Review: ‘Origin’ by Dan Brown

I’m a massive Dan Brown fan and hadn’t stopped questioning the implications of ‘Inferno’ by the time ‘Origin’ came out; even so I dashed off to the supermarket on the morning of the big release to get stuck into the next Robert Langdon. And the verdict? Warning: spoilers ahead…

The ming boggles at the possibilities of Edmond’s prediction just as it did with the population crisis in ‘Inferno’, and the set up of Edmond’s presentation was incredible.

However…

I will say that the build up to the finale of the book wasn’t quite like other Langdon books – a lot of the book is spent in one location with a lot of background noise ticking over about the royal palace of Spain which turns out to be something less sinister and more bittersweet than imagined (which was a lovely, brilliantly underplayed twist). Whilst I did love that twist, I didn’t quite understand why so much was made of the palace’s involvement; personally, it felt like all the build-up to Valdespino potentially being the big bad was let down by sidestepping the potential church involvement and worrying over the monarchy instead – perhaps ‘Da Vinci’ did enough to the church! It was a shame because we lost the importance of the murder of the religious officials amongst all this changeover between settings and the movement between religion to monarchy as a focus; it’s never nice to feel like the deaths of characters are senseless, but it’s how (until the final revelation) the Imam and Rabbi’s deaths were made to feel by undermining them.

There was a lot of tension constantly being built with little catharsis throughout – no revelations or small reveals, just the reveals that you’d expect in the final part of a book. I have to say, I prefer Langdon being a bit more active and not just trawling a library for most of a book!

However, redemption came in another brilliantly undersold and stunning moment which I’d suspected from about midway through – Winston’s involvement in Edmond’s assassination. What a stunning thought after Edmond just about put a positive twist on his predictions about the future – that it’s not all bright, not all rosy, and is just as sinister as it initially sounded. It was also odd, when Winston announced his departure, to feel sad about this – he’s essentially a robot and here we are missing him! It definitely showed us the possibilities of AI and the conflicted emotions Langdon will have felt, something which made our leading man all the more accessible to us.

Ambra was our traditional female sidekick – beautiful, age-appropriate for Langdon, smart…and I’ll be honest, I was a bit fed up of her being referred to as the ‘future queen of Spain’ every other sentence. In herself, an endearing character, our author was just a little heavy-handed with her significance to the royal household. However, she was a character worthy of our previous female counterparts to Langdon, and not since Sophie Neuveau have I genuinely felt Langdon have a connection that could have been more with his co-adventurers.

Overall, ‘Origin’ was an enjoyable and thought-provoking ride with Langdon once more – yes, nothing will ever live up to the wonder of ‘Angel and Demons’ and ‘Da Vinci’, but both ‘Inferno’ and ‘Origin’ have worked hard to show our Harvard professor isn’t past it yet (let’s ignored ‘The Lost Symbol’…) – and I hope to see him swinging from church towers long into the future…!

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Review: ‘My Not-So-Perfect Life’ by Sophie Kinsella

I’m not afraid to admit that I’d lost a little faith in Sophie Kinsella following ‘Mini Shopaholic’ – I still haven’t plucked up the courage to try any more Shopaholics at least! However, ‘My Not-So-Perfect Life’ was half price at WH Smiths at a time when I was craving a good book, and I remembered my love of ‘Undomestic Goddess’, ‘Twenties Girl’ and the first three Shopaholics and thought ‘why not’?

And I was right to trust in those books!

Katie Brenner (definitely not Cat!) is one of my new favourite modern heroines, she’s trying to fit into a confusing world with her ambitions at her side and I loved her for it. She’s the most human character I’ve come across in a while, and it worked well against the few stereotypes used to sustain smaller characters, making them seem more realistic than just stock. It was like lifting the lid on what we all think: we need to appear to have it all together, when in actuality finding someone who does have everything in hand is rarer than a flying monkey. It linked to our social media lives without being cloying or preaching, and it was a relief to see someone finally admit that the thousand words behind a photograph might not necessarily be pleasant!

The plot wasn’t trying to be anything over-complicated, and again it was a pleasure for it. We’re so used to everything having tangents and sub-plots and subterfuge, it was refreshing to just be able to follow a (fairly) straight line. You never think about bullying coming from the bottom ranks to the top, so it was an interesting take on an old story, and watching Katie and Demeter, the big scary boss, become allied against this injustice was empowering. Everything was what it was, and that’s a rarity in modern fiction, and a delight.

Talking of Demeter, I liked how the big scaries of the company Cooper Clemmow (Demeter, Alex, even Adrian) weren’t overly imposing or difficult to comprehend; they were the big shots, but you were able to get them without feeling like they were deviating from their characters too wildly in order for them to be seen as humans, not robots in the machine. There was one bit in particular I really appreciated, and that was the small moment between Demeter and her husband; it wasn’t all a veneer, they did really care about one another, it was just as it is in real life – a bit chaotic at home! Kinsella’s wonderful at that though, remembering to keep her situations real and recognisable.

I think that’s what makes this book superb; it’s not trying to be profound or over-the-top, it’s just holding up a mirror to life in an attempt to make us remember it’s ok to be not-so-perfect all the time. In fact, if anything, its the imperfections that make us better – look at Demeter having to admit to her staff that she wasn’t as glossy as she projected at the end, where they liked her all the more for it! We could learn a lot from the Katie-Demeter combo – ambition is great, but reality can be better.

Review: ‘Dream a Little Dream’ by Giovanna Fletcher

I was so excited for a break from some of my heavier-going reading with a bit of light, throwaway chick-lit. After this? Bring back the heavies.

If I’m honest, I forgot who half of the characters were at points in the story. When one character (a generic male/lad type) referred to ‘Sarah’, it took me ages to realise they were talking to the main character. I think that sums up the book; it was forgettable. It didn’t even hold up on the dream sequences, and I imagine this was because Dream Brett was becoming Real Brett and dreams weren’t necessary any more, but it just felt like the concept had been forgotten about. The characters were boring and had no substance to them, and I think if I’d heard Sarah ramble on about how beautiful and wonderful her friends were any more I’d have screamed; we all think our friends are the best, but that’s because we know them, and we never get to know any of these allegedly alright people.

The storyline, like the characters, was practically non-existent. There were bits of story that held promise but they were all a bit hurried in the end and neglected. The recce disaster could’ve been a real drama, the sad miscarriage of Carly could’ve been a heartbreaker, but nothing had been built up enough for me to give a damn. The latter was a little tacky in that respect; to marginalise something so painful didn’t leave a good impression.

Overall, it read like someone writing their diary (especially with the embarrassing reference to ‘Tom from Mcfly’ in one dream which just felt awkward) and trying to be a little too cool for themselves which left me cringing. I was sad because I love Giovanna Fletcher, and I’ve seen that her other books might be worth more of a try, so I won’t despair for too long – hopefully it’ll be second time lucky with Fletcher’s books!

 

Review: ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn

I won’t go into too much detail on this one because part of the thrill is in ¬†unravelling the truth from the lies, the real from the fake, and I’d truly hate the spoil that suspense for anyone.

What I will say is that you have to plough through the first few chapters, where I really took against the narratorial style and Nick’s character in particular, and then suddenly you’ll find yourself unbearably and frustratingly hooked. When you reach the crescendo of part one, part two comes along and smashes it into piece and completely ruins your mind whilst you try and reconcile good and evil with the twisted plot that lies before you. Hint: good and evil are proven to be nothing compared to the unfolding of this story.

Nick is not a likeable character, and I’ve never said that directly about a protagonist before; there’s normally something that makes them into your hero or, at the very least, your anti-hero, but Nick is just so self-conscious you can’t like what he does because it all feels so formulaic and calculated, and at time ridiculous. He sets himself up at the perfect candidate to be responsible for his wife’s disappearance, in short.

Amy…there’s little I can say, but I’ve never come across a character I was repulsed by and secretly admired in equal measure as much as Amy Elliot Dunne.

It’s a road so full of twists and turns in will make you feel exhilarated in your dizziness, but make it through the warped road ahead and you’ll be rewarded with an explosive and breathtaking thriller that will struggle to be topped…

Now where’s my next Gillian Flynn book…?

Review: ‘Foreign Fruit’ by JoJo Moyes

I have to be honest: the first couple of chapters of this book made me think it wasn’t for me.

But then comes the rest, and the realisation that this is something beautiful yet corrupt in the most intriguing way. Moyes does her usual thing with brilliant style: she underplays, doesn’t push too far, and shows the fragility of the human condition.

Lottie is a re1172549al anti-hero: dark, moody, short-tempered, you shouldn’t like her. But you will; she’s hurt and damaged but doesn’t demand sympathy for it. In fact she asks for nothing; she doesn’t know what she wants – it’s what makes her so likeable and relatable. Her actions are that of an uncertain young girl, then young woman, then elderly woman – and the change is palpable when she finally becomes certain of her life right in the closing pages of the book.

The storyline behind Lottie is simplistic yet artfully handled. The complexities of love are nothing new in literature, but Moyes captivates with the constant hopeful tension mixed with a dreadful longing throughout. Guy, for being a critical incident for Lottie, is underused and rightfully so; the enigma element aids the uncertainty and unknowability of what life hands you perfectly. Likewise, although we’re convinced we know, it’s never explicitly stated what Adeline does, or what Celia concocts in her warped version of perfection; we’re left in the simmering tension making our educated guesses throughout, and its this that drives you through the book and leaves you longing for more.

Another honesty moment: the switch to a more present-day scenario halfway through did not sit well with me at first. It took a good couple of chapters for me to come to terms with why this had been done, to show the unending nature of both Lottie’s problem and the problems faced by the new Lotties of the world. It also helped that you ended up rooting
for Daisy in particular; the jilted new mother brought out the fighter in me, and you can’t help but cheer her on as she stops being dull old Daisy and becomes something better than she’d ever been.

So yes, there are a couple of hiccups, but the core of this novel is so strong that the current will wash you away with it before you know what’s happening, and take you from tumultuous waves to safe shores and back again throughout. It’s a brilliant book (albeit with a rather forced title) and another Moyes classic.

Review: ‘Going Dutch’ by Katie Fforde

This book makes it into a rare and not-often-conceded to list: books I wouldn’t recommend. There aren’t many, and to be fair I did finish this book, but it was more out of unwillingness to give up than enjoyment, I have to say.

The characters are all hideous stereotypes; the divorced mother ‘refinding’ 527836-_uy200_herself and
eventually one-upping the ex, the posh country girl who says ‘golly’ a lot, the charming young man everybody loves, the rogue who finally settles down, the bimbo girlfriends whose sole purpose is to show how wonderful the ‘real’ women are…And yet to all these stereotypes there’s very little development; they start and end the same people, despite explicitly telling you how much they’ve grown and developed and progressed – no, they haven’t, stating it doesn’t mean they have.

And that’s sort of the theme of this book; it’s a series of declaratives trying to trick you into thinking implicit and mystical things are happening. In short, nothing like that happens. Everything you think will happen, happens, and there’s not a surprise in sight. Even things that should be interesting and breathtaking – man overboard! – end up being another dull event because everyone’s so ‘stiff upper lip’ they can’t crack the facade to show worry.

The females annoy me most of all. They flit between careers, allegedly finding themselves but actually and unashamedly waiting for a man to fix their lives. They don’t have a thought in the book, let alone a conversation, that isn’t to do with men; empowering this ain’t. And, of course, the solution comes with a good makeover for one character, and a romantic ‘revelation’ (obvious since the start but never mind) for the other; not because they’ve learned how to actually live an independent life or hold their own, but because they look good and have a new boyfriend. I mean for goodness’ sake, the only reason women are invited on a boat trip in this book is to feed and make tea for the men, which made my blood boil; I’m all for playing to your strengths but there wasn’t one woman who didn’t cater (literally or metaphorically) to a man throughout the whole book.

I’ve ranted long enough; don’t go Dutch this year, go to a faraway beach and find another book to enjoy yourself with – ‘The Woman Who Stole My Life’ might be a start. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoyed ‘The Rose Revived’ by Katie Fforde, but this was not a pleasant sail and choppy waters lie ahead for those who enter the world of Jo, Dora and their men.

Review: ‘The Woman Who Stole My Life’ by Marian Keyes

41vmazlew0l-_sx323_bo1204203200_I love a bit of Marian Keyes, and ‘The Woman Who Stole My Life’ was hideously addictive – for both good and (sort of) bad reasons.

The good: I loved main character Stella. She was everything a normal human female is, and therefore someone whose journey you end up feeling quite personally. You want her to be happy, to resolve conflicts, to be successful…although, of course, you can’t always get what you want! Likewise Mannix was great, if a little confusing in his initial descriptions as to his looks (he later became the God of all things sexy, it was a little skewed from his early depiction!), and again an incredibly real character.

Which leads to the niggle of the bad, and yet a bad that is entirely addictive for its own reasons. There was not a single character outside of these pair that felt realistic; they were all stereotypes (the businesswoman, the artist, the hippy chick, the moody teen – you name it, it was there!) and selfish stereotypes at that. I was screaming at Stella throughout the book about how awful these people were to her, but as I’ve said this was addictive in itself for making you want to see her through to her own personal happily-ever-after to spite these selfish people! Perhaps they were this way to deliberately highlight the ‘right path’ and the ‘good life’ options facing Stella, but my God they made my blood boil in the process!

It was refreshing to see an honest portrayal of money; in books involving New York and potential high-level success, money often gets to be this magical object with no real limit, but this wasn’t the case here. For Roland and his debts, Stella and her ability to live in New York, Ryan and his karmic mission, all money had a value and a limit, and it was interesting to see how this created the stresses we all know and fear at times in our lives. Nothing in this book was unmovable but neither was it wiped away by unrealistic pots of gold or good fortune; this book is enjoyable because, at the core of it, it contains things we’ve all felt and worried about, and shows us the light at the end of the tunnel without blinding us.

It’s a fabulous night-time obsession, and ‘The Woman Who Stole My Life’ will not disappoint you when you inevitably look up and realise you forgot to sleep because you were too busy reading – just remember to keep blinking!

 

“One day, sitting in traffic, married Dublin mum Stella Sweeney attempts a good deed. The resulting car crash changes her life.

For she meets a man who wants her telephone number (for the insurance, it turns out). That’s okay. She doesn’t really like him much anyway (his Range Rover totally banjaxed her car).

But this chance meeting sparks a chain of events which will take Stella thousands of miles from her old life, turning an ordinary woman into a superstar, and, along the way, wrenching her whole family apart.

Is this all because of one ill-advised act of goodwill? Was meeting Mr Range Rover destiny or karma? Should she be grateful or hopping mad? For the first time real, honest-to-goodness happiness is just within her reach. But is Stella Sweeney, Dublin housewife, ready to grasp it?”