We Were Liars

09/11/2015 at 4:57 AM (Books) (, , , , , , , )

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Source: Goodreads

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.

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The Monogram Murders

09/03/2015 at 11:46 AM (Books) (, , , , , , )

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.

Source: Goodreads

Source: Goodreads

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.

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Dancing on Knives

08/30/2015 at 8:08 AM (Books) (, , , , , )

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Source: Goodreads

Dancing on Knives is the third book by Kate Forsyth I have read and it surprised me because I am used to her fairytale retellings and this deviated from my preconceptions as it was essentially a murder mystery. I didn’t understand Sara’s predicament until I realised that she literally had not left her home in five years because she is a sensitive soul. We learn when she was a child that she was subject to so much torment and bullying to the point that she left school and refused to go back. Her way of enduring the predictability of her life is reading romance novels and seeking solace by reading the tarot cards left to her by her beloved grandmother, Consuela, who used to tell her dark fairy tales that inspired her to paint until her volatile and womanising father Augusto Sanchez, a brilliant artist, undermined her efforts. Her siblings regard her fairly useless as she is in fear of most things which subject her to panic attacks and nightmares.

One stormy night, her father does not come home and his body is found hanging on a branch over a cliff. Although he is found alive, the mystery of his fall brings buried family secrets to the surface. There are a multitude of characters who had good motives to kill Augusto Sanchez: Teresa, the half sister who claimed she went to a party; older brother Joe who comes home late claiming he went for a surf; the twin brothers who were supposedly hanging out with their friend Nya; her father’s brother-in-law’s family who want the farm they have to convert it into a tourist caravan park; even her aunt Maureen who had only visited once after her sister Bridget’s car crash. Dancing on Knives is about how family can suffocate and free us, how art can be felicitous and ruinous, and how strong bonds can be constructed from a crisis. The suspense slowly builds and unfolds telling us about the mystery fall suffered by Augustus while the back story leads us to the day of the fall. Meanwhile the power of the sea and the little mermaid story are played up in the book ultimately enabling Sara to rescue herself from her self-imposed imprisonment and open herself to a real romance.

Dancing on Knives is not what I would call a thriller but it is the beautifully written story of a dysfunctional and unusual family and the denouement clears everything up and makes sense. I appreciated this dark, powerful story even if the mystery was subtle without too many unexpected or surprising twists.

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The Luminaries

08/24/2015 at 10:24 AM (Books) (, , , , , , , )

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Source: Amazon

I am a fan of Dickens which is why I picked up Eleanor Catton‘s zodiac-inspired novel, The Luminaries, with its golden spiral formula that helped it win the 2013 Man Booker Prize. Set in 1866 in the New Zealand goldfields, the book imbues its following twelve main characters with traits of the astrological star signs.

  • Te Rau Tauwhare (greenstone hunter): Aries
  • Charlie Frost (banker): Taurus
  • Benjamin Lowenthal (newspaper man): Gemini
  • Edgar Clinch (hotelier): Cancer
  • Dick Mannering (goldfields magnate): Leo
  • Quee Long (goldsmith): Virgo
  • Harald Nilssen (commission merchant): Libra
  • Joseph Pritchard (chemist): Scorpio
  • Thomas Balfour (shipping agent): Sagittarius
  • Aubert Gascoigne (justice’s clerk): Capricorn
  • Sook Yongsheng (hatter): Aquarius
  • Cowell Devlin (chaplain): Pisces

The traditional qualities tied to each sign forms the foundations upon which Catton builds full-fledged characters. These twelve characters provide with each individual version of events the missing links in the story pertaining to a series of unsolved crimes. They are interrupted by the arrival of a stranger who will have a key part to play in a trial because he becomes privy to all their secrets. He and another set of characters associated with traditional planetary bodies listed below are also characters key to unlocking the mystery.

  • Walter Moody: Mercury
  • Lydia (Wells) Carver née Greenway: Venus
  • Francis Carver: Mars
  • Alistair Lauderback: Jupiter
  • George Shepard: Saturn
  • Anna Wetherell: The Sun/The Moon
  • Emery Staines: The Moon/The Sun

In spite of its technical prowess, the book didn’t connect with me. It didn’t give me the emotions I felt upon reading Oliver Twist, Great Expectations or Little Dorrit although it attempts some social commentary and contains all the elements of a Dickensian Victorian-era novel: a man is killed; a will is missing; a politician is hiding a secret; the governor accepts a trade off the books; an opium addict is mistreated and so on. While I hold it in high esteem for its structural cleverness, The Luminaries failed to capture my heart.

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Dark Places

08/20/2015 at 12:12 PM (Adaptations, Books, Movies) (, , , , , , , )

Gillian Flynn is a master of the craft when it comes to producing extremely irritating, mentally damaged characters who are a complete mess. It is no different with the emotionally troubled, parasitic protagonist of her novel Dark Places, Libby Day. The author does a great job with Libby’s first person perspective of her struggles in the present while a third person narrative gives readers insight into the mystery of happened to her family in 1985 highlighting this story is more character-driven than plot-driven.

In the present, friendless and forgetful Libby is finding it hard to fend for herself. The fact she’s a kleptomaniac does her no favours. The primary source of income Libby has been living off, the trust fund created when donations poured in after the murders, is starting to dry up.

Back in the past in 1985, her mother, who is heavily in debt, and two sisters are brutally killed. 7-year-old Libby lives because she flees the house, and ultimately it’s her testimony that convicts her brother Ben of the crime. Allegedly, Ben is a Satanist who lost control after getting in too deep with a bad crowd. The Kill Club, a group of amateur investigators who think that her brother is innocent get in touch with Libby and she reluctantly agrees to a paid appearance because she’s desperate for cash. While she is not keen about their focus on her brother, the potential of earning money entices her into visiting people connected to the murders. Suddenly as knowledge sinks in as an adult, Libby starts having doubts as to if Ben was the killer.

The ending was a bit too tidy for my liking and kind of disappointed me after the stellar one in Gone Girl, but I won’t say much about that as it will spoil the story. This is not a true who-dun-it but explorations of the inner workings of the psychologically warped. For those who are interested, these points illustrate key changes made to the Dark Places movie adaption by Gilles Paquet-Brenner.

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The Girl on the Train

08/18/2015 at 11:56 AM (Books) (, , , , , , , , )

Because I finished all three novels written by Gillian Flynn, I was led to read this book which touted itself as the next Gone Girl. As I submerged myself into the book, apart from the theme of unreliable narrators, it was clear to me I wouldn’t have made the comparison. There are three narrators who tell the reader the unfolding events in the story: Rachel, the jilted lover; Anna, the other woman; Megan, the cheating wife. All these characters manage to be somewhat repugnant but still compel tinges of sympathy.

The Girl on the Train

Source: Goodreads

Rachel, our evidently alcoholic and therefore cannot-be-trusted first narrator, is in the habit of taking the same train from Asbury to Euston each morning, even though she has been fired. During a regular stop, she always watches a couple living near her old home, who is perfect in her eyes and she has given them imaginary names: “Jess and Jason”.  We find out she is pining for her lost marriage which once used to be like that. One day she is a spectator to something unexpected while on the train. Upset by what she saw, Rachel tells the police what happened, who find out she isn’t exactly a standout witness, and ends up becoming further involved in murky territory with the full cast of characters.

This book moves much quicker than Gone Girl does but the mystery and the sucker punch of the former is lacking here. Paula Hawkins puts in a lot of red herrings to misguide readers as to who the culprit might be but it’s fairly obvious to any seasoned crime novel reader. Gillian Flynn is the more superior writer when it comes to psychological thrillers because this felt more like a character study and their development than something to be shocked about. There was a lot of hype surrounding this book catapulting off Gone Girl’s success which ended up seducing me into its covers but I was left disappointed and unsatisfied in the end.

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What Alice Forgot

12/13/2011 at 12:16 PM (Books, Nostalgia) (, , , , , , )

When Alice wakes up, her first concern is about her the first baby she is to have with her husband Nick. The problem is that baby was born in 1998, Nick is in the middle of a divorce hearing with her and she has had two other children. As Alice starts to recall the events that led to her collapse and eventual memory lapse, she realises that the person she has become isn’t someone she likes very much and starts to sets things right again.

What Alice Forgot is light reading material – it’s the kind of book with which you would read a couple of chapters before leaving the rest for another day. This chick lit offering by Liane Moriarty deals with a 40-year-old protagonist called Alice Love who collapses at the gym one day and forgets the past 10 years of life. This would have been fine if it wasn’t for the fact a lot has happened to Alice in the past 10 years. The amount of drama in her life in that span of time could have made a full season of a television sitcom.

What Alice Forgot

Source: lianemoriarty.com.au

The narrative is provided to us readers via two perspectives – one by the Alice who is trying to fit bits and pieces together after her memory loss and rest in journal entries by her sister, Elizabeth, who has enough troubles of her own. So we enter the lives of these two women who are struggling to keep their lives in order while learning some life lessons along the way. As Alice starts to recall the past, she can’t help but wonder if she should have started mending bridges when she recalls the drifting apart had been her own doing. This is one of those tales that ponders the What If question in an interesting way even if predictable.

While the prose is easy to read, the clever tactic of revealing tidbits of flashbacks without giving much away helps in making it to the end. Unfortunately while the journey to the destination was nice, reaching it was a disappointment as it was rather abrupt.

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