Posted in bloggers, Books, Feminism, relationships, Reviews, women

Book Review: Anatomy of A Scandal – Sarah Vaughan

Now here’s a blinding flash of the obvious: sex, lies and scandals sell.

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Anatomy of a Scandal is the latest in a string of novels that tackle the subject matter of marriage and infidelity, and how passion can make anyone do something they wouldn’t ordinarily do.

Honestly, I have long since removed my rose-colored glasses. I no longer see the world through the filters of my childhood Disney influences. I am grown-up and realistic enough to accept that there’s no such thing as perfect relationships.

However.

I am increasingly frustrated by the way marriage is portrayed in the number of books I’ve read recently. I mean, is nothing sacred anymore? When did fidelity become the exception rather than the rule? When did society learn to turn the other cheek when a husband is caught cheating on his wife or vice versa? When did we become so blasé about something that – to me- is so fundamentally wrong?

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Okay, now that I’ve had my little rant, let me try to actually get a coherent review of this book out.

Anatomy of A Scandal is actually a courtroom drama more than anything else. A charming and influential MP is accused of rape by a woman with whom he’s been having an affair with for several months. This makes the case trickier because the issue of consent is blurred by the fact that they’ve had consensual sex several times prior to the incident in question (a quickie at the elevator right at the heart of the Houses of Parliament, HONESTLY).

This book really gets down to the nitty-gritty. For all that I hate the fact that this is another book about a cheating cretin, I really do admire it for the awareness it brings to the public about the kind of rape where consent is a grey area rather than a clear-cut case of “she didn’t want it”.

According to this book, the prosecutor has to make the jury believe that at the point of penetration, the accused was fully aware that they victim did not consent to the act. So really, she could have been enjoying the foreplay but if she didn’t want to go all the way and yet the man still insisted on scoring a home run, its still rape. I never knew that.

This book also brings to light the reason why so many victims do not come forward about their experiences. I mean, I don’t mean to generalise, but there is so much burden placed on the victim to provide proof of rape. And when you do come forward, your character and history are scrutinised, criticised and judged by everyone involved; your business becomes everybody’s business.

If you’re somehow the kind of woman who likes to look good, dress sexy or flirt every now and then, people seem to think you deserved what happened to you. As if one thing led to the other. As if there was no distinction between being a flirt and unsolicited sex. In this case, the odds against the victim are stacked even higher because she was “the other woman”.

It’s book likes these that make me thankful that the world is now paying more attention to things like sexual harassment in the workplace and that victims of assault have found their voice through movement like Time’s Up and Me Too. Where there once was just ripples in the ocean, feminism is now making waves. And thank God for that because its about damn time that abusers (and I’m not saying that they are exclusively of the male variety) finally answer for their sins.

Anyway, this book isn’t really a crime novel, nor is it the kind of book you pick up if you want to enjoy a fast-paced and thrilling plot. The story unfolds gradually, and in a non-linear fashion through the use of flashbacks. There were very few plot twists and none that you wouldn’t see coming.

It’s told from several point of views, one of which is the wife of the accused, which is why I went on the whole cheating rant because I just felt so sorry for her. I mean, you work hard to maintain a marriage, you compromise in order to make a partnership work and you think things are going along swimmingly AND THEN you’re completely blindsided not only by the discovery of an affair but by a far greater and more public scandal. Its enough to turn someone off the whole institution of marriage altogether.

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I think I’m going to read a romance novel next just to remind myself that the world is still a romantic place and that as long as the people in it continue to believe in true love, hope still springs eternal. Sappy, I know, but I need to take this belief with me when I go to sleep at night.

Because if love no longer exists, and all we’re left with are the lies and the scandal and the constant infidelity, what is the point of waking up in the morning? Scary thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in bloggers, Books, murder mystery, Reviews, Thriller

Book Review: Ordeal By Innocence – Agatha Christie

Well, I suppose they can’t all be masterpieces.

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Although I’ve only just recently started plowing my way through her massive body of work, I’ve been a fan of Ms. Christie from the moment I cracked open my first Hercule Poirot mystery.

I think she is a true master of the crime/thriller genre, and she manages to tell a tale without having to turn a book into something you can pound a nail with. I was very impressed with ‘And Then There Were None’ and ‘Murder at the Orient Express’, and just last month I saw ‘Witness For The Prosecution’ at the county hall with my sister and was blown away by a plot that was deceptively simple but in actuality layered and intricate.

So I had really high expectations for this book. I mean, the premise was promising and characteristic of some of her great works. A woman murdered at her family home, a son accused of the crime and sent to prison, and a last-minute witness that gave evidence to the fact that the son was sent to prison for a crime he never committed.

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This meant that the killer is still at large and could be ANYONE. So sister turns against brother, husband turns against wife, lover turns against lover, as the hunt for the real murderer commences.

All very gripping, presumably. HOWEVER, I found myself increasingly frustrated as the book went on for several reasons which I will try to enumerate in this post. First of all, I found it ludicrous that a stranger would ever be given license to investigate a murder when he had no jurisdiction, experience or even any sort of ties to the family. I mean, really, what business was it of his?? The witness/protagonist in this book toed a really fine line between good samaritan and busybody.

Secondly, I know that having people trapped in one setting and unable to escape each other’s company is a hallmark of her work. BUT. There was something about this plot that felt almost recycled to me. Maybe its pure coincidence and stems from the fact that the last five books of hers that I’ve bought were all relatively similar plot-wise, but while reading this book I found myself thinking that I’ve read this all before.

Thirdly, my God, towards the end of the book I just wished she’d shorten the length of the novel rather than subject us all to the needless repetition of facts that we ALL ALREADY KNEW. Like, all the clues were explored and thought over by so many characters; random people were examining the murder from all angles in several different chapters and at that point I just wanted to throw my hands up and say, OKAY, I GET IT. THESE ARE THE FACTS. NOW SOLVE THE MYSTERY ALREADY.

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And then when the mystery was solved, it was such a bloody letdown. After all the build-up, the twist almost felt like an anti-climax. I mean, okay, a part of me thought it was really clever and I can see how Agatha Christie has influenced the murder mystery genre because I felt like I’ve seen this twist in an episode of Castle or some other tv crime series. I suppose I just didn’t warm up to how this story was told, which is a shame because now that I think about it, it was actually quite a good story.

So there’s a BBC adaptation of this starring the incomparable Bill Nighy that I’m hoping would be better than the book. Maybe this is a plot that works better as a live action tv series rather than a book? I don’t know. I feel like I’VE just committed a crime by giving an Agatha Christie book a bad review but I have to be honest.

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Hopefully, the next three books I have lined up will be better. Maybe I should stick to the Poirot or Miss Marple mysteries.

Anyway, I would love to hear what you all think. If someone can tell me how the BBC production is, I’d appreciate it!

Cheers, bookworms.

Posted in Books, Politics, Reviews, Self-Discovery, Young Adult

Book Review: The Hate U Give – Angie Thomas

I once had a friend who called me out for posting a flippant comment on Facebook about a social issue that was being raised 2-3 years ago.

At the time I think I told her to mind her own damn business. I didn’t think it was wrong of me to try and focus on the good things, and to try to make light of the situation, because there’s nothing I can do to change the bad things anyway.

To this day I still remember her answer to that, which was to say that that was completely the wrong attitude to take. She said that as someone who’s met, been and stayed in contact with so many young people (I was a teacher in the Philippines) and who’s so active on social media, I have a responsibility.

I have a responsibility to raise awareness about important issues, and to encourage people to think about things like equality and justice. I have a voice, and the ability to influence opinions through my words. I should use it for more than just making witty comments.

I’d like to take this opportunity to tell my friend Jerah that after reading this book I finally understand why she was so upset with me, and I’m sorry that I didn’t get it at the time. I get it now.

To make light of something is to diminish its importance, and its important that people raise social awareness in any way they can. The people who have been victims of hate crimes are not laughing at my witticisms because they’re too busy fighting for their lives.

That’s why books like these are so important. They give a voice to the people who don’t often have the courage to speak up for themselves. Through Starr, an ordinary teenager who proves that she’s capable of extraordinary things, Angie Thomas sends out a powerful message: that every one and every life matters.

Starr is a very strong heroine. Having been a witness to not one but two of her friends’ brutal murders she’s understandably scared, but she finds a way to turn that fear into strength, making her a worthy role model for teenagers everywhere.

It helps that she’s also so damn relatable, and that her family – even in the midst of all the violence – is able to retain a sense of normalcy for Starr and her siblings. They stick together and they protect each other even when they disagree with each other’s opinion. Or even if they’re fighting over whether Lebron James is or is not a complete and utter fraud (I personally am not a fan. Laker girl all the way!).

This book offers a social commentary on equality, diversity, the justice system and police brutality. However, its the way it portrays racism in ALL FORMS that really got me.

Its not just the blatant and overt things like treating someone differently because they’re black or Asian or any other minority. Sometimes the small snide comments, (often meant to be humorous) comments that show a lack of understanding about other people’s culture or beliefs, that hurt even more than any form of outright racism.

This book made me think about the many ways I may have disrespected people who come from a different background just by throwing out a careless comment or two, and how I really have to be more careful about drawing the line between banter and just plain being rude.

I am not the most socially aware person in the world. I tend not to read the news anymore because it just depresses me. I do, however, read books. Like, a lot. So it helps when they publish books like these because it gets people to stand up and take notice of the things that are happening in front of our very noses.

Kudos to the author for not mincing words even though she knows her main demographic will be young impressionable teenagers. In fact I think the point IS to reach as many young people as she can. This, THIS is the kind of books that they should be reading, not books about sparkly vampires.

The Hate U Give is not a book that will give you a lot of closure. Even towards the end there is a sense that there is still so much more to be done, so many more battles to fight before the war against racism can be won. If you’re expecting a happy ending all tied up in a neat bow I suggest you move on to the romance section of your local bookstore.

But if you want a book that will inspire you and make you think, feel and HOPE, this is the book for you. Absolutely brilliant.

4 stars!

Posted in Books, Classic Literature, Reviews

A Tale of Two Cities: A Book Review and Some Melancholy Musings

It was the best of times and it was the worst of times

My love affair with Dickens started when I read Great Expectations five years ago. It was the first piece of classic literature I’ve read that was not written by Jane Austen. I’m almost ashamed to say that I was only driven to read it after watching an episode of Pretty Little Liars where a character was quoting a line from the book.

Up until that point I’ve only ever associated Dickens with Scrooge and A Christmas Carol. So I was pleasantly surprised when I started reading his extensive catalog of works to find that Mr. Dickens is not only observant, witty and blessed with a superb sense of comedic timing, he is also – in my opinion – the most underrated romance writer ever known to man.

Every book of his, including the one I’m reviewing now, is a love story in one form or another. First of all, his book is very clearly a love letter for the city of London – he describes the city so faithfully and evocatively that you can almost see the fog over St Paul, feel the spattering of rain, and smell the odours coming from both the river Thames and the sea of London’s inhabitants.

Every book is a story of a loving family: in this one, the history of the French Revolution is distilled to its most basic component as Dickens tells it through the eyes of the Manette family. With them we feel the dangers of the Reign of Terror and the ominous presence of La Guillotine, and through their experiences, we see the effects of years and years of oppression and how it can bring out the worst in people.

The best thing about a Dickens book, though, is that always, ALWAYS, it is a celebratory tale of unrequited love, two words that I never thought I would ever put together in one sentence. There is no reason to celebrate loving someone knowing all the while that that love can never be returned. But in every book, Dickens manages to turn something so utterly pathetic into something so triumphant, and never is that more true than in the character of Sydney Carlton.

Almost like a foreshadowing of future events, Dickens made Sydney Carlton an almost inconspicuous character for most of the book, weaving in and out of scenes like a side note, like a bit player waiting in the wings before he has to take center stage in life’s pivotal scene.

His love for the married Lucie is so all-encompassing that he willingly makes the ultimate sacrifice for her sake. In doing so, he takes the meaning of the words friend zone to a whole new level. HONESTLY.

He is a dissolute character who’s never done anything useful in his life but I promise you, you will find yourself cherishing this character long after you read the last couple of lines in this book, which comprises the most haunting words I’ve ever read in my life.

Finally, I just want to say this. I struggled all this week to find a reason for doing the things that I do. I’ve felt discouraged about people in general to the point where I ask myself why I should even bother. In a weird way, finishing this book gave me the answers I so badly needed.

It is not a failing to care too much for other people, to want to help them out to the best of your ability: it is a STRENGTH. And you do these things knowing they won’t always be appreciated and nor can you expect they’ll do the same for you; the point is to do them anyway.

A Tale of Two Cities is proof positive that even in the worst of times, there are still people capable of the best of things. And therein lies the hope.

4 out of 5 stars!

Posted in Books, Reviews, Thriller, Writing

Book Review: The Woman In The Window – AJ Finn

At this point in my reading career I should know better than to START READING A BOOK at 9 in the evening when I have to get up early for for work the next day.

Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

But, you know.

So I’m a little short on sleep this morning. This book was soooo worth it.

First of all, I have a love/hate relationship with books who have an unreliable narrator. I know it adds nuance to the story but it also adds a level of frustration for ME. I like figuring things out on my own but with a protagonist like Anna Fox, you can’t take anything she says or observes at face value.

Anna is an ex-psychologist who’s suffering from an extreme case of post-traumatic agoraphobia. She keeps in contact with her estranged husband and daughter sporadically. The only other connections she’s made in the last year are online ones in a community called Agora.

She’s not been able to leave her house in Harlem for the last ten months. She has her food and prescription drugs delivered and she spends her time drinking merlot and spying on her unsuspecting neighbours. When The Russell family moves in in the house across the road, Anna develops an unhealthy obsession with them, observing them day and night. As a result, one night she sees something that she wasn’t supposed to see.

I loved the premise of this book, despite as I said the unreliable narrator. I like how Anna has to struggle to get people to believe her because her state of mind is so unstable.

I like how she’s obsessed with old black and white thrillers a la Alfred Hitchcock and that these movies play out in the background while all these terrible things are happening. It adds a layer of creepiness to the book as the movies often parallel what’s happening in real life.

The house itself, and the fact that it encompasses the sum total of her existence, adds to the claustrophobic feeling of the whole book. As a setting, its really evocative.

Honest truth, I skipped to the end because it was coming up to the point where I really had to sleep if I was going to be of any use at work the next day. But the twist was so compelling that I still ended up reading and finishing the whole thing anyway.

The story moves at such a brisk pace and its a total page turner. You’ll find yourself turning page after page after page and there’s no use telling yourself you just want to read another chapter because the chapters don’t help. They’re of variable lengths and some of them are only two pages long so you have to read more.

There were two twists in this story. Both I saw coming but brushed off because I didn’t think it was possible. Mild spoiler ahead but I thought the most likely outcome was that this was all in Anna’s head and the neighbourhood doesn’t really exist and she’s created some kind of fictional place in her head because she’s gone completely bonkers. But no, that wasn’t it. Sorry, if that’s one of the theories you come up with then you’ll have to come up with another one.

Anyway, some of the truths we discover in this book really broke my heart. Anna really is at the heart of this book and you will feel for her. She’s made a lot of mistakes and she’s suffered greatly for her errors in judgment.

She’s a cautionary tale about how one tiny decision can change the course of your life. But she really is someone you want to root for and you’ll be anxious for her to find a satisfactory ending. Or you know, to make it through the ordeal alive.

I highly recommend this book especially for fans of The Girl on The Train (I think this is better) and just fans of the psychological thriller genre in general. Maybe buy it on Kindle. At the moment, its only the hardback edition that’s out and this book is good but maybe not worth shelling out for hardcover.

I’d love to know what you guys think! Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Posted in Books, Dystopia, Fantasy, Reviews, Young Adult

Book Review: Ready Player One

So, there are three things you should know about me:

One. I have always loved quests. It doesn’t matter if it involves treasure hunts or a race to a predetermined finish line, if it involves jumping through hoops and solving riddles in the process, I am all for it.

When I was a young and idealistic clinical instructor, I used to organise an Amazing Race Velez College Edition for my nursing students at the end of each placement as a fun way of testing their knowledge and skill as well as, you know, using my powers to get them to do silly stuff like put their faces on a bowl of flour to find the clue hidden underneath. It was awesome.

Two. I love the 80s. I mean, I was only alive for three years of it but my dad and uncles were all 80s aficionados. The three of them had a combined and impressive collection of CDs of artists from the 80s and DVDs of films from that decade. My favourite uncle especially was really into 80s new wave so from the age of 8 and beyond, I had Billy Joel singing Uptown Girl and Kate Bush longing for Heathcliff in ‘Wuthering Heights‘ as the soundtrack of my childhood.

Three. I am a big geek. There is no way anyone who knows me will fail to realise this. I did well in school, I was into books and music and film and I cannot play a sport to save my life (unless Scrabble counts as a sport).

Growing up this gave me a lot of insecurities and for a long time I probably pretended to be a lot cooler than I was, but I’ve reached the age where all you can really do is just be yourself and realise that who you are is awesome simply because ITS YOU.

This is what this book celebrates I guess: quests, the 80s and geekdom. Honestly, this book is like manna from heaven for every geek and gamer out there (of which there are many I’m sure). The number of pop culture references that Wade and company used to solve the quest, get to Halliday’s egg and save the world in the process is so ubiquitous it nearly made my head spin.

I have to admit I did not get most of them, especially the ones relating to video games. But there’s plenty of things that I did get: John Hughes films, Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, to name a few. I also loved the Marty McFly reference because the Back To The Future trilogy are among my favourite films of all time.

I know that just like any book that’s reached a certain level of popularity, this one is already getting a lot of backlash and criticism from people who think the references are self-serving, self-referential and complete and utter nonsense. To that I say:

I really don’t get why people feel the need to take a book so personally. I’ve given negative reviews about a book before but I’d like to think I’ve always had something positive to say about it rather than just tearing it to shreds. As someone who aspires to be a writer someday, I appreciate how hard it is to string together a coherent paragraph that will somehow convey the stories that are in your mind, let alone have the commitment to actually get it published.

I think the premise and the plot of this book is stronger than it gets credit for. I loved the more sinister undertones lurking behind the exhilarating quest and the subtle message of the dangers of OASIS, the super-immersive virtual reality program that has enthralled the masses in this dystopian future. It also amazes me that for a book that celebrates all things techie and geeky, it still somehow manages to convey a very human story of acceptance,friendship and love.

Okay so its not without its faults, but overall I find the writing to be so superb that it had me in its hooks even though I have no idea how to tell the difference between an Atari and a Nintendo PS, and though I’ve never played a game of PacMan in my life. The narrative moves forward in an exciting pace and ultimately ends in a triumph that leaves me wanting to do this:

I can’t wait to watch the Steven Spielberg-directed film adaptation and watch as Steven Spielberg pays homage to 80s pop culture and, well, Steven Spielberg.

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Okay, so that is probably a little too self-congratulatory for my taste but you can’t blame the guy for having had such a heavy influence on most of the films released during that period. He IS one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Let’s not hold that against him and this book.

If you haven’t got a copy already, go buy this book. Solid 4 stars!

Posted in Books, murder mystery, Paranormal, Reviews, Thriller

Book Review: The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

I very rarely give five star ratings anymore but I am happy to give this book the first of hopefully many to come this year.

This book absolutely blew me away. It kept me up at night and awake at the crack of dawn. It weighed heavily on my mind for two straight days; I was thinking about it over breakfast, while I was reading my emails, when I was arguing with a colleague and I even spared it a thought while I was swiping through Tinder. Lol

This is like a supernatural version of an Agatha Christie novel. A colleague asked me for a synopsis of it and she wanted me to be succinct so I told her its like if Murder On The Orient Express met Groundhog Day and they had a baby then that baby is this book.

Evelyn Hardcastle will be murdered at the night of the ball during a weekend house party. I don’t think that’s a spoiler because duh, the bloody title gives that away. That is not the main point of the novel. The point is that she is doomed to be murdered again and again until someone solves her murder.

Aiden Bishop is the man tasked with this herculean task. And you would think he’d have a fighting chance if the day repeats itself over and over again because hey, at least you’ll learn from the mistakes of the previous day right?

There’s always a catch; and the catch in this instance is that every time the day resets Aiden wakes up in the body of a different house guest which will serve as his host until he either falls asleep or dies.

More to the point, this whole sequence of events is actually some kind of loop and at some point he will intersect with himself in his past and future hosts, in which case he will need to figure out how to either influence future events or change the course of the day without fucking everything up basically. It gets terribly complicated in the best way possible.

This book was completely mind-boggling. I am simply amazed at its level of complexity; the amount of attention to detail it must have taken to keep everything straight and to make sure nothing gets missed must have taken heaps and heaps of notes and post-its and cross-referencing, not to mention meticulous editing. I simply don’t know how Stuart Turton did it but I, for one, am glad that we have this fantastic book as evidence of his hard labor.

The best kind of murder mysteries are the ones where everything is so unpredictable that you’ve given up trying to wade through all the false information and red herrings to try and solve the mystery yourself. This was what I did with this one. I just prepared myself for the unexpected, and told myself this is one mystery that I will not be able to solve. And I was right, I did not see that ending coming.

Utterly unpredictable, compelling and compulsively readable, this kept me on the edge of my seat the whole time. I’ve read so many of these that I am very rarely surprised but well done, Mr. Turton, you’ve managed to do the impossible.

For my American readers, this book is out in the US sometime in September. For UK readers, get thee to your nearest bookstore now!

Five Jumping Up and Down Stars!