Tag Archives: family

All The Bright Places – not a mood-booster

23357458So I learned a life lesson from All The Bright Places the other day. When you are stressed out and miserable, and all you want to do is get home and curl up with a good book, it is not a good idea to read the end of this book on a crowded tube home, when you have no tissues. It is a sob-fest. No other explanation needed.

And in case you were wondering, no it didn’t make me feel better. It just made my nose run for the entire 60-minute commute. It turns out I had no tissues. I was not prepared for this book.

All The Bright Places – Jennifer Niven

Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the ‘natural wonders’ of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself – a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

The cover of the copy I have says that this is the next Fault in Our Stars. Now, I didn’t really love The Fault in Our Stars (although I did sob my eyes out at it), so I don’t think that would be the greatest accolade for me. But it did give me something of a heads up about what direction this book might take.

So this is a really lovely book, in general. It’s about Violet and Finch, both of whom are struggling when they meet on the ledge of the bell-tower at school. Why would a school have a bell-tower? I don’t know. It’s never really explained. Violet has recently lost her sister, and is struggling to cope. Finch can’t stop thinking of ways to die, and is struggling to cope. But between the two of them, and a shared Geography project, they start to go about finding a way to live, and a way to stay in the present.

This book is really quite beautiful. It’s about falling in love, about struggling as a teenager, about coping with loss, about finding someone you can be yourself with, and about accepting people the way they are. It’s about finding a way to move forward and a way to connect with people even in the face of how hard life can be. It’s full of beautiful imagery and two messed-up, sad, lonely people who find a way to make each others’ worlds a little bit brighter.

I really did enjoy this book. I don’t recommend reading it in public places, though. And I did have one major complaint. The last thirty or forty pages of the book were a sampler of Jennifer Niven’s next book – Holding up the Universe. I’ve actually already read that, so I was pretty disappointed, as I thought there was still a fair chunk of story left to go. I wish books which have sample chapters at the end would make that clear from the beginning, so that I wouldn’t be left wanting more, just from the thickness of the pages I have left.

Still though – a lovely book, with lots of really lovely moments in it about love, life, and struggling, and how to find one small good thing to keep going.

Four Stars
****

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Books #76 & 77 Before The Storm/Secrets She Left Behind

chamberlain-secrets-behind-synopsis chamberlain-storm-synopsisI like Diane Chamberlain – she’s like a slightly less good Jodi Picoult, but filled with the same flavour of human drama that makes Picoult’s books so compelling. I’ve reviewed one other Chamberlain book on this blog, although I’ve read several more. So when I spotted Before the Storm in a bargain bin at the local Co-op, I picked it up, then the followup book, Secrets She Left Behind, not long after. And now it’s time to review them!

Before the Storm

Secrets She Left Behind

Fifteen-year-old Andy Lockwood is special.

Others notice the way he blurts out anything that comes into his mind, how he cannot foresee consequences, that he’s more child than teenager. But his mother sees a boy with a heart as open and wide as the ocean.

Laurel Lockwood lost her son once through neglect. She’s spent the rest of her life determined to make up for her mistakes, and she’s succeeded in becoming a committed, protective parent – maybe even overprotective. Still, she loosens her grip just enough to let Andy attend a local church social – a decision that terrifies her when the church is consumed by fire. But Andy survives…and remarkably, saves other children from the flames. Laurel watches as Andy basks in the role of unlikely hero and the world finally sees her Andy, the sweet boy she knows as well as her own heart.

But when the suspicion of arson is cast upon Andy, Laurel must ask herself how well she really knows her son…and how far she’ll go to keep her promise to protect him forever.

 

This duology of books was thoroughly enjoyable. Knowing that it was a Chamberlain, I went in expecting a high dose of drama, a misguided decision made in the heat of youth, attempts to protect family members, to put right past wrongs, and a searching investigation of the human condition.

I got everything I was expecting. Angsty teens, first love, arson, familial protection, alcoholism, affairs, revelations about parenthood – it’s all going on. And I loved it! Before the Storm is a part mystery, wondering who set the fire at the church, part love story, and part history of Laurel, which is hugely compelling. Secrets She Left Behind picks up nearly two years after the end of Before the Storm, and focuses on different players in the first book, both going back to the history revealed in Before the Storm, going through the fire from Keith’s point of view, and then following up on what happens in the years following.

Chamberlain books for me would be a guilty pleasure, if I felt in any way guilty about them. The thing is, though, I don’t. They’re over-the-top and melodramatic, and filled with a myriad of issues, as if any one family could have that many secrets and scandals. I absolutely love them for their pure escapism and ridiculousness. These two books are Chamberlain at her best, just realistic enough to be believable, and thoroughly enjoyable. Also, someone was killed by a whale, okay! Magnificent.

Four Stars for both books!
****

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GBBO

For the past twelve weeks, every Tuesday at eight I’ve sat down to watch the great British bake off.

An hour of baking, Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood, soggy bottoms, stressed out bakers and two fantastic presenters, Mel and Sue, it has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Steadfastly supporting Ruby all the he he way through (because she goes to UCL), I can’t say I was delighted with the results, but apparently I’m not good at predicting who’ll win the bake off – last year I wanted Scottish James to win, and he did not.

In any case, while I watched the bake off every week, I also discussed it with my sisters. So it meant that it was both an enjoyable tv experience and something I shared with my family at home.

But now? It’s over. I’m left bereft. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my Tuesday evenings, and I don’t know if I’ll ever speak to my sisters again. I need next year’s bake off to come around immediately.

*for reference! I’m not actually worried about not speaking to my sisters.

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Gone Girl

gone-girlAwh man. Awh man. THIS BOOK.

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

I was recommended this book a few weeks ago by Dave. He knows I read a lot, although I’m sure he despairs of the majority of awful YA fiction I read, but generally I’ll take any recommendation from him quite seriously. Except the Time Traveller’s Wife. THAT BOOK. I have many ranty feelings about it. That’s a post for another day.

Anyways. Gone Girl.
Amy and Nick are about to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. It’s the morning of. Pancakes are made. Loving greetings exchanged. Presents are being wrapped, dinner reservations made, and when Nick comes home from work, he finds Amy… not there.

As the police investigate, it becomes clear that Nick is hiding something – lying, evading questions, acting inappropriately and certainly marital relations were at an all time low. Interspersed with excerpts from his missing wife’s diary, it becomes clear that things are not how they seem. But is he a killer?

Well, this is the question which the book throws at you. But it’s not the only question. There are approximately a million more. And then some more after that. And the book flies through twists and turns and punches and holds nothing back so that reading it is an exercise in containing your shouted reactions, because the people on the train would look at you funny.

The best word I can come up with to describe this book is twisty. It’s dark, and it’s twisted, and the story is twisted, and the plot flies through a myriad of twists until you don’t know what’s up and what’s down and what’s true and what’s false any more.

It is incredible. It is a masterpiece. I’ve already gotten Flynn’s other two novels, and I’m hoping they’re just as good.

FIVE STARS. MAYBE EVEN SIX.
*****(*)

Thoroughly recommended. You should definitely read this book.
Also, I’m now re-evaluating all of my relationships, friends and family to wonder if I know them as well as I think I do. That is what this book did to me!

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