After You by JoJo Moyes

After You by JoJo Moyes

9781405909075

Much like the first, I’d written it off. To refresh, I’d read this book over a year ago. I remember the arguments with friends about reading it but Me Before You was more than boy meets girl! So I was proved wrong. It’s a brave book that tackles, spoiler alert, a person’s right to end their own life. Gorgeous and outgoing, Will’s life was one big adventure. A tragic accident leaves him paralysed and Lou Clark is employed as a ray of sunshine by Will’s parents to change his mind. They learn to live and love then Will goes ahead with his decision. This is Lou’s life After You.

The first books ends with Lou in France at Will’s request. This second opens with Lou working in an Irish themed bar in an airport. I’m almost sure Will wouldn’t want that. The money didn’t go the waste. She has a nice flat with a garden on the roof; a roof she falls off of and breaks a bunch of bones. This pulls her family back together, they stopped talked after her actions of 18 months ago. Works not great. Her family are still struggling. She’s in therapy for grief because everyone believes the fall as a suicide attempt. (She does go on a lot about what Will would think and talk as if he’s still alive. He’s not Moyes, you killed him.) If all of that wasn’t enough, a stranger turns up at her door. It’s Will’s daughter.

The first book had earned my respect, this one not so much. It was the book I was expecting the first to be: a good mixture of drama, tragedy and boy meets girls. I was disappointed as I thought Lou would have taken Will’s promise to its fullest: to live. Instead, she muddles through life like the rest of us muggles. As I said in my previous review, it’s not going to win any writing prizes. If you loved the characters from the first they’re all there for you with some new oddballs we come to love as much as Loopy Lou and her yellow strippy tights. Good, harmless fluff to distract you from the chaos of now.

The Unreliable Narrator

The Unreliable Narrator

girl on the train

You can have too much of something. When I first discovered Jodi Picoult, I read every title I could get my hands on. A solid six months of the same author can show flaws and patterns that make every book feel the same. Having learnt my lesson, I restricted myself to one a year. Maybe two. A lot of her new stuff have come away from broken families fighting law room drama. During my time at Waterstones, we were encouraged to put similar books together. If You Like, You’ll Love! Now I’m thinking that’s a bad idea…

Last week I read a book my mother asked me to read, she needed my opinion and more importantly, my clarity. It was called Sometimes I Lie. A woman is in a coma after an accident. The clue is in the title, she’s a liar. But who is she lying too? The people around her or us? Having read a few of these books I’m questioning if the use of an ‘unreliable narrator’ is lazy storytelling. Let’s discuss.

Maybe the most iconic of these is The Girl on the Train. It would be a short book if our narrator had a good memory rather than being an alcoholic. Told from three viewpoints, two present their version of the truth and the third is a professional liar. She convinces her roommate she has a job but travels to London every day. On top of that, it’s frustrating that she holds the key to this murder but her alcoholic brain can’t make the pieces fit. Given this it’s a third of the book and it’s character flaw, maybe we can forgive it. She’s not lying. It’s a device to create suspense.

On the opposite end of the scale we have I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh. Spoilers ahead. The book opens with a child being killed in a hit and run. A woman runs away to a remote Welsh cottage. We’re led to believe that she is the suffering mother. It comes out she was in the car and she may have been behind the wheel. Like the rest of the book, the prologue was in first person. In my mind, it’s lying to the audience and I hate that. We have set up to believe one thing for a big reveal that is oh so fashionable. The narrator refuses to discuss what happened and withholding that information. It’s a neat trick but it’s a trick.

Another way a narrator could be unreliable is if they are bias. One of my favourite books of 2016 was The Truth about the Harry Quebert by Joel Dicker. A young writer visits his mentor during a small town scandal involving him and the killing of a young girl. There are many layers to this novel which is why I worship it so much. There are twists and turns but rather than withholding information or lying to us, suspense is created by the narrator’s doubt. He knows the truth and shares it with the reader but he also shares his doubts.

There are many ways to keep your readers in suspense, some are cleverer than others. Lying is wrong.

Second Life by SJ Watson

Second Life by SJ Watson

second

I don’t know if you can call yourself a fan of an author if you’ve only read one of their books. But if they only have one, that’s hardly their fault. I read Before I Go to Sleep a while ago. Certainly before it become what I understand to be a pretty average movie. I haven’t seen it. I liked the book. It’s twist caught me by surprise through clever writing and the now infuriating troupe of the unreliable narrator (more on that next week). So I was more than happy to jump into his second book: Second Life. Once upon a time, I called myself a fan of SJ Watson.

“She knows what she’s doing. She’s out of control. She’s innocent. She’s guilty as sin. She’s living two lives. She might lose both…” I was drawn in by these conflicting ideas and brutal murder. Julia learns her sister is violently killed in an alley in France, the killer is at large. With no leads or suspects, Julia becomes obsessed with finding truths and answers, and she is willing to risk it all. Her sister isn’t a saint. She uses the darker side of the web to find … friends. Our narrator thinks in order to trap the killer, she must mimic her dead sister. She begins her second life and falls in lust. This, of course, fucks everything up.

I shouldn’t judge a book on ‘plausibility’; my favourite novels include magic and aliens. However, things can go too far. Julia is consumed with finding out the truth she puts herself in great danger. I love my sister but if I believed she was murdered by a sex mad bloke off the Internet I wouldn’t start meeting sex mad blokes off the Internet. Would you? Nothing is going to bring her back, will the truth really bring her closure or does she just enjoy the thrill of her new secret life?

The truth will shock. There are no clues to the reveal making it seem contrived. I fear this is a fashionable summer read that will be lost with the other shocking, unreliable narrator crime books with massive twists that all merge into one when discussed at dinner parties. ‘I couldn’t believe it was the husband all along, wait I think that was someone else. Wasn’t it the long lost twin brother? Never mind, did you see Bake Off last night?’ Success is a tough act to follow, I await the third to know if I am a fan.

Gods and Conquerors

Gods and Conquerors

I like space. Every time I read a new science fiction book with rockets and aliens I fall deeper in love. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet: Loved it. The Book of Strange New Things: fascinating. Space Jam: Classic. Okay, that last one isn’t a book but it’s the standard I hold most things too. For me science fiction is a way of exploring modern day politics in the ‘safer’ setting of a fictional out of space world. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet: diversity. The Book of Strange New Things: colonisation. Space Jam: don’t mess with Earth. One thing’s for certain, space is dangerous.

Gods and Conquers is set on another world. A small crew seize the one way ticket off of planet Earth and head into the unknown. Why? Because it’s there. Why are they leaving Earth? All will be explained. When the team lead by James Verne awake from their ship they are met with desert. They pilgrim into a town to find it empty and abandoned. There are hints of the life that once inhabited the tower blocks. There are also sinister hint that they know about humans begging the question; who conquered who first?

This is Aaron Kane Heinemann’s first novel and it’s unlike anything I’ve read before. The author knows every detail of his character’s lives and personality. Each of them have their own secrets and struggles. They must face their mortality as their own chance of returning home is left smouldering behind them. Like many science fiction greats that has come before, this book is not afraid to ask big questions and deep themes. Heinemann just does it in his own special way; using impossible metaphors and using smilies that would put the classics to shame. An epic story and a telling that is out of this world.    

Gone by Michael Grant

Gone by Michael Grant

gone

If there’s one thing I can’t get enough of is dystopian fiction. We all know the Hunger Games and many may turn their noses up claiming to have read the original Battle Royal, the genre is heaving. I admit, I’m a little late to the game but I have finally begun the Gone series by Michael Grant. Being a fan of the genre, hearing colleagues swoon over it and finding the first book in a charity shop for a pound, I jumped straight to it knowing that all the books were out and nothing was going to slow me down. I’m so clever and wise because it happened: I am hooked.

So here’s the situation, it’s a normal day. Sam is at school and ‘poof’. He finally looks up to the board and sees that his teacher has disappeared and so have some of the boys in his class. There’s noise in the corridor. All the teachers have disappeared. There’s awkward jokes about school being over, no more teachers and no more homework. Something is very wrong. Everyone over the age of 15 have disappeared: ‘poofed’. There’s not parents at home, no grown ups, no police and no idea what or why this is happening. This is the ‘Lord of the Flies’ aspect of the commonly used description of ‘modern day, supernatural Lord of the Flies’.

The supernatural was the unique selling point for me, that’s what makes it stand out from the other dystopian fiction I’ve read. Apart from ridiculously advanced technology, other novels and series I have read have been entirely plausible. A great wealth divide and killing for entertainment? That’s seems to be the way the world is going. In Gone, there is not reasonable explanation for the disappearance, and don’t get your hopes up about getting one. I loved the hints to the nuclear power plant. Is it to blame or worse, who will control it?

Another UPS (my word of the moment, not sorry), is the power struggle. Before, we have seen this with rich versus poor or young versus old. That’s not the case here as children don’t carry too much for money. After the adults disappear, most of the children revelled in eating sweeties and staying up past their bedtime. They didn’t think much about raiding daddy’s wallet or claiming land. The land is owned by all and is declared: the Fayz (Fallout Alley Youth Zone). The rival comes from a secret. This is a promising start to a series. I expect many more twists and reveals as these children grow… that is up until the age of fourteen years and 363 days.

The Girls by Emma Cline

The Girls by Emma Cline

the girls

They say you should never judge a book it by it’s cover, but should you judge it on it’s blurb? How does this sound: “Willingly, Evie begins to drop into their tranquilised circle, oblivious of the danger that sits so cruelly at its centre. If not for Suzanne, she might not have gone. But, intoxicated by her and the life she promises, Evie follows the girls back to the decaying ranch where they live.” I’d heard rumours that it was Charles Manson-esque thriller of hypnotising leaders and deadly consequences. Being a morbid and fascinated with serial killers, I dived right in. I knew it was fiction, what I did not know was how dull such events could be.

Our leading lady is a fourteen year old by the name of Evie. She has troubles at home so it’s easy to see why a carefree life without the restrictions of money would be so appealing. Evie lives as her grandmother’s granddaughter and her mother’s child. Being a famous actress, their late grandmother left them comfortable. There’s nothing exciting about confortable. She sees girls rummaging through a bin and she envies their beauty, grace and nerve. She follows them, befriends, becomes ‘part’ of their world through a series of intimate meetings with the ranches leader and guests.

Unlike some of the other girls, she does not fully commit herself. She keeps one toe at home, leaving and returning much to the leader’s pleasure. Evie’s not vying for the leader’s attention, she wants to be accepted by The Girls. One in particular: Suzanne. To be honest, it was a disappointing read but this is my own fault. I’d heard parts of the story and the bits that thrilled me are second place. They happened to be going on in the background. This is a coming of age story of someone who is bored and listless. She is constantly an outsider to this ‘family’ and that wasn’t satisfying as a reader. Did not meet expectations.

Truth or Dare by Non Pratt

Truth or Dare by Non Pratt

truth or dare

Never have I had to pick up a book and make sure I was reading it the right way around. One story and two sides. As this is teen fiction, these two people are two complete opposites. Our girl is shy and our guy is bold. Our girl has been the laughing stock of the school and our guy is popular. Claire Casey and Sef Malik team up to create the internet duo known as Truth Girl and Dare Boy. They’re not seeking YouTube stardom, its for a good cause. It’s to support Dare Boy’s brother’s care.

There’s a lot of comedy to come from opposites being in such a tight space; their studio is a sheet up in a caravan. There’s a lot of drama to come such high stakes. There’s a lot of heart to come from finding the real person. I was so engrossed with these two characters because I cared so much but that’s the nature of the game. Truth and dare. Their dares made them fun. The truth made them human and unfortunately, that was lacking. The details of the video were said in passing. The drive is the fundraising but the channel made it an entertaining read. That’s really the only criticism I have, and is it a criticism? To want more? A book full of the thrill of running away from pranks and the dangers of running away from your problems.