The Girl on the Train || November Review

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel was thrilling and engrossing and creepy. This took the idea of the unreliable narrator to the next level.
As I’m sure everyone is aware of the plot, I’m not going to go into detail. There’s a woman that catches the same train every day, who imagines the lives of the people in the houses she passes. One day, a woman she watches goes missing, and the girl on the train becomes involved in the following investigation more deeply than she could ever imagine.
The story is told from the perspectives of three women, and two time periods. As the novel progresses, their lives become more intertwined and the true similarities between them are uncovered. Each woman is, honestly, pretty messed up in her own right. Each one is less dependable than the last in terms of providing an honest account. And therein lies the challenge.
Hawkins crafted a plot filled with so many twists and turns. Very unpredictable, and yet the final twist was perhaps not as surprising as it could be. I did very much enjoy this novel. I didn’t like a single character much at all – but, I think it was wonderfully paced, and thrilling. An interesting character study as well. It left me questioning everyone and thinking about it, even when I wasn’t reading.

*I didn’t really want to review this, but it’s the only book I completed all month – oops!*

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Cooper Bartholomew is Dead || October Review

Cooper Bartholomew Is DeadCooper Bartholomew Is Dead by Rebecca James

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was all that I wanted it to be – and more. I fell in love with the characters, and even though I knew that it all ended horribly, I still got swept up in the story of Cooper and Libby.
As the title suggests, this is the story of Cooper Bartholomew’s untimely death. It is divided into ‘Then’ and ‘Now’ post and prior to Cooper’s death. It is also told from the perspectives of four narrators, Cooper, his girlfriend Libby, his best friend Sebastian, and his ex Claire.
In ‘Then’ we follow the development of Libby and Cooper’s relationship, and see the divide it was causing between Cooper and his old friends. Honestly, Cooper and Libby’s courtship is the best thing about this book. It is so real. Slow and true with hesitations from friends and parents, as they all come to grips with this unexpected pairing. Cooper is just like the sweetest guy in the world, and Libby knows how wonderful he is. Reading them falling in love was so bittersweet, because it beautifully captured that slow build-up and wonder of a new relationship, but at the same time, you know that it’s going to end so badly for Libby.
The ‘Now’ segments deal with the aftermath of Cooper’s death, as everyone struggles in comprehension. Libby particularly doesn’t accept the official finding of suicide, and sets out to uncover the truth. These sections were hard to read because Libby’s emotions are so raw. However, the build up to the big secrets was a little lacking. I wasn’t especially shocked by the revelations discovered (and I’m usually quite an oblivious reader!) and I thought some of Libby’s conjecture about what could have happened to Cooper was more gripping than what was eventually revealed as to have occurred on that fatal night.
However, this was still a page-turning and emotional Australian addition to the New Adult genre. James has once again crafted such relatable characters, everyone knows a Cooper, a Claire… Even for the characters that you aren’t supposed to like, I still really ended up hoping they got their lives sorted out. It is important to note that this is indeed a NA novel, rather than a YA one. It deals with a lot of heavier themes, such as suicide, infidelity, drug and alcohol abuse, and family drama. Overall though, a really great book. Even without the central plot, this book explores what that odd time in life your early twenties is, especially in small town Australia.

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The Night Circus || September Review

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is not just a book, but rather an experience to be read. A beautiful, magical world has been created for you, ready to be entered just as soon as you turn to page one.
I loved this novel. It was so transporting and enchanting that I dragged out my reading, rationing it out to myself so I could live in Morgenstern’s world for as long as I possibly could – before I simply had to discover how it ended.
I knew very little about this book before I picked it up, and I think that’s the best way to go into it. If you begin it with certain expectations, you may be disappointed – as I don’t think any plot summary can really do justice to such an intricately crafted story. In some ways if you are searching for an adventure, or romance, or period novel – this is not the one for you. But in other ways it absolutely is all those things and so much more.
Morgenstern has written so lusciously. The pages are oozing with glorious imagery and elaborate detail of the circus, its residents and the world they all inhabit. There is so much life in this book it felt like I was really at the circus myself. It was all so beautifully depicted that I had nostalgia for this imaginary world. An attack on all the senses, I could almost smell the popcorn and taste the caramel. It is just superb. I loved the Victorian era setting of the novel too. It provides another air of mystery and excitement across the various cities the circus visits.
As odd as it sounds, the circus itself seems like a major, if not the main character of the novel, it is described so viscerally. However, of the actually sentient characters, I love them all. They are all so layered and their magic makes them so intriguing. I particularly love the twins, Poppet and Widget, as they grow and come to terms with their own magical abilities.
The first few chapters of The Night Circus actually can be confusing though. What begins as a seeming mess of unconnected characters and time jumps (these especially can be quite hard to overcome) could put those looking for an easy read off. And the multitude of characters can seem overwhelming. But if you stick through it, it all becomes clear and all the assumed random pieces of the book come together beautifully. The jumps between different points of view help get a more rounded impression of the narrative and the brief second person chapters are really something special. This is definitely a world that warrants many revisits, if only to devour the delicious prose.

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How not to Disappear || August Review

How Not to DisappearHow Not to Disappear by Clare Furniss

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel is so wonderful. It is full of live and love. It is moving and funny and shocking at times. I really did enjoy it very much.
How not to Disappear tells the story of 17-year-old Hattie, alone for the summer and secretly pregnant as she discovers and connects with great-aunt Gloria, diagnosed with dementia and looking for one last adventure. The pair head off on a sort of ‘journey down memory lane’ road trip as Gloria shares her own secrets with Hattie, while she still has the chance. This novel tells both this present story, as well as flashbacks from Gloria’s life and the struggles she had to face when she was younger. The pair learn how to deal with each other’s quirks and learn a great deal more; they are more alike than it first appears.
Furniss very well crafted both, in fact, all the women in this book. They are all different, but even Hattie’s young sister Alice was crafted well enough to be strong, yet vulnerable. Each character in this book is so real – I think that was maybe my favourite part of the book. The whole cast of characters is unique and flawed and special – even the less likeable ones are not so easily blamed, once you delve a little deeper into their character.
I say ‘maybe’ my favourite part because I am so impressed with the way that Furniss dealt with so many heavy topics in such an accessible way. The novel deals with teen pregnancy and dementia (obviously), but also looks at birth, death (and voluntary euthanasia), queer representation, feminism, discrimination (racial and otherwise), abortion, domestic violence and rape, and gender roles – just to name a few. Everything is handled sensitively, but it manages to not be preachy – particularly with the issues specifically that Hattie and Gloria are facing. As the book is divided into two time periods, parallels can be drawn between the two young women and the way somewhat similar situations were managed.
Although the perfect timing of meeting Gloria initially seemed a little too convenient, up till that point the book was a bit hard to get into. Overall I was glad the plot progressed the way it did, though I felt the epilogue jumped too far forward for Hattie’s decision without any real explanation, I was glad Furniss didn’t take the easy road for the characters. I especially thought that Gloria’s arc progression was perfect. The plot twists occurred almost exclusively in Gloria’s flashbacks, and I did not see them coming. Hattie’s present mostly involved a lot of to-and-fro thinking and ruminating, but I thoroughly enjoyed being in her head – it made me question what I would do in her shoes – and she had some interesting insights. I also thought the Furniss did a really good job of creating Gloria’s present voice, when we read from her point-of-view fear of the illness and Gloria’s battle is remarkably written.
This is the first of Furniss’ books I have read, I will definitely be picking up her first novel – and on the lookout for any new releases. I am so glad this book is so pretty, because I certainly do not regret reading it.

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Eligible || July Review

EligibleEligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a modern American retelling of Austen’s perennial favourite Pride and Prejudice. Set 200 years later and in Cincinnati, it was such fun to revisit Liz Bennet, one of the most loved heroines in English literature.
Pride and Prejudice has been retold so very many times that I was worried Sittenfeld would struggle to do anything new with the source material, and either mirror another adaptation too closely, or stray so far from the original that I would have to dig deep to find any similarities. In fact, neither of these happened at all. Eligible managed to, at once, remain true to both the plot and the personalities of the whole cast of characters, and remain surprising by the way the plot points of the original translated into the modern world.
In this version, journalist Liz and yoga instructor Jane move back home for a few months after Mr Bennet has a heart attack. Mr Chip Bingley is a doctor at the local hospital after a failed stint on ‘Eligible’ (Sittenfeld’s barely-masked version of ‘The Bachelor’). Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy is the sexy new-in-town brain surgeon from a family of money but with a complete lack of social etiquette. And so, Pride and Prejudice unravels itself. Each character is familiar and yet new. Everyone has been updated but remain true to who they were originally supposed to be. It makes perfect sense in the 21st century that Mrs Bennet would spend all her time catalogue-shopping in front of reality television; that Kitty and Lydia would be Crossfit lovers and spurn the non-believers; and that Liz wouldn’t want children.
(view spoiler)
The thing that was handled poorly in this novel, would be the representation. Sittenfeld tried to update this novel by including characters with various sexual/gender/racial identities, and ones dealing with various mental health problems, which is great. Diversity and representation is wonderful, in theory. However, Sittenfeld doesn’t explore or resolve these issues well at all. Under the guise of (particularly) Mrs Bennet’s blatant and overarching ignorance, the non-cis/straight/white characters are underdeveloped, with their diversity often being their only defining characteristic. (view spoiler)
However, I found this book a wonderful, light, hilarious at times holiday read. It was generally well written and I thoroughly enjoyed this new take on things. It was a quick read due to Sittenfeld’s propensity to write in very short chapters (over 180 in this book!), but also due to her wit and charm. Even though I knew how it would all pan out in the end, I found it very hard to put Eligble down.

I received my copy of this novel as part of a Goodreads Giveaway.

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My Sister Rosa || June Review

My Sister RosaMy Sister Rosa by Justine Larbalestier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book was so hyped that I was a tad reluctant to pick it up. But it just sounded so interesting! Plus – Aussie YA is generally so wonderful. Definitely no exception, this is a crazy gripping and addictive novel.
My Sister Rosa tells the story of Che, as he attempts to control his 10 year-old sister, and suspected psychopath Rosa when his parents move them all (again) to New York City. As he settles in, Rosa gets up to her usual tricks, but things seem to be getting worse – Che is losing control. And after what happened in Thailand who knows what she could do next?
The best thing about this book (for me at least) was the characters. Che especially, seemed like such a relatable and real world teenage boy, struggling with all the regular things and dealing with them in a way that, although often not the best, was always so believable and genuine. It was as though Larbalestier had run each scenario past an actual 17 year old and wrote his reaction. Another massive positive about the characters was the sheer diversity of them all. Aside from Che, the vast majority of the cast were female and a lot were of non-white backgrounds. There is such a mix of racial, gender, sexual and religious identities in this novel that it would have been easy to get bogged down in the writing of them all. However, Larbalestier handled it wonderfully and she didn’t once let any character’s membership of a group or minority be their sole defining feature. Each one was so well rounded and distinct that, despite their number, each held their own and had distinct personalities.
The plotting of the novel was perhaps a little slow to start with, just enough to lull you into a false sense of security. Just enough for you to think that Che is overreacting. And then, bam! Plot twist after twist, but all still a credible turn of events. And it left me questioning.
Larbalestier again worked her “unreliable narrator” muscles although more successfully I believe. I read her novel, Liar in 2010, and came away feeling odd. It was a strange read which left me questioning everything, there could be no faith put in the narrator, and it turned me off her work for a while. Perhaps I was just not ready for a novel such as that, and maybe if I picked it up again now, I might find much more enjoyment in the narrative. Not sure if I’m quite ready for that yet, but I won’t shy away from reading Larbalestier’s other novels now.

** I realise this is way late, I do apologise, but I was on my trip! I shall make it up to you by leaving two July reviews of great books! **

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The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul || May Review

The Little Coffee Shop of KabulThe Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was recommended to me by a dear friend and, despite mixed reviews, I came to thoroughly enjoy it. While a bit of a lighter read than I initially anticipated, for a novel set during the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan’s capital, it was easy to love and full of interesting characters.
The book is centred on a western café in the centre of Kabul, and the lives of the people who find solace within its walls, told from the perspectives of five central women. Sunny is the American expat owner of the shop, who ran away from the US looking for adventure and a sense of purpose for her life. Halajan is an older Afghani woman, yearning for those pre-Taliban days and hiding secrets from her strictly traditional son. Yazmina is a young widow stolen away from her home after her uncle could not repay a debt, she is to be a prostitute until it is discovered her carries her dead husband’s child and is dumped on the street. Candace is a wealthy American divorcee, good at convincing people to part with their cash for noble causes. And Isabel, is a determined British journalist, with a chequered past and a passion for justice. Each woman is fighting her own battle and hoping to save someone. Rodriguez did well to give each character depth and warmth, in some capacity you are hoping for the best for each character. While the secondary characters lacked somewhat, their presence was interesting. I wanted to know more, hear more from each person, and find out why they were who they were.
The plot was a little predictable, especially for Sunny’s story, but I was still happy when things ended up the way they did for her. The weaving together of the stories of the women was sometimes a little forced and implausible, but it was still an engaging read. It was emotionally charged, at times the emotions of one character or another were cut short, or overlooked, due to the cutting between all the perspectives. There were some surprises too, which was nice.
There have comparisons been drawn between Rodriguez and Khaled Hosseini, which I don’t really understand. Yes, they both write about Afghanistan, but that’s about the extent of similarities. While it’s clear that Rodriguez has lived in Kabul and enjoyed her time – it’s equally evident that she was a foreigner. No matter how long she stayed in Afghanistan, she would have always viewed it through a different lens than Hosseini.
Overall though, I recommend this book to anyone looking for a light and enjoyable read, or possibly a (very) gentle introduction into Afghani culture. I am very much looking forward to picking up the sequel.