eBook Review: 13 Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons WhyThirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I finished this on 18 August 2018. My reviews are now up-to-date.

The blurb: Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and crush – who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why. Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and learns the truth about himself–a truth he never wanted to face.

My review: OK, let me start by saying I read this book because I’ve been affected by suicide. It’s a grim, depressing subject. However, I am a firm believer that we have to raise suicide awareness. And let me also say that I’ve had a hard time writing a review for this book.

Part of me feels that in the wrong hands, this book would guide a vulnerable mind in the wrong direction. The book screams take your own life but point the finger at all the terrible people in your life first. How is that helpful? And when she finally turns to an authority figure, she doesn’t get help. Although I know some people don’t “hear” what’s being said, this was a teacher who should be trained for this type of thing. How is that offering options or raising awareness?

The other part of me recognises that the book is trying to say that it’s usually not one big thing that pushes someone to suicide but many things that, together and over time, make you feel numb and lost. Which in turn, takes aware the feeling that there are other options. And we mustn’t overlook the other lesson to be learned here; consequences. We must be aware that what we say and do to others has consequences. A joke is only a joke if all parties know it’s a joke. Ultimately, we are all in charge of our own decision making and must live with the consequences.

And yet another part of me is whispering that the book isn’t meant to focus on Hannah’s suicide, it was meant to focus on the reason she is telling these people what their part in her decision was; and it was her hope that knowing this reason would change the person’s outlook on life and the way they interact with others. In other words, make them a better person. The ending of the book proves that at least one person did see the error of their ways and change.

In all honesty, I didn’t mind the book whilst reading it, but now I have to think about how the book would be received by someone with suicidal thoughts, and I must admit that worries me. I usually talk about character building, plot lines and the author’s style of writing when writing reviews, but on this occasion none of that seems relevant.

It’s a well written book, but my gut tells me that the wrong message has taken the highlighted position, which is a shame.

I originally gave this book 4 out of 5 stars, but having written this review and gotten my head around what the book delivered, I feel I have to lower that rating to 3 out of 5 stars.

Book Review: The Lady in the Van

The Lady in the VanThe Lady in the Van by Alan Bennett

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I finished this book on 29 July 2018.

The blurb: In 1974, the homeless Miss Shepherd moved her broken down van into Alan Bennett’s garden. Deeply eccentric and stubborn to her bones, Miss Shepherd was not an easy tenant. And Bennett, despite inviting her in the first place, was a reluctant landlord. And yet she lived there for fifteen years.

This account of those years was first published in 1989 in the London Review of Books. The play premiered in 1999, directed by Nicholas Hytner and starring Dame Maggie Smith, who reprise their roles in this new film adaptation. Shot on location at Bennett’s house, Alex Jennings plays the author, alongside household names including Frances de la Tour, Jim Broadbent and Dominic Cooper.

My review: I read this book in two short sittings. It’s only about 100 pages long. And I believe this is the reason for my following comment. I expected more than I got.

I expected humour and heartbreak. I wanted both. Unfortunately, for me, the story was lacking emotion. Having said that, the author states that the entries are taken from his diary. Thing is, it reads just like that. There’s no depth. No proper dialogue. And because of that, I didn’t form the connection I would have like.

I believe there could have been more substance and for me, that would have made a huge difference to my reactions to what happened in the story. It’s a pity, because I feel this book could have been quite different. Quite moving. It could have left me sobbing my heart heart. But it didn’t.

Audio Book Review: The Hidden People

The Hidden PeopleThe Hidden People by Alison Littlewood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished this book on 27 July 2018. I’m still catching up on my reviews.

The blurb: Pretty Lizzie Higgs is gone, burned to death on her own hearth – but was she really a changeling, as her husband insists? Albie Mirralls met his cousin only once, in 1851, within the grand glass arches of the Crystal Palace, but unable to countenance the rumours that surround her murder, he leaves his young wife in London and travels to Halfoak, a village steeped in superstition.

Albie begins to look into Lizzie’s death, but in this place where the old tales hold sway and the ‘Hidden People’ supposedly roam, answers are slippery and further tragedy is just a step away . . .

My review: What can I say about this book? I spotted the cover in the library and walked straight to the counter to borrow it. I had no idea what the story was about apart from the title “The Hidden People”. I was intrigued.

However, I almost gave up on the story. It started out slow and I couldn’t work out where it might go. I began to think I’d made a mistake when I was five chapters in and nothing appeared to really be happening and I couldn’t focus.

Then the story really began. And at that point, I was hooked.

There was something mystical and scary about the plot. But by no means was this a horror story. Albie loved his wife, or did he? Albie didn’t believe in fairies, or did he? Was the house really bad luck? Was he, in fact, going insane?

Whilst the beginning was slow, the rest of the book got its hooks into me and wouldn’t let go. Set in a tiny country village, where superstition is ripe and the village folk have many secrets, Albie attempts to solve the “murder” of his long lost cousin (who he has a bit of a fancy for). The deeper he delves, the more lost and confused he becomes.

Albie’s character is annoying is many ways. Most people would just give up and go home, hence ending the issues he is set to endure. But I suppose if he had done that, there wouldn’t be a story to write about. 😀

I believe the author captured the essence of the hidden people, the village, and Albie’s dilemma well. I’ve never read anything by this author before, but certainly would return for more of her writing.

And, as I actually listened to the audio book, I want to give a mention to the narrator, Paul McLaughlin. He did an excellent job and I feel his narration helped build the atmosphere.

Audio Book Review: The Virgin’s Lover

The Virgin's LoverThe Virgin’s Lover by Philippa Gregory

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I actually finished this book on 9 July 2018. I’m a little behind with my reviews.

Philippa Gregory is one of my favourite authors. I always enjoy her books. This is about the seventh one I’ve read. I know they are based on history, but how much so I don’t really know. I read each book and take it for what it is. A story.

The Blurb: In the autumn of 1558, church bells across England ring out the joyous news that Elizabeth I is the new queen. One woman hears the tidings with utter dread. She is Amy Dudley, wife of Sir Robert, and she knows that Elizabeth’s ambitious leap to the throne will pull her husband back to the very center of the glamorous Tudor court, where he was born to be. Amy had hoped that the merciless ambitions of the Dudley family had died on Tower Green when Robert’s father was beheaded and his sons shamed; but the peal of bells she hears is his summons once more to power, intrigue, and a passionate love affair with the young queen. Can Amy’s steadfast faith in him, her constant love, and the home she wants to make for them in the heart of the English countryside compete with the allure of the new queen? Elizabeth’s excited triumph is short-lived. She has inherited a bankrupt country, riven by enmity, where treason is normal and foreign war a certainty. Her faithful advisor William Cecil warns her that she will survive only if she marries a strong prince to govern the rebellious country, but the one man Elizabeth desires is her childhood friend, the irresistible, ambitious Robert Dudley. Robert revels in the opportunities of the new reign. The son of an aristocratic family brought up in palaces as the equal of his royal playmates, Robert knows he can reclaim his destiny at Elizabeth’s side. Elizabeth cannot resist his courtship, and as the young couple slowly falls in love, Robert starts to think the impossible: can he set aside his wife and marry the young queen? Philippa Gregory’s The Virgin’s Lover answers the question about an unsolved crime that has fascinated detectives and historians for centuries. Philippa Gregory uses documents and evidence from the Tudor era and, with almost magical insight into the desires of Robert Dudley and his lovers, paints a picture of a country on the brink of greatness, a young woman grasping at her power, a young man whose ambition is greater than his means, and the wife who cannot forgive them.

My review: Actually, the blurb tells just about all of it. Longest blurb I’ve ever seen. Anyway, if this is an indication of history, then they were a nasty lot back then. Power hungry. Mean. Self centered. I don’t think it’s like that today, but then again, maybe I lead a sheltered life.

Robert Dudley turns his back on his wife, because he sees fame and fortune if he can hook up with the Queen. He uses the fact that they were childhood friends to worm his way in. I didn’t read “love” in this story anywhere. He was motivated by self interest.

The Queen isn’t sure what to do. Does she love him? I don’t think so. She never truly trusts him. How could she? Many reviewers state she was unable to make a decision, but she made a clear decision. She knew what she was doing. She knew the end result.

And Amy Dudley? She loved her husband, but she didn’t fight for him. She let him plot and scheme and was thrown away like a bit of old rag. But she didn’t deserve the treatment she received.

Without giving away the ending, I believe the ending was right for Dudley and the Queen.

Regardless if the historic facts are right or not, I enjoyed the storyline. The characters were not likable, but that seems right for the rotten roles they played. But the writing of such characters was done well, in my opinion.

This wasn’t the best of Gregory’s books, but it was still a well written book that tells a good, if twisted, story.

Audio Book Review: Wintersmith

WintersmithIn 2011 I read The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett. I gave it 3 out of 5 stars. As you can see by the review, I was not overly enthusiastic about the storylines and I clearly stated I didn’t think I’d bother with the next book.

Here we are seven years later and I spotted the audio version of another of his books, Wintersmith, in the library. Now, let me just say that books I find difficult to read, I often enjoy listening to. So, I thought, this might be a good chance to see if I like Terry Pratchett’s style. Round two.

No, unfortunately, I could not listen any further than the first five or six chapters. I didn’t like the story, the characters or the writer’s style. I have marked the book “unfinished”. It’s a pity, because I truly wanted to enjoy this book. And in the author’s defence, I didn’t read or listen to the other books in the series, so maybe that played a part. I don’t know. I feel bad about it and I know there are thousands of fans that will lift an eyebrow in shock, but Terry Pratchett’s writings are not for me.

For this reason, I decline to give a star rating and have decided that I’ll give all Discworld books that I see in the future a wide berth.