Daughter by Jane Shemilt

DaughterDaughter by Jane Shemilt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. It’s rare that I would describe a novel as gentle and brutal, delicate, and devastating, but Jane Shemilt’s debut Daughter manages to be all these things and more, making it one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Daughter is a slow burn of a tale which will appeal to fans of Broadchurch and the works of Tana French. The story is told in chapters alternating between the past (mostly set in Bristol) and the present (mostly in Dorset).
Our first person narrator is Jenny, a wife, family-practice doctor, and mother of three teenaged children. Jenny’s husband Ted is a neurosurgeon with a thriving practice in Bristol, Jenny’s daughter Naomi is a bright and lovely 15-year-old with a starring role in the school play, and Jenny’s twin sons Theo and Ed are each their own unique, apparently functional, people.
The kids are showing what Jenny assumes to be normal signs of teenage rebellion, but Jenny knows that she loves them, tries to communicate with them in the times when she is home, and more or less assumes that all is well.
However, when Naomi disappears after her performance as Maria in West Side Story, Jenny’s seemingly reasonable ideas about her family begin to fall apart.
As if she is peeling an onion, and with results which bring real tears, Jenny begins to look carefully for the first time beneath the surface of her daily life. As she searches for answers to her daughter’s disappearance, she uncovers truths about her husband, sons, daughter, and ultimately, about herself, which irrevocably change her world.
In this way, although Daughter has a catastrophic event as its starting place, Naomi’s disappearance is really just the opening that author Jane Shemilt needs to begin to deftly explore the dynamics of family, motherhood, and growing up.
Shemilt is a gifted writer. She is herself a family-practice doctor with children and a husband who is a neurosurgeon. Thus, her descriptions of balancing family and a career, as well as her insight into doctor/patient dynamics are intelligent and thought-provoking.
Shemilt also has a talent for evoking a sense of place. Both Bristol and Dorset are described with affection, familiarity, and an artist’s attention to detail.
Daughter becomes more and more powerful as it progresses, until, in the final pages, I literally could not put it down. It left me feeling emotional, amazed, sad, but also, deeply satisfied. I think that the story will continue to resonate with me for a long time. I highly recommend it.
Thank you to William Morrow/Harper Collins Publishers for the arc of Daughter, by Jane Shemilt.

View all my reviews

Dietland (May 26, 2015)

DietlandDietland by Sarai Walker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Once in a decade, a novel comes along with the potential to alter our perception of reality, to change how we see ourselves and to reveal new possibilities in how we can live lives of joy and freedom. For many readers, Sarai Walker’s debut novel Dietland may be just that.
I am someone who rates reading right up there with breathing, eating, and loving, and who begins and ends her day with a book in her hand. But for me, the experience of reading Dietland has been something altogether new and different.
Dietland begins with Alicia “Plum,” a fat woman whose life revolves around her efforts to become her true, thin ‘Alicia,’ self. Plum’s plans are abruptly derailed when a mysterious girl named Leeta writes the word “DIETLAND” on Plum’s palm.
What happens next to Plum is life changing, and nothing that she (or the reader) could expect. I read Dietland with very little knowledge of the plot other than what I’ve shared above, and I would recommend that anyone interested read it (at least at first) in that same, fresh, way.
What I will say for now is that I’ve struggled my whole life with the realization that I don’t fit, and don’t want to try to fit, in a culture which tells me to be smaller. Dietland is the first book to convincingly show me a way in which a life of freedom might be possible. I know I will read Dietland many times in the future, and hope I have the opportunity to talk about it with other readers.
Dietland is a book that is for all women, but it is also a book that is intensely personal. It is very funny, very smart, and utterly absorbing. It contains scenes of graphic violence, but left me feeling comforted and energized. Read Dietland as a love letter to all women, and to yourself.
I received an advanced review edition of Dietland from the publisher through NetGalley.

View all my reviews

Dark Rooms (March 3, 2015) by Lili Anolik

Dark RoomsDark Rooms by Lili Anolik

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Thank you to William Morrow for my advance reader’s edition of Dark Rooms, by Lili Anolik.
Dark Rooms has been variously promoted as a combination of Twin Peaks, Megan Abbott, and The Secret History. To me, these descriptions didn’t fit the book, and so, I felt disappointed.
There is a little of the wonderful creepy, quirky, hallucinatory quality of Twin Peaks, especially in one scene at the end of the novel, but the strangeness that made Twin Peaks so unique is
lacking in Dark Rooms.
In the same way, Dark Rooms can be compared on the surface to the subject of Megan Abbott’s novels-the social lives of teenage girls-but whereas Abbott’s writing style is visceral and impressionistic, Dark Rooms was told in a much more straight-forward writing style. Megan Abbott describes the sex, jealousy, and cruelty of adolescence in a way that is unsettling and powerful. Lili Anolik used actions, rather than hinting at the deep, shadowy, feelings behind them, to tell her story. And, as to The Secret History comparisons, all I can say is that both novels take place in schools on the East Coast of the United States, and contain characters who do “shocking” things. The gothic mystery of The Secret History is absent in Dark Rooms. In fact, if anything, I am surprised at how little the author of Dark Rooms took advantage of what could have been a gothic setting; attending a private prep school next to a graveyard has never felt so prosaic!
Ultimately, I did not connect strongly with any of the characters. I wanted to root for the narrator, Grace, as well as to Damon, her partner in trying to solve the mystery of her sister’s death.
But they both acted, (or thought) in ways that seemed slightly sociopathic- not all the time, but enough that I just couldn’t fully empathize with them.
In the end, Dark Rooms was readable. It just wasn’t any of the things I had hoped it would be, and, a few days after finishing it, I find myself forgetting it. Dark Rooms is the kind of novel I’d recommend reading on a plane or while waiting for a doctor’s appointment. It’s easy to lose yourself in, but not something you’ll miss if you get distracted.

View all my reviews

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis (US Release 27 January 2015)

One Step Too FarOne Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thank you to William Morrow publishers for this wonderful debut novel by author Tina Seskis.
The following review will be, to the best of my ability, spoiler free.
One Step Too Far is a thriller that manages to be exciting, escapist, and compulsively readable, as well as well-written, subtly plotted, and touching. It surpassed my expectations of a run-of-the mill domestic-noir novel, and instead, left me impressed and moved.
Here’s what you should know about One Step Too Far if you’re considering reading it:
The first chapter is written in the first person, and after reading only that, I was concerned that I was in for just another vague, amateurish attempt at a mind-trip, of the type which have been abundant in the wake of Gone Girl.
However, happily, I turned the page on chapter one, and continued reading chapter two, which shifts perspective, and time, into the past. Immediately, we are drawn into the middle-class, 1970’s, brown-carpeted world of Frances, a wife and mother in the process of giving birth for the first time. The shift to the third person also came with a shift in writing style, and all of a sudden, I felt like the IQ of the novel had gone way up.
Without being at all derivative, the writing reminded me of that of Kate Atkinson. Tina Seskis captures the foibles, humor, and tragedy that combine in our lives as human beings.
From here on out in the story, Seskis moves in and out of different perspectives and time periods, but I continued to be impressed and enchanted by her narrative voice.
One Step Too Far is a lot of things. It is, of course, a thriller with a big plot twist which took me completely by surprise. It is also a novel filled with subtle dark humor, especially at the beginning of the novel. As the novel progresses, it is very much a drama and character study of one woman’s choices, her experiences, and how she copes and moves through the world. It is a novel which is absorbing in its gritty descriptions of poverty, as well as the glitz of wealth and privilege. Towards the end of the novel, as the twist is revealed, there is tragedy and grief, and eventually, a sense of catharsis. The pacing is not always even. For example, the last couple of chapters confused me as the narrative abruptly jumped ahead years into the future.
In this way, One Step Too Far is not a perfect novel. But it is immensely enjoyable, it is well written, absorbing, and it has a soul.
As a side-note, Tina Seskis mentions in an afterword that she wrote this novel compulsively in the last few months of her mother’s life. Her mother read the novel as it was written, and Tina Seskis dedicated One Step Too Far to her.
One Step Too Far is a novel that is clearly written from a place of passion. I really enjoyed it, and look forward to reading more from the creative mind of Tina Seskis.

View all my reviews

Wildalone (January 6, 2015) by Krassi Zourkova

Wildalone: A Novel

Wildalone: A Novel by Krassi Zourkova

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thank you to William Morrow for my advanced reader’s edition of Wildalone, by Krassi Zourkova.

I have so much to say about Wildalone.
I’ll begin with what got me interested in the novel in the first place – the promotions describing this debut as a “bewitching blend of Twilight, The Secret History, Jane Eyre, and A Discovery of Witches.”
This description confused the heck out of me, because I was not a fan of Twilight. On the other hand, I loved The Secret History, when I read it 10 years ago. The gothic darkness of Jane Eyre tempts me, and A Discovery of Witches was one of those books that theoretically I should have loved, but which just didn’t compel me.
To me, the novels above all seem very, very different, and like they would appeal to distinct audiences.
The second thing about Wildalone which interested me is that Krassi Zourkova is from Bulgaria, and includes the myths of her country in this novel. I love reading about cultures I am unfamiliar with, so this aspect of Wildalone intrigued me.
The first several chapters of Wildalone in fact mirror Krassi Zourkova’s own life, in that she attended Princeton, and shares the main character Thea’s interest in art history. I was fascinated by the cultural aspect of Wildalone…seeing things through the perspective of someone newly arrived in the United States, at just about the same time I was going to college.
I was also especially interested in the narrator’s insights, because I had a Bulgarian acquaintance in high school. Many of Thea’s thoughts were in alignment with those I recall hearing from my high school friend, and so for me, Wildalone had an authentic resonance.
However, I will say that this was one book in which I thought an awful lot about the author/narrator crossover…how much is this really Thea talking, and how much is actually Krassi? In a way, this made reading the story difficult for me when Thea began to behave in ways that I found frustrating, or expressed opinions which I had issues with.
If I had thought of Thea as clearly a fictional character, it would have been easier for me to place her in a literary world and not feel like her views were being shoved on me. But as it was, some of the opinions she expressed about romance, stalking, and relationship dynamics made me uncomfortable.
Now to the nitty-gritty of the plot-the good and the bad-without giving away any spoilers!
Wildalone begins with our heroine, Thea, arriving in Princeton on a music scholarship. She leaves two loving parents back in Bulgaria, and, in coming to Princeton, is following in the footsteps of another Bulgarian girl, who attended the university 15 years earlier, and was found dead on campus. I’m being specifically vague here, as a big part of the mystery revolves around this girl, and what she means to Thea.
In short order, Thea meets two men, who both fall madly, instantly, passionately in love with her.
Here’s the Twilight part of the novel; we’ve got Rhys, gorgeous, obsessive, moody, with a potential for violence, and we’ve got Jake, gorgeous, obsessive, quiet, gentle. Who will Thea choose? Also, there is Ben (who I was secretly rooting for) the balanced, steady, sweet, friend who is always there for Thea, until she runs away from him to have passionate adventures with Rhys or Jake.
Also, Thea is searching for what really happened to the Bulgarian girl who looks just like her, and who disappeared 15 years before.
Also, Thea is investigating this weird mystery involving Greek legends, Orpheus, daemons, maenads, and the Underworld. This is encouraged by her art history professor, Giles, who to my mind is inappropriate in his interest in Thea.
Also, Thea, as an uber-talented pianist, is practicing Chopin, and then Albeniz, for major recitals that she is (somewhat inexplicably) given the opportunity to perform in.
And did I mention that this whole time, Thea is going to parties with her RA and new college friends, traveling to the Hamptons with Rhys, and taking a full load of classes? She’s a very busy girl.
Ultimately, for me, Wildalone was just too much. There was beautiful description, but there was so darn much of it.
The best things about Wildalone were:

1. The interesting cultural perspective that Thea had regarding attending Princeton, as well as the insight she shared into life in Bulgaria.
2. Some of the description. There’s no doubt that Krassi Zourkova can create a sense of place. I also really enjoyed her descriptions of Chopin and Albeniz…giving new perspective to interpretations of music. Except that it kept going, and going….

What frustrated me about Wildalone:
1. The characters. This, for me, was the Twilight part… basically picture Bella, Edward, and Jake, a few years older, and with a lot more sex, and you’ve got Wildalone.
2. The attitudes towards sex, romantic relationships, true love, obsession, stalking. In brief, Thea tells us that in Bulgaria, there is not a word for stalking, and that what her concerned RA sees as worrying behavior from Rhys seems romantic to her. I tended to agree with the RA.
I would never, ever, date Rhys. I would probably never date Jake. Also, I would never, ever have dated Edward in Twilight. So I guess, depending on your preferences/viewpoints, you may either find the romance in Wildalone sexy and passionate, or it may just make you angry.
3. The too-muchness. There was everything in this novel. Music, art (painting, pottery, architecture), poetry, Greek myths, Bulgarian myths, astronomy and how it related to myths, secret codes in old texts and how it related to myths. I love each of these things, but they were all happening together, all over the place. And it was all described at length. It made everything lose impact, because it seemed like everything was gorgeous, there were no rules, anything at all could, and did happen. When everything is happening, then nothing really seems that incredible.
4. So I got tired. I got tired of the constant beauty, riches, sex, perfection.
5. And, when the book finally ended at page 374, I thought, “wait a sec!? Is this the first in a series?!!!” Because Wildalone did not end with any kind of a real resolution. There was a bit of explanation, inexplicably offered by one character at the end of the novel. But the action itself, and primarily, Thea’s love life, was not resolved. I didn’t even understand what she was doing at the end.
Wildalone left me lost. And worn out. There were a lot of things to enjoy about it, but ultimately, I was left with a feeling that nothing had really made much sense, that I really disliked several of the main characters, that I disagreed with the main character’s ideas, and that I had been shown a lot of flash, but not a lot of brilliance.

View all my reviews

Colouring for Wellbeing

Colouring for Fun, Mental Health & Relaxation

Steve Kaye Photo

Steve Kaye inspires respect for nature by showing his photos in talks, articles, and photo classes

Shapely Prose

2007-2010

tuckertranslations.wordpress.com/

Quality Translation and Language Services

Cleopatra Loves Books

One reader's view

Austenonly

Jane Austen's life, times and works explained and discussed

Olfactoria's Travels

A journey through the world of fragrance.

Jane Austen's World

This Jane Austen blog brings Jane Austen, her novels, and the Regency Period alive through food, dress, social customs, and other 19th C. historical details related to this topic.

ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

For lovers of Australian and New Zealand literary fiction; Ambassador for Australian literature

Joanne Graham

Author, Mother, Random Dreamer

book'd out

Book Reviews and News

Petrona

Mainly about reading with an accent on intelligent crime fiction from around the world.

Reading In The Evening

Book reviews from a literature fiend

Julia Crouch

Novelist: the queen of domestic noir

Qwiklit

Learn Literature Now

Scandinavian Crime Fiction in English Translation

information about authors and books

crimepieces

Sarah Ward, crime author and reviewer