Title: Friend Request
Author: Laura Marshall
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Publication date: 27th July 2017
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Louise Williams receives a shocking friend request on Facebook from an old classmate who disappeared years ago and is presumed dead. Maria Weston was last seen alive at the school leavers’ party so who is playing tricks on Louise?
I enjoyed this book and the unexpected turn of events at the very end. The author makes an excellent effort to continuously surprise us with the steady pace and the well developed characters. I liked the in-between chapters with the reveal of how each character has transformed from the horrid events at the school leavers’ party in 1989 to today. I found that I didn’t care much for any of the characters and was suspicious of nearly all of them, an easy mistake to make when the author exposes how each one was involved in the turmoil of that night. However, each character is unique enough to suggest that they could all be involved in the game played on Louise, creating a tense and uneasy atmosphere that only escalates with each chapter.
The author explores controversial current topics that surround society nowadays with ease and a lot of focus. I especially admired the discussion on bullying, fitting in and the notion of how we change (or not) as we grow up. However, the emphasis on Facebook was sometimes too overstated and I felt that the story was exciting enough even without it. I realise that it may be an unpopular opinion because many of us enjoy books where life on social media is analysed, but I personally did not find it as engaging as other readers may do.
Friend Request is a gripping read that kept me guessing until the very end. The final chapter was completely unexpected but very satisfactory and upon reflection makes a lot of sense when considering Maria’s character and the difficult events she lived through. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for an exciting psychological thriller, but perhaps not to those readers who do not enjoy the mean girl vibe that is prominent throughout this book.
Title: The Map of Us
Author: Jules Preston
Publication date: 4th May 2018
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
The Map of Us tells the story of Tilly North, a statistician whose marriage is falling apart which she tries to repair through numbers, and her grandmother Violet North, abandoned by her family due to a long and difficult illness. The relationship between grandmother and granddaughter is bound by an old blue typewriter and a series of unfinished children’s books that Tilly is about to discover.
It’s not often that I come across a book with such a distinct style of writing so I was pleasantly surprised with the choppy and quirky narrative. However, it wasn’t quite for me; the story line was monotonous and the characters too flat for my liking.
Around halfway into the book the reader starts to understand the direction the story is following and the characters’ plot lines begin to intertwine. I enjoyed Tilly’s story and the Compatibility Index that she ultimately designs to explain why her marriage is failing. Looking back, I also think that the author revealed the link between Tilly and Violet in a very clever way and it was a joy following Tilly in her adventure to pursue her grandmother’s tales.
This was an uplifting and inspiring book and I wish that I was more patient at the start rather than rushing to understand from the beginning how the characters are connected. I recommend it to anyone who is looking for something different and is able to look past the short chapters and unconventional writing style.
Title: The Tattooist of Auschwitz
Author: Heather Morris
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication date: 11th January 2018
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
After being forced into Auschwitz, young Lale Sokolov is instructed to undertake one of the most mentally challenging jobs of tattooing the five digit numbers on fellow prisoners who are seized from their homeland. Here he meets Gita and is determined to escape the horrid place with her by his side at whatever cost.
This was an incredibly difficult book to put down despite how harrowing and complex the subject matter is. Perhaps what makes it even more challenging is the knowledge from the start that it tells the true story of Lale, a survivor of Auschwitz, and that all the difficulties he faced as the tattooist were real. It may be a horrifying story but the overwhelming themes of courage, loyalty and the willingness to survive are present throughout making the book truly gripping.
Apart from the strong willed character of Lale, this book also manifests similar strong traits through the hardships that Gita and Cilka lived through, from disease to malnutrition to abuse. The writing is very matter-of-fact and the author doesn’t delve much into the characters emotions, yet as the event of Auschwitz unfold, the reader is able to interpret the mixture of feelings experienced in such a confinement.
I am pleased that I decided to read this novel after much doubt. It is important that stories like Lale’s are retold and reconstructed so the horrors of war are not forgotten and are avoided. What made this book stand out from others in this genre was the brilliant way that the author gave Lale a voice and retold his story with honesty, proving how sincere relationships can form even in the most extreme situations. Everyone must read this book, regardless of the intricacy it boasts, to fully appreciate the buried memoirs of many prisoners that are finally being unearthed.
Title: The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae
Author: Stephanie Butler
Publication date: 19th April 2018
My rating: ★★★★★
Ailsa has never had a chance to fully live, struggling with a life-threatening heart condition and watching her closest friend die. Now Ailsa finally has the chance to experience life’s little treasures after receiving her new heart. From her strained relationship with her mother to her romance with Seb, Ailsa bravely steps into the real world and learns what it means to truly live.
This was a simply marvelous read and I thoroughly enjoyed discovering the courageous and quirky Ailsa Rae. The author has developed a very likable character in Ailsa and it was a pleasure joining her in her adventures such as learning to Tango, discovering love and finding her father. Despite the tough subject matter, the author explores Ailsa’s courage through her positive stance in receiving her new heart by fearlessly throwing herself into all life has to offer. I especially liked her dedication to her blog and the connection she developed with her followers, basing each decision on their comments but also enjoyed her persistence and willingness to make her own decisions as her confidence grew.
Seb plays an interesting part in this book and I enjoyed seeing his friendship with Ailsa flourish. Although their mutual condition of post-operation recovery originally unites them, it soon becomes clear that there is a romantic touch to their relationship that they are keen to explore. However, I still don’t believe that the romantic part of this book overrides the other predominant themes and I would struggle to mark this book as romance only.
For me the most appealing part of the book is the need to find your true self and live life to the fullest. The author took a very difficult subject and presented this concept beautifully through Ailsa’s character which made this book even more engaging and enjoyable to read. I think I will remember it for a very long time and I am glad to have stumbled across it.
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Title: A River in Darkness
Author: Masaji Ishikawa
Publication date: 1st January 2018
My rating: ★★★★☆
Born in Japan to a Korean father and Japanese mother, Masaji Ishikawa learnt how to prepare for the worst possible scenario at a very young age. Broken promises and false hopes by the Communist party in Japan enticing his family to move to North Korea prompted a difficult life with corruption, starvation and hopelessness.
This was an incredibly tough book to read but so powerful and vivid that I managed to finish it in one sitting. The first person narrative added a very intimate touch that made his story feel even more heartbreaking. Gripping from the very first chapter, I was immediately drawn into his worries of moving to North Korea and shortly after the struggles his family faced to survive. The narrative feels extremely real and the events so disturbing that it is almost unbelievable how bad the totalitarian regime in North Korea is.
It is probably of no surprise that what I most enjoyed in this book is the end where Masaji shows courage and an exceptionally strong character by trying to escape from North Korea. This was perhaps where the story took a turn for the better and we followed a much more promising, although still rough, journey through Asia to safety. His will to survive is overwhelming and it puts everything into perspective, celebrating the little things in life that we often don’t realise we have.
My only criticism would be the very abrupt end and lack of narrative following his life to date. No information of the author’s life is available online and it is unknown how this story was published or who helped him in writing this book, an important detail that I wish was shared with us, although I feel that this was done on purpose to protect him. Nevertheless, this book is a real eye-opener and I highly recommend it to everyone.
Title: The Rosie Project
Author: Graeme Simsion
Publication date: 11th April 2013
My rating: ★★★★★
Don Tillman is an oddity. Despite his inability to secure a second date, he is adamant on finding a wife using the most extraordinary and inappropriate way possible – a scientifically designed survey based on his background in Genetics. When his closest friend Gene recommends Rosie Jarman, completely unsuitable based on his criteria, Don becomes intrigued with her background and decides to help her with her own personal project of finding her biological father, thus “The Father Project” is born.
I didn’t know what to expect when I first started reading this book but I was pleasantly surprised by the quirky characters and crisp writing style. Don is utterly bizarre but also charming in his own way and I immediately warmed to his character. I particularly liked the contrast of Rosie, relatively normal when compared to Don, and her ability to dilute the strange settings they sometimes found themselves in during “The Father Project”. The other minor character, Gene, offered a lot to the story in terms of the science and logic behind both projects and the mechanics of Don’s mindset which, without giving too much away, I thought was key towards the end.
Particularly notable throughout the book are the very witty scenarios, misunderstandings and quirks in Don’s life such as lobster Tuesdays and the hilariously described cocktail incident. These flaws make for a very vivid and fun personality that the reader cannot help but love. By building the complex wife questionnaire we immediately understand and admire Don’s simple and straightforward thinking and this is later repeated in a more elaborate form with “The Father Project”. The author develops several key themes here and expands on the familiar notion of the difficulty in finding a suitable partner and the fact that quite often opposites attract even though we may not in be control of it.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book even though it doesn’t reflect my usual choice. It was enjoyable and unlike many similar reads I found myself laughing out loud several times and keen to discover the mind of Don Tillman. However, the slow pace and abrupt ending may not suit other readers, an important aspect to consider when deciding to pick up this book.
Title: Before We Were Yours
Author: Lisa Wingate
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication date: 30th November 2017
My rating: ★★★☆☆
Based on a real-life story of one of the greatest adoption scandals, Before We Were Yours unravels the tale of Rill Foss and her younger siblings who were ruthlessly kidnapped and thrown into the Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage only to later be sold to wealthy families. In present day South Carolina, we follow the emotional journey of Avery Stafford who is about to find out a dark hidden family secret.
I was immediately drawn into the story from the first page, particularly in Rill’s story starting in 1939 and following the roller coaster journey from her riverboat home to the orphanage. A controversial and difficult theme like kidnapping and child-trafficking requires carefully chosen vocabulary and I thought that the author successfully handled this sensitive topic. The five Foss children felt very real and I especially liked how their character developed from their home to the orphanage to their new adopted homes.
In contrast, I didn’t feel that the present day story held the same level of complexity, perhaps because it unfolded in a relatively slower pace. Avery’s storyline felt strained and I thought that certain parts could have been avoided, such as the love story which seemed unnecessary, considering the theme of the book. However, her relationship with her grandmother was sincere and I admired her will and hope to uncover the truth. The family bond, both in past and present, was completely believable and genuine and I enjoyed discovering the connection between River Foss and the present day characters.
Without giving away too much detail, I can say that the ending was bittersweet and as pleasant as can be expected in such delicate circumstances. It definitely made a lasting impression and I was eager to research this scandal and pleased that it was depicted in such a respectable manner.