Book Review: Finding Audrey

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finding audrey by sophie kinsella

Sophie Kinsella’s latest novel, Finding Audrey, is everything you wouldn’t expect from the queen of chick lit. Not only is it an entirely different genre, but it also deals with far heavier issues than the typical ‘but does he really like me?’ dilemmas that Kinsella usually writes about. The result? Well, let’s just say that one does not become one of the highest-selling authors of the 21st century without being a great writer…regardless of the subject material or genre.

Finding Audrey tells the story of Audrey, a 14-year old with a lovably dysfunctional family. Audrey would know exactly what her family gets up to after all – she has trouble leaving the house and interacting with others, and suffers from anxiety and depression after a series of bullying incidents at school left her hospitalised. Yet while Audrey has difficulty talking to strangers or looking people in the eye, the arrival of her brother’s friend Linus gets Audrey excited about the possibilities in life again.

Despite being incredibly easy to read, I would imagine that the young adult category would be bloody tricky to write for, so Sophie Kinsella immediately deserves a clap for pulling off Finding Audrey in a genre she has never attempted before. It can be far too easy to come across as insincere, bogus, or, worst of all, out of touch when writing for, and about, teenagers, yet Kinsella successfully creates dialogue and interaction between her characters that seems fairly on point. More impressively again, she does so with her usual flair for comedic timing and bravado.

Furthermore, considering that Kinsella usually writes slapstick chick lit where the protagonist inevitably digs themselves a hole so deep largely thanks to something stupid and inconsequential, it was quite an achievement that she chose a weighty topic that was neither too over-the-top (particularly considering the target market) nor cloying. And though Kinsella definitely skirts over the harsher realities of the debilitating illnesses of depression and anxiety, she successfully captures how someone like Audrey must be feeling. Though a series of terrible incidents are frequently referred to, we’re never told explicitly what actually occurred. I must admit the curious part of me (ALL of me) wanted to know what had happened, in truth it was a deliberate ploy to emphasis, just like Audrey does, that anxiety and depression doesn’t necessarily stem from a single incident – and that it isn’t what someone should be focusing on if they want to get better.

The charm in Finding Audrey largely lies with Audrey herself – a neurotic teenager yes, but a very human, lovable one. While Audrey fits many of the characteristics of Kinsella’s usually characters – pretty, interested in a boy, a bit neurotic about said boy etc – I think that’s quite wonderful. Yes, Audrey is unwell and has a lot of issues she has to deal with, but she’s still human, and she’s still like you and I – having a mental illness doesn’t automatically make you crazy after all.

Finding Audrey is definitely something new and different for Sophie Kinsella, but I really loved it. It still has the attitude, humour and easy-to-read qualities of her other novels, while also portraying a heavier issue and a stronger protagonist. There’s a reason why Kinsella is such a successful, well-liked author and Finding Audrey just reinforces this. Plus, how much does the cover suit the storyline?

Have you read Finding Audrey? Are you a fan of Sophie Kinsella? Do you think YA just for teenagers? Let me know!

Book Review: The Little Paris Bookshop

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Oh! Take me back to Paris! Lethe little paris bookstore by nina georget me waste my days in the French countryside! Feed me traditional French home cooking! All this and more is what you should expect to feel during and after you’ve read The Little Paris Bookshop.

An ode to love, France and the power of books, The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George follows Jean Perdu, a 50 year old man who has wasted half of his life because he’s too afraid to love (again). He spends his days working on his book barge, where he treats books like medicine and believes they can solve everyone’s problems…everyone’s but his.

When he has to face a 20+ year old letter from his ex-lover Manon, Jean is riled into action, where he sets off in his book barge, alongside eccentric writer Max, in search of the truth, his past and his demons.

This book is part love story, part epic. As Jean and Max set off down the Seine, there is definitely a spirit of journey amongst them – as each have to face their fears, discover who they want to be and how far they are willing to travel (literally) to achieve their dreams. Along the way, like all good adventure stories, Jean and Max encounter obstacles, fellow travellers (who join their book barge) and the truth. Conveniently, it is all set in the wondrous backdrop of the French countryside, which could not have been better described had I actually be in France at the time.

Of course, The Little Paris Bookshop is also a romance, but in more ways than I initially expected. There is the main romance is that of Jean and Manon’s, which ended over two decades ago and which has led to Jean undertaking his journey, and acts as the backbone of the novel. But there is also the romance between Jean and his neighbour, Catherine, as well as the equally important love that Jean has for his country and his books. Like I said, France is described in loving, attentive detail, and the entire time I kept thinking to myself ‘WHHHYYYY aren’t I going to France?’ (Bit of context – I leave for Europe this month, but decided to skip France this time around.) The food, the countryside, the beautiful descriptions of the smells in the air and the sunlight hitting the water – truly, The Little Paris Bookshop was a love story written by Nina George about her adoration for her country.

Really, the best way to describe this novel is charming. The characters are lovely, while flawed, the setting is truly magnificent and the storyline is both heart-wrenching and heart-warming. As a lover of books I appreciated the importance that was placed on them, as well as the humour that resulted from Jean’s love of them. Nina George has successfully created a whimsical, charming love story that is neither boring nor sentimental, but just really, truly, touching.

Have you read The Little Paris Bookshop? Have you been to France? Let me know!

Book Review: Air Kisses

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air kisses by zoe fosterZoe Foster is one of my favourite chick lit authors – and not just because she has an adorable baby and is married to the hilarious Hamish Blake (which means that in real life she must also have a wicked sense of humour). So while I’ve read her newer stuff, I thought I’d delve into the ol’ Zoe Foster archives and try out her very first novel, Air Kisses.

Told from the perspective of Hannah (love when characters have the same name as me), a newly hired beauty editor who has no idea about makeup, Air Kisses is an inside look at the magazine world and all of the drama that comes with it. When Hannah discovers her boyfriend of five years is cheating on her, she throws herself into work – not only will she master liquid eyeliner and look fabulous all the time, but she’ll also manage to turn a career into it.

Of course, being a delicious light and fluffy chick lit, Air Kisses has not one, not two, but THREE suitably cute boys for Hannah to begin flings with. After all, what man can resist perfectly applied lipgloss?

The premise of Air Kisses unfortunately had all the makings of a terrible chick lit novel, and while I would love to tell you that Zoe Foster managed to rise above them all, sadly that was not the case. The biggest issue I had with this novel was that it utterly lacked any substance at all. While I realise that seems a tad unfair considering we are dealing with a chick lit about a girl who works as a beauty editor, please hear me out. What was missing in Air Kisses was any conflict. While Hannah definitely had issues in her life – terrible ex-boyfriend, terrifying new job, inability to apply winged eyeliner etc etc – they all either went away or were resolved rather simply. For example, considering the premise of the novel is that Hannah is useless at applying makeup, it becomes a non-issue in the novel from about page five. And while there is a bit of bitchy bitchy amongst her colleagues, that too doesn’t really become a major issue, but rather the type of thing you’d mention to a friend over lunch. And lastly, while there are multiple romances in this novel, none of them were gratifying enough or, for that matter, realistic enough. While each fit into their stereotype a little too easily, each of the males were competing for page space, so to speak, and since they weren’t getting enough (it’s hard to fit three male leads into a 300-page novel), all three ended up a bit two-dimensional.

The other big issue I had with this novel was that there lacked any sense of sister solidarity. By ‘sister solidarity’ I mean the type of friendship that we all aspire to have, and which, let’s be honest, is why so many of us go back time and again to watch re-runs of Sex and the City (because to be frank, Mr Big is a bit blah). While Hannah does have a best friend, Izzy, and she makes girlfriends in her new job, all of them seemed, well, a bit shit. It just blew my mind that her best friend of many, many years would tell her that she should go on another date with her sleazy, cheating, useless ex-boyfriend because ‘what if he is The One’. Now, I know everyone’s friendships are different, but the friends I have would make sure that I didn’t go ten feet near a guy who treated me that badly…unless it was to egg his car. Fictional it may be, but I can’t condone a friendship that encourages woman to continue to be used and not viewed for her worth (I am woman, hear me roar etc).

I don’t want to be too harsh on Zoe Foster, because I really love her later novels (she even read one of my reviews!), but unfortunately Air Kisses fell a bit short. Thankfully, I think that Zoe has really grown as a writer since this one was written, and so I’d recommend trying some of those before picking up this one!

Have you read Air Kisses or anything by Zoe Foster? Are you a fan of chick lit? Let me know!

Book Review: Rivers of London

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Recently, thanks to multiple books lent to me byrivers of london by ben aaronovitch friends, I have been on a crime-reading spree. And while I have learnt that perhaps crime is not for me, unless it is really, truly worthy (Gone Girl is still a particular favourite), I have also discovered that, at least in the crime fiction world, 95% of all heinous crimes occur in London. Terrible, dreary weather can have that effect on people.

Told from the perspective of Constable Peter Grant, Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London, is part crime fiction, part fantasy. When a terrible murder occurs (think callous beheading), Peter thinks it’s just another case – until he realises that the first witness he speaks to is actually a ghost. Soon, Peter is taken under the wing of Inspector Thomas Nightingale, where he learns that not only is magic real, but he has the ability to learn how to use it.

Of course to make things all that more difficult, Peter and Nightingale have to first solve a tricky magical murder. When the terrible beheading is only the first of a series of disgusting, facial disfiguring murders, it soon becomes clear that there’s more to magic than simply saying ‘Hocus Pocus’ – particularly when vengeful ghosts are involved.

Fans of Jasper Fforde’s novels would probably love Rivers of London because it is the original combination of magic, surrealism, crime and dry wit. Yet in the same way that I didn’t particularly love The Eyre Affair so too was Rivers of London unfortunately not my cup of tea.

While I will readily admit that fantasy isn’t my forte, the biggest issue I had with this novel was its convoluted plot. It seemed as though I had to go round and round in circles for the crime to make much sense (or have a motive) and then the big conclusion was sadly a letdown. For a story that was already a bit tough for me to get my head around – police, murder, vengeful ghosts, different types of magic, different types of ghosts, fictional characters that might also be controlling the vengeful ghosts who are controlling others, etc. etc. – Aaronovitch then chose to pile on a secondary storyline that didn’t really make much sense in the context of things. Granted, Rivers of London is the first in a series and that plot may make sense further down the track, but for the time being it just added another layer of confusion onto my already very confused self.

The second issue that I had with Rivers of London was that it really came across that Ben Aaronovitch was trying just a smidgen too hard to be witty. Usually I love dry humour, and I’m the first to laugh at a bit of wit, but I do think there is such a thing as being too clever. Aaronovitch’s constant references to the Daily Mail (which I think we can all agree is outstandingly crap journalism) became too frequent to be witty and just came across smug, and it managed to change the whole tone of the novel. More importantly though, Aaronovitch spent more time trying to be humorous than actually developing his characters and the result was that his protagonist, Peter Grant, came across as two-dimensional, relatively unremarkable and not particularly interesting. And while Aaronovitch does add a back story for Grant, it seems almost as an afterthought, and didn’t provide me with any real intrigue.

If you’re a fan of Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair then I would recommend Rivers of London to you. Otherwise, I don’t know if this is the book for you. I commend Ben Aaronovitch for creating something so original, but unfortunately the execution let it down.

Have you read Rivers of London or anything by Ben Aaronovitch? Are you a fan of his series? Let me know!

 

Book Review: Second Life

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second life by s j watson

After reading Before I Go To Sleep earlier this year, I honestly didn’t think that I would pick anything up again by S J Watson. Despite the fact that everyone seemed to be enthralled by it, I just didn’t like it all that much. So why did I give Second Life a go? Well, because a friend lent it to me – and I can never refuse a book.

Set in London, Second Life is told from the perspective of Julia, who appears to have the perfect life – surgeon husband, smart son and beautiful home in the heart of the city. But then, her younger sister, Kate, is murdered and Julia’s life falls apart. When the police find nothing and in order to deal with her own grief, Julia begins exploring the online, sexual world that Kate frequented, only to find that she too gets sucked in. What starts as a way to solve the murder of her sister quickly becomes an illicit love affair with a man that isn’t who he appears to be.

Dull. Dull. Dull. That is the first word that pops into my mind when I think about the plot of Second Life and it was one that I repeated like a mantra to myself while I was reading it. Reading this book was hard work, and considering it’s a crime novel, it really shouldn’t have been. Crime novels, though not considered the highest form of literature, are meant to be fast-paced, entertaining and gripping. This one? Not a chance in hell.

There were multiple problems with Second Life but the biggest one was that the protagonist Julia was completely unlikeable. While this doesn’t necessary have to be a problem with novels (such as with The Girl on the Train), in this case it was completely infuriating. Not only is Julia incredibly stupid, but she’s also neither particularly entertaining nor three-dimensional. We’re expected to believe that she scoffs at the idea of Kate having sex with strangers, only for her to, almost quite literally, begin an affair with a man she met online. And then this affair with this man who is clearly not a nice guy, just keeps getting dragged on and on because Julia doesn’t want to accept that he’s a creep. While I understand S J Watson was trying to depict addiction, his execution was simply frustrating and dull for the reader. What should have been a fast-paced thriller about a murder instead became an over-long drama about a silly woman and a control-obsessed man. Plus, I’d like to add that while this does take up the bulk of the storyline, it does still mean slogging through at least 200 pages before we learn that it isn’t a typical affair.

The second issue I had with this novel was Watson’s style of writing. I wasn’t particularly a fan of Before I Go To Sleep but this just cemented it – I honestly don’t think he’s a good writer. His characters are two dimensional, his plots weave in and out of themselves so that they end up nowhere, yet are still full of holes, and his sex scenes were, well, underwhelming at best. Any writer who uses the word ‘prick’ in a sexual way is not good at writing sex scenes, and it’s clear that his editor wasn’t female. Unless this is an Australianism, I was always taught that ‘prick’ was slang for ‘tiny penis’ (get it – cause it’s just a tiny little prick) and having the image of ‘tiny penis’ described in a sexual manner did nothing for me whatsoever.

Lastly, the devices that Watson uses weren’t used to their full effect. Not only are we competing with an affair and the murder of a woman, but we’re also expected to retain the energy and excitement over a third storyline that occurred 25 years ago and keeps getting mentioned, but never in detail. Also, it’s this third storyline that ends up being the main crux of the plot, though once again, we’re not told enough about it to deduce that ourselves. And then we’re expected to just ignore the fact that to be intertwined all three plots have to be the biggest coincidences of all time. Sorry, but not buying it.

Crime fiction is meant to be fast-paced, gripping and entertaining as hell. The turn ‘couldn’t put it down’ should first and foremost be associated with crime. Instead, Second Life is a lacklustre crime/pseudo-love story that fails to deliver on both counts. Choose something else when next at the bookstore.

Have you read Second Life or anything by S J Watson? What did you think? Let me know!

Book Review: Big Little Lies

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Set in an idyllic Australian beachside town, Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty is a crime novel, but it’s also so much more. It also explores the everyday crimes that women inflect on one another…and really – that’s almost as bad as murder, isn’t it? (Probably big little lies by liane moriartynot, but nevertheless.)

Working backwards from a school trivia night where a terrible incident occurs, Big Little Lies follows the lives of three women whose children have just started attending kindergarten at the local school. Madeline is feisty and confrontational and considering that her ex-husband and new wife’s child is in the same year as her child…well, things could get ugly. Then there’s single mum Jane, who’s only 24 and holds a terrible secret about the father of her child. Lastly, there’s Celeste – beautiful, wealthy Celeste – who appears to have the perfect life, but is actually dealing with the realities of domestic violence.

While each woman has her own secrets, they are well and truly thrown into the pressure pot by the other mothers at Pirriwee Prep and things start to get, well, just a touch ugly. And murdersome.

Big Little Lies has to be one of the funniest books I’ve read about a murder. While it is definitely about the murder, it also isn’t. It’s almost instead a story about the intricacies and schoolyard antics of young mothers. There’s the do-gooders, the career mums, the professional mothers (who are at every event) and the mothers who refuse to serve their child anything that isn’t lactose, gluten or sugar-free. As someone who isn’t a mother, this was a perspective I hadn’t ever really thought about, but it is clear that Liane Moriarty has had to deal with catty mums during the school pick up.

Yet while it seems rather trivial on the surface, the hilarious aspect of all this is that it’s all, well, so accurate. The frustrations, the bitchiness the ‘she said, he said’ aspects that always seem to occur when large groups of women get together, regardless of age. Yet what could have quickly turned into a terrible pseudo chick-lit (you know the ones where all the women are spending their days driving around in their SUVs looking for a $400 gift for their three-year old’s friend?), becomes a wickedly dark play on suburbia.

What makes this novel great isn’t necessarily the storyline, although that is pretty entertaining, but Moriarty’s writing. With true Australian humour, her writing is dry, black and definitely a bit sarcastic – but all in the right measures. She conveys the emotions of the characters – frustration, fear, sadness – in a way that is clear to the reader without being cloying. And best of all, she somehow succeeds in making an almost 500 page crime novel read as though it could be polished off in a sitting. Which is almost exactly what I did.

Have you read Big Little Lies? Have you read anything by Liane Moriarty? Are you a fan of crime novels? Let me know!

Book Review: The Girl on the Train

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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins has recreated the ‘Gone Girl’ effect. Everyone’s reading it; everyone’s talking about it, and everyothe girl on the train by paula hawkinsne’s waiting with anticipation for the movie to be released. Because, yes, of course it has already been signed on for a movie – those movie exec types move fast.

Told from the perspective of three women, but primarily Rachel, The Girl on the Train is a crime thriller that uncovers the truth of what happened to missing girl, Megan. First, we’re introduced to Rachel, who catches the train each morning and evening and envisions a romantic life between ‘Jess’ and ‘Jason’ a couple whose house she can see into from the train. Only ‘Jess’ is actually Megan, and Rachel is horrified to discover that she’s gone missing and Megan’s husband is the prime suspect. And while Rachel is initially drawn to the case because she feels as if she knows them, things quickly become murkier and far more creepy. On the night that Megan went missing, we learn that Rachel was in the area – only she was so drunk, she didn’t remember a thing. And to make things even more complex, throw into the mix Tom, Rachel’s ex-husband, and Anna, his new wife, who both live in the area and seem to have their own agenda for wanting Megan out of the picture.

Narrated by three different women, all of whom are unreliable – a mistress, a vengeful alcoholic and a liar. So which one do we trust? Or are they all telling what they think is the truth? Paula Hawkins has done a pretty stunning job of creating a twisted, creepy crime thriller with deeply unappealing people – but in a way that you just have to find out what’s happened to them.

With its twists and turns, The Girl on the Train has all the ingredients for a page-turning thriller. We’re introduced to multiple characters that could be behind Megan’s disappearance, but almost as soon as we think we’ve worked it out, the story twists again and another suspect enters the scene. What on the surface seems like a straightforward case quickly mutates into dark marriages, shared lies and manipulation, and all end up wrapped up together in one neat, final package.

Perhaps the best part about The Girl on the Train is that it is fast-paced. Hawkins doesn’t try to introduce any unnecessary plots or secondary characters – every person, every story is there for a reason and it all becomes apparent in the final pages. As a result, we’re left with a thriller that can be read in a single sitting or two, and the reader isn’t left wading through unnecessary information in order to get to the crux of the crime. Basically, the ideal crime novel.

I’d read the blurb of this book and I honestly didn’t expect to like it, and it wasn’t until a friend lent it to me that I gave it a shot. Now I can understand the hype. It’s twisted, creepy and definitely a bit dark, but it’s also an absolute page-turner that will keep you guessing until the end. Which really isn’t that far off, because you’ll read it so quickly.

Have you read The Girl on the Train? Are you a fan of crime novels? Let me know!

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