Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The One You Love by Paul Pilkington (#1 in the Emma Holden series) // Review

"Days before their wedding, Emma Holden's fiance has gone missing. Not only has Dan disappeared without a trace, his brother is found beaten and left for dead. Suspicion for the attempted murder falls on Dan - but Emma refuses to believe his guilt. When crime scene photos get splashed across the pages of the London tabloids, Emma knows that someone is following her. Watching her. It is an old, familiar feeling. A long hidden family secret seems to unite Emma's troubled past with her dangerous present. As time runs out, Emma's trust in her family, her friends and Dan, faces an ultimate test."

The One You Love began as an e-book, but sold so successfully (even hitting the number one spot) that it has since been published in paperback this year by Hodder and Stoughton, who were kind enough to send me a copy as part of Goodreads First Reads. I am not contractually required, nor have I been asked, to write a review, but it feels good to repay them in some way and I can assure you that my opinions in this post are 100% honest.

The drama begins almost instantaneously in this book; there's certainly no dilly-dallying! Whilst this can be great for some readers, I thought the fact that Dan's disappearance was introduced so quickly made the storyline a bit less conceivable. Maybe this is personal - I just felt that I needed maybe a few more pages to fall into the story and connect with the characters. Of course, it's great for people who like a story to start right away. Reading further on, there isn't a dull moment. The book is written in third person, which I seem to be able to tolerate more now than I did when I was younger. Emma is the main character, of course, and is usually present within each chapter, but there are some chapters dedicated to other characters and their suspicious behaviour. Sometimes, you don't even know who the person is yet - so the bigger picture is hard to piece together at first, but it all comes together well in the end.

One thing I liked about The One You Love is that Pilkington reveals important information evenly throughout the book, which is why I'd highly recommend this book to anyone who commutes regularly, maybe by train. Even if your journey only lasts twenty minutes, you'll definitely get to a part where you learn something new, or more evidence comes to light. I was definitely inclined to finish the book quickly and I probably would have finished in one sitting if I didn't have things to get on with. Instead, it took me two sittings, and I definitely enjoyed the read. You can tell the storyline has been well thought out. There are so many layers to it that, by the end, you realise you had no chance of ever realising it went so deep - and you'll be kicking yourself when you finally realise who the kidnapper is!

Rating: 3 stars
Perfect for travelling!

A big thank you goes to Hodder and Stoughton! And to my readers, you can find me on Goodreads here:

Vanished by Tim Weaver (#3 in the David Raker series) // Review

"For millions of Londoners, the morning of the 16th December is just like any other. But not for Sam Wren. An hour after leaving home, he gets on to a Tube train - and never gets off again. No witnesses. No trace of him on security cameras. Six months later, he's still missing. Sam's wife hires David Raker to track him down, but in this case the secrets go deeper than anyone imagined. For, as Raker starts to suspect that even the police are lying to him, someone is watching."

Vanished, the third book in the David Raker series, was given to me as a Christmas present from my mum, who (bless her) doesn't really know much about my taste in books. So, after unwrapping the book from the paper and having a skim through the blurb, it was placed on my bookshelf - an anomaly against my otherwise Young Adult collection - for some time. One day, when I finally decided to read it, I actually found myself enjoying it. Now I'm a little bit more grateful that my mum doesn't really know which books I'll enjoy best, because I end up with ones I wouldn't normally read. David Raker is an ex-journalist turned private detective; a man who has lost his wife to cancer, dedicated to finding the missing. But it all comes at a cost. Sam is a man that many believed to be 'squeaky clean', but could he have been wrapped up in something much darker than anyone expected? As Raker hunts him down and gets deeper and deeper into the case, everything becomes more and more unclear until soon enough.. Raker may be hunting a murderer.

From the start, the storyline sucks you in. Where is Sam? How did he get off the train? Why did he leave his wife? Unfortunately for us, Weaver, a master of pacing and misdirection, denies us the answers for hundreds of pages. Every unexpected event is closely related with another; so much so that I probably can't reveal any more about the plot than I already have, without bringing the entire thing down. The search leads Raker (and you) everywhere, to places and characters you'd never expect. I think that would prove true for long-term Tim Weaver fans who have read the previous David Raker books, too. Vanished was my first Tim Weaver read, but I didn't feel that it hindered me in any way. It can be read as a stand-alone. I would very much recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading from crime/mystery/thriller genres, or if you just fancy something different and jam-packed with tension. You don't have to be Chief of Police to understand what's going on, either. It's easy enough to get your head around even if you're new to the genre - but at the same time, you don't feel like you're losing brain cells as you're reading it. But be warned... the action continues until the very last page...

Rating: 4 stars
A great read! The only thing it lacks is star quality and hype.

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Monday, 11 August 2014

It's Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini // Review

~Not spoiler-free~

I was looking through the books in Waterstones with some friends when Jack (whose blog you can find here) recommended me this book. He said it was one of his favourites and I had heard him talk about how sad he was to hear about the author's untimely death. It seemed like an intriguing story, it was most different from what I usually read, and there was only one copy left on the shelves. At the sight of all the other books on offer, I hesitated for a moment, but ended up adding it to my collection. All I knew upon opening the first page was that it's about depression and suicide, but by the end I recognised just how significant this book is. Not only does it teach the reader important life lessons which include hanging around with people who bring out the best in you - it also is influential in terms of changing the mindset of people who may  previously have been guilty of ignoring or not wanting to understand the effects of depression.

Something I really admire about Vizzini's writing is the way he is able to apply simple words and phrases to such complex feelings: an 'Anchor' is something you enjoy, which keeps you grounded for as long as possible, in contrast a 'Tentacle' is something which depresses you but you must endure (schoolwork etc). Craig's depression becomes evident when he's accepted into a prestigious school; one he's worked towards for all of his life. However, when he finally starts the term he realises that all the work is too much for him. After his medication is discontinued, he begins to sink lower and lower until he hits rock bottom: contemplating suicide. At the start of the book I emphasised and identified with Craig in some way - even respected him a little for being so responsible and saving his own life - but I didn't really connect with him because at this point the reader only sees him when he's miserable or horny, and not much else.

However, when his almost-suicide-attempt leads to his admittance to a psychiatric ward, we see a change in Craig. His personality begins to shine through thanks to all the eccentric and troubled patients he meets there. This is definitely my favourite part of the book because we get to see him discover new friends and his Anchor but we also see his life take a turn for the better when he decides he doesn't want to go back to school, but instead pursue a career in art. Importantly, It's Kind of a Funny Story is a semi-autobiographical novel detailing Vizzini's own teenage experience of being hospitalised. At the end of the novel, it seems like Craig's life is back on track. The same was true for Ned Vizzini after his stay, until he unexpectedly committed suicide in 2013. Not only was this Craig's story, it was Ned's. For me, it was a bittersweet tale of a salvaged life which would later be lost again. 

It's Kind of a Funny Story is unparalleled in terms of its success in the understanding and acceptance of depression. No doubt, it will have taught parents a lot about their teenage sons and daughters; but it was able to teach me something different. And that was that you should never make another living person your Anchor. Find strength within yourself, because other people are unpredictable and hobbies are stable and familiar. RIP, Ned Vizzini.

Rating: 3.5 stars

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Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro // Review

"As children, Ruth, Kathy and Tommy spend their childhood at a seemingly idyllic English boarding school. As they grow into young adults, they find that they have to come to terms with the strength of the love they feel for each other, while preparing themselves for the haunting reality that awaits them. Never Let Me Go is an unforgettable story of love, friendship, and the fragility of life."

Whilst Never Let Me Go was sometimes ethically intriguing, I found it slow and hard to get into. I'll be honest, there were moments when I really had to force myself to pick the book back up - yet despite my best efforts I feel like I got nothing out of it. The plot is "haunting" in spirit. The subject of the book is more terrifying than the book actually is. 

At times there wasn't as much dialogue as I'd like, especially between Kathy and Tommy; whose relationship deserved to be established and explored a lot more than it ever was in this book. The film makes more of a "thing" out of the awkwardness and sexual tension between the characters, which is probably why I prefer it. However, the film does lead you to believe that Kathy and Tommy spent more time together than they were actually written to have. Another annoying thing about the film is that Kathy is portrayed as a virginal, shy type, whereas, in the books she has many fleeting relationships which, again, are never properly explored by the author.

As for "an unforgettable story of love," I'd argue against it. If it weren't for the film, I don't think this story would have touched me at all. The clones were very unsure about how to express themselves, and so there were periods when their relationships seemed forced and lacking in emotion. If Tommy had never said to Kath, "we loved each other all our lives," then you may not have realised that was ever the case. It was not made abundantly clear. Even when they do eventually (SPOILER ALERT) become a couple, there's a complete lack of romance - Tommy never pushes Kathy's hair behind her ear or anything like that which you would expect of two people who had longed to be with each other for so long - no, even then it was just, "sometimes, we had sex." And yes, that is an exact quote, which I believe is said more than once. 

Before I say this, I'm going to point out that this is the first Kazuo Ishiguro book I've read, and you'll have to forgive me for making this assumption if it's untrue, but it seems to me that his talent does not extend to creating complex loving relationships. It's all very minimalist and he's not really a big believer in description. I don't think we're ever told what the clones look like, although I'm not sure whether this is to emphasise their unimportance in the eyes of society. Ishiguro did not make me feel.

Rating: 3 stars

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