Year of a Hundred books – #24 Beautiful Creatures

Beautiful CreaturesBeautiful Creatures, by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

4/5

I realise that I am not the target demographic for this book, and there is a little part of me that thinks I should not be enjoying reading about vaguely magical teenagers falling in love with added angst. However, I don’t care. I thoroughly enjoyed Beautiful Creatures. I’ll admit, I saw the film first (and also enjoyed that, though I think my girlfriend was quite bored), so I knew what to expect.
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Year of a Hundred books – #23 The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and DisappearedThe Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson

3/5

To begin with, I really liked The Hundred-Year-Old Man…. I’m a fan of a number of authors in the current wave of Swedish Crime, particularly Henning Mankell’s Wallander series, and from the beginning this book read like an amusing satire of this genre. It had most of the recognisable tropes: an atypical protagonist (although Allan Karlsson, the titular centenarian is certainly no Lisbeth Salander), racist Biker Gangs, corpses ending up in obscure African countries, and police following seemingly incomprehensible trails, misinterpreting vital information while having to deal with obstructive central bureaucracy and the media. There were even interesting and entertaining flashbacks to Allan’s early life.

Then, about a quarter of the way through the book, it started to get silly.

If you think about Forrest Gump, and the way he casually and obliviously blunders into all the major events of the 1960s and 70s, but still manages to be heart warming because the story telling is so innocent. The Hundred-Year-Old Man… is the exact opposite. It’s so smugly self-aware that as Allan blunders from contrived meeting to contrived meeting, getting by on little more than his fondness for alcohol and vague smile, I just wanted to scream at him. The ‘present day’ story also begins to become a little incredible before long, as each and every person he encounters, regardless of whether they had been trying to kill him or arrest him, magically falling in love with his charm and agreeing to follow him to the ends of the earth.

Which would have been fine if it was only occasionally, but it happened so frequently, it got both annoying and unbelievable before the book was even half over.

Year of a Hundred books – #22 The Bad Girl

The Bad GirlThe Bad Girl, by Mario Vargas Llosa

3/5

If I had to choose a single adjective for The Bad Girl I think, I’d definitely go with interesting, rather than good or enjoyable. As with Loeser in the Teleportation Accident, the protagonist (Ricardo) is unable to get over his obsession and love for an elusive female, this time the titular Bad Girl.

The first time Ricardo meets the Bad Girl, she turns up in the suburb of Lima in which he lives, pretending to be from Chile, an exoticism that attracts not only Ricardo, but the whole neighbourhood. Once caught in a lie, the Bad Girl disappears, but Ricardo is destined to run into her over and over again throughout his life.

While there is nothing particularly bad about this plot, and it’s certainly well written, even in translation the prose is very enjoyable, I found it less interesting than the overview of 20th Century Peruvian history that the plot facilitates. I’ve always felt attracted to Peru, since I went there for a month in 2005, it’s what made me pick up the book in the first place, but aside from a few snippets here and there, I never knew much about the history. So reading Ricardo’s story, which tells the story of the rise and fall of Peru’s communist guerilla and the subsequent attempt and failure of democracy and slide into dictatorship, was fascinating for me, and more so than the story itself, which at times got quite annoying.

There were some very touching moments, including a part where the Bad Girl finally convinces Ricardo’s neighbours adopted and PTSD suffering elective mute son to talk, but in general I felt as though there wasn’t enough of a reason for Ricardo to put up with all the nonsense that the Bad Girl gave him. I’m happy to accept the Power of Love as a plot device (What self respecting Harry Potter/Doctor Who fan isn’t?) but there was definitely more tell than show in that side of things.

I do have another of Mario Varga Llosa’s books on my shelf waiting to be read, but I do feel as if the Bad Girl was lacking a certain something that it needed to make it a truly great book.