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Rachael
I went to choose new glasses last week, and I found a pair I really liked. They were turquoise and looked really fun and kind of quirky, and I felt uplifted looking at my reflection wearing them. Usually when I choose glasses it's like "OK, if I have to wear glasses, these are about the least unflattering," but this pair I actively liked and could imagine myself wearing even if I didn't need glasses.

A week later I went in to pick them up, and had a disappointing surprise. They were black, not turquoise, and looked very boring and severe compared with what I remembered. They were turquoise on the inside - on the backs of the frames, and the insides of the arms.

I thought there must be some mistake - that they'd made up the glasses with the wrong frames, or with the right style but the wrong colour from a choice of colours. But the lady said they only come in this colour (and I looked on the website later and that concurred). She said that this happens quite often - that people remember the cool colour or pattern from the inside of the frames, and are disappointed when the outside is plainer. (And I did notice that a lot of the frames on display had interesting colours or patterns on the inside only. Seems a very weird trend.) I even wondered if they had been mistakenly put together inside out, but I don't think so - the inside has the nose rests moulded onto it, for example.

I know human memory is very fallible, and I know my own visual memory is particularly bad. But... I really remember them being turquoise. I remember seeing them turquoise in my reflection in the mirror. And, most compellingly, the available frames are all displayed with the fronts facing you, and the arms pointing straight out away from you (so it's not like I could have seen the turquoise insides of the arms when they were folded), and if they'd looked black on the rack, I wouldn't even have picked them up.

When wearing them and looking in the mirror, I can see a faint glint of turquoise coming from the edges of the frame. (And apparently this is the reasoning behind the weird inside-decoration trend - for people who want only a subtle turquoise effect on their black glasses.) It's just about possible that, if I saw them from the inside first and thought they were turquoise, I could have seen them in the mirror and mis-parsed the black as turquoise-in-shadow, like some of those optical illusions where the light blue in shadow is objectively the same colour as the dark blue elsewhere...? But that still doesn't explain why I picked them off the rack in the first place.

I tried to see if I could find the original display frames on the rack, but I couldn't see them, and I didn't want to spend too long looking as I had two bored kids in tow. I'll probably go back once term has started. The lady was very nice and said if I didn't like them I could come back soon and get them changed to a different frame for free (although I think my choice will be very limited because these are among the smallest in terms of frame area, and I wouldn't be able to get these lenses swapped into any bigger frames).

The first image is me wearing the new glasses normally. The second image is me holding them against my face inside-out, and colour-wise they look a lot more like what I remembered.
2018-09-01 16.14.53
2018-09-01 16.15.29

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Alex and I have been playing The Unavowed, the latest story-driven point-and-click adventure from Wadjet Eye games, about a group of vigilantes who deal with supernatural problems. You play their newest recruit, who they've just freed from demon possession, and you have to figure out and undo the damage your demon did over the last year while you were possessed.

You get to choose the gender of your protagonist, and whether they're an actor, barkeeper or police officer, and you get to make up a name for them. I guess this is for replayability (ours is an actress called Anna, and a lot of the dialogue and flashbacks make heavy use of her acting background, so we're keen to replay it with one of the other professions and see how that turns out). I don't quite see why they let you make up the name, though. They could just pick a name for the male version of the protagonist and a name for the female one and be done with it. Presumably it's just a piece of customisation, to make the player feel more invested or involved, but I'm not sure it's worth it. (I expect most players don't use their own name anyway? And we were playing it together, so we had to make up a name, otherwise it would have seemed like one of us was playing and the other was watching.) The cost of allowing free choice of name is that the name can never be spoken aloud in the voice-acted dialogue. They have various ways to get around this, some of which sound a bit contrived ("This is Eli, this is Mandana, and this is ... oh, never mind, I forgot you can't see any of them.")

Previous Wadjet Eye games we’ve played (the Blackwell series, Primordia, Resonance, and Technobabylon) have all been a bit dark and have all had interesting and difficult moral choices to make. Unavowed cranks both these things up. (Unavowed is also literally dark as well as figuratively: nearly all the scenes take place around sunset with smoggy red skies.) In each of Primordia and Resonance there was one big moral choice and we had to pause playing to have a big debate about it, because we disagreed on which choice the character should make. I think that's a mark of a well-crafted piece of interactive fiction. The publisher obviously noticed that players like this aspect, and so they've put at least one big moral dilemma in every chapter of Unavowed. I'll talk about them in more depth later in the post. Also, though, they make you choose a dialogue option every time your character talks, and this is a bit much, and leads to decision fatigue and me going "meh, whichever." (Sometimes there's a meaningful difference between the dialogue options, like between a comforting answer and a scathing one, but sometimes they're just three different synonyms for "let's go".) It works this way because, although all the NPCs are voiced, the protagonist isn't, so the only way she can "talk" is by you choosing a dialogue option for her (then she doesn't say it out loud, but people reply to her out loud). And I think this, in turn, is at least partly because they let you name her and she has to say her own name sometimes (like when introducing herself), so her dialogue can't be voiced.

Compared with other point-and-click adventures, this game sometimes feels a bit linear and railroaded. There aren't that many puzzles and they mostly aren't very difficult, and you don't have as much free rein as I'd like over where to go and what to do and in what order. If the plot mandates that you should explore location A before location B, then you will - if you try to do B first, someone will say without any justification "I think we should explore over there first" and it will just happen. It’s more like a piece of interactive fiction than a traditional point-and-click game. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Once a couple more people have been recruited into the Unavowed, there's an unspoken rule that only three characters can go on any mission (and it must include Anna, and at least one of Eli and Mandana, the two original members). No one ever explains why this is, but the game enforces it. It would have been nice if they could come up with some in-game justification for it (Alex suggested "we never travel in a group larger than three because the risk of being noticed by mundanes is too high", plus not wanting a mission entirely composed of new recruits), but they don't bother. There was even one mission where a character who wasn't originally on the mission turned up to check everything was OK, and afterwards we/Anna had to choose whether to send her back home again or send one of the others away before we could carry on with the mission.

The three-character rule does have a massively positive impact on replayability, much more effectively than the occupation and gender of the main character. (So I'm not complaining about its existence, just wishing it were explained in-game and didn't seem so arbitrary). We mostly brought Eli and Logan on missions because we like them (and we like Logan's spirit guide, KayKay) - and we mostly found that the missions seemed quite tailored to them, either plot-wise (one of them involved Eli coming to terms with some stuff from his past), or puzzle-wise (they relied heavily on Eli's fire-mage powers and Logan's ability to talk to ghosts, and in one case KayKay's ability to walk through walls). So we're really curious about how the missions will work if we bring the other two characters instead. I don't know whether the things we find will change slightly according to who we bring, or whether we'll need to find clever ways to solve the same puzzles with Mandana's and Vicki's powers instead.

The game is clearly set in the same universe as the Blackwell series. Logan is a Bestower of Eternity, like Rosa or Lauren, with a spirit guide, and the way they deal with ghosts and help them to move on works the same as in Blackwell, except here the player only gets to see it second-hand. There are also a couple of cameo appearances from minor Blackwell characters, which was pleasing.

The moral dilemmas
(Spoiler warning if you intend to play the game, and content warning for various kinds of death and suffering and sadistic choices)
There were several places where the game made you make a difficult moral choice. They were all quite interesting. Some of them Alex and I agreed on, some we disagreed. Some we found relatively easy, some agonisingly hard.
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Overall
Very good game, very compelling story and characters. Definitely has us thinking about it and talking about it even when we're not playing it. Recommended.

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Don't Close Your Eyes - Holly Seddon
Enjoyable but very sad family story. The backstory is that there was a family with twins, and the mother ran off with another man, and took her favourite one of the twins with her, separating the twins (the twins and the dad were both very unhappy about this, but the mother gave them an ultimatum that if she can't take one, she'll go to court to get both and probably win, so the dad settled for keeping one). Shortly afterwards the mum's new man gets a job in America, so the twins get separated by a continent rather than just a few streets. Lots of bad things happen over the following years. In the present-day narrative, one of the twins is tracking down the other after not seeing her for years. Although it's a very sad story, there's a hopefulness to it because the twins come through for each other when it matters most, and there are also some enjoyable twists, including a very clever one which had me going back re-reading the opening chapters to admire the ambiguous wordcraft (my favourite kind of twist).

Close to Home - Cara Hunter
Detective thriller about a missing child. It's told from the POV of the detective, which I usually don't enjoy so much, but I quite liked this one. It's very twisty, with lots of reveals. The girl's parents are both really unlikeable. The ending was very good and unexpected.

The Darkest Lies - Barbara Copperthwaite
Teenage Beth goes missing and turns up in a coma. Her mother tries to solve the mystery, but doesn't make much headway because basically the whole village is lying about some illegal business they're nearly all involved in. A random childhood acquaintance has recently returned to the village and is helping her.
I didn't think this was very good.
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Two Sisters - Kerry Wilkinson
I read this straight after The Darkest Lies, and it's remarkably similar: teenager goes missing, relative (in this case his two sisters) tries to track them down, turns out nearly everyone in the village is lying about something semi-unrelated. Slow-paced and a bit meh.
I preferred the author's other book, The Girl Who Came Back.

The Visitor - KL Slater
Interesting story about neighbours David, a middle-aged shut-in who lives with his mother, and Holly, a lodger recently moved back to her childhood town, rebuilding her life after a mysterious tragedy. They're both quite sympathetic and likeable characters despite both their mysterious dark pasts and David's social oddness, and the story develops enjoyably. The ending is quite shocking, with a double-whammy of twists.
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The Child - Fiona Barton
This is about a journalist investigating the skeleton of a newborn baby found on a building site, and an older woman and a younger woman who each think it's theirs. It's a pretty good story, with an interesting and clever plot, although I figured out the solution before the end, which was a little bit disappointing.
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12 Rules for Life - Jordan Peterson
This seemed unnecessarily verbose and unengaging in style. I think there were nuggets of wisdom buried in the waffle. Apparently the book was expanded from a Quora post which devoted one paragraph to each "rule", and I think I'd prefer to read that instead.
I'd been led to expect a lucid, incisive thinker like CS Lewis or Scott Alexander, but my impression was that it was more like listening to the ramblings of a taxi driver or your great-uncle at Christmas dinner. Most of the message seems to be pretty standard self-help stuff: respect yourself, stand up for yourself, etc; plus some woo, like something very similar to "visualisations" to make good things happen. It uses lots of Bible quotes and Christian context, enough to seriously annoy atheists, but the message is at an angle to Christianity, at best (particularly the bit about resisting corrupt organisations that ask too much of you? Matt 5:39-42)
Bits of it are also irritatingly simplistic, like the advice to "just stop" the bad things you do (howwww?), and the chapter on child-rearing says not to let kids do things that make you dislike them, but has a brief disclaimer saying that that doesn't apply if you're just being overly fussy and demanding yourself (the really big question I've struggled with for the last eight years is how you tell the difference).
He seems obsessed with status, both as a conceptual part of his message, and his own (his Quora ratings; his interactions with kids seem to stem from his need to show kids who's boss).
He caricatures his opponents on child discipline as thinking children are perfect and need no correction (rather than e.g. thinking children need help rather than punishment when they can't do things yet). His actual child-rearing methods miiight be OK for one's own kids, but he boasts about the times he applied them to other people's kids he was caring for. Forcing other people's kids to eat or to sleep, without their parents' knowledge or permission, is not appropriate. He uses unnecessarily emotive language, like describing a 4yo who refused to eat lunch as being starved by neglect - starvation by neglect is when you don't provide them any food, not when you provide food but opt not to force-feed them.
I got bored wading through the waffle and gave up halfway through, but I'd quite like to read all the rules in the original Quora post.

Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us about Who We Really Are - Seth Stevens-Davidowitz
Fantastic pop-sci book about the application of data science, and how analysis of things like Google searches and social media posts can reveal more accurate information than traditional surveys. Really interesting and entertaining, in the same way as Freakonomics or Predictably Irrational. Reminded me of my post about Dataclysm, where I realised that applied data science had the potential to be more interesting to me than traditional psychological research. This book made me feel inspired, like there are lots of really interesting and/or lucrative ideas just beyond my fingertips.

The Learner Parent - Sam Avery
The author was a stand-up comedian who then had twins. I've been following his "Secret Diary of a 3-year-old" posts, which are very funny, and then he published a book. It's very funny. IMO, the first section, about trying to conceive and then pregnancy, was the best and had the most laugh-out-loud moments. Then there's a serious part where one of the newborn babies is dangerously ill, and then there's another funny part about parenting them as babies and toddlers. Recommended if you're a parent or interested in parenting or just enjoy funny books.

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andrewducker posted a link to an article about whether people feel they've become more their "true" or "authentic" selves as they've got older. In general, it turns out, they do.

I don't. As I commented on Andrew's post, I feel like I was my truest self between about 16 and 19[*], and have become a more faded or diluted version over the years since then. Most of my feelings and desires have got weaker, and as a busy grown-up with two kids I've become closer to living an "unexamined life", just getting through what needs doing each day without spending much time thinking about the big picture.

Does that sound a bit depressive, or is it just part of getting older? I thought the latter, but the survey of people feeling they've become more authentic with age makes me wonder if there's something wrong, or at least unusual, with me.

(We need to draw a distinction between feeling like your true self on the inside and being able to act like your true self in front of others. Andrew's comment on his post seems to refer to the latter: LGBT people coming out, autistic people receiving and embracing their diagnosis rather than trying to act neurotypical, etc. In that sense, I've been more able to act like my true self since I came to Cambridge, and acquired friends and a husband who are nerdy like me and share similar interests, rather than feeling like I have to dumb down my language and fake interest in fashionable things that don't interest me, which was the case at school. But in the sense of feeling like my true self on the inside, I think that peaked in my late teens or early adulthood and has declined since.)

[*]This range encompasses sixth form, where I was unhappy and didn't fit in, and the first two years of university, where I was happy and did fit in; so I think it's not a function of happiness or of belonging.

How about you - do you feel you've become more, or less, your true self as you've got older, or do you think the question sounds like meaningless psychobabble?

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Heist Society - Ally Carter
Very fun story about Kat, a teenage girl from an old crime family. Another crime boss is threatening Kat's father because he mistakenly thinks Kat's father stole some paintings from him. To save her father, Kat takes it upon herself to find out who really stole the paintings and steal them back. It's a glamorous, jet-setting romp with clever, snappy dialogue, and a teenage love-interest who I probably shouldn't find attractive because I'm old enough to be his mother.
Quite looking forward to getting the sequels.

The Bad Mother - Amanda Brooke
I couldn't finish this, because the characters were so unlikeable and spent the whole time arguing and sniping at each other. In the first few chapters that I read, there was a young couple expecting a baby, plus her mother and his mother. All the conversations between any of them were filled with arguing, tension, petty digs, and supposedly friendly jokey comments that were meant to lighten the mood and signal that everything was OK again, but were actually nearly always insulting (like the pregnant woman's husband calling her fat). It also seemed predictable from the first few chapters (plus the tagline on the front) where the story was going, and reading reviews on Amazon afterwards suggests there wasn't much more to it, so I'm glad I gave up on it.

The Foster Child - Jenny Blackhurst
Like The Ice Twins and The Little Stranger, this is another one that walks the line between psychological and supernatural thriller, and was quite effective in its creepiness. The protagonist, Imogen, has just moved back to the village where she spent her unhappy childhood, and is working for a government agency adjacent to social services. There's a girl, Ellie, who lives with a foster family in the village after her own family died in a fire. Imogen becomes over-involved in Ellie's case and tries to protect her from the classmates and even adults who think she's some kind of witch because weird and bad things keep happening around her. It's a bit similar to Carrie (and Imogen's husband makes the comparison), but I thought it was more effective and subtly scary. I found Carrie a bit meh.
As well as her loveless childhood, Imogen is on the run from an incident in her old job where she also got too attached to a child: a boy who was allegedly self-harming, but Imogen thought his parents were the ones hurting him. She won his trust and got him to open up, and he told her that yes, they were; but when he went back home to them and the authorities investigated, he denied it, claimed he'd only told Imogen what he thought she wanted to hear, and the case against his parents collapsed. He then "committed suicide because his parents were falsely accused of abusing him". I found that line absolutely chilling, and confirmation that Imogen had been right all along; but she took it as a further reproach against her and a warning that she shouldn't get too involved and shouldn't pursue her own pet theories, but should learn to accept what she's told by those who know better. I'm confused about whether the author agrees with that, or wants readers to reach the conclusion I did and is showing Imogen to be implausibly naive and oblivious.
(Also, this was very badly proofread. Lots of pieces of dialogue with no punctuation at the end.)
But a very good book overall. Blackhurst also wrote How I Lost You, which was one of the first psych thrillers I read and was also excellent.

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I don't know whether or not I'm in the autistic spectrum. I have some autistic traits; I have a daughter with an official diagnosis, and AFAIK autism has a genetic component; and some people have asked me, based on their impressions of me, if I'm on the spectrum. But I've never been officially tested.

I'm saying this because some people (and I am not one of them) think you can only be allowed to express an opinion on autism if you're autistic yourself. But what if I don't know whether I am or not; am I allowed to express an opinion then? Think of me as "Schroedinger's autist", if you like. (And of course if I'm not autistic, then I'm a neurotypical parent of an autistic child, a category even more reviled in some circles than regular neurotypicals.)

Anyway. Clearly, the definition of autism has expanded a lot in recent years. This is a good thing in as far as it means more people are having it recognised and getting access to support if they need it. But it's also clearly the cause of all the comments like "you don't look autistic" or "your child doesn't look autistic" that make people so angry. It's not the fault of the people making those comments; it's the fault of the psychological establishment for changing the definition so significantly. People shouldn't jump down people's throats for not having caught up yet. It's important to recognise, diagnose, and support the kind of people who are getting diagnosed now and wouldn't have been a generation ago; but I think dropping the "Asperger's" label and rolling everyone into one category was a mistake, for the reasons described in this paragraph.

There are plenty of autistic activists who would disagree with me there. They actively want to roll it all into one category, and reject the descriptions "high-functioning" and "low-functioning". Autistic people who can read and write and construct an argument argue that they are the same as so-called low-functioning autistics and so the functioning labels should be abolished. But the fact that they can construct and write that argument falsifies it, because a low-functioning person couldn't do that. I've also seen parents arguing against the functioning labels because "low-functioning" is just a way to say "hey, my child faces more challenges than yours" and "high-functioning" is just a way to say "at least my child's not as disabled as that child" and therefore we should abolish the labels and recognise that we're all in the same boat. But by that logic we should abolish the description "autistic" itself, and all other descriptions of neurodiversity or disability; because "autistic" (and so on) is also just a way to say "hey, my child faces more challenges than yours" and "neurotypical" is also just a way to say "at least my child's not as disabled as that child". And I don't think the parents making that argument would want to abolish "autistic". (Just to be clear, I wouldn't either.)

My impression of autism activists is that they say both "I should be represented and listened to, and society benefits from having more people like me" and "There's no valid distinction between me and Bob who never learned to talk or read and who smears his poo over the walls every day and is violent". And I don't see how both those things can be true. (Of course Bob is human and should be treated with dignity and respect, but that's not the point I'm arguing about here.)

Also, if the activists succeed in changing the colloquial, popular definition of autism from someone like "Bob" to someone who shows unusual social interaction and has sensory sensitivities but is otherwise "normal", then the "Bobs" will be forgotten (since they either live in institutions, or in families who rarely go out with them because it's too challenging) and further marginalised. And if someone is told "my son/nephew/neighbour is autistic" and goes in expecting a quirky kid who talks about trains a lot, and gets "Bob", it will be a nasty shock both for them and for Bob.

The other thing I've observed is that some autistic people latch onto their diagnosis and build their whole identity around it, and think that every aspect of them, especially the things that they value about themselves, is part of their autism. (I think this is behind the extreme anger some people feel at any talk of "curing" or genetically screening for autism. They don't imagine relief for their sensory overload; they imagine their ability to think logically, and their love of their favourite fandom, being erased, from their brain or from the whole world. They don't seem to realise that neurotypical people can have those traits too.) For some people, "neurotypical" (or "allistic") means basically "Muggle". They imagine neurotypicals as this undifferentiated horde of sheeple who all like the same manufactured music and commercial fashion and can't think for themselves. Yes, there are a lot of people like that; but you don't have to be autistic to not be like that.

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I believe quite strongly that the validity of something doesn't depend on the person who created it. Once an argument has been made, or an article or a book written, it exists in isolation from the writer. The argument may be sound or unsound, and the novel may be good or bad art, but that's not a function of the author, their moral character, and certainly not their demographics.

Some categories of people may be statistically more likely than others to produce sound or unsound arguments, or good or bad art, of course. But once the work has been written, it exists as a given, and must be judged in isolation.

This is one of the issues where I part ways with the Social Justice movement. They often say things like, only women, or only people of colour, or only trans people, can have a valid opinion on issue X.

This seems really illogical to me: will an SJ person holding that view be reading a post by someone, believing that they're from demographic X, and nodding along in agreement; and then later find out they're from demographic Y, and start disagreeing with the same material they were previously agreeing with?

I read an interesting post by Ana Mardoll, a SJ person (and I think a fairly representative/orthodox one; correct me if I'm wrong) who used to identify as female, now identifies as nonbinary, and is exploring whether to identify as male. Ana is worried that if zie[*] comes out as male, people will reject zir previous writings on feminism, written as a woman or as an enby, and consider them invalid. Ana thinks people would be wrong to do this; but doesn't follow the train of thought all the way. I strongly suspect Ana would agree with zir detractors in rejecting the writings as invalid if they were written by a cis man.

[*]I don't really like zie pronouns, and I don't think Ana does either, but this paragraph was unreadably confusing with they pronouns, since they was already used to refer to the writings and to the detractors.

(This post was going to be a footnote to an upcoming post, but it got too long, so I've made it into its own post.)

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(BTW, I'm planning the next post after this one to be an interesting sociopolitical discussion topic rather than book reviews.)

The Babysitter - Sheryl Browne
This was dark and extremely gripping (I stayed up far later than I should have done). It's a bit like Behind Closed Doors in that it's not really a mystery, so much as "will the good guys escape from this terrible situation, and how?" Actually, there is what I think is meant to be a reveal at the end, but I thought it was very obvious all along. (And there's a review on Amazon which summarises the plot in a way that casually includes the information, in a way that suggests the reviewer didn't realise it was a spoiler.) But that didn't really interfere with my enjoyment of the book.
It's about a couple, Mark and Mel, with two kids, who employ a live-in "babysitter" (this seems an odd choice of words to me - I'd say a babysitter is someone who looks after your kids for the evening while you go out, and a nanny or au pair is someone who lives with you and helps out with the kids full-time). Jade, the babysitter, turns out quite early on in the book to be evil and hate Mel and want Mark for herself. The book is about the clever and twisted way in which she plots to drive a wedge between the couple and convince both of them that Mel is going mad, while keeping herself in both of their good books.
I was impressed by how strong Mark and Mel's marriage is at the beginning of the book. I like stories about strong, close couples. They've already survived the death of their firstborn, plus the normal struggles of parenting the other two. They communicate and respect each other and have a good sex life, and they're very understanding and supportive of each other's careers and the sacrifices each has to make to support the other. They're also both very likeable as individuals, and Mark in particular is very principled. Jade is of course hateful, but you have to admire the ingenuity of her evil plotting.

29 Seconds - T M Logan
This is by the author of Lies, but I don't think it's as good. The writing feels inferior - there's a lot of "telling" rather than "showing" (for example, giving us the backstory about Sarah's recently-ex-husband Nick), and there's a chapter early on which feels more like a Socratic dialogue than a realistic conversation, between The Woman Who Thinks Something Can Be Done About The Sexist Jerk and The Woman Who Knows It Can't.
The premise is that Sarah's boss is a sexist jerk who won't promote her even though she deserves it and keeps trying to get her into bed. But I can't help thinking that if she's as inept at work as she is in life in general, maybe she genuinely doesn't deserve the promotion.
Sarah is in her car when she witnesses a shocking crime: a car mounts the pavement and runs over a man who's walking with a little girl, and then reverses back over him, and then a guy gets out of the car and chases the frightened little girl. Sarah calls the police, while sitting in her car still at the scene, but reports a "traffic incident" - not a serious assault or attemped murder or an attempt at kidnapping still in progress. She has her phone out, but doesn't think to photograph or memorise the bad guy's numberplate, or photograph the bad guy or the little girl. And presumably it's not because she's too scared to get involved: what she does do is ram the bad guy with her own car as he runs in front of her to chase the girl. Then the bad guy's friend gets out of the car, retrieves his fallen colleague, and takes a photo of Sarah's numberplate - and even that doesn't prompt her to take a photo herself. Later the police have nothing to go on, and can't find any trace of the girl, the injured man or the bad guys.
Later, she gets blocked in by a scary-looking car while trying to leave a parking space. She has the time and presence of mind to think through her options (Call the police? No, there are things she doesn't want to tell them by this point. Ram the car? No, it's bigger than hers.) But it doesn't occur to her to lock her doors.
Another thing that irritated me was that the author repeatedly quoted "If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves", but didn't seem to know where it was from. It's quoted at the very beginning of the book and attributed to Marlowe's Dr Faustus (who presumably quoted it from the Bible). The main characters are Marlowe scholars by profession, and one of them quotes it to another later in the book, also apparently unaware of its original source. I can understand reading Dr Faustus and not recognising the quote, but if you're a professional Marlowe scholar, surely you should know when he's quoting other sources?

The Secret Mother - Shalini Boland
This has an intriguing hook - Tess comes home one day to find a little boy in her house, with no idea how he got there, and he's asking if she's his new mummy.
Tess's life situation is terrible: she and her husband had twins, one died at birth, the other died of cancer three years later, and the grief drove her and her husband apart and he's left. She very reluctantly alerts the police about this mysterious boy, and enjoys a few moments with him before they arrive. Spending time with him feels really natural to her and she wishes it could last. She's very sad to hand him over to the police, because she doesn't know if he'll be OK or what situation he's returning to; and on top of that, she's suspected of having kidnapped him, because she doesn't have any kind of plausible explanation for how he arrived in her house.
I felt like I was a couple of steps ahead of Tess for most of the book in figuring out the mystery. (To be fair, I have the advantage over her of not being emotionally involved; but it's still a bit unsatisfying as a reader.) Also, there was what seemed to me to be a big red herring which fooled me for a bit but which the plot didn't do anything with. Tess herself didn't go through a phase of suspecting it (although she went down other blind alleys). It almost makes me wonder whether the red herring was deliberate or accidental.

Bring Me Back - B A Paris
This is by the author of the unforgettable Behind Closed Doors, and it's extremely good, but not as good as that one.
Finn's girlfriend Layla disappeared on a holiday in France (after an argument, but he didn't tell the police that part) and was never found. Twelve years later, Finn is in a relationship with Layla's older sister Ellen, despite feeling some awkwardness about this. The two sisters are very different: Layla has bright red hair and is impulsive and kind of childish, and Ellen has dark hair and is mature and sensible and (although Finn tries not to use this word even in his thoughts) boring. But she's also very loving, and she and Finn are happy together - until they start to receive increasingly threatening messages claiming to be from Layla.
I actually figured out the twist about halfway through, but that was kind of my own fault because I achieved the difficult feat of wrenching myself away from the book halfway through and going to sleep at a sensible time, and the solution came to me in my half-asleep state. If I'd done my usual thing of staying up too late and ploughing through until I finished the book, I probably wouldn't have figured it out. I still think it's very well crafted.
One impressive thing is how sympathetic a character Finn comes across as, even though it would be very easy to make the reader hate him. He struggles with anger, and he's a physically large and strong man, so his anger has worse consequences than if he weren't. He tries quite hard to control his anger (although I think not to the extent of seeking professional help), but sometimes he fails, and he's beaten up people he's close to on several occasions, which is pretty bad.

The Girl who Came Back - Kerry Wilkinson
Very interesting and compelling drama/thriller about a six-year-old girl who disappeared from a small tight-knit rural community. Thirteen years later, she's back - "or is she?"
It's told from the POV of the young woman who's come back. She reunites with her mother, Sarah, who had never lost hope and is overjoyed to see her. Her mum's new husband, Max, and his brother, Ashley, are very hostile to her and think she's an impostor.
There are hints in her first-person narrative that she's not telling the whole truth, but on the other hand, her joy and relief at finding Sarah and having a mother seem very genuine. The resolution of this tension is satisfying: spoilers:

SpoilersCollapse )She's not Olivia, but she's Sarah's older child who was born a couple of years earlier, when Sarah was an unmarried teenager, and who Sarah's mother forced her to give up for adoption. This is why Sarah recognises her eyes and why she eventually passes a DNA test. She lied because she wasn't sure Sarah would welcome back the baby she gave up, but was more confident Sarah would welcome Olivia. Over the course of the novel, the narrator and Sarah get to know each other as adults, and she finds out more of Sarah's life history, including about the baby given up for adoption.
I guessed the narrator's real identity about two-thirds of the way through, but I didn't guess the other twist: the reason Max and Ashley were so sure the narrator wasn't Olivia was that Max killed Olivia. He had a unhealthy, possessive love for Sarah and didn't want another man's child in the way. He also tries to kill the narrator at the end, which means Sarah has to find out that the man she's married to is capable of doing such a thing, but at least she never finds out he was also the one who took her daughter all those years ago and caused her so much grief and uncertainty.
I thought the red herring of casting suspicion on Ashley and then revealing Max to be the real villain didn't work very well, just because the brothers are presented all along as figuratively joined at the hip and practically one person, with Sarah knowing she married a "package deal" - so the revelation that it was actually one rather than the other isn't very meaningful. But the book was still very compelling in spite of this.

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I'm normally a good little descriptivist linguist. I'm completely happy with split infinitives, singular they, and prepositions at the end of a sentence. I'm not a stickler for whom or fewer, and I accept the modern meanings of decimate, enormity and (grudgingly) fulsome.

But everyone has their bugbears, and these are mine.

Willy-nilly. It means "whether they like it or not". I'm not resigned to the use of it to mean something like "haphazardly" or "randomly". (In particular, if you say that someone went around having sex willy-nilly, you're not talking about promiscuity, you're talking about rape.)

A brace of. It measn "two". People use it as if it meant a huge crowd, saying things like "a brace of paparazzi, all talking at once and waving their cameras and microphones". If your sentence wouldn't make sense with "a pair of" or "a couple of", don't use "a brace of".

Such that. This seems particularly common among the highly literate STEM nerds I consider my ingroup - presumably because they've picked up the phrase from maths textbooks and papers, and then overuse it. "Such" stands for a noun phrase; "so" stands for an adverb phrase. So "S is the set of integers n such that n^2 is even" is correct; but "the line AB is extended such that it meets the x-axis" is not. It should be "so that".

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