Archive for the ‘literary fiction’ Category

Review: Come to the Edge – Joanna Kavenna

Cover of Come to the Edge by Joanna Kavenna

Title: Come to the Edge
Author: Joanna Kavenna
Publication date: 12 July 2012
Publisher: Quercus
Format: Hardback
ISBN: 978-1-78087-213-1
Length: 295 pages
Genre: Literary fiction
Age group: Adult
Source: Publisher
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Synopsis

She didn’t mean to become a revolutionary. She thought she was going on a rural retreat.

Take one narrator looking to ‘get away from it all’. Put her in a shambolic, draughty farmhouse in a scenic valley with two psychotic goats and a village-full of empty second homes and scores of poor and elderly people with nowhere to go…

Add one widowed survivalist called Cassandra White and an absent banker. Stir in an escalating state of hostilities between the haves – who don’t use what they have – and the have-nots – who decide on a crazy utopian scheme to reclaim the valley for the locals. And what do you get? A hilarious, timely satire from Joanna Kavenna, the prize-winning author of Inglorious and The Birth of Love

My thoughts

Come to the Edge for me was one of those books that you instantly fall in love with. I was looking for a relatively short but entertaining read the other day and despite not having the faintest idea what to expect, I decided to pick this one up. Well, here’s what you can expect: a quirky, sarcastic and hilarious duo, a most unusual plot and roaring with laughter at 1 a.m when everyone else is sleeping.

Come to the Edge tells the story of our unknown narrator, a suburban housewife who’s been through a marriage break-up and who just wants to get away from it all. She answers a mysterious and quite unusual advertisement for an unpaid companion on a small farm in the Lake District. Upon arriving in this rural village she finds Cassandra White, an eccentric widow who doesn’t believe in such things as tertiary education or religion and who abhors modern conveniences like television, supermarket food, or central heating.And this is where things are starting to get complicated. Every day is a struggle for our narrator who is used to the conveniences of a suburban home but who, despite everything, decides to stay. The novel is about her rather strange friendship with Cassandra, about the differences between rural and suburban life, between the rich and the poor. Take all these ingredients, add a pinch of sarcasm and 3 tablespoons of humour and you get Joanna Kavenna’s masterpiece.

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Review: In Leah’s Wake – Terri Giuliano Long

Title: In Leah’s Wake
Author: Terri Giuliano Long
Publication date: October 1st 2010
Publisher: CreateSpace
ISBN: 978-145631-054-7
Pages: 352
Genre: Literary fiction

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Protecting their children comes naturally for Zoe and Will Tyler—until their daughter Leah decides to actively destroy her own future.

Leah grew up in a privileged upper-middle class world. Her parents spared no expense for her happiness; she had all-but secured an Ivy League scholarship and a future as a star athlete. Then she met Todd. Leah’s parents watch helplessly as their daughter falls into a world of drugs, sex, and wild parties. While Will attempts to control his daughter’s every move to prevent her from falling deeper into this dangerous new life, Zoe prefers to give Leah slack in the hope that she may learn from her mistakes. Their divided approach drives their daughter out of their home and a wedge into their marriage.

Twelve-year-old Justine observes Leah’s rebellion from the shadows of their fragmented family. She desperately seeks her big sister’s approval and will do whatever it takes to obtain it. Meanwhile she is left to question whether her parents love her and whether God even knows she exists. What happens when love just isn’t enough? Who will pay the consequences of Leah’s vagrant lifestyle? Can this broken family survive the destruction left in Leah’s wake?

In Leah’s Wake is a beautifully written, emotional family saga about growing up, about the road to adulthood. The novel deals with a situation which most parents and teenagers go through at some point in their lives, which makes the story easily relatable.

The author did an excellent job by describing the Tyler family and how Leah’s reckless lifestyle affected her family members. She gives a detailed description of the perfectionist father who keeps pushing Leah throughout her life – who wants her to go to Harvard, even though she doesn’t want to go there. We soon find out that Leah lives under constant pressure: she says ‘she would disappoint her father anyway so why should she try?’. Her mother leads seminars for working women and gives them advice on how to be more efficient, more organized and successful, while it’s her life that she should concentrate on instead. She ignores her daughters to the extent where she literally plans how much time she can spend with them each week. One of the most striking parts of the novel for me were where Long says “Though it shamed her to admit it, there were days when, if she [Zoe, the mother] knew her daughter was there, she would do almost anything – paperwork, errands that could easily wait – to avoid going home.”  This, in addition to the fact that Leah hates her parents so much that she refuses to eat with them and she only sneaks downstairs to help herself to the leftovers when everyone had fallen asleep, tells a lot about the family and how bad the situation was.

The characters are easily relatable – Justine, Leah’s younger sister, was the one I could identify with the most. It’s very touching how Justine takes care of the whole house all by herself – how she goes to school, does her homework and the housework, cooks, feeds the dog and she doesn’t even get a single thank you in return. She is constantly being ignored, pushed aside, her problems are always less important than Leah’s and her parents’. She’s the one who takes control when everything seems to fall apart and she’s only 12. I felt really sorry for her and admired her at the same time – I know I wouldn’t have been able to do the same thing if I was her.

In Leah’s Wake is like an emotional roller-coaster. You cannot help feeling sorry for certain characters, being angry at some of the others – and in the meantime, you’re waiting for something to happen, someone to save the family. There were parts where the story felt a bit slow paced for me, but in spite of all this, it’s a brilliant debut novel by Terri Giuliano Long which is guaranteed to stay with you for a long time.

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Review: The Secret of Lies – Barbara Forte Abate

Cover of The Secret of Lies by Barbara Forte Abate

Title: The Secret of Lies
Author: Barbara Forte Abate
Publication date: April 21, 2010
Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing
Format: Ebook
ISBN: 978-1608444182
Length: 304 pages
Genre: Literary fiction
Age group: Adult
Source: Author
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Synopsis

Propelled by an insurmountable sense of desperation, Stevie Burke is recklessly abandoning home, husband, and outwardly contented life under cover of night; at last resigned to defeat in her long battle against the tortured memories of her past.

Days later, lost and floundering in a dreary motel room without plan or destination, it is a long ago song playing on the radio that gently tugs Stevie back through the dust of remembrance. 1957 – The last summer spent at the ancient house overlooking the North Atlantic. A season which had unfolded with abundant promise, but then spiraled horribly out of control – torn apart by a shattering tragedy that remains splintered in fragments upon her soul. And it is only now, when Stevie at last lifts her eyes to stare deep into the heart of her long sequestered memories, that the long held secrets of past and future are at last unveiled.

My thoughts

The Secret of Lies has to be one of the best stories I’ve read this year, without a doubt. The writing style is brilliant in itself – Abate writes with such elegance and sophistication that you cannot help being drawn to the story and the characters.

What I loved about the set up is that the prologue starts with the end of the story. We know from the start that Stevie runs away from home, we know the consequences – but we don’t know how it all happened. Abate keeps you in agonising suspense from the very beginning and makes you want to find out what’s the cause of Stevie’s misery.

The first half of the book serves as a flashback – we get to know Stevie and her older sister, Eleanor – two teenagers who used to spend their summer vacations with Uncle Cal and Aunt Smyrna on Long Island. Up until something happens (I don’t want to give too much away, you see *wink wink*) and a dark, scandalous secret tears apart their family. The second half of the book, set on the family farm a few years later, deals with how Stevie can cope with this childhood trauma and all these emotions she managed to bottle up throughout the years.

All the characters are very relatable but Stevie was the one who I had an instant connection with. I could almost feel what she felt back then – how she was held captive by the same life she always had. How she was afraid to fall in love, to let others see her emotions, how she turned into someone twice her age while she gradually alienated herself from her friends and family, while she kept saying “they don’t understand“.

The only negative thing I can mention is that for me the novel started out a little bit slow, but still, it’s not too slow to put you off, and there are always subtle references to later parts of the story which leave you wanting more, wanting to find out what’s going on.

The Secret of Lies is a captivating, tear-jerking coming of age novel with a great storyline, relatable characters and sophisticated writing style. Abate describes everything in so much detail, with such eloquence that The Secret of Lies is guaranteed to leave you in complete awe. I would definitely recommend it to everyone and I’m looking forward to see what the author comes up with next.

Teaser

“Maybe it’s the raw brilliance of the pale white moon suspended in a hard black sky that somehow makes everything about this night feel harsher. Uglier. Failing to soften what now seems especially unconscionable.
But I pretend not to notice, cautiously opening the door of Ash’s old blue Buick and sliding into the drivers’ seat, ignoring the question that all at once arrives with the insistence of knuckles rapping on glass, as to what I will do if the car doesn’t start. As it is, every movement feels sharply critical, increasingly desperate, my insides tightly clenched around the fear that Ash will wake before I’m gone.”


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Review: A Week in December – Sebastian Faulks

Title: A Week in December
Author:
Sebastian Faulks
Publication date:
2010
Publisher:
Vintage Books
ISBN:
978-0-099-45828-9
Pages:
392
Genre: Literary fiction
Format: Paperback

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London, the winter of 2007, a week before Christmas. Seven days for us to step into the lives of seven Londoners: John Veals, the hedge fund manager, a complete workaholic who never smiles and became completely alienated from his family; his son, Finbar, an average teenager who is obsessed with reality TV and drugs; Ralph Tranter, an obnoxious book reviewer who previously failed as a writer; Spike Borowski, a Polish footballer who recently joined a popular British team; Gabriel Northwood, a young lawyer who lacks any kind of motivation in life and has no interest in his job whatsoever; Hassan al-Rashid, a student who gets mixed up in a serious religious conflict and last but not least Jenni Fortune, a tube driver whose Circle Line train join these people’s lives on a daily basis. “The novel pieces together the complex patterns and crossings of modern urban life, and the group is forced, one by one, to confront the true nature of the world they inhabit.” (from the back cover)

This has been the first book I’ve read by Sebastian Faulks and I had such high hopes for this. The cover is drop-dead gorgeous (being in love with London I’m a little bit partial anyway), the blurb sounded promising and I was eager to start reading it – only to discover that it’s not nearly as good as I thought it would be. In short, it’s a huge disappointment.

It could have been so much better though! The main idea is great and very intriguing, but the characters and the writer’s style is not too enjoyable. None of the characters are particularly likeable, but that in itself wouldn’t be a problem. The worst thing about it is the complete lack of action throughout the novel – I was waiting for something to happen but nothing really did until the last 130 pages. The pace of the story was painfully slow and the fact that Faulks explained every single thing about the banking system, funds, the stock exchange, debt and so on made it even worse. There were many times when I couldn’t bear it any longer and started to skip these long paragraphs, then whole pages. Which I almost never do.

On the positive side, there was something about it that made me want to keep on reading. Partly it was due to the fact that I started to like Jenni and Gabriel and I wanted to know what happens to Hassan. So I did keep on reading and managed to finish it – the last 100 or 130 pages were more fast paced and less descriptive, finally. The ending was great and I really liked how everything turned out.

On the whole, did Faulks manage to convey his message and give a clear picture of contemporary London and British society? I would say yes. The characters a bit too far-fetched but he does have a point. All in all, it’s an OK read – do not start reading it if you’re not patient enough or if you don’t have much time. It’s not an easy read and it will be challenging at times (well…many times), but you might end up enjoying it if you prefer something less fast paced.

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