Contemporary Fiction

Inside the O’Briens – Lisa Genova

Posted in American Fiction, Contemporary Fiction on April 20th, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

Published – 7th April 2015

Publisher – Gallery Books

Inside the O’Briens is the fourth novel from the extremely talented Lisa Genova,  an American neuroscientist and author with the critically acclaimed Still Alice and Left Neglected in her back catalogue.  Having already tackled early onset dementia, hemispatial neglect and autism in previous novels, Genova turns the spotlight on Huntington’s Disease, an incurable genetic disorder with obvious physical symptoms such as chorea (an involuntary movement disorder) and the hidden but emotionally devastating symptoms of  depression and anxiety.

We learn about this cruel disease through the eyes of the O’Brien family, ordinary Boston folk whose lives are turned upside down when Joe O’Brien, a 44 year old cop,  is diagnosed with Huntingtons.  We see the savage effect Huntingtons has on his immediate family, his wife Rosie and four children in their twenties who have a 50/50 chance of inheriting the faulty gene.  As well as dealing with an uncertain future, Joe has to come to terms with the knowledge that his mother died, not from alcoholism but Huntingtons and the extent to which this rare genetic disorder is still misunderstood.

The fact that Lisa Genova has raised awareness of Huntingtons by writing this novel is unquestionably laudable and it certainly enlightened me as to the plight of those with HD but this enlightenment came at the expense of well-rounded, believable characters.  Character is key in dictating whether I will like a novel or not.  I don’t have to like the characters, I just need to believe in them.  I found the O’Briens too flat, too cliched with the plethora of religious objects and booze…just in case you forgot they were of Irish descent.

Overall this was an interesting and edifying read.

Lisa Genova’s next novel is to revolve around ALS which was highlighted last year by online ice bucket challenges.

My thanks to NetGalley and Galley Books for providing an e-copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

  • Share/Bookmark

The A to Z of You and Me – James Hannah

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Debut Novel on April 15th, 2015 by admin – Be the first to comment

Pub Date March 15th 2015

Ivo fell for her.

He fell for a girl he can’t get back.

Now he’s hoping for something.

While he waits he plays a game:

He chooses a body part and tells us its link to the past he threw away.

He tells us the story of how she found him, and how he lost her.

But he doesn’t have long.

And he still has one thing left to do …

 

My initial reaction to this debut was one of indifference, imagining it would be similar to the many other deathbed novels flooding the book charts. About 50 pages in and I was hooked by the story of 40 year old Ivo, passing his last days in St Leonard’s Hospice, reflecting on his past life by way of an A to Z game where he focuses on a different part of the body for each letter.

It soon becomes clear that Ivo has a lot of regrets about his misspent youth as he has next to no visitors, no obvious family ties but he has to come to terms with his past before he dies. His story has the potential to veer into mawkish sentimentality but debut novelist James Hannah keeps the tone direct and straightforward. Having said that, I spent the last portion of the novel as a blubbering wreck barely able to see the words for tears…

The characters are realistically flawed, there are no winners when death beckons. A very impressive debut novel.

  • Share/Bookmark

A Man Called Ove – Fredrik Backman

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Proofs on July 1st, 2014 by admin – Be the first to comment

A Man Called OveThere seems to have been a spate of Scandi-Lite in Swedish fiction recently, an antidote perhaps to the harshness of Scandi-Noir.  Elderly folk are running amok with 100 year old men escaping from nursing homes and little old ladies openly flouting all the rules.

In Fredrik Backman’s first novel, Ove is not that old at 59 but he certainly fulfils the grouchiness credentials for grumpy old man status.  Backman originally introduced Ove on his blog where readers encouraged him to create a novel about  this irascible Swede.  In 39 relatively short chapters we gain gradual insight into Ove’s life – what makes him tick and the events that have made him the grouchy man he is today.   It’s an easy read, quite matter of fact but it did pull on my heartstrings….occasionally….

I think Ove will appeal to a lot of readers.  He calls a spade a spade and says out loud the things most of us are too polite/repressed to voice.  He reminds me of my dad who shared Ove’s thriftiness and pragmatism although not  to the same extremes!  There is homespun wisdom, lots of lessons to be learned about tolerance, frequent references to Saabs, a community coming together.

Yes, sometimes it gets a bit too saccharine-sweet and strays into Mitch Albom territory but for the most part I enjoyed reading about Ove and his neighbours.  I see similarities with Harold Fry but Rachel Joyce’s novel is more nuanced and a more fluid narrative.

Destined to be a worldwide bestseller, the movie version of A Man Called Ove is currently being filmed in Sweden.  I anticipate an American version in the not too distant future.

A Man Called Ove is published by Sceptre on 3rd July 2014.

Fredrik Backman

  • Share/Bookmark

Last Bus to Coffeeville – J. Paul Henderson

Posted in Contemporary Fiction on April 20th, 2014 by admin – 1 Comment

Last Bus to Coffeeville

Published
23/04/2014

Publisher
No Exit Press

Source
www.realreaders.com

My Rating

Rating: ★★★★☆

Nancy Skidmore has a plan and she needs Doc Eugene Chaney to fulfil his side of the bargain if she is to achieve her goal – to be free of the relentless Alzheimers Disease which has plagued several generations of her family.  Doesn’t sound like a bundle of laughs, does it?  Somehow J. Paul Henderson manages to wrap the narrative of his debut novel with a cosy, heartwarming vibe which makes for an enjoyable and engaging read.  Fans of existentialism and angst should turn away now.

The small, unimposing town of  Coffeeville, Mississippi is Nancy’s final destination, the location of a wooden lodge owned by her family.  However her journey there is far from straightforward as it involves many diversions, both historical and geographical, as well as a large cast of varied and somewhat eccentric characters.  I can see how the meandering narrative might irritate some readers but I loved it : relaxing into it was like floating on a lazy river absorbing bits of trivia en route.  The style is reminiscent of Forest Gump and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe with that laid-back, warm and inviting southern voice.  Indeed I could see this transferring very easily to the big screen.

It’s by no means a perfect book with some sections of dialogue a bit on the clunky, heavy-handed side but it is a very promising debut.  Not bad at all for a former foundry worker from Bradford, West Yorkshire.  ;-)

 

 

  • Share/Bookmark

Black Lake – Johanna Lane

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Proofs on April 14th, 2014 by admin – 4 Comments

Black Lake: A NovelDulough is the mysterious house at the heart of this debut novel from Johanna Lane.  The house is fictional but the setting reminds me of one of my favourite locations in Donegal, Dunlewey Lough at the foot of Mt Errigal overlooking the Poisoned Glen.  In Black Lake this already wild landscape is battered by the winds coming off the Atlantic.  There is a savage aspect to the environment, a primitive, ancient ambience dating back to the Ice Age.

The Campbells are relative newcomers, the first of their tribe arriving in the early 1850s.  Scottish landowner, Philip Campbell who built the house/castle, Dulough, in 1854, cruelly evicting any tenant families who stood in his way.  Now, the roles are reversed as John Campbell, the current owner, can’t afford the upkeep of the house and enters into a contract with the Irish government whereby the house is shown to visitors as  a tourist attraction and he and his family relocate to a cottage in the grounds.

There is  a simmering resentment between the Campbells (landed gentry) and the locals (peasants…not really!).  John’s young son, Philip, feels particularly affected by the downsizing and is loathe to abide by the new rules and regulations.  The mother, Dublin born Marianne, seems out of place in this desolate setting no matter what size of house she’s in.  The daughter Kate tends to go with the flow and tries to keep the peace.  You just know that something bad is lurking round the corner.

This is a solid debut from a talented writer.  It’s a gentle, slow-moving story dominated by the austere, sombre landscape.  You wonder how anyone can thrive in such harsh surroundings at the mercy of the elements…and the recession.  I found echoes of William Trevor’s The Story of Lucy Gault in this ethereal tale of displaced gentry.

Looking forward to seeing how Johanna Lane’s writing evolves in the future.

My thanks to Little Brown and Company for providing a review copy.

Black Lake is published by Little Brown and Company on 20th May 2014.

Dunlewey Church

Dunlewey Lough

  • Share/Bookmark

Beautiful Day – Kate Anthony

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Proofs on April 7th, 2014 by admin – 2 Comments

Book Cover:  Beautiful DayAt first glance I thought this must be a light, fluffy book, probably more “hen” than “chick” lit and probably not to my taste…but I was so wrong as I read/devoured it in two sittings – would have been one sitting but children need fed etc!  It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel as it is so self-assured and engaging but Kate Anthony has expertly drawn on her experience as a residential social worker in this tale of domestic adjustments and new beginnings.

Our narrator is Rachel Bidewell, single mother of three, whose feckless husband Dom has absconded with the younger, childless Deborah.  Rachel has been out of the workplace for a long time but now she is starting a new job as a Residential Care Assistant at Clifton Avenue, a care home for adults with special needs.  She is assigned as a key worker for Philip, a new resident who is virtually non-verbal and lacking any social skills.  The novel examines Rachel’s struggles at both home and work as she strives to keep her head above water.  The divorce has shaken the foundations of her family and the details of childcare, finance, custody arrangements, schooling just wear her down.

Somehow, the author creates a realistic picture of a family in turmoil whilst maintaining a lightness and sense of humour.  It’s probably a case of “if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry”.   Rachel is only human and loses her temper when stressed.  Who could blame her when Dom is buying his way into the children’s affections and the children don’t want to hurt either parent.   Alongside this portrayal of a changing family dynamics is the depiction of Philip who has to adjust to a much noisier, busier environment in the care home.  He is such a fragile soul, you really hope for the best for him.  Rob, the Deputy Manager of the home, seems to be on Rachel’s wavelength and she needs all the support she can get at the moment.

Certainly the themes here are challenging – the effects of divorce on parents and children, the relationship between carer and those you care for, identity and how we all need care.  I really enjoyed the insights into residential care and Rachel and her family’s struggles seem very similar to those being experienced by one of my friends at the moment.

A warm, down-to-earth story about ordinary folk coping with extraordinary experiences.  I will certainly look out for more of Kate Anthony’s writing based on this impressive debut.

My thanks to Real Readers for sending me this novel to review.

  • Share/Bookmark

Mother, Mother – Koren Zailckas

Posted in American Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Thriller on January 29th, 2014 by admin – Be the first to comment

Mother, Mother

Published
16/01/2014

Publisher
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

Source
Amazon Vine
My Rating
4 stars

” They f___ you up your Mum and Dad,  They may not mean to but they do. “  Harsh words from Philip Larkin but he has a point…except here it’s Mommie Dearest who is most at fault in the shape of Josephine Hurst, narcissistic mother of 3 vulnerable children with  a rather needy husband too.

It might seem quite trite to state that a book was “unputdownable” but in this case I was so engrossed that everything else had to be put on hold.  I just had to keep  on reading – this was car crash tv, the subject matter was disturbing but fascinating and it’s been a while since a book had such an immediate  hold on me.

From the early stages we know that Josephine Hurst is the manipulative matriarch at the heart of  all her family’s woes.  Eldest daughter Rose ran away, middle child Violet tried to escape through drugs and the youngest, 12 year old Will is so wrapped up in his mom’s web of lies he worships the ground she walks on.  The dad, Douglas, is distracted by his own demons – he is an alcoholic and completely unaware of the danger his children face.

Josephine has psychological abuse down to a fine art.  She knows her family’s pressure points and boy does she exploit any weakness with the seemingly innocuous remark, the pouring out a glass of wine for Douglas, the downright disturbing babying of her son.

It is Violet (Viola) who decides to fight back but as a 15 year drug user with no support from her ineffectual father, it’s not going to be an easy battle to win – especially not against Manipulative Mom.   I loved her gutsiness and determination.

The story is told from the point of view of  Violet and Will in short alternating chapters. It quickly becomes clear that Violet has more of a mind of her own than Will who has a questionable diagnosis of autism and epilepsy – a diagnosis actively encouraged by Mom.

Whilst many of the plot twists are predictable and a tad theatrical, this is still a fascinating read and I think it will have huge commercial success and will also be a favourite for book groups.  I can already see folk entering the nature versus nurture debate re Will Hurst.  It doesn’t have the depth of We Need to Talk about Kevin but it will raise age-old issues which we never tire of debating.

A great debut, this psychological thriller will have you on tenterhooks.

 

 

  • Share/Bookmark

Barracuda – Christos Tsiolkas

Posted in Australian fiction, Contemporary Fiction on January 24th, 2014 by admin – Be the first to comment

Barracuda

Published
02/01/2014

Publisher
Atlantic Books

Source

Real Readers

My Rating
4 stars

 

This is a review of Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas, not Finding Nemo by Walt Disney, so anyone offended by strong language and/or explicit sex scenes should turn away now.  It is Tsiolkas’ fifth novel but my first experience of his writing; perhaps all the more interesting as I went in with an open mind.

Our leading character, talented swimmer,  Daniel Kelly is a bit of an odd fish and the madcap, disjointed narrative is a perfect match for his unstable, ever changing  personality as he flits between Daniel/Dan/Dino/Barracuda.  This powerful novel deals with identity and how we fit/don’t fit in our own skin/family/country.   Kelly is far from likeable with his antsy ways and psychopathic tendencies but I found myself rooting for him – not for him to win the swimming galas and join the “golden boys” but just for him to find his place in life.

Barracuda is a challenging, thought-provoking read.  Yes, it’s not perfect and there is a lot of repetition of the swimming/water imagery but I really liked its honesty and “in your face” attitude, its representation of the less liberal side of Australia and its realistic lack of neat and tidy endings.

  • Share/Bookmark

She Is Not Invisible – Marcus Sedgwick

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, YA Fiction on October 10th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

Published
03/10/2013

Publisher
Indigo (an Imprint of Orion Children’s)

My Rating
5 stars

She Is Not Invisible is a gem of a read,  a thought provoking and intelligent thriller which can be read on so many different levels.  On the surface, it’s an adventure story with our heroine, Laureth, accompanying her younger brother, Benjamin, on a quest to discover the whereabouts of their father, famous author, Jack Peak.  Sounds straightforward enough but then Laureth has the extra obstacle of her blindness plus she isn’t really sure that her Dad is officially missing.

There are so many layers to this deceptively simple story.  Jack Peak is obsessed with the nature of coincidence in our daily lives and as you follow Laureth and Benjamin on their journey you find yourself pondering the same issues.  Do we manufacture our own destiny or is it predetermined?  Laureth is certainly determined to make her own mark on the world and is most certainly not invisible.  She and Benjamin make an excellent team with superhero qualities, Batman and Robin  spring to mind.  I loved the way they worked together as one, along with Benjamin’s trusty sidekick, Stan the crow!  So many questions are raised and happily they aren’t all answered and neatly tied up  with a pretty bow.

This is a novel which makes you think, not just about the nature of coincidence but about family relationships, about what it is like to be different, about what influences our path in life.  A highly recommended read for anyone with an inquiring mind.  If you enjoyed The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon you’ll love this.

  • Share/Bookmark

The Elephant Girl – Henriette Gyland

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Romance on July 19th, 2013 by admin – 4 Comments

The Elephant Girl

Published
04/07/2013

Publisher
Choc Lit

Source
Publisher

My Rating
4 stars -  I have a few more lined up from this publisher and am now looking forward to them even more!

The Elephant Girl is the second novel from Henriette Gyland and one of many new titles from Choc Lit, a relatively new publisher which publishes stories for women with romance at the forefront.  I never thought I’d ever be a fan of contemporary romantic fiction but I don’t mind being proven wrong here and more recently by another of Choc Lit’s titles, Beneath an Irish Sky.

There are two key characters in The Elephant Girl,  Helen Stephens and Jason Moody, both in their mid-twenties, who meet in supposedly random circumstances.  Little does Jason know that Helen is a woman on a mission, determined to track down the woman responsible for her mother’s death 20 years beforehand.

In this cleverly plotted tale, the author successfully blends romance and mystery with a dash of thriller for good measure.  Fear not, ye wimps (like me) who don’t fare too well with blood and gore, this is crime-lite, an ideal holiday read to put a smile on your face…or maybe an occasional  frown as you might want to knock Helen and Jason’s heads together but  then the path of true love never did run smoothly!

  • Share/Bookmark