Friday, 5 April 2013

Reviews in Miniature

Given my hiatus through March, I feel I'm a bit behind on my reviewing. I've read some absolutely fantastic books over the past couple of months, and now I'm so behind on potential reviews that I don't think I'll ever get around to them all. So, in the interests of time, and me getting to tell you what I've read lately, I would like to present my Miniature Reviews - they do exactly what they say on the tin.

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn
You may have recently heard of a cracking novel called Gone Girl, about a man's search for his wife after she disappears on their fifth wedding anniversary. It's a brilliant book, and probably been over-reviewed on the Net, so if you want to find out more about it, just go read it (you'll love it). Instead, I'm looking at another of Flynn's offerings, Dark Places, which follows a young woman who, having given evidence as a child that convicted her brother of her family's massacre, now finds that she may have been wrong about his part in the crime. The ensuing quest for the truth is interspersed with flashbacks to the night of the murders, building up to the fatal hours in a tense crescendo. There's a lot of red herrings here - a hint that maybe the brother did do it, or perhaps that person did it, and so on - it keeps you on your toes throughout, never giving enough clues about the truth until the very last moment. Admittedly, the novel does lack some of the pace of Gone Girl - there's a lot of driving, which is a bit dull - and the lead character is not particularly appealing;you're almost indifferent to her feelings, despite the clearly traumatic event so early on in her life. Nor is she entirely convincing in her sudden change of heart regarding her brother, which kind of swung from 'absolutely convinced he did it' to 'absolutely convinced he did not do it' in the space of about a chapter. Nevertheless, if you're after a very dark, very thrilling whodunnit, you really can't get much better than this.

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
I, like many people, only discovered this because of the film. I never actually got round to seeing said film, so when I found the book, I had to read it. It's about Patrick, who has suffered some kind of breakdown and is, at the beginning of the novel, living in a mental facility. After his mother comes to bring him home to try to get him back on his feet, we learn that Pat is separated from his beloved wife, Nicki, and is doing everything in his power to become a good husband when 'apart time' is over, including reading her favourite books, 'practising being kind' and putting himself through a gruelling daily physical workout in order to achieve the physique he knows Nicki wishes he had. It's not initially clear why Pat had a mental breakdown - the only clues are his extremely violent reactions to Kenny G's Songbird, and a cagey attitude from family members as to where Nicki is. It's during his rehabilitation that he meets Tiffany, a woman as broken as he, and a tentative friendship built around sadness, loss and dance begins. The most striking thing about the novel is Pat's narration; he's incredibly childlike in his description, almost like he's mentally gone back to a child's reasoning, and has a firm belief in cause/effect - if I do this, then that will happen. His logic is simple, if difficult to comprehend, and at times I was reminded of Jack in Emma Donoghue's Room; Pat's simple statements and firm belief in his own world is just as strong as Jack's. I got the impression that the film is a bit of a rom-com, and I didn't get that at all from the book - if it's meant to be funny, I didn't laugh. But it certainly pulled on the old heartstrings, and reminded me a bit about the simple silver linings in life that are so easy to miss, but can make you so happy.

Before I Go To Sleep by S. J Watson
Another thriller-type novel; I seem to be leaning towards these a lot lately. A woman, Christine, wakes up every day, having lost her memory from a certain age onwards completely. As the novel progresses, she begins to learn more about herself through the help of a doctor, who encourages her to write down her thoughts every day in order to help her maintain her grip on life. It's a reasonable theory, and initially appears to work - until Christine begins to discover things that make her question her life, the reasons given for her memory loss and just who exactly she can trust. I simply couldn't put it down, and read it all in one day, staying up to the wee hours to finish it. The uncertainty of life and Christine's horror as she discovers every day her true age and circumstances is conveyed incredibly well, and even had me feeling really paranoid of being hit on the head for a while in case I lost my own memories. It also really makes you consider what you would do if your memories - everything that makes you, you - was taken away. How would you know what film to watch when you felt sad? Or where your favourite restaurant is? Or why you're freaked out by the dark? It's truly unnerving but completely sucks you in - I was almost afraid to stop reading in case something happened to Christine whilst I was away and not keeping an eye on her. So compelling.

The Rose Petal Beach by Dorothy Koomson
This is one of those novels that you kind of stumble across, think, 'I'll give it a go' and turns out to be utterly unputdownable. It's about Tamia, who seems to have an idyllic life in Brighton - childhood sweetheart husband, big house, adorable children - until one evening, her peace is shattered when the police turn up and arrest her husband, Scott, for an initially unknown crime. More chilling is the fact that, despite the reason for the arrest not being mentioned - the children are in the room - Scott seems utterly unsurprised by the visit from the law. What follows is Tamia's attempts to unravel the tangled web that surrounds the alleged crime, which is further complicated by just who has accused him. It's absolutely packed full of twists - it almost got to the point where I was getting a bit sick of them - and the all characters are an unnerving mix of infuriating and sympathetic; no one is completely right or wrong here, and that can make certain scenes very uncomfortable. It's an edge-of-your-seat, incredibly gripping read that will keep you guessing, and always getting it wrong.

The Host by Stephenie Meyer
WAIT! DON'T GO!  I mean, I know it looks bad, but... let me explain! I bowed to pressure - now the film is out, I couldn't resist seeing what new sludge Meyer was going to try and palm off as a not-at-all-unhealthy-and-deeply-disturbing depiction of love. It's actually not that bad; in an alternate world, an alien race known as Souls has effectively taken over the human race, by inserting themselves into their heads, overriding their thoughts and impulses and taking human bodies as their own. The Hosts, as the humans are known, are essentially suppressed and edged out of their own heads and bodies. Naturally, a few humans have managed to escape the alien clutches and are trying to fight back - and it's one of these, Melanie, who is eventually caught and given as a Host to a Soul called Wanderer. What no-one bargained on, however, was Melanie's strength and desire to live - resulting in Wanderer (or Wanda, as she is later known) having to deal with sharing a body with a human, who's emotions can override her own. When Melanie persuades her to find a colony of un-hosting humans, a typical Meyer love triangle ensues between Melanie's love, Jared, and Ian, a man torn between his hatred of Souls and his growing feelings for Wanda, who is nothing how they expected a Soul to be. Melanie and Wanda are relatively strong characters, both with their merits, and Jared and Ian make for far more appealing love interests - mostly because they don't isolate Melanie/Wanda (Melawanda? Wandanie?) from everyone else. It's not great literature, but it's very different to Twilight, and that can only be good thing.

Okay, you can go now. Please don't hate me for the last one.

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