have done in Alice's shoes?
Summary: A good thriller which will draw you in and keep you guessing until the end
Rating: 4/5

Friday, 3 June 2011

The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

'The Kite Runner' is a thought-provoking story which does not really fit into any genre, but has the overriding themes of redemption, friendship, and how someone's childhood can shape their future.

It tells the story of Amir, a young boy living in Afghanistan, who witnesses a horrific incident involving his friend and servant, Hassan. Be it through fear, cowardice or a desire for love and attention from his father, Amir betrays Hassan and spends the rest of his life regretting it. After immigrating to America as a young man where he makes a new life for himself, Amir makes one final trip back to Afghanistan to try and right the wrongs of his past. But does he ever fully gain redemption...?

If you're looking for a fun, light-hearted book this wouldn't be one for you. Even Amir himself admits that 'If someone were to ask me today whether the story of Hassan, Sohrab and me ends with happiness, I wouldn't know what to say'. The book pushes the boundaries of what we see as acceptable, as it deals with some very sensitive issues such as sexual abuse, children's sexuality, and war and conflict. It doesn't make light reading, but as a lot of it is written from the young Amir's perspective, the difficulties which he faces do not feel too 'real' for the reader.

The book is set over four decades, during the time of both the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and the British and American war with Afghanistan. However, these are only touched upon briefly, as the focus of 'The Kite Runner' is not on war itself, but rather the inner conflict one feels when trying to distinguish between doing what it right and wrong. Each of the main characters experiences some kind of inner conflict, which really reflects how war and conflict can affect every single one of us.

Whether you do or don't enjoy reading 'The Kite Runner', I strongly recommend you read it several times again. There are so many things you could pick up on, which you only notice when you are reading for the second, third, fourth time round. There are many parallels between characters, and the author's use of metaphors and imagery is extensive, so some of the things you may not have really picked up on make much more sense the next time you read the book. This is definitely one of those books where you notice something new every time you read it - having studied it in English Literature at A Level you'd think I'd be sick of it by now, but no, each time I read it I end up loving it a little bit more.

I will admit that some of the parallels between the characters, or events later on in the book, seem a little too coincidental and obvious. It is at those points where you are jolted back to the fact that you are reading a work of fiction, and the things you are reading are not real life. Perhaps if Hosseini had been less obvious, but had used the skill of including subtle metaphors and implying certain things which he so clearly has, the reader would have been made to draw their own conclusions and make their own judgements instead.

Nevertheless, if you're prepared to dive into something new and unprecedented, you won't be disappointed by 'The Kite Runner'. As I've said before, it's not fun, light reading, but it will definitely leave you thinking afterwards, and questioning your own morality. Once you've started you won't be able to put it down, so I thoroughly recommend curling up on the sofa one lazy Sunday and reading it!

Summary: A fantastic, unforgettable story about a young boy and his struggle through life to find redemption
Rating: 5/5