Book Reviews, Sci-Fi & Fantasy, YA Sci-Fi & Fantasy, Young Adult

My Side of the Diamond – Sally Gardner Review

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Rating: ★★★

I went into this book completely blind, having been sent it a few months ago by the publisher. This isn’t a book I would typically pick up, but it did impress me. It also confused me a bit, as I couldn’t quite figure out the genre or the age of the intended audience. I wish it had been a little bit longer with some more exploration of some of the characters, but the short length was also part of its appeal.

The main narrator of the book is Jazmin, who has been shunned by everyone since the disappearance of her best friend Becky, who jumped off of a tall building, but never landed. Jazmin told people what happened, but nobody believed her, and now, she is telling her story again. Other narrators also tell their story, in separate but linked tales that eventually interweave in order to tell us what really happened to Becky when she jumped off that building. It’s a slow-burn drama, but mystery is enough to keep you hooked, and the narrators’ voices are strong and clear.

I really liked the narrative style of this. It is told in a second person narrative by various people who are being interviewed about their experiences. They tell the events of the story as they unfolded in their perspective. This means that you don’t have the same reading experience as you would in another novel, where you might feel like the events are happening to you. It isn’t really possible to disappear into the story, so to speak, because at no point does it stop feeling like you are just reading about it, rather than living it. If the book was longer, this might have ended up bothering me, but for its short length that meant I finished it in two days, I didn’t mind this.

Although it wasn’t completely clear from the blurb or even the first few chapters, this book is science fiction. Aliens are mentioned pretty early on, but for a big chunk of the book I couldn’t figure out if the characters were mad or not. This made reading it a bit strange. Also, the age range of this book wasn’t clear either. I was sure from the cover art and the simple style of the narrative that this was a children’s or young adult book, but the narrators are all adults, so I’m not so sure. If you prefer your genre fiction to have very strong elements of that genre, this might not be for you, but otherwise, I enjoyed the mystery and gentle unfolding of the truth.

Whilst the short length worked well in some respects, I think that the book failed to explore some elements of the story. For example, the characters themselves were not very well developed, and many of them simply felt like they were there to push the plot without their identities really being clear. This was especially confusing when they all resulted to be relatives or friends of each other in some way, because I couldn’t tell one apart from the other in order to remember their significance. The romantic storylines also felt forced and very shallow, as the characters seem to fall in love out of nowhere, with no real reasons for their attraction or development in their relationship. This was a major flaw for me as Gardner tried to make love a central theme of the book.

Overall, there were strong and weak points in My Side of the Diamond. I liked the style of narrating, especially the parts where the second-person perspective was clear, and I liked that the book was short. However, I would have preferred for there to have been more character exploration. There were sections of the story that, in my opinion, could have been sacrificed for more character development, or the book could have been a little bit longer to make room for that.

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Book Reviews, Non-Fiction

84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, but sometimes there are books that I just have to read. This was one of them. I love shopping for books in the used books stores on Charing Cross Road, and when I discovered there was a book on the same subject, I was instantly in love. This book was even more enjoyable than I expected, I am happy to report, and a brilliant sweet, short read.

Helene Hanff was a struggling writer in New York who loved to buy second hand books. Wanting to get the best value for money, she wrote all the way to London’s Marks & Co bookshop at 84 Charing Cross Road to have her books delivered to place her orders. Over the course of 20 years, she struck up a friendship with many of the shop’s staff, but mainly with Frank Doel, a bookseller who took personal responsibility for her orders, and even with his family. Although she never had the opportunity to meet Frank in person, or even to see the bookshop – Frank having died, and the shop having closed by the time she managed to visit London – this makes the letters between them even more moving to read, and especially in this day and age, it was really touching to see how such long lasting relationships could grow across oceans, through the medium of letters. My own copy was followed by the sequel, The Duchess of Bloomsbury, Helene’s diaries from when she finally managed to visit London. Although I didn’t enjoy this section as much, her wit and unique voice is equally strong here.

The thing that really makes this book so great is Helene’s brilliant writing. Her character really came through in her writing, and her letters are so witty and teasing that you will find yourself chuckling away at them. You could really get a feel for all of the characters through the letters, from Helene’s cheery humour to Frank’s more stiff-upper-lip reserve, the gossiping receptionist and his caring wife. It was also lovely to see the passage of time through their letters, and see how the relationships evolved into genuinely caring friendships. Frank remembers requests that Helene made years before, Helene asks after his family and even talks to his wife in separate letters, and although they plan for years to meet each other in London, the evolution of this slow-burn friendship is cut tragically short by circumstance, the event that prompted Helene to publish her letters.

Being such a short book with such lively writing, this was a really enjoyable read. It is barely over 100 pages but in that short period you feel like you have gotten to know Helene and the staff at Marks & Co. I definitely recommend it for a lively, sweet book about book, friendships, and friendships about books!

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Book Reviews, Contemporary

You – Caroline Kepnes Review

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Rating: ★★★★★

I have a secret love of true crime documentaries, particularly, anything to do with scary serial killers and their psychology. Even though they leave me creeped out for days afterwards, I also enjoy the fear a little bit. This book felt just like those documentaries feel, but worse. If you’re looking for a book to make you feel a bit creeped out – or probably, very creeped out – look no further. Let me introduce you to the scariest book I have ever read.

You is a story told from the perspective of Joe, a bookseller in a used and rare bookstore. One day, Beck walks into his store, a young creative writing student, and he is instantly smitten. But, this isn’t just a crush. Joe descends into a full-blown obsession with Beck, ehe is determined to have her, and will do anything to remove obstacles between them. The novel traces his various manoeuvres to not only successfully meet Beck, but to get her to fall in love with him, and to keep her by his side.

Hands down the best thing about this novel was the narration. The entire story is told from Joe’s perspective, in the second person, as if he is talking to Beck directly – the ‘You’ of the title. The effect of this is striking from the first page, and Kepnes really captures Joe’s voice as he explains everything that he is thinking and feeling. Sometimes it reads like he is writing a letter to Beck, sometimes it reads more like a stream of consciousness narrative, as if we are actually listening to his own inner thought process. It is incredibly effective, and elevates the creepiness factor to brilliant heights.

The plot itself is also exciting. Joe has no limits, and it makes the book both a thrilling and horrifying read. On the one hand, you’re intrigued to see how much further Joe will go to secure his goal. With every new thing that he does, you are shocked to find that he has taken that extra step, from tracking down a person’s social media, to their address, to their location on various social outings. By the halfway point, I was convinced that the rest of the book would be a downhill ride, because how could Kepnes keep up the pace, but she did! On the other hand, it’s also terrifying to read, as you realise that Joe has no boundaries, and that he doesn’t care. He understands social norms and that his actions would be considered weird or dangerous, but in his mind, he is justified, and it is everyone else that is insane.

Overall, this book was brilliant from start to finish. It was a tightly woven story that never got boring, the stakes were consistently being raised to heighten tension, and the second person narrative escalated the suspense even more to the point where, at times, I was trembling with shock and excitement at the latest plot twist. I could not recommend this more, but warning: it will scare you.