The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins | Book Review

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The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Published by Riverhead Books, January 13, 2015

Genre: Psychological thriller

Pages: 336

So first of all, I think it’s worth noting that I read this book in one day. Well, I read the first 40 pages on Saturday night and the rest throughout Sunday. So basically one day. In other words, either it was really good or I just really didn’t want to do my homework. Maybe a little bit of both.

I’ve been hearing about this book all over the place – it’s topping bestselling lists everywhere, it’s being called “the next Gone Girl”, and my mom read it within a couple days and told me I would like it. So finally, after I’d just finished a hefty 500+ page epic fantasy the day before, I thought I’d give The Girl on the Train a shot.

To give you a short synopsis in case you’re not already familiar, The Girl on the Train follows three women, Rachel, Megan, and Anna, who are brought together (although not always consciously) by ex-husbands, commuter trains into London, and illegal activity. The timeline jumps between present and past as the three women’s stories intertwine and a mystery unravels. That’s really all I want to say without giving anything away; I would recommend going into this book without knowing much more.

I’ve heard a lot of people say they were disappointed because they went in expecting the next Gone Girl and got something completely different. However, I think it’s important to recognize that no book is really “the next” anything. Unless you count Fifty Shades of Grey, which was based off of Twilight fanfiction and was therefore pretty accurately “the next Twilight” upon its release. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that The Girl on the Train was completely different from Gone Girl or any other psychological thriller I’ve read, but I totally get why the two are being compared. The Girl on the Train deals with rocky marriages, unreliable narrators, and apparent mental illness in a way that so far I’ve only seen matched in Gillian Flynn’s work.

The characters, in this case, were more believable for me than those in Gone Girl (and I promise I’ll stop comparing this to Gone Girl now). All five of the central characters arguably suffer from some sort of mental illness, and I think Hawkins grasps this in such an authentic way. When a character was anxious or manic, I felt my pulse race and my reading speed up. When a character was depressed, the reading got slower and I found myself inwardly channeling written emotions. Also, the way Hawkins wrote the thoughts of a character suffering from alcohol addiction felt so incredibly real to me, despite never having suffered from addiction, myself. None of the characters were particularly likeable; they all had their inner demons, but I found myself relating to them all at one point or another.

This book doesn’t have a particularly dense plot; sometimes I would read 40 or 50 pages and discover that nothing of value had really happened. While this would normally frustrate me, I found that it really didn’t in this case. Even though actual things weren’t taking place, the characters’ inner dialogues and stress over uncovering the truth kept me intrigued throughout.

I really need to mention the setting of this novel, because it felt so incredibly real. This might be because I spent three months living in London and could therefore picture exactly what a community on the city’s outskirts would look like. I could also relate to Rachel’s obsession with “Jason and Jess” during her morning and evening commutes because I often found myself picking out the same houses again and again during the over ground legs of my journeys. I actually got chills once in a while when I would recognize the names of train stations or supermarkets. Also, I kept getting pretty strong Broadchurch vibes, for obvious reasons if you’re familiar with the show.

Basically, this was just a really cool book. Not very literary, but definitely thought provoking. It puts you inside the minds of people you may not normally associate with and make them seem more human than they might have otherwise.

Needless to say, while this book is not Gone Girl, if you’re a fan of Gillian Flynn or simply of psychological thrillers, I would definitely recommend this.

Check out The Girl on the Train on Goodreads!

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Cinderella (2015) | Film Review

cinderella-2015-movie-posterLast Sunday, I went to see Cinderella with a few family friends, including my friend’s four-year-old cousin, who insisted we all wear tiaras to the theater. In other words, I got to channel my inner Mia Thermopolis for a couple hours. I was happy to see the long-anticipated Frozen short before the movie (which was really cute aside from Kristoff awkwardly professing his love to Anna – just so everyone knew they were still a thing), but I was really just way too excited for Cinderella to start.

Okay, first of all, I’m really, really glad they reproduced the Disney animated film instead of playing off the original Grimm Brothers’ tale, because let’s be honest, it’s super creepy and definitely not for children, and the film was definitely advertised as being child-friendly. So I’m sure there are people who had an issue with that, but I was perfectly fine just watching everything end happily ever after.

Second, the scenery and the sets were absolutely gorgeous. There was one outdoor scene in particular that took place outside the king’s palace that had the most stunning view overlooking the water. From what I could find, it looks like that place might be Black Park in Buckinghamshire, so it really just made me want to phone up my friend who lives there and tell her I’m coming to visit ASAP. They also filmed at Windsor Castle in Berkshire and the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich; I assume both locations were used as sets from the palace, and holy crap, they were amazing. If I wasn’t already having Princess Diaries vibes, that definitely did the trick.

Okay, now let’s talk about the cast, because it’s probably the thing I was most excited about before seeing the movie. First of all, let me make it known that any film involving Helena Bonham Carter is an automatic must-see for me, since she is my queen and I love her in every possible way. Also, any project involving Kenneth Branagh in any way, shape, or form is solid gold. (Gilderoy Lockhart, anyone?) Also, I’ve never really followed Cate Blanchett’s filmography before, but I might have to change that because she gave me legitimate chills as Cinderella’s evil stepmother. And of course, as an honorable mention, I’d only ever seen Richard Madden in Game of Thrones before this, but I would follow those bright, blue eyes to the end of the world and back. In fact, I could probably dedicate an entire blog post to Richard Madden’s eyes, but for the sake of boring you, I’ll move on.

Overall, the film had a really whimsical, daze-like feel to it, which in some cases I find really weird and awkward but in this case I found it kind of awesome. Of course, there were some parts that seemed a little bit off to me, particularly when Prince Charming (aka “Kit”) excitedly leads Cinderella into his secret garden that he’s “never shown anyone before” and proceeds to push her on a giant swing for approximately two seconds before she realizes it’s midnight and runs off. Also, I just couldn’t get on board with the insanely creepy lizards-turned-footmen in the carriage scene, but the carriage itself was gorgeous, so I just put up with it.

So basically, I’d highly recommend this movie. I’m pretty sure once it comes out on DVD it’ll quickly become one of my go-to feel-good movies, since it was just majestic and lovely and, oh yeah, did I mention Richard Madden’s eyes?

CINDERELLA

International Women’s Day | Favorite Books Written by Women

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Today, March 8th, 2015, is International Women’s Day, a day to raise awareness about women’s equality and celebrate the many accomplishments of intelligent, talented, strong women around the world. On average, I tend to read more books written by women than men, so I thought it would be fun and festive to share some of my favorite books by women. Of course, this isn’t even close to being an exhaustive list, but let’s be honest: there are just too many…it would take all day.

  1. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling. We’ll start off with the most obvious. By now, it’s pretty common knowledge that Jo Rowling is, in fact, a woman. However, the cold, hard truth is that if the front of the books read “Joanne Rowling”, they might not be as beloved as they are today. Even now, more than 10 years after her first book was published, Jo still hasn’t published a book as “Joanne Rowling”. Taking after women like George Eliot and the Bronte sisters, she knew she wouldn’t be taken as seriously writing as a woman. However, above all else, Queen Rowling has proven that it doesn’t take a man to write about a man. Or, in this case, a boy who becomes a man.
  1. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Be honest: Frankenstein is the perfect example of what society would consider a “man’s book”. It’s horrific, grotesque, and quite accurately describes a man’s descent into madness and a monster’s quest for revenge against the man who demonized him. It is also considered a defining work of Gothic fiction, a genre that is vastly dominated by men. It is also, in my opinion, one of the greatest classic works of literature ever written. And to believe, it was written by a woman!
  1. The Round House by Louise Erdrich. When I read this book for a class called Literature and the Law, I had only previously read Erdrich’s Love Medicine, a collection of short stories with which I was only moderately impressed. The Round House, however, is the winner of the 2012 National Book Award for Fiction, and I totally understand why. It’s the story of a North Dakota Native American reservation, a woman’s rape, and how she and her family deal with the consequences of an assault case in such a small, close-knit community. Moreover, the story is told mainly from the perspective of the victimized woman’s young son, Joe, who cannot comprehend why his mother has grown distant and uninterested. The intense setting combined with the brutally honest perspective of a child made it by far one of my favorite reads of 2013.
  1. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. Okay, I’ll be honest; I haven’t completely finished reading this book. I read four out of its eight stories for a short story course last year, including the three final stories, collectively referred to as the “Hema and Kaushik” stories. The individual stories are called “Once in a Lifetime”, “Year’s End”, and “Going Ashore”, and follow a man named Kaushik and a woman named Hema. They start out as children, brought together by their families’ friendship, and progress into adulthood over the course of the stories, their lives intertwining on a few distinct occasions. I’m someone who is usually left underwhelmed by short stories, so the progression of the same familiar characters over this series really appealed to me. I found it more beneficial to read all three together, but they can also be read individually. I’ve never become so attached to characters in such a short period of time, and because of that, Jhumpa Lahiri is a true queen.
  1. Yes Please by Amy Poehler. Of course, a list celebrating women wouldn’t be complete without an ode to my favorite leading-lady-turned-author, Miss Amy Poehler. I got to know her through Saturday Night Live, fell in love with her as Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation, and secured my passion by reading Yes Please, Amy’s memoir, which was published in late 2014. I really can’t say enough good things about this book; it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s inspiring, and it’s so incredibly relatable. Of course, there’s a fair bit of Hollywood name-dropping, which is inevitable with celebrity memoirs, but when you have friends like Tina Fey and Maya Rudolph, who can blame you? Basically, whether you love Amy or have never heard of her in your life, read this book. I promise you won’t regret it.

Down in the comments, let me know some of your favorite books written by women. Also, for more Women’s Day fun, check out my last post, where I talk about some kickass women in literature.

Happy International Women’s Day!

Ali

Kickass Literary Ladies, Part One

hermioneOkay, so since this is my blog and, you know, feminism, I thought I’d give a special shoutout to my favorite bookish women. However, let’s be real, there are so many of them. I don’t think it would be fair to limit myself to a short list, so I’ve decided to make this a series. Every once in a while, I’ll talk about five of my favorite women in literature from a variety of genres. This week, I thought I’d start with a few obvious ones and a few that might stir some debate.

1. Hermione Granger (from the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling) I mean, how else would I start this list? I first read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when I was six or seven, and I used to bring it to school disguised as a textbook because I was embarrassed for people to find out that I liked to read. In time I grew to embrace my reading habits, and this was due in no small part to Ms. Granger. Hermione taught me that knowledge is cool, that being brave doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to be scared, and that having frizzy hair isn’t the end of the world.

2. Jane Eyre (from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë) Again, this one might be pretty obvious, since Jane Eyre is often considered an early example of a feminist text, but I thought she was too important not to include. To be honest, the first time I read this book, I didn’t care for Jane…I found her annoying and didn’t really get what she saw in Mr. Rochester. (I still don’t, really.) And, to top it all off (SPOILER ALERT), she ends up going against her values and freaking marrying the guy anyway. Needless to say, as an English major, I’ve studied Jane quite a bit since then, and considering the fact that she only marries Rochester once she knows they can exist as equals, I’ve come to realize that she’s actually pretty awesome.

3. Celaena Sardothien (from Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas) Don’t hate me, but I’ve only read the first book in this series so far. Even though some things really irked me, (cough, love triangle, cough) I was still constantly rooting for Celaena. I liked learning about her past and seeing that despite her identity as the world’s most infamous assassin, below the surface there’s a lot more going on. I also admired her ability to be strong and sarcastic and fearless even when she was completely freaking out inside her head. I’m not in the biggest hurry to read the next book, but I’m excited to eventually see where Celaena’s newfound role takes her.

4. Catelyn Stark (from A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin) Okay, so I know this might be an unpopular opinion, and you’re probably thinking “BUT WHAT ABOUT ALL THE OTHER AWESOME LADIES IN WESTEROS?” However, even though I’m up-to-date with the TV show, I’ve still only finished the first book in the series. So yes, while there are a lot of awesome women in Game of Thrones, I really grew to love Catelyn in the first book. Of course, I don’t always agree with her, especially when it comes to her treatment of a certain broody bastard named after the weather condition currently taking place outside my window. However, I have to say, the scene where Catelyn enlists help to take Tyrion Lannister into custody is one of the most badass, triumph-inducing moments I’ve ever witnessed in literature. Four for you, Lady Stark.

5. Brett Ashley (from The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway) TSAR is, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant books ever written, but I can’t help but be frustrated with all the hate its female protagonist receives. In fact, I wrote an entire research paper dispelling the “Brett the Bitch” school of thought. Basically, being indecisive about which man to date and liking to partake in casual sex does not, in any way, make Brett Ashley a bitch. In fact, let’s just stop using the word “bitch” as a way of degrading women altogether. Instead, how about we recognize that Brett is a complex, rather realistic representation of a woman who is struggling to come to terms with what she wants out of life.

Hope you enjoyed! Let me know some of your favorite literary ladies in the comments!

Ali

Broadchurch Season 2 | TV Review

**SEASON ONE SPOILERS AHEAD**

Last semester while I was abroad in London, I fell into a routine of only watching British shows in order to “immerse myself in the culture” or something like that. That, plus my undying love for David Tennant, led me to watch all eight episodes of Broadchurch Season 1 in a very short period of time. Within the past couple weeks, I’ve slowly found the time to catch up on Season 2, and I finally watched the season finale a couple nights ago.

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To be completely honest, I was a little disappointed with Season 2. It just…wasn’t the same. There were still some remnants of Season 1: DI Hardy (Tennant), his beard, and his Scottish accent were back in full force; the dysfunctional citizens of Broadchurch who had all seemed so suspicious in Season 1 were still lurking around town; and, most importantly, the Hardy/Miller (Olivia Colman) dynamic duo was back fighting crime and refusing to call themselves friends.

This season revolved around two main storylines: Joe Miller (Matthew Gravelle) is on trial for the murder of Danny Latimer, and new information emerges about the Sandbrook case that put DI Hardy’s career in shambles. Again, all the same characters were there, but it just didn’t feel the same. In Season 1, I really connected with a lot of the accused citizens, to the point where I would have been pretty shocked about who killed Danny no matter who it ended up being. This season, the big “whodunit” was the reemergence of the Sandbrook case, but as for the outcome, I really didn’t care. All of the suspects seemed like annoying, horrible people with zero redeeming qualities, and I kind of just wanted them all to go to jail. Besides, without the involvement of the whole town as with Danny’s case, I didn’t really get a sense for who the murdered girls were or that anyone actually cared that they were dead.

I definitely found Joe Miller’s trial to be the most intriguing part. I liked the dynamic and sense of unsettled history between the attorneys, and Jocelyn (Charlotte Rampling) and Sharon (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) quickly became two of my favorite characters. I also liked the focus on the Latimer family and how they were learning to exist without Danny. There certainly wasn’t as much action and intrigue as Season 1, but I think one of the strengths of Broadchurch is its ability to make you care about the characters, not just the plot. I also liked that we got a glimpse of Hardy’s past in Sandbrook and his relationship with his daughter and ex-wife, who were only mentioned in passing in the first season.

To be honest, although there was still a lot of interaction between Hardy and Miller, I didn’t really feel like their relationship went anywhere. I definitely don’t ship them, but I definitely friendship them. I loved their dynamic in Season 1 and the way they’re afraid to admit that they actually care about each other, but I still wanted more. I mean, come on, Miller’s husband is on trial for murder and they can’t talk about anything but Claire (Eve Myles) and her refusal to stay away from her creepy husband?

I’ll definitely continue watching Broadchurch for as long as it’s still airing. I think David Tennant and Olivia Colman are brilliant. I think the cinematography (is cinematography still a think in television shows?) is beautiful and enticing. And I’m hoping, as the show progresses, the plot lines will get more interesting and reflect the first season a little bit more.

What did you think of Season 2?

Ali