Sunday, 19 November 2017

Men Without Women - Review

Men Without Women

The vast amounts of high praise for Murakami’s unique writing style compelled me to pick up his book and see what the fuss was all about and my gosh, it blew my mind. As a newcomer to his work I didn’t know what to expect which is just as well, because the seven short stories included in this book are like no other story I have ever read.

The first story is Drive my Car. There is no plot. The story is mostly a conversation between Kafka, an actor still mourning the death of his wife, and his female driver Misaki. We listen to him open up about his relationship with his wife, how she had multiple affairs during their many years together and how he had to watch her die from the terrible illness that is cancer. Despite knowing his wife was seeing other men, he never once discussed this with her. He never let on that he knew and he never asked her why. Now he must forever live with the grief, the pain and the unanswered questions. 

I felt quite relieved once the story was over. Not because I didn’t enjoy it. Because reading the story made me feel like I was actually there, with Kafka, in the car. I felt like I was eavesdropping on deeply personal conversation. I wanted to quietly exit the car at the next set of lights and leave him to grieve in peace. 

I closed the book and just sat for a while, thinking. Going over what Kafka had said. Why didn’t he ever confront his wife? Was he frightened of what she would say? Was it easier for him to pretend it wasn’t happening and still have his wife rather than confront her and risk losing her? Had he confronted her and lost her, he would have at least had closure. Now he had lost her anyway and would forever be haunted by the what ifs and whys.

These questions and more swam around my head. Drive my car had given me no satisfactory conclusion and I needed to clear my head of all the thoughts and feelings the story had filled me with before I could even think about moving on to the next.

After reading the next couple of stories I noticed a pattern. None of the stories have a plot. Nothing much ever happens yet I couldn’t tear myself away for fear of missing the big reveal, which never ever came. Each and every time I would finish a story, switch off the light and just lay there, sleep eluding me because I had a heart full of mixed up feelings and a head full of questions I would never know the answers to.

Half way through we get to An Independent Organ. The story is about fifty-two-year-old Dr Tokai told from the perspective of his gym partner. He is a cosmetic surgeon who has never been married, never had children and is quite happy to live alone, believing that he isn’t suited for married life. Dr Tokai chooses to have relations with women who were either married or already in a relationship. He feels more at ease knowing these women are unlikely to be seeking long term relationships or anything too meaningful from him.

“But one day, quite unexpectedly, he fell deeply in love. Like a clever fox suddenly finds itself caught in a trap”

The story follows his struggle with the feelings of love, his devastation when just as he feared he loses the only woman he ever loved and how his theory that all women have an independent organ which allows them to lie without any change in their voice or expression because it is not them, it’s their independent organ.

Now hang on a minute Dr Tokai…. Yes, I accept that women lie. I have lied in my lifetime and I’ll probably lie again. But surely you don’t mean to say that only women lie? Do men not have an independent organ too? Do men never lie

Once again, I’m laid in bed, light off, thoughts whizzing round in my head. I was still smarting after the independent organ theory. And anyway, Dr Tokai is a man who deliberately sought out dishonest women to have relations with. Would it really have been such a surprise that the woman eventually left him for a third? Why was he so frightened to go out and find real love, with a woman who was free to love him back without any complications? Oh man… I could go on for days. 

This is what Murakamis stories do to me. They give me more questions than they do answers. The stories have layers upon layers and I’m never quite sure how I’m supposed to interpret them. There are multiple ways his stories can be interpreted, and I feel like this was Murakamis intention.

He draws you in, waits until you’re invested then flips everything upside down and inside out and leaves you to make of it what you will. 

Men without women is not for everyone. Some might say the stories are dull. I might even agree. It’s the layers. I wanted peel away each one and get to the true meaning of the story. I don’t feel I came anywhere close, which is why I’ll probably read them all again. This book is like an itch, the more I scratch, the more it itches. Yet I keep on scratching

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Killer Affair - Book Review

Killer affair

Whether we like it or not, reality TV is big business

Reality TV in my eyes is a load of trash. That doesn’t change the fact that if I happen to be unlucky and catch an episode of Big Brother by accident, the next two months of my life are over. I get sucked in. There’s no point in fighting it, it’s just a fact of life. And don’t even talk to me about I’m a Celebrity….

So, if like me, you can’t stop watching reality TV shows even though you probably hate every celebrity on them, Killer Affair is the book for you. 

The story follows sexy Lexy, a footballers wife and reality TV Queen. There is nothing this woman wouldn’t do to stay in the public eye. She is forever courting the press and pulling off publicity stunts.

Dowdy blogger Carline has been drafted in to ghost write Lexys autobiography. She is being paid peanuts shadow Lexy, get to know her and learn the tricks of the trade so that she can mimic her tone for the book. Caroline dreams of writing a book of her own one day. She longs to earn enough money be able to escape the dilapidated terraced house she shares with 4 other people. Could ghost writing for Lexy could be the big break she’s been waiting for?

Caroline soon learns that the most important person in Lexys life is Lexy. She has the perfect life, the perfect husband, the perfect house and Caroline thinks she needs to be brought down a peg or two.

It quickly becomes clear that Caroline’s plans go way beyond bringing Lexy down a peg or two. Caroline wants what Lexy has, the house and the fame and most of all Lexys husband Frank and she plans on using Lexys own tricks against her to get exactly that. Poor Frank is stuck in the middle and with both women being as cunning as they come, it’s not surprising that he hasn’t got a clue what’s really going on.

This book is full of revenge, bitchiness, fake friendships and steamy sex scenes. There may even be a few celebrities in this book that you recognise – names have been changed obviously!
I am fully aware that this book is a work of fiction but I have a sneaky suspicion that one or two reality tv stars could well read this and tell us that the truth isn’t that far off.

Rebecca Chance’s writing had the same effect on me as a reality TV show. It had me well and truly hooked. Almost every character was vile and the worse they became the more I wanted to see of them. My opinion of each character changed from chapter to chapter, just like it does from episode to episode on a reality TV show. And when the story ended I was relieved to return to my ordinary life, with my ordinary friends and ordinary job, only this time I didn’t have to look at their faces on the cover of gossip magazines for weeks on end!!

This book was a giveaway win from the Trip Fiction Facebook page.

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Monday, 6 November 2017

JoJo Moyes - Paris for One

We all lead busy lives.

Holding down a job, juggling family life and attending social engagements (when we’d much rather be in our PJs scoffing chocolate) means that we have to make the most of every scrap of me time we can lay our hands on. 

One of my favourite things to do is lock the bathroom door, light a candle and sink into the bath with a good book. I’ll be lucky to get half an hour before someone starts knocking on the door demanding food or to let me know the dog has peed on the carpet so short stories are an absolute blessing. 

JoJo Moyes does short stories brilliantly. The stories in Paris for One are fairly light hearted, so nothing too taxing after a tough day and one story a night is easily achievable.  

The first story in this book, Paris For One, follows Rosie who has booked a trip to Paris with her boyfriend. Rosie has never been abroad and is well known and often teased for following a strict routine and sticking to what she knows, so a trip to Paris is a big deal for her. Standing at the train station, all set to go, Rosie receives word that her boyfriend is running late and will meet her there. She makes the brave decision to board the train and head to Paris alone. It soon becomes apparent that Rosie’s boyfriend has no intention of meeting her at all. Scared and alone in a strange country Rosie realises that she has two choices… Go home with her tail between her legs or put on a brave face and flipping well enjoy her holiday – boyfriend or no boyfriend. 

A few stories in we meet Sam who after a kitbag mix up at the gym finds herself arriving to work in someone’s else red Louboutins instead of her own sensible black pumps. The shoes raise a few eyebrows but Sam is determined to not let it spoil her day. Sam soon realises that the shoes change the way other people perceive her, which changes the way she perceives herself. She’s not just sensible Sam, she’s also strong and confident and more than capable of playing hard ball in the boardroom– it just took a day of walking in someone else’s shoes for her to realise it.

Each of the stories in this book feature the struggles of ordinary women, all of which are easy to identify with because the problems they face are real. They are problems that ordinary women face every day whether it’s an unhappy relationship, low self-esteem, stuck in a rut at home or feeling undervalued and unappreciated at work. That's what I like about JoJo Moyes's writing, she has the ability to make me root for the characters, even when they make mistakes or show poor judgement, because I see a part of myself in these women. I understand why they feel the way they do and I get why they do the things they do, because I once felt that way too. 

I love that the stories are uplifting and heartwarming. Despite finding themselves out of their comfort zone, the characters all find a way to make the best of things and for me, the most important lesson comes from Miranda in Thirteen Days with John C. The grass isnt always greener on the other side. If you concentrate on watering your own garden, you'll see its pretty damn good, just as it is. 

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Fierce Kingdom by Gin Phillps - Review

This copy of Fierce Kingdom is a Goodreads giveaway win. It is an uncorrected proof - due for release mid June. I love it when a book I've had the privilege of reading in advance hits the shelves on publication day. It makes me feel just a teensy weensy bit smug, like when there's some juicy gossip doing the rounds but I already knew about it weeks ago. 

For me, the cover is quite unsettling but in a good way. You can clearly see this is a mother and a child running away from something, but what? As a mother, I know I would do anything to protect my child so I was rooting for the woman in the picture before I'd even started reading. Run, take his hand and run.  

The Blurb: Lincoln is a good boy. At the age of four, he is curious, clever and well behaved. He does as his mum says and knows what the rules are. "The rules are different today. The rules are that we hide and do not let the man with the gun find us." When an ordinary day at the zoo turns into a nightmare, Joan finds herself trapped with her beloved son. She must summon all her strength, find unexpected courage and protect Lincoln at all costs - even if it means crossing the line between right and wrong; between humanity and animal instinct. It's a line none of us would ever normally dream of crossing. But sometimes the rules are different.

I was hooked from the beginning. I loved the introduction to Joan and her son Lincoln. You immediately get a sense of the strong bond they have. Lincoln is quite a mature four year old. He has an amazing sense of humour, he asks lots of questions and can handle honest answers which has given him a good sense of the world he lives in. I found myself being transported back to when my son was four. He was so much like Lincoln but inside that clever little head there was still a four year old child, capable of tears and tantrums, just like Lincoln. I warmed instantly to these two. I already cared about Lincoln like he was my own.

The Zoo is about to close and as they start to make their way towards the exit they hear popping sounds. Joan dismisses them as fireworks, an odd time for fireworks but it is what it is.

As they approach the exit, Joan sees bodies lying on the ground. It dawns on her that she hardly saw a soul on her way back through the Zoo. She sees a man facing the other way, she sees the gun in his hand - it's not fireworks - it's her worst nightmare. She doesn't stop to think. She scoops Lincoln up into her arms and runs. 

This is where I had to put the book down for a moment and gather myself. My heart was pounding so bad. I felt like it was me in the story. I began to think about what I would do. Which direction would I run in? Would I stay calm or would I freak out and give us away?

Joan, being familiar with the Zoo does manage to find somewhere to hide, for now, but keeping Lincoln calm isn't going to be easy. He's hungry, he's cranky, he's scared and he wants answers.

Again, I was thinking what would I do? Would I risk telling him the truth, that yes, if the gunmen find us they might kill us, or would I lie and say it's all going to be ok? Four year olds can be unpredictable. The truth could quite easily send him into a complete meltdown, risking noise and discovery. The truth could just as easily paralyse him with fear, causing him to go into himself, too afraid to speak or move. As heart wrenching as it is, the second option would be my preference if it means he gets through this nightmare alive.

Each and every chapter is filled with suspense. Throughout the story we come across other innocents, also desperately seeking safety, the most harrowing of all, a mother with a screaming baby and nowhere to hide.

We see the gunmen, hunting. Humans - animals, it makes no difference to them. We see beautiful animals slain. We see two Colobus monkeys. One is dead, the other one beside it, looking frightened and confused. Is it mourning? Does it know what's happening? Such a sad, sad sight.

Throughout the book, Joan is forced to make decisions that could potentially save her and Lincolns life or get them killed. A couple of times I was horrified and almost gasped out loud at the decision she made. The trash can scene especially. Without giving anything away, I'm not sure I could have done what she did but I 100% understand why she did and if I were in the same situation, who knows.

There were many beautifully descriptive scenes, however some of them did go on for just that tiny bit too long, killing the suspense and the tenseness I'd been feeling just moments earlier. 

We briefly meet Robbie, one of the gunmen but we never really get to understand much about his motives. 

The ending was really frustrating. You are left to make up your own mind as to whether certain characters made it out alive or not. We don't get to see life after the event. How are the characters coping with the aftermath? We don't get to see if anyone went back to the trash can. Please Gin Phillips, did anyone go back to the trash can? 

I feel mentally exhausted. Fierce Kindgom had my heart pounding and my palms sweating the whole way through and I actually had a nightmare about it. Why did I have a nightmare? Because the subject matter is real. This happens. It could happen to anyone, at any time, anywhere and for no reason at all. That's whats terrifying.

4 out for 5 for this one. 


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Big Little Lies By Liane Moriarty - Review

Big Little Lies is the first book I've read by Liane Moriarty and my god what a corker of a book to start with. I picked this up mainly because of the TV series. The girls at work often discuss TV programmes and joke that I can't be in their gang because I don't watch the things they watch. So I bought the book with the intention of muscling in on the chit chat. Turns out I was too late. The show ended before I finished the book and when I wanted to talk about what I'd read so far they were already onto the next big thing... sigh.

I'm not particularly overjoyed by the cover. I'm not a fan of film tie in covers, mainly because they often feature images of the characters. For me, part of the enjoyment of reading a book is having the writer describe the characters, allowing me to form an image in my mind of what they might look like. The cover of this book spoilt it a little for me as I knew the three people on the cover had to be the main three characters, Madeline, Celeste and Jane. Throughout the whole book I couldn't help but see them as Reece Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, and Shailene Woodley and that really grated on me

What's it about? Someone is dead. We don't know who and we don't know how - we just know that it happened on trivia night. The book starts off with old Mrs Ponder who lives opposite school. She hears the commotion outside on trivia night, sees fathers fighting, mothers screaming and wonders what on earth is going on? We then cut to six months before the fateful Trivia night and this is where we begin to see the story unfold.  

It is the first day of school and Jane, newcomer to the area and single mother to Ziggy finds herself caught up in a row about bullying when her son is accused of hurting another child in the classroom. Jane doesn't believe it. Ziggy wouldn't do that, would he

Madeline rushes to Jane and Ziggys defence knowing that by doing so she risks alienating herself from the pack. Madeline is the mother of two young children and a teenage daughter from a previous relationship. Madeline is already struggling with the feelings of hurt and betrayal after her daughter grows increasingly distant, choosing to spend more time with her perfect stepmother and her father who abandoned her as a baby. What difference will one one more drama make?

Then there's the beautiful Celeste, mother of twin boys. She lives in a perfect house, with a perfect view and a perfect husband and she never wants for anything. At least that's what she wants you to believe. Celeste is good at keeping secrets. Celeste is already firm friends with Madeline so she joins Madeline in her quest to take Jane and Ziggy under her wing.

To begin with it seems this book is about playground politics, bullying and social status - and that's just the parents. But this book is about so much more than petty preschool parents. This is a book about domestic violence, rape, motherhood- the good the bad and the ugly, the dangers of the Internet, friendship and the big little lies we tell ourselves when the truth seems too much to bear. 

At first I thought it was too much, overdramatic- too many people with too many problems. But then I took a look around. I have on many occasions put on a brave face, smiled brightly and insisted that everything was totally fine when in fact it was anything but. My friends, family, next door neighbour, they all go through their own personal shit but wave across the garden fence like everythings hunky dory. And how would I know any different? I wouldn't. Not unless I asked the right question at the right time and they trusted me enough to open up. I realised that it only feels over dramatic because I am getting to hear about everyones troubles. In real life those same troubles exist, only I don't always get to know about it.

The domestic violence storyline definitely gave me some food for thought. At what point do you say enough is enough? It's not always as clear cut as you might think.

That said, at no point does this book feel depressing. Far from it. Liane Moriarty manages to place humour where you thought there could be none. I found that I could relate to all three main characters in some way. Especially Madeline. God I love that woman. She reminded me so much of myself. I love how honest and real she is, even if she is a touch feisty at times. 

"Madeline" said Ed calmly.
Their arguments always went like this. The angrier Madeline got, the freakishly calmer Ed became, until he reached a point where he sounded like a hostage negotiator dealing with a lunatic and a ticking time bomb. It was infuriating.

I mean come on, who can not relate to this? It's the story of my life!

I loved Liane Moriartys use of unreliable narrators in the snippets of police interviews which kept me guessing who died and 'who dunnit' all the way through. It was amusing to see how eyewitness accounts of the same event varied massively depending on who was telling it. I changed my mind many times and still didn't guess right in the end. (About half way through the book I gave Mr B an overview of the story so far and he called it straight away- clever clogs!)

The chapters are dangerously short. It would be past midnight, I'd have work in the morning, one eye would already be shut, the other struggling to focus  but still, I'd have to read just one more wonderfully juicy (but short so I'll sleep after this one) chapter.. and one more, and just this last one ...Oh Calamity!

Liane Moriarty ties up all the loose ends neatly. I was satisfied with the outcome and was pleased to see that just like in the real world, when it really matters, people can put aside their differences and stand together.

I'm hooked... I'll defintitely be seeking out more books by this extremely talented author. If you haven't read this book and would like to you can find it over here

Men Without Women - Review

Men Without Women The vast amounts of high praise for Murakami’s unique writing style compelled me to pick up his book and see what the...