So it's the summer holidays and having the children at home all day is ruining my reading time and blogging schedule!! How very dare they get between a bibliomaniac and her books! And then actual holidays - well, apparently it would be nice to go sightseeing rather than just bury yourself in a book for days on end.... I know, I don't understand it either, but hey ho, there we go! Therefore, over July and August I am going to do a few mini review / round up blog posts just while my bibliomaniac life is on pause...... Thank you for your understanding!!
The Favourite by SV Berlin is published Myriad on 3rd August 2017.
This is a tome of a book at a delicious 520 pages and I thoroughly enjoyed immersing myself in it. It's a character driven story which really explores the ins and outs of families, sibling relationships, partnership, marriage, parenting and grief. There are three main characters, Isobel, her brother Edward and his girlfriend Julie and all of them have secrets, dubious motivations and feel aggrieved from misunderstandings which they have let grow into something more threatening and dangerous. They all need these 520 pages to work through these issues - whether they are wholly redeemed or 'fixed' by the end is up to the reader to judge but there is a great mix of emotional growth, changes in character and the exploration of trying to mend dysfunctional relationships to keep the reader entertained, engaged and involved.
Despite the book feeling quiet epic, all the events take place over a relatively short space of time following the death of Isobel and Edward's mother and Isobel's sudden return to England for the funeral. Herself and Edward have been estranged for years and Edward carries a huge amount of resentment towards Isobel which immediately sets up a tense atmosphere. Although he is largely a very unlikeable character with few redeeming features, filled with jealousy, petulance and selfishness I did actually enjoy him the most. He often deliberately says something to "light a grenade" and spark further tension between family members and his thoughts about his girlfriend's sister were very entertaining despite their sarcasm and derision.
Edward's girlfriend Julie is an interesting character. She starts of as "plain, little, timid and watchful but without the underlying spirit of Jane Eyre" but over the course of the novel she grows in strength and confidence. I think her journey was the most unexpected and I did have a lot of sympathy for her throughout the novel as she is the most put upon and most manipulated. And I think the author cleverly leaves the ending for Julie quite ambiguous and deliberately not too neatly resolved which I liked.
Isobel appears to be the main character although takes a little bit of a back seat in the second half of the novel. She is also very well crafted, very easy to relate to and understand and also very easy to feel empathy for as she uncovers the reality of what has been happening at home while she lived in America. There is a sense of suspense and tension surrounding her storyline as well as her need to reevaluate her life, her priorities and her understanding of her family.
This is a book about how toxic families can be but how there is always the potential to save and fix them. Edward and Isobel need to accept, apologise and compromise. Each of them has something they refuse to let go of but the death of their mother has brought them together and is forcing them to confront all their issues with each other and with themselves. I enjoyed the use of memory, different points of view and the way the author played with interpretation. A very worthwhile read and a great book to take away this summer and lose yourself within.
Dying to Live by Michael Stanley is published by Orenda on 30th July 2017.
This was an intriguing novel - the first #sunshinenoir novel I have ever read! It is set in Botswana and as my only experience of crime fiction set in this part of the world is "The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency" I was in for a bit of a shock! This is not cozy crime - it most definitely is noir fiction and it is gritty, dangerous, fascinating and full of threatening situations and characters. I was gripped by the opening when a body of a bushman is discovered - the body of an old man who seems to have very young organs. The autopsy reveals an old bullet is lodged in the man's body which immediately throws up a whole host of other issues, questions and intrigue. I was gripped as the plot continued to unfold and introduce a missing local witch doctor. The inclusion of this character really fascinated me and I enjoyed the time spent by the characters chatting about this part of the culture and heritage. It's all necessary for driving the action forward but also appealed to my imagination.
I enjoyed this book and I liked the characters. I felt it was well crafted, well written, easy to follow and that the complex storyline was well managed.
It was great to read a new detective series set in a part of the world I knew nothing about. It captures the sense of location, time and place so effectively while simultaneously creating a storyline that adheres to all the rules and conventions of noir fiction. I think it works well as a stand alone and there is a glossary of characters and a map at the beginning of the book which is always appreciated. There is a glossary with a few translations of words at the end but honestly this didn't bother me when I was reading. I think the growth of European and International noir has meant that we are often reading books with unfamiliar names and actually it is perfectly possible to keep track of everyone and everything when you have a book that is well written and well structured.
This would be a good holiday read for those who enjoy travel and enjoy reading stories set in exotic locations but also for anyone who enjoys a fast paced, action packed, crime novel with a fair level of darkness and threat!
The Susan Effect is published by Random House on the 3rd August 2017.
I requested this book as I still remember the impact of Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow and how that was one of the most talked about books when it was published in 1996. I think this book will do as well and Hoeg's style remains distinctive and intelligent.
This story is about Susan Svendsen who has a special power - people confide in her. They will confess their inner most thoughts without her having to really coax them and then she chooses how to use this information. Now she finds herself with a prison sentence hanging over her head unless she can employ her special talent one more time and aid the Government with their investigation into the Future Committee.
The novel is narrated by Susan and I really engaged with her voice and her character. She has quite a unique voice and is clearly intelligent and driven. There are many profound statements and observations which I enjoyed. Some of her comments about family life reveal a softer, maternal side to Susan but mostly she has a more scientific and rational attitude to the world. There is a lot of jargon within the novel and a lot of discussion about government issues and the Future Committee so I did find that this novel felt quite complex, sophisticated and for me, required quite a lot of attention and focus.
The book is propelled forward with a lot of dialogue which makes it very readable and means the characters come to life very quickly. There is a sense of intensity and this is heightened by the impending threat of a prison sentence. The complexity of the investigation that Susan embarks upon also heightens this sense of intensity. Because of the nature of her quest, the book immediately becomes a sophisticated and complex narrative which places the reader in quite a scientific world.
I was quite caught up with the characters and the dysfunctional relationship between the family members. The characters are all well written and convincing and Susan herself is a good female lead who has a great balance of intelligence, quirkiness, independence and self confidence to make her interesting and fascinating to the reader. I think the pressure and nature of the plot mean that at times there is a feeling of claustrophobia for the reader.
I am glad I read this novel and I did enjoy aspects of it but it was a very complex novel. Hoeg is a sophisticated writer who has a highly accomplished writing style and I'm sure this will be a literary hit this year.