July / August Reads and Reviews
With summer in full swing, Wimbledon as a potential distraction, schools holidays on the horizon, and drafting next novel, finding the time to read is tricky but not impossible. Here's my list for July and August, and as usual in my reviews there will be no spoilers!
Good Me, Bad Me by Ali Land
I'm drawn to reading psychological Thrillers at the moment and this doesn't disappoint. I'm always fascinated by mother and daughter relationships and the dynamics that happen in families. Good and evil ~ is it nature or nurture? This is brilliantly explored in Good Me, Bad Me as teenage Milly tries to achieve normality in a world that has been violent and unforgiving towards her. Told from Milly's viewpoint, Ali Land gets into the mind of a disturbed fifteen year old girl with extraordinary conviction. From the start, you know that something unspeakably bad has already happened to her, and that there will be more to come. Dealing with the sensitive topic of child abuse is always going to be tricky ~ you don't want to read the gory details, yet the reader needs to be kept enthralled and suitably enraged. Ali Land skilfully weaves Milly's story as she goes to stay with a foster family and their own daughter Phoebe; a bully along with her obnoxious school friends. The foster father is creepy as although he has good intentions, you're never quite sure about his motivations. Past and present are skilfully entwined as Milly is pitched against her mother, in an upcoming court case that has captured the interest of the media. We never really meet Milly's mother, but nevertheless she's like a sinister shadow that hovers with such malevolence over Milly's life. No-one is as they seem and everyone has secrets to hide. The tension is increased slowly throughout from the start, with a satisfying pacing of 'what will happen next?' l love the way that Ali has such credibility in the telling of this story of Milly.
Good Me Bad Me is a page turner, leaving me wanting to know the outcome, but not wanting the story to finish. What an ending! Shocking but no surprise.
Reading Good Me Bad Me brought to mind Emma Cline's, The Girls with positive comparisons (see below for Review). Looking forward to reading more of Ali Land's work.
Yesterday by Felicia Yap
Sometimes a debut novel has so much hype surrounding its publication that when you finally receive a copy the read is disappointing ~ I so hate when that happens. Not with Yesterday, a psychological thriller with a twist ~ okay definitely no spoilers for this one! What I can reveal is the setting for this thriller feels contemporary, and the use of current News as backdrop adds support to the possibilities for the storyline. A world that exists where adult humans are divided by how much they can remember: Mono's who are only capable of one day of memory; and Duo's who are capable of two days of memory and thus are thought to be superior human beings. Everyone is legally required to record the key events of their life in their electronic diary, and tasked with remembering the 'facts' the following day. It's a world where lies are truth and truth are lies, memories are taken advantage of, so who can you believe when your life starts to unravel? A murder has been committed, how can it be solved if no-one can remember exactly what happened? Can you trust yourself even? The story is told from multiple points of view (POV), and rather than being confusing, this method seeks to enhance the drama ~ the POV's are woven together for dramatic effect. It's clever and striking in the telling. The ending, even though I worked out what had / will happen, did not detract in any way from the finale. Yesterday has been compared to Paula Hawkins, Girl On The Train, and while there are similarities ~ the unreliable narrator(s) ~ Yesterday has an edgier, darker feel.
A wonderful debut and I look forward to reading more of Felicia's work in the future.
Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller
Initially I found Swimming Lessons slow and difficult to get into, and I am so glad I persisted for this is actually a beautiful and well written story. A story that includes family relationships, misunderstandings and lost love ~ the more dysfunctional the better~ will always get my attention. The story centres around the mystery of a mother who disappears one day, leaving behind two young daughters. Their father, a writer, whose true character is revealed over time; emotionally distant and a bit of a rogue as they say. The story is told from different points of view that make the characters all the more believable. Like all humans they are flawed, provoking intense feelings from me as the reader ~ the protagonists were not always likeable, but then they don't have to be to tell a good story. The past and present are entwined thoughtfully with a sense of not always sure who is telling the truth ~ or even, what is the truth anyway? The prose created a vivid sense of time and place, and an elusive sense of the past that is slipping away, both for the characters and for the reader. The drama and tension is kept restrained, and that in itself heightens the sense of urgency within the plot.
I will go back to Swimming Lessons at some point for I feel that the storyline is multi~layered (as all good reads are), and will discover more depth in subsequent readings.
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon.
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is a delightful and gripping debut novel from Joanna that I just didn't want to end. Set in the scorching summer of 1976 as seen through the eyes of two young girls, Grace and Tilly, interspersed with flashbacks to 1967. The past and present are skilfully woven together and keep the reader guessing as to who and why? The girls live on The Avenue and when one of the residents, Mrs Creasy disappears, it sets in motion a series of events that exposes the other residents for their secrets and petty (and ill informed) points of view. The prose perfectly capture's the nuances of 1970s Britain, and the world of grown up's as observed by Grace and Tilly. As a reader I could immerse myself in the story and visualise the characters and their surroundings, as the descriptions are so vivid and evocative of that era. I remember the summer of '76, and could feel and smell the memories of the suffocating heat that were brought to life on the page. There are laugh out loud moments, such as when an image of Jesus was found near a drain pipe resulting in reverential excitement and skepticism in almost equal measure amongst the adults. There is an underlying sense of darkness and urgency that drives the storyline along without overwhelming the plot. There were times when I felt, 'oh no' and reached for the hankie just in case.
This is a wonderful debut by Joanna Cannon and I look forward to reading more of her work in the future.
Dare to Remember by Susanna Beard
Oh my what a roller coaster of a read. Dare to Remember is a psychological crime thriller that is a real page turner. The story is of a knife attack upon two friends Lisa and Ali ~ one dies and one survives. The story tells the story of the survivors journey as she tries to piece together that fateful night, daring to remember what happened. It is not a gory blood fest ( thankfully, as that's not usually my thing) but the telling of what occurred was at times brutal. A page turner that left me wanting to know more but would I be upset at discovering what had actually happened? The casual attitude and sense of entitlement from the aggressor was shocking but sadly not surprising. The scary thing was that this could happen to anyone.
The use of an elderly neighbour and his dog was an inspired choice to convey emotion and the nature of compassion and friendship. There is a subplot around domestic violence that mirrors the main storyline without overwhelming or confusing the substance of the main plot.
All in all I enjoyed this book by Susanna very much.
The Girls by Emma Cline
The Girls was recommended by word of mouth months ago and have just finished reading. It's loosely based on the 1969 Manson Murders in California. It tells the story of fourteen year old Evie who is desperate to be noticed by friends and family. Her mother largely leaves her to own devices, and only occasionally does she offer any sort of parental oversight and caring. Evie is ripe to be taken under the wing of Suzanne, a hippie that she befriends, and back to the ranch where she lives. Suzanne's 'family' are a mix of, mainly female, outsiders lead by the charismatic Russell as cult leader. Against her better judgment Evie seeks acceptance within the group by shoplifting and reluctantly participating in group sex ~ a method used by the cult to bond members together.
The prose is beautifully written, taut without being overly dramatic or flowery, and captures a certain time and place. Emma totally enters the mind and perceptions of a fourteen year old with all the angst and worries that teenage girls have to be accepted. So eager, that she'll ignore her inner voice that tells her alls not well.
Even though at the outset the reader is aware of what has happened, when the climax is reached it is brutal, harrowing and very upsetting. This book had a profound affect on me. It broke my heart.
This is a brilliant and extraordinary debut novel.