Two Crime Book Reviews

Ruth WareIn A Dark , Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Series or Standalone?: Standalone
Genre: Adult Fiction, Mystery, Crime, Thriller
Publication Date: 31st December 2015
Publisher: Vintage
Source & Format: Purchased, Paperback
Check it out on Goodreads!
Rating: ★★★

Nora hasn’t seen Clare for ten years. Not since the day Nora walked out of her old life and never looked back.

Until, out of the blue, an invitation to Clare’s hen party arrives. A weekend in a remote cottage – the perfect opportunity for Nora to reconnect with her best friend, to put the past behind her.

But something goes wrong. Very wrong. And as secrets and lies unravel, out in the dark, dark wood the past will finally catch up with Nora.

This was such a quick read for me, and was so much fun. I’m not typically one to read crime/thriller novels, so In A Dark, Dark Wood felt a little like venturing into uncharted territory for me, but I’m certainly glad that I gave it a chance as I ended up enjoying it much more than I first anticipated.

The novel follows Nora, a crime writer who, after ten years of no communication receives an invitation to her ex best friend’s hen party, to be held in a remote house in the countryside. Suspicious and torn as to whether she should accept, Nora eventually decides to pack her bags and give it a go in the name of repairing an broken friendship – and, of course, she lives to regret it.

One of the greatest things about the book is the sinister and creepy atmosphere that Ware manages to conjure up so well. The cold and strange glass house in the middle of the woods felt like the perfect setting for the crime that plays out, and was very reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, which I very much enjoyed. However, the plot felt extremely unrealistic, Nora as our protagonist had a tendency to be rather idiotic and the mystery was glaringly transparent. It seemed obvious to me who the killer was from early on in the book, and what their motive was, however this didn’t necessarily detract from my enjoyment of the book. I flew through it in just under 24 hours, and while I wasn’t reading on to gain any sort of explanation or for the mystery to be revealed, there was enough excitement and drama to keep me turning the pages.

In A Dark, Dark Wood was a quick, light and entertaining read that, while it wasn’t the best mystery/thriller I’ve ever read, still had me hooked until the last page. I think it would make a good introduction to the genre for anyone interested in reading more crime novels, and I’m already looking forward to the release of Ruth Ware’s upcoming novel, The Woman in Cabin 10, at the end of the month.

YouYou by Caroline Kepnes

Series or Standalone?: Series (You, #1)
Genre: Adult Fiction, Mystery, Crime, Thriller
Publication Date: 18th June 2015
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Ltd
Source & Format: Purchased, Paperback
Check it out on Goodreads!
Rating: ★★★★ 

When a beautiful, aspiring writer strides into the East Village bookstore where Joe Goldberg works, he does what anyone would do: he Googles the name on her credit card.

There is only one Guinevere Beck in New York City. She has a public Facebook account and Tweets incessantly, telling Joe everything he needs to know: she is simply Beck to her friends, she went to Brown University, she lives on Bank Street, and she’ll be at a bar in Brooklyn tonight—the perfect place for a “chance” meeting.

As Joe invisibly and obsessively takes control of Beck’s life, he orchestrates a series of events to ensure Beck finds herself in his waiting arms. Moving from stalker to boyfriend, Joe transforms himself into Beck’s perfect man, all while quietly removing the obstacles that stand in their way—even if it means murder.

I’m not quite sure how to accurately sum up my thoughts on this one. I loved it, and despite it’s length – just over 400 pages – again I flew through it in just a couple of days. But it’s dark and twisted and the characters are, quite simply, vile – yet I still couldn’t put it down. Caroline Kepnes well and truly messed with my head!

You is a psychological thriller told from the perspective of bookseller Joe, and follows his life as he meets, and consequently becomes obsessed with, one of his customers. After their chance meeting Joe works his way into Beck’s life, and as the two become romantically involved, it’s evident that Joe will do stop at nothing to make Beck his. It’s a disturbing premise, particularly in a world where our use of social media means that it’s so easy for someone to learn about each and every aspect of our lives that we share online, and some scenes were pretty difficult to read. You pushed me out of my comfort zone and explored some very dark themes, and I appreciated that it opened my eyes to these topics, however after a while I did find it a little difficult to keep reading. As we are reading from Joe’s perspective, which was very intense, and after a while I found myself not wanting to be in his head anymore. I had to keep putting the book down and stepping away for a while, because it just got a little too much.

That being said, the compelling plot line and addicting narrative kept me coming back for more, and overall I vert much enjoyed the novel. Kepnes’ writing is incredible, and the real magic of the book is her ability to make the reader feel sympathy for Joe, a stalker and a murderer – yes, really. Twisted yet addictive, You is like nothing I’ve ever read before, and I really hope to get around to read the sequel, Hidden Bodies, in the not-too-distant future.

#EliotAlong

I have a confession to make.

Despite having owned this rather beautiful Penguin English Library edition of George Eliot’s Middlemarch for over three years now, not once have I made it past the first page. Shameful, I know – there are so many people out there that adore this 19th century British classic, and I’m sure that I would be one of them, if only I spent some time actually reading this somewhat gigantic tome! At over 800 pages, Middlemarch is rather intimidating, especially for someone usually very reluctant to give larger and longer books a go. That’s where the#EliotAlong, hosted by the lovely Bex from An Armchair By The Sea comes in!

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Monday 27th June – Sunday 7th August

Starting on Monday and lasting until the beginning of August, we’re going to be reading Middlemarch in chunks of around 14 chapters (130-150 pages) per week (the full schedule can be found here.) Every Monday, Bex will be posting about that week’s chapters over on her blog, and I’m really looking forward to joining in and discussing the book with my fellow #EliotAlong readers! I am a little nervous – I mean, have you seen the size of it?! – but excited to get started too, and I do hope that I’ll be able to keep up!

If you’d like to join in, all of the sign-up information can be found here. The more the merrier! 

Two Tiny Book Reviews

How to become a writerHow To Become A Writer by Lorrie Moore

Series or Standalone?: Standalone
Genre: Nonfiction, Language/Writing, Short Stories
Publication Date: 2015
Publisher: Faber & Faber
Source & Format: Purchased, Paperback
Check it out on Goodreads!
Rating: ★★★★

‘How To Become a Writer’ is one of the stories in Lorrie Moore’s debut collection Self-Help.

Don’t let the title fool you, this is not the writing guide that you may mistake it for. No, this is one of Lorrie Moore’s short stories, previously published in her debut short-story collection, reissued in an adorable single edition format by Faber to celebrate the launch of Faber Modern Classics. I picked this up on a whim while placing an Amazon order, as it only cost a couple of pounds and the title and premise intrigued me. I’m not quite sure what I was expecting from this tiny 25-page volume, but Moore’s writing was surprisingly hilarious and it proved to be the quick, funny read that I was craving. Amusing in its honesty, the main thread of the plot is that the narrator decides that, if you’re writing you are a writer, regardless of what others think of you, and I found this to be rather reassuring! I’ll definitely be checking out more of Lorrie Moore’s work after reading this, and it was a wonderful place to begin before diving into her other work.

we should all be feministsWe Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Series or Standalone?: Standalone
Genre: Nonfiction, Feminism, Essay
Publication Date: 9th Octover 2014
Publisher: Fourth Estate
Source & Format: Purchased, eBook
Check it out on Goodreads!
Rating: ★★★★

A personal and powerful essay from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the bestselling author of ‘Americanah’ and ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’, based on her 2013 TEDx Talk of the same name.

Now, I’m not going to lie, I’m not very well educated when it comes to feminism. I’ve never really read much about the topic, or followed the debates – in all honestly, I’ve just sort of let the whole thing go over my head a little, and earlier this year I decided that was something that I wanted to change. I want to know more about this extremely important topic that effects women’s lives all over the globe, and while the other literature available on the topic seemed a little intimidating, Adichie’s short introduction based on her TEDx talk of the same name looked like the ideal place to begin. Adichie brings to the table a powerful yet simply written piece on feminism in an extremely accessible way, and, despite it’s length, it certainly has a greater impact than many of the longer novels I’ve read in a long time. The short, sharp and effective essay discusses gender equality, how and why it is a problem today and why it is so important without seeming preachy or patronizing in any way. Beautifully written and presented, Adichie’s words are of great importance and should be read by all, regardless of sex, age or nationality, and it’s message will stick with me for a long time.

A Reminder

Be Kind

Sometimes, when the world seems like a terrible and scary place, the only thing that we can do is to put some good back out there. Be the best that you can be today. Be kind.

Book Review: The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine ApplegateSeries or Standalone?: Standalone
Genre: Children’s Literature, Middle Grade
Publication Date: 17th January 2012
Publisher: HarperCollins
Source & Format: Purchased, Hardback
Check it out on Goodreads!
Rating: ★★★★★

Ivan is an easygoing gorilla. Living at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade, he has grown accustomed to humans watching him through the glass walls of his domain. He rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all.

Instead, Ivan thinks about TV shows he’s seen and about his friends Stella, an elderly elephant, and Bob, a stray dog. But mostly Ivan thinks about art and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color and a well-placed line.

Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Katherine Applegate blends humor and poignancy to create Ivan’s unforgettable first-person narration in a story of friendship, art, and hope.

My Thoughts

I’m not quite sure where to begin with this review. It’s always hardest to discuss the books that you love the most, so I’ll try to be as brief as I can, but all you really need to know is that this book completely exceeded my expectations. The One and Only Ivan is a beautiful, honest, heart-breaking novel that is bound to leave a gorilla-shaped imprint on your heart.

This award-winning children’s novel is based on the true story of a young silverback gorilla, taken from his home in Africa when his parents were ruthlessly poached, and then shipped, along with his sister, to a buyer in America. Not being able to cope with the fear and distress, Ivan’s sister passed away on the journey, leaving Ivan feeling abandoned, scared and alone. In The One and Only Ivan, the only things that make Ivan’s day better are Stella, Julia and Bob, the friends he has made at the mall where they are being held. When a baby elephant named Ruby arrives, Ivan watches painfully as he sees her former lively spirit slowly being extinguished. Ivan makes a silent promise to himself, and a friend of his, that he will protect Ruby and get her out of this cramped cage. He wants to give her a chance of freedom, something he can’t remember ever having himself.

“I like colourful tales with black beginnings and stormy middles and cloudless blue-sky endings. But any story will do.”

I fell in love with the kind, gentle Ivan and his wonderful friends. I was spellbound by Katherine’s riveting, enchanting poetic writing style, and the plot, both heart-breaking and heartwarming, had me hooked from the first chapter. The characters were so real and the writing so beautiful, and I adored how Katherine told the story from Ivan’s perspective. Sometimes animal stories that adopt this technique fall a little flat for me, but Katherine managed to capture Ivan’s voice, his hopes and dreams and fears, in a way that felt both realistic and uniquely magical. Ivan as a character is so open and honest about the things he has seen and witnessed, and I loved hearing an animal’s perspective on humanity, particularly on zoos, poaching and conservation. His story is one that is both haunting and inspiring, and really made me think a lot about the way animals are treated in this day and age. 

I’m not quite sure I’d ever be able to write a review that would do this book justice. Katherine Applegate has weaved together a haunting, beautiful story, filled with such vibrant, lovable characters that will forever hold a special place in my heart. The One and Only Ivan is a novel full to the brim with friendship, love, fierce loyalty that both broke my heart and put it back together again. An beautiful and important book to be enjoyed by both young and old, the tale of silverback Ivan shows us that even on the darkest of days, hope can always be found.

“A good zoo,” Stella said, “is a large domain. A wild cage. A safe place to be. It has room to roam and humans who don’t hurt.” She pauses, considering her words. “A good zoo is how humans make amends.”

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