Title: Friend Request
Author: Laura Marshall
Publication date: 27th July 2017
My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
When Louise Williams receives a message from someone left long in the past, her heart nearly stops.
Maria Weston wants to be friends on Facebook.
Maria Weston has been missing for over twenty-five years. She was last seen the night of a school leavers’ party, and the world believes her to be dead. Particularly Louise, who has lived her adult life with a terrible secret.
As Maria’s messages start to escalate, Louise forces herself to reconnect with the old friends she once tried so hard to impress. Trying to piece together exactly what happened that night, she soon discovers there’s much she didn’t know. The only certainty is that Maria Weston disappeared that night, never to be heard from again – until now…
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 Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae
Author: Stephanie Butler
Publication date: 19th April 2018
My rating: ★★★★★
Ailsa Rae is learning how to live.
She’s only a few months past the heart transplant that – just in time – saved her life. Life should be a joyful adventure. But . . .
Her relationship with her mother is at breaking point.
She knows she needs to find her father.
She’s missed so much that her friends have left her behind.
She’s felt so helpless for so long that she’s let polls on her blog make her decisions for her. And now she barely knows where to start on her own.
And then there’s Lennox. Her best friend and one time lover. He was sick too. He didn’t make it. And now she’s supposed to face all of this without him.
But her new heart is a bold heart.
She just needs to learn to listen to it . . .
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: ★★★★☆
Half-Korean, half-Japanese, Masaji Ishikawa has spent his whole life feeling like a man without a country. This feeling only deepened when his family moved from Japan to North Korea when Ishikawa was just thirteen years old, and unwittingly became members of the lowest social caste. His father, himself a Korean national, was lured to the new Communist country by promises of abundant work, education for his children, and a higher station in society. But the reality of their new life was far from utopian.
In this memoir translated from the original Japanese, Ishikawa candidly recounts his tumultuous upbringing and the brutal thirty-six years he spent living under a crushing totalitarian regime, as well as the challenges he faced repatriating to Japan after barely escaping North Korea with his life. A River in Darkness is not only a shocking portrait of life inside the country but a testament to the dignity—and indomitable nature—of the human spirit.
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.