MAY / JUNE Reads & Reviews
I have some wonderful stories waiting to be discovered over the coming weeks, so lets get reading! By the way, I never give away plot lines ~ no spoilers~ only an overview of the book and how the story made me feel. Words, like music, leave an emotional footprint for the reader to discover for themselves.
Mad Bad and Dangerous to Know by Chloe Esposito
Bridget Jones meets Sex inThe City meets Fifty Shades. If you're offended by raunchy sex this is not the book for you! This is a rollicking read of Alvie ~ a twin ~ who gets up to all sorts of shenanigans with a variety of fit men, who for the most part are handsome and 'well endowed.' Alvie has a hate-hate relationship with her twin sister, Beth, whose life has dealt her a better, more wealthy sleight of hand. Dead end Alvie accepts an invitation to stay with her rich sister and her husband in Italy, unaware of the danger she is in. Alvie takes to her new life like the proverbial duck to water, and when her new lifestyle takes an unexpected twist or two, Alvie relishes her role with saucy abandon. A killing spree, stealing cars and money, and not to mention a high speed car chase, her tale terminates in The Ritz Hotel in London. What next for Alvie?
This is the first of a trilogy written by Chloe Esposito who already has a film deal. I look forward to seeing this on the big screen ~ just don't take your mother!
Lies by T.M. Logan
A psychological thriller as told through the eyes of Joe. One day while out driving with his young son, they see his wife, who is not where she ought to be. Following her, leads Joe to an encounter with a friend in an underground car park, who Joe has an altercation with. From here on in, a story of twists and turns that had me avidly wanting to see what happens next. Was I right in my assumptions? What are they up to? Nothing is what it seems, and I become equally paranoid and frustrated as Joe (in a good way), as he seeks justice. The ending is a surprise!
To say much more would spoil by giving too much away! I love the fact that the prose is not heavy, and is as much as what the author doesn't say as in the telling. The 'gaps' mirror Joe's struggle to make sense of what is happening to him, and works for the reader as well. Great debut.
The Good Son by Paul McVeigh
My interest was piqued in The Good Son after attending a Word Factory event in London, lead by Paul McVeigh (and Paul, if you ever read this I can only apologise for being so tardy in finding your work).
In The Good Son, Paul's use of language and vernacular paints a vivid recall of a young boy on the cusp of puberty, living with his family in Northern Ireland during 'The Troubles.' His world of bombs and the randomness of violence are 'everyday' to him. You could be forgiven for thinking this might be a bleak, soulless story but you would be wrong. At times funny, more often poignant, we see the world through the boy's naive perspective, as he tries to navigate his neighbourhood, divided down strict partisan lines. Trying to make sense of his surroundings, while being protective of his family, pondering on the shenanigans of his older brother and mother, as they keep themselves safe and on 'the right side' of people.
Paul has colourfully described the universal angst around growing up, the daunting prospect of going to senior school, bullying, and friendships, that will ring a bell for many of us looking back on our own childhood, regardless of our environment.
It's a beautifully written coming of age story, and I look forward to reading more of Paul McVeigh's work.
Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong by Gina Kirkham
Be careful where you read this book as you may get arrested for laughing aloud in public! Handcuffs, Truncheon and a Polyester Thong must be in contention for funniest book of the year. Gina's book tells the witty story of Mavis as she starts a new career in the police force, regaling anecdotes of life as a copper. Her characters jump off the page, and I'll never see a cuppa and dunking biscuits in quite the same light again! Hilarious from start to finish, Mavis has the knack of getting into scrapes as she patrols her patch, including a near death experience or two. Her patience of a saint when dealing with the hapless Petey, that no other officer was prepared to buddy up with, was truly inspirational! While there are many laugh out-loud moments, there are also a few poignant situations too, including Mavis's search for her father. Mavis's quirky mother, and her daughter Ella, add a relatively sane side to Mavis, in this 'well worth a read' book.
The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain
I was sorry to reach the last page of The Gustav Sonata, as this novel has left me profoundly moved. I'm not sure I can do justice to this beautifully told story.
Set in Switzerland (a country neutral in war time), the story reveals itself over time from pre WW2 - 2002. Telling the story of two small boys, Gustav and Anton, that meet at school, and how their lives are forever meshed together over their lifetime's, as they forge different paths through adulthood. A sense of danger, tension and uncertainty permeates their lives.
Initially the prose felt formal, stilted even, as I'm drawn into the life of Gustav. How 'buttoned up' he is. Then realised this perfectly reflects this young, unloved boy and how his mother urges him to 'master his feelings,' just like his father. He spends a lifetime seeking love from his mother, that is unforthcoming. A deeply unhappy woman with her own demons.
The themes of families and friendships are love stories: of thwarted love, unrequited love, mothers and sons. Of being afraid; the fear inherited through the generations. How lives are shaped by external events that are not of your making. That it's never too late, but be careful what you wish for. That we are all tormented by the past and it's shadowy memories. With all the characters, particularly Gustav, I'm left feeling their abandonment ~ that the surrounding world has forever left them to their fate. There is no sentimentality or nostalgia in the telling. Grief soaks the pages.
The book may sound depressing, indeed the images presented themselves to me as dark or sepia like. Nevertheless, this is a wonderful novel that somehow managed to be life affirming. I'm thankful for not having lived through those days.
I look forward to reading more of Rose Tremain's work.
The May Queen by Helen Irene Young
What timing to finish reading The May Queen on the eve of celebrating May Day! This is a coming of age story set against the background of the 1930s and WW2, evoking nostalgia for a bygone time. The early scenes of May's teenage years are full of innocence and longing for something elusive just out of reach.
The characters are skillfully derived, almost like they are long lost relative's. The settings are beautifully drawn and of a very different England. Helen subtly describes the cultural shifts to women's roles as seen between May and her sister Sophie, and 'Ma.' More importantly perhaps, the strength of family ties, alongside the friendships that sustain during adverse circumstances; when we don't always have a choice in the path we take through life.
In a way, Sophie is a minor character, but her presence is always felt and never far from Mary's thoughts, as she navigates her way through London's Blitz as a WREN. I could taste the dust, the fear and smell the chemicals in the aftermath of many a bombing raid. Where with the typical stiff upper lip, they dusted themselves down and mostly carried on.
The romance threaded throughout is described with light prose that is fitting to the storyline. I was rooting for May (and Sophie, although for different reasons) to have a happy outcome. The end is satisfying, though not in the way I was expecting.