Book Review: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train

Paula Hawkins

Published 2015 by Riverhead Books

336 pages

Girlontrain.jpg

Goodreads Synopsis:

EVERY DAY THE SAME
Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning and night. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. Jess and Jason, she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

UNTIL TODAY
And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel goes to the police. But is she really as unreliable as they say? Soon she is deeply entangled not only in the investigation but in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

 

My Review:

The story of Rachel and her predictable, boring life takes an unpredicted turn when she becomes the only witness to a change in a stranger’s routine.

Rachel is kind of down and out you could say. Her recent divorce and addiction to alcohol haven’t helped, and she’s living in a sort-of friend’s flat with no prospects of moving out. She doesn’t have much to live for except brief moments of attention from her ex and a gin and tonic from the off-license.

The highlight of her day is riding the 8:04 train to London in order to witness Jesse and Jason, the couple she’s been observing for months. Then one day she sees something wrong from her view on the train, and she thrusts herself into the story of Megan and Scott – the true identities of the couple revealed to her. And she soon discovers that Jess and Jason – Megan and Scott – aren’t quite what she imagined them to be.

When I say she thrusts herself into the story that is exactly what I mean. Rachel is the protagonist in this story, but in many ways she is deeply troubled. Her struggle with loss concedes terrible coping methods, including her need to be actively involved in he disappearance of Megan Hipwell and her suspected husband, Scott.

The story is told from the perspective of three characters – Rachel, who is the girl on the train, Megan, the girl who’s disappeared, and Anna, the new wife of Rachel’s ex. Rachel is an extremely complex character which made the story interesting and helped drive the plot. Megan and Anna were less complex characters, but not un-interesting. The story was driven by the psychological processes and histories of these three women.

The Girl on the Train took me some time to finish. Granted this is mostly due to my own scheduling, but I can’t help but think part of it was due to the fact I was already in tune to how it was all going to end. I knew from the beginning that all three stories were going to be important – Rachel, Megan, and Anna. Rachel and Megan’s parts were obvious, but Anna’s part meant it had another kind of importance and because of this truth, I had a harder time reaching the end because I knew what was waiting there. I’m trying not to give too much away.

However, the ending proved to be an addictive one. Once I reached a certain point in the story I absolutely could not put the book down. I was enthralled and when I finished the book I was a satisfied reader. Paula Hawkins knows how to pull a story together!

4 stars (2)

I give The Girl on the Train a four out of five stars. The characters were unique, particularly Rachel and her dark, blotchy past. The story had a steady build with a gripping end.

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Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

We Were Liars (Audiobook Version)

Written by E. Lockhart

Narrated by: Ariadne Meyers

Published 2014 by Random House

Runtime: 06:26:33

liars

Goodreads Synopsis:

A beautiful and distinguished family.
A private island.
A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy.
A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive.
A revolution. An accident. A secret.
Lies upon lies.
True love.
The truth.

We Were Liars is a modern, sophisticated suspense novel from National Book Award finalist and Printz Award honoree E. Lockhart.
Read it.
And if anyone asks you how it ends, just LIE.

My Review:

I listened to the audiobook version of We Were Liars, narrated by Ariadne Meyers. I really enjoyed this as an audiobook since it was simple to follow and Meyers did a great job with voices.

We Were Liars is a stunning tale of friends who only know each other on the island their wealthy families own. The island is a paradise, and in its description it’s hard not to believe just that. But as the synopsis will suggest, there is ALWAYS trouble in paradise.

The plot was slow to form, but it is clear early on that there is something horrible about the Sinclairs. It’s nothing shocking honestly. The family is filthy rich and battles for inheritance become threat to the threads that hold the family together. But that’s not what this story is about. It was an entertaining part of the novel and in many ways I thought it was going to play a bigger picture in the story. No, this story is about the children. What happens to the kids of a broken, wealthy family?

Drunk on power and the realization of the lack thereof, this novel is a roller-coaster of hope and failure. There is pain that no one talks about and the healing is slow. I was fascinated by the characters in this book. The liars, each beautiful and terrible in their own ways. Not that you can blame them. And then you have the aunts and their constant bickering, and grandad and his dementia. Lockhart creates a family portrait that intrigues readers. All set in the picture-perfect setting of their private island.

Amidst the bickering, there is also romance. I was less impressed with the romance. Of course Lockhart’s teenage love was much more realistic than many other young adult novels.The love felt shallow and constricted although I think we were supposed to believe it was more than that.

As I mentioned above, I thought the novel was a bit slow moving. With a lot of focus on Cadence’s self-pity. It was all worth it in the end when the reader finally understands everything. There is genuine horror in this novel. I was shocked so much that my mind was reeling my entire shift at work. I had the fortunate experience of finishing the book moments before my shift started. It really messed with my head.

I don’t want to give away anything, so all I can say is that I loved the conclusion of this novel. It was a harsh pull back to reality. I highly recommend this book!

4 stars (2)

I give We Were Liars by E. Lockhart a 4 out of 5 stars

Book Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One

Written by Ernest Cline

Published 2011 by Random House NY

374 pages

ready

Goodreads Synopsis:

In the year 2044, reality is an ugly place. The only time teenage Wade Watts really feels alive is when he’s jacked into the virtual utopia known as the  OASIS. Wade’s devoted his life to studying the puzzles hidden within this world’s digital confines, puzzles that are based on their creator’s obsession with the pop culture of decades past and that promise massive power and fortune to whoever can unlock them. When Wade stumbles upon the first clue, he finds himself beset by players willing to kill to take this ultimate prize. The race is on, and if Wade’s going to survive, he’ll have to win—and confront the real world he’s always been so desperate to escape.

My Review:

This book was a thrill to read! It’s a nostalgic blast from the past for anyone who grew up in the 80’s or had parents that impressed 80’s culture upon you *raises hand*.

You didn’t have to grow up in the 80’s to enjoy this book though. For any fans of futuristic novels – science fiction and dystopic novels alike, this book has appeal to all nerds, geeks, and totally normal people. Cline explores a future not too different from today, except food is even more scarce and the environment is even more screwed up. Oh, and there’s this virtual reality that has entranced most of the globe’s population.

Before you turn away, know this book isn’t a campaign for sustainability and lack of human integrity or anything.  While Cline does make small remarks to the poor health and uncleanliness of some of the OASIS users, this is foremost a tale of a heroic gamer.   Wade Watts or Parzival as he goes by in the massive online game doesn’t have much of a life on Earth, but in the Oasis he can educate himself and socialize with new people. It is a haven. But with all good things, someone wants to monopolize it and essentially destroy its worth. That’s why the competition for a billionaire’s fortune could mean salvation for so many like Wade. And the only way to win is by knowing the game.

I really enjoyed this book as a light, comic read. It’s a classic hero on quest tale, root for the underdog, that kind of thing. You’ll have a blast following Wade and his friends Aech and Art3mis on their journey through the Oasis and deciphering some cryptic 80’s trivia.

The best part is when the story becomes a mix between real life danger and virtual. There were moments in the story that I forgot were taking place on Earth and not on some planet within the Oasis. Wade’s mission to find the video game’s egg will go as far as putting his own life on the line. With billions of dollars at stake, there’s a high cost to this hunt. And to add on top of the dangers of the egg hunt, Wade seems to have fallen in love with one of his fellow gunters (that’s what they called the gamers who were hunting for the egg). It’s an emotional thrill ride.

Perhaps my favorite part was when the characters are revealed in their real life. Even as a reader its easy to imagine virtual relations in a certain way. Everyone in the Oasis has an avatar, but that doesn’t mean that’s what they actually look like. It certainly levels the playing field. What Cline does with this understanding was the best part and satisfying for the conclusion of the novel.

I really enjoyed this book and I think it would be a fun read for all ages. Although some of the details from the 80’s pop culture can become overwhelming. It wouldn’t hurt to have Youtube and Google readily available if you’re not familiar with all of the references. The one dislike I have for this story was the predictability. It was difficult to be completely satisfied with the ending because I was already prepared for it. Of course I wanted that ending. I loved it. But I thought it was missing something. For that reason only I deduct one star. Overall, I thought Ready Player One was a refreshing read and I would read it again in a heartbeat.

4 stars (2)

I give Ready Player One by Ernest Cline a 4 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: A Walk in the Woods

A Walk in the Woods

by Bill Bryson

aT2

In a trek along one of America’s greatest trails, mountain man Bill Bryson provides a comedic and sometimes tart outlook on American culture.

Doesn’t that cover, with vibrant greens and a curious bear, just draw you in? Does it make you want to dive in to this written journey of the Appalachian Trail? It did for me. And after my very short experience on the trail, I was more than ready to experience the full thing (if maybe not with my own two feet just yet).

Reading about someone hiking along a 2,000 mile trail admittedly sounds like some boring reading, but Bryson makes sharp insights about culture, nature preservation, and people. It helps that Bryson’s comedic undertones, or his obvious satire , engages readers with the reading and Bryson’s rhetoric does not go unnoticed. For example, when he makes a dangerous, hilarious walk to a store for a simple purchase, Bryson makes readers very aware of the near disregard for using one’s legs as transportation, and ultimately an incline in toxic traffic.

Bryson’s partner, Stephen Katz, is wonderfully clumsy and belligerent. His sweet and sour attitude makes a peaceful walk among the trees a ruffled journey. And I can’t forget to mention the other lovely characters met along the trail – know-it-all Mary Ellen whose relentless banter earned her a reputation among hikers of the trail, and Chicken John, who was so hopelessly lost.

Unfortunately, there were no bear sightings or really much danger at all. Aside from a blizzard and Katz lost in the wilderness, the story is without much action. The plot of this memoir relies on the very comedic situations Bryson experiences along the trail and off of it. Whether he is speeding down a highway after hitching a ride with drunken strangers, arguing with Katz about cream soda, or terrified of being blown off a mountain by high speed winds, there is rarely dull moments with Bryson.

When the situations aren’t funny, they are often fascinating and just as engrossing as Bryson’s other stories. The town above an old burning mine was such an intriguing story. Much of the North East portion of the country, that is rarely glorified in fiction or non-fiction, was suddenly fascinating and I dreamed of a walk in a New Hampshire wood, which I can assure you, had never crossed my mind before.

I highly recommend this book as a solid memoir, filled with sharp insights and layers of humor for all readers. There is a fascinating history to the Appalachian Trail and America’s forest. If you appreciate nature, and you ought to, delve into Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods, and see perspective on new and ancient forest, trail, and country.

I give A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson a four out of five stars.

4 stars (2)

Book Review: The Giver

The Giver

by Lois Lowry

GiverGoodreads Synopsis:

Jonas’ world is perfect. Everything is under control. There is no war or fear or pain. There are no choices. Every person is assigned a role in the Community. When Jonas turns twelve, he is singled out to receive special training from The Giver. The Giver alone holds the memories of the true pain and pleasure of life. Now, it is time for Jonas to receive the truth. There is no turning back

 

My Review: 

Short and direct, Lowry reveals the stark hideousness of Sameness. Jonas, who at age eleven would today still be considered a child, is eager to receive his Assignment – that is, what he will be doing with the rest of his life. Except Jonas isn’t Assigned, he is Selected. And from here, the tumultuous plot transpires.

It might be bold of me to say this, but I think every child and adult  entertains the idea of a world with no war, no pain, no bullies, etc. at least once in his or her life. This isn’t an original idea, but Lowry is prepared to display the cost of such a world. The sacrifices made are known only to a few, but to the child who has to suffer them all, how does he cope?

What if you had to follow the same routine each day, everything was assigned and predetermined. You’d hate it, right? What if you never knew another way? Would you hate it then? Chances are you wouldn’t even know what Hate is. This is the idea that Lowry explores. While on somewhat of a forced, obvious agenda, The Giver explores humanity. While some critics debate the propaganda of Lowry’s novel, I can’t say I entirely agree. True, The Giver is not far from anti-socialist works, but it barely covers the surface. The novel is much too ambiguous to be sufficient in this purpose. In interviews, Lowry openly admits to not having imagined the mechanics of the society of The Giver. The beginning and cause to each aspect of the society is extremely vague; the plot mainly driven by how the citizens react to the society that exists.

The Giver, in the hands of both children and adults, evokes imagination of Utopia. And then Lowry challenges that notion by questioning if the sacrifices are truly beneficial to the outcome. I think it is a good story for all readers. I remember reading it as a child and it is certainly a different read so many years later. Due to the character’s predictable conscious, it was a bit difficult to empathize with Mother, Father, Lilly, Asher, and Fiona. Not until Jonas and Giver began to experience emotion was I, as a reader, more able to engage the mind of the character. This is where the emotional tugging occurred. It’s worth reading to the second half of the novel. It’s a short novel though, so readers shouldn’t have too much difficulty working through the monotony of the society until Jonas receives his first memories.

 

I give The Giver four out of five stars.

 4 stars (2)

Book to Box Office: The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars (2014)

written by Scott Neustadtar, Michael H. Weber, and John Green

Directed by Josh Boone

Starring Shailene Woodley and Ansel Elgort

tfios film

IMBD Synopsis:

Hazel and Gus are two teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them on a journey. Their relationship is all the more miraculous given that Hazel’s other constant companion is an oxygen tank, Gus jokes about his prosthetic leg, and they met and fell in love at a cancer support group.

 

My Review:

As a highly anticipated film, I had certain expectations of this movie although I was careful not to put my expectations too high. The Fault in Our Stars delivered. I was not disappointed. In fact, I think I need to see it again.

First and foremost, for those die hard fans out there the film does a great job of following the book. Is it just me or are filmmakers finally understanding that fan viewers really like to see the story they read visually portrayed?  With that though does come some downfalls. I loved the fact that the story swayed very little from the book. But because it did so, I think the film lost some of its magic. It was less of an emotional journey as in the book readers were in the first person narrative of Hazel Grace, in the film not as much. Not just that, but there were definitely some ‘pleaser lines’ if you will. That is, the well-adored quotes from the book are loud and clear throughout the film, almost as if picking out the popular items from the novel and using them as items in the storyline to help sell it to the audience. It felt somewhat disconnected to me, like the story existed to tell these insights. I understand the audience will love it, but I didn’t think these insights were delivered with the personality the book intended. I was surprised that the title line, the quote that identifies the reasoning behind the popular title, was left out. Unless I just missed it?

As for the casting, Woodley and Elgort delivered the personalities of Hazel and Augustus perfectly. Woodley had the cool and distant demeanor and Elgort did a particularly good job with his facial expressions, which were slight but delivered quite the blow. These two are going to become headlining actors after their performance in Divergent and now The Fault in Our Stars. Personally, I think both Woodley and Elgort were more suited to the roles of Hazel and Augustus than they were meant for Tris and Caleb in Divergent.

During the film I was most looking forward to the confrontation between Peter Van Houten and Hazel and Gus. This scene was very good! Even though Peter wasn’t quite as I expected him, William DeFoe portrayed the actor with ideas I actually liked better than I originally imagined him. The scene followed as expected, but again, lost its touch of magic as we were outside Hazel’s thoughts and certain things, such as Peter’s assistant and the Swedish rap music, seemed underdeveloped in comparison to the novel.

The scene I was most impressed with actually followed the author confrontation scene. When Hazel, Gus, and Lidewij went to Anne Frank’s house. Whoa! the symbolism here and Hazel’s stubbornness were more dominant than what I remembered in the book. At one point the symbolism became a touch overdone, but I suppose the whole thing suited the taste of the film, following the major ideals and metaphor’s of the book. Hazel’s comparison to Anne Frank and their two stories, two struggles met in that house. I was impressed with the interpretations in this scene.

Even though I continue to say the film had less magic than the book, I understand that novel and film are two completely different mediums with two completely different ways of presenting a story. With each Book to Box Office Review I write, there is a certain difficulty comparing the two devices. While I was grateful for the filmmakers to keep the story so close to its original script, John Green’s book, I admit I wished to see a touch more interpretation. It’s one thing to make the characters move and say the same things as they do in the novel, but another to make the audience feel the same way about them. Josh Boone really did a superb job directing this film, but as usual, the novel holds more emotional impact than the film was able to deliver. Of course, I still shed a tear or two. It is an emotional story after all.

As for the elements of film, I’m much less educated to this aspect. However, I was constantly impressed with the costumes of all the characters. Isaac’s character probably surprised me the most, but it was a pleasant surprise as I realized I hadn’t spent too much time creating Isaac as a character while I read. Hazel’s loose, somewhat baggy, clothes suited a cancer-ridden frame of a sick child. She wore simple tees in basic, not-too-loud colors that suited her ‘whatever’, careful-not-to-get-too-close to anyone attitude. And Augustus wore that brown, leather jacket like a hero. It suited his athletic build – a shadow to his life before cancer, but it also reminded me of a fighter pilot, a motorcyclist, or some other action figure that perfectly suited Augustus’s consistent desire for heroism.

While I know little about the mechanics of film, other than operating a few digital projectors at work, I really enjoyed the way this film was shot. The scenes didn’t hover around the characters, but made them part of a larger picture. The images were sometimes blurred and bright – beautiful, simple, yet artistic. I don’t always notice the cinematography (I hope that is the right word), but the way The Fault in Our Stars was filmed seemed another artistic filter for the story directly. It is how Hazel and Gus would have imagined it, I believe.

Also, the soundtrack was. amazing. There are probably about thirty seconds of film that I entirely missed (is that Ray Lamontagne? It is, I’m sure of it. Oooh! I haven’t heard this song before – and so on).  Again, the soundtrack was another artistic element that persuaded the film to be a touch more of John Green’s beloved novel.

The Fault in Our Stars is a film that will please audiences whether they are John Green fans, only fans of The Fault in Our Stars, Woodley or Elgort fans, and even everyone else. It is emotional, but happy as well. You shouldn’t leave sad and you won’t cry uncontrollably so its probably okay for a date night movie. For those seeing it after reading the book, don’t pick it apart at the seams. It does follow the book nicely. You won’t be disappointed, but as a novel is a larger investment into character and plot development, don’t be too critical if you feel like that same spark isn’t in the film. It’s okay. Actually, it’s good.

I give The Fault in Our Stars, directed by Josh Boone a four out of five stars.

4 stars (2)

Read the book review here

Also on IMDB

seen the film? Looking forward to it? I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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