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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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BACK TO BACK JOHN GREEN Paper Towns – John Green

PaperTowns2009_6AThe YA novel is written from the perspective of Quentin Jacobsen who has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar. One night she climbs into his life dressed like a ninja and they set out for an all-night campaign for revenge. The next day Quentin arrives at school but there is no Margo. It would seem that she left clues for him to find, and to ultimately find her.

I read Paper Towns after reading The Fault in Our Stars and I have to be honest I had some trouble connecting with Quentin at the beginning of the novel. Quentin and Margo’s campaign for revenge was interesting but left me wondering whether there was a point to all the craziness. The novel takes a more serious tone after Margo disappears which is when I really started to enjoy Paper Towns.

The first clue that Margo left for Quentin is the poem Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. Quentin only reads the poem in sections (the parts that Margo highlighted) in the hope of finding a clue as to where Margo is. Quentin keeps referring back to the Walt Whitman poem as the book progresses. He later realised that he had to read the poem in its entirety to fully understand it. I found it to be such a clever metaphor for understanding people. You have to get the whole picture before deciding what that person is like and even then your interpretation of the person (or the poem) could be different to that of someone else. He had to get the whole picture of who Margo is in order to understand her and thus had to read the whole poem.

origami-paper-town

 (Image by Philippe Put)

Paper Towns also explains the idea of understanding how and why certain people act the way they do and to realise that they are unlikely to change. In one chapter Quentin describes one of his best friends Ben as an asshole. His other friend Radar tells Quentin:

You know your problem, Quentin? You keep expecting people not to be themselves.

– John Green, Paper Towns.

We have to let people be who they are. I don’t think it means that we should not expect the best of people but rather we should know them well enough to know which things matter and which things don’t.

“What a treacherous thing to believe that a person is more than a person.” 
– John GreenPaper Towns

Quentin falls in love with the idea of Margo Roth Spiegelman. He has this idea of what Margo is like but he soon finds out that the reality is much different. It is false to believe more of a person that what they really are. It creates these high expectations that a person can’t ever live up to.

SPOILER ALERT

Okay maybe this isn’t such a spoiler since the book is called Paper Towns but Q eventually finds Margo in a paper town called Agloe, New York. The fictional town of Agloe, New York was designed as a copyright trap. I didn’t know what a paper town was when I started the novel so I found the concept very interesting. It would seem that not only can people not be who they seem to be but whole towns can seem to be real when they do not exist. I could keep going about all the symbolism and metaphors in the book but it might be best to read it from the author himself… check out http://johngreenbooks.com/paper-towns/ for more on this awesome YA novel.

I found Paper Towns to be truly fascinating, tremendously entertaining and full of quotable quotes. I would definitely recommend it.

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The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

200px-the_fault_in_our_starsThe story is told from the point of view of 16-year-old Hazel Grace Lancaster, as she battles cancer. A tumour-shrinking medical miracle has bought Hazel a few years, but she has never been anything but terminal. While Hazel attends a church support group for cancer survivors, she meets Augustus Waters. Augustus has lost his leg due to cancer and now wears a prosthetic. This is the story of Hazel and Gus. Okay? Okay.

You can’t really say that you “enjoyed” this novel by John Green. It awakens too many emotions as you connect with the characters in the story. Most of us know someone who has or had cancer. The Fault in Our Stars, however, tells it like it is. Green doesn’t just paint a picture of suffering and sadness but also one of humour and sarcasm. He portrays the teenagers in the book as teenagers even if they are battling a dreaded (or terminal) disease. I especially liked the banter between Gus and his blind friend Isaac. Isaac’s eyes had been removed due to eye cancer.

“How are the eyes?”

“Oh, excellent,” he said.“I mean, they’re not in my head is the only problem.”  – John Green, The Fault in Our Stars.

SPOILER ALERT

Hazel’s favourite book is called An Imperial Affliction by Peter Van Houten. This fictional novel created by John Green is about a girl with cancer. An Imperial Affliction ends mid-sentence which would suggest that the girl died while writing her story. Throughout The Fault in Our Stars I was concerned that Green might end the novel in the same way but it didn’t end mid-sentence. Green created this whole other fictional novel to portray how the writer has a responsibility to the reader to finish the story. The uncertainty of how An Imperial Affliction ends seems to echo the uncertainty that Hazel has about her own life. She worries about what will happen to the people she loves when she dies. And even though we know that one day Hazel’s story will also finish mid-sentence there is closure at the end of TFIOS.

Hazel and Gus bond over their love for the book An Imperial Affliction and their desire to find out what happens to the characters in the book after it ends so abruptly. Hazel and Gus’s love story is epic.

“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

“But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I’m grateful.” – John Green, The Fault in Our Stars.

Their love story is innocent and real. They see each other while being sick and fall in love while knowing that they might not have that much time to spend together.

TFIOS is honest, funny and incredibly moving. If you haven’t read it yet, then do so. I would suggest reading the book before seeing the movie (as I would with most adaptations). The movie is brilliant but the book is better.

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Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

gone_girl_flynn_novelIt is Nick and Amy Dunne’s fifth wedding anniversary, but Nick’s beautiful wife, Amy has gone missing. Nick’s lies and odd behaviour has everyone questioning whether he had killed his wife…

This really is an addictive novel as I was taken with the story from the start. I couldn’t put it down. The novel makes use of a dual-narrative structure as Nick narrates the story from the day that Amy goes missing. Amy tells her story through a series of diary entries dated from the day she first met Nick.

The characters in Gone Girl are interesting and complex. I switched constantly between liking and sympathising with Nick, to really questioning his behaviour. The novel starts off by Nick describing the back of his wife’s head and you’re immediately hooked. I mean he has to be the killer, right? Who thinks about the back of their wife’s head in such detail?

The novel, however, keeps you guessing. In one of the first few chapters Nick states that it was the 11th time that he had lied to the police that day. It made me go back to see what he could have lied about. As the novel progresses, however, you feel more sympathy for Nick.

SPOILER ALERT

Especially when Diary Amy becomes Real Amy. It was such a surprising plot twist. I enjoyed every minute. Amy has to be one of the scariest villains out there. I mean who plans their husband’s demise in such absolute detail? I felt so sorry for Nick. He was trapped.

The ending also made me (a claustrophobe) feel trapped and hopeless. Amy had planned it all so well that there was no way for Nick to escape. I didn’t like how the novel ended. I wanted Nick to outsmart Amy and expose her. With that said I really enjoyed this novel and would definitely recommend it.

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