Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

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Well, I’m stumped. It’s not often that I read a book and still have no idea how I feel about it by the end. However, Lolita has made me feel…well…I don’t know. Confused. Sickened. But I still read it, and on some level enjoyed it. Am I a terrible person?

Before I start the review proper, I have to say that there are huge trigger warnings for child abuse and paedophilia. Lolita is a graphic account of the grooming and rape of a minor and is not for the faint hearted. I’m morally opposed to banning books but even I can see why this novel caused such uproar and was removed from sale shortly after its release.

There are a lot of things to hate about this book. There are some incredibly uncomfortable parts regarding the main character’s feelings and actions towards young girls which genuinely made me feel a bit sick. His descriptions and what appear to be justifications for his behaviour are utterly abhorrent. He refers to girls that he finds attractive (and I mean girls literally – he specifies that they should be around age 12-13) as ‘nymphettes’ – a disgusting term which seemed to suggest a deliberate coquettishness by the girls which some men were unable to resist. Apart from this inference that on some level the girls were teasing the men on purpose, there were also mentions of how the age of consent is far lower in some cultures, that Lolita was fairly happy with the situation as she had a crush on him, that she willingly initiated some physical acts, that she had done it before…bleurgh. No. Just no.

Added to this is the fact that all of the characters in the book are absolutely horrible. Lolita is vapid and annoying. Her mother is even worse. Mr Humbert is a predatory paedophile. Therefore, it’s difficult sometimes to garner sympathy for Lolita, despite the awful circumstances that she finds herself in. She’s clearly been groomed but instead of being damaged by the abuse she seems almost indifferent to it. I’m not sure how realistic that is and for me this was one of the worst parts – the inference that she was getting something out of the relationship.

Despite this, Lolita is a classic for a reason and despite the content it is, without doubt, brilliantly well written. The dense, flowery language makes it seem almost Shakesperian in places and adds to the air of poetic tragedy which permeates the text.

Challenging to read, sickening in places but weirdly compelling, this is the kind of book that you’re glad to have read, even if most of the satisfaction comes from the knowledge that you’ve finished it.

Overall rating: 2.5/5

Please note that I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #16 Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country.

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Review: Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

I’d been hearing about the HBO series Big Little Lies for a while now, but not being much of a TV fan it kind of bypassed me. Imagine my excitement when I found Netgalley had the book the series was based on available for request! Yay! (Word of warning – this was a while ago now, I have no idea if it’s since been archived.)

The book is based around three women whose children are all starting at the same school. There’s Madeline, the down to earth, making-it-up-as-she-goes-along mum; Celeste, the beautiful, rich, slightly vacant mum; and Jane, the downtrodden young mum. The three women become friends, but an incident involving Jane’s son and another little girl creates escalating tension between all of the parents at the school. Everyone seems to have their own take on the matter, and as the parents form allegiances they’re forced to act in a way that protects their own secrets from becoming public knowledge. As the parents become more polarised, emotions are heightened until everything comes to a head at a fateful school fancy dress party – the scene of a terrible crime.

Big Little Lies is written partly in the format of a police investigation, so the reader instantly knows that the story is going to end in some kind of criminal incident. I really liked the way that the narrative was often juxtaposed with a witness statement from another parent which put a totally different spin on the situation – it was really cleverly done and showed how perceptions can be so distorted based on our own prejudices and preconceived ideas.

Despite the playground politics and petty bitchiness, there’s a central theme of strong female friendship and loyalty which was really refreshing to read about. I loved how different Madeline, Celeste and Jane were, yet they all found common ground and faced many of the same issues. I also loved how the different family types were shown – the single parent, the blended family and the traditional two parent setup, and the problems and pitfalls of each.

The book is very female-centric and there’s a fantastic portrayal of lots of different female relationships – as wives, friends, parents, enemies, grandparents, step parents, victims…the list goes on. All of the characters were totally unique and I loved watching their lives unfold based on the way that they reacted to each other.

I loved the ending to the book and the big plot twist that I didn’t see coming. I can’t believe the novel is 480 pages long – I tore through it as it was really fast paced and the characters were all really interesting and well developed.

I’m sure that Big Little Lies will get tarred with the “chick lit” brush but this isn’t some silly romance, it’s a really unique psychological thriller – that just happens to be based at the school gates. It reminded me a lot of Desperate Housewives (season one, before it went downhill) so any fans of that will definitely enjoy it, although I think there’s something in it for everyone. It’s a big thumbs up from me.

Rating: 4.5/5

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!

Review: The Summer of Impossible Things by Rowan Coleman

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Picture credit: http://www.netgalley.com

Oooh, 1970’s New York. That’ll be crime and corruption, disco, rap and punk, the emerging gay scene, social unrest, racism and violence and drugs and gangs and prostitution. What a rich tapestry to pull some threads from, I thought to myself. You could write a brilliant novel in that setting. So I was pretty disappointed when Rowan Coleman chose to pretty much ignore all of those things and instead wrote a fairly bland story about time travel between then and the present day, where the characters mostly hang out in someone’s house.

The story begins with Luna and Pia, two sisters who go back to Brooklyn after the death of their mother to tie up the loose ends of her estate. They find that their mum has posted them a box of films of herself from years ago, telling them the secret which has haunted her for her whole marriage. But – and this is where it gets weird – Luna discovers that she can time travel. At first she thinks she’s having some kind of hallucination but then decides that it’s happening for a reason – and that reason is to stop the events that lead to her mother’s depression. The story then bounces about between the present day and the 1970’s, where Luna gets to know her mum as a young woman and starts to work out who was involved and how to stop it all from happening.

I found this premise pretty ridiculous. Everything else in the book is set completely in the real world so the whole time travel thing came out of nowhere and didn’t really fit into the story well. For example, Luna tells Pia about her newly acquired skill and with very little persuasion and no evidence Pia accepts it. Surely any normal person would be convinced that their sister was ill?

There’s also a love story between Luna and Michael (who she meets in 1970’s Brooklyn). I thought their relationship was very sweet but nothing much happened between them, so I felt the whole thing fell a little flat. I also thought it was a bit far fetched for a couple to fall completely in love with each other when they’d only met a few times.

There’s a further additional side story where we find out that Pia is a recovering drug and alcohol addict. Because this was mostly glossed over I wasn’t sure why it was mentioned within the narrative – I thought that the author could have done a lot more with it (or not mention it at all).

However, the one thing that stood out for me was the character of Luna’ s mother, Riss. I loved how she was depicted as a young girl, full of sass and excitement. It’s just a shame that the other characters weren’t written as vividly as she was.

Overall, I felt that by adding in storylines which the entire novel could have been based on, the narrative became a little confused. To me, it felt like five or six different stories all mashed into the same book, with no room for any of the ideas to be properly explored. I would have loved for the characters to get out more, with better descriptions of Brooklyn in both time periods. I really struggled with the time travelling idea and thought that the situation was dealt with in quite a clumsy manner. However, as the novel progressed the main storyline picked up pace and I was genuinely interested to see how things turned out. It’s just a shame that I had to get two thirds of the way through the book before it really grabbed my attention.

Rating: 2.5/5
Fairly indifferent to the book, the annoying/far fetched elements were balanced out by a decent ending and a well written prominent character.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #6 Read a book with a season in the title.

Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

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Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine…until you scratch the surface of her life and realise that she isn’t. At all.

You see, Eleanor lives a life of pared down efficiency. Her meals are one pot, one plate. Her shoes are smart but comfortable, with Velcro for quick fastening (none of those inefficient shoe laces). Her role as a finance administrator requires analysis and ordering of numbers, which can be broken down into repetitive tasks and scheduled accordingly. All of this means that Eleanor creates minimal fuss and requires minimal interactions with other people. All perfectly FINE, thank you. Until you realise that Eleanor treats vodka like an essential basic grocery and thinks of a pot plant as her one and only friend.

Eleanor struggles with people, and as the book progresses, you start to guess at what might have happened in her childhood to make her so ill equipped to deal with social situations. Apart from having burn scars across her face and body, Eleanor has a very troubling relationship with her mother (Mummy) who she only contacts via telephone for 15 minutes on a Wednesday (and thank God, because this woman is a BITCH). As the book progresses, Eleanor makes some woeful (often hilarious) attempts to make herself more attractive to her crush and through a freak event is forced to spend time with Raymond, who she knows from work. Through this very off-kilter friendship Eleanor begins to accept herself and explore ways in which she can, ultimately, be fine (no capitals).

I have to say that I really enjoyed this book. Eleanor was such a great character and although she is clearly odd and her life is terribly sad, the novel is written in such a way that you don’t ever feel that you’re laughing at her, or at least not in a malicious way. There’s so much darkness in the book and Eleanor is such a bullied, broken individual that you immediately want to defend her, but you don’t just like her out of pity, you want her to be your friend because she’s genuinely funny, interesting and kind. When she acts inappropriately you can see it’s because she doesn’t understand social norms and never because she aims to cause offense – but to outsiders I suppose she seems aloof or downright rude. It’s this constant formality and awkwardness that made me empathise so much with Eleanor – you can’t help but be completely on her side. 

The book is very cleverly written and is such a fantastic achievement for a debut author. The surname Oliphant means a monster or monstrous elephant and the full name of Eleanor Oliphant sounds like a play on the word Elephant. I suspect Gail Honeyman wanted us to think of the metaphor “the elephant in the room” which could often be applied to Eleanor – the strange, silent person that, with her pensioner style clothing and scarred face, is completely obvious but no-one wants to acknowledge.

The ending of the book has a fantastic twist that I half guessed at but the sadness of the whole situation really hit me. I loved how Eleanors past was hinted at throughout the novel and that by the end of the book everything had come to light. It certainly kept me guessing right to the end and I would love to know how Eleanor gets on (although I said this after Me Before You and look how After You panned out).

Overall, I loved the character of Eleanor and seeing how she stopped trying to just survive and started trying to live. I loved how what could have been fluffy chick lit was turned into something much more challenging and emotive by offsetting the lighter elements with something far darker. The book is very well written and is perfect reading for this time of year, when the days are still mild but there’s a bit of a nip in the air.

Rating: 8.5/10
Charming, funny and oh-so heartbreaking, a great debut novel from an author to look out for.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!

Review: Rebel of the Sands by Alwyn Hamilton

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Oooh, this is a pretty book. Look at the oh-so-Instagrammable cover! The dust jacket alone was enough to make me want to read it. Luckily enough, the story was pretty good too. Bonus points for looking great on a bookshelf.

Rebel of the Sands is written like a western but set in alternative universe that feels like a magical version of the middle east. The desert setting, real life spirits and mercenary characters add to the Arabian Nights feel to make the premise of the novel totally unique. The story involves Amani, a young girl living in the backwater desert town of Dustwalk. Unaware of her father and with a mother who was killed by the authorities, Amani is a rebellious tomboy whose lightning fast reflexes make her handy with a gun. Her main aim in life is to leave her repressed existence behind by saving enough to get on the first train to the big city – and never look back. When she dresses up as a man to enter the town shooting competition she encounters a mysterious stranger and their unlikely friendship leads to a magical, terrifying and life changing adventure.

I really enjoyed the magical realism in this book. The desert is depicted as a mysterious place where spirits roam free and magic can be practiced by a lucky few. Sometimes I find that in certain books the ratio of magic to realism is too unbalanced and the storyline descends into the ridiculous but in Rebel of the Sands the magical elements were cohesive and weren’t used to simply get characters out of otherwise impossible situations (a pet hate of mine). These supernatural elements were seamlessly woven into the storyline and helped to create a truly evocative story. If you’re old enough to remember the Fry’s Turkish Delight advert then that’s exactly the kind of feel that is created (if you don’t know what I’m on about – Google it).

The storyline was very fast paced and had so many twists and turns that it was hard to guess what was going to happen next. The main character, Amani, had a number of difficult decisions to make, some of which were really heart wrenching. I loved her braveness and ability to beat the men at their own game and I really enjoyed her relationship with Jin, as there was just the right amount of will-they-won’t-they romance to add another interesting angle to the story. There was plenty of action, drama and suspense as Amani and Jim become embroiled in a political war and although it was sometimes hard to keep track of who was on which side their constant ability to evade the authorities kept me on the edge of my seat throughout.

The book ended with very little resolved so I’m guessing it’s part of a wider storyline. However, it still had a clearly defined start, middle and end so it could be satisfactorily read as a stand alone – although I definitely want to find out what happens next!

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys suspenseful fantasy, particularly if they find the idea of a fantasy western an intriguing idea.

Overall rating: 7/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley!

Review: Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

This is becoming a bit of a theme recently, but THIS BOOK IS GREAT! Dear Amy absolutely had me gripped from the start and I found it really difficult to put down. The story really drew me in and it was so fast paced I whipped through it in a few days.

In other news, I also finished reading an absolute shocker of a story this week – review on Friday – so this unexpected run of positivity will be short lived. Anyway, I digress…

Dear Amy is the story of a teacher, Margot Lewis, who also freelances as an agony aunt (Amy – hence the title). One of her pupils goes missing, and despite the police thinking that she ran away from home, Margot has her suspicions. At the same time, letters start turning up addressed to the Dear Amy column from Bethan Avery, a local girl who disappeared some years before who had never been found, suggesting that she had been kidnapped and asking for help. At this point, about a million questions are thrown up. Are the letters really from Bethan? How can a girl who has been kidnapped be posting letters? Why doesn’t she just say where she is? Are the two cases linked? Is Margot really as sane as she appears to be? There are so many layers, plot twists and unexpected events that take place in the novel that it really did have me guessing until the very end (if you’re sick of hearing me trot this phrase out, wait until my review on Friday. That book definitely didn’t have me guessing anything for ONE SECOND).

I was completely hooked by the storyline in this novel from the very beginning. I really liked the fact that the main character, Margot, was an unreliable narrator. Her mental health issues and the fact that she had stopped taking her medication made me question everything that she said had happened. I wasn’t sure if she was imagining whole chunks of the story, entire events/characters or if her viewpoint was so altered that the ending would be along the lines of ‘so I imagined the whole thing?’ I subsequently spent a lot of time trying to cross-reference people, situations and timelines to try to ascertain where the truth might lie. This might sound tiresome but I liked the added complexity and depth that this gave the main storyline. 

However, I did find that when it came to sub-plots, especially the quite frankly weird and totally inappropriate love interest, the unreliability of Margot’s story made me second guess everything a bit too much. Was the character a complete figment of Margot’s imagination? Was his interest in her real? Was he who Margot thought he was? I think the story would have been just as interesting without this detail (it wasn’t the most scintillating romance ever) and overall I didn’t feel that it added anything to the book.

I liked the fact that the story wasn’t overly gore laden or too graphic. A lot is left to the imagination when the author describes the kidnappers actions and I think that this allows the reader to either brush over the repulsive events as too awful to think about or fully immerse themselves in their brutality, depending on their own personal preferences. I think that there’s often a fine line between too much and too little detail, but in this instance I think Helen Callaghan got it just right.

I don’t usually read so called kitchen sink thrillers so I approached the story with fairly low expectations, but I really enjoyed the book – it was a total page turner from start to finish. It was a fairly original idea (I think – like I said, I’m not a afficianado of the genre) so I guess fans of something like The Girl on the Train would really like it. I’m not saying that Dear Amy is as good, but it is close. The writing style is quite easy, pacey and isn’t overly descriptive, making it a good beach read if you want something darker than the usual chick lit. Lucinda recommends!

Rating: 8/10.

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge 2017 #12 Read a bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read.

Review: Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik

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Photo credit: http://www.netgalley.com

Things I Should Have Known is a sweet, unique and funny YA novel set within the slightly dysfunctional Mitchell family. There’s a controlling, no-idea-how-to-deal-with-teenage-girls stepdad, a pushover Mum who has previously been clinically depressed (so JUST WANTS TO MAKE EVERYONE HAPPY), an older teenage daughter with autism called Ivy and a slightly spoilt, typically stroppy younger daughter called Chloe (the main protagonist). Chloe is one of the popular girls at school, with the jock boyfriend and one dimensional friends. She realises that Ivy has never had a boyfriend and so sets about finding a suitable candidate to date her. Enter Ethan, the adorable, wouldn’t hurt a fly classmate of Ivy’s who Chloe thinks is perfect for her. Unfortunately, Ethan’s brother David goes to the same school as Chloe and is known for being an annoying weirdo. Thrown together by Chloe’s desire to make her sister happy, the unlikely foursome end up coming to some pretty startling realisations about themselves, and each other.

I thought Things I Should Have Known was a great read. I felt that it was such an honest portrayal of what it was like to live with an autistic person, warts and all. It’s unusual to have a story with an autistic character as the sibling of the narrator – everything else that I’ve read in this category is either from the point of view of the parents or the autistic person themselves, which I thought made it unique. It was also nice to see that although the impact of autism features heavily, the book also had another strong storyline (the relationship between Chloe and David) which gave it a bit more variety.

I really liked that there was a bit of everything in this book – LGBTQ+ issues, disability, teenage angst, family problems…all dealt with in a believable and sensitive way. Each character is flawed and to see how they all adapted to a challenging situation was really interesting as a huge range of reactions and emotions were conveyed. I became really invested in the storyline – at one point the main character Chloe makes a huge mistake and I really felt for her.

Unfortunately, some of the comments that Chloe makes about her boyfriend are truly cringeworthy and their relationship seems a little too perfect for two teenagers at high school. Chloe goes from being a bit of a vacuous cheerleader type to a sensitive young woman, who doesn’t care about her boyfriend being the picked on, unattractive weirdo that her friends don’t like. Similarly, David goes from being the weird, bullied, outspoken nerd to the politically correct, feminist, adorkable love interest. Even so, their relationship was very cute and I will forgive the fact that some of the things they said would never come out of the mouths of fifteen year olds because they were just such a sweet couple.

Despite the fact that this was a YA novel it was good to see some difficult issues like full time residential care for autistic adults being discussed. I thought that the issue was dealt with very sensitively, although I expect that in the real world far more problems would have occurred. It also would have been nice for the author to have considered some of the real world implications of long term care, not least the financial element. I guess you can’t have everything, eh?

Despite this, I found myself really enjoying the novel. It’s a nice twist on the standard YA plotline of boy meets girl and it dealt with some difficult issues with sensitivity, even though things turned out to be a little too perfect in the end.

Rating: 7.5/10

Please note that I read this book for free via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks, Netgalley! I also read this book as part of the Popsugar Reading Challenge #13 Read a book by or about a person with a disability.