Book review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

 

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Rating: ★★★☆☆
Links: Amazon • Goodreads
Publication Date: January 13, 2015
Source: Mysteriously found on my desk at work…

Rachel catches the same commuter train every morning. She knows it will wait at the same signal each time, overlooking a row of back gardens. She’s even started to feel like she knows the people who live in one of the houses. ‘Jess and Jason’, she calls them. Their life – as she sees it – is perfect. If only Rachel could be that happy. And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Now Rachel has a chance to become a part of the lives she’s only watched from afar. Now they’ll see; she’s much more than just the girl on the train…

Rachel just knows that something terrible has happened.  She sees the same beautiful, happy couple every morning as she rides the train into London.  Every morning, they’re kissing.  Hugging.  Enjoying their breakfast.  Simply being beautiful and happy.  She feels that she knows this couple, she’s almost friends with them since she’s seen them so much.  She’s nicknamed them Jess and Jason.

One morning, Rachel sees Jess on the deck with someone who is most certainly not Jason.  The two are locked in a passionate embrace, and not long after, Jess’s face is plastered across magazines and newspapers.  She’s missing, and Rachel is 100% certain that it has something to do with the strange man she was kissing on her deck.  But should she say something? After all, she doesn’t actually know this couple.  She’s only a girl on the train.

I was a little slow to read this one.  If I’m being honest, I actually didn’t want to read it at all.  I’m always saying how I have this thing with hyped books.  I never like them as much as I should, or as much as I think I might have if I didn’t have sky-high expectations going in.  But I came into work one day a few weeks ago and this book was sitting on my desk, loaned by one of my coworkers.

So I read it.

And I didn’t hate it, but I can’t really say that I enjoyed it.  It was fine, I guess.  Just fine.

The Girl on the Train is often compared to Gone Girl, and I think that’s one of the reasons I didn’t like it.  Because I, for one, really enjoyed Gone Girl, and I don’t think that it’s on the same level as The Girl on the Traini.  I could understand the motivations in Gone Girl.  Everybody was horrible, but they knew it.  In The Girl on the Train, everybody is horrible, but they don’t realize it. They all accuse each other of being awful but think of themselves as victims. I kept feeling like I was supposed to feel bad for Rachel, but I couldn’t.  She needed to get herself together.

The writing is fine, I guess, but the thing that upset me the most was how Rachel conveniently couldn’t remember the stretches of time that were vital to the investigation. Knowing that she’s an unreliable narrator, I almost thought that she was faking it at first – just pretending not to remember so that she could hide what actually happened that night.  But no, this is just a plot device so that she has a reason to see the psychologist or roam around her old neighborhood or feel bad about herself and spiral into another gin-and-tonic-induced blackout.

And then that ending – completely over-the-top.  I’m not convinced that any of these characters are better off.  I don’t think they’ve learned anything.  They haven’t learned any lessons or grown into better people.  They’ve just been dragged through the mud and left to fend for themselves. I need something at the end of a book.  Something to make the hours I spent reading worth it.

When I finished, I was left kind of puzzled about why this book is so popular.  It’s not bad by any means, but I didn’t think it was particularly good, either.  Overall, I think this book was too much it’s fine and not enough wow, this is amazing.


For my 2016 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #27: a murder mystery.

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Jenny Dawson is the popular country singer.  She’s 22 years old.  She has tons of hit songs.  And she’s hit a roadblock.  She cannot for the life or her come up with any new music.  Add to that the fact that married men that she’s never met have, for some inexplicable reason, decided to claim that they’ve slept with her, and Jenny is in serious need of a change of scenery and a break from reality.

Enter Noah Maxwell.  The son of the man who owned the rural Louisiana retreat where Jenny wrote some of her first good songs, Noah reluctantly agrees to let her try to recapture some of the magic.  Noah is a first class jerk, quick to insult her, belittle her, let her know that she’s no better than what the tabloids are calling her.  Because this is a new adult book, of course the next thing that happens is Jenny finding herself impossibly attracted to Noah and his “alpha male” ways.

Good Girl is my third or fourth book by Lauren Layne in the last year or so, and it’s more or less what I expected from her.  It wasn’t enough to wow me – Noah was a little too over-the-top for that, but it was good enough.  Jenny reminded me a lot of Taylor Swift (who I am a huge fan of, by the way) back in the day when every man on the planet claimed to have been dating her, and I sympathized, because who ever knows if tabloid rumors are true.

So here’s the thing.  Was Jenny a strong character?  Not really.  She ran away instead of facing her problems.  But that’s okay, and I get it.  At 22 years old, I would have probably done the same thing.  (I’d still be tempted now, just saying.)  My problem with this book solely lies with Noah.

He decides to be a jerk from the beginning, starting with not telling Jenny who he really is.  Then he decides to insult her in literally every way he can imagine.  He seduces her and then slut-shames her.  He plays with her emotions and you know what? That’s not “alpha male” behavior.  It’s not cool and it’s nothing to aspire to.  That is not the way that someone should treat their partner and it really threw off the whole book for me.  Sure, he apologizes and she forgives him and then they just repeat the whole cycle and I felt bad for her.  Jenny deserved better.

I’m still a fan of Lauren Layne’s, and I’m still most likely going to read whatever else she comes out with, but I was more than a little disappointed with this one.  Still, I’m giving it three stars because I read it all in one sitting and the plot kept me intrigued.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free review copy.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

For my 2016 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #25: a book that takes place during the summer.

Happy Top Ten Tuesday!  I’m so glad that I finally had time to participate this week.  I really miss talking about books, so here you have ten books that I just… picked.  Without reviews, without recommendations, without any help.  I just chose them, and most of them were really good.

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Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet has been on my radar for months now. I can’t even tell you how excited I was to see it on Netgalley, and as a Read Now, no less! I’ve been a huge fan of Charlie N. Holmberg ever since I first read The Paper Magician two years ago. The premise for her new book sounded really interesting and different, so I was excited to jump in.

After finishing this book, I can say that different is definitely a word that describes it. I don’t think I’ve read anything like it before. Maire’s talent, the missing background information, and the general sense that something’s off draws you in.

Briefly: The book centers around Maire, a woman with an unusual talent of baking emotions into pastries. She can make a cake that promotes relaxation. Rolls for strength. A tart for love. She has no memory of her past or how she came to be this way – it’s all she’s ever known. One day, her town is raided. Maire is captured and sold as a slave to the very odd Allemas. Allemas demands that she work for his clients making increasingly strange confections, like a house made of gingerbread. Meanwhile, she’s visited by a weirdly familiar apparition named Fyel.

It took me a little while to immerse myself in this world. Like Maire, I was frustrated that Fyel wouldn’t just tell her about her mysterious past. I guessed some of it. Other parts came as a surprise. I thought that the end was unsatisfying – the book definitely loses momentum as it wraps up.

I liked the story, but it’s not on the same level as Holmberg’s previous work. If it were my first book by her, I’m not sure that I’d actively seek out her other books. But since I already know and love The Paper Magician, I’ll be excitedly waiting for whatever she comes up with next.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy!

For my 2016 reading challenge, I’m crossing off #1: a book that’s based on a fairy tale. (Allemas asks Maire to make a gingerbread house for a witch, a living gingerbread cookie boy, and more.)

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For Liv, Starveil is life. It occupies 100% of her energy, 100% of the time. When her favorite character, Captain Matt Spartan, dies at the end of the most recent movie, she’s devastated. She mourns his death online with the rest of the fandom. But Liv knows that the powers that be take notice of what the fans want, and suddenly she comes up with the idea of #spartansurvived, an online movement in which fans prove the various ways that Spartan could have narrowly avoided death.

But then #spartansurvived starts taking up all of Liv’s free time. It starts cutting into her classes. Her grades suffer. Her relationships with family and friends go downhill. Fandom takes over her life. School is stressing her out, her mother is upset with her, and her romantic life has gone up in flames. Her best friend Xander comes up with a plan: the two of them will go to DragonCon together, they’ll go to all theStarveil panels together, and maybe even meet some of the cast.

I really liked when Liv got to meet all of her internet friends and found out that they were nothing like she expected. I kind of tend to assume that all the people I talk to online are my age (unless they tell me otherwise), so I can totally see her shock at meeting them in real life happening to me.

I wasn’t a big fan of the degree of Liv’s obsession withStarveil. It was a little weird. I’ve been pretty obsessed with things in my day, but never to the point that my grades declined or my relationships suffered. I didn’t like the fact that Liv’s mom was portrayed as out of touch for wanting her to focus more on real life and less on her fandom.

I really liked Liv and Xander’s friendship. Does Xander care about Starveil? Not really. He certainly isn’t bothered by the fact that Spartan died. He much prefers to work on his latest steampunk cosplay than worry about what’s happening in some space world. But he’s there for Liv. Always.

I wasn’t a big fan of the conflict in Liv’s relationship at the end of the book. It kind of came out of nowhere for me, and I really hate angst for angst’s sake. To be honest, I wasn’t really a fan of how the relationship earlier in the book ended, either. It was funny, but it also came out of nowhere and was kind of weird.

I really liked how cute and well-written this book was! I figured that, given the subject matter, this book would either be terrible and painfully awkward or quirky and awesome, and I’m so glad that it was the latter! The characters are all just shy of over-the-top, and they all grew on me as I got further into this book.

There’s more that I wish I could say, but I’ll keep my mouth shut for the sake of spoiler prevention.

This book was such a pleasant surprise, and I am definitely going to be checking out other books by Danika Stone and Swoon Reads.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free review copy!

Final rating: ★★★★☆

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I first heard about this series back in 2014, when it was constantly on the Goodreads First Reads giveaway page. Although I entered those giveaways time and time again, I never won. But then I got an email from BookBub that One Condition was on sale, and despite being up to my eyeballs in schoolwork, I snapped it up. That was a few weeks ago, but I finally read it last night.

Honestly, I don’t understand the love for this series.

Kaidan is not a nice person. He toys with Hayley, and it’s somehow supposed to be sexy. There is nothing sexy about a man who makes his partner feel like she’s constantly competing with his ex. Nothing. I don’t see any of what Hayley saw in this guy. At best he’s ignoring her. At worst? Well, don’t even get me started on that last scene.

Hayley isn’t much better. If this girl would just use her head she wouldn’t have nearly as many problems. Strange men in black SUV’s following you around, waving guns at you and demanding money for a debt you didn’t know you had? Maybe call the police! Don’t go to an ATM and empty out your savings!! Your dad makes some weird condition for you getting your inheritance? Don’t cry about it, get a job like a normal person!

Frustrating. That’s a good one-word review for this book.

Granted, I’ve only read the first installment. It’s only 206 pages. Maybe it gets a lot better. But maybe it doesn’t, so I’m not going to be carrying on with this series.

Sorry.

Final rating: ★★☆☆☆

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I really like books that are real.  And by that, I don’t mean nonfiction or biographies or whatever.  I mean books that show the characters having realistic emotions.  Books where the teenagers don’t talk like they’re fifty years old.  Books where the characters make mistakes and behave realistically (even when that’s not reasonably).  And that’s what we have here.

Finally.  A book about teenagers in which the characters actually act their age.

Aberdeen is going under.  The ground never fully thawed before the spring rains started, so there was nowhere for the water to go.  Homes were destroyed – just washed away with the floods.  The governor is talking about building a dam, relocating the entire town, doing nothing to prevent flooding.  Just letting it happen.

Keeley and her friends have lived in Aberdeen for their entire lives.  Their parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents were born and raised in this small town.  When they hear about the relocation efforts, they don’t really know what to think.  But Keeley’s always been the funny girl, the one who can make light of any situation, the one who makes everybody forget about the bad stuff.  So Keeley feels like she has to keep up that persona.  While her friends are crying, she’s cracking jokes.  She might as well make the most of the time they have left, right?

This attitude causes a lot of problems for Keeley.  Her friends feel like she isn’t taking their problems seriously.  They don’t understand why she’s carrying on like nothing’s changing when literally everything will change in a matter of days.

But her attitude also opens some new doors for her.  Her lifelong crush, Jesse, takes notice.  As one of the biggest jokers in the school, Jesse is known for his pranks and his hilarious videos.  He starts involving Keeley in his plans.  Before long, they’re hanging out one-on-one.  Then they’re dating, sort-of-maybe, in that way that teenagers do.

When I finish reading a book that’s made a big impression on me, I like to scroll through the reviews, both positive and negative, to see what other people thought.  It seems to me that for this book, the overwhelming majority of people who didn’t like it complained about Keeley’s attitude.  It’s funny because that’s one of the things that I liked most about this book.

Keeley’s response to the events in this book could be anybody’s response.  She so clearly does not know how to handle what’s happening that she just defaults to what’s normal for her.  None of these kids have been in this situation before. There’s no handbook for what to do when your town goes underwater. None of them know the right thing to say or do.  They’re all dealing with it in their own way.  I was so happy that these kids acted like kids.  Imagine this book if all these teenagers had known exactly what to say and do – it would have been painfully boring.

I feel like I’ve just done a lot of rambling here about how much I enjoyed this book, but I hope that you’ll take that as a sign that you should read it!

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the free copy!

Final rating: ★★★★☆