Review: The Girl on the Train

I actually finished this book over two months ago, but felt I had to think it over before I could review it and then suddenly it’s two months later and I haven’t done so.. Full spoilers follow.

I didn’t know anything about the book before I started reading it – except that it had been likened to Hitchcock’s works and involved a commuter looking at her fellow commuters on a daily basis. I was wrong about one of those! I listened to the audio version of it which may also have had parts of the appeal to me: the actor narrating the majority of it had the perfect voice at times making it feel like a hug and at other times giving it the necessary harshness. The other two voices fell a bit flat compared to that.

I think not knowing anything about it massively increased my enjoyment of it. Had I known the ex or people she knew were involved I may have approached it differently, assuming it was one of them for example rather than assuming they were just characters in the book. I fell for the red haired guy herring hook line and sinker. I thought the doctor was the one. I also then thought the dead woman’s ex was the one. Obviously for a very large part I suspected the dead woman’s partner, too.

Guessing the plot and also genre was what kept me obsessed with it for a few days. Was this a love story with a murder twist? Was it a detective story? Was it all in her head? Did any of these people even exist? The last part was at the back of my mind frequently partially due to her initially giving the other people different names but a large reason was because of the differently narrated voice for the doctor. The dead woman’s doctor is smooth with an accent, Rachel’s doesn’t have the warmth. Seeing the voice actor is certainly able to add warmth and other feelings to her voice, I wondered if this was a specific decision to highlight that this was just in Rachel’s head maybe with info taken from the newspapers.

Peeling away layers of Rachel throughout the story made me feel sorry for her – she was isolated no thanks to her ex, and people took pity on her frequently. Obviously I realise that me feeling sorry for her is part of the problem. I remember gasping in shock the moment she overheard the boyfriend of her housemate saying none of his friends would be this desperate. Then the stuff Tom would say to her, the harshness of his treatment.

The other women in this story weren’t as fleshed out or even likeable. Anna’s obsession for appearance with frequent descriptions of describing their ‘perfect family’ while out, was tiring. With Meghan I’m struggling to find anything positive about her: she murdered her child, she had two affairs [that we know of] and treats people, such as the friend covering for her, with contempt. I wouldn’t want to wish death on anyone, but she wasn’t a nice person.

All that being said – I didn’t like Tom, but I didn’t think it would be him! His ways to shape Rachel and the other women in his life is terrifying and the author did really well to not make actions of his seem alarming at the time. I went back to a few key scenes and realised they could be seen very differently with the knowledge from the end of the book! Through years of training [aka reading and watching crime/thrillers] I can usually spot motives and murderers, however I suspected anyone but him – at several points even Rachel herself! The only one I didn’t suspect was the baby on account of, well, being a baby!

The only slight criticisms I have involve Anna’s change at the end – whilst I buy her helping Rachel, I don’t buy the extreme way she took it – and the rather short end. I would’ve liked there to be a bit more and it felt a bit too rapid.

5/5 – I really enjoyed this book and it’s potentially my book of the year.

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O Christmas Tree… 🎄

christmas-tree-6I love a good Christmas tree and even though there isn’t one here, there’s a surprising amount of decoration shaped like a Christmas tree around the flat. There’s probably more in other places, too.

Also, as a sidenote: did you know that the melody for the German song O Tannenbaum is not only used in the official state songs of two US states but also a chant for the football club Chelsea? Please let me know if this rather useless tidbit ever wins you any pub quizzes!

Merry Christmas.

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Irresponsible newspaper front pages

It’s rarely so obvious which newspapers are artificially stoking fears for reasons unknown and which feel they have a duty to report facts and not further their own agenda as yesterday’s German papers following the terrorist attack on a Berlin Christmas market.

bild-title-angst-berliner-morgenpost

Fear, carnage, ISIS confirmation, heightened attack risk. – Don’t be afraid.

Two very different messages playing with different emotions.

Media should have a responsibility and the Bild is creating more unrest than is needed. Disgusting.

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Cuxhaven Kugelbake cross stitch pattern

kugelbake-cross-stitch

My grandparents used to go to Cuxhaven – a seaside town in northern Germany at the tip of Lower Saxony – each summer for two weeks. They did this for decades and met a bunch of couples doing a similar thing. I used to go with them when I was a small child so I also know the town, its beaches, the certain type of wicker beach chairs, and of course the Kugelbake landmark very well.

As part of small Christmas favours for the other couples they used to meet there regularly, my grandma was thinking of cross stitching a small Kugelbake, however, finding a pattern proved tricky. There are countless patterns of lighthouses and fish and other maritime items, but only one Kugelbake which was too big. Despite being a complete novice as this, I thought I’d give creating a pattern in Excel a shot. I remember thinking the classic ‘how hard can it be’. Well, it’s not hard, but time-consuming. Overall I spent probably about ten hours on it basing it on an embroidered picture she had and several pictures on the internet.

It all seems to have worked out though and the final versions are now done and looking fantastic though I personally can’t look at it any more without seeing some sassy landmark with its hands on the hip looking back at me – doubly so with the string looking like hair blowing in the wind!

To save others the hassle of having to muddle something up themselves, here is the final version used as pdf and if you do decide to make something of it, I’d love to see a picture via comment/tweet!

Rightclick/save Cuxhaven Kugelbake cross stitch pattern/muster

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Review: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic comics

I don’t think I’d ever read a comic except a few books of Disney’s Das Lustige Taschenbuch when I was young. I’d never ruled it out, but it’s kind of hard to know where to start when you’ve never really read them before and my head was already swimming hearing about changes to character origin stories, superhero gender changes, and all the other things that I see mentioned every few months. However, when the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic comics were announced and then came out I knew I’d finally found the right ones to give it a go. After all, I love Knights of the Old Republic and more stories of that universe would be great.

However, it still took me almost six years until I actually got around to it and finished the whole 50 editions run. on to the good. I loved the depiction of Taris and seeing the galaxy before the Mandalorian war created the chaos and the Sith were apparent. The initial storyline of the Jedi killing the younglings was intriguing and I enjoyed the discovery, though I was a bit dismayed that a whole group of Jedi masters couldn’t hunt down one padawan and his motley crew, despite the luck he was obviously having. It was also great to see some familiar faces, such as a very young Mission Vao and the underground swoop gangs. Mainly though I was happy to see more of Carth – he was my favourite character in the first game and to see how the relationship with Saul Karath would break apart. I am really happy with how much ‘airtime’ he got and would love to see some spin-off stories starring him at some point.

On to the good. I loved the depiction of Taris and seeing the galaxy before the Mandalorian war created the chaos and the Sith were apparent. The initial storyline of the Jedi killing the younglings was intriguing and I enjoyed the discovery, though I was a bit dismayed that a whole group of Jedi masters couldn’t hunt down one padawan and his motley crew, despite the luck he was obviously having. It was also great to see some familiar faces, such as a very young Mission Vao and the underground swoop gangs. Mainly though I was happy to see more of Carth – he was my favourite character in the first game and to see how the relationship with Saul Karath would break apart. I am really happy with how much ‘airtime’ he got and would love to see some spin-off stories starring him at some point.

The negative is much longer and this is where I’m not sure whether it’s me or the comics. I had tried to read them several times over the years [my copies are all digital] and always faltered maybe five editions in. I would lose interest or just had enough of it because the drawing style wouldn’t appeal to me and/or it was just too much hard work to follow. To be clear, I stayed with it because I wanted to follow the story, but at no point did I actually enjoy reading it. Through the changing artists and also at times confusing drawing some aspects didn’t really make sense at first and I found myself having to supplement info from Wookiepedia. The story itself turned into a mess with time jumps here and there and threads were started and not finished or whatever happened was highly improbable. The main characters changed their motivations and pretty much all were unlikable. Except Carth, of course. Never Carth.

I would have loved to have read this as an actual book.

2/5 – Confusing story and unlikable characters plus art styles I didn’t like only redeemed by my interest in the setting and the return of characters I’ve always loved.

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Review: Star Wars The Phantom Menace audiobook

I was surprised when I first listened to it that not only it contains sound effects and music but also added bits that aren’t in the films. As such the motivations of some of the characters are flashed out a bit from the films and some of the order of the scenes means they’re in a slightly different order.

Some examples:

  • Anakin’s first race – the one where he crashes the pod – is described. As is him working on his own pod and Watto sending him off to the Jawas to barter for droids including I believe the droid Jar Jar sets off in the shop “hit him on the nose”. To barter he takes C-3PO along with him to advise which is nice to see for a boy who knows everything.
  • Anakin’s motivations: He is obsessed with Padme stating after their first meet that he’ll marry her – a thought he has again a few times. He dreams of her [leading forces into the battle] and admires her when she fights to retake Naboo.
  • Anakin’s motivations of a tough guy surviving slavery and fighting his way through. Anakin’s portrayal in the films isn’t that bad for what we’d think of a slave. He gets to leave early, has a fairly good home, free time. He’s certainly not a kid working 16 hours in a factory doing manual labour. The book hints that life isn’t quite so easy.
  • Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. The book talks a bit more about the rift between them following the meeting of the council. QGJ knows him suggesting he’ll train the boy was a sign of rejection to Obi-Wan and they then don’t talk unless about other things for days until they return to Naboo. In the film there’s just a brief scene where Obi-Wan asks if QGJ is sure he’s ready for the trials.

The audiobook was done wonderfully. The occasional sound effects work really well and aren’t too frequent, loud, or overdone. For example R2-D2 doesn’t always make his sounds. Ships make a sound taking off but not continuously. Surrounded by droids the marching sounds is heard by a couple of seconds, but not the entire time. The Duel of the Fates is played at the first appearance, not throughout the entire battle.

Terry Brook’s voices are spot on and so similar to the film. Some of my favourites were the “vote of no confidence” scene in the senate, Obi-Wan and QGJ, Boss Nass, and even Yoda is pretty good. I’d have liked to hear a bit more of the harsh flat voice of Padme, but suppose that’s quite hard to replicate. A major criticism of mine is the pronounciation of Palpatine who is pronounced as Palpa-thai-n rather than Palpa-tee-n. With all the odd sounding names of people and locations, I am surprised that this could have gotten so wrong and really killed immersion for me, especially during the senate part where he’s obviously mentioned a lot.

4/5 – The audiobook and novel don’t change the world, but they supplement well. The extra sections work, similar to the Force Awakens audiobook, and it has the feel of an extended cut. If it wasn’t for the immersion killer of the Palpatine pronounciation it probably would have been a 5/5.

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Review: A Time to Kill by John Grisham

I first read this book in my teenage years. I must have been around 14 and had picked it up after racing through The Firm and The Pelican Brief. I remember loving all of them at the time. This year I’ve slowly been making my way through the audiobooks of John Grisham’s books and they don’t hold up too well either because it’s a reread or because I am more grown up.

AttK was the first book I remembered reading which described a rape. The other books I had read would maybe mention it in a throwaway sentence ‘character was raped’ or ‘he raped her’ or it was implied. This book straight from the first word dumps into a graphic and horrific rape scene. The rape isn’t the focus of the book, but a catalyst to the rest of the events and a key aspect of the trial. The book shocks and makes the reader uncomfortable throughout, such as the constant uses of the word ‘nigger’ and how naturally it’s used in conversation.

In the author notes, John Grisham says that he got the inspiration for the book – the first one printed with fewer than 10k copies – from a rape trial he read about and then wondered the effect the testimonial and trial would have on the family.

Carl Lee Hailey is an irresponsible vigilante murderer who should be sitting in jail for the rest of his life. He meticulously planned the murders over several days, driving a fair few miles to get a gun and staking out the exact route they’d take before hiding in a cupboard and jumping out to kill them and badly injure a deputy. He feels no remorse and instead – when thinking back to the crime – smiles to himself and is satisfied with the action he’s taken. I understand that it’s a very difficult situation and that he doesn’t want to put his daughter through the pain of a trial, however, as several characters in the book, such as the waitress, state, you can’t have people just picking up guns. He needs to be in jail.

He is also a not very nice man, from controlling his wife to shirking responsibilities, such as not telling his attorney that he’s got another one, to not really being that concerned with how his family realistically is meant to have money coming in. I could understand this kind of lack of foresight if this had been a spur of the moment attack, however, he planned it over days and fully knew the consequences.

Jake is also quite unlikable and incredibly arrogant. He pursues the case and sabotages several other attorneys, because he wants the fame and glory the case will bring though he’s not really that dedicated to it, what with getting drunk the night before jury selection and thinking himself over-prepared when in reality he barely did enough for it and only managed to blunder through due to the excellent free clerk and the many mistakes of the prosecution. His treatment of women from the secretary through to his own wife are disgusting. There aren’t really any redeeming features to him.

The plot moves sluggishly forward, a trying to create a slow build up to the Klan vs the African American inhabitants stoked by outside forces yet no one seems to do anything constructive about it! Yeah, sure, deep South small town and all that, but it’s ridiculous that the Klan can put up 20 crosses or access the sequestered jury or kidnap people or burn houses or whatever without anyone going ‘oh, we probably should bring in more security’. It feels about as unorganised as ‘The Client’.

3/5 – All this being said about the content of the book and the flawed characters, it is a captivating book and hard to put down.

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