Book reviews

The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan | Book review

6872 The comfort of strangers by Ian McEwan is labelled as a thriller, with mystery sprinkled in and described as the story of a couple who “meet a man with a disturbing story to tell” as they end up in his “fantasy of violence and obsession”.

Now, I have no objections to books which are gorry and explore the darker side of human behaviour. I thoroughly enjoy them and I think they give offer us an insight into the complexities of the human mind. I love reading a book which takes my imagination to the extremes and disturb my pretty little life.

When I read a phrase such as “fantasy of violence and obsession”, I expect one of those books. However, that’s not the case with this one.

I’d summarise it instead as: bored couple goes on vacation, get drawn in by someone who is obviously more interesting than they are, make some stupid decisions and nothing really exciting does happen.

That’s the plot in a nutshell, but it’s not even the worst thing about this book. I’ve read thousands of pages of books that I could summarise in a sentence and I still loved them to bits (see 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami).

In order for a story to be successful without that much of a plot, it needs to have strong characters and great narrative style. This one read to me like the first draft of a novel that achieves that.

The only character who has personality is the “mysterious” Robert, the stranger the couple meets when out on holiday. He has a bit of a back story that could be developed and really drawn out, but I guess McEwan wants us just to guess and assume how he ended up as violent and obsessive as he has, as he gives us an incident from Robert’s past which involves humiliation. Is the reader supposed to just accept that story has defined this man’s whole personality?

We find out nothing really relevant about the other three main characters, except the couple is kind of bored and kind of passionate and have their own fantasies (OH MY GOD, people have an erotic side to them that comes out when they’re in creepy, interesting situations with new people? I could have never thought of that.)

Robert’s wife is a shadow of an interesting character and has the backbone to be one, if only there’d be more story for her to shine. Also, there’s a stereotype regarding the crazy dark and beautiful extremely rich people who play out their fantasies (American Psycho style) that takes away from these people’s authenticity.

I’ve moaned enough, so let’s get to the positives and why this book isn’t a waste of time.

Ian McEwan can write beautifully. Disregarding the subject matter, this is a literary book and the turn of phrase flows and sets the scene perfectly. I felt throughout that I was in a psychological thriller and I was waiting for the big reveal that would blow my mind…which never came.

She sleepwalked from moment to moment, and whole months slipped by without memory, without bearing the faintest imprint of her conscious will.

This style alone will be enough to leave readers satisfied with this book, despite its lack of plot of any character development. Or maybe some will take away from this beautiful writing more substance than I did. Every room and every setting is described perfectly, to the last detail and, if you choose to, you might analyse them and find some truth and guidance there. However, as this book is supposed to be about violence and passion, there isn’t any nearly enough true description of those two anywhere to be found.

In addition, this book was written in 1981 and it hasn’t aged one day. It’s admirable to see a story which is as relevant today as it was 34 years ago and that’s part of why it deserves the title of literary fiction.

All in all, I enjoyed reading this book until I realised it had finished. Maybe my expectations were too high, but I thought it was a great start for something much better and could have been explored in many different ways, giving meaning to the main themes rather than just addressing them and leaving them to hang there in the air like big blobs of nothing.

Rating: 🌟🌟 | Big fat MEH

🌟 Happy reading! 🌟

Book reviews

Us, by David Nicholls | Book review

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‘I was looking forward to us growing old together. Me and you, growing old and dying together.’

‘Douglas, who in their right mind would look forward to that?’”

This quote convinced me to pick up Us by David Nicholls. Maybe I’m a bit cookey, maybe it’s not going to persuade anyone else, but I think you can see from this quote how this book won’t be as anything else you’ve read.

Telling the story of the docile, mild-mannered scientist Douglas and his beautiful, creative, artistic wife Connie, Us is a journey through Europe, though the lives of two people who are as different as they can be from each other.

What started out as a completely different perspective (a middle-aged man) for me, ended up as a touching and heart warming story that I empathised with.

This is the story of a marriage in shambles, but it’s also a great tale of the modern man, who can’t seem to find his feet in his own family, becoming detached from it in spite of his best efforts to connect.

Douglas’s relationship with his son Albie seemed to represent lots of father-son/daughter relationships I’ve known. Douglas has the best intentions and he wants everything for his son. He wants Albie to be happy, for him to make the right choices in life, for Albie to have everything Douglas didn’t.

However, he’s disconnected from reality and from the person his son has become. It was gut wrenching to hear about the physical separation between the two, from wrestling to hand holding to no affection at all. When there isn’t a natural comfortable feeling between fathers and children, how can a relationship be healthy?

In my mind, this particular aspect of the book sparked lots of feminist points. What are we teaching our boys that they become so detached from reality and unable to form a healthy relationship with their children? Masculinity is much too commonly defined as being the provider, the teacher, the enforcer. All these roles men take over when they become fathers make them alienate themselves from their families. Expressing your love for your child is seen as unnatural, emasculating and something that should always be implied, but not actually said.

Communication is so skewed by preconceptions and fear of expressing anything that’s not in line with stereotypes.

In my opinion, you can see all of this in Douglas, especially because you get an understanding of his background, his own family and how he was raised. You can a complete picture of him as a character and that’s such a lovely realisation to come to at the end. I was at peace with the story (and I would have been no matter the ending) because I felt I saw Douglas grow and change throughout his journey.

I also felt I was on a trip alongside the main characters, getting to know them more and more through their action in the present and the stories told from the past.

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 | I loved it!

🌟 Happy reading! 🌟

Book reviews

Landline, by Rainbow Rowell | Book review

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Nobody’s lives just fit together. Fitting together is something you work at. It’s something you make happen – because you love each other.

I picked up Landline, by Rainbow Rowell because it sounded like a great pick me up book and I wasn’t disappointed. It’s a funny contemporary read, easy to go through and a great read on bus rides. If you’re expecting a big life lesson from it, then you haven’t read enough contemporary romance fiction (not that there aren’t any books out there that do a great job at giving great life advice). Enough rambling.

So this book’s about Georgie and Neal, a middle aged couple who split up for the Christmas holiday. Georgie has to stay in LA to finish a script (she’s a comedy writer) and Neal takes their two kids to Omaha to visit his parents for the holidays. The craziness starts when Georgie discovers a way to talk to Neal in the past and tries to fix her marriage on the phone.

Characters

Simini Blocker Fanart
Simini Blocker Fanart

I think I liked this book because I saw a lot of myself in Georgie. She knows what she wants and she’s determined to get it. That’s her in a nut shell and what the narrator wants us to see her like. She’s always known she wants to be a comedy screen writer and even though she hasn’t been working on her dream ideas and getting paid for it for a long time, she still keeps her ideals alive by doing the work she’s passionate about in her spare time.

She stroke me as the kind of person who doesn’t compromise and works hard to achieve her ideals. She has a strange relationship with her best friend and close co-worker, Seth. They are very similar, as in extremely funny and goal-orientated.

What I didn’t like about Georgie is her portrayal as the woman who’s independent, but can’t actually do anything on her own, i.e. cook, shower, put on some decent clothes, without her loving husband’s help.

When Neal leaves for Omaha with the girls, Georgie doesn’t fall apart, but she goes back to her mum’s house and gets her food and clothes from there. She’s come to rely so much on her husband that she can’t imagine doing normal, every day life tasks without him.

That brings us to Neal – dear old Neal who doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life and so he chooses to follow the girl of his dreams along her life.

Here I have to say: if you think this book has a great lesson at the end, you’re mistaken! Neal’s character rightly shows how sad people are when they choose to follow someone else and forget about themselves. When you get sucked into someone’s aura (and Georgie has plenty of vibes to give out), you can become their sidekick and nothing else. Taking care of a family is not an easy business, but when there’s not a partnership and equal responsibility there, things get tricky.

I found the love story between these two very problematic. Georgie seems to be in love with the fact she’s been able to get the “man who doesn’t like anything” to love her. At the same time, Neal, of course, is in love with Georgie’s love of life and how she has everything figured out in her life: her dreams, ambitions and determination to make it work no matter what. I hoped by the end of the book I could say you have to read it to see how things turn out for them, but now I’m just a little bit disappointed that it doesn’t have a real explanation of the complexity of their relationship.

Yasmin Withane Fanart
Yasmin Withane Fanart

Plot

The twists and turns of the story and the two narratives, full of flashbacks, make this book worth reading. The style is quite nice, flows perfectly and just carries you through the story, giving background to everything that’s going on. I’d have liked to see a little bit more of the what happens after this crazy journey. The pace is great, you’re not left hanging for too long and you really get to discover the characters: how they were, how they evolved and where they are now. Also, the sidekicks are great and add some spice: Georgie’s sister, Heather, has some nice hilarious moments and her mum is pretty awesome too.

Overall message

What I chose to take away from this book was this: if your relationship isn’t working properly, you need to work at it. Love isn’t enough when it comes to building a life together and you can’t expect things to work out without you putting any effort into it. Love deserves as much time and attention as work in our lives.

Rating: ★★★ – Enjoyed it!

I wanted more from this story, but I really had a nice time reading it

What did you think of Landline? How did you find Georgie and Neal’s relationship? Is it healthy, am I the only one thinking it’s just flawed from the beginning? Let me know in the comments.

★ Happy reading ★

Book reviews

A darker shade of magic, by V.E. Schwab | Book review

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I’d rather die on adventure than live standing still – V. E. Schwab, A Darker Shade of Magic

If you want to go on an epic journey full of twists and turns, this book is for you! There are crazy new worlds out there, magic which will capture your imagination, grip you so tightly you won’t want to let go.

In A darker shade of magic, by V. E. Schwab, you get not one, but four Londons to explore, along Kell, one of the few travelers who can see them all. The world building is incredible and the book goes through each London individually and puts you in the middle of them.

Grey London is our world – magic-less, boring and covered with the silent dust of resentment. Here you find the protagonist’s sidekick, Lila, who wants to conquer life, beat the grayness out of it and have a proper adventure. She’s a pirate and a thief with a golden heart, of course.

In contrast, Red London is full of flourishing magic – magic which is respected, understood. People live with it and use it with care and the magic gives back to their kingdom, making it a beautiful place to live and evolve. It’s colourful and prosperous, but its past hides secrets of the sacrifices its leaders had to make to keep their worlds alive.

Where it gets tricky is in White London – a land where people fight against magic, wanting more and more, trying desperately to conquer it, keep it in their control at a huge cost. The throne is always taken by force and the rulers are all the best killers and murderers. This fight is taking a toll on the world which is clearly fading, struggling to continue to exist in this unbalanced way.

And then there’s Black London…which no one mentions anymore.

This book is full of lively description of each place and that’s what made it so special to me. When Schwab starts writing, you feel like a traveler and can actually feel the magic of the place described. The first time reading about White London, all my senses were tapped into, I felt genuine fear and I got goose bumps.

The action is also very good – incredibly fast paced, but easy to keep up with and you can see how logical every step of it is. The characters are lovable, but very damaged. They are not your typical heroes,although they are saving the world(s).

All in all, a great experience, with twists and turns. It makes you want to see more of the characters – especially Lola, but also Kell’s back story. And you’re in luck – this is the first book of a trilogy. Really looking forward to the rest of them.

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 – Loved it!

Have you picked up A darker shade of magic?

What did you think of it? Will you pick up the rest of this trilogy?

🌟 Happy reading 🌟

Top 5

Top 5 Wednesday | Books you’d like to see as a TV show

Books and TV shows are both on my top 5 list of favourite things in the world, so putting them together is just perfection! I’ve just discovered the top 5 Wednesday group on Goodreads and I think it’s full of great ideas to think about. Without further ado, here’s my top 5 books I’d like to see as a TV show:

A Darker Shade final for Irene1. A darker shade of magic, by V.E. Schwab

One of the best books I’ve read this year, the complexity and plot of this story can carry a series nicely. The fact it’s part of a trilogy means it provides enough material to explore. In my dream world, I can see this being picked up by HBO and turned into the next (completely different) Game of Thrones.

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 2. The Rosie project, by Graeme Simsion

This is an incredibly funny book, with amazing characters. The protagonist is a quirky genetics professor who creates an incredibly detailed survey to discover his perfect future wife. He goes on quite a few dates which have the potential to be stand-alone episodes for the beginning of a series. Also, his book has some adventurous twists as well and an interesting quest. It’s part of a duology – so plenty of material. I’m actually planning on picking up The Rosie Effect this month – keep an eye for the review.

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3. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Going through reviews on Goodreads, I found out this was supposed to be made into a movie with Selena Gomez playing the main character (horrible idea, in my opinion). However, I think this would work nicely as a 13-episodes series, focusing on each story individually. It would need a really talented screenwriter though, as the book itself isn’t as detailed as it could be to make great TV. It does have lots of potential.

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4. Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

This book has so many characters it’s quite hard to keep track of them all. That’d be a disaster in a movie, but as a TV show, it’d be great to have each episode focusing on a different girl. It also has quite a double narrative – one story follows the girls on a desert island and then you have snippets of their lives back home, before the crash. The plot itself has quite a lot of humour and a nice story line. What would make this a really great TV show would be the “commercial breaks” – advertising different products, mocking the beauty industry.

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5. Let it snow by John Green, Lauren Myracle and Maureen Johnson

This book is one of my favourite winter reads! It’s three different stories which are all interlinked in little bits. I see this as a cutesy Christmas mini-series which would be perfect with lots of hot chocolate, cosying up by the fire (so cliche, I know – but come on, you’d like that).

I had fun thinking of the TV series version of these books. Do you agree or would you rather see them on the big screen? What books would you pick?

🌟 Happy reading! 🌟

Book reviews

Paper towns, by John Green | Book review

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I know I’m very late to the party, but here’s my philosophy when it comes to John Green novels: one should enjoy them sporadically.

They are like a box of chocolates – slightly different from each other, but still with a lot in common. If you eat the best chocolate first, the others will never live up to your expectations. Also, never eat a whole box at once! If you devour it in one sitting, you’ll get sick, but if you save it for later, you’ll enjoy every bit.

So now that the film is coming up, I really needed to pick this up – and I wasn’t disappointed. If you’re one of the few who haven’t yet read Paper Towns, here’s the gist: it’s an enjoyable ride through the life of Q, the nerdy, average, quite smart, totally lovable teenage guy.

He, of course, is in love. That kind of love we’ve all had at some point. You don’t know the person, but this image of them you have stuck in your head is so perfect you find yourself fantasising about their awesomeness and how perfect your life would be, only if they were in it.

This is a critical point in life and love, especially for dreamers; for people who create in their jobs or even only in their free time. You can’t just create your muse out of the person you choose to love. To stay true to reality and to be able to put the effort in understanding your loved ones is proof you care enough to really invest yourself in the relationship.

Because our protagonist is a boy, the fantasy we’re debunking is the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but the message of the book goes further than that and applies to each and every one of us.

It’s not only about love, but friendship as well. When Q needs Ben, his friend, to come flying to help him and Ben fails to do so straight away, he’s disappointed. But when he understands that he can’t ask of Ben what he would ask of himself, but try to understand him and his flaws and accept him for who he is, that disappointment goes away.

I devoured this book and it was really helpful at this point of my life. Its message is important and although it isn’t perfectly written, it’s still pretty awesome.

I’m also looking forward to seeing the film, especially because Cara Delevingne is one of the most famous manic pixie girls. She’s transformed herself from a model to a celebrity just through her behaviour and “out of the ordinary” look. I’m not sure yet how great of an actress she is, but I think she’s a good pick because people already have this imagine of her as Margo. She’s Margo in real life and when we see her, we see the same image Q has of his dream girl. Not many actresses would have bought that to the table.

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟 – Really liked it, but was a bit slow in the middle

Overall message: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 – Beautifully carried across through the narrative and writing. Perfection at points.

Book reviews

Thirteen Reasons Why – Audiobook review

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Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher follows Clay Jensen on the worse night of his life. After Clay discovers a mysterious package of cassette tapes from Hannah Baker, he is pulled into the girl’s story which explains why she committed suicide. Every side of the tapes is a reason that influenced her decision and they are all actions of people she knew, including Clay himself.

This was the first book I’ve ever listened to, instead of plain reading and I’m glad I did. I’m sure I wouldn’t have finished it in less than a day if I’d have read it and I also don’t think I’d have enjoyed it so much.

The book follows two Clay’s and Hannah’s perspectives and the fact you’re listening to Hannah talking, just as Clay is, makes the experience so immersive. If you want to give audio books a try and you don’t know where to start, this is a great idea!

As for the book itself, I liked Clay’s character. He’s not overly complex, but he shows depth and emotions. However, I think his story line in Hannah’s life should have been more relevant. The main points this book scored for me were all surrounding Clay, but he didn’t actually make an impact on the main plot.

This book showed me how we impact people’s lives on a daily basis and every action we take has repercussions. The even more important lesson is that inaction, not stepping up when you witness something happening, is not acceptable.

We often think and live by the phrase: you’ll regret what you haven’t done, not what you have done. Still, when it comes to the ones around us, we don’t always follow that rule. We don’t always step up in defence of people we don’t know, even though we can clearly see that what is happening is not right. That’s how we become accomplices to what is being committed.

Even though I enjoyed this audiobook, I felt sorry that I knew from the beginning what was going to happen to Hannah. It brings on frustration and you want to nudge every character to help her, especially Clay. At points, it feels like Hannah’s surrounded only by jackasses who she can’t stay away with and you’d like to give her some level headed advice. But you can’t…she’s already dead. Roll in the frustration!

Rating: 🌟🌟🌟

I really enjoyed listening this book. Engaging, pushing you to action!