Losing Sleep Over Before I Go to Sleep by SJ Watson

Before I Go To SleepI was looking for a thriller: A tale of suspense and mystery, preferably with a surprise ending. I found this article on Buzzfeed that lists 41 of the most suspenseful books you’ll ever read. Before I Go To Sleep was 2nd on the list. I read the synopsis and knew I had to read this book as I couldn’t stop thinking about it. The synopsis goes something like this:

 
Christine is 40 years old but she can’t remember the last few years of her life. She remembers her childhood and her teenage years but after that: nothing. She wakes up every morning next to a man that says that he is her husband, Ben. She receives a call from a neurologist, Dr. Nasch that says he is a doctor at a local hospital that is helping her regain her memory. He reminds her about a journal she keeps hidden in the closet. She finds the journal and opens the front cover to find the words: “Don’t trust Ben”.

 
Intrigued yet?

I’m not going to give too much away but I thoroughly enjoyed Before I Go To Sleep. And by enjoyed I mean I was absolutely terrified and concerned for Christine from beginning to end. The novel is written in a first-person narrative and you get to experience what it would be like not to have any recollection of the previous day or even the last few years. It also means that you have to piece together bits of information of Christine’s life as she does: slowly. Christine has to read her journal every day to catch up with what happened in her life.

 
I bought the movie-cover edition of the novel, which means that I didn’t get to imagine what the characters would look like but it could have been worse. Imagining Colin Firth as Ben was not terrible. The movie also stars Nicole Kidman as Christine and Mark Strong as Dr. Nasch. I have yet to see the movie, if you have let me know what you thought?

 
Before I Go To Sleep reminded me of Gone Girl. If you liked Gone Girl, then definitely read Before I Go To Sleep and if you didn’t then read Before I Go To Sleep anyway. It’s a well-written thriller that not only casts a closer look at memory loss and what effect memory has on our relationships but will also have you wondering whether to really trust Ben.

41

Someday, Someday, Maybe: A Novel by Lauren Graham

IMG_3782So, Lauren Graham (better known as Lorelai Gilmore) wrote a novel. I don’t know why it took me so long to find out about it but as soon as I did, I ordered it online, and finally read it.

If you haven’t heard about it yet – here’s a short summary:

Frances or Franny Banks is an aspiring actress that only has six months left of the three-year deadline she gave herself to succeed. It’s the mid-nineties and she lives in New York with her roommates Dan and Jane and works as a waitress to pay the bills. In order to further her career Franny attends an acting class every week and keeps a record of her appointments and schedule (not that there’s much to keep track of) in a Filofax. Her deadline is looming and she’s afraid that she might not succeed.

The premise for the novel might seem like a cliché: A struggling actress working as a waitress in New York while she tries to catch her big break. But Graham tells the story in such a sincere and genuine way, through Filofax excerpts and answering machine messages, that it was interesting to get a behind the scenes look at what it meant to be an aspiring actress in the 1990s. It was a time without cellphones and emails. A time of answering machines and pay phones. Franny had to constantly check her messages from a pay phone to see if she’s been booked for an audition or wait for her lines to be faxed through to her. (Can you imagine?).

I really enjoyed Someday, Someday, Maybe. Franny is witty and funny and I couldn’t help but imagine Lauren Graham as Franny. Graham has said in an interview that the novel isn’t autobiographical but that she’s fictionalised some of her own experiences as an actress. Her accounts of attending auditions are well-written, humorous and insightful. Franny is very relatable as a character; she rambles when she’s nervous, she’s clumsy (to the point of falling on stage during a performance) and she often succumbs to self-doubt. In between meeting with agents, going on auditions, taking notes in her Filofax and trying to figure out what an eyelash curler is, Franny keeps believing that she’ll achieve success someday, someday, maybe.

If you’re in the mood for a fun, light-hearted read and if you’re a fan of Lauren Graham’s sense of humour you’ll love Someday, Someday, Maybe.

3

Why You Shouldn’t Be Reading Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a WatchmanA few weeks ago, I found myself in the bookstore (no surprise there) looking at To Set a Watchman in the window display. The new or old novel, depending on who you ask, had so much hype around it that I couldn’t help but notice the bright orange cover. I had to remind myself that I was in the bookstore to buy ONLY books that are on the Rory Gilmore Reading list (as you know the list is quite extensive and it’s getting a bit expensive).

I had found a “few” books when To Set A Watchman caught my eye again. Should I or shouldn’t I? I loved To Kill a Mockingbird , so I can’t miss out on another Harper Lee, right? I was sure that To Set a Watchman would have made it onto the Rory Gilmore Reading List if the series was still running. The poor clerk behind the desk just smiled and waited as I took the book, put it back and finally bought it (with my credit card). I was super excited to see what all the hype was about.

If you haven’t read it, here’s a short synopsis:

Go Set a Watchman is set two decades after To Kill a Mockingbird. The now 26-year-old Jean Louise (Scout) Finch returns to Maycomb, Alabama from New York City to visit her father, Atticus. Scout, however, now realises that a lot has changed and that maybe her father isn’t the man she thought he was. The novel is set against the backdrop of the civil rights tensions and political turmoil that were transforming the South in the 1950s.

That’s basically what the novel is about. I felt like To Set a Watchman was a political essay. I couldn’t connect with the older Scout or as she now prefers to be called Jean Louise. She seemed so focused on being right that nothing else seemed to matter. The novel focussed on how things or rather people have changed since she last visited her hometown. The title Go Set a Watchman is a reference to a Biblical verse about the moral compass which most of Jean Louise’s family seem to have mislaid.

The much-loved father figure in To Kill a Mockingbird returns in To Set a Watchman but he isn’t the man we remember. Atticus no longer defends innocent young black men but rather has racist views on how black people should be treated and what rights they should be allowed to have. Jean Louise has to deal with the question of whether her family had always been racist or if they had changed over the years?

Jean Louise’s return to Maycomb sees her clashing not only with her father and snobbish Aunt Alexandra but also with her uncle Dr. Finch. Their quarrel towards the end of the novel made me really uncomfortable. The way Dr. Finch spoke to Jean Louise and lashed out at her was quite unsettling.

The only thing that made the novel almost worth the read was flashbacks to Scout’s childhood. These memories are so much like scenes from To Kill a Mockingbird that it’s a shame they couldn’t be included in the original novel.

Go Set a Watchman reminded me that sometimes some things are better left unsaid or in this case unread. Rather reread To Kill a Mockingbird.

1

Attachments – Rainbow Rowell

attachments imageYou know how mostly whenever you read or see something funny on the Internet, you just kind of smirk without really laughing out loud? With Attachments, there were some genuine LOL moments. I absolutely loved it. You’ll know from my rave review on Eleanor & Park that I love Rainbow Rowell’s writing style. I feel like she captures moments of anxiousness and nervousness in such a relatable (and funny) way.

“Some people count sheep. I self-loathe.”

– Rainbow Rowell, Attachments

But I’m getting ahead of myself, here’s what Attachments is all about:

“Hi, I’m the guy who reads your email, and also, I love you…”

Beth Fremont and Jennifer Scribner-Snyder know that somebody is monitoring their work email. (Everybody in the newsroom knows. It’s company policy.) But they can’t quite bring themselves to take it seriously. They go on sending each other endless and endlessly hilarious emails, discussing every aspect of their personal lives.

Meanwhile, Lincoln O’Neill can’t believe this is his job now – reading other people’s email. When he applied to be “internet security officer,” he pictured himself building firewalls and crushing hackers – not writing up a report every time a sports reporter forwards a dirty joke.

When Lincoln comes across Beth’s and Jennifer’s messages, he knows he should turn them in. But he can’t help being entertained – and captivated – by their stories.

By the time Lincoln realises he’s falling for Beth, it’s way too late to introduce himself.

What would he say…?

I’m not going to tell. No spoilers.

Attachments is such a sweet story. Even though the characters are in their late twenties it made me feel like being back in high school; when you had a crush on someone but didn’t have the courage to talk to them. Lincoln is such a relatable character and I like that the novel is told from his perspective.

The friendship between Beth and Jennifer is also so genuine and sincere that I want to be cc’d in all their emails. I just loved Attachments. I didn’t want the story to end. I’m not going to say much more as I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll leave you with an endlessly hilarious quote…

“So … I’m larking through the Baby Gap, looking at tiny capri pants and sweaters that cost more than … I don’t know, more than they should. And I get totally sucked in by this ridiculous, tiny fur coat. The kind of coat a baby might need to go to the ballet. In Moscow. In 1918. To match her tiny pearls.”
– Rainbow RowellAttachments

5

Big Brother is Watching You 1984 – George Orwell

1984 Gilmore Girls

LORELAI: I was just going through something, I thought you might be interested. It’s from 1984.
SOOKIE: The book?
LORELAI: No, the year.

Gilmore Girls Season 4 Episode 7 The Festival of Living Art

It’s 1984 in Oceania. Winston Smith is employed as a records editor at the Ministry of Truth. His main duty is to rewrite the history and documentation of the state in order to satisfy current Party policy and interpretation. The Party is a totalitarian superpower that controls and manipulates its citizens by making sure that they live a life without freedom. In Oceania, Big Brother is always watching.

The Party controls everything. They change history books, newspaper articles and government documents in order to make sure that their views are a reality in the past, present and the future. They even control who Oceania is at war with.

1984 cover

The novel starts with Winston on his way home with a diary. In Oceania citizens are not allowed to have a diary as their thoughts are not their own. Winston defies this by keeping a record of his thoughts and daily activities. This is the first step he takes in defying the Party.

SPOILERS

Winston soon meets Julia, a like-minded individual, with whom he has a secret love affair. Their affair, however, does not last long as they are discovered and arrested. What follows are horrific scenes of torture, as they are brainwashed to believe that they have betrayed themselves and the Party.

I had trouble relating to the characters. I feel like Winston was just going through the motions. He never took an active step to betray the Party, it just sort of happened, just like his affair with Julia. Winston was mechanical in his thinking and his love for Julia. I guess this could also have been a side-effect from being manipulated by the Party all his life. He didn’t know how to show love or affection. Even though Julia was more pro-active in getting what she wanted her main goal was to make her life as enjoyable as possible. She didn’t seem concerned about the destruction happening around her.

I wouldn’t say it’s an enjoyable novel to read, as I constantly felt worried and stressed that Winston and Julia would be caught. In the end when they were arrested, their worst fears were realised as they were tortured and starved. In a movie you can at least keep your eyes closed if there are parts you don’t want to see. Keeping my eyes closed would make reading a bit difficult but that is exactly what I wanted to do during the torture scenes. They were written in such detail that it actually made me feel sick to my stomach.

The ideas and concepts of propaganda, war, power and class divides in 1984 are timeless. It’s nerve-wrecking how relevant it still is today. In the end Winston was set free, if you can call it that. He was allowed to return to his apartment but he had been so manipulated and brainwashed that his mind once again belonged to the Party. I didn’t like the ending although I couldn’t really see it ending any other way. I still hoped that the Party might be defeated. But even that thought wasn’t very comforting as the Party was sure to be replaced by another government with the same principles.

41

Aliens, Time Travel and War Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut

final-jess-reading

Jess reading Slaughterhouse 5 after sneaking into class.
Gilmore Girls Season 2 Episode 19 Teach Me Tonight

Billy Pilgrim was a prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany during the Second World War. The novel centres on the infamous fire-bombing of Dresden. But the story about war is interjected with tales of Billy’s honeymoon, a horrible ski accident and the time he was taken prisoner by an alien race he calls the Tralfamadorians. Billy it seems has come unstuck in time and can move freely between any point of time in his life.

I have to be honest I didn’t know what to make of Slaughterhouse 5. I expected a book about war but Slaughterhouse 5 is something completely different. The few times the novel actually describes war situations are horrific. These scenes include dehydrated, bleeding horses and POWs unwittingly using soap and candles made from human bodies. These horrifying events are, however, countered by accounts of alien abduction and honeymooning in Cape Ann, Massachusetts.

slaughterhouse-5

Just as Billy would recall (or rather relive) these horrible events he would become unstuck in time and travel to a different point in his life. Mostly Billy would travel to where he was kept in an apartment like an animal in a zoo by the Tralfamadorians. The Tralfamadorians are a fictional alien race that kidnapped Billy in order to observe him.

The Tralfamadorians have an interesting outlook on life. They choose to ignore anything that is unpleasant. In the novel they know that a test pilot will press a button that destroys the Universe and yet they do nothing to stop him.

“He has always pressed it, and he always will. We always let him and we will always let him. The moment is structured that way.” Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5.

They seem to not take any responsibility for their actions. In the same way Billy seems to distance himself from the war. He seems to remind himself that there is nothing that he could have done to stop the bombing; the moment was simply structured that way. “So it goes”, is a saying that Billy uses throughout the novel whenever anyone dies. By repeating this whenever someone dies Billy seems to remind himself that it is simply how the world works and that there is nothing that could have been done. It seems to help Billy cope.

There are no spoilers in this review as it is not that kind of plot. The concept of chronology is rejected as the first and the last sentences of the novel are put next to each other in the first chapter:

“It begins like this: Listen: Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. It ends like this: Poo-tee-weet?” –Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse 5.

There is no tension in the novel as we know exactly how it is going to end. The first and the last chapter of the book are written in first person. Vonnegut starts the novel by stating: “All this happened more or less”. Throughout the rest of the novel Vonnegut takes an omniscient point of view but he also mentions that he was a prisoner of war alongside Billy Pilgrim. It would seem that a part of the novel is based on Vonnegut’s own experience as a POW.

Slaughterhouse 5 was just too strange for me. I found the timeline confusing. Maybe I’m missing something but I really didn’t enjoy it. I kept hoping that the ending would be different as to what was quoted in the first chapter and was disappointed that it ended exactly as Vonnegut said it would.

Even though I disagree with most of the things the Tralfamadorians believe, I did like this quote:

“That’s one thing Earthlings might learn to do, if they tried hard enough: Ignore the awful times, and concentrate on the good ones.” Kurt Vonnegut – Slaughterhouse 5.

2-en-half

 

 

Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell

eleanor-parkTwo misfits.

One extraordinary love.


Set over the course of one school year in 1986, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.

 

I finished Eleanor & Park in three days. I have read it twice. Eleanor & Park made me want to read everything that Rainbow Rowell had ever written.  It is such a simple story about two teenagers falling in love yet it is so exquisitely written. The story is told from both Eleanor & Park’s point of view. We get to experience how they fall in love and the different things they notice and like about each other.

“I want everyone to meet you. You’re my favourite person of all time.” – Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & Park.

Their love story is so innocent and naive while the rest of the things in their lives are so much more complex.

“In your life, things happen for reasons. People make sense. But that’s not my life. Nobody in my life makes sense…” – Rainbow Rowell, Eleanor & Park.

I don’t want to give too much away as I really recommend that you read Eleanor & Park but I also have to add that I really enjoyed the characters’ sense of humour. Eleanor’s dry wit and sarcasm is very entertaining.

Eleanor & Park is one of my favourite novels and I look forward to reading more from Rainbow Rowell.

5

To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

“LORELAI: But he’s our Boo Radley, and we don’t have a Boo Radley, unless you count the troubadour or Pete the pizza guy or the guy who talks to mailboxes. 

RORY: Well, I think the point is that every town needs as many Boo Radley’s as they can get.”                                                                         Gilmore Girls Season 3 Episode 6 – Take the Deviled Eggs.

to-kill-a-mockingbird-goodreads

The only thing I knew about To Kill a Mockingbird before reading the novel was that it involved a recluse named Boo Radley. To Kill a Mockingbird is set in the 1930s and the story is told by 6-year-old Scout Finch. Scout’s father Atticus Finch is defending Tom Robinson, a black man, accused of raping a young white woman in Maycomb County, Alabama. But the story is about so much more than that.

The novel begins when Scout recalls the events that led up to her brother’s arm being broken. From the narrative one gathers that Scout is now much older and looking back on the events of her childhood. Scout tells us that the story begins when Charles Baker Harris, better known as Dill, arrives in Maycomb to spend the summer. Scout and her brother Jem soon befriend Dill and the three of them have various adventures. Most of them involve the house across the street where the Radley family lives. Scout, Jem and Dill are fascinated by the youngest son of the Radley family. His name is Arthur Radley but the children refer to him as Boo as he has not been seen outside for many years. The three of them play games in which they try to get the enigmatic Boo to come outside but they have no luck.

Scout, Jem and Dill’s childhood games later become a thing of the past as the narrative focuses on the trial of Tom Robinson. At Christmas, Scout and Jem receive air rifles as presents from Atticus but he warns them:

“Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.” – Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird.

The Finch’s neighbour Miss Maudie Atkinson later explains that it is a sin to kill a mockingbird as they do no harm to anyone and that all they do is sing for the delight of those who hear them.

SPOILER ALERT

Figuratively in the novel Tom Robinson, Boo Radley, and Scout and Jem can all be seen as mockingbirds. Robinson is seen as a mockingbird as he is wrongfully accused of a crime he did not commit. Scout and Jem’s surname, Finch (which refers to a small, seed-eating songbird), alludes to the idea that they are also mockingbirds as their childhood innocence is lost during the course of the novel. Boo Radley is a mockingbird as the town has made up many stories about him which in the end turn out not to be true. Boo is wronged by the stereotypical views of society without having done anything to deserve it.

wingtip-314964_640Throughout the novel Atticus tries to teach his children to put themselves in other people’s shoes in order to see their point of view. Toward the end of the novel Scout and Jem are attacked by Bob Ewell the father of the young woman who accused Robinson of raping her. Jem’s arm is broken in the attack but the children are saved by Boo Radley. Scout later walks Boo home and as she leaves his porch she stops to look at Maycomb from Radley’s point of view.

The novel ends on a hopeful note with Atticus telling Scout that most people are nice when you finally see them. In the case of Boo Radley it meant when Scout literally saw him but figuratively Atticus was saying that most people are nice when you see things from their perspective. Even though Scout experiences many injustices during her childhood it has not diminished her believe in goodness.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading To Kill a Mockingbird. I was captivated by the naïve account of events as Scout explains the events she experienced as she understood them at the time. The southern accent took some getting used to but once you’re accustomed to it, it’s easy enough. In the end I have to agree with Rory that every town needs as many Boo Radley’s as they can get.

5

 

The Giver – Lois Lowry

the-giverAt the age of twelve children in the community receive their assignments (or rather the job that they will be performing for the rest of their lives). Up until then Jonas lived safely within the community, a place where there is no war, no hunger and no pain. But that was until Jonas was chosen as the Receiver of Memory.

The Giver is an easy to read novel although some of the concepts introduced in the novel are not so easy to digest. On the surface the community where Jonas lives seems perfect. No war, hunger or pain. But that is until Jonas receives the most important assignment of all. He is to be the Receiver of Memory which means that he will be the keeper of all the memories of all mankind. The people in his community have no memories other than that of their own lives. They thus need a Receiver to keep the memories for them and advise the community based on those memories.

SPOILER ALERT

The Giver, which is the previous Receiver of Memory, gives the memories to Jonas one by one. The Giver starts off by giving Jonas happy memories like the memory of a rainbow but soon the Giver has to give Jonas more painful memories of starvation, war, pain and loneliness. Jonas struggles to deal with these memories as it is something that he has not experienced before. Jonas’s world seems ideal compared to these memories but his world is also a world without love.

The people in the community, Jonas’s parents included, do not understand the concept of love as they have no knowledge of it. But the memory of love has such an influence on Jonas that he decides that it would be better to have pain and suffering if there could also be love. He starts to reject the ideas his community has on what life should be like.

A world without pain, loss or loneliness seems ideal but what would that world be if there was no colour, no choice and no love.

What would you choose?

I enjoyed this book immensely. The concepts and ideas introduced in this novel makes one think and re-evaluate the life you’re living. Am I exercising my right to choice? Am I seeing the colour in my life?

The only critique I have of The Giver is that the concepts could have been dealt with more in-depth. I feel that Lowry touches the surface of these concepts but don’t explore them in detail. This could be to encourage the reader to make up their own mind and to give them the freedom of choice as to how they want to interpret the novel. I personally would have liked the novel to explore these concepts further.

3-en-half

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children – Ranson Riggs

peregrineA mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of peculiar photographs. It all waits to be discovered in Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

The novel follows sixteen-year-old Jacob Portman as he travels to a remote island off the coast of Wales after a dreadful family tragedy. He discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, where it becomes clear that the children are more than just peculiar.

The story starts of as being very intriguing, as Jacob finds himself having to solve more than a few mysteries. It kept me wondering what Jacob might discover next. I found the novel to be quite creepy and scary. I was almost too afraid to turn the page for what ominous photograph I might discover. The use of the photographs along with the text really brought the story to life. It also took a lot of will power not to flip through the novel and look at the photographs but I wanted to see them in the context in which Jacob found them. I really enjoyed this aspect of the novel.

Ranson Riggs also creates a creepy and ominous atmosphere with his descriptions of landscapes and situations like this description of a storm:

“We spun toward the sound, rattled, and for a moment just stood listening as it seethed and howled at the mouth of the tunnel. It sounded like a caged animal that had just been showed its dinner. There was nothing to do but offer ourselves up to it” – Ranson Riggs, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

SPOILER ALERT

That said I have to say that I enjoyed the book immensely until half way through. Time travel just isn’t something I’m interested in and when Jacob discovers that the peculiar children are stuck in a time loop I lost interest. This makes the novel a rather disappointing read in my opinion. I was also really frustrated with the ending. It ended rather abruptly with nothing being resolved. The sequel was released earlier this year but if I have to be honest it will most likely not find its way to my bedstand.

2-en-half