Although the book fails to explain the origin of the title, E. Lockhart does manage to deliver an interesting twist in the tale with We Were Liars. It’s a shame that I saw it coming from a mile away but for those who have managed to remain oblivious, I will do my best to give the gist of the plot with no spoilers. The main character is this privileged girl called Cadence who appears to have fairly inconsequential problems. She is romantically interested in Gat, an Indian-American boy, who does not fit into the world inhabited by Cadence. Her family is so wealthy that they own a private island where she spends her summers with her cousins and outsider Gat. We Were Liars in spite of seeming like light hearted YA touches on themes of avarice, influence and materialism with a grim warning in its core. You expect a fun beach read but end up with a heavy-hitting fable.
The writing style is fragmented and chaotic all at once reminiscent of poetry. I know there are people who would hate this book because they would not be able to tolerate the artistic liberties taken by E. Lockhart in crafting her imagery and compelling narrative so creatively but surprisingly it didn’t bother me. What stood out most were the enthralling mini fairy tale retellings about the King’s daughters that mimicked the main storyline and paid homage to King Lear. Since the prose is executed so differently, it is something that requires an acquired taste. There are no shades of grey: you’ll either love it or hate it.
It seems that even Cadence is not privy to the secret the author is foreshadowing and unreliable as she has amnesia following a possible breakdown. The family surrounding her are full of deceit and that makes it hard to trust them to tell the truth about the upcoming big reveal. By the time we become aware of the big secret in We Were Liars, we can only be shocked by the plan that tragically backfired. Apparently this book has caught enough attention that there is a possibility of an upcoming film adaptation.
What struck me about Rachel Joyce’s debut novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry when I purchased it was that older characters are gaining momentum as protagonists in literary novels as I couldn’t help thinking of The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. After I finished it, my thoughts on the book changed because this felt more like a kindness of strangers story as it had no political symbolism.
Harold Fry is motivated to deliver in a letter in person after he hears from an old friend living in a hospice who once did him a big favour twenty years earlier. When Harold first plans to post a reply to the letter his intention is to go to the local postbox but the chance conversation he has with a girl prods him forward on his pilgrimage through the British countryside to his former saviour. As he walks, Harold starts to believe that his friend Queenie Hennessy will still manage to be there when he arrives.
Along the way Harold encounters various characters who could have been unkind but are not and finds serenity in the task at hand. He also develops the courage to come out of his shell in the absence of his wife Maureen who has so far regarded him as a defective spouse and father figure. In a cruel twist of fate, his wife, stunned by her husband’s abrupt departure and lacking a way of getting back in touch because he failed to take a cellphone, begins to desire his return home.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry has both good and bad points. I was really into the beginning of the book but as various hangers-on join Harold on his walk and the journey halfway becomes a full-fledged media circus, my interest waned. While I get this is a love story which addresses the rekindling of a marriage, the liberally applied sentimentality was not to my taste.
It took me several hours over all of four days to finish I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. Essentially the book is all about prey and predators of the human sort. Two characters stand out: the American intelligence agent and the Muslim fundamentalist. Who will emerge the victor?
It all begins with a fairly innocuous NYPD murder investigation in New York. The intelligence agent provides back story about how he got into the covert operations business and how he rose up the ranks after discovering evidence of treason when he was very young. Anyway the agent decides to shed the vestiges of his former life and become a regular person but beforehand he writes a book under an assumed name about investigative techniques. After this book comes into the possession of an American policeman heavily involved in the September 11 aftermath rescues, the cop and his wife decide to track down the agent for fun. Strangely their mission is successful and so the intelligence agent has to erase and re-write his past so he cannot be found again. Anyway the couple end up roping the agent into presenting at a seminar posing as the researcher for the book.
The other story is about a boy who saw his father publicly beheaded for criticising the Saudi royal family. Not having made it in time to witness the execution, the boy decides he will take revenge – not by striking out against Saudi Arabia but by going up against America which provides the nation with its wealth. Anyway this boy grows up to be known as the Saracen and comes up with a virulent strain of a biohazard and ingeniously devises a way of transporting his dangerous cargo to the US and to the people. There is a lot of back story of how on upon leaving his homeland, he joins a mosque and comes under a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood under an imam.
Anyway the intelligence agent is recruited to chase the Saracen to stop him from unleashing havoc at all costs. It leads him to a town in Turkey where he comes across a suspect that baffles him because she does not fit the profile he has. Anyway he makes the connection between the suspect and the Saracen and it is fortuitous that he does because when the climax goes down, he has a valuable bargaining chip.
Apart from the basic spy story above, there are other story arcs. The protagonist manages to provide a favour to a hacker, he ponders about disappointing his foster father by giving up sailing, he talks of making Swiss bankers give up their secrets for love and even the initial murder story we begin with is not cast aside but is caught in the undercurrent of the bigger and more overarching plot. To be honest, a lot of these asides felt like unnecessary padding. I am Pilgrim has many flaws but I forgave them because of the pull of the writing style. The casual xenophobia did bother me but I suppose it should not be surprising given the September 11 centric storyline and the Muslim terrorist as a villain. I think the written language suffers because this book has a made-to-be-a-movie plot. In spite of the interesting story Terry Hayes created, there are far too many instances of luck.
Usually books by Cecelia Ahern bewitch me but The Year I Met You didn’t live up to the magic of PS I Love You or Thanks for the Memories. Perhaps it was the fact the main character, Jasmine, wasn’t very charming unlike her previous heroines and it deals with serious topics.
Jasmine has been put on gardening leave. Technically she has been fired from her job but in order to stop competitors from snapping her up, she has to wait out one year before she can start a new job. Luckily she is still paid while she waits out the year. This was the first time I came across the phrase and what it referred to. Who says fiction doesn’t impart knowledge? Because so far her job has been her life, Jasmine is clueless as to what to do with all her spare time.
Apart from her job, there’s one person she has vowed to protect all her life: her younger sister who has Down Syndrome. As a result when she realises her neighbour across the road is a shock-jock who once belittled people with her sister’s condition, he becomes an unwitting antagonist subject to the prejudices of her blind judgement. As the days go by and the social barrier she put up against her neighbours begins to crumble, Jasmine realises she may have not known the full story about Matt, who has himself has been put on gardening leave after his controversial chat show went too far on-air.
Jasmine has to contend with a returning adopted cousin whose memories of their childhood do not mirror her own and is also approached for a job by a handsome headhunter with whom she develops a budding but promising romance. If anything, The Year I Met You is about judgement and how appearances can often be deceiving.
I took I Capture the Castle with me to Sri Lanka to while away the hours when it became too dark to spend time outdoors and bloodthirsty mosquitoes roamed around my grandmother’s garden. Dodie Smith was an author I had never heard of until one of the casual staff at work brought her to my attention. I was hooked from the first page but because I didn’t like the thought of it ending, I tried to spend as long as I could savouring it.
The main character of this story is a sixteen-year-old girl called Cassandra Mortmain who writes in her journal about her life in the castle that is her home with her somewhat unconventional and penniless family. Her father is a writer who was once hailed as a genius but he is suffering from writer’s block, her stepmother is a nudist who likes to commune with nature, her beautiful but scheming sister is waiting for a rich and eligible bachelor to sweep her off her feet, her younger brother is someone who we hear little about and the handsome servant boy appears to harbour an affection for Cassandra and works for the family for free. The interesting part begins when the owners of a mansion nearby come to live in it and happen to be two single brothers who end up bumping into Cassandra inadvertently while she is dying her clothes. However the two girls pursue the wrong brother cultivating sisterly rivalry and some misplaced suspicions along the way.
The word I would probably most associate with this book is whimsy. What I really enjoyed about I Capture the Castle were the journal entries reflective of Cassandra’s coming of age experience and was full of interesting pearls of wisdom giving voice to her thoughts on religion, reading and imagination. While the story reads like a Jane Austen tale with the two penniless sisters finding handsome suitors, I find much more charm in Dodie Smith’s writing.
I’ve heard a movie is in the works for this piece of Gothic Australian revenge fiction by Rosalie Ham that I read a while back. Looking back on it, I’m not surprised this has been chosen for a film adaptation. The plot lends itself to the medium well.
Set in 1950s rural Australia in a town called Dungatar, The Dressmaker is about a daughter, Myrtle “Tilly” Dunnage, who was run out of town after being falsely accused of a grave crime when she was just a child and has only returned to take care of her sick and mentally unstable mother. An expert seamstress trained in Paris, the haute couture Myrtle creates soon becomes the talk of the town in spite of her suspicious status to most folk. When the locals begin to flock to her for their fashions to take advantage of her dressmaking abilities, old rivalries begin to resurface and Myrtle is able to take her revenge and leave.
The quirky and hypocritical characters with particular idiosyncrasies populating the town are the highlight of the book but do at times seem a bit eccentric and over-the-top. The driving force in this novel however is definitely the plot. While The Dressmaker is an enjoyable and fast-paced read, it is no literary behemoth.
We first meet an old couple in a village, Axl and Beatrice, who are plagued by fading memories of the past and become aware of this fact. After speaking with an old woman, Beatrice persuades her husband Axl, to accompany her on a journey to see their son. When weary, they pause to rest at a Saxon village which is experiencing a commotion. Their host suggests the mist that permeates the air rendering the memories of everyone into fragments could be the work of a God who felt regret. When the couple sets off the next morning to a hillside monastery to consult an old monk, they have two companions who are fugitives foisted on them: Wistan, a skilled warrior and a boy with a suspicious wound, Edwin. Strangely enough the warrior appears to recognise Axl. This unexpected addition to their party makes their journey a less peaceful one.
Once they bump into a character from British folklore charged with a strange duty he never accomplished for which he is maligned, the true mission of the Saxon warrior comes to light. Their stay at the monastery puts the old couple at risk but a friend they made comes to their aid and the two parties are split up. The mission the warrior is charged with is also one the couple promise to undertake when some children mistake them as Elders sent by God and request it so their parents may return to them. While the quest is accomplished, the results of it are going to disturb the peace once maintained by the enforced mist.
The couple faces several dangers, including those who seek to separate them from each other, but it appears Axl has far more to fear from the memories of the past returning than Beatrice. While I didn’t like the fantasy elements incorporated into this and the strange ending, what I did enjoy was how The Buried Giant explored memory: what we choose to remember and what we choose to forget.
After reading a lot of literary fiction, I was in the mood for a less demanding read and the Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly fit the bill. While I’ve read Seven Deadly Wonders and Ice Station and found those fairly interesting, it was difficult to see this one as anything but a tribute to Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park.
We learn the Chinese people have developed a zoo of a magnitude and scale the world has never seen before and a select group of distinguished guests are invited to enjoy the facilities before it is opened to the public. The main attraction it features were once thought creatures of legend but through genetic manipulation, a population of them have been bred. The cover as seen below hints at the type of beast exhibited at this particular zoo.
The more alert guests notice however all is not right and become wary. Some of the zoo residents are not cooperating with their trainers. While on their way to an exhibit, one of the wayward creatures ingeniously removes the control device implanted in it, targets the cable car transporting the guests and from that point on the zoo descends into chaos. Having invested plenty of money and time into this project, the Chinese officials do not want word of this getting out. So the guests need to flee to safety before being silenced by the zoo owners or being challenged as the enemy by the escaped and out of control zoo inhabitants. Dr. Cassandra Jane ‘CJ’ Cameron, the main character, who is a writer for National Geographic and an expert on reptiles ends up befriending a friendly creature that ultimately leads to their salvation although some lives are lost along the story arc.
I am confused as to what genre I should assign this book. There are: mythical creatures of fantasy, a genetic interference plot akin to science fiction, an ass-kicking female protagonist driving the action and all these combined culminating in an escape mission for survival also fits it into the category of adventure. As I picked out the Jurassic Park similarities early on, I was able to enjoy it without nitpicking at exaggerations.
I have never made a secret of the fact I’ve always been an Agatha Christie fan. So I was chuffed to learn the guardians of her estate authorised a new Hercule Poirot release, The Monogram Murders by author Sophie Hannah. We hear of Hercule Poirot’s exploits through Catchpool, a sort of substitute narrator for Hastings devised by the writer. Once I used to think Hastings was foolish but Catchpool takes the cake. It is baffling he is privy to details of what happened when he was not present. The lack of explanation into Poirot’s insights makes The Monogram Murders less interesting as well. Poirot also tries to play the absurd role of a matchmaker in this novel in trying to set up Catchpool with a lady which was just not on. I for one cannot imagine Christie’s Belgian detective doing anything like that.
The Monogram Murders jarred me from the beginning because Hercule Poirot was dining at a coffee house upon introduction and being finicky about the cutlery. He is interrupted by a woman who comes in quite terrified and when Poirot reassures her stating that he is a detective, he is given the news that she is about to be murdered. Strangely she asks Poirot to refrain from finding out who committed the murderer, admitting justice will be served with her death.
Poirot later finds out three guests staying at a posh London hotel have been murdered through Edward Catchpool, a Scotland Yard detective so self-deprecating that you wonder why he took on this job. Each body had been found with a cufflink placed in the mouth. So Poirot wonders if the murders have any connection to the distressed woman he met at Pleasant’s Coffee House. How? These are unconnected events to the ordinary brain but obviously not to Poirot’s advanced grey cells.
The dreadfully inept and squeamish Catchpool who is in need of guidance is grateful when Hercule Poirot offers his assistance for the case. While Poirot tries to put together the pieces of the puzzle, the murderer is intent on targeting a fourth victim. Can Poirot prevent a another murder? This ends up requiring a journey into the past and into a village that has been keeping all its secrets under wraps to eventually solve the mystery.
The first book I ever read by author Chuck Palahniuk was Fight Club so I had this feeling upon reading Damned that it was not going to stand up to this particular predecessor and rightly so because it didn’t.
Madison is the intelligent but overweight and bullied daughter of a wealthy Hollywood couple with a penchant for adopting kids from poor countries for the publicity. Left alone with her new foster brother in a hotel while her parents go to an awards night, she ends up in the netherworld because of a “game” taught to her at an exclusive Swiss boarding school. Madison ends up making some friends consisting of a rip-off of John Hughes Breakfast Club characters if they were serving detention in Hell. Every chapter also emulates Judy Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret but pulling a switch a roo, all the questions are addressed to Satan. Not having asserted herself while she was alive, Madison reinvents a new life for herself and uses her telemarketing job to create a conduit between the living that are to be soon deceased. When Madison finally meets the prince of darkness she is told an unpalatable story about herself and it ends on a note that suggests a sequel.
The book is clever in its mockery of tropes and exploration of theology and mythology but felt haphazard with the storyline. I liked the initial premise of having these characters form an unlikely bond in the underworld but a twist in the plot made it feel irrelevant. What I got out of Damned was even if you do end up in Hell, death is not all that bad.