2

Six Degrees of Separation: May 2015

 

 

 

Six Degrees of Separation: Saturday 2nd May 2015

When I was on holiday in the Lake District last year I bought my copy of Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey from the eye catching display in Bookends, Keswick’s lovely local bookstore.
(Read my review here)

At the same time as my holiday, Emma Chapman, author of How to be a Good Wife, was doing her Indie Book Crawl. As these things always turn out, she was in London while I was in Cumbria and then in Cumbria when I was back in London. I missed her whole tour and didn’t get to say hello!
I love the Nordic setting of How to Be a Good Wife
(I have a very old and stodgy review here – one of the first on my blog!)

… and being a big fan of Scandi settings I have to admit to loving Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series. I still haven’t read all of them but so far I think Nemesis is my favourite.
(Read my review here)

I recently read both of Anya Lipska’s crime novels. Although set in London they have a real European feel. Her first, Where the Devil Can’t Go had me hooked from page one. I rarely read two books in a series back to back…
(Read my review here)

…I think the last time I did this was with Stephen Lawhead’s Song of Albion Trilogy. I read this series for a university subject on Science Fiction and Fantasy. Wow, that would be over 15 years ago!

OK, If we are talking about fantasy, I admit it, I am a Game of Thrones fan. I have read all the George R.R. Martin novels. The current TV series is moving along at such a great clip I may not continue to read the rest of the novels if they take so long to be published!
(If you haven’t ever seen the Rage of Thrones song, I highly recommend it. Hilarious!)

One author who has a gap of almost half a centure between novels is is Elizabeth Harrrower who had a 48 year hiatus until In Certain Circles was published last year.

 

Find out more about the Six Degrees of Separation meme here.

#6Degrees Rules

1

German for Homemaker: Hausfrau

HausfrauHausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Anna Benz, an American in her late thirties, lives with her Swiss husband, Bruno—a banker—and their three young children in a postcard-perfect suburb of Zürich. Anna tries to rouse herself with new experiences: German language classes, Jungian analysis, and a series of sexual affairs she enters with an ease that surprises even her. But Anna can’t easily extract herself from these affairs…

First Impressions: I didn’t really enjoy the first two chapters of this novel. I found the story and main character to be too cold and clinical. However, Marina Sofia wrote a wonderful review of this novel. She approached it from the perspective of the expat detail. I gave the novel a second go, looking at it through this lense, and I am really glad I did!

Highlights: This is in a completely different league to Gone Girl. I was really invested in this story by the end. Anna’s agony felt so real my heart was almost breaking too. I could feel her pain and tried not to dwell on things too much otherwise I would have shed a tear, I am sure! I thought the expat observations were accurate, particularly the awkwardness of putting out an olive branch and starting new friendships with someone who superficially you have little in common. As for Anna’s affairs, I didn’t necessarily think the impetus behind her actions was strong enough but the passivity of her character was believable and not as annoying as I would have assumed. I would have liked to learn more about her formative years in America. I think I like the ending and it does seem fitting to the circularity of the story.

If I was an editor: I’d have a good think about whether the fragments from the psychologist sessions that intersperse the story are really necessary. For me, I don’t think they added much to the story but I did like the fragments from the German classes. I found some of the plot devices a bit predictable but there’s only so much scope in a story like this I guess. Anna’s relationship with Bruno seems so distant it’s a wonder they even orbit the same family life. However, they were obviously drawn to each other for various reasons and each to their own! Perhaps Bruno’s story would be good for a sequel, Werktatige.

Overall: What’s German for torment?

Hausfrau: 4 stars

Here is a link to The Expat Experience, a review post I wrote in 2013.

Thank you to Sam Eades at Pan Macmillan for a copy of the title to review.

2

Abandoned Part 2: Decided

For different reasons I was just not enjoying these three novels. It will probably take a good convincing argument for me to retrieve them from the icloud.

Perfidia by James Ellroy

America stands at the brink of World War II. Last hopes for peace are shattered when Japanese squadrons bomb Pearl Harbor. Los Angeles has been a heaven for loyal Japanese-Americans – but now, war fever and race hate grip the city. The Japanese internment begins and a Japanese family have been brutally murdered.

I love the setting and story of this novel. It is the first Ellroy I have read and I really wanted to enjoy it. However, I have become confused with the names of all the police characters. Who was that? Was he the one who…? Which one’s the boss? Who’s in charge? Where’d this guy come from? Maybe I hit a tough chapter while a bit sleepy but I haven’t felt compelled to try again since.
Thank you to Random House (Cornerstone) for a copy of the title to review.

 **********

The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide

A couple in their thirties live in a small rented cottage in a quiet part of Tokyo. They work at home as freelance writers. They no longer have very much to say to one another. One day a cat invites itself into their small kitchen. She is a beautiful creature. She leaves, but the next day comes again, and then again and again.

I thought this short novel would be perfect for the Japanese Literature Challenge. I imagined it would be perfect to finish in one sitting on a relaxing afternoon: a novel of insightful observations with a deeper comment on the childless nature of so many Japanese families. While I knew it would be a novel of musings rather than plot driven, I just couldn’t get into it. Unfortunately it just didn’t pique my interest and I didn’t really care about the relationship the couple developed with the cat. I read a thoughtful review of The Guest Cat from Rare Bird who sums it up by saying it is most likely a flat translation. I agree.
Thank you to Pan Macmillan for a copy of the title to review.

**********

The Extraordinary Journery of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe by Romain Puertolas

Armed only with a counterfeit 100-Euro note, Ajatashatru the fakir, renowned conjurer and trickster, lands in Paris. His mission? To acquire a splendid new bed of nails. His destination? IKEA. And there he decides to stay, finding an obliging wardrobe in which to lay his head.

I loved The Hundred Year Old Man by Jonas Jonasson and have seen a proliferation of similar quirky novels since its publication and success. I have avoided all of them but decided to give The Fakir a try. It is a light hearted comedy and I suspect I may have enjoyed it in a different context. The Fakir was a little bit too much of a caricature and for some reason AllTheRunOnWordsThatShowTheFakir’sCompetanceInEnglish annoyed me. Perhaps the book is just too lighthearted for my liking. Maybe I would have stuck with it if it was under 200 pages. The Hundred Year Old Man still remains my benchmark.
Thank you to Random House (Vintage) for a copy of the title to review.

0

Abandoned Part 1: Still Marginally Undecieded

I hate abandoning books, particularly when I have invested the time to read more than just a few pages. After a fair amount of deliberation I have decided to abandon these three novels. They aren’t bad novels and I feel guilty for not giving them just one more go… Who knows, they may be retrieved from my icloud if I have a moment of weakness…

Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson

After trying to help Benjamin Pearl, an undernourished, nearly feral eleven-year-old boy living in the Montana wilderness, social worker Pete Snow comes face-to-face with the boy’s profoundly disturbed father, Jeremiah, a paranoid survivalist itching for a final conflict that will signal the coming End Times. Jeremiah’s activities spark the full-blown interest of the FBI, putting Pete at the centre of a massive manhunt from which no one will emerge unscathed.

This is actually a really well written novel and I feel guilty for not sticking with it and doing the author justice. It is a difficult story with a gritty and depressing setting yet I found it very readable. I always prefer to read something weighty but I after a while I found this novel just too upsetting. I think this is because since having my son I have become more sensitive to some stories about children. The plot itself is also rather plodding and atmospheric, beautifully written but sort of prolonging the misery.
Thank you to Random House (Cornerstone) for a copy of the title to review.

**********

The Liar’s Chair by Rebecca Whitney

Rachel Teller and her husband David appear happy, prosperous and fulfilled. The big house, the successful business …They have everything. However, control, not love, fuels their relationship and David has no idea his wife indulges in drunken indiscretions. When Rachel kills a man in a hit and run, the meticulously maintained veneer over their life begins to crack.

This should be a super quick and easy psychological thriller to read. I like the story and do want to find out what happens in the end but…something about the story keeps jarring and interrupting the flow which means there have been long reading breaks between chapters. Perhaps it is Rachel’s cool assessment of her loveless marriage that begins to bore me; she likes to describe their soulless of her home and explain her justifications for staying in the marriage. Or maybe I just find her annoyingly passive for an intelligent character.
Thank you to Sam Eades at Pan Macmillan for a copy of the title to review.

**********

 Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

One snowy night in Toronto famous actor Arthur Leander dies on stage whilst performing the role of a lifetime. That same evening a deadly virus touches down in North America. The world will never be the same again. Twenty years later Kirsten, an actress in the Travelling Symphony, performs Shakespeare in the settlements that have grown up since the collapse.

Station Eleven is one of the most popular books out there at the moment and I was surprised (but not shocked) to see it on the Bailey’s Prize Longlist. I started reading it last year and just couldn’t get into it. Not only did I find the opening scenes set in the present rather stilted, I wasn’t interested in all the different characters, nor did I particularly like all the references to Shakespeare’s plays. I relegated it to easy reading on public transport but that didn’t end up working out. I only got to the part where the preacher is introduced so maybe it gets better? In my mind I kept comparing this novel to Eden Lepucki’s California (my review), which probably didn’t help. It is with reluctance I give up on this novel as I worry I am missing out on something…
Thank you to Pan Macmillan (Picador) for a copy of the title to review.

 

2

Vague Theories and Limited Intrigue: Authority

AuthorityAuthority by Jeff VanderMeer

Book 2 in the Southern Reach Trilogy: After the failure of the 12th Expedition the Director is missing. Control is sent to Southern Reach to take her job. His task is to look at the information with fresh eyes and determine what caused Area X to form.

First Impressions: Authority has the same tone as Book 1 but I didn’t find Control a particularly interesting character.

Highlights: I liked seeing things through a different character’s eyes. The physical descriptions of the people linked to Southern Reach was interesting as all the vital characters seemed to have a mixed ethnicity. I wondered if this was relevant but it was not revealed. I also liked finding out more about Area X as Control had access to more information than the Biologist in Book 1.

If I was an editor: As talented a descriptive writer Vandermeer is, I would take a pen and trim this novel right down. Conversations are interrupted by pages of description and by the time the conversations resumed I often had to flick back to remember what the characters were talking about. Not enjoyable on a Kindle! One review I read suggested that the three books in the trilogy all but cut down to form three parts of one novel. I haven’t read Book 3 but suspect this is a fine idea based on what I have read. My initial impression about Control was correct – I found him boring and didn’t really care about the dynamics of his personal life. I was hoping Control would really probe the mystery that is Area X but none of the theories were well drawn out (yet terrior was overdone) and the clues were few and far between. I wasn’t expecting The X Files but I was expecting… something.

Overall: Don’t think I’m brave enough for Book 3.

Authority: 2 stars

1

Six Degrees of Separation: April 2015

 

 

 

Six Degrees of Separation: Saturday 4th April 2015

I absolutely adored The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. Don Tillman becomes involved in some research to do with genetics and autism…
(Read my review here)

… and in Ali Smith’s How to be both one of the main characters in interested in DNA and even cycles along a DNA path. Don Tillman rides a bike too!
(Read my review here)
I am fairly certain How to be both will be on my top books of the year list when December rolls around.

Last year This is the Water by Yannick Murphy made it on to my top books of the year list which really surprised me as I honestly couldn’t decide if I loved it or hated it and I’m still not even certain that I loved it!
(Read my review here)
This is the Water is about the world of teens’ competitive swimming…

As is Chris Tsioklas’ Barracuda. Dan Kelly wins a swimming scholarship to an elite private school…
(Read my review here)

… and in Laurinda by Alice Pung Lucy Lam wins an academic scholarship to an elite private school. Both of these novels highlight the wealth divide in society.
(Read my review here)

The Point by Marion Halligan also highlights the divisions in society. Her novel is about both the life of a gourmet restaurant (The Point) and homeless people in Canberra.

A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists by Jane Rawson is a highly creative novel that shows the difference between the haves and the have nots in a future Melbourne that has been ravaged by climate change.
(Read my review here).

 

Find out more about the Six Degrees of Separation meme here.

#6Degrees Rules

1

Futility of War: Neverhome

9780701188795Neverhome by Laird Hunt

Meet Gallant Ash: A chivalrous Civil War soldier. A leader of men and fearless in battle. His secret? Gallant Ash is a woman who left her husband at home tending the farm so she could fight for the Union.

First Impressions: Strong narrative voice. Gallant had a highly unique voice with no break in register or tone. I think it is hard for a man to write a female narrator (and vice versa) so Hunt has done very well but I suspect Gallant being of a tomboy may have made it every so slightly easier!

Highlights: I loved the snippets of Gallant’s childhood and home life on the farm. Her relationship with her husband is slowly revealed and explains why she has gone off to fight. The novel was far from being a voyeuristic survey of injured soldiers but some of the stories told were quite affecting. When Gallant meets a veteran from the War of 1812 it really shows how nothing changes in war, particularly to this day. The novel was never laugh out loud funny (that is not Gallant’s way) but her interactions with the soldiers from Akron were amusing.

If I was an editor: I would initially wonder if we needed another Odyssey-type Civil War novel (aren’t most Civil War novels more about the physical journey?) but Neverhome is unique in what it achieves and offers a fresh approach. I usually love a sub-300 page novel but I did wish this was just a little longer…

Overall: Timeless musings on war.

Neverhome: 5 stars

(Purely for interest: Behind the scenes at the Neverhome cover shoot:click here)

Thank you to Random House (Vintage) for a copy of the title to review.