The One Memory of Flora Banks – Emily Barr

30849412A strange thing happened to me in January. One Wednesday in early 2017, I found myself at a launch for a book I had just about heard of at the Ice Bar in London with my friend Lorna (she has a Book Tube channel called Suddenly Lorna – highly recommend!). We had furry ponchos on and were standing next to an ice sculpture of a gorilla (no joke) talking to other book bloggers, free cocktails in our hands. Considering the day before, I was probably trying to stop a child’s tantrum with a sticker in the children’s area of the bookshop I worked at and cleaning up spilt coffee, it felt a little different. We were there for the launch of The One Memory of Flora Banks published by Penguin and dubbed the best YA book of the year – it was a good nice and it definitely set the scene in my mind for the book.

The book itself is about seventeen year-old, Flora Banks, who has a very short term memory and cannot form any new memories since she was ten years-old. The night before her best friend’s boyfriend leaves town for good, she kisses him and wakes up the next morning remembering the moment over and over in her head – the first time she has been able to form a memory. With only written notes on her hands and a limited memory, she sets off to the Norway to follow him and find out the truth.

I was a bit skeptical whether I’d like this book or not based on the synopsis (the kind of thing that normally makes me roll my eyes), but thought I’d give it a go anyway after hearing good praise for it at the event.

I actually did start getting into this novel for the first half, although the amount of times the narrator repeats THE SAME THING over and over again gets really irritating after a while even if you understand it’s because of her amnesia.

The first part of the book felt very concrete plot wise and introduced the characters well allowing an element of mystery and a feeling that everything doesn’t quite make sense – is that because of the amnesia of our narrator, Flora or something else underlying?

However, the narrative suddenly grew very flat to the point where, in all honesty, I skim read and skipped a big chunk of the middle section. I felt the narrative sort of went off on a tangent and not a very interesting one either. The main story I was most intrigued by was put aside and replaced with a narrative that I didn’t really care about, didn’t understand its relevance and just didn’t find interesting. I tuned back in for the last 80 odd pages and raced through to the end which for me was actually pretty satisfactory and almost empowering in some sense.

This book was predictable (although I did question myself a few times), but sometimes that is the kind of book you want. This book really attempted to take on some great themes near the end and I think that if these had been carried through the whole novel rather than introduced at the end, it would have made for a much more enjoyable read. The characters were unlikeable in my opinion – Flora was plain annoying, native and pathetic at times while I was too suspicious of the other characters to like them in any way.

This book had a lot of potential for me, but its middle section, its lack of continuous topical themes and badly written characters really let this book down for me. The story at the beginning and the end bring this book up a star, however, apart from that, this book disappointed me.

I give it a 1 out of 5 stars

(I was invited to the event as a book blogger, I was not paid to write this review or attend the event and I appreciate being invited entirely. This book has some great reviews on Goodreads – this review is a true reflection of my thoughts on this book that I wanted to share. I believe in the freedom of speech and sharing of opinions on blogs and by no means should this review be seen as a personal attack on the author or publisher in question – it is just my personal opinion of the book I read)

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The Girl On The Train – Paula Hawkins

413uEtL4GzL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_I started reading this book mostly to discover what the hype was about after hearing people praising it and finding my colleagues at Foyles talking about the plot in hushed tones.

Those looking for an eloquently written book deserving of maximum high brow literature success, I doubt you’d find that in this book. For me, the writing wasn’t the highlight of this book, but it was made up for in other ways.

However, I zoomed through this book in three days in between working and sleeping. The final hundred pages were utterly compelling and by this point, I was completely absorbed in Hawkins’ narrative. In between reading sessions, I was finding myself constantly thinking about returning to this book because of how thrilling this book was in my opinion.

The role of the unreliable narrator is one that is used a lot (maybe too much you could argue) to add another layer to a plot that is perhaps not all it seems. In The Girl On The Train, it worked perfectly to provide a background of intrigue and surprise throughout its pages. I loved not knowing everything the narrator did to add to the thrilling aspect of this book and start to make you think whether the events recalled are fiction or truth. The plot and this narration is ultimately what keeps you reading.

My only problem was that I found the main female characters quite pathetic and part of me began to think about the sexist implications of the female representation, especially with the wide power difference between the men and women it seems. I found at times the female characters never got quite past their stereotypes, which I found quite problematic.

Despite this, however, the saving grace in terms of female representation is arguably the themes the book explores, such as domestic abuse, marital abuse, pregnancy, miscarriage, alcoholism and emotional turmoil. From multiple perspectives, this book provides a great starter and some awareness for conversations around these important topics, which is in some ways refreshing to see these topics tackled without adding some blame around the female.

In summary, I feel that some people would find some issues with this book, whether its the narrative style or the feminist (or lack thereof) representation. However, for the sheer pleasure of reading and reading something that completely absorbed me, this is a book I would recommend and I thoroughly enjoyed reading, even if it was for just reading something a little different to my usual reading list.

I give it a 4 out of 5

Girlfriend in a Coma – Douglas Coupland

863058While not a great sentence to start a 4* review, it’s true that I’m still not entirely sure why I picked up this book to read in the first place. Maybe it was the cover? Maybe the £2 price tag? Maybe it was my memories of shelving Coupland’s ‘Generation X’ from my previous bookselling job? Whatever the reason, I’m glad I did though for my first experience of the weird and wonderful Coupland.

It’s best to start reading this book, not knowing too much past the basic premise – this book is set around a group of friends in the 1970’s, mainly through Richard’s eyes whose girlfriend, Karen, goes into a coma one evening.

What precedes is one of the most interesting and strangest books I think I’ve read in a while, but there was something incredibly original and so enjoyable about this book. However, like I saw in many Goodreads reviews, this book is quite literally a book of two halves.

As I expressed to my friends, the first half feels like a drama – a coming-of-age story following Richard as he copes with his girlfriend suddenly being in a coma and coping with being in a place where Karen is not quite dead, but also not quite alive either. This part was great, I particularly loved Richard as a character and his narration. I imagine him particularly like a teenage Chief Jim Hopper from Stranger Things.

However, suddenly, this coming-of-age story transforms into a sci-fi and then a supernatural novel without (for me anyway) too much warning. At this point, although I enjoyed the book as a whole, the second half I felt was not as well-crafted as the first half and at times felt like Coupland had two ideas for a novel and just decided to combine them both. In some ways, it works well, but, for me, it was such a change that it left me slightly disengaged from the book latterly.

This book has been described as a moral fable or a post-apocalyptic novel – whatever it is, it’s clear that Coupland is concerned about how the human race is progressing, how people are more lonely than ever, choosing advertising over friends and family, going with the motions of the day rather than doing something productive. These arguments are still relevant now, nearly two decades after this book’s release, and they are arguments that make you think about what we are prioritising in our day-to-day lives. As I saw in a review, Coupland makes you think deeply about the world around you without overwhelming you or feeling too preachy.

This is a novel for people who love multiple genres, particularly if you’re looking for something different. Coupland twists the boundaries of the literary genre to provide a tale that debates the morals in ourselves, our perceptions of the world and particularly, the media. I’m interested to know what Coupland thinks of our world in 2017…

I give this book a 4 out of 5

The Girls – Emma Cline

the girlsSet in the late 1960s in Northern California, it is the start of the summer for Evie before she will start at a new boarding school. Lonely and stuck in the suburbs, Evie becomes enchanted by a group of girls, carelessly dressed and surrounded in an aura of danger and freedom. Evie befriends one of them, Suzanne, and becomes part of their cult run by a charismatic older man. As she becomes engrossed more and more into their cult, Evie does not realise that she is being pulled closer and closer to the danger and violence that awaits them.

~~~

I wanted to read this after becoming compelled by the cover last summer and hearing some great reviews. The background behind The Girls sparks from an interesting place, partly based on the Charles Manson murders that killed five people at the house of film director, Roman Polanski.

It reminded me a lot of Girls On Fire by Robin Wasserman – taking bored, young suburban girls into these real life adult situations, testing their friendships and to some extent, their naivety. I enjoyed Girls on Fire somewhat, and would definitely recommend The Girls if you’re a fan of this one and the other intense, young friendship stories that seem to be littering bookshops currently.

I did really enjoy The Girls and definitely enjoyed more than Girls On Fire. The language is probably the element of this book which sticks out in my mind the most. Looking at some reviews, others found Cline’s poetic language a bit too distracting from the plot and its characters. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how much the language tied into the story as well as Evie’s narration in a way that really brought the whole novel together. I’m personally not always a fan of this kind of storytelling, however, in The Girls it really worked to tie it all together.

The book’s structure flicks between the present and past as there is this undeniable sense of unnerving inevitability becoming more and more intense as the novel progresses towards the final act. It is this that I think kept me engrossed in the narrative as well as Evie’s own narration, telling the story of a girl caught in the middle of adolescence and womanhood – a feeling I definitely can relate to.

I really enjoyed this book and I would highly recommend. It is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year – perhaps not the most original premise with the whole hoards of books, TV shows and films that seem to be bringing the horrible Manson murders to light again. Nonetheless, it is done with maturity and becomes a story much bigger than just the murders. If you’re looking for that last summer read before autumn well and truly comes, I would definitely recommend this one.

I give it 5 out of 5