Archive for the ‘Contemporary’ Category

Review: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock – Matthew Quick

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick

Title: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
Author: Matthew Quick
Publication date: 16 January 2014
Publisher: Headline
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781472208200
Length: 273 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Age group: Young Adult
Source: Publisher
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon UK | The Book Depository

In a nutshell

Leonard Peacock is turning 18. And he wants to say goodbye.

Not to his former best friend, whose torments have driven him to consider committing something tragic and horrific. Nor to his mum who’s moved out and left him to fend for himself. But to his four friends.

A Humprey Bogart-obsessed neighbour
A teenage violin virtuoso
A pastor’s daughter
A teacher

Most of the time Leonard believes he’s weird and sad but these friends have made him think that maybe he’s not.

He wants to thank them and, and bid them farewell.

My thoughts

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock has been recommended to me by an increasing number of people in the past few months and after hearing so many great things about it, my expectations were very high. Since it left such a lasting impression on the book blogger community and all those people whose taste I absolutely trust, and since I generally like books dealing with suicide or mental illness, I decided to give it a go. Now, after reading the book, I can’t thank all these people enough for their constant nagging – because it was simply amazing.

I loved this book for so many different reasons, I don’t even know where to begin. Perhaps the best place to start is the narration and our main character, Leonard. On the surface, Leonard is your average eighteen-year-old secondary school student with an average life. Okay, maybe the fact that his mother abandoned him and, as it turns out later on, doesn’t have the faintest idea about what he’s going through and how tough his childhood has been isn’t so average. On the contrary. But other than that, he seems like any other guy his age. Until he starts talking. Through Leonard’s story we learn that, in fact, he couldn’t be any more different from everyone else. I loved his unique voice and his way of storytelling. And while he’s just a young guy trying to get through his school years, his attitude and his way of thinking, his thoughts about adulthood couldn’t be more mature. His anger and his thoughts about not wanting to grow up – because adults just don’t seem to remember how to be happy – reminded me of Holden Caulfield from The Catcher in the Rye (one of my favourite classics of all time) and I loved Leonard just as much as I loved him.

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Review: Mutton – India Knight

Mutton by India Knight

Title: Mutton
Author: India Knight
Publication date: 1 August 2013
Publisher: Penguin
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780241955048
Length: 224 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Age group: Adult
Source: Publisher
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon UK | The Book Depository

In a nutshell

Clara Hutt is forty-six years old, and in pretty good nick, considering. She has kick-ass underwear, a large and loving family, and a healthy sense of what matters in life. Until Gaby moves in.

Gaby’s an old school friend of Clara’s who has just returned from LA. She may be a yoga mogul who lives off kale, and speaks a made-up fantasy novel language, but Gaby’s no stranger to cosmetic surgery: she’s almost fifty, but looks thirty-six at most.

What with Gaby, and Clara’s son’s leggy girlfriend, Sky, wafting around the house in her stripy pants, Clara starts to wonder if a little Botox, a little filler, a nip and a tuck, would be so very wrong. Should she ignore the fear? Or is there another way to grow old gracefully – and how far is she prepared to go to find out?

My thoughts

Following one of Clara’s remarks from the book, namely that “bluntness is the best solution: there seems so little point in shilly-shallying about with announcements” let me get right to the point: Mutton was a huge disappointment. Being in my mid-twenties I might not be the book’s ideal target audience but that doesn’t alter the fact that the book is miles away from being hilarious (as it’s supposed to be) and if this really is an accurate portrayal of women in their forties (I highly doubt it) then it’s even more depressing than I thought.

I wasn’t familiar with Knight’s books before I picked Mutton up but I’ve always enjoyed books with a similar subject matter. I read Sue Townsend’s The Public Confessions of a Middle-Aged Woman when I was in my late teens (again, I was hardly the right target audience and yet…) and it’s been one of my favourite novels ever since. It had me crying with laughter, which was definitely not the case here.

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Review: Ostrich – Matt Greene

Ostrich by Matt Greene

Title: Ostrich
Author: Matt Greene
Publication date: 27 August 2013
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780345545213
Length: 336 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Age group: Young Adult
Source: NetGalley
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon | The Book Depository

In a nutshell

This is Alex’s story. But he doesn’t know exactly what it’s about yet, so you probably shouldn’t either. Instead, here are some things that it’s sort of about (but not really):

It’s sort of (but not really) about brain surgery. It’s sort of (but not really) about a hamster named Jaws 2 (after the original Jaws (who died), not the movie Jaws 2). It’s sort of (but actually quite a lot) about Alex’s parents. It’s sort of (but not really) about feeling ostrichized (which is a better word for excluded (because ostriches can’t fly so they often feel left out)). It’s sort of (but not really (but actually, the more you think about it, kind of a lot)) about empathy (which is like sympathy only better), and also love and trust and fate and time and quantum mechanics and friendship and exams and growing up.

And it’s also sort of about courage. Because sometimes it actually takes quite a lot of it to bury your head in the sand.

My thoughts

Writing about people suffering from serious illnesses is a difficult thing to tackle but Matt Greene does a brilliant job in his debut novel. Ostrich tells the story of Alex, a young boy who has brain tumour and suffers from epilepsy which, despite the fact that he’s smart and seems to be among the best pupils at school, inevitably makes him feel like an outsider. Through the course of the book Alex undergoes brain surgery, falls in love (even if he doesn’t know this at the time), gets behind the wheels of his dad’s car for the first time, albeit illegally, analyses internet porn, tries to get to the bottom of his hamster’s odd behaviour and, with the help of his friend Chloe, devises a plan to find out what happened to his parents’ marriage. At first glance, it may seem like a simple story, a bitter-sweet saga of a young boy and everything he goes through in his early teens. It’s only when you read the last lines that you realize Ostrich is in fact a lot more complex than you have imagined.

I’ve always loved coming-of-age novels and this book was no exception. Although it took me a short while to get used to the language (Alex is very fond of science, grammar, and using lots of brackets, you see) and Alex’s narration, it was impossible not to be charmed by his personality and his witty remarks. And this is one of the reasons why I loved this book. With hindsight, it’s quite a sad story but without being sloppy or making you reach for your tissues every two seconds. In fact, Alex’s jokes (“I can swear in sixty-seven different languages. But I can apologize in only three, which means I could get beaten up in sixty-four countries.” is one of my favourites) and all the hilarious things he and his friend Chloe are up to make for quite an entertaining read. I do love a tear-jerker, don’t get me wrong. But books which can address difficult subjects while bringing a bit of humour into the plot always feel a bit more special – and that’s how I felt about Ostrich as well. It’s not simply a story of a boy with a serious illness. It’s so, so much more than that.

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Review: Lost and Found – Tom Winter

Lost and Found by Tom Winter

Title: Lost and Found
Author: Tom Winter
Publication date: 21 February 2013
Publisher: Corsair (Constable & Robinson)
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 9781472101594
Length: 314 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Age group: Adult
Source: Author
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon | The Book Depository
Rating: 4 / 5

In a nutshell

It started with a letter…

Carol is married to a man she doesn’t love and mother to a daughter she doesn’t understand. Crippled with guilt, she can’t shake the feeling that she has wasted her life. So she puts pen to paper and writes a Letter to the Universe.

Albert is a widowed postman, approaching retirement age, and living with his cat, Gloria, for company. Slowly being pushed out at his place of work, he is forced down to the section of the post office where they sort undeliverable mail. When a series of letters turns up with a smiley face drawn in place of an address, he cannot help reading them.

My thoughts

Lost and Found has been among my most anticipated books of 2013 and I knew I’d have to read it the minute I saw the synopsis. I seem to have a soft spot for bitter-sweet and touching stories and it definitely seemed like one. A few chapters in, however, I realized it is in fact a bit different from what I expected – but not in a bad way. Not at all. I actually found it really hard to put it down and, had it not been for me being ill at the time, I would have probably read it in one day.

The reason why I was taken by surprise, I suppose, is that I expected some sort of a love story or a story of a beautiful friendship. A tear-jerker, basically. I mean, it sounds like one, doesn’t it? And while it is a sweet and occasionally moving book, I would have never predicted how funny it actually is. As odd as it may sound, for me most of the humour came from the protagonist, Carol, who’s been trapped in an unhappy marriage for most of her life and her husband, Bob. Man, they’re a hilarious duo. Bob is one of those guys who don’t have the faintest idea about the fact that their marriage isn’t working or in fact, hasn’t been working for a long time. He lives in denial. On top of that, he acts like a big kid. Which, under normal circumstances, would really annoy me. And of course it’s a sad situation too, isn’t it? Living your life in a monotone way and with someone you shouldn’t have married in the first place. Yet, through Carol’s sarcastic thoughts and comments, somehow it all became entertaining.

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Review: A Life Apart – Mariapia Veladiano

A Life Apart - Mariapia Veladiano

Title: A Life Apart
Author: Mariapia Veladiano
Publication date: 16 May 2013
Publisher: Maclehose Press (Quercus)
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 978-0-85705-233-9
Length: 186 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Age group: Adult
Source: Publisher
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository

Synopsis

Rebecca’s parents were born to very different families. One wealthy, one all but destitute, they were united only by their striking mutual beauty. But the sole child to bless their great romantic fairy tale is a daughter of startling ugliness.

The shock of having given birth to such a monster leads the mother to withdraw both herself and her daughter from the world. Only by keeping her child indoors, away from strangers’ eyes, can she protect her from their disgust.

But against all odds, with a little help from some remarkable friends, Rebecca discovers a talent for music that proves that inner beauty can outshine any other.

My thoughts

I haven’t really had the chance to read a great amount of translated fiction before so A Life Apart was definitely unique in this respect, and a bit different from the books I normally read. But since there was something in the synopsis which really intrigued me and because I tend to like emotional stories in which the main character tries to overcome some traumatic incident in his or her life (and because the cover is so breathtakingly gorgeous), I decided to pick it up and give it a try. And while in hindsight I wasn’t particularly keen on the language and narration itself, Rebecca’s personality and her story, her journey towards accepting her looks and living a relatively normal life definitely made up for it.

What surprised me the most is the fact that the novel has quite a few magical elements in it and despite my initial expectations, it’s not an everyday story. As it turns out, Rebecca’s mother’s family has carried a taint for several generations. A minor taint which is supposed to leave your mind, your beauty and your life untouched, but a taint all the same. Now and again an unfortunate child would be born with six or seven fingers on each hand, leaving the family with no other options but to hide them from the prying eyes of their neighbours and everyone else. Hoping to escape this misfortune, Rebecca’s mother marries a handsome young man whose entire generation has been untouched by it. However, when Rebecca is born, they immediately realise that something is very wrong… for despite the father’s impeccable past and the two parents’ beauty, the baby turns out to be a freak of nature. After Rebecca is born, a heavy silence falls on the family home. Literally. She is hidden away from the outside world, is not allowed to attend nursery school or leave the house before sundown and her mother stops talking to them altogether. Not only does she refuse talking to her own husband, she never once sets eyes on her daughter. And this is where Rebecca’s journey starts: in a place devoid of any kind of parental love or affection, where she’s a prisoner in her own home.

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Review: Tangled Lives – Hilary Boyd

Cover of Tangled Lives by Hilary Boyd

Title: Tangled Lives
Author: Hilary Boyd
Publication date: February 28, 2013
Publisher: Quercus
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9780857385192
Length: 352 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Age group: Adult
Source: Publisher
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon US | Amazon UK | The Book Depository

Synopsis

Annie Delancey is happily married with three grown children. But she guards a secret. Aged eighteen she had a baby boy, and gave him up for adoption.

Out of the blue, she receives an official-looking letter from Social Services. Her son wants to make contact.

As the son she has never known comes back into her life, his presence begins to expose the cracks in the family that Annie now has to try, desperately, to hold together.

My thoughts

Tangled Lives was a pleasant surprise in every sense of the word. While I wasn’t familiar with Hilary Boyd’s work before I started reading this book, I’ll certainly pick up whatever she comes up with next.

The book tells the story of Annie – a middle-aged mother of three living in London – whose life suddenly turns upside down when her son she had given up for adoption at the age of 18 turns up out of the blue and wants to get in touch with her. It doesn’t seem like a big deal at first, however, it turns out that Annie’s children don’t know about her adopted son Daniel. And chances that they are going to take it badly are quite high. When she finally plucks up the courage to tell them a small family drama ensues, with her son storming out of the house and her two daughters staring at her in utter disbelief. While her husband and her younger daughter Lucy are quite supportive, her son and elder daughter can’t seem to forgive her and, if you ask me, act in a slightly childish and selfish way. Throw in an ex-boyfriend who not only happens to be Daniel’s father but who has absolutely no idea about his son, a pinch of emotion and a great deal of jealousy and you get an unputdownable tale of love, family, past secrets and forgiveness.

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Review: The Terrace – Maria Duffy

Cover of The Terrace by Maria Duffy

Title: The Terrace
Author: Maria Duffy
Publication date: August 1, 2012
Publisher: Hachette Ireland
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 9781444726084
Length: 394 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Age group: Adult
Source: Publisher
Add it: Goodreads
Buy it: Amazon US | Amazon UK | The Book Depository

Synopsis

Nestled in the heart of Dublin city, St Enda’s Terrace is like any other close-knit community: warm, colourful, looks after its own. But behind closed doors lie secrets . . .

In Number Eight he wants a baby, she doesn’t. The guy a few doors down just wants to find love. Across the street a single mum struggles to cope. While the people next door might appear to have it all, their mortgage holder knows different.

When the street syndicate wins the National Lottery, it seems that things are looking up. Enter a New York production company on a mission to document a ‘quintessential’ Dublin community – just as it becomes clear that the winning ticket is nowhere to be found. Facades begin to crumble in the scramble to uncover the missing ticket and, as the gloves come off for the once unremarkable residents of St Enda’s, it’s game on with everything to play for

My thoughts

I’ve known Maria from Twitter for almost a year so when she asked me if I wanted to read her book, I was over the moon. She’s absolutely lovely and hilarious and I couldn’t wait to read The Terrace. But – and saying it makes me cringe so bad I want to hide behind my desk in utter embarrassment – no matter how much I wanted to love this book, I just didn’t. I couldn’t. I loved the idea of the missing ticket and this mystery element in the story but the book as a whole just wasn’t for me.

What I did like about the novel, apart from the story of the missing lottery ticket, is its characters. I love the fact that they’re ordinary people just like us, which makes them easily relatable for us readers. I found Marco in particular really adorable and someone who actually reminded me of a friend of mine – he was definitely my favourite character and he put a smile on my face every time I picked the book up.

What really bugged me, though, and what eventually put me off – as ridiculous as it will sound – was the author’s overuse of names and exclamation marks. I know it’s important to differentiate the two – or more – speakers in a dialogue but when it’s clear who is speaking to whom I don’t think it’s necessary to use people’s names in every single sentence. I know there are people who do talk like that in real life but most of us don’t and it’s both unnecessary and slightly annoying after a while. As for exclamation marks, I’ve seen this overuse in a few other books and I just don’t get it. I mean, using them in a dialogue or at the end of a sentence which expresses enthusiasm or surprise is one thing and it’s totally fine. But closing almost every chapter with it and using it in sentences where you don’t need them at all makes the text – at least for a weird grammar freak like me – a bit awkward. And as much as I didn’t want to let it affect me or bother me and as much as I tried to concentrate on the plot only, this false enthusiasm (or bad editing?) was starting to give me a headache. Mind you, I’ve checked every single review on Amazon and Goodreads and no one mentioned it (or the overuse of names) so it might be just me, I don’t know. But it did put me off and this is why, despite the fact that the story was interesting, I’m only giving this book 3 stars.

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