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.

The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Loveitt by Chelsea Sedoti

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

Wow, so, like, this is like a totally annoying way to write, right? So, like, you probably wouldn’t have the main character of a book, like, totally talk like this, right? Well, not if you’re Chelsea Sedoti.

In fairness, this weird Valley Girl vernacular drops off pretty quickly, but after reading the first few pages of The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Loveitt I really wasn’t sure if I could keep going. I did, and it did get better, but unfortunately there was plenty of other things to get annoyed about.

The book itself is about a girl called Hawthorne, who gets completely hung up on the disappearance of Lizzie Loveitt, a girl she vaguely knows from school. I didn’t understand exactly why Hawthorne got so involved in the case (we’re told she has an active imagination – more on that later – and Lizzie does sound like a very engaging individual) but I don’t get why she got so wrapped up in events. Was it a girl crush? Was it just the excitement of the disappearance? I’m still not sure.

Through Hawthorne’s own investigations, she meets Lizzie’s boyfriend and begins a kind of relationship with him. That might sound all sweet and adorkable but frankly, it was just a bit odd. Normally I’m firmly in the corner of the weirdo’s but as a character, Hawthorne was just too random, even for me. She had the most bizzare ideas about what had happened to Lizzie and seemed to want to convince herself and everyone around her that she had figured things out, even when her solutions were ridiculous and she knew that everyone would laugh at her. I found Hawthorne to be so lacking in rationality that it was impossible to follow her train of thought, which got on my nerves.

Lots of the other characters in the book weren’t really fleshed out properly so it was hard for me to engage with them. Lizzie’s boyfriend, Enzo, was a stereotypical tortured artist type, Hawthorne’s best friend was a stereotypical nerd, her mum was a stereotypical hippie. They all had side stories that didn’t really go anywhere and their relationships with Hawthorne seemed quite flimsy. A chunk of the story was dedicated to some gypsies turning up and camping on Hawthorne’s lawn, but nothing really happened except a couple of conversations where Lizzie was given advice.

Yawn.

As the title of the book suggests, I thought that Hawthorne and Enzo would uncover some exciting/horrifying/salacious information about Lizzie that would add intrigue to the storyline – but – SPOILER ALERT – instead they just discovered that Lizzie had changed a lot since high school and lived a very minimal life. Quite a lot was made of this (Lizzie was empty inside, always changing herself to fit in with others etc.) but really, who hasn’t changed from their high school self? And so what if she had a minimal apartment? I felt a bit cheated by this.

The ending of the book was pretty anti-climatic and after that I thought that the story dragged. Luckily, it ended pretty soon after.

All in all, I didn’t totally hate the book but I couldn’t really engage with the characters or the storyline. The only thing that kept me reading was the certainty that at some point, something would happen…but it kind of didn’t. Perhaps if you’re more of a fan of YA you might get more from the storyline or relate to the characters better, but it just wasn’t for me.

Rating: 2/5

Bland, unremarkable fiction, vaguely annoying characters, no real storyline. Not truly terrible, but not a book I enjoyed or would recommend. 

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 #17 Read a book that’s published in 2017.

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: Assassins Apprentice by Robin Hobb

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I don’t really know how this  series of books passed me by, but I was surprised to see that they’ve been around since the 90’s (ahhh, the 90’s, my favourite decade…). Having read that they’re similar to Game of Thrones but without the tits and dragons (surely this should be the quote on the front cover) I was quite excited to get stuck in. I love a big heavy fantasy series and I was initially impressed by the heft of the novel, but surprisingly it took me a little while to get into. I found that it was quite slow going at first, and being written all from the main characters perspective it did grind along detailing every single thing that happened every day, which got quite boring quite quickly. However, the pace improved and I found myself getting sucked in to the magical world that Robin Hobb has created. Eventually. This is one of those books where patience really is a virtue.

Being aimed at a slightly younger audience, and with a young main character, there is very little in the way of romance. There is a bit of a love interest but nothing really happens and I felt that if this element of the story had been beefed up it would have made the more mundane sections of the book more interesting. Similarly, certain events occur which would usually be quite upsetting, but because the characters aren’t fleshed out enough beforehand Hobb failed to create any emotional response from me as a reader. I really missed this engagement with the story, and although it did get better later on I felt it added to a fairly flat tone throughout the initial third of the narrative.

I had mixed feelings about the way that the main royal characters were named after their personality traits (i.e. Shrewd, Verity, Chivalry etc.) On the one hand, it made it very easy to remember who was who and to mark out who needed to be second guessed (King Shrewd, for example, would always make a seemingly wrong decision that you knew would turn out to be correct later on). However, this also took away a layer of intrigue – the individuals always acted completely “in character” so their personalities turned out to be a bit one dimensional. There’s also the very real question of what the characters were called before these personality traits developed – were there just nameless children running around for the first ten years of their lives? Or did they change names? And did their name mean that they couldn’t grow and change as people? These little queries really got to me as the story progressed and I never found a satisfactory answer. Grrr.

Overall, I did enjoy this book once it got going although not as much as I had hoped. I found some parts were quite dull and I would have liked more emotive writing, with a greater emphasis on the magical elements. As the main character grew throughout the novel (literally and figuratively) I came to be more involved in the storyline so I would be interested to see what the next book is like – but I wouldn’t go out of my way to read it. There’s so much great fantasy out there that I wouldn’t really recommend this book to anyone unless they specifically wanted “something like GoT, but for an older child”. Even then it would have to be someone with exceptional patience – I imagine most kids would get bored.

For older readers – yeah, it’s missing tits and dragons. That’s all you need to know, really.

Rating: 7/10
Disappointing, but the second book should be better.

Please note that I read this book as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge 2017 #12 Read a fantasy novel.

Review: The Devil’s Prayer by Luke Gracias

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So, dear readers, here comes my very negative review of The Devil’s Prayer, as promised in my last post. I’ve tried to find some positives within the story, but honestly, its been a struggle.

The book is written out of sequence, beginning with the present day; initially it’s about the story of a silent nun breaking into a concealed room hidden deep within a monastry whilst some weird creepy ritual goes on outside. This first part (alas – it only lasts a few chapters) reads a bit like a Dan Brown novel and immediately had me gripped. Unfortunately, it went downhill from there.

The next part of the book was written as a letter being read by the nun’s daughter, which alternated between the present day (when the daughter was reading it) and the past (when the letter was obviously set). The letter explained the events that led up to the nun abandoning her family, joining a convent and trying to track down some centuries old religious documents. Unlike a Dan Brown book, there was no attempt at plausibility when the reason for this was revealed. Seriously, it’s ridiculous. I won’t say too much in case you’re some kind of masochist who actually still wants to read this book, but it really is a stupid premise.

Anyway, the book then goes on to explain that the quest was never completed and in order to save the world, the daughter must pick up where her mother left off. Which she does. Without question.

Cue an awful lot of pointless travel around Europe while the daughter continues to read what her mother had been up to. She’s being chased by some evil monks (all wearing bright red robes, luckily. I mean, surely they would have disguised themselves? Anyway…) so she literally arrives in one place, reads a bit of the letter, a monk turns up, she gets on a train, they follow, she goes somewhere else…pointless.

The story ends completely arbitrarily after literally nothing is resolved and it looks like the whole thing was a waste of time. I couldn’t believe that the story just stopped in the way it did. I mean, I was thankful that it was over, but it made no sense. Is there a sequel? (please God don’t let there be a sequel).  

Apart from the storyline, there were many, many other things that I disliked about the Devil’s Prayer. It’s incredibly simplistically written and the grammer is terrible; really clunky and awkward. I think that the book has either been edited by a child or the author simply bypassed this stage altogether. It looks like it hasn’t been proof read either – at one point something is described as spartan but it’s written ‘Spartan’ (noun) like the inhabitants of Sparta.

The characters are either completely, unequivicably good or downright evil. There are no shades of grey. Everything is completely black and white. If someone is jealous, they say ‘I always hated you, with your perfect life’. If they’re rich (female) they buy designer clothes and handbags. If they are rich (male) they have a bright red sports car. If they’re good, they fail to notice these glaringly obvious, stereotypical signals of wealth and struggle on to pay the medical bills, never once questioning whether anyone could help them out. At one point, the devil appears and just in case you were in any doubt, utters the phrase ‘Hello? I am the devil’. Aaaargh! Quite why he is talking like a California Valley girl is anyone’s guess.

The story itself, apart from being utterly unbelievable, is terribly written. It’s obvious what has basically happened from the beginning (you’re literally given this information as a recollection) and the only vaguely intriguing part is trying to work out which of the poorly outlined characters were responsible for which bit. You know they’re all in it together and you know why, so this held little interest for me. This endless interrogation of each character took the vast majority of the book, and was extremely tedious.

There were also huge, gaping, obvious holes in the story as it emerged. The main character massively implicates herself in various crime scenes; her car is found by the police, she has visible marks on her body like she’s been in a fight, a woman matching her description is seen, the scenes involve all of her friends – but the police just keep confirming that it can’t be her because she’s a bed bound quadraplegic. Plausible, you might think – until the next day when she makes a miraculous recovery and starts walking around as though nothing has happened and the police still don’t think to question her (or, you know, arrest her immediately).      

There are other, appalling incidents in the book that are frankly ridiculous – the main character appears to have been chosen by the devil for no discernible reason, she has consensual sex the day after she is brutally raped, she decides that someone she has known forever is the love of her life just because she sees some good in him. Nonsense.

So, just in case you think I’ve been overly harsh, I’d like to finish with my favourite quote from the book, which I think encapsulates all of my criticisms quite nicely:

“Standing next to the turtles on the beach…was a green dragon, which looked a lot like a T-Rex.”

I thank you.

Overall rating: 4/10

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