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!

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!

The Good Samaritan- John Marrs

It’s fair to say that this book’s description does not do it justice. I imagined that it would be dark, and with that I imagined tension. However, I hadn’t quite imagined how dark or tense The Good Samaritan would be, and I was pleasantly surprised- if anything can be pleasant about such a dark subject…

For the first few pages it is difficult to imagine the action that might follow later in the plot, and it seems that Laura might actually be a good samaritan. But it doesn’t take long to realise that this isn’t true, and her worryingly sadistic tendencies become more and more apparent the more you read on. Even when you begin to learn possible explanations for Laura’s difficult-to-understand pleasures, it is hard to feel sorry for her because she is so relentless. It is not just that she doesn’t see what she is doing is wrong, she truly believes it is acceptable and justified. This is frustrating, but it is also great to read a book in which you are supposed to detest the protagonist, and that I did.

When I say that Laura is relentless, I mean it wholeheartedly. Nothing and no one will get in the way of her quest to help, or rather encourage, people to die. I certainly thought that she would meet her maker at numerous points in the narrative, but it seems that when someone has so little to lose, they have no fear. For the entirety of the narrative I was sure I had figured out what was going to happen, reformulating the possibilities and getting it wrong every time. In fact, even at the end of the book, it isn’t entirely certain that she face the consequences of what she has done.

The further I read, the more The Good Samaritan held my attention, as I truly feared what might happen next. It becomes clear that Laura isn’t simply obsessed with the idea of people dying, but of being in control and having the upper hand. It seems that she has no mercy, and is even prepared to utilise her children as a tool to assert her power. This intense desperation still didn’t make me pity her, I just hated her more. The book is filled with injustice, which makes for a frustrating narrative and also pushed me to keep reading out of desperation to see justice served.

I liked that Marrs made the dual narratives intertwine as it helped to highlight the differences in how a sane person interprets the situation, and how Laura understands what is happening. However, it did this in a clever way that didn’t always simply tell two identical scenes from different perspectives, but rather added reflections and comments into each narrative to acknowledge the event.

The Good Samaritan made me question how genuine everyone working at helplines, such as the fictional End of the Line might be. Though you’d like to think that someone as dangerous as Laura would not slip through the net, it definitely made me consider that people might not work for such charities for the right reason: something I had never thought about before.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone that enjoys drama and tension. While there aren’t any mysteries to be discovered, I became so invested in the need for justice that I could barely put the book down. The Good Samaritan is one of the best books I have read in a while, and I will be sure to check out some of Marrs other works!

The Toy Breaker- Roy Chester

After recently watching (by watching, I mean devouring in a couple of days) Broadchurch and absolutely loving it (late to the bandwagon, I know), I’ve been desperately searching for books and other television shows that follow the same sort of theme that would satisfy by need of a gripping drama until the next series is released. At a first glance, Roy Chester’s The Toy Breaker  would seem to do the trick. On the Kindle Store, the title was followed with “A gripping crime thriller with a stunning ending”, so I couldn’t wait to get reading.

The start was promising, and so was the idea of the narrative: a serial killer has a specific type of victim and has a signature calling card to mark that it was them. I also thought that the idea that the police following the investigation called in the help of a psychologist, as it would  help to add another level to the discovery of the killer, rather than simple black and white evidence. I also liked the fact that the narrative was set in England, I find that it makes dramas and thrillers (whether that be on TV or in books) more haunting, because it’s closer to home.

The further I read, the more I wanted to read. I became genuinely interested in who it was that might be committing the crimes, and enjoyed watching the investigation of the case progress, as the police managed to deduct what type of person it might be, to who it couldn’t be, to who it was. In fact, for the majority of the novel, I would say that I was hooked, and would agree with the description that the novel as “gripping”.

However, it is the end of the description that I struggle to agree with. As the plot unraveled, I was intrigued as to why there was still evidence counting against the guilty suspect. However, I can’t say I was entirely convinced by the final explanation for this counter-evidence, and found the end of the novel a bit odd, if I’m honest. Of course, anyone wanting to kidnap children is hardly mentally stable, but I didn’t expect this specific issues to come about, and neither did I believe it did the rest of the story, which was actually very good, justice.

Having said this, I wouldn’t discourage people from reading The Toy Breaker, but I would advise you to take the description with a pinch of salt. Yes, it was “gripping”, but I felt let down by the “stunning ending” that was promised.

 

 

While My Eyes Were Closed- Linda Green

Aware of the wide range of different books now available on the Amazon Kindle Store, and in need of something new to read, I decided I would consult it for my next choice. Not only was While My Eyes Were Closed in the general bestsellers list, it also occupied first place in the free books and its description sounded great- after Gone Girl, I quite liked the idea of another book that featured a disappearance.

 

The narrative was fairly straightforward and the situation of the disappearance fairly feasible: mother and daughter play in the park, mother turns her back and the daughter hurts herself. The daughter insists she can continue playing and, of course, that is where everything changes. I never found myself blaming Lisa for her daughter’s disappearance, but I kept changing my mind as to whether I was supposed to as so many of the characters seemed to have at least thought about it.

 

A few pages in, I was hooked, and the multiple narrators definitely played a part in this. I found Lisa to be easy to identify with, she is confident and headstrong, but emotional when she needs to be, and is, most importantly, always honest with the reader. Muriel, and her narrative was infuriating, yet I still couldn’t bear to put the book down, with the irrational worry that I would miss something important. I was desperate for her to either slip up and be found out, or to realise that she had done wrong and confess all, but the narrative kept me hanging, actually meaning that I devoured the entire book in one Sunday when I really should have been revising.

 

What I liked about the book was Green’s undeniable ability to create real, living characters. After being introduced to each, it was easy to paint a clear image in my head and I could assimilate each one of them to at least someone I know. Green’s ability to create tension is also great; everytime the phone rings I shared Lisa and Alex’s anxiety for what news Claire had to deliver. It was also interesting that almost all of the named characters had a particular role to play in the narrative, even if they at first seemed a mere attempt to bulk to the story out. This means that characters linked up in ways you may not expect to begin with, unravelling the story further.

 

The inclusion of British popular culture, such as the BBC and The Sun, were little touches that made a big difference to the narrative. In making direct references to these media sources, the story was really brought to life, given that people encounter them everyday and can only imagine how it must feel to be a feature of them. I probably would not have minded if they were replaced with fictional alternatives, but their presence was definitely a positive addition.

 

However, there are a few things that were disappointing in the While My Eyes Were Closed. Firstly, Matthew’s narration seemed somewhat half-hearted. I understand that his point of view would be difficult to portray in any way other than a diary, but given that his voice was only given a handful of chapters, we learned very little from him than the very basics that held the plot together. Whilst, in terms of narrative progression, this did what it needed to, it did seem a little rushed. In the same vein, towards the end some parts felt rushed, or underdeveloped. For example, when Muriel is standing ‘on the edge’ with Ella- such a big build up is made with a very underwhelming decision against what she plans and we are left with no insight as to why and how her mind changes so quickly.

 

The book also ends on a cliffhanger, which is satisfying in parts and frustrating in the other. Given that almost the entire narrative is based on the investigation into Ella’s disappearance, it seems natural that we will finish with a conclusion, but we are left almost in media res. Perhaps it is my personal preference, but I would like to have been given the eventual situation, given that it would have been impossible for the culprit to go unpunished.

 

With all considered, I have mixed feelings about Green’s ebook. I would definitely recommend it to others because of the intensity of the majority of the story, and the fact that I couldn’t finish each page quick enough to learn what would happen on the next, but I would definitely warn them about the end- just one more chapter, perhaps told from the future, would have been enough to satisfy me!