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Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

“So this is my life. And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure out how that could be.”

I have been wanting to read this book for a really long time, I don’t know why it took me so long to get around to it! I think most book lovers have heard of this book, and probably have a good idea what it’s about. It is about Charlie, a wallflower, who is naturally inclined to observe rather than participate. Throughout the book Charlie makes attempts to get more involved, encouraged by his new group of friends.

This book covers various themes associated with adolescence. In tone and style it reminded me quite a bit of the Catcher in the Rye. It had very simple sentence structure, and the way that feelings and events were explained was very straightforward. I think this may have been a way to show some of Charlie’s naivety.

The book is written in letter format, each addressed ‘Dear Friend’. We never find out who the letters are written to, but I did wonder about this throughout. I don’t always like it when books are written in letters, but sometimes it can work well, such as in We Need to Talk About Kevin and The Colour Purple. I think it works well in this case also.

I found the character of Charlie very endearing. I thought it was unusual how his response to upsetting things was to burst out crying, irregardless of if he was in a group of people. I don’t know how realistic this is, but it was interesting. We follow Charlie throughout a school year, as he goes through the trials and tribulations of being a teenager in an American high school.

I really enjoyed this book, and having finished it, I’m happy that I can finally watch the film!

Favourite quote? “And in that moment, I swear we were infinite.” That is the kind of quote that if I used Pinterest more often I’d want to find a little picture with this quote on. I think I may go and do that actually. IMG_1372

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‘You Had Me at Hello’ by Mhairi McFarlane

I have been obsessed with my Kindle lately. One night last week I was flicking through my recommendations on the Kindle store. I was looking for something a bit lighter than the murder and crime stuff I’ve been reading lately! Then ‘You Had Me at Hello’ popped up and I liked the title. It seemed a bit cutesy but smart at the same time. After downloading a sample, I knew I was going to enjoy it. Sometimes all it takes is a few pages. I love that you can download samples, it makes me feel more inclined to give a book a go.

‘You Had Me at Hello’ is about Rachel and Ben, who met at university and were very good friends/could-be-more-than-friends. However, during uni Rachel had a boyfriend. Despite liking Ben, she kept missing the signs that he really liked her. Ten years pass, Rachel is newly single and a not-so-chance bump into Ben brings back the feelings she had pushed aside for so long. However, Ben is now married. Once again the pair can’t be together. They are a bit like Ross and Rachel from ‘Friends’, the timing just is never quite right. A bit frustrating I suppose, but if it were easy there would be no story!

Perhaps the story line sounds all too familiar, but what makes this book stand out is the gentle humour throughout. The novel also flicks between present day, and back to uni days, so we learn more about their relationship then/now as the book goes on. It is also set in Manchester, which for me (with Manchester being my closest city) was a huge bonus! McFarlane really used the setting well, and I loved that Rachel and Ben saw each other for the first time in years at Manchester Central Library! Other places around the city and uni were so well described, I felt like I could really get involved in the story. McFarlane mentions Manchester’s ‘special’ rain that ‘manages to be both vertical and horizontal’ which made me chuckle. Too true.

This novel reminds me a bit of ‘One Day’ by David Nicholls, which I was also a huge fan of. If you liked One Day, give this book a go! I don’t think you’ll regret it.

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Dark Places, by Gillian Flynn

After being so impressed with ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn, I recently downloaded one of her other novels, ‘Dark Places’, to my Kindle. I generally don’t use my Kindle very often, but it’s been practically glued to my hand while I’ve been reading this novel. It was that good.

‘Dark Places’ begins with Libby Day, the anti-heroine. Libby’s two sisters and their mother, Patty, were brutally murdered at the family home in Kansas 25 years previously – the subject matter and setting show a definite nod to ‘In Cold Blood’ by Truman Capote. The killer was suspected to be Libby’s brother, Ben. At the time, seven-year old Libby testified in court that Ben had committed the crime. As a result, combined with rumours in the town that Ben was practising satanic rituals, among other accusations, Ben is imprisoned. But years on Libby begins to doubt her own memories of the murder. Ben Day has built up quite a fan club of people who believe him to be innocent, and they encourage her to trace down people who may shed light on what really happened that night.

Libby was a really interesting character, she believes herself to be a bad person – the opening line of the book reads ‘I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ’. Libby steals things, uses people, and pushes away those who have tried to help. I enjoy the way that Flynn creates characters that aren’t particularly likeable, but are really intriguing. We learn so much about them that we begin to understand why they behave the way that they do. I’ve watched a video of Gillian Flynn talking about the book on YouTube, and found it interesting that she initially wrote most of the first draft with Libby as a ‘nice normal girl’. She then significantly rewrote the character as it is unlikely that Libby would be completely unaffected after the murders. I am glad that she did this as I think it added more layers to the character.

The narration of the book switches between Libby in the present day, and Ben and Patty 25 years ago. This gives the book momentum and there certainly isn’t a dull moment. The reader is constantly discovering new clues, and I kept changing my mind about who I thought was the killer. It wasn’t who I initially suspected, but I’ll say no more as I don’t want to spoil the plot.

I found the ending of the book very satisfying, as all the fragments came together. It was definitely a good book to be reading around Halloween time. I have also downloaded ‘Sharp Objects’ which I’m looking forward to starting on soon – I think I may read something else in the mean time so I don’t compare it too much to this novel. IMG_1278

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Instructions for a Heatwave, by Maggie O’Farrell

I received ‘Instructions for a Heatwave’ as a birthday present, however, had I not, I probably would have bought it anyway as I had picked it up a few times in bookshops. It seems everywhere at the moment. The blurb on the back drew me in. The premise is that husband, Robert, went out for the morning paper and then did not return. A day which started so ordinarily was then turned on its head.

However, this book was not particularly a mystery focused upon where Robert had gone. That was of course an importance feature, but his disappearance was mainly a plot device to bring together a rifted family which had been dispersed across different places.

Instructions for a Heatwave is a book about relationships, about families. Robert’s wife, Gretta and their grown up children. Their eldest, Michael Francis, is also experiencing a crisis with his own family. While Monica, is unhappy with a new husband and step children who hate her, living in a house which doesn’t feel like her own. Aoife is the youngest, labelled a problem child, who fled to New York after a disagreement with Monica. None of the characters were perfect, they all made mistakes and at sometimes each of them was a bit annoying, but they seemed real. The family was slightly dysfunctional, but above all they seemed rather normal, which made them easy to relate them.

The setting is quite interesting, the heat wave accounts for the peculiar behaviour of some of the characters. It allowed the very ordinary Robert to disappear without letting anyone know. It lead to family truths being revealed and forced the siblings to address their problems.

It was a good read, and I would recommend it for anyone who enjoys books about psychology and relationships.

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Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

‘We will have a happy marriage if it kills him.’

Amy Dunne goes missing the night before a wedding anniversary to husband Nick. What has happened to Amy? All the evidence points to Nick, could he really have killed his perfect wife? Or is there more than meets the eye?

The novel has an interesting structure, and switches between the perspectives of Nick and Amy. Both are very unreliable narrators – and for good reason, they both have dark secrets. This structure keeps the story fast paced, but leaves the reader knowing only what Nick and Amy want you to believe. It takes a long time for everything to be revealed, and for the true characters to emerge. I found this the most intriguing part of Gone Girl, and enjoyed the twists and turns in the story. I enjoyed that the characters were complex, and flawed, but each in different ways.

Gone Girl is a novel about a toxic relationship, deception and murder. It isn’t a scary kind of thriller, it’s more about the relationships and the puzzles that are left behind by Amy’s disappearance. It was described on the cover as addictive, and I definitely found it to be a page turner. I already want to read more books by Gillian Flynn, and I’m hoping the library I work at as her other two books in stock – ‘Sharp Objects’ and ‘Dark Places’. I was pleased to read at the end of the novel that Flynn is currently turning Gone Girl into a screen play, I can see that it will translate well onto the big screen.

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Penelope by Rebecca Harrington

On a rainy day recently, I took shelter in Waterstones. Something about ‘Penelope’ caught my attention. Penelope is one of those ‘coming of age’ novels. It follows the awkward, but mostly likeable, Penelope throughout her first year at Harvard University.  Penelope is a quirky character who taught herself Morse code, plays Tetris on her phone during uncomfortable situations and once attempted to read a book at a party. She is a bit clueless about her classes, homework and exams (so much so that you do wonder how she got to Harvard in the first place!). Penelope often seems out of place among her intensely ambitious peers, as it seems that most of the time she is unsure what is happening around her.  She is highly agreeable and ends up saying yes to things she doesn’t really want to do, such as acting the part of a silent guard in a school play to please her not-so-friendly room-mate.

Penelope made for an excellent main character, and I enjoyed reading about her interactions with fellow students. I also enjoyed the setting of the book. There were so many little details throughout that I could relate to my own university experience, and that made me reminisce and smile. I like this quote which is definitely relatable!

-‘Each class sounded sort of interesting until you went to it. Then you realize that you would rather be watching a light show’

Penelope was a lovely novel, but if I had any criticisms or slight irritations, it would be that some of the characters were a tad one-dimensional and annoying, such as Lan and Gustav. It was often hard to understand their appeal to Penelope. Gustav, for instance, was supposed to be the ‘love interest’ for much of the book, but it was almost impossible to understand why. To me, his character and the dialogue he was given seemed really forced.

Despite issues with some of the characters, I found ‘Penelope’ an enjoyable book and devoured it in two sittings.

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