Book Reviews

We Were Liars

By E. Lockhart               Allen and Unwin 2014           YA fiction

Score: 8/10                             Genre: Dark teen romance, Suspense

Cadence spends her summer breaks on the Sinclair family’s private island along with her mother, her grandparents and the families of her two aunts.

Cady her cousins Johnny and Mirren and the intriguing, handsome Gat form the band of summer friends called ‘The Liars.’ As they spend lazy summers swimming, boating and playing tennis Cady falls in love with the outsider Gat. Together the Liars observe the so-called ‘beautiful’ Sinclair family implode. Rivalry between the adult sisters spurred by the manipulative elitist grandfather turn family gatherings into ugly feuds.

Cady’s fifteenth summer will change everything. An accident, a head injury, and amnesia leave her grappling for answers. She aches to see the ‘Liars’ again and begs her mother to let her return to Beechwood island in her seventeenth summer. Will the Liars help her unravel her confusion? Will Gat still love her?

It is hard to discuss this book without giving spoilers – but I’ll try. Lockhart plays with language form, timelines, and character voices in such a clever way that the pages fly by. The setting of Beechwood Island with the four houses for the four families (map included) is a fantastic claustrophobic space to tell a dark tale. So why didn’t I give this 9 or even 10? Possibly because I felt a bit too manipulated by the plot twists. Also, I’m not one for ‘happily ever after’ but this ending is gut-wrenchingly irredeemable. I’m not sure I liked the feeling (call me a wuss) even though I appreciated the writing that led me to despair.

Recommend for: YA writers and teenagers. This may seem self-evident – it is YA fiction, but some YA’s have more general appeal. I think I would have appreciated this book more if I was an angsty teenager.

Use for writers: Where do I begin?

Creative sentence/paragraph structure: Occasional short repetitive sentences pack emotional punch. Particularly when describing the facade of the Sinclair clan. “We are Sinclairs. No-one is needy. No-one is wrong.”

Authentic and interesting teen voices: Cady’s feelings of love, pain and bitterness are shown in a raw and poetic voice. Johnny is flippant and likeable, Gat is serious and brooding and Mirren is sweet and insecure.

Setting: atmospheric, confined but never over-described.

First person present tense: creates intimacy and tension.

Changes in text form: emails, lists and my favourite; Cady’s increasingly bitter fairy-tale retellings – very clever and ominous.

Book Reviews

The Circle

 by Dave Eggers         Knopf 2013               Adult fiction

Score:       6/10                             Genre: IT dystopia. Corporate intrigue

Mae has a shiny new job at The Circle, an information technology super company. The grand vision of its founders is total connectivity and accountability of all the world citizens via Circle accounts. Millions of static cameras, chips under the skin, wrist devices for messaging and the pinnacle of transparency – the personal video camera worn around the neck. Mae opts to go ‘Transparent’ and records all her work, personal and family life.

The technology presented in this book is entirely believable and fascinating however the characters were not. Mae is presented as an independent, risk taker (ie paddling alone in the dark, and having sex with near strangers) however in her role as Circle employee she is a gullible dupe. The cost of the insane workload and lack of privacy in her life mounts but Mae does not seem to have one iota of doubt in her role as The Circle poster girl. What does the rebellious, brillant Kalden see in her? And why doesn’t he take his own action against the Circle?

There are few chapter breaks in this book which makes the plot seem relentless. This may be deliberate to mimic the relentless nature of the constant texts (zings) and surveys thrust at Circle employees. I felt overwrought just reading about this communication overload. So why didn’t more of the employers have mental breakdowns?

Despite the flaws this is an important book to read about the totalitarian power which could be wielded by IT companies.

Recommend for: I would recommend this to everyone – for the warnings it contains. The lack of privacy is the main issue addressed but thankfully we are still quite a way from The Circle ideal of having everybody under surveillance. A more pressing concern for our society is the lack of downtime for individuals. In the Circle’s world everybody is always connected, always zinging, sharing and constantly seeking affirmation from others– often strangers. As I sit here on ‘holidays’ and my husband sorts a problem at work over the phone, my son texts and I check my twitter account I wonder if we are far from this dystopia.

I rarely use an e-reader, but for this text it seemed appropriate. Mainly because it suits the high-tech nature of the story but it is also easier to bookmark given the lack of chapter divisions.

Use to writers: Be careful not to contrive dialogue or character traits just to serve the plot. The characters should have believable motivations and human weaknesses. A great dystopian premise is not always enough.

Book Reviews

The Children Act

by Ian McEwan              Published 2014 (Vintage)             Adult Fiction

Score:         9/10            Genre: Law, relationship and ethical drama

Fiona, an ambitious, childless family court judge makes ruling on whether Jehovah’s Witness boy should be forced to take a blood transfusion to save his life. Book explores the fraught consequences of her decision against the backdrop of her own troubled marriage.

Moral dilemmas abound in this book, motivating this reader to ask the questions; Would I have made that life choice? That ruling? Reads like a fast-paced BBC law drama episode as quite short at 55,000 words. Minor plot qualm – the way the revelation at the end was exposed – seemed a bit contrived. Thought-provoking but not high- brow.

Recommend for: Everyone but especially those interested in ethics and easily digestible books. Book clubs will find many discussion points arise from the choices Fiona makes both in her private and professional life.

Use to writers: Demonstrates how tight writing can fit meaningful plot, character development and backstory into a short novel. Clever combination of broader ethical/legal issues with personal character stories ie Good example of how to keep reader’s interest on several levels.