Sunday, February 3, 2019

Last Month's Books

I've joined a reading challenge at my local library so I've been reading a lot, and several of the books are outside my usual comfort zone.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I know this is an older, very popular thriller, but I don't usually read thrillers.  I read this one because the author has the same initials as I do and that was one of the challenge categories.  Frankly I guess I understand why it was a popular book, but I didn't really enjoy it - just no my style.

Rachel is a rather sad, alcoholic woman who takes the same commuter train into downtown London every day.  Daily it stops at a switch which allows her to spy on the lives of a seemingly happy young couple who live on the block where she used to live (and where her ex now lives with his new family).  She imagines the life of this couple, including inventing names for them, and is surprised one morning when she sees the woman on the deck with a different man.

Soon after she learns of the couples' real names as she learns the wife has disappeared.  And to her dismay she is a suspect as she was in the neighbourhood the night of the disappearance, but can't recall what happened as she blacked out.

The book takes many crazy twists and turns as Rachel tries to find out what happened to the missing woman and at the same time must come to terms with her failed marriage, her failed career and her alcoholism.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
This is also way outside my comfort zone as it is a graphic novel.  However, I found myself really enjoying it.  When the challenge required a graphic novel I remembered back to when this one was released.  I thought it sounded interesting at the time, but shied away because of the format.  Now I'm really glad I was challenged to try it - I have even put the sequel on my reading list!

The author grew up in Iran at the time of the revolution.  The book deals with the changes faced by very modern "westernized" people when the Islamic revolution resulted in drastic lifestyle changes, especially for a young teenage girl who had previously only been educated at co-ed French schools.

Both the words and the illustrations paint a clear picture of the impact on the author's life and, though not particularly complex or surprising, the story is an interesting read.

The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory
This is a sequel to Guillory's earlier romantic comedy, The Wedding Date, and is an equally fun read. Just to note, you don't have to have read the first book to enjoy or understand the second, there are just some overlapping characters.

In this book, Nikole goes to a Dodgers game with her semi-serious actor boyfriend and is shocked when he proposes to her on the scoreboard.  They had never discussed marriage and she really doesn't like him all that much (he doesn't even know how to properly spell her name on the scoreboard).  So when she turns him down publicly he and his friends retreat in anger leaving her to deal with an angry crowd and media circus.  Carlos and his sister Angie are sitting a few rows behind and come to her rescue by pretending to be long lost friends.

As I'm sure you've guessed, Carlos and Nikole slowly develop feelings for each other, despite their best intentions to avoid love.  Nikole is obviously burned by her disastrous relationship, and Carlos, a doctor in a new job is overwhelmed by his work and his responsibilities to his widowed mother, his sister and his cousin.

While the storyline is not surprising, Nikole and Carlos are likeable interesting characters, as are some of the side players like Carlos' sister.  Guillory writes with a lot of humour.  All in all it's a fun easy read.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
This is a very well written story about an odd, but likeable woman, who is suffering from the effects of childhood abuse, growing up in the foster system and social isolation.

The book is told from her very unique perspective - she is extremely socially awkward yet has a very defined sense of right and wrong which causes her to judge others in her own skewed way.  She is successful at her job but really has no idea how to interact with her colleagues so dreads any social interaction and races home to drink vodka all weekend.  Once a week she has dreaded phone conversations with her mummy.

Everything changes when she has to call the new IT person at her firm, Raymond.  He is awkward in his own way though far more functioning that Eleanor.  He is also extremely kind and works hard to bring Eleanor out of her shell - this is somewhat helped by their chance encounter with an elderly man who falls on the street.  When they get him help they are embraced by his large family.  Raymond also takes her to meet his mother who is also a bit lonely and gets her a cat to care for.

Through Raymond's kindness, Eleanor works to come to terms with her demons and while you don't get the impression she'll ever be totally "normal" she comes a long way.

Dear Evelyn by Kathy Page
This book was a little slow for my liking, but I'm not sorry I read it.  It essentially follows the long life and marriage of Harry Miles - starting with his birth on a working class London street between the world wars and ending when he is a great grandfather.

Harry is bright and wins a scholarship to a prestigious school.  There, through a teacher who is a veteran of the first world war, he discovers a love of poetry and a hatred of war.  Shortly after he meets Evelyn on the steps of a library.  She also has a love of literature but is a much stronger personality than the rather easygoing Harry.  They marry shortly before Harry enlists at the start of the second world war.  The title is taken from the long love letters he sends Evelyn while he is at war.

There are no major events in their lives to speak of.  In fact this is really the story of a very ordinary marriage and family life.  We see how two very different people make love work and build their lives on that foundation.

Turtles all the way Down by John Green
This young adult book written from the perspective of Aza, a teenage girl with an anxiety disorder, was really interesting.  The reader is drawn into her ever spiralling thoughts on everything from her fear of c-dificile, to her deceased father, to her friendship with Daisy (a Star Wars fan fiction writer) and her budding feelings for Davis, a boy who she met years before at "sad camp" (a camp for children whose parents died).  Though there is an action story surrounding the disappearance of Davis' billionaire father, the real story is Aza's inner struggle to deal with her very busy everyday life while constantly being hijacked by her own intrusive thought spirals.  It also clearly illustrates the benefits of strong parental support, therapy and friendships in dealing with this type of anxiety.

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