Checking Out- Nick Spalding

I’ve reviewed a couple of Nick Spalding title before, and this review will be much the same. I didn’t actually know anything about this title before I started reading it- I hadn’t so much as read the blurb- but I knew how much I’d enjoyed Bricking It, and how interesting I found the ideas behind Mad Loveso I was happy to give it a go.  From the first few pages I was reminded of this author’s ability to make just about anything humorous.  I think it’s his frank, matter-of-fact way of phrasing that helps achieve this effect. Having sad this, it’s vital to point out that Spalding still manages to convey some incredibly important messages, in spite of- and perhaps thanks to- this comedy.

What’s really interesting about Checking Out is Spalding’s exploration of life under extreme circumstances, covering from self discovery to interpersonal relationships and just about everything inbetween. Nathan has just found out he’s going to die, which puts the entirety of his life into perspective and helps him to reconsider what’s important. He doesn’t know how long he has to live- it could happen at any moment- and this is what makes the narrative so great, especially because Nathan doesn’t necessarily take the most predictable route of completing everything he’s ever dreamed of. In fact, his extraordinary story is really quite ordinary- in some ways.

Not only does Nathan discover truths about himself, experiencing some of his most embarrassing moments in the period following his diagnosis, he also understands a little more about how others perceive him. What’s refreshing is that this is not simply a narrative about romantic love, and I’m not entirely sure Nathan’s relationship with Alison could necessarily be described as romantic, Spalding also covers Nathan’s relationship with his mother in light of his diagnosis, and it was these parts I found the most interesting and touching.

From embarrassing experiences with Donkey’s to an inability to stop saying potato, it’s fair to say that Nathan has some troubles throughout this narrative. However, what I think is most important is that he doesn’t allow his brain tumour to become the most troublesome, and uses it to help him live, rather than accepting his death.

Checking Out is fantastic for anyone looking for a book with the perfect balance of intelligent humour and important messages. This very same narrative could have easily been doom and gloom, but Spalding’s own personality and unique writing style saves it from this, which makes it accessible to just about anyone.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine- Gail Honeyman

I’d been wanting to read this book for a while, but university finals had made me feel guilty for reading anything that I wasn’t going to be examined on. In fact, I was so desperate for someone to read Honeyman’s debut novel that I bought it for a friend as a birthday gift- if I couldn’t read it, she would! I’d heard so much positive feedback about the book and I was certain I would love it.

I actually received my copy of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine  as a birthday gift, and I couldn’t wait to get stuck into it. I was sure it would make my commute to and from work (I’m a real adult now!) just that little bit more bearable.

I have to say, I wasn’t disappointed. From the moment I opened the book, I found it difficult to put it down, urging the traffic jam to just last that little bit longer. Honeyman’s ability to craft characters struck me instantly and I was fully invested in who Eleanor Oliphant was and what she might become. In truth, it was definitely Honeyman’s character creation that kept me interested, as opposed to the narrative itself. I suppose you might argue that the two go hand in hand, but it was what might happen to the protagonist and how she was going to change that I was most interested in.

You might even say that Eleanor is the narrative. All the events, or lack thereof, are a part of her life, and create her life. There is an overwhelming sense of nothingness across the pages, which is really haunting, emphasised further through Eleanor’s lack of recognition that the way she lives her life is not normal. Because of this intense emptiness, it was impossible to guess where the book was going to end up. It was quite obvious that Eleanor was troubled, but I didn’t imagine that it would take such a dark turn.

However, what was most impressive was Honeyman’s ability to portray Eleanor’s experience this darkness with the same nonchalance and resignation as she did the rest of her life. At no point does Oliphant show a shadow of self pity,  which is what makes the novel so bittersweet. To see a character so accepting of what life throws at them is both beautiful and heart-wrenching.  The whole time I found myself wanting to grab her by the shoulders and tell her how amazing she is. At times she is bone-chillingly matter of fact, and apparently arrogant, but these qualities are entirely evened out when you have the insight of Eleanor’s internal dialogue and how she behaves and feels behind closed doors.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine  is incredibly powerful, and made me think about all the Eleanors I’ve ever met in my life, though I didn’t really realise it until the end. So many people simply get through each day without really existing and, while it’s so easy to judge them, branding them eccentric or a little bit odd, it’s impossible to know how that person feels when they’re alone.  It all works out for Eleanor but, heartbreakingly, this isn’t the case for everyone in her situation.

I would wholeheartedly recommend Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine  to anyone looking for a page-turner that makes you really care. If you’re looking for a book that makes you feel all the emotions, you’ll find it in this novel, and will probably be a more thoughtful person when you’re finished with it.

Extra tip: Read the interview with Honeyman at the end of the novel, it was incredibly interesting to see what inspired her to write this wonderful story.

 

 

 

Everything I Know About Love- Dolly Alderton

In the past three months or so I have really got into podcasts. I especially love to listen to them when I’m in the gym as I find they are more effective at distracting from the pain than music. One of my favourite podcasts has been The High Low by Dolly Alderton and Pandora Sykes. I almost feel like I’m part of their cool girl gang as I listen in on their chats. This meant that I was incredibly excited for the release of Dolly’s book, Everything I Know About Love as I knew she would be just as open, friendly and down to earth as she is on the podcast.

 

From the very first pages, I couldn’t get enough- though part of that might just be because I’m a bit nosy… But I just loved the instant warmth that Dolly offers to her readers, which is only heightened through the fact that she holds no detail of a story untold, no matter how embarrassing it may be. However, what I find most amazing about Everything I Know About Love  is how Dolly Alderton manages to be so honest and open, without being self-deprecating: she simply tells her story, as objectively as one might be able to tell their own story. She doesn’t rely on self-mockery to protect herself, but rather appears to accept everything that happens as part and parcel of growing up and becoming the woman she is today.

I loved the ongoing narrative of Dolly and her friend Farly, as I felt that it truly represented a relationship with a childhood friend- though they might not be directly involved with every event in your life, they are very much still there in the background. I loved the chapters-between-chapters in which she shares her favourite recipes and bullet points why one should/ not have a boyfriend because they really just felt like a friend opening up to you and sharing their been-there-done-that tips.

Everything I Know About Love is also incredibly positive in the way that it does not end with a fairytale resolution, but rather a very real situation that almost everyone could identify with, even if they have managed to find their fairytale. But again, what makes this great is that Dolly doesn’t seem bitter, or embarrassed or upset about this situation, she just tells it and accepts it, a more refreshing and hopeful outlook than we are so commonly faced with in the modern day media. This book tells us that it is perfectly healthy to still be growing and working on yourself, no matter your age, and that no one should settle for less than they are happy with.

I would wholeheartedly recommend Everything I Know About Love , whether or not you are already a fan of Dolly’s. The whole way through I felt that it was just a celebration of growing up and learning more about yourself as you go through life, which made the entire read a completely positive experience from start to finish- a possible explanation for the fact that I read it in just two days!

Oliver Twist- Charles Dickens

Now, we all know the story of Oliver Twist, so I cannot pretend that this week’s review will be anything ground-breaking. However, I must admit that this is the first time that I have actually sat down to read the Dickens novel. I am unsure (and a little embarrassed) how, as a literature student (aged 21), and Dickens lover, I have managed to overlook this novel until now. Better late than never, I suppose…

Oliver Twist is classic Dickens- hearty and thorough writing, that absolutely brings the characters to life. He does this through both explicit character description, and allowing each character to display their own personality through their speech, accent and dialect. As a result of this, it is really easy to remember who is who, even though there are, relatively, quite a few characters. I love that Dickens situates his narratives so firmly in their location, constantly mentioning the geography, which allows the reader to really follow the narrative, on both a plot and geographical level.

I must admit that I was expecting to feel more sympathetic for Oliver than Dickens necessarily guides a reader to be, which actually makes for an interesting read. Also, in not pitying Oliver at every moment, it allowed me to be more perceptive of other characters and the action in general.

As with the majority of Dickens’ works, Oliver Twist is a very dark novel, and I can almost imagine the Victorian-style lighting under which all of this action is taking place, which makes the sense of threat and fear all the more apparent. What’s more, though Oliver Twist may be one of Dickens’ shorter works, it is by no means any rich in detail and action- in fact, there is something to be taken from every page.

Even though I was already familiar with the general narrative, I was not aware of the small Dickensian details and nuances of Oliver Twist, and reading this novel was an absolute pleasure of the occasion to do just that. If you are looking to get into Dickens, or Victorian literature as a whole, Oliver Twist is the perfect place to begin!

Winter’s Fairytale- Maxine Morrey

It is fair to say that final year of university is taking its toll. It is intense, and I am feeling more stressed than I had ever imagined, so I decided that anything I would be reading for pleasure needed to be lighthearted and cheerful. Given that Christmas is approaching, though it can be hardly tell from the confines of the library, I decided that Winter’s Fairytale could be precisely the type of book I could do with reading!

 

The story might not begin well for Izzy, who has pretty much every bride’s nightmare happen to her, but her luck definitely picks up along the way. Not only does her luck in love change, the story of it happening is filled with heart-warming humour….made even better by the fact that the narrative is set in the run up to Christmas.

I would describe the atmosphere in Winter’s Fairytale as cosy- as horrible as that word might be. This is only because there is so much of a contrast between what really isn’t cosy- being gilted at the altar, getting stuck outside in the snow, and Izzy’s less than homely flat- and the safe, happy spaces that Izzy actually ends up in: Rob’s apartment, the New Year’s Eve party etc. This cosiness definitely contributes to the festive feel of this narrative!

The characters don’t have an awful lot of depth, but that doesn’t seem to matter in this story. The small amount of background information we do gain about each character isn’t all that relevant when all we want, as a reader, is for Izzy and Rob to just get together. Somehow the Christmas magic seems to more than make up for the (perhaps too) convenient resolution of problems within the narrative.

On the same lines of characters, it struck me that Rob’s family feature so heavily, yet Izzy’s really aren’t mentioned a lot. I suppose this might have been a way of highlighting her need for ‘rescuing’, but it might have been interesting to learn more about them- especially towards the end when things looked like they were working out for Izzy.

I think it’s important to mention that, though the protagonist might not have the best luck, we definitely aren’t made to pity her in a Bridget Jones kind of way. Instead, we get the impression that she is really prepared to look after herself, and that she is prepared to make it on her own if she need to. At the same time, though, we do want nothing more than for her to give up her pride.

Winter’s Fairytale is definitely a girly light-hearted light read, which is by no means a bad thing! I couldn’t wait until my bus journeys, just so that I could become a part of the heartwarming story for a little bit longer. I like that the ending is satisfying, but still leaves a little to the reader’s imagination, as it prevents it from appearing a little too obvious. This is most definitely the perfect book to read on the sofa with a hot chocolate as you begin to wind down for Christmas!

How I Lost You- Jenny Blackhurst

On first appearances, How I Lost You ticked all the right boxes: a gripping thriller with a twist.

For the first few pages, I did feel a little confused. I couldn’t quite comprehend who was narrating, and why there were different names floating about..but now I realise that this might have been intended, reflecting the confusion that Susan feels herself.

This confusion meant I didn’t quite understand whether or not I was supposed to identify with Susan, and I held her at quite a distance for the majority of the narrative. In fact, I felt quite ambivalent towards all of the characters in How I Lost You and I was never sure if all was exactly what it seemed, or if they all had ulterior motives. This is by no means a criticism. It was actually very interesting to be kept on tenterhooks as to who could be trusted and who could not.

I think Blackhurst’s use of the parallel narrative, focusing on certain events in the past, was really useful in adding extra depth to the plot in a much more sophisticated way than characters simply discussing the past. It was also quite satisfying in the way that it acted as a tool with which I could start to decode the book’s present and gauge how to react to and understand certain things that are referred to.

Though the main premise of the narrative is a constant theme, and the driving force behind everything that unfolds in the plot, there are also a number of other key themes, which I suppose reflects the real-life nature of the book. Or, at least as real-life as something like this can be….

My criticism would be that the resolution seems to unfold a little too conveniently, with everyone involved only too ready to help, and those who are guilty too easily let off. Having said this, the narrative does end on a semi-cliffhanger, and does leave a lot to be explained which, I suppose, does leave room for further problems to arrive, even if they aren’t addressed directly.

I certainly would recommend How I Lost You, particularly if you are looking for a book that doesn’t necessarily tell you how to feel from the start, and want to work things out for yourself!

This Modern Love- Will Darbyshire

I had been meaning to read this book for a while, but it somehow always got overtaken on my to-read list.  However, after spotting it on my friend’s bookshelf, I decided to prioritise it.  I had no excuse not to.

I had read about This Modern Love, and was incredibly intrigued by the book’s inspiration: Darbyshire’s unluckiness in love and, when I first began reading, it was great to see that, in spite of his bad experiences, he hadn’t given up on love. Instead, Darbyshire was on a quest to learn all about the beauty of love in the rest of the world.

The introduction and various other explanations throughout the book definitely added to how heartwarming it was. It allowed me to appreciate the book as more than just a collection of different letters, and as a result of someone’s vision and hard work. What’s also great is that Darbyshire uses his online presence to create something as tangible and concrete as this book. Using his online presence and global audience, Darbyshire was able to target, and curate letters, from such a wide spectrum of people, meaning there are a variety of different viewpoints in the book. I thought the question about how technology impacted relationships, for better or for worse was important, given that this book was only possible as a result of these people using technology. The answers to this question were equally interesting, as even those who said it had a positive effect recognised its potentially damaging nature. I suppose I had never considered this before. I mean, I know that our contemporary reliance on technology is not necessarily the best thing for us as humans but, considering that it has facilitated my long-distance relationship for the past five years makes it difficult to say much bad about.

I thought it was interesting that the contents page divides the narrative simply into ‘beginning’, ‘middle’ and ‘end’, framing this as a story in its most simple terms, and recognising that love can have and end, sometimes on good terms and sometimes on not so good terms. Of course, Darbyshire did have control over the ‘narrative’ as he selected which letters were to be included, but he did not edit the ones he chose. I suppose, in this way, This Modern Love reminded me a little of PostSecret, except that most participants chose to disclose their names, which I think added to how heartwarming these stories were as they weren’t ashamed of the intense love they felt.

I found myself smiling constantly as I was reading. Of course, some of the letters were sad, but the majority of them were largely positive. Not only did I feel privileged to be let in on the candid love and happiness of these people, it also gave me hope that there is quite so much love in this world that is so infamously terrible at times.

The inclusion of images, as well as singular words to describe love, that punctuate the collection of letters demonstrate the many ways in which love can be expressed, yet sometimes not articulated.

I would definitely encourage anyone to read This Modern Love. There are few things more endearing than learning about why other people love each other so much, and I know that I will pick the book up again in the future. Perhaps I wouldn’t read it again from start to finish, but I will definitely flick through it when I am in need of something to make me smile.

 

Love & Gelato- Jenna Evans Welch

I chose Love & Gelato without even reading the description. The title was enough for me : summery and playful. I presumed this book would simply be about falling in love in Italy, without much else to the narrative, but I was pleasantly surprised. You needn’t be put off by what some might describe a ‘sickly sweet’ title (pardon the pun, given the gelato reference), as it’s not all about romantic love, there’s something a little deeper in there, too.

I like Lina, the main character, because she doesn’t fall into any stereotypical categories of teenage girl. Rather than being delighted to spend her summer in Tuscany, dreaming of catching a killer tan and finding herself a gorgeous Italian husband, Lina couldn’t be less fussed. It’s very clear that she’s only there because it was her late mother’s dying wish, but she’d really rather be at home.  During the narrative, she’s wary about everything that comes her way,  rather than jumping at the chance to go to the parties she is invited to, she considers her option. This whole attitude is quite refreshing and it makes her character seem more realistic, as she doesn’t fit into a cookie cutter category.

In fact, the author seems to have a gift for creating characters, as each with a major role in the narrative really did feel real and relatable, and I had no problems with creating mental images of them, or their voices. Her trick seemed to be not overloading, as each character serves a real purpose, and each get their own ‘screen time’, so to speak, However, I do feel that I would like to learn more about them, and spend more time with each character, so I definitely would be interested in a sequel.

Soon after arriving, a couple of things happen that, though she might not realise at the time, change her entire opinion on staying in Italy. The most important of which is her mother’s journal, which helps her on the quest to find her father- a journey which is not quite as smooth or romantic as one might hope or imagine. The journal is a great narrative technique that allows us to learn about Lina’s mother and hear her voice, without her having a real presence in the narrative. This makes it easier for the reader to make judgements later on in the book, where her honesty is questioned.

Though Lina’s such a likeable character, and I really did want the best for her for the entirety of the book, the ‘bumps in the road’ did make for a better read. I was unsure of how the story would resolve itself, and was pleased to see it perhaps wasn’t what I might have imagined from the beginning.

Love & Gelato kept me interested from start to finish. Perhaps not because it was the most complicated story, but instead because the characters all seemed so genuine, and I cared about what was in store for them. The great thing about this book is that it explores love on multiple levels, and ends with an important lesson about what love can mean (on more than a romantic level). I don’t have any criticisms of Love & Gelato, it was just the sort of heartwarming book I love.

The Husband’s Secret- Liane Moriarty

The Husband’s Secret  was recommended to me by a friend, and she told me I wouldn’t want to put it down. I couldn’t wait to read it, as I was in need of a real page-turner. I have to say, my friend wasn’t wrong. I loved this book, and my only regret is that I couldn’t read it sooner because life got in the way!

One of the things I liked about the book, oddly, was that it was set in Australia. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book with this as the main setting, and it was enjoyable to read something a little different. For the most part, of course, I wouldn’t have noticed that it wasn’t set in the UK or America, but somehow knowing made the world of difference. I also liked the multi-narrative aspect of the book, as it meant I could appreciate the narrative from different points of view. Though I must admit, I probably would have liked for there to have been some parts from the men’s points of view, as it was very much a female oriented narrative.

The book’s title makes it obvious that there is a bombshell to be announced at some point, though it is not clear until further into the narrative who it is that has this secret. I thought the way Moriarty broke it to the reader was very smooth, and potentially realistic, likewise was his wife’s reaction ( I don’t want to mention names, because it really does give everything away!). Until the very end of the narrative, it is unclear as to how the couple are going to recover from the discovery, and it certainly didn’t end the way I imagined it would.

My favourite part of the entire book, however, was actually the epilogue. This surprised me as I’m not usually a big fan of these; I usually find epilogues a bit of a pointless addition. However, because the actual narrative ended in media res , the epilogue was a great way of tying the whole story together and its characters together- it’s not completely clear how all of them are connected until the epilogue. It certainly added more depth to the characters, and intensified the sense of tragedy surrounding events in the narrative.

I would definitely recommend The Husband’s Secret to anyone looking for a new page turner! It would make the perfect holiday book, as you just want to keep on reading. I think the book perfectly portrayed how the desire to keep up appearances can affect an individual and their family life. A great read!

Flash- Tim Tigner

From the very first page of Flash  I was hooked. The situation the Troy and Emmy, the main characters, are in is just so unlike anything I have read before. They wake up in an abandoned car covered in blood next to a dead policeman, with no idea as to why. The mystery and bizarreness (is that even a word?!) had me wanting to read more. I wanted to find out why they had no idea who they why and why they were in that care.

However, this wasn’t the only type of discovery in the novel. Yes, Troy and Emmy were on a quest to discover who they were and what had happened to them, at the same time that the police were trying to discover who they were as their unfortunate situation frames them as criminals, and forces them to continue committing crimes in order to try to learn the truth about their memory loss. This idea that anything or anyone could be discovered at any moment meant that tension was high as the novel’s pace did not slow down.

What I liked about the characters is that they weren’t immediately superheroes, ready to accept their fate. Like ‘realistic’ people, they took time to adjust to their new lives, and to their relationship with one another. They don’t immediately get on- understandably given the circumstances in which they meet one another- but it is  this that adds to the suspense of the story: how will and why should their attitudes change?

Flash is very much a ‘just a few more pages’ type of book, which meant that I devoured it in a matter of hours, and I’m glad I had the ability to do so, as I would have otherwise feared that the narrative would have carried on without me and left me behind. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone in search of suspense and mystery without clichés