Book Review: “A Game For All The Family” by Sophie Hannah

A_gameThe best way I can think to describe this book is that it’s a twisted mind-bending psychological thriller that logically make sense in a very illogical way. I know, lot of vague twisty words to use in a book review but this is exactly how I felt after reading it. Masterfully written, couldn’t have come up with a fresher take on a plot for a mystery novel, ultimately it is the best book I have read in a year. If you refuse to let your brain accept or process the truth you may either be a crazy person or just a brilliantly sick pathological liar. Which one is Anne Donbavand? This, my friends is the thrilling quagmire Sophie Hannah puts us in as her heroine Justine Merrison races desperately against time to figure out, in a deadly game of I won’t say cat and mouse ‘cause that’s too clichéd but something of the kind . As Justine, Ellen (her precocious teenage daughter), Alex (the adorable wisecrack of a husband) and Olwen (an unlikely but priceless character as a Bedlington dog breeder) try to put the puzzle pieces together, we are taken on a flashback to visit the spooky history of the Ingrey family that lived in Speedwell House (interestingly as a story written by Ellen for her 9th grade essay assignment). The same house that Justine and her family has unwittingly moved into to set the whole drama in motion. Creepy phone calls that end with threats to leave or else…., a fresh hole dug in the backyard just the right proportions to fit Justine, and the badge suspiciously hung on their dog Figgy that has the address of their old home in London, all add to create the tense eerie atmosphere, a fan of thrillers so very much craves. What is real and what is an elaborately crafted screenplay created by Anne Donbavand is for us and Justine to figure out. All the while with the question of what happened to Perrine Ingrey (from Ellen’s story within the story) hanging over our heads.  I’ll leave you with my favorite line– “A false secret is the worst kind of lie. Swear you won’t tell anyone this thing I am telling you that isn’t true – or else you’ll soon find out I’m manipulating you. Swear you’ll keep it to yourself and never check the facts with anyone else, especially not anyone more honest than me.” So if it is a lie disguised as the truth that Anne Donbavand is telling George, her son and all of us. What happens then if you start playing the same game? As Justine intends to do. “How does a liar who’s also a control freak react when someone else, a stranger, opens up her lie and climbs right in to pretend it’s the truth? Suddenly she’s got an uninvited co-conspirator – what would she do then?” This is THE must must read book of the year! 2 thumbs way up!

(Image credit: amazon.com)

Book Review: “In a Dark, Dark Wood” by Ruth Ware

InADarkDarkWoodTruthfully going in to this book, I was expecting the next Gone Girl. Given how it’s been on best seller lists for months and finding it always checked out at the library, I had built this hype up in my head to have finally found the fix to my Gone Girl withdrawal. So..I was a tad disappointed. But and that’s a big but, In a Dark, Dark Wood is an excellently written, thoroughly engaging mystery. When six friends converge at a hen party (called a Bachelorette party in our neck of the wood, no pun intended) for “an erstwhile Amy’esque” Clare, no less at a remote cabin in the English countryside, no one expects in their wildest dreams for a few to not make it out alive. After all this was to be a wild, fun weekend. A last hurrah before the momentous I do’s. Except, all is not what it seems, the goings-on compounded by the fact that our protagonist (Lee) Nora looks to have had a very troubled past with her once upon a time BFF, Clare. Add in a dash of Tom (Clare’s acquaintance from the theatre scene), Flo (Clare’s eccentric but worships her to a fault friend) and Nina (Clare’s friend from a past life; a doctor that takes no prisoners) to the mix, and you’ve got yourself one enticing, nail biting story line. There is also Melanie (another friend also invited for the weekend to the hen) but I think the author could have thrown her character in, to be more of a red herring than to add to the plot line. At the crux of all this is “James”, Clare’s fiancé, and in an effort to keep this free of spoilers, I’ll say is the “proof in the pudding”. The book chronicles the events of a weekend around the hen party that ends with disastrous consequences. What I liked most, are the well thought out settings and character traits, which only add to deepen the suspense as the story builds to a climax. The fact that the cabin is all glass, and the woods being pitch black around, remind Nora of actors on stage that are shone upon by the spotlight, with the audience fading into the dark shadows. Clare, the statuesque blond to Nora’s plain girl demeanor, gives us an inkling of a feeling familiar. What would’ve made it better? I think, slicker plot twists and faster pace. Because once you get to the later part of the book, the answer seems pretty transparent to even the novice mystery reader, and that takes away from some of the thrill and anticipation that has been building up. Now, you can’t wait for it to be over. Nora’s internal monologues could have been trimmed to some extent and her inability to see the obvious grates on you. Similar to the ostrich, that buries it’s head in the sand and refuses to look at the danger lurking nearby. For the most part, the narrative does give you a feeling of a monumental twist that is just round the corner, and all you have to do is hold on long enough. It only goes to say how phenomenal Ruth Ware’s writing is, that even after knowing “Who Dunn It”, I was still expecting her to pull the rug out from under me. Though a predictable ending, In a Dark, Dark Wood puts you on edge way past the half way point. And that is no mean feat in my opinion.

The lowdown: 3 1/2 of 5.  Keeping my eyes peeled for what more this author has cooking for us.

(image via amazon.com)

Book Review: “Terms and Conditions” by Robert Glancy

 

termsWhat makes “Terms and Conditions” such an enjoyable read?
a. It’s extremely funny
b. It’s full of heart
c. It’s very uplifting
d. All of the above

Answer d. All of the above

In the most brilliant use of footnotes ever, “Terms and Conditions” by Robert Glancy is a remarkable début and a thoroughly joyful read. An uplifting story about second chances and not letting life pass you by. It’s about grabbing it by the horns and riding it all the way into the sunset. When not being funny, it’s warm and thoughtful, like cold vanilla ice cream topped with hot chocolate fudge. Reading it “Made my heart grow big”. I’d almost compare it to “Delicacy” by David Foenkinos, one of my all-time favorite books. If I am running out of praises for this book, it’s because I cannot put into words how much I have enjoyed reading it. Five out of five stars. Kudos Robert Glancy, I’d like some more.

(image via amazon.com http://www.amazon.com/Terms-Conditions-Novel-Robert-Glancy/dp/1620406438)

The smart things…and the dumb things

I was helping my son with third grade math homework yesterday and one of the questions on it was “Which one is heavier, one pound of feathers or one pound of books?” This is when my grey cells normally kick into gear. Well, in this case they didn’t because I went with “Of course, it’s the books”. My son pauses for a second, then says “Actually mom, this is a trick question. They would both be the same. ‘Cause they are both one pound, there’d just be more feathers than books”. Of course not in those same words but in his third grade lingo with lot of ‘but’s’ and ‘um’s’ weaved in. When he said that though, I think I had a minor epiphany. A revelation of sorts. My son is really good at math, but the bit he’s not good with is explaining the reasoning behind his answer, which I am good at. In other words, he is good with numbers and I am good with words. We are all smart at some things and dumb at some. Maybe the essence of life is to work on the dumb things, and try to get better at those. If we can do them a little better than we do today, the smart side of us will take care of the rest. Maybe that is what growing as a human is all about. Agree?

Book review : “The Circle” by Dave Eggers

 

CircleIf “Her” showed us how companionship with computers can be, “The Circle” by Dave Eggers describes how we maybe already half way there. Albeit “The Circle” tackles a slightly more specific issue of how, a brilliant but relentlessly pervasive internet technology company ( The Circle) is ever evading the privacy of an ordinary Joe, that is not obsessed or fascinated by the power of the internet or social media. Metaphorically speaking, “The Circle” is very much like the story of “The Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf”, the hope being that we find that smart little third pig sooner than later. The one who will be able to withstand the real revolution that is the Internet, or at least be smart enough to use it to his or her advantage.

I’ve have heard of people choosing, maybe even wanting (desperately) to live off the radar, and I thought why in the world would they want to do that. What would we do without constant access to texting, emailing, facebook’ing, instagram ‘ing, what’s app’ing, twitter’ing and whatever the next big thing is. How could we live, could we live? If there is one book that has radically altered my view of the internet and digital landscape it is this one. “The Circle” shows you exactly how tethering close we are to the brink of collapse, to the edge of madness, to the border of insanity, and to the total loss of privacy. Does it sound darkly dystopian? It is. I am convinced our future really is. One quote in the book, that caught my attention and in my mind is the essence of Egger’s message, is this (said in Mae Holland, the book’s protagonist’s words)

“If there is a locked door, I start to make up all kinds of stories about what might be behind it. I feel like it’s some kind of a secret. And it leads me to making up lies. But if all doors are open, physically and metaphorically, there’s only one truth”.

No secrets means no lies. No closed doors means only one truth. The bigger question is are we ready for this truth? Are we ready to put ourselves out there, for everyone to know what we are doing, why we are doing it and what we are thinking as we are doing it. Are we ready to be completely transparent to the world around us?  Only time will tell.

If you want to understand what the internet is doing to the world, “The Circle” is definitely the book for you and if you don’t want to touch another computer or smartphone again, I wouldn’t blame you.

(image via goodreads.com)

Book review: “Sharp Objects” by Gillian Flynn

sharpFresh off the heels of a movie, set in the not-so-distant-future (“Her”) it was back to a dose of reality with Gillian Flynn’s “Sharp Objects”. And, ’twas real and very dark. As reality sometimes is. I am constantly amazed by Gillian Flynn’s writing. Her mastery at dissecting the deepest darkest traits in us human beings and then skillfully going about describing them in a very detailed and precise way, is unparalleled. She has quickly become one of my favorite writers rivaling only Jo Nesbo. “Sharp Objects” follows the journey of Camille Preaker, an upcoming (mediocre at best)  journalist back to her (very small) hometown of Wind Gap, Mo. so she can write a piece on the intriguing happenings gripping town. As she gets pulled further and further into this web of bizzareness surrounding her, we, the readers learn of Camille’s vulnerabilities and the demons she has been battling all her life (insert cutter here, among other things). This is where Flynn’s writing really shines through. She can get us to detest and at the same time feel very sorry for Camille, the irony being, compared to some of the other characters in the book, Camille is really one of the tamer ones. Adora and Amma’s characters are enough to make your stomach roil leave alone the kind of things they do. The plot is superbly executed keeping the reader guessing to the end. One some level, I believe we all have flaws, that dark side we keep secret. We fight the eternal battle of good vs evil, albeit it is sometimes all in our head. Only few of us though, will admit to it. Like Camille Preaker. This description from “goodreads” perfectly sums it up (WICKED above her hipbone, GIRL across her heart). Kudos Gillian Flynn! Highly recommend this book if you are a fan of dark mysteries.

(image and source for quote via goodreads.com http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/66559.Sharp_Objects)

Movie Review: “Her”

The movie “Her” comes pretty close to describing how the world might look like in 20 years. Screen Shot 2014-04-06 at 5.26.34 PMThe day can’t be far away when we start viewing a computer not just an enabler, but as a soul mate. The idea seems revolutionary, but in some ways aren’t we already there?
With the majority of jobs nowadays tailored around it, and us being constantly connected on the go with our smartphones and tablets, it is not very hard to imagine a day when our lives are completely intertwined, if not run, by a computer. But can it go so far as having an intimate relationship with one? This is where I could not comprehend how Theodore or Amy could find such a thing perfectly acceptable. “Her”, Samantha is real and perceptive, someone I wish I had in my life as a best friend but would she be a replacement for human contact? I think not. The more we lean towards a computer to fill the void in our lives, the more we isolate ourselves from fellow human beings. Don’t we already hide behind our smartphones, so we don’t have to make awkward conversations with other parents at our kids soccer practice? I know I do. It’s an easy out. But to take that to a new level by having a relationship with an OS, because we feel a connection to it, is something else entirely. The direction is superb and Joaquin Phoenix is a force to reckon with, but the movie “Her” left me feeling a little less human.

(Image via imdb.com)

 

Book review : “The Secret Keeper”

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My coworker and I had picked this book as part of our book club read and it turned out to be a tad denser than I expected. An intriguing storyline and the curiosity to find out what happens next kept me going and I wasn’t disappointed. A hundred few pages though would have done miracles to this book in my opinion. The interesting narrative, well thought out characters and beautiful descriptions of the countryside get a little lost in all the words. I loved the fact though that the “Secret” is revealed to the reader at the beginning (the basic premise being that Lauren witnesses something when she was a child, an incident that her mother had kept secret and carries with her to her deathbed with much regret), and does not have you guessing till the middle or worse till the end. The story told in alternate perspectives of Lauren, Dorothy, Vivien and Jimmy spanning a few decades is captivating and those that forge on to the end are rewarded with an excellent plot twist.

(image via amazon.com)