The Girl On The Train; unreliable narrators make for great stories

girl on trainMy rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

A lot has been said about The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, particularly in comparison to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Both are thrillers with unreliable narrators at the centre and both have stuff to say about women and modern relationships. I love them equally – it doesn’t have to be a choice, does it? This isn’t Desert Island Discs – but I think the main conceit is better in Train than Gone Girl.

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The Program; not incendiary, but a pleasing satisfactory spark

the programMy rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

I inwardly groaned at the start of The Program; I’ve been reading a lot of YA lately with preposterous plots (it’s the reason I love YA) and I wondered if I’d reached a natural break. Then The Program reeled me in and I was hooked enough to want to finish. A slow, rather than rapid, start.Continue Reading

Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis; sad, funny and a bit nuts


metamorphosisMy rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

I read a review this week on the great book blog It’s All About Books of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis about a man who wakes up one morning and finds he has turned into an insect. She didn’t love the book but like all good book blogs, I was intrigued by the review. It sounded like something I would love; quirky, interesting, funny, well-written and a bit nuts. I wasn’t wrong.

There’s a good analysis of the book here, regarding Kafka’s feelings of alienation and jewish ancestry (better than the normally good wiki analysis here) and it’s just – in my opinion – a great short story that means so much more. Like The Lottery and The Alchemist, both of which I’ve read lately about completely different aspects of human nature, short stories really can sometimes be so much more powerful than longer ones; they’re quicker to read and they can leave a greater impression.

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The Law of Loving Others; a frank, coming-of-age YA novel

law of loving othersMy rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

The title of The Law of Loving Others is a quote taken from Anna Karenina by Tolstoy, “But the law of loving others could not be discovered by reason, because it is unreasonable.” It’s a lovely quote and an apt title for a book that discusses the relationships we have with different people; how we behave in our closest relationships and how the problems our friends and families deal with are the mirror we put up to ourselves, the way we assess our own lives. And so it is with Emma and how she deals with her mother’s breakdown over one winter break from school.Continue Reading

Gayle Forman’s “If I stay”; relatable, sincere and human


if i stayMy rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

A lot of the YA books that I’ve read lately imagine their protagonists in situations that the average YA hopefully isn’t in: embroiled in some dystopian marriage nightmare (The Selection); dealing with parents who beat them up/contemplating suicide (All The Bright Places); or running from people who are trying to kill them (Unwind). So it’s quite refreshing to read a book about a normal teenager dealing with day-to-day insecurities even if it is through the prism of death; seventeen year old Mia is in a car crash that kills her family and in grave danger in hospital, she has to decide if she should live or die. She runs back through her life so far to make the choice.Continue Reading

Jennifer Niven’s “All The Bright Places”; a life affirming book about death


allthebrightplacesMy rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

All The Bright Places is about a girl, “who learns to live from a boy who intends to die”. It reminded me of the idea that everyone sits on the same “mental illness” line and we fluctuate up and down it – towards sanity and insanity – at various points in our lives, at times feeling fine and at others, a little more shaky (maybe it’s from the book Going Sane by Adam Phillips?). And so it is with Violet and Finch, two depressed teenagers, who meet each other on the bell tower of their school as both are considering jumping off. It’s reminiscent of Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down. Finch guides Violet off the ledge and saves her reputation at school by claiming she saved his life and not the other way around. In return, he takes the opportunity to make her his partner in a class project (he’s known as “Freak”, she’s the popular kid) and so this wonderful book begins.Continue Reading

Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery”; a chilling allegory of conformity


the lotteryMy rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

First published in 1948 in the New Yorker, The Lottery is a brilliantly written allegory about society, conformity and tradition. The very short story (32 pages) follows a small village as they gather for their annual lottery, each person taking a slip of paper from a box where the winner will be the recipient of a rather unorthodox and brutal prize.Continue Reading