Dark Places – Gillian Flynn

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*****CONTAINS SPOILERS*****

Libby Day was the 7-year-old victim of family tragedy turned professional victim for hire. She has fed off the murder of her mother and sisters all her life, living on donations made by well-wishers. Her testimony sent her 15-year-old brother, Ben, the devil-worshipping misfit, to jail. She is seriously damaged and depressive. She lives in a dump and lives on the dole using the tragedy as an excuse.

Now Libby is 31 and her funds are running low. She accepts an invite from the Kill Club, a group obsessed with true crimes. They believe that Ben is innocent and make Libby question her version of the past. Most of the group believe that Runner, Libby’s dad killed the family. Libby begins to investigate.

Dark Places is a time-split narrative between present-day Libby and 1985 Patty and Ben. The atmosphere of the novel is eerily macabre. The Day family is a poor one, struggling to make ends meet. Ben becomes darker as the novel progresses. He dies his hair black. A rumour of abuse of young girls at school surfaces. There was a genuine fear of devil worship that actually swept the US in the 1980s so it is easy to see why the murders could be pinned on the weird Satanist kid.

As part of her investigations on behalf of the Kill Club, Libby goes to see Ben in prison. She sees a tattoo of a name on Ben’s arm – Polly – but she can’t work out who it is.

Then as Libby remembers more repressed memories she realises that she and Krissi were coached into giving a false testimony. Libby tracks Krissi, now a stripper, down and she admits that she made up the fact that Ben abused her and claims she told her parents back then but they ignored her and were ashamed of her.

Libby discovers that the Polly tattoo is for Diondra. She tracks her down and finds out that she has a daughter by Ben, Crystal. Libby questions Diondra about the events surrounding the night of the murders but when Michelle is mentioned Libby is knocked out. The pair confess to her that Diondra killed Michelle but they plan to kill her after confessing. Libby manages to escape in a similar fashion to the way she escaped as a kid and because she is a kleptomaniac she has stolen a lipstick that she is able to give to the police that links the DNA from the crime scene. Everything comes out – Patty signed a contract for a man to kill her that night so her family would get her life insurance money, while it was happening Debby got out of bed and saw, the killer couldn’t have any witnesses so her killed her too. Meanwhile in the other room Diondra was killing Michelle.

As is normal with Gillian Flynn’s books, none of the characters in Dark Places are particularly likable. Libby is selfish and dining out on her family’s murder. Diondra is truly awful, the worst character I’ve read in a long time – she wants to kill Libby too after she is finished with Michelle but Ben scares Libby away to protect her. She constantly gets off her face even though she is pregnant. She is clearly a sociopath or a psychopath and she has groomed her daughter to kill anyone who expose them. Trey, Diondra’s “cousin” is a local small-time bookie and a Satanist (another suspect of the Kill Club). Runner, Ben’s deadbeat dad, owes Trey money and is afraid of him, he is also no use whatsoever to his family. Patty annoyed me because she just seemed weak.

Even though none of the characters are very likable, the book is really good. I really enjoyed it. You want to know more, you want to find out what happened that night. You want to give Patty a shake. You want to scream at Libby to do something, anything! If you like books like Gone Girl or Girl On The Train then I would really recommend this book.

Perks of Being A Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

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Perks of Being A Wallflower is written in a letter style to ‘Friend’. We never find out who the ‘Friend’ is or whether he actually sends the letters or not but it seems to be therapeutic for Charlie, like a diary/journal.

The main character in Perks Of Being A Wallflower is lovely. On the first page he says ‘I am both happy and sad and I’m still trying to figure how that could be.’ He is obviously depressed. But he wants more. He is shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years, socially awkward – a “wallflower”. He sees things on the sidelines but is always quiet. Always there but goes unnoticed. And the voice of Charlie is so authentic.

Charlie is not your ordinary teenager. He is shouldering more burdens than should be asked of any single 15 year old kid and on top of that his best friend, his only friend, has just committed suicide. Charlie’s therapist encourages him to participate and to this end he befriends Sam and Patrick, almost by accident. There are so many great characters in this novel. Patrick, who is gay, happy, outgoing and totally comfortable with himself but is dealing with a self-loathing boyfriend. Sam is a beautiful but troubled young girl who has dealt with self-esteem issues but is finally coming to realise her worth. They are the cool outsiders and they introduce Charlie to a new world of sex, drugs and trips, music.

The book obviously deals with big issues – abortion, repressed memories of sexual abuse, domestic abuse, rape, drug use, molestation. The revelation that Aunt Helen abused Charlie when she was babysitting him and he had repressed the memories is so heartbreaking.

Charlie has a lot of really good qualities. He really loves his mum. He always gets people the perfect gifts putting so much thought into them. I really liked the relationship that Charlie develops with his English teacher. And he is a really good friend. But Sam eventually tells Charlie ‘You can’t just sit there and put everybody’s lives ahead of yours and think that counts as love. You just can’t. You have to do things.’

It is a short book but it has so much packed into it. There are so many great lines/quotes in this book. Although it deals with so many serious themes there is light there too. It is a truly moving story.

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An Abundance of Katherines – John Green

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An Abundance of Katherines tells the story of Colin Singleton, a child prodigy who fears future anonymity and his struggle to overcome his attraction to girls names Katherine, of whom he has dated 19.

19? One friend. No social skills. But 19 girlfriends?

There was a bit too much maths in this book for me – and it didn’t really make sense. The theorem was annoying. The Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability. No one cares.

Colin is a bot annoying and over-dramatic. He’s obsessed with mattering and “doing something”. Hassan, Colin’s best friend and sidekick, was funny. I liked him better than I liked Colin.

The fact that Lindsey dates Colin (not our protaganist Colin, another Colin) after him bullying her is a bit of a weird message to me. THEN he is so violent when found out/caught cheating.

The footnotes were good. They were funny and interesting.

I have heard a few people say “when you’ve read one John Green book, you’ve read them all” and this fitted into that category. It was funny and heartfelt like a John Green book. It had pretentious teenagers like a John Green book. Is there a theorum/graph for Green’s books? To be fair though, this is a bit lighter than his other books. There’s no cancer, no missing teens, no deaths.

Let’s talk about Gutshot and Franz Ferdinand and Hollis Wells. I’ll admit, for a minute I thought to myself “Is that true? No, it’s not true. Is it? I’ll google it.” But even though I did that, I thought to myself, so would everyone else. Is it believable today in a world where you can take your phone out your pocket and look a fact up that someone could make money out of claiming a famous is buried somewhere they aren’t? And the fact that out of the goodness of her heart Hollis Wells is basically paying a whole town for basically fake work, paying two teenagers $500 a week for some random made-up job and living in a mansion.

Let’s talk about this line: “She was incredibly hot – in that popular-girl-with-bleached-teeth-and-anorexia kind of way, which was Colin’s least favourite way of being hot.” There are so many things wrong with this sentence, I can’t even…

As always, I’m amazed at how easily American kids are able to convince their parents to let them drive across the country, especially when they are characters in John Green novels.

I liked Hassan’s thoughts on God and religion:“No it’s not. I don’t think God gives a shit if we have a dog or if a woman wears shorts. I think He gives a shit about whether you’re a good person.” I think that’s a good point.

It was the same general formula to other John Green novels. Nerdy boy falls in love with different-from-other-girls girl. That’s the theorum for a John Green novel!! I read all the other Green books quickly, this not so much.

Behind Closed Doors – B A Paris

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Creepy. Frightening. Chilling.

Behind Closed Doors is written from Grace’s perspective, interchanging between the past and present until the two meet at the finale of the novel. Grace is a confident, successful woman before Jack comes along. She is the sole carer of her sister, Millie who has Down’s Syndrome.

From the start Jack’s controlling nature is present but discreet. He is mistaken by Grace and those around him as gentlemanly. He is a prestigious lawyer, specialising in domestic abuse cases. He has never lost a case. You start off thinking that Jack is your run-of-the-mill domestic abuser (if there is such a thing) but he is much worse. He has targeted Grace for a specific reason – Millie.

The fact that Jack wants to psychologically torture someone with Down’s Syndrome is so off-the-charts-evil and totally messed up.

We see Grace try but fails to tell people, to escape but Jack is always one step ahead.

I read this book really quickly because I really wanted to know what was going to happen. There was things that annoyed me about it but it didn’t stop me reading on. The reader quickly picks up that something is not quite right in their relationship but you think you know what’s wrong – he hits her/controls her – something like that. But the reality is so much worse than you could ever imagine.

It is a little hard to believe at times. Why does she not just tell everyone, she constantly says “but they wouldn’t believe me”. I suppose unless you have been in that kind of situation you don’t know what you would do. But the way she hugs him for comfort – I couldn’t wrap my head round that one. She could have got herself arrested. It annoyed me the way they kept talking about an asylum – we don’t live in Victorian times. This was Jack’s threat to Grace, that he would put Millie in an asylum if she didn’t comply and I get that Grace didn’t want this for Millie but surely it would be better than what Jack had planned and buy her time to escape Jack? Grace seemed passive at times. She basically does nothing for 18 months then escapes and kills him all in one month.

As a psychological/suspense thriller this book does what it says on the tin. It keeps you turning the page. Yes, there are a few flaws in the story but if you can suspend your disbelief then it’s fine. It was genuinely chilling at times and Jack is a horrible, horrible character.

Before I Go To Sleep – S J Watson

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Before I Go To Sleep is the first novel of NHS audiologist, S J Watson, who wrote it in between shifts at London’s St Thomas Hospital. It is exceptionally accomplished.

After surviving what she believes was a car crash, Chrissie developed a form of amnesia which has left her able to store memories for 24 hours. Every morning when she wakes she has forgotten the circumstances of her life and must relearn them from scratch: who her husband Ben is, where they live, whether or not they have children, what age she is, everything.

The book takes the form of a journal Chrissie is encouranged to keep by Doctor Nash who (without Ben knowing) has taken an interest in her case. The journal becomes her lifeline to her past though she has to be reminded of its existence every day. It helps her to discover the things she has forgotten e.g. her novel. But it also leads her to discover that Ben has concealed these facts and others.

WHY???

Is he a loving carer trying not to upset her? Or is he manipulating her perception of the world, which without memory to help her decode it, seems to hide innumerable vast conspiracies.

This book is an excellent psychological thriller. As the book progresses you realise something isn’t right. You know who it involves but can’t figure out why. It’s really chilling in places.

I don’t want to spoil the story too much but I really enjoyed this book. The film not so much. I would really recommend this to fans of psychological thrillers.

Jurassic Park – Michael Crichton

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We all know the story. Scientists obtain dinosaur DNA from bloodsucking insects that have been trapped in amber for millions of years, and use it to recreate dinosaurs. Deciding this scientific breakthrough can be monetised, a theme park is built on a remote jungle island to showcase the dinosaurs. A group of experts are invited to visit the island to test the impact and satisfy some safety concerns. The owner’s grandchildren come too. It doesn’t go as planned.

The film stays relatively close to the novel although the latter has much more detail in it. There are some differences in the characters – Hammond is more ruthless than naïve, Lex is the younger sibling in the novel and much more bratty. In the novel you find out why the triceratops is sick – the film never tells you.

Throughout the novel the science behind everything is explained without ever being boring.

It is action-packed and it was still a page-turner even though I’ve seen the movie a milion times. It’s obviously not high-brow literature but we don’t always want that. I liked it.

The Girl On The Train – Paula Hawkins

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*****CONTAINS SPOILERS*****

The Girl On The Train is a split narrative book and we hear the stories of Rachel, Megan and Anna whose lives interlink tragically.

We first encounter Rachel on her commute home from London. At first she seems like just another tired worker going back to the suburbs except that she has cans of gin and tonic in her bag and that’s just for starters. Rachel’s train journey goes along the backs of houses. For some reason Rachel is unable to look at number 23 so everyday when she passes that house she focuses instead on number 15. Rachel becomes obsessed with the couple that live there whom she names “Jess and Jason” and obsesses over their “perfect life” that she has invented in her head. But one day as she passes she sees something that startles her. She then reads that Jess, or Megan as she is actually known, has vanished. The papers seem to be implying that her husband is to blame but Rachel believes Jason/Scott to be innocent.

Rachel is an alcoholic and the house that she can’t bear look at is her old house where she used to live with her husband Tom who now lives there with his new wife Anna. She can’t remember much about the night Megan went missing near her old home but she keeps seeing flashes of blood, an underpass, a blue dress and a man with red hair but it is all jumbled in her mind. She feels like she knows something but just can’t remember it. Rachel tries to involve herself in the investigation but she is prone to blackouts, being irrational, drunk-dialing, etc so the police dismiss her. She can’t let it go though and the more she gets involved, the more danger she puts herself in. The more Rachel discovers about the missing Megan the less she likes her and Scott is also seems more slippery than his charming manner indicates.

I wouldn’t say any of the characters are likable. You feel sorry for Rachel but she is weak, emotionally unbalanced, occasionally spiteful and self-pitying. She is also overweight, relatively unattractive, a “sad sack” compared to the vibrant Megan and glossy, sexy Anna who glories in her victory over her predeccessor. She has been sacked from her job and is living in her long-suffering friend’s spare room. Megan has an interesting back story but it is not one that endears you to her. Anna is a bit of a bitch, I’m sorry but she is. She is appearance-obsessed, she fat-shames Rachel and gloats that she “won” when talking about her affair with Tom. Anna seems less the innocent victim of Rachel’s stalking and more a vindictive trouble-maker. And both Anna and Rachel are blind to Tom’s flaws.

Tom at first is a nice guy driven mad by a crazy ex-wife but there is something disquieting lurking beneath his calm surface. I guessed that he was the killer but I did not guess the stuff that comes out about his relationship with Rachel. It was so messed up and a real twist.

It was a really good read. The suspense builds up throughout the story. You have empathy for the unusual central character who turned to alcohol during her marriage to deal with her depression. The novel brings you inside the mind of an alcoholic. The different characters are interesting even if they aren’t particularly likable. I enjoyed it and would thoroughly recommend it.