Archive | September 2015

The Good Liar – Nicholas Searle

This book is being talked about as one of the biggest books of next year, indeed it is sure to be one of Penguin’s (more specifically Viking’s) biggest debuts of 2016. The author, Nicholas Searle, was a Senior Civil Servant for many years before turning his hand to fiction and writing a novel that is so sharp and clever that it was unlike anything I’d ever read before.

I was lucky enough to receive a proof copy of this novel during my work experience with Penguin, and knowing that it was set to be one of the biggest novels of 2016 and published in January, I made it my priority to read it on holiday.

I finished the novel as the plane hit the tarmac in Santorini, and was so enraptured and captivated by its ending that I was reading the final pages whilst holding onto my best friend’s hand as she was terrified by landing.

It’s hard to describe the true beauty of the novel whilst keeping it spoiler free, because that which makes it so incredible are the twists that keep twisting. Reading this novel was like stepping into a Tower-of-Terror style rollercoaster: slow to begin, a slow build, before hurtling through twists, turns and unstoppable page-turning moments.

It begins with conman Roy Courtnay who is about to pull off his final steal, robbing an old woman, Betty, of her life savings by inserting himself into her life.

Interweaved with the present-day events of Roy and Betty, Searle offers glimpses of Roy’s past life, his life encounters and misdeeds, which offers insight but not true clarity into Roy’s character, until the final third of the novel, which completely flips the perspective and shoots the reader into a whirlwind of truths, clarity and earth-shattering revelations.

On the proof copy I received, one line of the blurb reads: This book will lie to you.

Indeed, the final conclusion leaves you with a taste of doubt and deception and pure thrill at what you have read, assumed and believed. Like those that Roy deceived during his lifetime, I too felt deceived by Searle, but was oh-so pleased to have been.

He is a master of deception, thrills and unforeseen twists, which make this novel a classic and a winning debut for an author.

It is an extremely satisfying read, and as a reader, I felt privileged to have read this before others, just so that I could recommend it to many other readers. I would definitely recommend it, and advise you to stick with it and persevere. Despite its slow build, the thrilling conclusion makes each turn of the crank to send the Tower up (or each chapter of Roy’s life) worth reading.

Again, this was an incredibly difficult novel to review without giving anything away and it has become so hard to express the pleasure and fulfilment I felt after reading, that I feel like I’ve been reduced to saying: ‘Just read it. Just read it.’

So that’s my only advice really: Just read it. When this novel comes out in early 2016, you will want to rave about it, just as I am, and when you do, pingback to this review and let me know what you thought! If this review intrigues you, comment below!

Cover art

Summer Reads Vol. I

Because I read quite a number of books this summer, and I feel like some of them don’t need as in-depth a review as others, I’m going to publish a series of ‘Summer Reads’ posts, which will each have a few of the books and their reviews on. I’ll also be doing some full, in-depth reviews.

So here’s the first of my Summer Reads:

  1. The Five People You Meet in Heaven – Mitch Albom

This was such a sweet and lovely read, that in a way is less about the story itself and more about a journey of self-reflection. Because the chapters are fairly short and the narrative style is simple, it’s a really easy read, which means that everyone should really be reading it. It tells the story of Eddie, who after death meets five people whose life he impacted, whether he was aware of it or not.

This is definitely a book that is more about the characters and character development than the narrative plot, because at its most simplistic level, it is a very basic narrative plot, which allows Albom to develop Eddie’s character, and the characters of those around him.

I found this book a really valuable read, and a very easy read, so I would definitely recommend it to anyone.

2. Dangerous Creatures – Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

I loved the original series Beautiful Creatures and I think it’s such a shame they really messed up the movie, because I thought the book was so brilliant. I don’t know about you, but when I read an original series, sometimes I get more attached to secondary characters than primary characters, and that definitely happened to me with Link and Ridley, so I was super excited when I found out about this spin-off.

I think it was an excellent idea and really well-written, keeping Link and Ridley the same characters that we loved in Beautiful Creatures, but I did feel like the plot and the story itself wasn’t as deep or well-thought out as the original series. I definitely felt that the original was a lot stronger and more emphatic, whereas this was more take-it-or-leave-it. I read the whole of the Beautiful series in a week, whereas I feel like I could leave Dangerous to the side and not be massively bothered.

Having said that, I do feel like it might grow and develop as the series continues, so maybe it is worth persevering and seeing whether Dangerous Deception adds a little more depth and gravitas to the series.

3. These Days Are Ours – Michelle Haimoff

Interestingly, when I just Googled this book to find the cover image, an alternative cover popped up that was different to the one I read. I definitely think the original is better suited to the novel as the second one is a little too dark and thriller-y for a novel that in my opinion was about growth and rebirth.

Second cover

This book is about a post-9/11 group of privileged Upper East Siders (though far less wild and dramatic as Gossip Girl would have you believe), primarily the protagonist Hailey, who is drifting after college with no real direction, in a way that I think represents the same sentiments felt by many New Yorkers after 9/11.

Haimoff states that she wrote the novel because she was surprised to see how little actually changed in the lives of New Yorkers post-9/11 and she wanted to represent it. Indeed, for the characters in These Days Are Ours, life seems to go on as it did before. Hailey is dealing with unemployment, divorce drama and the unstoppable desire for a boyfriend. But her world starts to change bit-by-bit when a non-Upper East Side boy enters her life and changes the life she was accustomed to.

It was a really easy read, I think it took me half a day, and it was light and reflective and really enjoyable. It packed a bit of a punch at the end, and got me totally terrified about graduating university next year, but I would definitely recommend it for anyone look for a light read.

4. The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson 

This title isn’t actually a metaphor or something literary and fanciful, this novel actually is about a hundred year old man who climbs out of a window and disappears. It’s not a thriller either. I’m struggling to decide what genre of novel it really is: it’s humorous, it’s very literal (as in, it relays facts and events, not metaphors and themes) and it’s rather uplifting.

Whilst relaying the events of what happens after centenarian Allan Karlsson wanders off from his retirement home and goes on an adventure, the parallel storyline tells of Allan’s life and in many instances he accidentally finds himself involved in world events and associating with world powers such as Franco, Truman, Stalin and Mao.

It was a really enjoyable read, though I didn’t find it as enjoyable as my dad who told me he had laughed out loud many times whilst reading. It definitely made me smile, and I enjoyed reading how Allan figured into world history, though I felt overall it was a long book and definitely took effort to get through the first half.

I think it’s one of those books you need to read, just to see what the fuss is all about. Even though it was a hard read at times I would still recommend it.

5. The Secret Place – Tana French

The beauty of this novel is that it inserts the reader right into two sets of action: past and present; the past action events leading up to the crime, and the present, one year later, in the aftermath of the crime and solving a crime that was laid to rest immediately after the initial investigation.

It tells of a murder of a boarding schoolboy that takes place in the grounds of the girls’ parallel boarding school. The key characters are a group of girls seemingly unconnected to the murdered Chris, their ‘rival’ gang and the two detectives on the case. French also brings in the legal thriller genre by making one of the girls the daughter of a detective who has worked with the lead detective, Stephen, in the past.

The novel is a work of ice: there are many layers and parts to chip away at, with more clues and details becoming apparent as the novel develops. I thoroughly enjoyed the relationship between the group of girls, and that of the two detectives, and seeing the plot lines in tandem. It’s definitely a worthy read and really highlights the themes of loyalty and betrayal with both the young and adult characters.


 

So there you have it! The first volume of my Summer Reads, with a solid mix of books in there I think. Let me know in the comments below if you’ve read any of these and what you thought of them!

Dirty Dancing at the Alhambra Theatre

For our joint 21st birthday presents, myself and my best friend were treated to a night at the theatre by our mummies. We went to see the musical adaptation of Dirty Dancing at the Alhambra in Bradford.

The story was simple and followed the film pretty much word for word. I was slightly apprehensive when the curtains opened and they seemed to be singing a completely original song, instead of Be My Baby, the iconic black and white opener to the film. But the original songs were few and the rest of the music harked back to the film’s classics like Hungry Eyes, Yes and of course, Time of My Life, and were exceptionally sung by the cast.

I must admit I did feel slightly sorry for the cast as they didn’t have the pleasantest of audiences. In a theatre up north like Bradford, on a Saturday night, you have to expect that there would be some loud ladies and rowdy hen-night girls, but the attitude of the audience was pretty despicable to the point of being downright rude. You don’t need to wolf-whistle every time Johnny does a body roll, that’s actually a human being up there trying to do his job, not a piece of meat.

But that’s a digression I don’t want to take whilst writing a theatre review. Theatre etiquette is something I’ll write about at a later date and you can be assured that there will probably be a rant about standing ovations in there as well.

Back to DD, Baby was a little twee for me, in comparison to Jennifer Grey’s dry, realistic teenage Baby, but perhaps on stage a little over-enthusiasm and over-expressiveness is necessary. There were some seriously cringy staging moments, like the water-lift scene (though again, possibly hard to pull off on stage) and Mr Shumacher was reduced to a slapstick comic joke.

Then again, you have to remind yourself that it was a touring production, and some of these actors might just be breaking into the business. Perhaps I’m a theatre snob, but I still enjoyed it nevertheless.

What I really must commend is the dancers. I was captivated and entranced by their skill and talent, especially Johnny and Penny. Having been a former dancer myself (tap, ballet and jazz up to the age of fourteen, so obviously I know what I’m talking about) and a regular watcher of Strictly Come Dancing, I still find myself absolutely absorbed by any form of dance movement and in awe of those who hone and perfect their craft.

Whilst music and familiar lines are as important as ever in the show, the real star is the dancing. With sharp choreography that echoes the film but doesn’t copy it step for step, it’s that flair and energy that really brings the film to life.

Of course, he’s no Patrick Swayze and she’s no Jennifer Grey. But no-one ever will be. This show shouldn’t ever be a carbon copy or an emulation, it’s really a love letter to the gift those actors and the wonderful Kenny Ortega gave us. The film is a classic, an icon, and this show evidently loves it as much as its dedicated fanbase does.

After all, no-one puts Baby in the corner.