BOOK REVIEW: Sharp Objects – by Gillian Flynn

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Title: Sharp Objects
Author: Gillian Flynn
Genre: Fiction, Mystery, Thriller
First published: September 26th 2006
Finished reading: February 14th 2016
Pages: 272
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“There was nothing I wanted to do more than be unconscious again, wrapped in black, gone away. I was raw. I felt swollen with potential tears, like a water balloon filled to burst. Begging for a pin prick.”

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I’ve heard a lot of people say they liked Gillian Flynn‘s debut novel best, and I have to agree Sharp Objects is my favorite as well. The story is sick, twisted, disturbing, full of unexpected plot twists… Which is highly typical for all her work, but somehow Sharp Objects managed to convince me better. It’s not that I actually liked her main character; Camille Preaker is just as dark and problematic as the characters in Gone Girl and Dark Places. Camille still suffers from both her complicated childhood and her history as a cutter. When she has to travel back to her hometown for an assignment, she will have to face her ghosts of the past as well as doing her job as a reporter in covering the murder of two young girls. The whole murder and disappearance of the two girls is a very intriguing plot on it’s own, and the situation with Camille’s family only adds an extra layer to it. Sharp Objects has a fast pace and is well written, with many plot twists that will keep you guessing about what really happened to those poor girls. Dark and twisted, but highly recommended if you like the genre!

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Camille Preaker has had a very complicated childhood and her body shows the proof: she has been cutting words all over her body ever since she was a teenager. As an adult she finally had a chance to escape her hometown and she now works as a reporter in the big city. Her cutter history got her into a psych hospital, and things didn’t get better when she is released as her boss tells her she has to return to her tiny hometown for an assignment. A young girl was murdered last year, and now another one is missing… Camille doesn’t want to go, but her boss convinces her it will be her best chance to finally move up the ladder. She hasn’t been home for a long time or spoken to her mother or her half-sister, and they are all surprised when Camille shows up at the door of the family’s Victorian mansion. Things don’t exactly go smoothly and Camille soon finds herself both fighting against her old demons as well as trying to get a proper story so she can finally leave the place that has tormented her for so many years…

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Sharp Objects might be Gillian Flynn‘s debut novel, but for me it is her strongest work yet. Almost every main character in the story has some dark, twisted or disturbing secret and the two different storylines (the murder investigation and Camille’s family history) slowly intertwine as Gillian Flynn throws one plot twist after the other at you. Sharp Objects is a fast-paced and intriguing read that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very end. If you like the genre, make sure you read this book.

BOOK REVIEW: On The Jellicoe Road – by Melina Marchetta

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Title: On The Jellicoe Road
Author: Melina Marchetta
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: August 28th 2006
Finished reading: October 20th 2015
Pages: 432
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“It’s funny how you can forget everything except people loving you. Maybe that’s why humans find it so hard getting over love affairs. It’s not the pain they’re getting over, it’s the love.”

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On The Jellicoe Road has been on my radar for a while now and it actually has been recommended to me various times in the past. I ended up really enjoying this read, but I have to say the first part of the story is quite confusing. Luckily I was warned that the first part is exactly that and they told me to just keep reading and things would soon start to make sense. They were right. This novel by Melina Marchetta is without doubt very well written and the whole confusement in the beginning is actually part of the charm. Why haven’t I given it an even higher rating? It may seem that I’m contradicting myself, but I don’t think I would have continued reading without the warning that the beginning is hard to understand. The characters are very well developed though and once you get an idea of the whole situation the prose and plot just suck you right in. If you like realistic fiction and don’t mind a confusing beginning, On The Jellicoe Road might just be the perfect read for you!

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Taylor was abandoned by her mother on the Jellicoe Road when she was eleven and ended up at a boarding school. When she was fourteen, she decided to run away and try to find her mom, but she was tracked down and brought back by a mysterious stranger. Now she is seventeen and the leader of the school’s underground community, having to lead the annual territory war with the Townies and the visiting Cadets. This year the Cadets are led by Jonah Griggs, a guy she has some history with. When the only adult Taylor trusts, Hanna, disappears, things get even more complicated for Taylor… Now she not only has to make sure they don’t lose any more territory, but she also wants to try and piece together the clues Hannah left behind. What is the real history of Jellicoe Road?

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The beginning of On The Jellicoe Road didn’t completely convince me, but the rest of the story more than made up for it. The prose, the characters, the plot and plot twists… Melina Marchetta used those in a way that once you are past the confusing part, you just can’t stop reading. I will probably try to do a reread at some point, since I will most likely enjoy this read even better the second time around. If you like the genre, I would definitely recommend this one; just remember that it may take a while before you can fully understand what the story is about.

BOOK REVIEW: An Abundance Of Katherines – by John Green

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Title: An Abundance Of Katherines
Author: John Green
Genre: YA, Contemporary, Romance
First published: September 21st 2006
Finished reading: October 4th 2015
Pages: 229
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“Books are the ultimate Dumpees: put them down and they’ll wait for you forever; pay attention to them and they always love you back.”

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I know I had promised myself not to read anything by John Green for the rest of the year, but I wanted to read something short and easy before starting with my creepy reads and this one sounded like it would do the job. I was right: An Abundance Of Katherines was exactly the short and entertaining read I was looking for. Maybe I wasn’t blown away by it and I did have some problems with some of the plot and characters, but overall it did the job. As a math/science geek I could really appreciate the math references and as always John Green does an excellent job with his teenage dialogues. The characters were well developed, although they did come over as a bit whiny and annoying at points. As for the plot: I liked the idea of a road trip, but some of the things that happened in the small town they decided to stay were a bit farfetched. John Green used quite a few foreign words and phrases during his story, so remember to check out the glossary… Although it’s not too difficult to guess what they mean from the context. There are quite a few funny moments in this novel and I’m sure that most YA contemporary fans will probably enjoy An Abundance Of Katherines.

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Colin Singleton happens to really like Katherines, and has dated no less than nineteen girls with that same name over the years. And every time Colin starts dating another Katherine, he ends up getting dumped. Katherine XIX has dumped him recently and his best friend Hassan decided to take him on a road trip to help him get over her. The two make an interesting pair and end up in a small town working for a woman that owns a tampon-string factory. Colin is on a mission to finish his Theorem of Underlying Katherine Predictability, which he wants to use to predict the future of any relationship. He has been having more problems than thought he would have with it and he keeps getting distracted by Lindsey and his other new friends. Will he be able to finish his theorem and finally get over K-19?

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An Abundance Of Katherines is without doubt entertaining, but I wouldn’t call it mindblowingly good. It’s short, easy to read and the teenage dialogues are very well done as always, but it’s not a perfect read. I had some issues with both the plot and characters and that’s probably why I gave it only 3 stars. If you like YA contemporary, you will most likely enjoy this read though. It’s a feel good story with a geek factor (math and anagrams!) and a great choice if you are looking for a light read.

BOOK REVIEW: Don’t Tell Mummy – by Toni Maguire

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Title: Don’t Tell Mummy
Author: Toni Maguire
Genre: Memoir, True Crime
First published: 2006
Finished reading: May 13th 2015
Pages: 352
Rating 4

“The smile on his lips was always the smile of the nice father, but in his eyes I could see the nasty one, the one invisible to everyone else, the one that lived inside his head.”

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This memoir is not for the weak-hearted and will probably leave you with tears in your eyes. Toni Maguire didn’t have an easy childhood. Or more precisely said: a childhood from hell. Growing up with an abusive father, a mother who prefers to look the other way and family and friends who don’t see what’s happening behind closed doors… A recipe for every young child’s worst nightmare. The author was very brave to let her skeletons out of the closet and admit all those horrible facts actually happened to her all those years ago. Don’t Tell Mummy is a truly heartbreaking story that will definitely move you… It’s not a happy story, but one that has to be told as there are so many cases of child abuse still out there. Without doubt a memoir I would recommend; it’s very well written and not only tells us the facts of the abuse, but also the way people judge her when the truth comes out.

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The first few years of Toni Maguire’s life were almost perfect, but things change when they decide to move back to Ireland where her father is born. Their new idyllic life is marked by a terrible secret… When Toni is six years old, her father made his first improper move on his daughter and he doesn’t stop there. He warns her not to tell anyone, because they would end up blaming her for allowing him to do those things… And in the end even her mother prefers to look away. When Toni finally gathers the courage to tell her father’s little ‘secret’,  her mother simply says to never talk about it again. Soon Toni is alone and isolated from friends and family, with nobody to turn to. The abuse goes on for years, and even ends up in a pregnancy; the abortion almost killing Toni. And when people find out, they end up doing what her father warned her they would do: the end up judging and rejecting her for what he has done…

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This memoir tells a truly shocking story that will leave you without words and reaching for a box of tissues. Toni Maguire has had a horrible childhood and she is very brave to write down her story. The acts of her father nearly destroyed both her and her childhood, and it’s shocking that nobody noticed something in all those years before her pregnancy. Don’t Tell Mummy is a true eye opener and a very well written story that I would definitely recommend to those who enjoy reading memoirs and true crime stories. Beware: this is not a happy story and it won’t be for everyone…

BOOK REVIEW: It’s Kind Of A Funny Story – by Ned Vizzini

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Title: It’s Kind Of A Funny Story
Author: Ned Vizzini
Genre: YA, Fiction, Contemporary
First published: 2006
Finished reading: December 27th 2014
Pages: 444
Rating 5

“People are screwed up in this world. I’d rather be with someone screwed up and open about it than somebody perfect and ready to explode.”

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This book has been on my TBR pile for quite some time now, and I’m glad I finally came around reading it. It’s Kind Of A Funny Story is without doubt a book with a powerful message about (teen) suicide, and it cannot be ignored that a little over a year ago Ned Vizzini unfortunately chose the same fate. His death does make you analyse this novel in a different way and it was hard to put a rating to his words. I have tried anyway. It’s Kind Of A Funny Story is well written, the characters feel real and Ned Vizzini was able to mix rather heavy subjects with humor. It’s a book that will leave its mark; It’s Kind Of A Funny is unique, in a good way. Definitely recommended and one of the best books I’ve read in 2014!

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Teenage Craig is what you call overambitious and is determined to do everything to achieve the best possible results and future. He forgets about everything else as he studies practically day and night to get into Manhattan’s Executive Pre-Professional High School, and when he finally gets in, the pressure to continue on this high level becomes too much. His ‘friend’ Aaron gets him into drugs, and soon he is starting to feel down. He stops eating and sleeping, wondering what to do with life, and how to continue. Then one night, he nearly kills himself.

Craig was saved by nobody else than himself. He checks himself into a nearby hospital, and is soon transferred to the mental ward. At first he is not sure if he really wants to be there, but soon he realizes this is the best place to finally confront his current situation and possibly find a solution. He slowly improves and when he rediscovers his talent of drawing maps, he becomes ‘famous’ among the other patients. They are not just any maps, but maps that show what is going on inside different brains…

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It’s Kind Of A Funny Story is not only a moving story about a teenager who is trying to recover from a serious depression; it is so much more. Ned Vizzini was able to create a very unique tale that is without doubt worth reading. The mix of serious themes with interesting prose and humor makes this book a must read for those who enjoy reading contemporary books and are interested in reading about mental health. I sincerly hope Ned Vizzini went to a better place, and I thank him for leaving behind his words and beliefs in the form of this powerful book. Again, a must read!

BOOK REVIEW: The Boy In The Striped Pajamas – by John Boyne

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Title: The Boy In The Striped Pajamas
Author: John Boyne
Genre: Historical Fiction, YA, WWII
First published: 2006
Finished reading: June 23rd 2014
Pages: 224
Rating 4,5

He looked down and did something quite out of character for him: he took hold of Shmuel’s tiny hand in his and squeezed it tightly.
“You’re my best friend, Shmuel,” he said. “My best friend for life.”

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The Boy In The Striped Pajamas was a great read. This book by John Boyne can be classified as amazingly moving and is ingeniously written from the point of view of a nine-year-old boy called Bruno. After seeing the movie various times, I already knew this book was going to be sad… And Boyne was able to make the tears flow perfectly while describing the developing relationship between Bruno and the Jewish boy Shmuel. The way Boyne incorporates themes as the Auschwitz concentration camp and other horrible facts of the Second World War and shows them through the eyes of a boy is refreshing. Bruno is too young to understand what’s happening during the Second World War or what his father’s job really implies… With terrible consequences.

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The story is set during the 1949’s in Nazi Germany, where Bruno and his family live a comfortable life in Berlin. His father is an important man and one day the Fury (Fuhrer) visits their home with important news. Soon his father is offered a job at Out-With (Auschwitz) and the family has to move to Poland. Bruno hates it there and wants to go back to Berlin, unable to understand why they moved there in the first place. Being a naive nine-year-old, he cannot grasp the real meaning of his father’s job… And he doesn’t understand what kind of place Out-With really is. When he looks out of his bedroom window, he sees a big group of people wearing striped pajamas and caps. They are all gathered together in a huge area with small huts and a fench surrounding them, and Bruno wonders what is really out there…

Acting like the explorer he wants to be some day, he decides to walk to the fence himself and find out more about those people wearing the pajamas. He knows he’s not supposed to be going there, but his curiosity wins and soon finds himself close to the fence. Bruno then meets a small Jewish boy named Shmuel, prisoner at the Out-With camp. They discover they were born the same day, and soon share more than that… Bruno tries to visit his new friend every day, sharing thoughts and food with the boy. Somehow sensing his friendship with Shmuel might be frowned upon, he decides to keep him a secret. When Bruno’s mother wants to move back to Berlin, he decides to pay one last visit to Shmuel. Bruno had promised to help find the Jewish boy’s missing father, and he wanted to discover for himself what was behind the fence. He had asked Shmuel to bring him an extra pair of striped pajamas so he could walk around the camp unseen…

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The Boy In The Striped Pajamas is a beautiful, but very sad story to read. Make sure to keep a box of tissues close as you will probably need it during the last few chapters. And make sure you watch the movie too if you haven’t; both are definitely recommended! Keep away if you don’t like sad endings though.

BOOK REVIEW: A Dirty Job – by Christopher Moore

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Title: A Dirty Job
Author: Christopher Moore
Genre: Humor, Fiction, Comedy
First published: March 21st 2006
Finished reading: June 6th 2014
Pages: 384
Rating 2

“Mr. Fresh looked up. “The book says if we don’t do our jobs everything could go dark, become like the Underworld. I don’t know what the Underworld is like, Mr. Asher, but I’ve caught some of the road show from there a couple of times, and I’m not interested in finding out. How ’bout you?”

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How I’ve struggled trying to make myself finish A Dirty Job… I’m not even sure how I’ve made it until the end, although I have to admit the story became better during the second half of the book. I just couldn’t get into writing style Christopher Moore chose to tell his story and it was impossible for me to symphatize with the flat and sometimes highly annoying characters. Especially the main character Charlie I just wanted to smack in the face real bad and tell him to get over himself. Which if you think about it is strange since he just lost his wife and now has to raise their newborn child by himself; enough reasons for symphathy you would say. In general I had serious problems with this book and I myself wouldn’t touch A Dirty Job again. Although I’ve heard others really enjoying this book. I guess it’s one of those reads that can go either way…

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To get an idea what the book is about, here follows a short summary without revealing too much of the supposedly hilarious plot and characters. The story starts describing our main character Charlie Asher; a Beta male, owner of a secondhand store and above all quite neurotic. He completely loses it when his wife dies and sees a tall, dark guy in her room just before. He thinks the strange man in mint green had something to do with the death of his wife, but nobody believes him. Soon strange things start to happen. Objects in his shop are starting to glow with a red light, and people seem to drop death around him. Only later he realizes he was recruited to be the new helper of Death. As the book says: ‘it’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it’.

Things become stranger and stranger when he discovers that there are ‘monsters’ living in the sewers, creatures from the underworld waiting to take over the world above and feeding on the souls Charlie has to collect. The tall dark guy turns out to be another Death helper called Minty Fresh, and explains a thing or two about the job Charlie was failing to do correctly until then. The underworld grows stronger when they can get their claws on the souls, so it is the job of the so-called Death Merchants to save the souls of the dead and dying and thereby prevent an underworld invasion which would destroy the world as they know. Various people screw up anyway and soon Charlie has to prepare himself for an epic battle with the creatures of the underworld. Soon they are fighting for the right to be Above, and to find out who is the real Luminatus…

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I know A Dirty Job was ment as a book with dark humor and  that Moore is described as an ‘American writer of absurdist fiction’. Still, the mention of a tall, dark guy with big guns called Minty Fresh and a little girl killing around with the word kitty just couldn’t make me laugh. (Although I have to admit it does sound funny when you see it without the actual context.) The way he described the two widows Mrs Ling and Mrs. Korjev was highly stereotypical. I guess Moore wanted them to sound funny (and maybe the use of ‘like bear’ was a little), but I felt that he was generalizing the Asian and Russian immigrants way more than he should have. And we’re not even talking about criticizing other religions… I know for a fact a lot of people won’t agree with me and say this is actually a great read and incredibly funny. Who knows, maybe me and this book just weren’t ment to be?