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Archive for December, 2017

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Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman
Publication date:  29 May 2017
Publisher: Harper Collins UK

Synopsis: 

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

My thoughts: 

5 stars out of 5

I absolutely loved ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’, and I devoured it quickly from start to finish.

It’s dazzlingly well-written: the writing seems effortless, as if Honeyman just sat down at a desk one day and wrote the whole thing from start to finish. But actually, like many great books such as this, on closer inspection it is meticulously plotted and beautifully structured – I’m sure there was nothing at all effortless about writing it!

The character of Eleanor is funny and touching: she’s living a tiny life of careful routine, until one day something happens and her routine starts to unravel. With this unravelling, the reader begins to learn what brought Eleanor to this point, and watches her slowly start to emerge from her cocoon into a beautiful butterfly of a person.

Eleanor’s slightly skewed observations of life are witty and amusing, such as:

“I opted instead for a coffee, which was bitter and lukewarm. Naturally, I had been about to pour it all over myself but, just in time, had read the warning printed on the paper cup, alerting me to the fact that hot liquids can cause injury. A lucky escape, Eleanor! I said to myself, laughing quietly.”

This novel is really funny and engaging, perfect for people who enjoyed ‘My Name is Leon’.

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cover108956-mediumHow to Fall in Love with Anyone: A Memoir in Essays, by Mandy Len Catron
Publication date: 27 June 2017
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Synopsis: 

What really makes love last? Does love ever work the way we say it does in movies and books and Facebook posts? Or does obsessing over those love stories hurt our real-life relationships? When her parents divorced after a twenty-eight year marriage and her own ten-year relationship ended, those were the questions that Mandy Len Catron wanted to answer.

In a series of candid, vulnerable, and wise essays that takes a closer look at what it means to love someone, be loved, and how we present our love to the world, Catron deconstructs her own personal canon of love stories. She delves all the way back to 1944, when her grandparents first met in a coal mining town in Appalachia, to her own dating life as a professor in Vancouver, drawing insights from her fascinating research into the universal psychology, biology, history, and literature of love. She uses biologists’ research into dopamine triggers to ask whether the need to love is an innate human drive. She uses literary theory to show why we prefer certain kinds of love stories. She urges us to question the unwritten scripts we follow in relationships and looks into where those scripts come from in the first place. And she tells the story of how she decided to test a psychology experiment that she’d read about—where the goal was to create intimacy between strangers using a list of thirty-six questions—and ended up in the surreal situation of having millions of people following her brand-new relationship.

In How to Fall in Love with Anyone Catron flips the script on love and offers a deeply personal, and universal, investigation.

My thoughts: 

4 stars out of 5

This is a lovely meander through love, relationships and dating. The author takes us back to her grandparents and their courtship, her parents and how they met, and a selection of her own relationship. The tales are told alongside scientific studies, anecdotes and other fascinating information about love, marriage and life.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in love and relationships and the stories and science behind it all.

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cover124386-mediumFaking Friends, by Jane Fallon
Publication date: 11 January 2018
Publisher: Penguin UK – Michael Joseph

Synopsis

Best friend, soulmate, confidante . . . backstabber. Amy thought she knew everything there was to know about her best friend Melissa. Then again, Amy also thought she was on the verge of the wedding of her dreams to her long-distance fiancé. Until she pays a surprise trip home to London. Jack is out, but it’s clear another woman has been making herself at home in their flat. There’s something about her stuff that feels oddly familiar . . . and then it hits Amy. The Other Woman is Melissa. Amy has lost her home, her fiancé and her best friend in one disastrous weekend – but instead of falling apart, she’s determined to get her own back. Piecing her life back together won’t be half as fun as dismantling theirs, after all.

My thoughts

5 stars out of 5

 

‘Faking Friends’ by Jane Fallon is a look at female friendships: their twists, turns, betrayals and loyalties.

The plot follows Amy and the aftermath of her best friend Mel’s betrayal of her. When Amy finds out that Mel has stolen Amy’s fiance, Amy vows to get revenge on both of them, and the novel tells the story of that aftermath. We see Amy trying (and sometimes failing) to rebuild her life, while also trying to give Mel the comeuppance she feels is owed to Mel.

I really enjoyed this book: the main characters were likeable and their motivations clear. The book’s structure was impeccable; with backstory and story-story weaved seamlessly together, forming a rich and enjoyable book from beginning to end. Highly recommended.

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Book Review: ‘Together’

cover107786-mediumTogether, by Julie Cohen
Publication date: 13 July 2017
Publisher: Orion

Synopsis: 

On a morning that seems just like any other, Robbie wakes in his bed, his wife Emily asleep beside him, as always. He rises and dresses, makes his coffee, feeds his dogs, just as he usually does. But then he leaves Emily a letter and does something that will break her heart. As the years go back all the way to 1962, Robbie’s actions become clearer as we discover the story of a couple with a terrible secret – one they will do absolutely anything to protect.

My thoughts: 

5 stars out of 5

I loved this book. Cohen created memorable and sympathetic characters, confronted with genuinely tragic dilemmas, and then told their story backwards – which was exactly the right way to tell it.

The novel and its characters stuck with me long after I closed the final page, and I’ve recommended it to a number of friends who similarly enjoyed it. If you’re looking for an unconventional and fascinating love story with a literary fiction tone, this is the one for you.

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cover110103-mediumAnything is Possible, by Elizabeth Strout
Publication date: 4 May 2017
Publisher: Penguin UK

Synopsis: 

Anything is Possible tells the story of the inhabitants of rural, dusty Amgash, Illinois, the hometown of Lucy Barton, a successful New York writer who finally returns, after seventeen years of absence, to visit the siblings she left behind. Reverberating with the deep bonds of family, and the hope that comes with reconciliation, Anything Is Possible again underscores Elizabeth Strout’s place as one of America’s most respected and cherished authors.

My thoughts: 

4 stars out of 5

‘Anything is Possible’ is a novel of short stories, or a series of character studies/vignettes reminscent of the chapters of Strout’s phenomenal ‘Olive Kitteridge’. This new novel is set in the same world as ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’, the fictional town of Amgash. Familiar names and anecdotes trickle in from ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’, making the whole world feel very real and believable.

Its more bitty than ‘Olive Kitteridge’ though, and doesn’t seem to have a unifying thread except for all the characters live in the same town and mention each other, particularly Lucy Barton. Its missing that thread a little, and it’s jarring to start a new story with each chapter.

But the writing is beautiful and the characters are so vivid. If you’re a fan of short stories and loved ‘Lucy Barton’, you’ll adore ‘Anything is Possible’.

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cover111408-mediumWhen Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandhya Menon
Publication date: 1st June 2017
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Synopsis: 

Meet Dimple. Her main aim in life is to escape her traditional parents, get to university and begin her plan for tech world domination.

Meet Rishi. He’s rich, good-looking and a hopeless romantic. His parents think Dimple is the perfect match for him, but she’s got other plans…

Dimple and Rishi may think they have each other figured out. But when opposites clash, love works even harder to prove itself in the most unexpected ways.

While Dimple is fighting her family traditions, Rishi couldn’t be happier to follow in the footsteps of his parents – could sparks fly between this odd couple, or is this matchmaking attempt doomed to fail?

My thoughts: 

5 stars out of 5

‘When Dimple Met Rishi’ is a delightful and refreshing romantic read, with moments of laughter and sadness artfully sprinkled throughout the pages. It was a pleasure from start to finish, and the characters are amazing: both the children of Indian immigrants to America, Dimple and Rishi walk the line between their parents’ traditional values brought from their home country, and living as American teenagers.

Dimple is a headstrong and independent 17-year-old, fighting against her parents’ traditional expectations. Dimple doesn’t want a boyfriend, isn’t interested in beauty or make-up, and is fiercely ambitious for a career in coding. She doesn’t need a distraction like boys.

Rishi is more traditional: he wants to please his parents, study hard and follow his father into the successful family business, while ignoring his artistic passion because it’s not what his parents want.

Their parents intend for them to meet and marry, but that doesn’t go to plan.

I loved how Dimple doesn’t follow the ‘teenage girl’ stereotype, and how Rishi doesn’t fall into the typical romantic-leading-man expectations: he respects Dimple, takes no for an answer when needed, and listens to what she says.

This book was a joy to read, and is highly recommended.

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cover112232-mediumThe Upstairs Room, by Kate Murray-Browne
Publication date: 27 July 2017
Publisher: Pan Macmillan / Picador

Synopsis: 

Eleanor, Richard and their two young daughters recently stretched themselves to the limit to buy their dream home, a four-bedroom Victorian townhouse in East London. But the cracks are already starting to show. Eleanor is unnerved by the eerie atmosphere in the house and becomes convinced it is making her ill. Whilst Richard remains preoccupied with Zoe, their mercurial twenty-seven-year-old lodger, Eleanor becomes determined to unravel the mystery of the house’s previous owners – including Emily, whose name is written hundreds of times on the walls of the upstairs room.

My thoughts: 

4 stars out of 5

This is a well-written horror novel that takes a familiar premise and writes the story with true style, which keeps you turning the pages right to the end.

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