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Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

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The Hartes and The Golds have lived next door to each other for years. The two couples are best friends, and their children – Christopher and Emily – grew up together, and eventually fell in love. Life is seemingly idyllic for the families, until the night where Emily is killed from a gunshot to the head, and Chris tells his parents that it was a suicide pact gone wrong. Neither family wants to believe this could have happened and both want to know the truth. But as the police investigation begins, both sets of parents have to question how well they really knew their children at all.

As is almost always the case with Jodi Picoult, this book is compelling reading, and held my interest throughout. There are two timelines – the one in the past which builds up the history of Chris and Emily’s relationship, and the one in the present day, which focuses on the police investigation and the discovery of what really happened that fateful night.

As it transpired, I actually found myself disliking both sets of parents and feeling more sympathy towards the Chris and Emily – Emily in particular, not only because she dies at the very start of the story, but also because she actually seemed the most likeable character of all. I did enjoy the character of Jordan McAfee, Chris’s attorney and his assistant Selena. I was not particularly able to warm to Chris but I had to remind myself that he was a privileged (read, spoiled) teenager, going through an incredibly tough process. There were a few things that jarred with me – Emily’s mother Melanie mistakenly believes at one point that her new neighbours are a gay couple and wonders what kind of neighbourhood she and her family have moved to. I’m not sure if this was meant to be a reflection upon the character of Melanie herself however, I also felt that Emily and Chris were almost pushed together because it was what their parents’ wanted, not necessarily what they themselves might have wanted.

Nonetheless, if you want a story that moves along at a good pace, despite alternate chapters set in different timelines, and one that that will keep you guessing as well as presenting the reader with a moral dilemma, then I would probably recommend this book. It’s not Picoult’s best (my own lowly opinion would rate that as the excellent Nineteen Minutes) but it’s still an absorbing story.

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Emma O’Donovan is the girl every girl wants to be. She is clever, beautiful and the envy of her friends. Until the night that she goes to a party and her life takes a downhill turn. All of a sudden everyone hates her, she is classed as a whore and there are lurid photos of her all over Facebook. It’s made clear to the reader that what her friends and schoolmates initially consider to be her sleeping consensually with a group of men, was actually a group rape; however this doesn’t stop people taunting her and calling her all sorts of names.

Emma’s life falls apart when the case becomes public knowledge, her family start to split at the seams and people still blame her for what happened, and the book shows the aftermath of the terrible event.

I am in two minds about this book. I think it’s an important subject, and I quite like that O’Neill does not wrap everything up in a neat bow at the end, although I didn’t actually like the ending she chose to write. However, Emma is (I suspect intentionally) in the beginning at least, a deeply unpleasant young woman. She tries to get her friend’s boyfriend to fancy her, she is jealous of any girl who may be approaching being as pretty as Emma herself is and is unnecessarily unkind to people. None of this matters a jot – or at least none of it should matter a jot – of course when she is horrifically violated. What happened was wrong, full stop. The reaction of others was almost as horrific as the violation itself.

The first half of the book lays out Emma’s character and shows events leading up to the night of the party, while the second half deals with the aftermath. I did not like Emma’s mother at all, and felt that she was at least partly to blame for Emma’s obsession with her looks. Her father was not a likeable character too, although I suspect that his treatment of Emma after the rape was for some, all too accurate. I did however like her brother Bryan.

I feel that this is a book that people should read, and it is certainly one I raced through due to the flow of the writing, but can I say that I loved it? No – it’s hard to love a book with this subject. But I would probably recommend it.

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In this enchanting true story, Tom Michell relates how in the 1970s, when he was in his early 20s and teaching in an Agentinian boys boarding school, he encountered a penguin who became his best friend. He saw the penguin on a beach covered in oil and near death as the result of a recent oil slick and on an impulse decided to rescue him and clean him up, with the intention of then releasing him back into the wild. However, the penguin refused to leave his side, and so after naming him Juan Salvador, Michell became the proud adopter (or adoptee?) of his new feathered friend.

Juan Salvador soon becomes a favourite among staff and students alike at the boarding school and brings a little magic into all of their lives. Through his and Tom Michell’s story, the reader also learns a little about the Argentinian political situation at the time, and how badly inflation was affecting the poorest in the country, and there is also some insight into life in the boarding school.

Mostly though, this is Juan Salvador’s story; it is he who is the true focus of the book, and what a delight he is. Michell describes the penguin’s own little personality and quirks and really brings him to life on the page.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book – it’s a quick read, both because it is only just over 200 pages, and also because I didn’t want to put it down. Highly recommended.

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On New Years Eve, four people meet up on the top of Toppers House – a block of flats in London, which is notorious for suicidal people throwing themselves off the roof.  Martin is a disgraced television presenter, whose marriage and career are in tatters after he slept with a 15 year old girl; Maureen is a single mother with a severely disabled son, and looking after him has left her with no time for a life of her own; Jess has family problems, and has also just been dumped by her first boyfriend; and JJ’s band has broken up and his girlfriend has left him.  These four very different people have all decided to kill themselves, but when they all turn up at Toppers House at the same time, they decide to take the long way down (i.e., they walk down) instead. (No spoilers, don’t worry, this all happens in the first few pages.)  The book then focuses on the next few months in their lives, as they try and help each other – or cause problems for each other.

I have read and enjoyed Nick Hornby’s books before, and had been meaning to read this one for, literally, years.  It wasn’t what I expected – for some reason I cannot remember, I expected the whole book to take place in one night, on top of the building.   The book is narrated by each of the four characters in turn, so we see certain events from multiple points of view.  It’s a format that I usually like, and I think it worked well in one sense.  All of the characters were very different, so it seems logical to give them all their own distinct voice.  However, I have mixed feelings about the book as a whole.

I think the main issue I have is that it all seems too implausible.  The premise is certainly interesting, but certain events which followed just didn’t seem very likely at all, and so I was never really able to invest in the story.  Jess was such a dislikable character, that even though she really did have some major issues to deal with, I could not feel any empathy or sympathy for her whatsoever.  She was completely and utterly cruel for no other reason than for the sake of being cruel.  I don’t think it’s necessary to like every character, but surely they should make you feel something for them?!

On the plus side, it was an undemanding read, which sounds an odd thing to say about a book featuring four suicidal main characters, and there were some amusing moments.  I liked JJ, and I felt sorry for Maureen.

Overall though, I would say this is my least favourite book out of those I have read by Nick Hornby, and something of a mixed bag.  Not brilliant, not terrible, just….so-so.

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Polly is Rose’s oldest friend, so when Polly’s husband Christos is killed in a road accident, Rose doesn’t think twice about inviting Polly and her two sons to stay with Rose and her husband Gareth, and their children.  But soon after Polly, with her wild ways and dangerous habits moves into Rose’s carefully ordered life, things start going wrong.  As Rose watches her own world starting to fall apart, she realises one thing – now that Polly is there, it’s going to be hard to get her out again.

I thought this psychological thriller was pretty good.  It was certainly fast paced, with lots of twists and turns, and I found it hard to put down.  The characters were well drawn, although none of them was especially likeable.  I did find myself rooting for Rose at the beginning of the story, but about halfway through I got exasperated with her reactions to certain events.  Gareth was difficult to like, although there was a backstory which went some way to explaining his moods, and Polly was so selfish and thoughtless that I was amazed that either Rose or Gareth could stand being in her company for more than a couple of days.

The story is told in the third person, but from Rose’s point of view, which added to the suspense, especially as events took a firmer hold on her, and she became a more unreliable narrator.  I did think some of the phrasing was a bit clunky (a particular example was, “A dull nausea, like the smell of new carpet, began to seep into her toes…”  Is the smell of new carpet particularly nauseous?!) but overall it did not detract from the action, and certainly did not stop me from reading faster and faster as I got towards the end, because I was eager to see how things turned out.

There were a few loose ends and unanswered questions at the end of the story, but the major plot line was resolved, although not in the way I had hoped for.  However, I would recommend this book to fans of thrillers – it’s exciting and tense enough to be devoured in just one or two sittings, and I look forward to reading more books by Julia Crouch.

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Sage Singer is a 25 year old baker, from New Hampshire, who wants to hide away from the world, because of the scars, both physical and psychological that she has, resulting from an accident three years earlier.  She is in a relationship with a married man, which is going nowhere, and does a job that allows her to work at night, without contact with others..  When she befriends 95 year old Josef Weber at her grief group, she is able to open up to him in a way that she hasn’t been able to with anyone else, so when Josef tells her that he is a former Nazi, responsible for countless deaths, and requests that she helps him to die, her world is turned upside down.

(Don’t worry, all of the above happens very early in the book, so there are no spoilers here.)  I have always found Jodi Picoult’s novels to be compelling and thought-provoking, and this one was no exception.  It is stated early on that Sage’s grandmother Minka was a prisoner in Auschwitz during World War II, and a large part of the book is given over to her description of life during that time.  This may be a fictional story, but Picoult spoke with Holocaust survivors while researching this book, and while Minka may not really exist, the horrors described are all too real, and I was moved to tears while reading about them.

I liked and sympathised with Sage – she was a well rounded character, with flaws and insecurities that made her very believable.  The main theme of the book is forgiveness, and Sage’s dilemma in this regard was fascinating.  Her struggle to reconcile the elderly pillar of the community who she had become friends with, with the former war criminal who killed indiscriminately, was interesting and well described.  Can we ever forgive on behalf of someone else?  Does Sage have the right to forgive Josef’s sins – as he asks her to do – when it was not her who was personally sinned against?  All of this crops up throughout the book.

I also adored and admired Minka.  I would have liked to have seen more of Leo, the agent who has made a career out of tracking down war criminals and bringing them to justice – while he was immensely likeable, I didn’t feel that he was as well drawn as some of the others in the book.  This is only a slight niggle though, as for the most part, this book was truly hard to put down.

The ending was a surprise, and I’m still not sure whether I liked it or not.  I don’t want to give anything away, but it left me feeling slightly unsatisfied.  However, it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of what had gone before, and overall, even though it’s not my favourite by Jodi Picoult (that would probably be Nineteen Minutes) I would certainly recommend this book.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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I picked this book up a few years ago in a charity shop, because (a) it was ridiculously cheap, and (b) I like Jane Austen.  I finally got around to reading it because I watched the film adaptation a few weeks ago, and really enjoyed it, and I wanted to see how the book and film compared.  Of the many reviews I’ve read of this book since finishing it myself, the vast majority are unfavourable, but while I can see what might put people off, I actually enjoyed it a lot.

Six friends start a book club which meets once a month, to discuss the novels of Jane Austen.  Each takes their turn at hosting, and while the novel does discuss their meetings, it takes much more time to describe each character’s back story, and the issues which they are facing in their current life.  The narration is quite unusual – it is as if the book club has a collective consciousness, and it is from the point of view of this consciousness that the story is told; I can see how that could irritate, but for me anyway, it worked.  I did think that the characters were pretty well drawn, although two of them – Prudie and Bernadette – seemed slightly set apart from the other four, this possibly being because the other four had connections between them that excluded Prudie and Bernadette (this may also explain why these two characters were my least favourites).

It’s a very charming book, if slightly predictable.  Not entirely predictable however – the resolutions of Sylvia’s and Allegra’s stories were not what I had expected (or at least in Sylvia’s case, it would have been unexpected, but I knew what happened, only because I had seen the film).  However, as each chapter is devoted mainly to one character (that being whoever is hosting the book club that month), it almost feels like a series of separate short stories which relate to each other through shared characters.

I wouldn’t say that you need to like, or even to have read any Austen novels to enjoy this book, as in truth, only small parts of the books are devoted to the actual book club meetings – in fact, you could probably have written this book about any author’s works (Karen Joy Fowler is clearly a big Austen fan, as she notes in her acknowledgements) – but I do think it helps, as I found myself nodding along with the assessments of certain Austen characters.  I enjoyed it a lot, but on balance, I’m not sure I would read it again, while I would certainly watch the film adaptation again.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Click here for my review of the 2007 film adaptation.

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