Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn


Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn leaves a lasting impression

Wow, this is a book. A really good book with a unique story. One that makes you want to read the end to find out what’s happening when you’re only a few chapters in, because you can’t believe what’s unfolding. Fend off all thoughts of doing any internet searches, because spoilers are called that for a reason!

Gone Girl, published in 2012, is a beautifully written, engrossing, eye-popping account of a married couple who have lost touch with each other. Definitely aimed at the 25-40 year old market (I think), it’s the story of Amy, whose parents wrote a series of children’s books about her when she was small, called Amazing Amy. Amy still thinks she’s pretty darn amazing, even if the books are dated, and that sense of importance has carried her along in life … the constant need to be number one.

When she finds out she and Nick are just going though the motions, she turns … ahhh … ummm … well … mental. She’s a conniving, deceitful train-wreck of a human being, but as the author Gillian Flynn said, in regards to Nick she’s no longer trying to win any popularity contests. She wants revenge.

Every year on their anniversary, Amy puts together a cryptic treasure hunt for Nick highlighting the things that have happened to them during the year. Nick always feels like it’s a test, because he doesn’t remember (or dwell on) every detail the way Amy does. On their fifth anniversary, she goes missing, and it doesn’t look good for Nick. There has been animosity and tension between them, but most importantly, there have been many lies.

Neither party is innocent, but Amy’s way of making her husband notice her again is very off-kilter. Unnerving. She’s one of the most memorable and disliked heroines in a book (and now a film with Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck) of all time!

I totally recommend this story – the way it’s written is genius. The book is almost divided into parts. The bombshell in the middle creates a whole new world of pain for Nick. Who will believe him? Not many? Who believes Amy’s diary? Everyone it seems, except Nick. And what about the ending? For me, it’s perfect.

Now I really want to watch the movie! And to read more of Gillian Flynn’s books.

Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker


Bruno, Chief of Police – everyone wants him around

Earlier this year, we watched a television program about the Dordogne region in France. A few days later I walked into a secondhand bookstore in Bern, and, for some reason, the spine of this book caught my attention. I was completely shocked to read the word Dordogne on the front cover, so I bought it, thinking it must be a sign.

Bruno, Chief of Police by former journalist Martin Walker, from 2008, is the first in the Bruno series, which currently stands at nine. Definitely in the same vein as Andrea Camilleri’s Inspector Montalbano books, Benoît Courrèges, or Bruno, is the suave but unpretentious 40-something policeman in rural St Denis, where everyone knows everyone (and their business).

As a former soldier, he prefers his new quiet life, cooking with local produce (there are many references to the delights from the Perigord region), pottering in his renovated cottage with his dog and making wine from his small vineyard. The scene is set for something ‘not quite right’ happening in this sleepy town.

When the father of the local school teacher (and grandfather of the local rugby hero) is murdered in his own home, the big guns from Paris are sent to help investigate. Bruno’s first murder case isn’t all that it seems. The twist in the storyline took me by surprise – is everyone really who they say they are?

Bruno, Chief of Police had all the right ingredients for an enjoyable holiday read (I was lying under a beach umbrella in Taormina, Sicily) – a little bit of mystery, intrigue, romance, village politics, historical references and culinary teasers. It’s very well researched and tells a part of French history I had no idea about.

Overall, I really enjoyed the various characters who contributed to this being a memorable book with a very satisfactory ending. Sometimes secrets are best kept so.

Waiting for Doggo by Mark B. Mills


A sweet story about an ugly dog creating beauty all around him

My friend Louise, who works for a big publishing house in Australia, gave me this book when I visited last year and it’s been sitting on my shelf growling at me to read it.

Yesterday, lying in the glorious sunshine, I finally sunk my teeth in, and after going to bed and not being able to sleep, I lapped up the whole offering with gusto.

Waiting for Doggo by Mark B. Mills, published in 2014, is filled with lovely ideas about love throughout its 213 pages. It doesn’t break new ground, floor you with its ingenuity or make you reach for a pen to write down memorable anecdotes, but it does leave you smiling.

Doggo is a dog brought into a faltering relationship to try to save the day. When his rescuer Claire ups and leaves her boyfriend of four years, Dan, he’s left with the unfriendly bundle as a reminder of what went wrong. But he’s not really sure what went wrong!

A new job for Dan gives Doggo new surroundings and an opportunity to show his true colours. He becomes the office postman, delivering the mail to those he likes. It’s sweet little things like this that can easily be missed in this tail, I mean tale, of love lost and discovered again.

Of course, Doggo becomes more than just the ugly mutt – he’s a sign of hope. As Doggo’s personality shines, he makes Dan a better man too. The dog’s interest in Jennifer Aniston, and Dan’s work colleague Edith, means he has an eye for detail that would possibly swish past Dan in the wag of a tail.

Waiting for Doggo was a lovely read – very simple and sweet – and a wonderful way to spend a few hours; lost in the workings of a London advertising agency and the characters it holds. Nothing stressing, nothing confrontational – all just as sweet as the little dog who surprises everyone.

The ending leaves an opening for a sequel perhaps?

As You Wish by Cary Elwes


A very sweet book about a deliciously sweet movie

Well, this book is sweet. The movie is sweet, so the book has to be sweet, right?

English actor Cary Elwes, who has been in several of my favourite movies, has written As You Wish, his behind-the-scenes account while filming The Princess Bride.

What a delicious movie The Princess Bride is. A movie for all generations, and one you can watch again and again. Don’t let the name fool you – it has pirates, sword fighting, humour, many cameos, a giant and most importantly, true love.

There are also some classic lines from the movie that you may have heard – “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die” and “Inconceivable!” being two that pop to mind.

Elwes’ has recorded an audio version of the book, which is what I listened to. He has such a plummy English accent, which quite curiously deepens from about chapter four onwards. Maybe he had a cold?

His anecdotes are quite drawn out – and all in a terribly English, jovial, kind of way – which some may find grating (sometimes I did. Just get to the point, Cary, please!) but at other times it was all just so Westley, his character from the movie.

This was the first movie for Robin Wright, who is the perfect Buttercup – a young girl who falls in love with the poor farm boy, Westley. He goes missing for five years, seeking his fortune in order to marry her and returns when he learns she is about to marry another.

The book gives away many secrets from the film, but it doesn’t really dish too much dirt. Maybe there wasn’t that much dirt to dish? Other actors, including Billy Crystal and Carol Kane, have recorded their own sections, and it’s lovely to hear their contributions too. The anecdotes about Andre the Giant are great fun, Elwes’ stories about learning to sword fight are interesting, but maybe he goes on a bit too long about his broken toe?

If you can handle a short story told in a long way, with serious repetition, and you love the movie, well, there’s no doubting you’ll love the book. If you haven’t seen the movie or don’t like it, then there’s no real reason to read this. I love the movie, and I’m glad I’ve heard Elwes’ account of his time on set.

In 2012, the movie celebrated it’s 25th anniversary, with the cast gathered in New York. What fun that would have been – there really seems to be great affection and a wonderful camaraderie between them. And apparently Cary and Robin really liked each other, and will always be close. Yet again, so sweet!

Having only heard the book, I think reading it would have been much harder to deal with, as the writing style is very simplistic. But listening to Elwes’ wonderful voice made it much more bearable. And he does a hell of a range of voice impersonations too! Brilliant!

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt


Donna Tartt’s third book divided critics but still won the Pulitzer Prize

“Maybe sometimes–the wrong way is the right way? You can take the wrong path and it still comes out where you want to be? Or, spin it another way, sometimes you can do everything wrong and it still turns out to be right?” Boris, p. 835.

Well, I really don’t know what to say about The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt … apart from thank goodness that’s over.

The subject matter is … depressing. The main character, Theo, is depressing. What happens to him is depressing. His outlook on life is depressing. His self-loathing is depressing. His best friend, Boris, is a maniac, drug-addicted alcoholic whose psychotic ideas of a good time are really destructive … and depressing.

Please don’t read this book if the weather’s bad and you need something to do. The rain exacerbates the depressing depression.

At 864 pages, it’s too long; there are slabs of ‘intellectual’ waffle and navel-gazing which could/should have been cut for the sake of brevity and the reader’s sanity. It felt like Tartt was trying too hard to be smart and clever and life-changing. My eyes started glazing over towards the end.

The story is about a stolen valuable painting. Just hand the bloody painting back and stop all this agonising and soul-destroying angst. It just didn’t wash with me and I felt it was never really explained well enough as to why he thought he had the right to keep it.

What also didn’t wash was the mix of Theo’s sensitive and destructive sides. In the first half, I struggled with the believability of this really being the mind of a teenage boy, because he was incredibly clever and deep one minute, and the next a complete buffoon.

Some others also found the whole experience less than enjoyable, despite it winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2014. I really don’t understand how that happened. Not that I’m a literary critic, but wow … I’m shocked!

The characters of Welty and Hobie were wonderful, the rest you wouldn’t waste ten minutes on at a backyard barbecue. I did enjoy the random way Boris talked, I could hear his Ukrainian accent in my head, and clearly see him when he was raving on about 10 unrelated stories that somehow had a connection, so I tip my hat to Tartt in that regard.

But it’s really disappointing when you love an author’s debut novel and expect a similar reaction again. Tartt’s first, The Secret History, sucked me in hook, line and sinker. For me, The Goldfinch sucked; this book, it’s storyline, was a stinker.

Firmin by Sam Savage


One educated rat’s musings on the harsh realities of life

Oh, wow, I loved this! A last-minute selection at the library could now possibly be one of my favourite books.

There are so many clever literary references and beautifully written thought processes in this short but weighty novel from 2006. The author, Sam Savage, has done a brilliant job relaying the angst felt by a ‘lowlife’ rat in his quest to be accepted and understood. We’ve all been through something like that at some stage, right?

Firmin, the runt, is born to a mother of dubious social standing and battles his 12 brutish siblings before going it alone. Staying in the book store where he was born has considerable benefits, because Firmin can read. He devours the shop’s contents (initially literally, then figuratively) to be a well-read rat of note, and would dearly love to have an educated conversation with the shop’s owner, Norman, or a one-on-one encounter with an actress from the nearby movie theatre, where he goes on his nightly food run. But without the ability to speak, write, type or even do sign language, he relies on his imagination.

I don’t want to write too much, because this was such a lovely surprise for me, that I’d love for it to be a surprise for you too. It might make you look at a rat differently on your next encounter. I want to say “I guarantee it will make you …” but some people could never be swayed in their hatred for vermin!

Poor Firmin!

Where Are You Now? by Mary Higgins Clark


Some light reading

This is a book I possibly normally wouldn’t pick, but I went to a different library which had a smaller English selection. Where Are You Now? by Mary Higgins Clark, published in 2008, is an easy-to-read mystery about a woman searching for her missing brother.

Every year for 10 years, Carolyn MacKenzie and her mother receive a phone call on Mother’s Day from missing brother and son Charles, known as Mack. He says he is fine and not to worry. But they do worry, because Mack had everything going for him when he disappeared. Why did he go? This time, Carolyn decides she’s had enough of Mack’s games and goes on an elaborate and dangerous hunt.

She encounters people from his past, struggles with police who believe she should let sleeping dogs lie, and learns more about those close to her. When a young woman goes missing, the race is on to find out if the two cases are connected.

There’s a clever twist, just when you think you know what’s happened and ‘whodunnit’, and despite a schmaltzy ending, it was an entertaining story. I’ve never read any books by Mary Higgins Clark before, but the cover says she’s the queen of suspense and a bestseller.

I’m not sure I’ll actively seek out another of her books, even though I did enjoy this one in a “I need to read something easy” kind of way. It would be suitable to reach for before bed or to pass the time on holidays lying on the beach or rugged up by a fire.

To sum it up? I wasn’t blown away, but I was left feeling satisfied.

The Lotus Eaters by Marianne MacDonald


Marianne MacDonald’s first novel about two lost souls who somehow become friends

When the internet was down for the week, I had the chance to read this book in one three-hour sitting, which gives an indication of how easy it is to read. Whether I like it or not is still debatable. It wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t great.

Dowdy journalist Lottie and wannabe-actress Patty Belle strike up an unusual friendship during the late 90s. Patty seems to have it all and Lottie, well, not a lot. Her hopeless relationship with a forever-absent copywriter becomes a bit dull and pointless. Patty’s relationships with, well, almost everyone, including the violent gangster Ed Kaplan, are also eye-rolling material, but we all know people like Lottie and Patty and I suppose that’s a bonus point for MacDonald.

All friendships in groups big or small tend to have that one train-wreck member, and in The Lotus Eaters, Patty is just that. Guys fall for her innocence and charm, girls don’t know whether to hit her or play mum. By the end of the book most people just want rid of her.

Without any thought for consequences, Patty makes her mark on Lottie’s established group of university friends and changes them all. Patty just thinks about what feels right at the time in her constant search for adoration and love. Of all the characters, she is the most memorable, but at the end of the book you’re left with the feeling that everything has changed but it’s still exactly the same. Not much of a legacy for the glamorous Patty Belle.