BOOK REVIEWS · ON BOOKS · REVIEWS

The House of Stairs by Barbara Vine

“There is no time in our lives when we are so conspicuously without mercy as in adolescence.”

I don’t think I would ever picked up this ‘obscure’ and forgotten novel if it hadn’t been for the ‘crime fiction’ module I took during my second year of uni. Thanks to that module, which was in every other respect a huge waste of time (lecturer on Tom Ripley: “he does bad things because he wants more stuff”…truly illuminating), I was able to ‘discover’ Barbara Vine’s work.
Since then I’ve read a few other novels by Vine (which happens to Ruth Rendell’s nom de plume) and while I can safely say that she is an excellent writer, The House of Stairs remains my favourite of hers. Perhaps it is because of its sapphic undertones, or maybe I’m just a sucker for unrequited love stories.

“It felt like a passion, it felt like being in love, it was being in love, it was the kind of thing you delude yourself that, if all goes well, will last a lifetime. Things, of course, didn’t go well. When do they?”

The House of Stairs tells a dizzying tale of tale of psychological suspense. Like other novels by Vine it employ two timelines and explores the haunting effects of the past on the present. ‘The present’ features characters whose lives have been altered by an often unspecified accident and or crime. The second timeline, narrated from the retrospective, focuses on their past, and in particular on the events leading to that ‘one big event’. Vine does not limit herself to recounting past occurrences, instead she allows her characters to re-examine their own actions, as well as attempting to understand the motivations behind those of others. The past and present flow into each other, and throughout her narratives Vine traces both a crime’s roots and its subsequent ramifications.
Set in London The House of Stairs London opens in 1980s when Elizabeth—protagonist and narrator—glimpses Bell, a woman who has been recently released from prison. Seeing Bell is the catalyst that makes Elizabeth recount her story (transporting us to the late 60s and early 70s) but even if she knows the identity of Bell’s victim she does not share the details of this fateful event with the readers, preferring instead to play her cards close to her chest. This dual storyline creates an apparent juxtaposition of past and present. We can hazard guesses through brief glimpses of her present, her ambiguous remarks, such as ‘Bell’s motive for asking those questions was outside the bounds of my imagings’ and ‘[A]s they wished me to do, I was seeing everything inside-out’, and through her carefully paced recounting of those events.
By re-living that particular time of her life, Elizabeth—alongside the reader—acquires a better understanding of the circumstances that lead Bell to commit murder. Her narration is a far from passive relay of what happened for Elizabeth in the present seems actively involved in this scrutiny of past events.

“It is interesting how such reputations are built. They come about through confusing the two kinds of truth telling: the declaration of opinion and principle and the recounting of history.”

One of Vine’s motifs is in fact to include a house which is the locus of her story, functioning as a Gothic element within her storylines. In this novel the house (nicknamed—you guessed it—’the house of stairs’) is purchased by Cosette—a relation of Elizabeth’s—soon after the death of her husband, and becomes home to a group of bohemians, hippies, and outsiders of sorts. The house become an experimental ground: it is an escape from traditional social norms, a possibility for Cosette to make her own makeshift family.
The house creates an almost disquieting atmosphere: those who live there are exploiting Cosette, and tensions gradually emerge between its tenants. The house can be a place of secrecy—doors shut, people do not leave their rooms, stairs creak—and of jealousy, for Elizabeth comes to view the other guests as depriving her of Cosette’s affection.


Elizabeth, plagued by the possibility of having inherited a family disease, finds comfort in Bell, a beautiful and alluring woman. Elizabeth comes to idolize Bell (comparisons to the portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi abound), and finds herself increasingly obsessed by her. Bell’s arrival into the house, however, will have violent consequences.
As Elizabeth is examining this time in her life, she, once again, finds herself falling under Bell’s spell.

“I found her exciting in a disturbing way, a soul-shacking way, without knowing in the least what I wanted of her.”

Like many other Vine novels The House of Stairs is a deeply intertextual work. Henry James, in particular, plays a significant role in Elizabeth’s narration.
Guilt, culpability, love, obsession, desire, greed, past tragedies, and family legacies are recurring themes in Elizabeth’s story. Vine, however, doesn’t offer an easy answer as she problematises notions of normalcy and evil.
There are many reasons why I love this novel so much: Vine’s elegantly discerning prose, her examination of class and gender roles in the 1960s-70s, the way she renders Elizabeth’s yearning for Bell…while I can see that some readers my age may find this novel to be a bit outdated, I would definitely recommend it to those who enjoy reading authors such as Donna Tartt, Sarah Waters, Kazuo Ishiguro, and Magda Szabó.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Read more reviews on my blog / / / View all my reviews on Goodreads

BOOK REVIEWS · ON BOOKS · REVIEWS

And Now She’s Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall — book review

49247317.jpg

“Boyfriends and husbands, baby daddies and one-night stands were always madly, deeply, truly in love. Bloody love. Crazy love. Love-you-to-death kind of love.”

Last year I read the first book in Rachel Howzell Hall’s ‘Detective Elouise Norton’ series. It had a great sense of place and a brilliant main character. And Now She’s Gone shares many of its strengths. Once again Hall brings Los Angeles life and culture to life. From its more bourgeois or hipster-y venues to its neighbourhoods with their different identities. While And Now She’s Gone lacks some of Land of Shadows‘ grit, the narrative does touch upon sensitive topics.
Grayson Sykes, who goes by Gray, works at a P.I. firm, founded by an old friend of hers, and she’s just been assigned her very first ‘big’ case (previously she was tracing missing dogs).
Ian O’Donnell’s girlfriend and his dog have seemingly vanished without a trace. In spite of Ian’s seeming respectability, he’s white, wealthy, a successful doctor, Gray soon begins to question his relationship to his missing girlfriend. Isabel Lincoln, the missing woman, has an elusive past and her disappearance is anything but a straightforward affair.
Interspersed throughout the narrative are fragments from Gray’s own traumatic past. Her experiences inform her investigation, and she soon begins to question whether she wants to unite Ian with Isabel.
The novel juggles quite a few storylines. At times I did feel more invested in Gray’s story than in Isabel’s disappearance. Perhaps because the case becomes a rather thorny affair, and there were certain revelations that seemed a bit convenient. Still, I really liked Gray and her character arc. Hall pays attention to the smaller, and often overlooked, moments that make up a P.I’s investigation (such as non-functioning pens or dying batteries). Gray’s was an admirable and relatable protagonist. I do wish that some of those ‘then’ scenes were cut, merely because I would have preferred more time with Gray in the ‘now’.
Gray’s circle of friends were entertaining and served to lighten the overall mood. In spite of its serious themes, the story did have a breezy tone (a more modern Janet Evanovich?) and I definitely liked Gray’s sense of humour: “The Armed Forces Career was steps away from Panda Express. From broccoli beef lover to proud marine in less than twenty yards.”
The romance subplot kind of irritated me. While the sexual tension between these two was clear, and I wanted Gray to be happy, I did found the whole ‘you’re not ready for a relationship’ line to be rather presumptuous (who is he to decide whether Gray is read or not?). While there were some twists that I didn’t see coming, I wasn’t entirely convinced by the story’s resolution. It felt a bit too fantastical.
Still, I did find this novel to be entertaining. Hall’s descriptions managed to be colourfully amusing:
“Las Vegas in the morning was like the hot guy in a dark club who, in the light, had buck teeth, hair plugs, and smelled like a fifties-era bowling. Morning Vegas needed to stay in bed until dusk, until the neon and the glass and full-on commitment to the illusion worked best.”
I liked how aware the narrative is of certain tropes (Gone Girl is indeed mentioned). There were quite a few nasty individuals in this novel. Ian was a repulsive guy (more than once he comes out with ‘I’m a nice guy’ and says racist shit along the lines of ‘I don’t see colour’). We also have an abusive man who does come out with non-to-credible lines: “We could’ve ruled the world”.
Another minor thing that annoyed was Gray’s necessity for ‘bottled’ water (if you don’t like tap water just buy one of those water filters!).
And Now She’s Gone would probably make a great summer read. It has compelling protagonist, a fast-paced narrative, and a vividly rendered setting.

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Read more reviews on my blog / / / View all my reviews on Goodreads

BOOK REVIEWS · BOOKS · ON BOOKS · REVIEWS

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier — book review

Untitled drawing.jpg

Rebecca is a work of Gothic suspense that is told in a mesmerising prose and makes for an enthralling and evocative read.

“Colour and scent and sound, rain and the lapping of water, even the mists of autumn and the smell of the flood tide, these are memories of Manderley that will not be denied.”

While reading Rebecca I realised that I was already familiar with its opening lines and some of the novel’s key scenes. This may be because of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca film or thanks to the hilarious sketch by That Mitchell and Webb Look.
In many ways Rebecca—its story, its characters, its use of Gothic elements—is not incredibly original. Yet, rather than relying wholly on its precursors (such as Bluebeard and Jane Eyre) Rebecca presents us with a more self-aware take on these otherwise tired dynamics and scenarios.
While the cast of characters do have attributes that bring to mind Jane Eyre (not only is du Maurier’s narrator a ‘plain Jane’ but one of her few hobbies happens to be ‘drawing’) they also possess qualities that reflect their own period.

The narrator’s namelessness is incredibly effective. It suggests that this novel is indeed not about her, but about Rebecca (after all the novel is titled after her). Her namelessness also reinforces her sense of inadequacy—that is of being less, not enough, simply unequal to Rebecca—and her anxiety regarding herself and others.
Daphne du Maurier untangles the mystery at the heart of her novel in a slow yet utterly compelling way. During the ‘final’ explanation she details in incisive precision the motivations and circumstances that can lead ‘ordinary’ individuals to commit a major crime. More impressive still is that even after this ‘twisty’ revelation the narrative maintains its suspense.
Much of the narrative’s ‘tension’ arises from seemingly ordinary moments. Our narrator seems to find the conventions and traditions of the British upper class to be exhausting. In spite of her often reiterated wish to be a magnetic and socially accomplished woman, she shrinks away from her role as Manderley mistress (during ‘unpleasant’ or simply adult conversations she will lower her gaze and occupy herself with her hands or with petting the dog).
The narrator’s namelessness emphasises her disempowerment. While she refers to herself as Maxim’s wife, and others will address her as Mrs de Winter, our narrator feels unequal to her position and inferior in all aspects to the previous Mrs de Winter.
The narrator’s unwillingness and inability to fulfill Rebecca’s old duties or to partake in the daily runnings of Manderley, render her vulnerable to the creepy Mrs. Danvers (a woman who is as watchful as Madame Beck in Villette).
The second Mrs de Winter struggles to assert herself, so much so that she falls victim to Mrs. Danvers’ psychological attacks. It is because she is constantly undermined by Mrs. Danvers, timid towards Manderley’s staff, and painfully aware of being scrutinised, surveyed, and compared to Rebecca, that our narrator becomes convinced of her own inferiority.
While the premise and dynamics within this novel are far from unique, I enjoyed seeing how things played out. A naive young woman, her distant and secretive husband, his recently deceased achingly-beautiful-and-charming first wife, his Bluebeard-esque estate with its skull-faced servant…these are all exceedingly Gothic elements. Given the popularity of the ‘domestic thriller’ genre, it appears that readers have yet to grow tired of these type of stories. There are few authors however who have du Maurier’s sensual prose. There is a sensuality in the narrator’s obsession and jealousy towards Rebecca. While the second Mrs de Winter never sees a photo or portrait of Rebecca, she becomes familiar with everything about her. From her perfume and clothes to her calligraphy and daily routine. Other people’s impression of Rebecca shape the narrator’s own vision of her. Rebecca comes to embody all the characteristics that the present Mrs de Winter would like to possess. Her fascination is intermingled with a deeply felt hatred.

There is little romance in the love story within Rebecca. In spite of her naïveté, our narrator soon realises that Maxim is far from love-struck. His marriage proposal seems much closer to a business proposal, and later on, not only does he seem disinterested in our narrator but he is quick to dismiss her worries and anxieties (he will tell her not to be a little idiot).
Jealousy and paranoia soon begin to plague the second Mrs de Winter. She desires more than anything to be loved by Maxim, and fears that she will never live up to his first wife Rebecca. As she becomes more and more haunted by Rebecca, the narrator’s susceptible mind often lead her to distort and exaggerate simple conversations, and to observe in her surroundings Rebecca’s imprint (there were many moments in which she reminded me of Jane Austen’s incredibly impressionable heroine Catherine Morland). Through the narrator’s dreams and her moments of dissociation readers begin to see just how deep Rebecca’s presence is within her psyche and life.
The landscape alleviates our heroine’s mystification. The gardens and the sea mirror her state of minds, and allow her to examine and question her own feelings and circumstances. Manderley’s flora and fauna, as well as its weather, capture a sense of the sublime. The idyllic and haunted Manderley plays a central role in the story and constantly occupies the narrator’s mind.
Amidst love, jealousy, and feminine ideals, this beautifully written novel conveys with perfect clarity what it means to be young and inexperienced.

 

My rating: ★★★★✰ 4 stars

Read more reviews on my blog / / / View all my reviews on Goodreads

BOOK REVIEWS · BOOKS · ON BOOKS · REVIEWS

Everything You Want Me to Be : Book Review


Everything You Want Me to Be by Mindy Mejia

★★★✰✰ 3 stars

Last summer I read Mejia’s latest novel Leave No Trace: A Novel and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought it had a suspenseful and fast-paced story with alluring main characters.
While Everything You Want Me to Be is an undoubtedly well-written novel that juggles different point of views and timelines, I mostly found it to be extremely dull. rather flat.

Each of the three narratives was well-rendered and I was always able to tell whose pov I was reading from. So, while I think Mejia is a skilled writer, I did find her story and the characters to be incredibly boring. As believable as they were, I found myself caring little for them. Their arcs were predictable so much so that it was easy to see what would next happen. This sort of plot has been so overdone that this novel might ‘work’ for those readers who aren’t all versed in this genre.
While Mejia succeeds in rendering the atmosphere of a small community, I mostly felt annoyed and unaffected by her characters or their struggles.
Hopefully the next novel I read by Mejia will showcase more of her talent.

Read more reviews on my blog or View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEWS · BOOKS · ON BOOKS · REVIEWS

Blood Orange: Book Review

4170ed54-afcb-4ff0-a7ae-9a04e5943f30._CR0,0,970,300_PT0_SX970__.jpg
Blood Orange
by Harriet Tyce
★★★✰✰ 2.5  stars

Blood Orange left me feeling…not much at all. It might be because of the narrative, which is propelled by a protagonist who is the embodiment of a train-wreck, or it might be because of Tyce attempting to gross readers out trough lazily nauseating scenes, but this novel just seems to hit the one note. It focuses on three or four equally frustrating characters who behave or say things that are almost excessively—if not goofilyunpleasant.
While the elements of the story are standards of the domestic thriller, the writing offers them in a very graphic way. Combining vivid imagery with a taut prose not only does Tyce bring Alison’s experiences to life but she also gives a transfixing edge to her narrative. While reading this I felt an almost inevitable dread. Reading about Alison…it was like watching a car-crash in slow motion.
More than once I was fooled into thinking that Alison could not sink lower than what she already had…well, she showed me! For the most part of the novel Alison keeps drinking herself stupid, engages in an affair with a colleague who keeps treating her liker crap, and promises her husband that she will ‘do better.
For some obscure reason Alison is good at her job. She is a criminal law barrister who has just received her first murder case. This case takes is on the sideline of Alison’s narrative. The story is more concerned with Alison’s affair, her marriage, and the vulgar texts she has started receiving than her case.40605438.jpg
Although the story tells us that Alison is good at what she does…well, I found that hard to believe. I couldn’t even really think of her as a ‘workaholic’. Most of the time she just wants an excuse to hang out with Patrick. I get that she is meant to be pathetic and spineless and just a sort…of a walking trashcan but at a certain point I started wondering just how thick can person be.
A lot of what she does is motivated by immature desires (‘I want Patrick’, ‘I want to be a good mum’, ‘I want to work on this case’ ). She thinks things in a very simple manner, and to begin with I thought that she was being ‘ironic’ but no, she actually thinks like child. Alison’s voice is so monotone. She is not a nuanced portrayal of a married woman who is cheating on her husband and drinks too much. If you are looking for a layered and believable character…look elsewhere. There is this half-hearted attempt to make her seem like she knows just how terrible her marriage is by making her identify with the case she is working on (a case in which a wife has stabbed to death her husband) but it is done in such a blatantly matter-of-fact way that I never believed that Alison possessed the awareness and or perspective to notice the strong similarities between her marriage and the one of her case.
Not much happens but I did find myself almost hypnotised by these horrible people. Alison is so passive that a lot of the time I actually hoped that someone would slap or harm her. Her solipsistic drives cause her to be in a miserable situation and I think that the epilogue tries to paint her immaturity, selfishness, and dangerous behaviour as being someone else’s fault…

Ultimately the novel fails to be dark. There are weak attempts to make the story bold ranging from description of gross things (there was an almost an excessive amount of scenes revolving around Alison stepping on ‘piss’, touching ‘shit’, getting covered in ‘puke’, cooking food that looked like ‘sick’) or having characters degrade themselves and or others.
Although Tyce’s prose could be rather compelling her characters were almost laughably dislikable and her story leads to simplistic resolution.

Read more reviews on my blog or View all my reviews on Goodreads

 

BOOK REVIEWS

THE SILENT PATIENT: BOOK REVIEW


silent.jpg

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
★★✰✰✰ 1.5 of 5 stars  (rounded up because this is a debut so…)

“Please don’t let’s get dramatic.”

    

I’ve been a bit hesitant about writing this review since the majority of readers really enjoyed this debut. However, since Goodreads allows us to express and respect our different opinions I don’t see any harm in being honest. I didn’t hate The Silent Patient but I did find this novel both ridiculous and incompetent.

Just because The Silent Patient has a “twist” that doesn’t mean it should be labelled as being a psychological thriller. There is no suspense, no mystery, no tension, none whatsoever, zilch! The psychology in this one is…well, the depiction of psychiatrist and psychotherapists is at best, laughable, at worst, ignorant.
The book hinges completely on its “twist”, a twist that (view spoiler)
This book seems to me yet another weak attempt of jumping on the domestic thriller bandwagon.

In short: Calling this a novel seems somewhat misleading. This reads more like a incredibly unbelievable script.

LONG RANT REVIEW AHEAD:

The Silent Patient is a really flawed piece of work. I will try to tackle what I personally thought were the major problems this book had (for me, personally):

THE WRITING (idiotic dialogues + inane monologues + ham-handed metamorphoses + a complete lack of a sense of place)

✖ I like Agatha Christie and she has what I would call a ‘dry’ style of writing. Her mysteries are heavy on dialogue. The many conversations that her characters have are witty, amusing and or entertaining. The descriptions she provides perfectly render the characters’ mannerisms and surroundings. Michaelides’ writing mostly consisted in a series of dialogues between two characters and it reads like a script. It would work if what they spoke like actual people rather than this:

~“Perhaps I’m imagining it. But I’m sensing something… Keep an eye on it. Any aggression or competitiveness interferes with the work. You two need to work with each other, not against each other.
~“But remember, with greater feeling comes greater danger.

The dialogues/monologues came across as being incredibly silly and they make the characters sound like children.
✖ These characters do not sound British. They talk like Americans (or what Americans sound like in a CSI episode). There are no British cultural references and or British expressions. This book could be set anywhere.
✖ There were plenty of dramatic and over-the-top statements and or phrases that really ruined potentially significant scenes and or somber moments of contemplation:

~“Her silence was like a mirror—reflecting yourself back at you.”
~“Now I saw the truth. [She] hadn’t saved me—she wasn’t capable of saving anyone. She was no heroines to be admired—just a frightened, fucked-up girl, a cheating liar. This whole mythology of us that I had built up […] now collapsed in seconds—like a house of cards in a gust of wind.”
~“How was this possible? Had she been acting the whole time? Had she ever loved me?”;
~“Why did she do it? How could she?”

Jeez. Talk about melodramatic angst.


✖ Theo’s narrative was filled with painfully overdone monologues that have little purpose since they don’t make Theo into a realistic and nuanced character and most of the time they do not even further the plot. Alicia’s narrative (that is, her diary) makes no sense but more on that when I tackle her character. It’s safe to say that, given that her diary entries included things such as “It took me a moment to speak. I was so taken aback I didn’t know what to say” and “I feel joyous. I feel full of hope”, I had a hard time ‘immersing’ myself or ‘buying’ into her narrative.
Since this book is a ‘domestic thriller’ both Theo and Alicia don’t have sex they ‘fuck’. Because writing ‘we fucked’ makes the story gritty and ‘dark’ [insert laughter here].
The Greek ‘connection’. Done properly, I usually love it when contemporary books draw parallels from Greek myths and or classics. Done properly. Comparing people to Greek statues and having your main characters referring to themselves as being a ‘Greek hero/heroine’ is the opposite of subtle:

~“She was a statue; a Greek goddess come to life in my hands.” ~“He looked like a Greek statue” ~“the actress playing Alcestis looked like a Greek statue” ~“my fate was already decided—like in a Greek tragedy” ~“Casting herself as a tragic heroine”.

We have Diomedes who comes from “a long line of Greek shepherds” (and tells Theo that “every Greek knows his tragedies”). And finally we have Alicia’s painting which is entitled Alcestis. Both the painting and Euripides play had potential. They would have been enough. We didn’t need the constant reminder that The Silent Patient wants to be a ‘tragic play’. Like many other things in this book, the blatant symbolism managed to ruin a potentially good analogy.
✖ The story is set supposedly in the UK. But really, there is 0 sense of place. Who cares about giving your characters a backdrop? Why bother rendering a neighbourhood or an area of London? Who gives a fork about what a room or place looks like? Let’s remember: this story could be set anywhere (or nowhere given how realistic it is).

✖ You could say that the focus on dialogues and flat scenery are reminiscent of a play…which is fine but it doesn’t come across as such. This book just reminds me of a ‘B-movie’ script. There is no tragedy, no pathos , no wit. A 2nd grade play is closer to a ‘classic’ play than this book is.
There is this attempt to make the two ‘main’ women ethereal which did provides a few laughs:

~“Her white dress glowed ghostlike in the torchlight” ~ “I remember so much white everywhere: […] the white of her eyes, her teeth, her skin. I’d never known that skin could be so luminous, so translucent ; ivory white with occasional blue veins visible just beneath the surface, like threads of color in white marble. She was a statue.” ~ “strands of long red hair falling across bony shoulders, blue veins beneath the translucent skin”.

THE CHARACTERS
✖ Theo. Our wannabe (view spoiler). Within a few pages we know that he is obsessed with Alicia (which makes him incredibly unprofessional) and he for the most part he is just soooo dull and whiny. He moans about his childhood, (view spoiler), and his attempt(s) to self-fashion himself as some sort of tragic hero fail epically. After (view spoiler)
His dramatic monologues, constant whinging, and complete lack of awareness (I’ve said it before this man is thick) reminded me a bit of Derek Zoolander:


Alicia…she is beautiful. She loves having sex with her husband and painting. That’s about it. We are told that she was ‘charming’…but how can she have gained this reputation since she has 0 friends and her only real relationship is the one she has with Gabriel (her partner or whatever). Jean-Felix is the owner of a gallery but they don’t spend time together or are on friendly terms. Who is she charming to? She is a complete recluse! She lives in London and is good enough painter and yet…she has managed to make 0 connections. Her diary entries make her sound at best guileless and at worst like a demented child. Her character is just an object. She is there to look beautiful and tragic. She has a few basic reactions (she just “looks up” or “looks down”) or she does the good ol’ ‘banshee’ act, flinging herself in a sudden ‘rage’ towards Theo or another patient. Wow. Such a deep and complex portrait of a (view spoiler).

The cast of characters consists in cardboard cutouts. Going back to Christie, sometimes exaggerated character can be entertaining. Especially if they are a parodying a certain type of person (the writer, the artist, the gossipy old lady and so forth). Here we have mere ‘sketches’ of people.
We have Christian, who doesn’t like Theo because he is a massive bellend bully: “Christian glared at me.” “Christian looked irritated.” “Christian rolled his eyes at me.” “Christian laughed that annoying laugh of his.
We have Professor Diomedes who is Greek and is “an unorthodox man’that’s it folks. That’s his character. Also, (view spoiler) Yuri is another pointless and unbelievable addition to the story. He is the head psychiatric nurse and comes from Latvia so he obviously has to be weird about women. Makes perfect sense. Then we have Stephanie who has very little page time or importance Theo having never even know of her existence knows immediately, before she even speaks, that she is Caribbean). We also have the “jolly Caribbean dinner ladies” (who, surprise surprise, are only mentioned once).

We have a few ‘ugly’ characters who are either ‘mad’ and or violent (Elif, a ‘massive’ Turkish woman, who spends her time shouting or grunting because she is a patient and that’s how ‘ugly’ and mentally ill people behave. Lydia, Alicia’s mean aunt. She is grotesquely ‘fat’ and has lots of cats. She basically just glares, scorns, and spits at people). Paul, Alicia’s cousin, still lives with his mother so he looks like ‘virgin’ and in spite his size he seems ‘stunted’. Kathy and Gabriel are the antithesis of credible (actors and fashion photographers manage to be self-engrossed and 1 dimensional). We have Gabriel’s brother…who is the typical chip-on-my-shoulder character (he has acne, he is balding, he is just a ‘lawyer’, boohoo). Jean-Felix owns a gallery so he is the embodiment of some sort of art-vampire.

THE NONSENSICAL PLOT
✖ Nothing much happens. It’s quite clear that the words that exist before the ‘twist’ serve as filler. Theo moans about this and that. That’s about 70% of the novel.
✖ There are a series of stupid things happening for no apparent reason. (view spoiler)
✖ The Grove is not a forensic unit. I am sure that Theo should be doing a bit of paperwork to cover his 1 to 1s with Alicia. And everything that (view spoiler)
✖ The ‘big twist’ (view spoiler)

IN CONCLUSION

The Silent Patient might not be the worst novel I’ve read but—in my humble opinion— it’s a badly written, poorly developed book. Worse still, The Silent Patient comes across as being ‘soulless’.
A ‘twist’ needs—demands—a story. I want to read characters who vaguely resemble or talk like real people. If you want to play with stereotypes (a la Christie) don’t make your characters take themselves so seriously. A parody of a certain ‘personality’ should at least be funny and or amusing. Adding a strong setting and a coherent storyline wouldn’t do any harm either. The Silent Patient is a messy, flat, painfully dull, ‘Hollywood-type’ of book.

Pre-review:
I’m not sure what’s up with these hyped so-called thrillers but…

If you liked Verity, An Anonymous Girl, The Last Time I Lied or the unintentionally hilarious Jane Doe…chances are you will like The Silent Patient.

View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEWS

AS LONG AS WE BOTH SHALL LIVE: BOOK REVIEW

As Long as We Both Shall Live by JoAnn Chaney
★★✰✰✰ 2 of 5 stars

So here’s the thing: if you want to kill your wife, don’t. Don’t kill her, don0t touch her. Ditch the bitch if you have to, get on with your life. Or make it work. But kill her? Nope.

As Long as We Both Shall Live has one of the most captivating prologues I have ever read….sadly the rest novel doesn’t live up to it.

37638016

This novel tries too hard to come across as a hard-boiled detective story. With plenty of weird and unpleasant metaphors (ie. a man’s ‘thin’ lips are like ‘tuna’ ? w-h-a-t!) and an abundance of ass&balls jokes it just felt like being inside the head of an eight-year-old boy who has just learned ‘naughty’ words. These odd descriptions, unfunny quips, and the ‘trying-too-hard-to-be-hard’ dialogues pulled me right away from the story. Bit of pity since I wanted to like Chaney’s wicked humour.

There is this Detective Loren (the typical vulgar bully with a heart of gold) who is completely unprofessional. He is insubordinate and threatens witnesses and suspects alike. Really? Am I to believe that the secretary he cornered hasn’t put a complaint with his name stamped on it?

“Your boss-man, is he porking anyone in the office?”
Loren asked, a grin slowly blooming on his face.
“Pardon?”
“Oh, you heard me, Jilly. Is there some hot little piece of ass in the mailroom that might be riding his baloney pony during lunch hours?”

First of all, who even talks like that? Secondly, why does the narrative try to make this guy, Loren, seem like the typical ‘bear with the heart of gold’?!
His backstory served little purpose and only slowed the main narrative. Moreover, by giving this Loren-character the stage, the female detective, Spengler, is cast off to the sidelines. I would have rather had more of her personal life than Loren’s. Spengler is presented to us as the typical ‘attractive woman in an all men’s club’. Her colleagues – all men – make vulgar remarks about her and find her to be a ‘cold bitch’. This is such a bloody cliché. A) Why does she have to be uber beautiful? B) Why are all men depicted as dogs-in-heat?

Now, the biggest problem with this novel is that it was trying to ‘outdo’ (view spoiler) and the narrative perfectly acknowledges this: view spoiler
Now, I’m not suggesting that this type of ‘borrowing‘ doesn’t work. Barbara Vine (who wrote a number a brilliant psychological mysteries) uses a similar technique,(view spoiler). Here however this comes across as little more than a cheap trick.
For a long portion of the novel Matt and his relationship to his now dead wife, Marie, get very little page-time. They seem so barely sketched out that I never started to care about who did what. Their motivations and actions are incredibly unbelievable and melodramatic. The wife vs. husband jokes got old fast. (view spoiler)

You could call it Stockholm Syndrome, or you could call it marriage. Tomayto, tomahto.

Their daughters, and Marie’s friends make one-time only appearances that are completely laughable.
Lastly, I did not like the way in which the novel portrays men. They are all crass and or stupid. And the story wants to make it seem like Loren, the worst of them all, is actually the best of the lot? Nah.
And why is a woman breaking the law any better than a man breaking the law? Spengler is so unprofessional in that she seems (view spoiler).

It was unfortunate, but sometimes a woman had to take extreme measure to teach a man a lesson.

Disappointing, unbelievable, and with an incredibly over the top finale that is 100% soap opera, the only good thing about this novel is its prologue.

View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEWS

AN ANONYMOUS GIRL: BOOK REVIEW


An Anonymous Girl
by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

★✰✰✰✰ 1 of 5 stars

A better suited title for this novel would be An Edgy Girl.
Image result for an anonymous girl book

This is the mostly badly written book I have ever read. An Anonymous Girl is a bad version of the rather dodgy film Cruel Intentions with an added sprinkle of a soap opera.

If you enjoyed this book, please look away now.
If you are thinking of reading this book, I entreat you to think twice.

 

I don’t like to be the ‘bad guy’. And by ‘bad guy’ I mean the type of reviewer who writes harsh reviews and is overly critic about certain genres. I always try to remind myself that people will have different tastes and it isn’t fair to be too critical or rude about a book… in this case however I can’t quite comprehend how this book has so many positive reviews. What in the whole history of literature is happening? Have I landed in some alternative reality? Did I read a completely different book?

I was tempted to pinch myself while I was reading my copy of An Anonymous Girl to see if I was actually awake and reading or if I was having a nightmare. Turns out, I was wide awake and reading what I have come to regard as the worst book I have ever had the displeasure to read.
My review will include incriminating evidence some quotes from An Anonymous Girl which will corroborate my unfavourable review of this novel.

I do not expect all psychological thrillers to be as well written as the ones by Gillian Flynn or Tana French. While I do consider some of the authors that I read to be ‘guilty pleasures’ (Colleen Hoover, Harlan Coben) I do not believe in the existence of ‘lowbrow fiction’.
I started An Anonymous Girl thinking that it would be one of the many – far too many – Gone Girl wannabes. I didn’t expect to be mind-blown but I was hoping to read a suspenseful and entertaining mystery.
A few pages in, I lowered my already low expectations.
So…here goes my ranty review.

THE WRITING

I could talk about the idiotic plot – which revolves around the typical triangle of people, with shifting ‘power dynamics’, betrayals, jealousies, yadda yadda yadda – the unbelievable and one-dimensional characters, the predictable and laughable twists….or I could address the main problem…the writing.
This ‘novel’ (calling this a novel feels wrong) is so badly written that I am surprised it was published in the first place. The writing reminded me of a text that has been translated by Google translator. Yes, it is that bad.
Jessica Farris and Dr. Shields are the main characters and narrators of this story.
Jessica is a the typical lead, forgettable and as bland as toothpaste. She thinks she is different from others because of a ‘traumatic event’ which might or might not be her own fault (insert predictable saw-that-coming twist here), and Dr. Shields is the ‘intelligent’ and ‘manipulative’ villainess (a Bond villain cast off ).

1) Jessica’s point of view included a lot of cheesy observations. We are to believe that her focus is on making money and her family but really all she cares about is clothes. She sounds like an effing advert:

The first rule: my unofficial uniform. I wear all black, which eliminates the need to coordinate a new outfit every morning. It also sends a message of subtle authority. I choose comfortable, machine-washable layers that will look as fresh at seven P. M. as they do at seven A. M.

This sounds like the voiceover of some tacky ad? Or…this reads a lot like lazy handwriting, and I am sure there are other ways of telling your readers that a character dresses professionally.
Or this actually seems like a rip off from the opening scene of American Psycho, but whereas that was satirical…this isn’t.

My skin is darker than Dr. Shield’s, and my fingers are shorter. Instead of elegant, the color looks edgy on me.

This is hilarious. What the actual fork? What kind of person would use the word ‘edgy’ to describe their clothes/appearance/makeup…? An angsty rebellious teenager? I don’t even think they would…real people wouldn’t. I doubt that a ‘professional’ twenty-eight year old woman would refer to her nail varnish as being ‘edgy’.

Her neck is long and graceful, and no amount of contouring can create the kind of cheekbones she possess.

Of course, both Jessica and Dr. Shields are beautiful. We will be reminded of this. A lot.

Her periwinkle turtleneck sweater and silk skirt skin her long, lithe body.

What is the obsession with clothes?! And why do we have to be constantly reminded

 that these two women dress like fashion models? And why use ‘lithe’ and beautiful every other sentence…

As soon as I am beside her, I smell her clean, spicy perfume.

Enough already! This is not a perfume ad!

Excessive focus on appearances and clothing-wear aside, Jessica’s POV had a lot weirdly phrased observations or sentences:

I rub Germ-X on my hands and pop an Altoid in my mouth before I ring the buzzer for Apartment 6D. I’m five minutes early. Another rule.

The first sentence is so superfluous. Why specify that you put cream on your hands and an Altoid in your mouth? Where else would you put them? And what is the deal with these short snappy sentences?! They do not create a rhythm or build up suspense, they simply come across as being artificial and oddly contrived.
And why does Jessica sound like an unbelievably stupid guide book?

Intellectually, I can’t see how this could hurt anyone.

Intellectually, I don’t see how this book is so hyped. Also, using intellectually isn’t very…’intellectual’ or believable. It sounds like something that a pantomime actor would say. Who in the world would say: Intellectually, I see your point or some nonsense like that. No one.
But Jessica gets even better, and here are her remarks after an encounter with the most hilariously badly written ‘drug addict’ in the history, a man who within half a page we discover – shock horror – is paranoid and beats his girlfriend up…yep, *drug addict alert* …or maybe that is how they behave in csi or soap operas…

“The guy was bad news!”

“But that woman you sent me to? Her boyfriend was clearly on drugs.”

Jessica saying ‘that guy is bad news’ non-ironically did make me laugh, so cheers for that.

Anyhow, these quotes are just a few examples of why Jessica’s narration is terrible: she sounds like a mix between a l’oreal voiceover and an off-key new adult novel – yet, her chapters seem somewhat competent – yes, I kid you not – when compared to Dr. Shields’ POV.

2) Prepare yourself for the never written before Dr.Shields: the manipulative, sexy and dangerous woman…who sounds like a forking A.I.
The best way to let your readers know that you are reading from the POV of a mysterious and seductive woman is to make her sound like a forking sexy robot. Because distancing the reader through a stilted and impersonal narration is a clever way of introducing them to the ‘villain’ of the story.
A few examples below:

It was the question you didn’t answer, though, the one you struggled with as you scraped at your nails, that holds the most intrigue. This test can free you, Subject 52. Surrender to it.

Dun dun dun….
Does she have to sound so theatrical?

You stand out, and not only because of your unconventional beauty.

From every angle, you are enchanting.

This time it is Dr. Shields who is checking out Jessica. Sounding like some sort of predator. And just reminding us readers that we are indeed reading of two beautiful women.
Since Dr. Shields is an intelligent woman here are a few of her insightful nuggets:

It is easy to judge other’s people choices. It is far more complex when the choices are your own.

Trust is a necessary component of a committed relationship.

A fortune cookie would provide me with the same information. 
The worst aspect of her POV is that it refers to Jessica – and occasionally Thomas – in the second person:

Your motive for wanting to flee must be scrutinized.

I am all for experimenting with point of views…when done well. This is far from well done.
Why make objects the subject of your phrases?

His glass of water is procured. Then the green phone icon is touched.

It doesn’t sound edgy. It sounds ridiculous.

“I’ll get it,” he is told.

The buzzer is pressed for Apartment 4c.

These phrases do not build suspense. They do not intrigue or mystify readers. They were just bloody irritating.

Thomas insisted he go up to his room while Thomas paid the check.

This one phrase puzzled me. I can’t believe that no one picked up on it. It sounds super odd. ‘Thomas tells his friend x to go to his room while Thomas pays’….what in the hell?!

The Tylenol is in the medicine cabinet, but tucked behind a box containing a new skin-care cream. More than a cursory glance will be necessary to locate it.

Really? Again with these superfluous phrases? And who even thinks like that? She really does come across as being a robot.

3) Special mention of those infamous “moral issues”:

He could be so committed to his job that he finds it hard to turn off, kind of like the way I’m beginning to find it difficult to stop thinking about moral issues.

Oh yeah. Those ‘moral issues’ keeping me up at night…
Don’t be fooled. This book is not concerned with an exploration of ethics & morality. This book cares about the exaggerated and “dangerous” relationship between two beautiful women who believe that they are in a Bond film. The ‘tension’ between the two is so oddly contrived and their interactions are beyond credible.
The so called ‘art’ of seduction and flirting are the novel’s main concern.

FINAL THOUGHTS

This book in my opinion is rather trashy. I don’t enjoy writing those words but that is what I have come to believe after wasting hours of my life on it. I kept hoping that it would at least provide some sort of twist that would make up for the horrid writing…but no.
I am not saying that the authors are not capable of writing, I believe that most people could probably write a decent piece of fiction, but this is indeed the most badly written book I have ever come across.

View all my reviews

BOOK REVIEWS

The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy by Barbara Vine

“I want to be in love. I want to be possessed and obsessed by it, I want the sky to change colour and the sun to shine all the time. I want to long for the phone to ring and pace the room when it doesn’t. I want to be breathless at the sound of her voice and tongue-tied when I first see her.”

A layered and complex character driven novel, one that from start to finish thrums with suspense.
Guilt, lost chances, secretive relationships and desires are explored throughout this novel.

After the death of her husband, renown writer Gerald Candless, Ursula considers her loveless marriage and the freedom she has gained as a widow. Her daughters, unlike her, loved Gerald. It is hinted, from the very beginning, that Gerald marries solely to become a father: his desire, during the 60s and the 70s is made to make him unusual, different. Yet, he takes control of his daughters, pushing Ursula out of the family picture. Sarah, the eldest daughter, is charged with writing a memoir in his memory. Grief stricken, she agrees, only to then discover than her mythical father is not who he claimed to be.
A perusal of the past brings to life Ursula’s unhappy marriage as well as the lives of the families surrounding the mystery of Gerald’s true identity. Identity, love, freedom, all play a large role in the story’s narrative. The richly detailed backdrop provides a wistful portrayal of 20th century (from the 40s to the 90s) England. Characters who actively challenge themselves and one another make the narrative utterly engaging. Barbara Vine doesn’t shy away from depicting the most unnerving and uncomfortable aspects of her society: personal vices, poverty, depression, repression, and various injustices abound.
Also, Vine doesn’t provide clear cut answers or universal truths. Her story and her characters do no fit in neat little boxes. She explores the actions of different types of people without any sentimentalist moral lessons.
Vine allows us to know what is coming – that is the ‘mystery’ at the core of this novel – however she doesn’t let the details, the particulars, of that mystery known to us: she keeps us guessing, even when we are fairly certain of what exactly happened, we are only provided with fragmented glimpses of the fuller ‘picture’.
With a beautiful and richly descriptive prose, characters who are both sensual and finicky, a plot that relies on the art of writing itself (so many books are mentioned!) , well, The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy is a truly remarkable read.

My rating: 5 stars

Read more reviews on my blog / / / View all my reviews on Goodreads

BOOK REVIEWS

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent

I won’t deny that –initially– there is an underlying tension that renders some portions of the story to be gripping. The first opening lines propel us into what promises – and fails – to be an intriguing mystery.
My main reservation about this novel is that it switches tones too often: there is an unbalanced – if not jarring – disparity between the seemingly ‘dark’ components and the unbelievably ridiculous moments.
I initially thought the narration and story reminded me of Joanne Harris’ Gentlemen and Players but it never really holds onto its strengths. That book perfectly balances humor and drama. Lying in Wait does not. The narrator who is almost gleefully telling us about their ‘bad’ intentions loses all its appeal. There are scenes and monologues that are just oddly grotesque: they do serve the purpose of unsettling the reader but they lose their desired effect by repulsing us and by making us question the believability of their situation/words. What should be funny is so ridiculously lampooned that it just becomes irksome.
The satirization of ‘class’ is completely overdone. Comments about ‘oh dear, the unemployed’ or ‘we do not mix with them dear’ were more annoying than witty.
The appealing premise leads to a ludicrous series of events which on the whole lead to a pointless finale. Then again, the story serves no real purpose and delivers no real message. The characters are all inept and their naivety is just downright irritating. I know that the story is set in the 80s, but I refuse to believe that people were so gormless.
What could have been a compelling mystery filled with dark humor ends being an exaggerated parody of the genre.

My rating: 1 star

Read more reviews on my blog / / / View all my reviews on Goodreads