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Never afraid to tackle controversial subjects, Jodi Picoult has based this novel around a hostage situation in an abortion clinic in Mississippi. It’s told in reverse chronological order, which I wasn’t sure I liked at first, but actually the format does work quite well. The story starts with the hostage situation already well underway, at least one hostage dead at the hands of the gunman, and a police negotiator desperately trying to end the situation without more harm – because his fifteen year old daughter is one of the hostages.

Each chapter starts an hour earlier than the last one, taking the reader all the way back to the early morning and showing how each character came to be in the clinic that day.

While the book does look at the abortion argument from all sides – and this is obviously very relevant to the story – and also goes into some details regarding how abortions are performed, on one level this is a story of a hostage situation that could have taken place in any public area. We get to know the various characters and peel back the layers of their lives, each chapter revealing a little more. I thought a few of the characters were very well fleshed out – Hugh the negotiator, and Wren his daughter. I really liked the feisty nurse Izzy, but my favourite of all characters was Dr Louie Ward, who I really cared for by the end of the book.

This is not my favourite Jodi Picoult novel and I’m not sure if that was because of it being told backwards as it were, but I still did enjoy it and would probably recommend it.

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The Blurb:

Every few Sundays, Anna and her extended family and friends get together for lunch. They talk, they laugh, they bicker, they eat too much. Sometimes the important stuff is left unsaid, other times it’s said in the wrong way.

Sitting between her ex-husband and her new lover, Anna is coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy at the age of forty. Also at the table are her ageing grandmother, her promiscuous sister, her flamboyantly gay brother and a memory too terrible to contemplate.

Until, that is, a letter arrives from the person Anna scarred all those years ago. Can Anna reconcile her painful past with her uncertain future?

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My Thoughts:

I am in two minds about this book. First of all, I listened to it as an audiobook and the narration by Karen Cass was excellent. Secondly, I really liked the format of the book – each chapter revolves around a different meeting of the Sunday Lunch Club – the Piper family take it in turns to host – and the menu for each gathering is at the top of the chapter. From the events of the each ‘club’ meeting, it becomes clear what has happened between chapters.

However, I was a bit put off by the obvious attempt to shoehorn as many social issues into the story as possible. It was so obviously politically correct that it got a bit tiresome (to clarify, I have no issue with political correctness but there were so many instances crammed in here that it felt very deliberately done). The ending was predictable and I was waiting for a particular twist that never came.

I wouldn’t say it was awful but just a bit too treacly for me. Nonetheless it helped pass time while I was out on some long runs.

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Year of first publication: 2018

Genre: Family, drama

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Year of first publication: 1996

Genre: Family drama

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Overview

When Beth Cappadora takes her three children to Chicago for her school reunion, every parent’s worst nightmare comes true as middle child – three year old Ben – goes missing. For nine years Beth and her husband Pat live in limbo, never knowing what happened to their son, or if he is still alive somewhere. Their older son Vincent is in severe danger of going off the rails completely. And then one day, a youngster knocks on her door and Beth is convinced that this is the missing Ben (no spoilers here; this is in the blurb on the back).

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My Thoughts

I remember watching the film that was based on this book many years ago. It stuck with me a lot, and I wanted to read the book for ages. Unfortunately I would have to say that this is a rare case of the film being better than the book. The premise itself was so interesting if also somewhat morbid; how does a family carry on when a child is missing? It’s not a spoiler to say that in the second half of the book the family and the reader does get to find out what happened, and the focus shifts from the mystery of what happened to Ben, to how everyone deals with the fallout.

The problem for me was not in the storyline itself; it was the fact that it just seemed to go on and on and on, and there was so much in there that didn’t really seem to add anything  – some heavy editing could have made such a difference.

I never really warmed to Beth, but it’s worth bearing in mind that we never really know her prior to her son disappearing, and that event affects her so much that she becomes remote and detached from her whole family – so what is an understandable reaction is actually what makes her difficult to like. Pat was marginally more likeable, but my favourite character was Vincent. After the initial story of the disappearance which is told in the third person, but largely from Beth’s point of view, Vincent himself is the focus of other chapters, and we see how Ben’s disappearance and the consequent family dynamic has affected him.

If you like family drama and drawn out storylines, maybe give this one a whirl. I’ll be honest and say that the last 150 or so pages did drag a bit for me and I was glad to finally finish, but even so, the storyline itself was enough to make me consider reading something else by this author.

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Still Alice is the heartbreaking tale of Alice Howland, a Harvard professor with a loving husband and three children, who is diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimers Disease at the age of (almost) 50. Although told in the third person, the story is told from Alice’s point of view and it really is heartrending as we witness her memories and cognitive functions degenerate further and further. Her husband, children and colleagues also have to come to terms with losing the woman they love, even though she is still there physically.

Earlier this year, my beautiful, outgoing and vibrant mother-in-law passed away at the age of 67 years, after living for several years with Alzheimers, so this book was in many ways hard to read. I saw first hand what it was like to see someone change from a loving and capable adult into the shell of who they once were, not recognising her own children and displaying vicious behaviour which would have once horrified her. Certainly I recognised from first hand experience certain behaviours described in the book, and it is clear that the author very seriously researched the disease and the effects it can have.

I felt that the writing itself flowed very well, and it was a compelling and absorbing book, difficult as the subject matter is. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who has a loved one living with Alzheimers as I think it would give an understanding of what their family member or friend is going through.

I liked that although Alice was losing parts of herself bit-by-bit, she still had a distinctive personality and was still depicted as a fully fleshed out character – that she was, as the title conveys, still Alice.

As sad as this book was, I loved it. It was beautifully written and I would urge others to read it. I will definitely be looking out for more books by Lisa Genova.

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Kenny Lustig’s (Adam Sandler) daughter and Kirby Cordice’s (Chris Rock) son are getting married and in the week leading up to the wedding, the two men and their families have to spend all their time together. Tensions rise, tempers flare and things get messy.

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Year of release: 2017

Director: Robert Smigel

Writers: Adam Sandler, Robert Smigel

Main cast: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Steve Buscemi, Rachel Dratch, Allison Strong, Roland Buck III, Jim Barone

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Genre: Comedy

Highlights: Very few! Steve Buscemi

Lowlights: The whole thing. I love Steve Buscemi and I love Chris Rock, but even they couldn’t save this one. I don’t generally find Adam Sandler funny but thought with the rest of the cast it may be worth a go. It all feels disjointed and every attempt at a joke falls pretty flat.

Overall: I’ll give this 4 out of 10 because some of Rock’s scenes without Sandler were quite funny, and Steve Buscemi made the most of his role. But generally, I’d say don’t bother.

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Paul Morris is a compulsive liar – he lies about his success as a writer, the flat he lives in, his prowess with women; he lies to the people he meets, he lies to himself; he lies about his past, he lies about his future. And he manages to lie his way into a crowd of friends who he once knew briefly, starts a romance with the enigmatic Alice, and wangles his way into joining them for a holiday in Greece. But there are secrets lingering below the surface with these friends – a decade old mystery about a missing girl, and further events which take place during the holiday, all of which cause more trouble for Paul as his lies entangle him further and further into a web of deceit bigger than his own.

I really enjoyed this book, but unfortunately it’s really hard to review without giving away any spoilers. And I REALLY do not want to give away any spoilers, because this is a story with the power to really shock, if you do not know what’s coming.

The narrator is Paul himself, who is actually largely honest with the reader; he openly shares the fact that he lies to everyone else. It’s true that he isn’t very likeable, but it’s fair to say that none of the other characters are particularly likeable either. Alice is somewhat distant, and hard to read, and I was never able to warm to her. Paul’s old friend Andrew is frankly unbearable, and Andrew’s wife Tina, while nicer than the others, is basically a side character with very little to say for herself.

The build up to the climax of the story is fairly slow, but this didn’t bother me. It was well written and I wanted to keep reading to see what would happen. Small and seemingly inconsequential parts of the story did turn out to have a greater significance at the end, and I thought the ending itself was very cleverly done.

If you are a fan of psychological thrillers, and don’t mind a protagonist who you probably won’t want to root for, I would highly recommend this book.

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This novel is set over the course of one day, and it starts with Nathan Clark being a witness at his own funeral. His wife, father, children and best friend are all there, along with two people who he can’t identify. Unable to remember how he died, and unable to rest until he can remember, Nathan watches his family from some kind of afterlife, and remembers fragments of their life together while he tries to piece together exactly what has happened to him.

I loved the premise of this book, but I think I was expecting it to be more of a mystery or psychological thriller than it actually was. Instead it’s more of a slow burner – the first part in particular is very fragmented with Nathan being thrown from one scene or memory into another. Sentences end halfway through to reflect half remembered scenes from Nathan’s life, and suddenly he is flung to another time, another place.

There is no doubt that the writing is very elegant, and occasionally exquisite. I loved the idea behind the novel, but somehow despite this I never quite became enthralled by it. I was interested enough to keep reading, and like Nathan, I wanted to find out how he died but in the end, that wasn’t really the point. We find out early on that his youngest daughter Lois died some time before, and although initially Nathan can’t remember how she died, the answer to this particular question is revealed – and that’s when pennies drop and things start falling into place.

I did find this book an easy read despite the heavy subject matter, but I never quite managed to connect with any of the characters. Nathan’s wife Cheryl may have been the love of his life, but for my money she was downright unlikeable – same goes for his best friend Adrian, and his father Frank. I did quite like his two children Gina and Luke, but I never felt that we really got to know them well enough – especially not Luke, who is relegated to something of a background character.

Overall though, while I can’t give this book a definite thumbs up, it’s also not a thumbs down. I would be intrigued to read more by this author.

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