Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula HawkinsGirl on the Train: A Novel by Paula Hawkins
Published by Random House UK, Transworld Publishers on January 19th 2015
Pages: 283
Format: eARC
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three-half-stars
Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough.

Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar.

Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

This novel is EVERYWHERE. I genuinely hadn’t clicked just how everywhere until I started reading it and seemed to keep coming up all the time. It may have been I was only noticing it because I was reading it or maybe not I don’t know. It’s a good book, it really is, its popularity kind of attests to the fact (although popularity doesn’t always count for much…) although I read a this fantastic review yesterday at Tales from the Reading Room which picked up a few of the points that didn’t work for me about it. Most of it was great though, I was drawn in, I did need to know what had happened and I guess this shows that perhaps Hawkins is more masterful with her plots than the characters.

I have a thing for trains, for public transport in general, especially in fiction and therefore following Rachel as she travelled to and from her home into Euston, keeping her eye on the street which used to be her home each time drew me in instantly,  something was clearly going to happen and something, hugely dramatic does.

The narrative is told in three voices, with chapters from the points of view of Rachel, the girl on the train herself, Megan, the real name of ‘Jess’ the girl Rachel watches from the window of the train and Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex-husband who still lives on the street, in Rachel’s old house. In the beginning it’s hard to see the story as anything but a pile of roads leading to Rachel having done something awful. Not one of the three narrators can be trusted or is remotely reliable, which is probably why the novel has been compared so repeatedly with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl.

As in the review I mentioned earlier, I did get a bit lost in the narrator’s voices, in that if I didn’t guarantee I knew whose chapter it was I couldn’t always be sure, Megan in particular wasn’t very rounded, for me anyway, there wasn’t enough of her to care about her fate and there wasn’t enough of her to make her believable. The same seemed true of Scott (Megan’s husband) who seems to snap into different characters as the novel develops, perhaps intentionally but it was a little odd.

When the truth was revealed, I was more impressed, I did like the way it unfolded and how it all actually did kind of make sense but bowled over I wasn’t, which is a shame but not too much of one. Plus I read it in 24 hours which is usually a sign that I was captivated at the very least.

Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen King

Review: Doctor Sleep by Stephen KingDoctor Sleep by Stephen King
Published by Hodder General Publishing Division on May 20th 2014
Pages: 512
Format: Audiobook
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five-stars
An epic war between good and evil, a gory, glorious story that will thrill the millions of hyper-devoted readers of The Shining and wildly satisfy anyone new to the territory of this icon in the King canon.

King says he wanted to know what happened to Danny Torrance, the boy at the heart of The Shining, after his terrible experience in the Overlook Hotel. Doctor Sleep picks up the story of the now middle-aged Dan, working at a hospice in rural New Hampshire, and the very special twelve-year old girl he must save from a tribe of murderous paranormals.

On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless - mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance knows, and tween Abra Stone learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the 'steam' that children with the 'shining' produce when they are slowly tortured to death.

Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father's legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him and a job at a nursing home where his remnant 'shining' power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes 'Doctor Sleep.'

Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan's own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra's soul and survival . . .

I have a kind of love-hate relationship with Stephen King. Many of his novels have truly captivated and captured my interest whilst others have fallen really really flat and others have had  too many inconsistencies for me to handle. As a rule though, I like his work, I like his horror work much more than anything dystopian or remotely science fiction-ish and though The Shining isn’t a huge hit in my mind, I loved the film (I know, how dare I?) and I love the concept and I love love LOVED the chance to see what had happened to Danny Torrance after he and his mother escaped The Overlook Hotel.

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Review: The Restoration of Otto Laird by Nigel Packer

Review: The Restoration of Otto Laird by Nigel PackerThe Restoration of Otto Laird by Nigel Packer
Published by Little, Brown Book Group Limited on January 2nd 2015
Genres: Fiction, General
Pages: 352
Format: eARC
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three-half-stars
Elderly retired architect Otto Laird lives a peaceful, if slightly bemused, existence in Switzerland with his second wife, Anika. Once renowned for his radical and controversial designs, he now spends his days communing with nature and writing eccentric (and un-posted) letters to old friends. But Otto's comfortable life is rudely interrupted when he learns that his most significant and revolutionary building, Marlowe House, a 1960s local authority tower block in south London is to be demolished.

Otto is outraged. Determined to do everything in his power to save the building, he reluctantly agrees to take part in a television documentary, which will mean returning to London for the first time in twenty-five years to live for a week in Marlowe House. Once Otto becomes reacquainted with the city he called home for most of his life, his memories begin to come alive. And as he explores his past, ponders his present and considers the future -- for himself and his building -- Otto embarks on a most remarkable journey, one that will change everything he ever thought he knew about himself and those closest to him.

I liked the cover of The Restoration of Otto Laird when I saw it on Netgalley and I liked the idea that anybody could have been the brains behind a tower block, as silly as it sounds. I vaguely remember studying social regeneration and housing for my History A Level, with particular focus on New Towns and the post-World War One slogan ‘Home for Heroes’ and I remember the optimism and the real care and belief it seemed many of the architects and designers had for their projects, it was fascinating.Otto is, in a way, one of these people although his construction is much later, he designed it for good reasons and it seems social decay and poverty are the enemies in this piece, turning his beloved project, one he completed with his deceased first wife, into the stereotypical image of the tower block.

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Review: The Perfect Mother by Nina Darnton

Review: The Perfect Mother by Nina DarntonThe Perfect Mother by Nina Darnton
Published by Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated on November 25th 2014
Genres: Contemporary Women, Fiction, General, Literary, Mystery & Detective
Pages: 240
Format: eARC
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three-half-stars
When an American exchange student is accused of murder, her mother will stop at nothing to save her. A midnight phone call shatters Jennifer Lewis’s carefully orchestrated life. Her daughter, Emma, who’s studying abroad in Spain, has been arrested after the brutal murder of another student. Jennifer rushes to her side, certain the arrest is a terrible mistake and determined to do whatever is necessary to bring Emma home. But as she begins to investigate the crime, she starts to wonder whether she ever really knew her daughter.

The police charge Emma, and the press leaps on the story, exaggerating every sordid detail. One by one, Emma’s defense team, her father, and finally even Jennifer begin to have doubts.   A novel of harrowing emotional suspense, The Perfect Mother probes the dark side of parenthood and the complicated bond between mothers and daughters.

Before I get going on this review, I’ll mention the whole similarity to the Amanda Knox Case and this must be some kind of inspiration for the novel, even if it isn’t verbatim, there are clearly questions being asked and ideas being discussed in the wake of that case which never seems to slip from our imaginations. Rather than taking the point of view of the accused though, Nina Darnton’s novel tells everything from the perspective of Jennifer, the perfect mother, who simply cannot and will not accept that her eldest daughter Emma could have had anything to do with the murder victim.

For the best part of the novel I found myself extremely frustrated with Jennifer but I think this was kind of the point. She’s infuriatingly and unquestionably on the side of her daughter, as I suppose you would be, even when it’s clear her story contradicts reality and the evidence of everybody else involved. Initially it’s clear to see things from Jennifer’s perspective, you’d protect your children from anything right? Especially in a country where you can’t understand the language and don’t have any idea what has happened, aside from what your child tells you?

I went along with it for awhile but the more clear is became that Emma wasn’t the person Jennifer thought she was the harder it became to be on Jennifer’s side. She’s needy and in some ways self-centred, a sense that everything that happens to Emma and her family in general is a reflection on her as a person, as a mother. She wholeheartedly believes Emma’s situation is her failure and it’s hard not to get annoyed with her as she seems unable to separate Emma’s reality from her own.

With the help of a private investigator, Jennifer is trying to get to the bottom of anything but then, more frustration, Emma doesn’t co-operate, she doesn’t even try to co-operate and it’s hard to believe her family are able to stay by her side when she won’t help them help her.

This novel is definitely one of frustrations but this is why it works. Not one of the characters, save for Emma’s lawyer and the private investigator Jennifer hires, are likeable. They’re almost all stereotypes, Emma is the spoilt American brat the press make her out to be and Jennifer is completely wrapped up in how Emma’s behaviour may reflect on her whilst  her husband, who pops in and out of the novel, is your stereotypical brash lawyer. Despite all this, I did keep reading and I wanted to find out what the truth was, what had happened in Emma’s flat?

Darnton’s understanding of the differences and the complexities of the Spanish law system make that side of this novel particularly interesting and although there is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and time where Jennifer simply can’t do anything to help her daughter, I kept reading and was hooked until the end.

Review: Rage Against The Dying by Becky Masterman

Review: Rage Against The Dying by Becky MastermanRage Against the Dying by Becky Masterman
Published by St. Martin's Press on June 3rd 2014
Genres: Fiction, General, Mystery & Detective, Thrillers, Women Sleuths
Pages: 320
Format: eARC
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four-stars
Brigid Quinn's experiences in hunting sexual predators for the FBI have left her with memories she wishes she didn’t have and lethal skills she hopes never to need again. Having been pushed into early retirement by events she thinks she's put firmly behind her, Brigid keeps telling herself she's settling down nicely in Tucson with a wonderful new husband, Carlo, and their dogs.

But the past intervenes when a man named Floyd Lynch confesses to the worst unsolved case of Brigid’s career—the disappearance and presumed murder of her young protégée, Jessica. Floyd knows things about that terrible night that were never made public, and offers to lead the cops to Jessica's body in return for a plea bargain. It should finally be the end of a dark chapter in Brigid’s life. Except…the new FBI agent on the case, Laura Coleman, thinks the confession is fake, and Brigid finds she cannot walk away from violence and retribution after all, whatever the cost.With a fiercely original and compelling voice, Becky Masterman's Rage Against the Dying marks the heart-stopping debut of a brilliant new thriller writer.

Picking up Rage Against The Dying by Becky Masterman was mainly a decision I made because she called her book Rage Against The Dying. Anyone who uses a bit of Dylan Thomas immediately grabs my attention and whilst I found not a single connection between Masterman’s writing and the sensation that was Thomas, it was still enough to draw me in.

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Review: Arctic Chill by Arnaldur Indriðason

Review: Arctic Chill by Arnaldur IndriðasonArctic Chill by Arnaldur Indridason
Published by Random House on May 4th 2009
Genres: Crime, Fiction, General, Mystery & Detective
Pages: 352
Format: Paperback
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four-stars
A dark-skinned young boy is found dead, frozen to the ground in a pool of his own blood. The boy's Thai half-brother is missing; is he implicated, or simply afraid for his own life? While fears increase that the murder could have been racially motivated, the police receive reports that a suspected paedophile has been spotted in the area. Detective Erlendur's investigation soon unearths the tension simmering beneath the surface of Iceland's outwardly liberal, multi-cultural society while the murder forces Erlendur to confront the tragedy in his own past.

Another of my Craving Crime picks and again the only novel available by this author in the library, so although it is considered the seventh in the series featuring Detective Erlendur (the fifth translated into English), it’s the one I started with and in most ways it was completely readable on its own without any prior knowledge of the series.

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My Independent Bookshop

Indiebook
I was slightly (very) late to the My Independent Bookshop thing but I’m glad I got into it and have decided to use it in one particular way, to basically show off my favourite books from the last month and hopefully, through this, they may get a little of the attention they deserve. I’ve been doing this since the beginning of December so it’s not like I just forgot to write about it or anything (or perhaps just a little bit).

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Review: Academy Street by Mary Costello

Review: Academy Street by Mary CostelloAcademy Street by Mary Costello
Published by Canongate Books Limited on October 30th 2014
Pages: 181
Format: eARC
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four-half-stars
She stood on the edge of the grass. She hovered between worlds, deciphering the ground, tracing in mid-air the hall, the dining-room, the stairs. She was despairingly close to home now, to the rooms and the voices that contained the first names for home. Memories abounded and her heart pounded and history broke in . . .

Growing up in the west of Ireland in the 1940s Tess is a shy introverted child. But beneath her quiet exterior lies a heart of fire. A fire that will later drive her to make her home among the hurly burly of 1960s New York.

Over four decades and a life lived with quiet intensity on Academy Street in upper Manhattan, Tess encounters ferocious love and calamitous loss. But what endures is her bravery and fortitude, and her striking insights even as she is 'floating close to hazard.'

Joyous and heart-breaking, restrained but sweeping, this is a profoundly moving story that charts one woman's quest for belonging amid the dazzle and tumult of America's greatest city. Academy Streetestablishes Mary Costello as one of Ireland's most exciting literary voices.

This is a book that has been calling to me for awhile. I had been at the back of my mind somewhere before I saw it win the Irish Book of the Year and then I read the review at Reading Matters and was convinced it was something I had to read. I could have saved it for Irish Literature Month but I didn’t, I thought I’d just go for it and got myself a loan copy from the library (eLoan – still amazed by this, probably always will be).

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Review: The Room by Jonas Karlsson

Review: The Room by Jonas KarlssonThe Room by Jonas Karlsson
Published by Random House on January 15th 2015
Pages: 128
Format: eARC
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four-half-stars
Bjorn has just begun his new job at the Authority. Compulsively meticulous, he knows that one day he will rise to the top, but he is having a difficult start. His colleagues don't know how to take him, he doesn't quite fit in, and he feels the menial work he is being given is beneath him. But then one day Bjorn discovers a secret room. In here he feels powerful, sharp, alive - and is able to do his best work. But no one else will acknowledge the room's existence. Is this is a sophisticated but vindictive hoax? Are Bjorn's colleagues that unwilling to accept him? Or is there a chance that maybe, just maybe, the room isn't really there......... The Room is a short, finely tuned Kafkaesque masterpiece. As the room becomes a symbol of conflict - between one man and his colleagues, and between their different perceptions of reality - we in turn are led to question some of our most basic assumtions about truth and the way we treat others.

I know the summary describes this novel(la) as Kafkaesque but the first thing I have to do is reassert this. Though we’re inside the strange mind of Bjorn throughout the novel I really did feel like it could have been a piece by Kafka, reminding me a lot of The Trial above anything else and this, as I have a huge and obsessive appreciation of Kafka’s work, was a really pleasant surprise. Karlsson’s use of language is sparse and blunt and being inside Bjorn’s head is a very odd experience but one I really enjoyed.

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Review: Flavours of Love by Dorothy Koomson

Review: Flavours of Love by Dorothy KoomsonThe Flavours of Love by Dorothy Koomson
Also by this author: The Ice Cream Girls
Published by Quercus on 7th November 2013
Pages: 448
Format: eBook
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four-stars
‘I’m looking for that perfect blend of flavours; the taste that used to be you.’

It’s been 18 months since my husband was murdered and I’ve decided to finish writing The Flavours of Love, the cookbook he started before he died. Everyone thinks I’m coping so well without him – they have no idea what I’ve been hiding or what I did back then to protect my family. But now that my 14-year-old daughter has confessed a devastating secret, and my husband’s killer, who was never caught, has started to write to me, I know it’s only a matter of time before the truth about me and what I’ve done will be revealed.

My name is Saffron Mackleroy and this is my story.

OK, this seems a little soon after reading a different novel by Koomson but I did say that reading a review of The Flavours of Love was what interested me in the author so after finishing The Ice Cream Girls I decided to borrow a copy from the virtual library that my proper library offers (how good is that?).

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