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, 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!

Posted in Books, Reviews, romance

Book Review: Outlander – Diana Gabaldon

I have been deceived.

I was deceived into thinking this was simply a romantic time-travel novel between a woman who finds herself magically transported to 17th century Scotland and a young Scots warrior.

I was deceived into thinking this had just a little bit of angst and that the biggest conflict would be whether Claire chooses Frank in the future or Jamie in the past.

I was bloody well deceived into thinking that this would have a relatively happy ending all things considered.

I should have known by the heft of this book that not everything is as it seems.

Warning: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS

The book started out innocuously enough. I enjoyed reading about how people lived life in Scotland during that time period. I really liked how the relationship between Claire and Jamie developed. I even understood that scene where he “punished” her as befitted the norm of that time when a woman is basically considered a man’s property. That I can handle.

I understood why some women were outraged about it because reading something like that in this day and age is like taking two steps back for feminism but I thought to myself, hey get a grip guys, consider it from the historical context in which its intended to be placed.

I was not as sanguine during the later half of the book.

I think they can hear my scream of rage all the way to the Scottish Highlands as I skimmed through the last 300 pages of this f**k**g book.

In a way, the innocence and purity of the love between Claire and Jamie made what happened in the end worse for me. To take something so good (and so freakin’ rare!) and use it as an instrument to torture a man to the point that he would prefer death is just unacceptable. Unacceptable. UNACCEPTABLE! There are a lot of things I can stomach when reading a book, but brutal rape is not one of them.

Was that really necessary Diana Gabaldon?!?

Was the violation and complete destruction of Jamie Fraser’s soul really an integral part of the plot? Would the story not have progressed to its inevitable conclusion without it? I know you’re fond of having your female lead play Florence Nightingale but other plot devices SURELY would have served just as well. Have him suffer an infection or heck, have him shot in the leg with her having to amputate him to save his life. Anything but that.

And to have Jamie recount what happened in bits and pieces, with increasing detail, finally culminating in the revelation that his torturer used Claire to finally “rouse” him – that was just the final straw.

I could not read any more after that.

I’m sure there are people who will think that I should be more open-minded about this and I tried, I really tried to understand where the author was coming from and I told myself this whole thing served to strengthen the bond between Jamie and Claire.

But there are just some things I cannot stomach, I’m sorry. That does not take away from the fact that this book is well written (if a bit too detailed), the plot is good and the characters are engaging. I am almost ashamed that I do not have the stomach to read the rest of the series. But its just not for me.

I refuse to watch the series either. I do not need the visual to go with what I have just read. I honestly feel like I have been violated alongside Jamie and I would like Diana Gabaldon to take that as a compliment. I fully concede that those scenes were so powerful that it affected me on a visceral level. I now feel like I need to scrub my mind with a good old-fashioned regency romance that will not throw curveballs like this just when I thought we were nearing happily-ever-after.

If I wanted death and violence I’d read a crime novel. I do not need it in my romance novels, thank you very much.

I’d love to hear what y’all think even if you feel the need to criticise my opinions because you disagree. Just, you know, be gentle with the comments.

Also, if you want to buy the book click on the Amazon link below and help me earn some money. Lol. Cheers!

Posted in Books, Reviews, romance

Book Review – A Man Called Ove

In 2009, Disney Pixar’s ‘Up‘ was nominated for a Best Picture Academy Award. Before this film, there had only been one other animated feature nominated in this category (Beauty and The Beast). I was one of the millions and millions of people who watched this film, and I still hold the opinion that that Best Picture nod owes itself to the first 5 minutes of the movie, the most gut-wrenching, heart-stabbing, tear-inducing 5 minutes I’ve ever experienced while watching a cartoon.

A Man Called Ove will draw the inevitable comparison to Up because they have pretty similar themes and messages. For example, both will make you think about the things that we lost in the name of progress.

You see, I think that while the world has gone forward in leaps and bounds in many respects, we’ve also lost some of the essence of what it means to really value our relationships with other people.

We see other people as dispensable: if we lose one friend there’s always another follower on social media to ease the sting; not happy with the guy you’re currently dating, well, moving on to the next guy is as easy as swiping right with your index finger.

Reading this book gave me all sorts of feels. I mean, let’s start with the fact that it was exceptionally written. It was funny in a way that didn’t take away from the importance of the message it was trying to impart; it was emotional without being heavy-handed; the darker undertones were well-balanced with the lighter moments. Like a metaphor for life, it had its ups and downs, good times and bad times, the tragedy of loss offset by the many small moments that make life worth living. I absolutely loved every single minute of it.

Ove is a throwback to the days where, if something’s broken, you fix it rather than replacing it. He’s simple, straightforward and rule-abiding. He thinks that there should be a place for everything and everything in its place. He doesn’t talk much but he makes sure that when he does that it makes an impact. People think that Ove is bitter and taciturn, but he is one of the most caring and endearing characters that I’ve ever read about in my life.

Above all, Ove is loyal. He is loyal to the people who has somehow wormed their way into his life even as he tried to drive them away. He is loyal to his friends even when he’s feuding heavily with them. He’s loyal to stray cats even as they muck up his daily routines. Most of all, he is loyal to the love of his life, the one person that he would walk through hell for: his wife, Sonja.

This book is about a lot of things: friendship, finding your place in the world and finding a reason to live again. But at the heart of it, its about the love that one person is capable of feeling for another. I stumbled upon this book at a time when I needed a reminder of the kind of love that is worth waiting for.

In this age of Tinder, Bumble, match.,com etc., we need a little of reminder of what love and romance mean. Other people hear romantic and think unrealistic. But romantic to me has never been about the grand gestures; its not the Christian Grey hearts and flowers with a little BDSM version either.

Romantic for me is what Ove had with Sonja: constancy, stability, the kind of love where one would spend hours on a train going in the wrong direction just so he can listen to a girl talk about her favourite books.

Romantic is being there when their noses are runny with the flu; its being there to hold their hand and hug them through the failures and popping open the champagne through the triumphs. Its just about being there, really.

Ove says that every person needs to know what they’re fighting for. I would fight for that kind of love, that kind of relationship. I can only hope to find someone worthy of that kind of bond and I can only pray that I am also worth the kind of love and commitment that I’m looking for.

I didn’t expect a love story when I started this book, but in a nutshell that’s what this is: a love story of Ove and the people whose lives he has touched. Thank you, Frederick Backman, for this amazing book. I love it so much that I’m making another blog post about it. Click on the tag Ove to check out the other life lessons I learned from this gem of a book.

5 out of 5 stars! Get the book from Amazon by clicking on the image below.

Posted in Books, relationships, Reviews, Uncategorized, Women's literature

Book Review: Where’d You Go Bernadette? – Maria Semple

Its funny. 

We never really think of our parents as being people. To us, they’re Mum and Dad: the people who know all the answers, who can make the scary stuff go away, who will always be there to bandage every hurt and dress every wound. Growing up, we see them as these superhuman creatures that we can always count on to catch us when we fall. That’s how I saw my parents anyway.

Until I moved away from home and embarked on my own “adulting” journey, it never occured to me to think of my parents as two people who are probably just as scared as I am about the responsibilities that come with being an adult. No one really gives you a set of instructions for these things; there’s no set objectives like, year one month one: set up a bank account: month two, make sure you have health insurance. You kind of figure it out as you go along. You fake it and hope to God you make it (I imagine parenthood would be the same but magnified because you’re actually responsible for another person).

So why am I waxing lyrical about mum and dad? Well, that’s kind of the key theme of ‘Where’d You Go, Bernadette?’. Bernadette Fox is many things to different people: an architectural legend,a brilliant but troubled wife, an uncooperative neighbor and the menace of the local parent-teacher association. But to her daughter Bee, she’s really just Mum. Until Bernadette disappears and Bee has to put together the pieces of her mum’s life to really see the dynamic, complex woman beneath the Mommy mask.

This book is told primarily through letters sent to and from Bernadette and letters about Bernadette. These letters were collected by Bee to help her in search for her mum. I always find this epistolary style quite clever. Its hard to give a full picture of a story through letters and emails but I think if done well, it really works. I actually think this novel loses a lot of steam once we got to the more linear kind of narration (from Bee’s point of view).

The blurb is a little bit misleading because I thought the journey to ‘finding’ Bernadette would involve a lot more, well, travelling. Especially to places that relate to her past. I thought the novel would explore her past more because there was a big build up about this ‘terrible thing’ that happened to her which had such a huge impact on her life. But the actual search for Bernadette seemed a bit anti-climactic. It was pretty obvious where she went and I never really understood why she went there, why she stayed and if anything was resolved at the end of the book.

I’m not sure if we readers are meant to sympathise (and like) the titular character. She seemed a mess to me and while I can see why that is, I think I agree with her husband when he said that we shouldn’t let past failures keep us from trying again. Its how you pick yourself up after a fall that matters after all. While this book is intended to be a satire or a dark comedy, I think Bernadette is a really tragic figure in that she never really realises all her potential. Towards the end its hinted that there might be some resolution but as I said, it wasn’t really clear. Maybe this is intentional, I don’t know. I’ve never really been a fan of books that leave the ending open to interpretation.

What’s evident throughout though is the fact that as troubled as Bernadette may have been, no one can doubt that she tried to be a good mother to Bee. She allowed Bee to be whoever she wanted to be and made everything an adventure. She probably wasn’t the most dependable of parents, but she was there when it mattered. It reminded me of that episode of Modern Family when one character said that 80% of the time, being a good parent meant simply showing up.

So yeah, this book was a good read. While I never really connected to the characters or the plot, I can’t deny that I was thouroughly entertained. Maria Semple’s writing style just flows and I would definitely read her other books if the plot sounds interesting. 

I’d like to end this post with a photo of my mum. Whatever else she may have been in the past, I am happy for the combination of whatever fulfilled dreams, untold failures and twists of fate that led her to being my mama, the wind beneath my wings, my anchor and my rock. 😘

Posted in Books, Reviews, romance

Waterstones Armchair Murders Book Club Pick of the Month: If We Were Villains

Full disclosure: I skipped through the end of this book because I just could not bear not knowing what happened for a minute longer.

I picked up this book because it was selected for next month’s book club meeting. Had I known that it had been frequently compared to Donna Tartt’s A Secret History, I may have hesitated to start it because I found that book as tedious as it was – strangely -compulsively readable. I found the characters in that book so unbelievably pretentious. And, I may be the stupidest person in the world for saying this, but I just did NOT get what all the latin translations contributed to the plot advancement. I did not understand why so many people found the book life-changing but agree to disagree.

This book could not have been any more different.

The thing I love and hate most about reading a book is when you become so invested in the characters that you share in their joys, hopes, disappointments and sorrows. M.L. Rio, almost from the first 50 pages, made me care so much about her protagonist Oliver Marks that I felt a genuine sense of foreboding when he began his story.

The Synopsis

Oliver has been in jail for the past 10 years and his release coincides with the retirement of the detective who took on his case. Wanting closure, the old detective’s final request is for the truth: what really happened during that cold November night when one of Oliver’s friends wound up dead in the lake? 

They were seven friends who shared one thing in common: an all-consuming passion for acting. And not just any acting; Shakespearean acting. Throughout their four years in an exclusive school for the arts they’ve been typecasted: the hero, the villain, the star, the sidekick, the vixen. But when a teacher decided to shake things up and change the status quo, the power shifts; friendships are threatened, rivalries awakened, secrets unraveled, ultimately ending in tragedy.

Oh, The Feels

I don’t think this will be the most coherent review I’ve ever done mostly because I’m writing with my heart rather than my head. All I am after this book is a mass of feelings. Honestly.  This book is more than just a crime novel; its a coming of age story, its an ode to the great bard and most of all its an epic, passionate romance. I know this is supposed to be a thriller, but honestly its LOVE that underscores all the scenes in this book. The kind of love that makes fools of us all, the kind of love that borders on insanity.
Oliver is the kind of character who just grabs you. There is no way to describe him without giving away spoilers because to understand how things turned out the way they were, to really understand his motives, you have to look at the heart of who he is. There are things that were so blindingly obvious to me as the book unfolded that I pretty much guessed whodunit early on. I don’t know if its just me but it really wasn’t that much of a mystery. 

The Twist

I really love a good ending. And a good ending for me is one that ties up all the loose ends; I do not like ending a book with more questions and I do not like to be kept hanging. But really, if done right, ambiguous endings have this impact on readers that cannot be put into words. And this one sure did a number on me. I have read and re-read the last two pages of this book five times and I’ve even googled Shakespeare to give me some clues but I’m still left with the need to rip my hair out because I really want to know what it all means.

I know that we’re meant to form our own conclusion as to the ending but dammit ML Rio, YOU CAN’T DO THIS TO ME!!! 

I’m quite excited to go to book club now and discuss this with the others. I just really need someone to reaffirm my interpretation of the ending. That’s all I need, one person to tell me that the version of events unfolding in my head is not so far-fetched. It’ll be interesting to see how my fellow book club members will react to this. I have a feeling this may have a polarising effect on the group. It will sure make for an interesting discussion.

Hey bookworms in London, if you’re interested in discussing fabulous crime and mystery books, join us every first Wednesday of the month at Waterstones Piccadilly. Free wine! More details here.

Posted in Books, Careers, Feminism, Lifestyle, london, Reviews

Book Review: The Great Chick-Lit-A-Thon

I always think that people who abuse chick-lit as being all fluff and no substance has never had a week where you’ve used your brain so much that you just want to sit down for a day and not use up any more brain cells. That is what a chick lit is for. Its not unintelligent; in fact, I think it takes brains and talent to write a good chick lit. I don’t think it should even be called chick lit, that term is absolutely sexist. Yes, these books are written for and by women but I think men can learn a lot from them too (It certainly won’t hurt their E.Q. )

I will defend chick lits with my life. I think there comes a point in your year where you absolutely need a good escapist read. I think people who disparage these books as being so far from literature should get over themselves. Of course they’re not literature! One way to avoid going through life perpetually disappointed is to adjust your expectations. Take these books the way they were meant to be taken: they are pure, escapist enjoyment meant to be taken on a beach holiday and read for relaxation. Once in a while they provide a good social commentary and that is why this genre exists, because it is relatable AF.

Ok, I’ve said my piece. Let’s get to the review.

Eligible – Curtis Sittenfeld

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Pride and Prejudice is one of my favourite books of all time (talk about literature!). I love it so much that I’ve seen both the tv and movie version at least 10 times;

I salivated over seeing Matthew McFadden walking down Soho and I’m still kicking myself for not having the balls to get his autograph. I’ve read every spinoff of the book that has ever been released, even trashy ones such as Mr. Darcy Takes A Wife and Elizabeth and Darcy. I even considered reading Pride and Prejudice and Zombies but stopped myself. So when I saw this book on a trip to Waterstones, I thought, why not?

Eligible is a modern retelling of the classic tale every woman out there (who hasn’t been living under a rock) loves. For the life of me, I cannot understand why out of all the bars and gin joints in the world Curtis Sittenfeld chose to set this story in Cincinnati. There could not be a less glamorous setting for a retelling. But I read on a review somewhere that the author came form Cincinnati so she’s probably killing two birds with one stone: writing about what she knows and shamelessly plugging her hometown.

Mr. Bingley (or Chip Bingley in this version) is an ER (A and E for those of us on this side of the Atlantic) doctor who was once a contestant in a reality show called Eligible, which I imagine to be something similar to The Bachelor. He went on it on the urging of his sister/manager Caroline and because he wanted to find love. At the end of it he just could not bring himself to choose from either of the finalists because he didn’t think what he had with them was real. He moved to Cincinnati and took a job at the University Hospital where his good friend Fitzwilliam Darcy was a bloody neurosurgeon (of course he is).

Liz and Jane are not the shy, innocent virgins that they were in the original version. In fact, Jane is nearly forty, a yoga instructor and has been trying to have a child through IVF for years. Liz is 38, works for a magazine and has been having an affair with her close friend, the married Jasper Wick (Mr Wickham) for a long time and has been stupidly in love with him for even longer. They are both called back to the family home when their father has a heart attack.

I found this to be a really clever retelling. The Bennets are just as ridiculous as in the original and Mrs Bennet clearly transcends generations, revisions and retelling because I found her just as overbearing and annoying. I think the book did a really good job of injecting modern issues while still keeping the theme of the original intact. And I guess that’s only to be expected because no matter how enlightened and progressive we believe ourselves to be as a society, marriage is still by-and-large a game. An eligible bachelor such as Chip Bingley is still eyed and sized by ambitious mamas out there to see if he’s the right fit for their daughters. I’ve talked about the pressure to be paired up and settled as you grow older in my previous blog and that’s hasn’t changed from when Jane Austen published her novel. The shelf-life of women has probably expanded a bit, but a woman in her 30s who is still single is still seen as an anomaly.

I like how this book tackles feminism and proposes the idea that to devote yourself to another person doesn’t mean having to give up being your own woman.

There’s a belief that to take care of someone else, or to let someone else take care of you—that both are inherently unfeminist. I don’t agree. There’s no shame in devoting yourself to another person, as long as he devotes himself to you in return.

All in all, this was a really enjoyable book.

My Not So Perfect Life – Sophie Kinsella

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I used to love Sophie Kinsella when I was in college. When I moved to London I found it a little hard to read her books because I thought they were unrealistic. Living in London is fun but its incredibly tough. Not everyone gets the glamorous jobs in advertising; we don’t all have fun Friday nights where we do all kinds of quirky things. In short, its not as perfect as her novels seem to portray.

Which is why I love this one.

My Not So Perfect Life is a glaring reality check on what social media has done to us as a society, especially for the younger generation, the so-called millennials. I think that we’ve all always felt the pressure to be perfect: the perfect daughter, the perfect employee, the perfect woman. With the advent of social media, there is an added pressure to not just be perfect but to make sure that everyone else knows it. To be honest, I sometimes hate looking at social media feeds, especially when I’ve had a particularly tough day at work or if I’ve had to re-think my holiday plans because I just can’t afford it. I see my friends’ posts and they just seem to be on holiday all the time and I find myself thinking, how in the hell did they find the time and money to do all that? Or I look at other people’s blogs or vlogs and think, mine will never be as interesting as that, my life just isn’t that instagrammable.

Truly, don’t ever go on Facebook or Instagram if you’re not feeling good about your life. 

This book tells the story behind the social media posts. It dares to say that there’s a story behind every perfect post. People project what they want to project into the social media world because they feel the need to maintain an image. Not all of it is real. We shouldn’t lose sight of who we are just because we inspire to be instagrammable. We shouldn’t bend over backwards to make other people think life is perfect because guess what? No one’s life is perfect. Not even movie stars with their blogger poses. They go through their ups and downs the same way as we do, they probably just hide it better. And maybe they have more expensive drinks to process their grief, but grieve they do nonetheless.

I loved this book. I finished it in one sitting. At one point, I felt the need to book myself into a glamping campsite just to see what the experience is like.

I think this book has an important message, especially to the young women of today.

Whoever started the rumor that life has to be perfect is a very wicked person, if you ask me.

Life isn’t always instagram-perfect but you don’t want it to be. You are more than your social media feeds, you do not need to maintain an image. Be real, be you, be better than Facebook.

 I would definitely recommend both these books for people who are looking for a light easy read as we near the end of summer. Enjoy, bookworms!