Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Gone Girl

(I added a new tab at the top called Five Star Reads, a place where I can link to the reviews of some of my favorite books.  However, I've realized that I haven't posted a lot of reviews of my favorite books on this blog, so I'm going to try to catch up on some of my favorites and share them here).

Gone Girl
by Gillian Flynn

Genre:  Mystery/Thriller
Published: 6/5/12 by Crown
Pages:  432
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
5 out of 5 stars

Wow, I loved this book. I can see how it may not be for everyone. The plot is really crazy, and the characters are not always likeable. But I thought it was so good. I could not put it down, and I neglected much needed sleep and my family in order to read it. I can't explain too much without giving away any spoilers.

The story is told through alternating chapters with two narrators, a married couple named Nick and Amy. In some novels, the constant switching between characters can be annoying, but it was perfectly executed here. It was obvious early on that these narrators were not going to be completely reliable, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading their points of view and seeing the story unfold.

This novel was so well-written. I love Flynn's tone and style. It was smart and witty, totally twisted and even a bit humorous at times. The plot was pretty far-fetched, but that is what made it so great. It was totally crazy and psychotic and often unbelievable, yet Flynn still managed to connect points to a reality that we all can relate to.

I have read a few reviews critiquing the ending as being unsatisfying. I read a few who thought Flynn did not know how to end the novel, so she just stopped writing. I totally disagree. I felt like the ending was the perfect fit to this whole story. I'm not sure if this qualifies as a spoiler or not, but I felt this was much more of a love story than a thriller, albeit a twisted and demented love story. And in a twisted and demented way, this story ended exactly as it needed to end. I think the ending was very purposeful and in connection with the entire storyline.

(For any of my friends who may read this review, just a warning: there is a lot of vulgar language in this book. It may not be for everyone)

I Am Pilgrim

I Am Pilgrim
by Terry Hayes

Genre:  Thriller
Published:  5/27/14 by Atria
Pages:  624
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
4 out of 5 stars

I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes is a spy thriller about a super secret government agent who is trying to stop a terrorist from releasing a deadly virus in America.  It's a wild and crazy ride as the agent, who goes by the alias Pilgrim, meets his intellectual match in the Muslim terrorist nicknamed the Saracen.  It seems like the Saracen is always able to stay one step ahead of Pilgrim, and it is such a fun ride to follow them both around the world. I really enjoyed this story, and it kept me turning pages (all 600+ pages!) until the very last page.  The idea of a virus being released in our country is also a bit terrifying, which added to the suspense and intrigue of the story.  I don't read a lot in this thriller genre, so I'm probably not the best judge as to how this novel holds up next to other thrillers.  But, as a stand alone novel, this was a great read, and one that I will recommend to others!

I did have a few minor issues with the novel, which kept me from giving it a full five star rating.  This is definitely not the next greatest piece of literary fiction, but I don't think it is really trying to be that.  The writing was far from perfect.  I had to be willing to accept some big coincidences, one in particular that served to set up a big part of the plot and left me questioning how this could ever be possible.  But I was willing to just go with it for the sake of an entertaining story.

Also, Hayes was very fond of having the narrator withhold information from the reader in order to create a sense of suspense.  Pilgrim would say something like--I found something, and it changed everything.  But he did not say what the something was until later.  Obviously that kept me turning pages to find out what he found, but I have always felt like this type of plot device is a bit cheap.  Hayes used it A LOT.  Every chapter also had some sort of sentence at the end that would foreshadow what sort of gloom and doom was to come next.  Again, this got annoying after a while and did not seem necessary.

However, regardless of these shortcomings, I thought this was a good story and definitely one that is worth reading.  The opening chapter is grim and graphic and overly sexual, and I was afraid that the whole book would follow in this suit.  While it has its dark moments, the overall story was tamer than what I was expecting.  The final showdown between the Pilgrim and the Saracen is just great, an epic conclusion to an epic story.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins

Genre:  Mystery/Thriller
Published:  1/13/15 by Penguin 
Pages:  336
Format:  Hardcover

My rating:
4 out of 5 stars

I devoured this whole book in less than 24 hours. An easy and intriguing read. A psychological thriller that reads like a summer beach read. The Girl on the Train is told from the point of view of three women, all who are linked to the disappearance of Megan Hipwell. Rachel, who routinely rides the commuter train into London each day, witnesses something from her seat on the train that might help discover the truth about Megan's disappearance. But Rachel turns out to be a very unreliable witness, who might be even more connected to the crime than she knows. The story alternates between women and between time periods as the pieces of the mystery slowly shift into shape.

I really did enjoy reading this book. I liked the concept of the train and how it was integrated into the story. The characters are all messed up and slightly unreliable and a little bit psychotic. Which I loved. It is hard to tell whether the people telling this story can be fully trusted, and I love the mystery and intrigue that adds to the story.

The Girl on the Train has been hyped as the next "Gone Girl." I'm getting a bit annoyed with publishers advertising all new twisty thrillers as the next Gone Girl, as it sets up readers with unfair expectations. However, I have to admit that it probably is good marketing, because I tend to read all of them. And since publishers want to compare this book to Gone Girl, I thought I would do my own comparison. (The following might give slight spoilers for both Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, so beware!)

1. Psychologically disturbed female characters. Both Gone Girl and Girl on the Train feature some really messed up women. I do find this interesting, and I enjoyed reading about these flawed characters in both stories.

2. Vulgarity and Profanity. I found Girl on the Train to be much less vulgar than Gone Girl, which I thought was unnecessarily vulgar in its language and content at times. Girl on the Train is far from a squeaky clean novel, but I do think it is better than Gone Girl in this category.

3. Twists. Gone Girl wins here. The Gone Girl twist caught me completely off guard. (And I also had the luxury of reading it blind, not knowing that a twist was coming). I was expecting some major twist in Girl on the Train, but it never came. I didn't think the mystery of "who did it" or "how did they do it" was really that surprising at all, and because I was expecting a Gone Girl like twist, I was a little disappointed by this.

4. Writing. Another win for Gone Girl. I just loved Gillian Flynn's writing style. Diary Amy was written with so much wit and some of her writing about life and love and marriage was thought provoking and interesting (though I obviously didn't agree with it all). While Girl on the Train was a fun book to read, I didn't find much food for thought in the writing.

Regardless of what you thought of Gone Girl, The Girl on the Train stands on its own as an intriguing thriller. It's worth a read, especially if you enjoy stories with messed up (and often unlikeable) characters.