9. Copy Cat by Alex Lake

Screen Shot 2017-12-29 at 18.14.00This book is a psychological thriller with the story focusing on Sarah, married with three children and living a happy life, who has her online identity copied by an unknown person. I liked the premise of this, how unsettling it must be for someone to pretend to be you online, in this case even more so as the stalker was able to take photos of the family and then post them online.

I really enjoyed the first half of this book as the suspense grew in how the stalker knew so much about Sarah and what they would do next. The motive was also unclear which added to the suspense – was it someone in Sarah’s past,  maybe linked to her husband or a random stalker who had taken a dislike to Sarah? It really could have been any of those. I felt there were a few holes in the plot, for example how little the police were able to find out about the fake account and how easily Sarah’s husband brushed off her fears and then believed that it was Sarah who was behind it all. But notwithstanding that it was a good read.

The latter part of the book however I found not so good and not so believable. Please stop reading now if you don’t want to know who the stalker was.

I admit I didn’t guess who the stalker was, but I knew it would be a most unlikely person and indeed it turned out to be so. Sarah’s best friend and neighbour who had been nothing but kindness itself for years turned out to be harbouring a grudge from their teenage years. This person, Jean, who had been a pillar of society and of whom no one suspected anything untoward was a psychopath. Jean had lost her husband a few years previously and selflessly taken on his two sons who were beautifully behaved and always well turned out. However, she had been subjecting these two boys to physical punishment, including locking them in the cellar, for years and had been responsible not only for her husband’s death but also the death of his first wife. It all felt a little far fetched to me.

Jean’s grudge against Sarah was that Sarah had helped her through an abortion and she had then not been able to have any children of her own. I thought this a disappointing motive, the way it was told by both Sarah and Jean was that Sarah was more supportive than anything else. However, Jean had decided it was Sarah’s fault though it was not clear why Jean had waited this long to get her revenge. The hate that Jean showed toward Sarah at the end of the book would have been very difficult if not impossible for her to hide over years.

The other disappointment was the conditions Sarah was kept in while Jean set up the scene to make it look like Sarah had committed suicide. Sarah was kept chained up in the basement with hardly any food or drink. Jean also subjected Sarah to physical violence that I feel sure would have rendered her in a state where she would be unable to think at all let alone plot a convoluted way out for herself.

The very end saw Sarah saved and re-united with her family while Jean escaped without a trace. I guess this was to keep the suspense going – would she return to finish the job off, but it didn’t work for me.

I was disappointed overall as this held so much promise to be a great story but it didn’t really deliver. However, many of the reviews I’ve read show that plenty of people thoroughly enjoyed this book, though others rather echo my own views. Sadly, I am not drawn to read other books by this author.

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8. The Year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell

Screen Shot 2017-12-28 at 10.54.52I was recommended this book by a friend who knows that my daughter is now living Danishly and enjoying herself immensely. The byline of the title is ‘Uncovering the secrets of the word’s happiest country’. It’s great news that my daughter is living in the world’s happiest country but what is their secret? I had a read to find out. The first thing I find out is that the author is taken to Denmark when her husband gets a job at Lego, the headquarters of which are about an hour away from where my daughter has settled so there is even some familiarity in there from when I have visited. It is written in an engaging and easy to read way though there are rather a lot of statistics.

Visiting another country often open us up to other cultures which is one of the joys of travel for me. Here the author is living in another country and despite not being very far away, the Danes’ lives are quite different to ours. The author takes us through her introduction to Denmark on a month by month basis, always trying to find out why the Danes are so happy.  She asks each of the Danes she meets or speaks to how they would rate their happiness out of 10. No one scores below an 8 which certainly backs up the theory that the Danes are very happy though I can’t help feeling that not everyone can be that happy.

It isn’t all good though, with sexual discrimination appearing to be quite prevalent. While the laws protect against discrimination and the maternity and paternity packages are very generous, according to the book there is a lot of less formal discrimination in the form of questions at interview about likelihood of having a baby, a high rate of women being let go during maternity leave and a somewhat shocking and bizarre TV show. Here, fully clothed men appraise a line of naked women, commenting on every aspect of their body. It certainly brings a new meaning to the likes of Blind Date!

Despite that, the Danes are friendly and do indeed seem happy and suffer less stress. As the author points out this is particularly commendable for a country that experiences severe winter weather and a distinct lack of daylight for a large part of the year. The conclusion is that the Danes are happy as they appreciate the simple things in life (part of hygge that has been so prevalent of late), appreciate each other and live in a country with a relatively small population helping the sense of being part of an exclusive club. They also know how to play (well, they did create Lego!).

Does the author extend her year of living Danishly – I won’t give that one away just now!