Julian Corkle is a Filthy Liar, DJ Connell

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The Premise:

From the moment he is born, Julian’s mother decides that he has ‘star quality’ and will achieve great things. But his father’s fear difference could hold Julian back, especially when they are forced to relocate to Hobart. Will Julian find the place he belongs? Or will he fall by the wayside?

The Verdict

I did not enjoy this book. It was too much like a biography – a bunch of nonsense things that happened to a person before they became famous that helped to make them who they are. Whilst for people who like biographies, this is fine, for me, it just wasn’t enough – definitely not my type of fiction. It’s the book for my June book club meeting, and after The Hate You Give it was a massive disappointment!

The genre and the writing style aside, I have to say that Connell paints what I can only assume is an accurate but rather bleak picture of 1960s Australia, in which homosexuality is a ‘dirty little secret’ and those who openly express their orientation in Tasmania are marked as outsiders. Julian’s homosexuality is made clear from about page 2 of the novel, making it a natural part of the narrative, and his keeping it a secret is a part of his every day life. Whilst it seems to me that ‘star quality’ seems to be a euphemism for homosexuality, there are also elements of Julian’s nature that could also account for this reference. It seems that Connell attempts to inhabit the mindset of 1960s Tasmanians and is, in this sense, successful, as she creates a very realistic and believable society with their own damaging preconceptions and idiosyncrasies.

Julian himself is a frustrating character. He is pampered by his mother and bullied by his father, but believes that he is destined to do great things. This belief in his destiny makes him lazy and almost unbearable as a protagonist. His flair for story telling, and constantly embellishing the truth with unnecessary lies, as hard to pin point at first but one of the key reasons I disliked him so much.

To be honest, I don’ have much to say about this book. It really wasn’t for me and I wouldn’t seek out this author again.

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After You, Jojo Moyes

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The Premise

After 6 months of looking after quadriplegic Will Taynor, and falling in love with him, Will committed assisted suicide at Dignitas. Now, estranged from her family because of her complicity in his suicide, Lou is trying to build a life for herself in London, that will bring honour to the legacy that Will left her. But how do you move on from love? And when Will’s past interrupts Lou’s stagnant life, can she move on from his memory, or will she always be trying to please him?

The Verdict

I felt that this novel had more to it than the original. Rather than just relying on the unusual romance between carer and their charge, there were several layers to this book and it addressed more than one serious issue.

It was helpful that aside from one chapter, the narrative was solely from Lou’s point of view which meant that it flowed a lot better. The interspersion could have been done without – the reader could have learned some of the truths about Lily retrospectively as Lou learned them – but it wasn’t as much of an issue was the constant interruptions in the first novel.

Moyes developed the 2D characters of the first novel a little better in this one, especially in the case of Lou’s mother, who makes some progression as a person herself. Her children, and husband, come across as very un-supportive of her developing some feminist attitudes and ways, which is disappointing in a generation where we are more and more encouraging them in ourselves. It added comedy rather than depth to the narrative, undermining the positivity of the presence of some actual character development.

Moyes attempts to address serious issues such as rape, co-erced, drunken teenage sex, grief and depression. It’s a big ask for what I would say is an average author. I felt like the rape and co-erced sexual componant wasn’t given enough seriousness or time. She used it as a way for Lily and Lou to bond, which was fine because victims of similar crimes often do, but it was a story tool and I hate that about it because it undermines the seriousness of those crimes. Lily is offered no counselling and very little support after what happens to her, and with very little build up, she was suddenly being blackmailed and hit on by a 40 year old man (who was trying to bribe her for sex). There was little preparation for the content which I think actually needs a trigger warning. But the worst thing about it is that it is purely a literary tool to move Lily and Lou’s friendship along, without any real consideration for the seriousness of the crime, and no consequence for the perpetrators.

Moyes portrayal of grief is a little more successful – the ‘Moving On’ group seems relevant and thought through, and it was interesting to observe people addressing their different grief. Lou’s attitude towards it wasn’t great, especially how she suddenly became ‘healed’ when the others were still in the early stages of their grief. Perhaps that reflects the short lived nature of hers and Will’s relationship, perhaps it’s a reflection of the passion for life that she and Will shared, but actually it just felt like she moved on and very little consequence, even willing to give up her goodbye speech to Will to his daughter who didn’t know him.

Speaking of Lily, let’s talk about her mother for a moment. Moyes seems to love a flat, 2D, bad guy. Last time it was ‘Running Man’ Patrick, obsessed with exercise and oblivious to everything else. This time it was Lily’s mother, a self centred, uncaring woman, unable to cope with her teenage daughter and willing to palm her off onto any other human who offered. This was an unacceptable portrayal of motherhood, and by referring constantly to her wealth and big house, implied that it was this that was at the cause. Moyes tried to flesh her out by portraying her as a gold digger, but she was an unrealistically negative character and Moyes could have done better.

Overall, though, I did prefer the story to the previous novel. Lily added some more interest in the story, as Will’s daughter, and it was interesting to see Lou try to balance who she is with suddenly becoming responsible for another person. Lou’s relationship with Sam was also a highlight, but again, she falls in love too quickly. The ending was secure, it was good that Lou went off on her adventure and started trying to live again.

I won’t be seeking out Moyes – I get too frustrated at her characterisation of the side characters and her stories are too reliable. But it was a relatively enjoyable read and a very different tone to the original.

Me Before You, Jojo Moyes

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The Premise

Lou Clark lives a simple life, working at the same coffee shop for her whole working life, dating Patrick, a steady man, for the last 7 years. But when the coffee shop closes, she is thrust into an unfamiliar world of care work. Her patient is Will, a young quadriplegic who is struggling to live with the pain and hopelessness his accident has left him feeling. He is determined to end his life… but can Lou save it?

The Verdict

I feel like I’m starting to make a habit of having to make these confessions and have to admit that I knew how this story went as I watched the movie first, a while ago. Both the movie and the novel were recommended by my younger sister. Now, she is very loyal and reads every blog post that I write, and it is with a heavy heart that I have to preface this review by saying that I found this novel very… ‘meh’… for lack of a better word, as I know she loves it!

Perhaps because the shock ending of Will committing assisted suicide was taken away, I didn’t really engage with the story or the writing. Rather than sticking to the first person narration of Lou, Moyes interspersed the odd first person narration of other characters – Will’s mum, Nate (Will’s nurse) and Treena (Lou’s sister). But these weren’t regularly spread out through the novel, they just kind of appeared as an extra that seemed a bit unnecessary. It was lazy writing really – Moyes didn’t want to have to explain it through Lou’s eyes and so brought in other narrators. If this had been regular, or more consistently done, it might have added to the story, but as it is, it is messy and just takes away from Lou’s narrative. Perhaps Moyes’ idea was to wrap everything up with the police report at the end of the novel and reveal that the writing had been a part of the police reports assessing the circumstances of Will’s death. If that was the case, it was even more poorly done than the general narrative. That in itself wasn’t a great framing to the novel – Moyes needs to become an expert in the narrative she is using before trying to frame it in different ways.

The story itself was sweet and honest, expressing the struggles of being a carer for a quadriplegic. I liked Lou’s exploration of the forums for quadriplegics, and found Moyes descriptions of how Lou had to care for Will moving and genuine. The internet is a remarkable resource now for people from all walks of life, and it’s nice to see it being utilised in this way. However, once again Moyes doesn’t really do it justice, ocasionally altering the text to show what Lou is reading but not focusing in on it. There was just wasn’t enough depth.

I found Lou’s relationship with Treena, and Moyes’ portrayal of Treena, especially frustrating. Treena is a 2D, selfish and self centred character. Her attempts to support Lou do not mitigate her absence of action when Lou was assaulted. The chapter in her voice shows a completely self centred character who is petty despite having a child and being at university – such as referring to Lou’s room as ‘it was still my room’. Moyes’ portrayal of the working class family is realistic, but exaggerated to the point where it can be ridiculed.

Speaking of ridicule… Patrick. ‘Running Man’ as Will calls him, is a shallow, self centred, obsessive jerk. At no time is his passion for eating well and exercising celebrated. His job is undermined by only really being mentioned when he makes the mistake of suggesting to Will that he could get better. Patrick had potential to be a deep and interesting character, but Moyes overwrites his obsession with exercise. The only time he felt like a real person was when he got angry about Lou’s holiday with Will – and understandable reaction. Lou had dated Patrick for 7 years and whilst Moyes hints that there was some change in him over that time as he became more obsessed, we see none of the good that Lou once saw in him. Moyes scraped the bottom of the barrel by making him the leak to the press regarding Will’s assisted suicide, which to me seemed out of the tiny little bit of character that he had portrayed. It was fine for Lou to break up with her boyfriend, but Moyes should have spent more time creating an actual believable character rather than getting out some frustration at people who do extreme sports.

Overall, the book was disappointing and despite its serious content, lacked the depth and maturity needed to truly engage the reader in the subject matter. I will read the sequel, once I’m done with Insurgent and Alligient, but after that I won’t be seeking out Moyes again.

If She Did It, Jessica Treadway

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The Premise

Hanna was attacked in her own home, but holds no memory of the night that killed her husband and alienated her from her youngest daughter, Dawn, whose boyfriend is held responsible for the attack. With Rud’s successful appeal presenting the need for a new trial, will Hanna’s memory of the attack come back? And, in all honesty, does she want it to, when it might implicate the daughter she has just invited back into her home?

The Verdict

The write up of the novel sounds good – even when summarising it above I was intrigued by the premise. The trouble is, the delivery was not great. I found the book really boring – it’s taken me almost 2 weeks to read it because every time I tried I was just bored by the writing style, the bland characters and the lack of anything happening. Much of the story is told through flashback, with Hanna remembering events leading up to her attack. They are memories that could apply to any situation – her daughter bringing a new boyfriend to her sister’s wedding, family not getting on with the new man in a child’s life, happy family memories and those of friendships coming to an end. There was nothing exceptional about the way they were written or what they portrayed. If Treadway was simply trying to emphasise how normal the family was, she did it so successfully that they simply weren’t interesting to read about.

A few feature of the novel was Dawn’s struggle with her lazy eye, and her inability to make friends. Hanna’s perception of this as a mother is really naive, and the way she and her husband Joe dealt with it is uncomfortable, in the way they refuse her surgery and refer to it. They end up helping her to alienate herself from her peers because they refuse to acknowledge the lazy eye. Perhaps there was more to Dawn’s disability – she definitely struggled socially – but this was not portrayed successfully by Treadway until it was raised in the final pages. It wasn’t a great character development.

Dawn was so obviously the culprit from the first page. I know I often work out the endings of books because I have read so much, but it was so obviously pointing towards her.

The one thing that Treadway did manage to do well was portray a mother’s blind spots. Hanna has a history of trying to protect Dawn from what she is. She cannot see that her daughter needs help beyond that of the fixing of the lazy eye and refuses to accept the criminal behaviour that Dawn exhibited in her teenage years. Treadway shows how a mother can choose what she wants to see in the way that Hanna can’t see that the surgery has totally reversed itself until the final scene with Dawn in the police station. Treadway demonstrates successfully how a mother can refuse to acknowledge the deficits of their children, even at risk to themselves. However, again, this didn’t really come across in the powerful way it had the potential to, but was subtly hinted at throughout.

Overall, I really just didn’t enjoy reading this novel, I found it incredibly boring and tedious. Treadway overplays her characterisation of Hanna and underplays Dawn’s descent into madness, and puts all of that in a mundane and frustrating setting that really has nothing to it. Would not read this author again.

After I’ve Gone, Linda Green

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The Premise

Jess Mount is a normal woman, with a job, a best friend and some sadness and secrets in her past, until the day she meets Lee. Lee sweeps her off her feet, taking her out for new experiences and adventures and showing her the life she could have. On the day she meets him, her facebook feed starts showing up posts mourning her death… 18 months in the future. Can Jess change the future without jeopardising her relationship with Lee, and the son they will have together? Or are some things guaranteed to happen?

The Verdict – CAUTION WILL IMMEDIATELY CONTAIN SPOILERS

The blurb and premise of this novel are intriguing and Green attempts to hold this throughout the novel, staying true to the framework she has decided to write in. That said, the fascinating literary device of seeing your future on facebook, is not used to its fullest potential. In those blasted book club questions at the back of the book (which always wind me up), the first one queries ‘Does it matter that you never find out how or if the facebook posts are sent from the future?’. Yes, actually, I think it does. This was a really interesting idea that was undermined by constant reference to Jess’ mental state and really under explained and over exploited. Green over stretches herself by showing three timelines – past Jess, present Jess and future facebook Jess. The past Jess wasn’t actually necessary – what those sections told us, we could have worked out, or could have been better ingrained into the main narrative. The facebook posts were interesting and key to the progress of the story, but they were essentially ignored in the conclusion and that was really frustrating.

That said, there is possibly more depth to it than that. Perhaps the facebook posts are a delusion. Jess meets Lee and they immediately strike up a very intense relationship. Perhaps her subconscious mind has judged him correctly immediately (here I will spoil the plot and reveal that Lee is abusive) and is trying to protect Jess from the harm that it recognises that Lee can cause. In that case it could be an interesting pyschoanalytical tool – the posts do reveal new information as Jess learns it (for example, the first post that mentions Emma, Lee’s ex, happens after Jess hears her name from his mother). Jess’ mind is taking the information given to her in the real world and is translating it into a warning.

However, the facebook page becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. Jess only says yes to Lee’s proposal of marriage (which is very early in their relationship) BECAUSE the facebook pages have shown that they get married. She allows them to guide her decisions, which really just doesn’t work and is very frustrating. Jess makes one effort to change her future, by deciding to wear a different wedding dress, and gives up the moment this doesn’t work out. Jess stops making her own choices long before Lee’s true character comes to light because of what she has read on the facebook page and because there is no satisfactory explanation of the delusion, or posts, this is inconsistent with the narrative.

Harsh criticism aside, Green really portrays the early stages of an abusive relationship with emotional power. Lee’s actions – taking Jess on a surprise trip, proposing after a few months, buying her clothes etc. – all come across as relatively romantic, but with hindsight demonstrate a controlling and demanding personality. This was especially poignant when Jess has agreed to go to her best friends sister’s birthday party and can’t spend her one evening off with Lee. Instead of going to the party, Lee appears with an offer Jess can’t turn down, bribing her with gifts, sex and a work meal to go out with him instead of her friend. This is in the early stages of the relationship and represents the isolation that Lee is determined Jess needs from her social circles. It is later echoed when he doesn’t allow Jess to attend her mother’s grave on Christmas day. What Green captures especially well is the abuse before it becomes physical. We only see Lee hit Jess once, and that’s enough for her – she decides to leave because she knows what is coming. Prior to that, she has had all the evidence before her in the facebook posts, which she truly believes in, and has not managed to leave. She keeps making excuses for Lee, hoping that he will be different when their married, or when their son is born. Having never been in an abusive relationship, I can’t say for certain, but from what I understand, this is a common mindset – especially when Lee is apologetic and spoils her after his outbursts.

I was infuriated by Angela’s comment towards the end of the novel when Jess tells her that Lee hit her: ‘yes, but he hated himself for it’. Throughout the novel, Angela is so desperate to be with her grandson that she puts Jess’ life at risk, even physically assaulting her. She claims that Lee hated himself for hitting Jessica, however, this is a symptom of the abuser. We know from Emma’s earlier testimony (through the facebook posts) that he hit her and the first time he was apologetic afterwards. Despite finally seeing the habit has passed from father to son, Angela is still in denial and still eager to protect her son from what he has done. I felt like this undermined the progression Angela had made, and did not bode well for any of Lee’s future relationships.

Overall it was an intriguing premise which didn’t live up to expectations. I feel like the novel was powerful enough in its portrayal of domestic abuse, without having to use a gimmick to draw the reader’s interest initially. I have mixed feelings over whether I’d read a Linda Green book again – I wouldn’t not pick it up but I certainly shan’t be looking for it.

Divergent, Veronica Roth

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I’m embarrassed to say that this is one of very few series where I have actually seen the movies before reading the series – partly because when I went to see it at the cinema in 2014 with my sister I didn’t realise it was also a novel, partly because the three movies that are out so far are all on Netflix, and partly because buying it always seemed not quite worth it. I have, however, rediscovered those amazing things called libraries, and am glad that I can now work my way through this series – although I have to wait for the second and third ones to arrive!

The Premise

In a world where conflict and human failures have been managed by splitting mankind into factions, which rarely communicate with each other, Tris takes a test that decides where she belongs, only to discover that she is equally split between three factions – a supposedly rare occurrence called ‘Divergence’. When she chooses a faction that isolates her from her family and everything she knows, will Tris survive the intense training and probation period? And why is there so much hatred for her old faction? Life as a Divergent is secretive and challenging – and life in her chosen faction, Dauntless, offers everyday bodily risk and harm.

The Verdict

It is nice to read a teen fiction with a romance that is actually quite realistic. Bearing in mind that Tris and Four are 16 and 18 respectively, the passionate physical love affair that is often portrayed in teen fiction is not appropriate and in fact, when it is written (in other novels), it is dangerous to set those expectations for young teens. Tris and Four have a professional relationship at first, with Four training Tris, which does make their relationship a little taboo as he does hold a position of authority over Tris. However, their feelings and their expression of them are realistic. But Roth takes this further by presenting Tris’ fear of both emotional and physical intimacy as so severe that it comes up in her final test. Four not only accepts this, but respects it, and their relationship develops organically. Too often, these types of romances are rushed because of the situation the young people are in, but Roth protects their tentative romance. This is truly a healthy relationship for teenagers to read, that puts no pressure on them to further their own relationships.

Unfortunately, due to the proximity of Divergent and The Hunger Games being released, it seems almost impossible to write about one without comparing it to the other. Now, I love The Hunger Games, but I have a real hatred for Katniss. Her supposed strength is really only portrayed when she volunteers as tribute, and throughout the rest of the novels she is mostly a victim of circumstance, constantly fighting becoming stronger. She is very whiny and easily manipulate, and I don’t think her character sets the best example. I much prefer Tris. From the outset, Tris makes her own decisions. In Dauntless, male is matched equally against female. Tris fights for her right to remain in her faction, and her motivation is internal determination. Rather than being caught up in events, Tris dictates them, making changes to herself, those around her, and eventually leading the small band of rebels that stops the brainwashing of Dauntless and the eradication of abnegation. Tris is truly a hero for our time – not limited by her gender, her age or her upbringing.

The story itself is fascinating, and it wasn’t any less so for having seen the movies first. I was surprised at how accurately the movies stuck to the books, as often they lose a lot, but despite some clear alterations in events, everything that happens in the book seems to happen in the movies. The creation of the world is interesting. It cannot be defined as dystopian as there is much development and peace, and until Erudite try to take control, peace has been maintained for years. Perhaps the best word is post-apocalyptic – technology has advanced, but a lot of what we take for granted now is no longer present in every day life. Roth creates a vivid world, filled with relevance. It is hard to comment without focussing on what I know already about the sequels here, but it is interesting to see that in what should be a utopia – where human weakness has been weeded out and everyone lives in harmony – there is discord and unfairness. Roth pains a disturbing picture of human kind, where greed comes to the forefront of a reasonable world.

I enjoy the idea of divergent thinking. Relating it to my teacher’s training, this is an interesting concept in which pupils who think more abstractly have better problem solving skills, higher intelligence and more prospects. Tris’ world is trapped into thinking that the factions cannot combine to create a greater way of life. Tris is a one person representation of what can happen when the different worlds collide. Perhaps we can take that into our own lives – and instead of being threatened by those who think differently to us, we embrace it and learn from it.

Overall, Roth creates a fascinating and enjoyable landscape, with a strong teenage female lead. It is an inspiring book to read and I look forwards to completing the trilogy when the library gets them in!

The Betrayals, Fiona Neill

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After the incredible conclusion to Blood Sisters by Jane Corry, I knew that my next book was going to be a disappointment no matter what. I was surprised, therefore, to find that I didn’t mind Fiona Neill’s cross between mystery fiction and teen angst fiction, but also a bit disappointed at the mundane nature of it.

The Premise

Nick and Rosie were happy until the breakdown of their best friends’ marriage led to Nick falling in love with Lisa and the life long friendship of their children falling apart. Or were they? Daughter Daisy is in an ongoing fight with OCD, brought on by her obsessive nature and the tumultuous changes of her teenage years. Son Max holds himself responsible for the consequences of their final holiday together in Norfolk. But Lisa is dying, and she wants to see Rosie one last time, and she has something to tell her that can’t be shared by letter. The children struggle to protect their mother while their own memories, sanity and motives are called into question as Lisa slowly grows more and more ill.

The Verdict

This was less a novel about betrayal and more a novel about the fallibility of memory. From the outset, the same moment is presented by one character before being recalled in a mildly different way by another character. This creates an immediate atmosphere of doubt as the reader isn’t sure whether the children are remembering things differently, or their parents. This could actually have been done very subtly and very well, but Neill over-plays her hand by making Nick a research specialist into the fallibility of memory and its pitfalls. It is repeated far too often for comfort, meaning that Neill signposts the most impressive part of the plot of the narrative far too early, and far to obviously. As a result, the ultimate revelation that the event that Daisy witnessed that pushed her over the edge didn’t actually happen as she remembered it a massive anticlimax, and as a result it is not dealt with as well as it could have been.

Neill’s characterisation is thorough, but bland. Nick’s infidelity is repeated, and this is the great secret that Lisa wants to share with Rosie. It, like Daisy’s realisation, was a huge anticlimax. I felt like Neill had been building up to more and my expectations weren’t quite met. The most well developed character was most definitely Max, who showed progression from blindly supporting his sister to focusing on his own life at the expense of his family. He is still relatively uncomplicated, however, and this meant that I felt ambivalent towards him rather than sympathetic.

What Neill does do well, however, is portray Daisy’s OCD. Whilst Daisy herself is disappointingly two dimensional, the portrayal of her illness is heart wrenching, thought provoking and genuine. I hope that Neill did thorough research into the condition before using it as a narrative ploy, because I started reading the book with very little knowledge of the condition other than its popular hype and Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Fearful Symmetry and certainly feel that a lot of my preconceptions have been vanquished – I certainly shall never use the phrase ‘I just have OCD’ as a joke again. Neill successfully portrays the anxiety disorder’s ability to take over not only Daisy’s life, but also Max’s and Rosie’s, in a really powerful way. As someone who suffers from depression and anxiety, it was eye opening to witness it in its severity, and I give Neill a huge thumbs up for portraying it so honestly.

I’m surprised there was nothing from Lisa’s point of view, as her act of suicide at the conclusion of the novel really came from nowhere, although with retrospect it was hinted at. I dislike that Max witnessed it and made a conscious choice not to intervene, choosing his sister’s health over another human’s life, and I felt that Lisa was very unrepresented in a book that was really about her. In the ‘book club’ questions at the back of the novel (which seriously bug me, unless you’ve been dead 50 years, stop assuming that people are going to read your work and want to discuss it, but that’s an issue for another day) Neill puts forward the questions ‘why do you think none of the story was told from her point of view’. Metaphorically speaking, it’s because she was already dead. Her husband was seeking comfort elsewhere, her children hated her for leaving their father, her step children wanted nothing to do with her, her best friend hadn’t spoken to her for eight years and the cancer was rigorous in its attack on her body… Throughout the story, Lisa is simply a ghost that frightens and torments others, but she is not really portrayed as a real person, and any discussion of her is idealistic, from Nick’s point of view, or hateful, from everyone else’s. It’s unfortunate, as there was rich story to tell there, but Neill decided to leave it out.

Overall, whilst the book was generally disappointing and I won’t be looking out for Neill again, I did enjoy reading it and whilst the secrets and revelations were laboured and predictable, it did keep me turning the pages quickly until the very end.