Book Review: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train

Paula Hawkins

Published 2015 by Riverhead Books

336 pages

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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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Audiobook Review: Neverwhere: BBC Dramatization

 

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Nevewhere by Neil Gaiman

Dramatization written by Dirk Maggs

Narrated by James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Christopher Lee, Anthony Head, David Harewood, and more

Runtime: 3 hours and 48 minutes

Goodreads Synopsis:

Beneath the streets of London there is another London. A subterranean labyrinth of sewers and abandoned tube stations. A somewhere that is Neverwhere.

My Review:

I’ve read a lot of great reviews on this book, and I certainly enjoyed it. However, it wasn’t quite what I expected it to be, and therefore, to my fullest regret, I can not give this review five stars.

Gaiman has never disappointed me, and I’m not saying Neverwhere was a disappointment, but  the abridged version was far too rushed for the entire story to be as compelling as Gaiman originally wrote it.

Let me start with the story. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman is a brilliant story, and I was completely captured with London beneath and London above. The premise of the story, a second London in which all memories forgotten, and all of the people who have fallen through the cracks exist, was a thrill. It had everything you love about fantasy – mystery, danger, a little bit of nonesense. I highly recommend the story of Neverwhere

This version was abridged, which I knew before starting. I know that abridged versions can’t possibly tell the story with the same suspense as the original, but I felt this one was shortened too much. The original audiobook is over 12 hours long and this version comes in at less than 3 hours. A fraction of the time means a fraction of the story.

The storytelling itself was very good. It was told by some popular Hollywood voices such as Christopher Lee, James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, Benedict Cumberbatch, Anthony Head…. and more. Neil Gaiman even makes a small appearance. They told the story very well and I had no difficulty with understanding the character’s roles; it was easy to recognize their emotion and predicament simply by the use of tone and expression of the narrators. It is a dramatic reading, so you can expect to get the full effect of the story that is told. It is much like watching a film with your eyes closed. They even used sound effects in every scene. In fact, the sound effects were as much a part of the story as was the voice acting.

The audio mixing was well done, but I had a hard time understanding the actors at times when the sound effects were too dominant. I was listening with my headphones and I was constantly adjusting the volume up and down because the voices would get lost in the sounds of splashing water or sometimes the sound effects would be deafening loud. The sound effects helped lay out the scene, but they interrupted the story at times beyond their usefulness.

I was enjoying the story and nearly addicted to listening to it; I was more than happy to have to wait for the bus to arrive to my stop since it allowed me plenty of time to listen to the story uninterrupted. I made my way through the first 6 chapters and was giddy to begin the last one. I was on a long car drive, so I knew I would be able to finish it without stopping. To my disappointment however, the story was already done. The last 28 minutes of the story, all of chapter 7, were bloopers and additional readings from the cast. I felt cheated out of more story. Granted, the bloopers had me laughing out loud at times, but I was much more interested in learning more of the story.

Ultimately, Neverwhere was worth the read. I still highly recommend this story to anyone with any interest. It’s a compelling story and the voice acting is very well done. I’m sure I will return to it often for a quick read. Some of the sound effects were distracting to the story, and the abridged version will never be a match for the full version, but Neverwhere is engaging fantasy for all book-lovers.

I give Neverwhere: BBC Dramatization a 3 out of 5 stars. 

3 Stars

Book Review: Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver

Vanishing Girls

Written by Lauren Oliver

Narrated by Elizabeth Evans, Saskia Maarleveld, and several others

Published 2015 by HarperCollins

Runtime: 09:39:47

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Goodreads Synopsis:

Dara and Nick used to be inseparable, but that was before—before Dara kissed Parker, before Nick lost him as her best friend, before the accident that left Dara’s beautiful face scarred. Now the two sisters, who used to be so close, aren’t speaking. In an instant, Nick lost everything and is determined to use the summer to get it all back.

But Dara has other plans. When she vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. But another girl has vanished, too—nine-year-old Madeline Snow—and as Nick pursues her sister, she becomes increasingly convinced that the two disappearances may be linked.

In this edgy and compelling novel, New York Times bestselling author Lauren Oliver creates a world of intrigue, loss, and suspicion as two sisters search to find themselves, and each other.

My Review:

I was initially captured by this story because of the relationship between Nick and Dara, sisters and best friends. It reminded me instantly of my own sister and I’s relationship. The stark differences in the two, the similarities, and the way they combined perfectly to make a lasting friendship – I could tell this was the foundation to a good story with solid characters.

Things get complicated when a boy gets involved. Parker, their childhood friend. I’ll admit the love triangle here was a bit awkward. Parker was the sister’s best friend since they were small children and now he’s dating one of them, the other obviously in love with him… it seems so unhealthy. The romance and heartbreak seemed out of place throughout the novel. It did tie in at the end, but in such a small way I thought the whole plot revolving this could have been tighter.

The title of the story is “Vanishing Girls” though, and that’s what the story kept trying to lead up to. The story of Madeline Snow’s disappearance wasn’t subtle to the rest of the plot. It was obvious it was going to tie in, but stayed separate for so long. Regardless, it was compelling to read and the mystery surrounding it was the best part of this story. Things finally started to get intense when Nick caught on the trail of the truth.

After I finished the book I realized that many of the things that annoyed me about the book were set in place for a reason. The story is ultimately about Nick’s healing and coping process. However, her time spent working at Fantasy Land amusement park bored me. Again it played a small part in the conclusion of the novel. Lauren Oliver wove a lot of symbolism into the story though, Fantasy Land included. Again, it wasn’t very subtle, but the writing was clear and engaging.

Finally we get to the twist ending. I might have appreciated it more if I haven’t read so many endings just like it recently. It’s not that its uncreative or even unoriginal, there’s just been so many variations of this already. When I reached the end of the novel, I expected to have this hurting chest, bereft of air, can’t-believe-it moment. I mean, it was good, and I tried not to compare it other novels, but the comparison was just too relevant. With the conclusion of the novel, a lot of things fell into place. I understood small details of the story that I was confused on their placement.  Everything fit together, but still, not very tightly. Some things, such as the relationship with Parker and Fantasy Land, I felt were overworked into the novel to have such small importance in the conclusion.

Overall, the novel was an enjoyable read. I read the audiobook version, which became a bit confusing at times due to the number of narrators. I believe a print version would have been easier to follow. Each narrator, particularly for Dara and Nick, would use voice variations for quotations, which is great narrating. The problem came in when the voices of Nick and Dara were read differently by each narrator, the story just lost its reality. It is more difficult to get lost in a novel when the voices literally change. Also, the return back and forth between the present and the past made it more difficult to follow in the audio version.

2.5 Stars

Vanishing Girls by Lauren Oliver is an entertaining read. The mystery was gripping, and the conclusion brought clarity to the whole story. Despite some loose connections and drawn out scenes, I enjoyed this novel. I give it 2.5 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner

by James Dashner

Published by Delacorte Press

374 pages

MR

 

Goodreads Synopsis:

When Thomas wakes up in the lift, the only thing he can remember is his name. He’s surrounded by strangers–boys whose memories are also gone.

Outside the towering stone walls that surround the Glade is a limitless, ever-changing maze. It’s the only way out–and no one’s ever made it through alive.

Then a girl arrives. The first girl ever. And the message she delivers is terrifying.

My Review: 

What if the world you hated was better than the world you desired – you just didn’t know it yet?

Dashner poses a unique threat to a semi-post-apocalyptic premise.  The harrowing tales of a group of boys who supposedly have been surviving in what they call the Glade for nearly two years, is unique in the sense that haven and danger stand side-by-side in this unpredictable tale.

The story lets in on the action, no background, just a boy who has only his name and no other memories. He’s welcomed to the Glade by a large group of boys about his age, and all he knows that this place is dangerous. How dangerous, though, he has no idea. The other boys seem to refuse to answer Thomas’s questions and since his arrival in the Glade, he suspects even more at risk than anyone lets on, and somehow he now has a part in it.

The Maze Runner isn’t an entirely new concept, it follows much of the popular fiction that kids have loved for years, but it does bring something new and fascinating to the story – puzzles. The whole book is like an abstract image you have to try to piece together. It can be a challenging read for some as there is so little information given throughout the story, especially in the beginning. The maze is just as fascinating and terrifying to the readers as it is to the characters, but mostly it is just infuriating. How many dead ends can you run into? Reader empathy is not too difficult with this book.

I mostly enjoyed the mazes of the book. Just like the boys struggled with the maze, readers struggled with the plot and all that it witheld.

However, there were some shortcomings to this book that I have a hard time overlooking. First, all the boys are considered geniuses. Well, there was never an explanation as to why all boys were chosen. There might be a very reasonable explanation, but Dashner so far has not offered anything to the readers. The only time a girl arrives, she is there to disrupt everything and mostly regarded in terms of her beauty. As a female reader, I’m trying not to find this text a bit sexist, but there was just so little explanation. Second, all the boys are considered geniuses, but they really didn’t prove that they knew that much. In fact, most of the time they seemed pretty clueless. Perhaps they shouldn’t have been described as genius, but rather courageous, because that they were. They were brave, but nearly to the point of stupidity. They endured a lot of misery over two years and still had the strength to carry on, but I’m not entirely convinced they were geniuses.

Some final thoughts – I loved the idea of the grievers. I’m intensely curious to see how they are portrayed in the upcoming film. I thought these were some incredibly creative monsters. Absolutely horrifying. It had this book  balancing on the genres of supernatural thriller, mystery, and horror all at once.

And lastly, the ending of this book was fantastic, horrible, but the perfect shock to put any dedicated reader into a coma for at least an hour.

There’s a lot more I could talk about with this novel, but I’m going to end it here. Comment or email if you want to talk about it more!

 

I give The Maze Runner by James Dashner 4 out of 5 stars.

4 stars (2)