Book review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid


Title: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Washington Square Press

Publication date: 13th June 2017

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

My review:

I must start by saying that I have never read a book like this before and I don’t think that any other similar books exist. It is hard to categorise as there are so many different aspects that merge together to make this book the masterpiece it is. Although it is not quite an autobiography as it involves fictional characters, the narrative stuns with detail and creates the same feeling of proximity as that of an autobiography. Throughout the entire time I felt like I was right next to Monique as she was taking notes of Evelyn’s life and this notion created a very atmospheric feeling which is hard to come by and even more difficult to explain.

Evelyn Hugo has experienced many difficulties and hardships in life and her relationship are the focus of this book. Although “Husbands” is included in the title and the book is separated in sections relating to each of her husbands, I was actually more interested in her relationship with Celia. I really appreciated the divisions but even more so the way in which all the characters were interlinked and continued to reappear in future chapters as it added continuity. Each relationship had its downfalls leading to the continuous row of husbands and ultimately it was the complexity of each relationship which added depth and intensity.

Unfortunately as much as I tried I could not warm to Monique and felt that the chapters focused on her were too plain compared to Evelyn’s. I understand that it was her job to note down Evelyn’s life but I think that Monique’s character could have been developed in other ways to make her bolder and more charismatic. In contrast, Evelyn is perceived as a mesmering, mysterious and exquisite actress with many secrets which are about to be revealed. Characters are often portrayed as either good or bad but Evelyn could not be more of an inbetween character with many wonderful qualities but also a range of immoral and unjust actions and decisions she has taken in her past. Her character is without a doubt the main reason this book seems so different and special and, even though she made many mistakes in the past, the intricacy in her character traits made her a very memorable character and an iconic part of this book.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is an extraordinary book with a great deal of aspects to love, from its multilayered main character to its narrative. A huge part of what makes this book so powerful is the discussion of sensitive topics such as sexuality and violence with a lot of thought and inclusion. This book is certainly original and unlike any other book in the market. For this reason alone I can highly recommend any reader interested in trying out something different to choose this book because I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

Book review: The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter


Title: The Good Daughter

Author: Karin Slaughter

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Harper Collins

Publication date: 13th July 2017

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

Twenty-eight years ago, Charlotte and Samantha Quinn’s happy smalltown family life was torn apart by a terrifying attack on their family home. It left their mother dead. It left their father – Pikeville’s notorious defence attorney – devastated. And it left the family fractured beyond repair, consumed by secrets from that terrible night.
Twenty-eight years later, and Charlie has followed in her father’s footsteps to become a lawyer herself – the archetypal good daughter. But when violence comes to Pikeville again – and a shocking tragedy leaves the whole town traumatised – Charlie is plunged into a nightmare. Not only is she the first witness on the scene, but it’s a case which can’t help triggering the terrible memories she’s spent so long trying to suppress. Because the shocking truth about the crime which destroyed her family nearly thirty years ago won’t stay buried for ever …
 

My review:

The Good Daughter starts with a horrific murder which is suggested to leave a mark on sisters Charlotte and Samantha forever. The first chapter stuns with intensity, suspense and mystery. However, what I didn’t know at the time is that the rest of the book follows suit with some parts even more thrilling than the preface.

“I’ve got to figure out before I die whether I want to be happy or I want to be right.”

After reading the first chapter I knew that I would be hooked and would not be able to put this book down until the end. There was too much unknown which I felt I wanted to understand immediately and although we had only been given a glimpse into Charlotte and Samantha’s lives, I instantly felt a connection to them and a need to find out how the tragic events affected them. Needless to say I got what I wished for as the story line unfolds in a chilling  and vivid manner with flashbacks, retellings and snippets of an even more gruesome act of violence that follows.

As far as character growth goes I can undoubtedly agree with other fans that Karin Slaughter is one of the best in the genre. I often find it hard to connect with the main characters in Thrillers as very often the author decides to focus on the plot, however I found myself invested in Charlotte and Samantha’s story lines right from the beginning. It was incredibly interesting to see how their fates after that day twenty-eight years ago took entirely different paths not only based on the event but also their reactions. There was even room to explore the complexity of father-daughter relationships as Samantha is soon reunited with her father, Rusty, after years apart. On the complete opposite end there was also variety in the characters one might expect to find in a small town in southern USA, however still explored with dignity and integrity.

Upon reflection I feel like there was not enough depth in the parallel story line which dominated the present-day plot. The characters involved in the trial were diverse and the hints given throughout on what happened were just enough to keep the reader interested. However, it felt like the backstory rather than the main story line at several points throughout the book. Towards the end a few shocking twists were dropped which shifted the focus from the sisters’ relationship to the current murder investigation and it was at this point where I finally felt like both story lines were as relevant and significant as each other.

Karin Slaughter managed to get just the right balance of complexity and tragedy in The Good Daughter. I was impressed at how the book felt slow and long-winded yet intense and sharp at the same time. This delicate mix gave way for a superb thriller with many wonderful characters and a plot thickened with suspense. This was my first book from this author in years and I was quickly reminded of why she is one of the finest in the genre.

Book review: The Passengers by John Marrs


Title: The Passengers

Author: John Marrs

Genre: Science Fiction/Thriller

Publisher: Ebury

Publication date: 1st April 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“Eight self-drive cars set on a collision course. Who lives, who dies? You decide.

The new gripping page-turning thriller from the bestselling author of THE ONE – soon to be a major Netflix series.

When someone hacks into the systems of eight self-drive cars, their passengers are set on a fatal collision course.

The passengers are: a TV star, a pregnant young woman, a disabled war hero, an abused wife fleeing her husband, an illegal immigrant, a husband and wife – and parents of two – who are travelling in separate vehicles and a suicidal man. Now the public have to judge who should survive but are the passengers all that they first seem?

My review:

In an alternate universe driverless cars have become a popular form of travel. Technology and expertise have created what appears to be a safer and more efficient way of getting to places and it is thought that fewer accidents happen as a result. However, their safety is put to the test when a hacker decides to test the power of the authorities when he warns the public that eight cars have been reprogrammed to crash into each other in several hours time. What follows is an intense and remarkable story line which follows all eight passengers as they are informed of their fate in the most twisted circumstances.

The concept behind The Passengers seem simple at first yet it is cleverly plotted and developed which ultimately results in a gripping and evolving story line that is difficult to break from until the very end. The narrative is engrossing and fast-paced and the plot moves from one twist to another with ease. At no point did I feel bored or detached from the story line, in fact I found myself rushing through each chapter keen to discover the passengers’ fate. The pace felt ideal, with just enough room for character growth but also fast enough to make the reader feel like they are speeding down the motorway in one of the cars.

The focus jumps from one character to another as we are introduced to the events leading up to the crash. Each passenger has a unique background and, although it was easier to relate to some more than others, the variety of controversies that the author brings up, from infidelity to death, felt both daring and exciting. Being able to relate to each character on a deeper level created a very realistic reading experience and I had to reassure myself several times that I was not trapped in one of the self-drive cars with a passenger. Although the concept may seem engaging, it is ultimately the characters which made this book truly special for me.

John Marrs doesn’t disappoint with his latest release, in fact this is easily one of the best thrillers that I have read this year. The mixture of a thickened plot, diverse characters and an exciting setting created a masterpiece which will linger in my mind for a long time.

Book review: Dear Lily by Drew Davies


Title: Dear Lily

Author: Drew Davies

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Bookouture

Publication date: 17th May 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“Dear Lily,
It’s me, Joy, your much wiser and (very slightly) older sister. I thought I’d start a new tradition of letter writing – now that we’re long distance.
On the plane over here, I began to cry in seat 21C. I think the magnitude of it finally hit me, after everything that happened…
I haven’t even unpacked yet – the only thing I’ve taken out of my suitcase is Harville, your beloved childhood teddy. Sorry for stealing him, but I need him more than you do. Every time I look at that little brown bear I think about our childhood. Remember that dance we made up to Annie’s ‘It’s a Hard Knock Life’? (Remember the broom choreography?)
I’m also sorry for abandoning you – I’ve always been your agony aunt, and a buffer in your infamous shouting matches with Mum. But I had to leave, Lily, I had to.
Anyway, I’m here now. I’m here to start over, and to face up to the past. I want to learn to laugh again, and to find someone to love who will maybe even love me back. You always told me I was just getting by, not actually living, so I’m finally doing it. Wish me luck, little sister.
Love,
Joy x

My review:

Sometimes authors manage to perfectly capture in words and feelings what the average adult goes through and Drew Davies certainly managed to do this with ease in Dear Lily. This book made me laugh, reminisce and wonder and that is exactly what I was hoping for when I decided to read it.

Dear Lily is told through a series of letters and this format cultivated an even stronger connection between Joy and Lily. Each chapter represents a letter that Joy writes to her sister Lily soon after her decision to move to Denmark. Not only were the letters insightful and wonderful but also allowed for discussion of some difficult topics that people usually don’t like to bring up face to face. It is somehow so much easier to do so in writing and this manifested itself as the chapters and letters evolved and the conversations become deeper as it Joy opened up to Lily and shared everything on her mind.

The characters are incredibly witty and genuine. Several times throughout the book I felt like I either was Joy or I could be a very good friend of hers as her struggles of living life in a foreign country started to develop one after another, very similar to my experience living abroad. So many of the cultural differences such as difficulties to make friends and attempts to understand her colleagues at work were sincere and extremely well incorporated. As each new letter was introduced I felt an even stronger connection with Joy and a willingness to keep reading and find out the original reason she decided to write these letters to her sister.

Unfortunately, I had a feeling very early on into the book about what really happened to Lily and I was right. This didn’t interfere with my experience while reading this book however I didn’t feel enlightened once details on Lily were revealed towards the end. If I have to be picky this would be my only concern with this book as all other factors worked wonderfully together to create a truly captivating read. The writing is excellent and the story is heartfelt and beautifully told. I would recommend this book to anyone looking to connect with the narrator and to those readers who thrive on passing through a range of emotions during their reading experience.

Book review: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr


Title: All the Light We Cannot See

Author: Anthony Doerr

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Scribner

Publication date: 6th May 2014

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

My review:

All the Light We Cannot See follows Marie-Laure as she moves away from Paris with her father at the age of six, and Werner, an orphan who is struggling to find his place in the world as he joins the forces in Nazi Germany. The reader joins these two characters on their incredible journey as they try to survive the war each in their own way. Both characters are well developed and likable enough for the reader to form a true bond and I felt eager to follow their journeys.

Written in short alternating chapters of each character’s POV, the plot feels almost feels too linear and I wondered why the author chose this style several times as I was reading the book. My favourite part was by far the moment when their paths cross as this was the closure I needed from the beginning and I finally understood his decision of writing the book in this style.

As far as storytelling goes, no words can do this book justice and Anthony Doerr deserves all the awards. Only a few other authors come to mind when it comes to telling a heartfelt story from start to finish but none manage to do so with as much ease and finesse. Although the scenery is almost always dreary and somber as the war spreads through France, the feeling of hope is so deep rooted in this book that it makes for a very raw and real reading experience.

My pet peeve in Historical Fiction is short chapters as I feel that there is not enough depth to the narrative and not enough time to truly engage with the scenery and characters. I definitely felt that way as I read this book and I would have preferred longer chapters focusing on each character rather than small snippets into their lives until their reunion. I could have carried on reading past the ending as by that point I was so invested in both characters and would have enjoyed reading whichever way the story developed.

It is no wonder that All the Lights We Cannot See is the Goodread’s Historical Fiction win of 2014. This book is moving, exciting and incredible. If you decide to read any Historical Fiction book, even if it is not your choice of genre, I am sure that you will not be disappointed if you make it this one.

Book review: Vox by Christina Dalcher


Title: Vox

Author: Christina Dalcher

Genre: Science Fiction/Dystopia

Publisher: HQ

Publication date: 21st August 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“Silence can be deafening.

Jean McClellan spends her time in almost complete silence, limited to just one hundred words a day. Any more, and a thousand volts of electricity will course through her veins.

Now the new government is in power, everything has changed. But only if you’re a woman.

Almost overnight, bank accounts are frozen, passports are taken away and seventy million women lose their jobs. Even more terrifyingly, young girls are no longer taught to read or write.

For herself, her daughter, and for every woman silenced, Jean will reclaim her voice. This is only the beginning…

My review:

As a linguist and fan of dystopian fiction I was hoping that Vox would explore the current climate driving extremist views on sexism while shining light on the importance of expression and autonomy. Although at first it seemed to me that the premise of this book is exactly what I expected,  in actuality there are so many other deep rooted issues examined through the main character’s point of view that my opinion on the book changed quite drastically after finishing it.

Imagine a world where women are deprived of one of their basic rights: the freedom of expression. Suddenly young girls are obliged to follow an outdated curriculum that no longer includes reading or writing. Females are obliged to only speak 100 words per day or otherwise face the pain of electricity shot through their veins as punishment for extending their limit. The concept seems so terrifying and yet at the same time not too far from reality and this combination is exactly what prompted me to read Vox.

By far the most interesting aspect for me was the science behind the linguistics research carried out by the main character, Jean. Not only was it well researched and educational but also relevant to the development of the plot and sudden turn of events during the final chapters. Sudden societal changes and human reaction has been widely diversified in other literature like The Handmaid’s Tale but the focus on language and how it affects our emotional state made this book stand out from others in the market.

Unfortunately I was not moved by any of the characters and felt that some of the other story lines explored, such as Jean’s love interest, were too unimportant when considering the significance of the surroundings. It seemed almost ruthless that instead of focusing on the investigation delivered to her by the government as one of the few specialists on the subject she preferred to attract attention in other ways. My disinterest in her character grew even more towards the end as the confrontation between her team and the government unfolded in what felt like a simple solution to a very complex problem.

Rarely do I have such conflicting opinions on a book but Vox really disturbed me. There is much to love in this book and a lot to think about while reading it however certain elements felt unnecessary and the characters were too dull to fully hold my attention. Nevertheless, I am pleased that I decided to read this book as the concepts explored stayed with me for a very long time.

Book review: Twisted by Steve Cavanagh


Title: Twisted

Author: Steve Cavanagh

Genre: Thriller/Crime

Publisher: Orion

Publication date: 24th January 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

BEFORE YOU READ THIS BOOK
I WANT YOU TO KNOW THREE THINGS:

1. The police are looking to charge me with murder.
2. No one knows who I am. Or how I did it.
3. If you think you’ve found me. I’m coming for you next.

After you’ve read this book, you’ll know: the truth is far more twisted…

My review:

This book certainly lives up to its name! There were several moments when I was certain that I had figured out each character’s motive but I ran into another unexpected twist which was a little frustrating at the beginning but more enjoyable as I soon discovered that the rest of the story line follows suit. I rarely have such fun trying to discover the plot twists but it is best to enjoy the rollercoaster ride in Twisted as guessing the twists is close to impossible.

Much to my surprise, Twisted is completely plot-driven and extremely fast-paced unlike many recently published books in the genre which tend to be slow burners with the focus generally on character growth. I struggle to recall the last time I read such an intense thriller which I loved despite not caring much for any of the characters. There are three main characters with chapters written from each character’s POV. At first I was convinced that I had already identified the murderer but as I read on it soon became clear that it wasn’t quite as simple as finding out who the culprit is but rather the rationale leading to their actions in the past and their response upon learning that the other two are aware of the truth. This concept was enough to form a deliciously gripping story line that held my attention until the end.

I highly recommend this thriller to all fans of the genre and I particularly advise anyone hoping to read the book to go in blind and enjoy the ride. Steve Cavanagh has created a masterpiece with Twisted and I suspect that a long time will pass until I discover another cleverly plotted and well written thriller like this one.