Book review: Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo


Title: Girl, Woman, Other

Author: Bernardine Evaristo

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Grove Atlantic

Publication date: 5th November 2019 (Kindle)

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“The twelve central characters of this multi-voiced novel lead vastly different lives: Amma is a newly acclaimed playwright whose work often explores her Black lesbian identity; her old friend Shirley is a teacher, jaded after decades of work in London’s funding-deprived schools; Carole, one of Shirley’s former students, works hard to earn a degree from Oxford and becomes an investment banker; Carole’s mother Bummi works as a cleaner and worries about her daughter’s lack of rootedness despite her obvious achievements. Other central characters include a nonbinary social media influencer, a 93-year-old woman living on a farm in Northern England, and a woman who retires to Barbados harboring a secret of sex and betrayal. Class, race, age, sexuality, and chance separate and connect this constellation of unforgettable characters, as Evaristo shows with great artistry how our worldview is inevitably shaped by our background and how we are all linked by the fabric of society.

Sparklingly witty and filled with emotion, centering voices we often see othered, and written in an innovative and fast-moving form that borrows from poetry, Girl, Woman, Other is a polyphonic and richly textured social novel that reminds us of everything that connects us to our neighbors, even in times when we are encouraged to be split apart.

My review:

Girl, Woman, Other is an ode to identity, strength and perseverance. It follows twelve women of different ages and socioeconomic backgrounds with different pasts and goals whose paths cross at some point in their lives. It narrates the struggles these women have faced, from abuse to social exclusion, and praises the successes of each one however small or big they may be. It explores complex topics like race, sexuality and spirituality through its twelve diverse characters. And most of all, it celebrates these women as the beautifully flawed people they are and gives room for reflection without any bias.

When it comes to character and setting, Evaristo proudly and rightfully shows off her incredible storytelling skills as she builds up to the final chapters where the twelve characters’ journeys collide. Each character is unique in her identity and I adored getting to know them all. Although there were twelve different stories, there was never a moment where I felt that the narrative was too repetitive or the stories too similar. By the end the characters came to life and their adventures felt so vivid that they could easily have been real.

Unfortunately I struggled a lot with the writing style and pace. The book is written in prose with no full stops and, although I admire this unconventional style which fits with the tone of the book, I could not get used to this structure and found my thoughts drifting with the lack of punctuation. As a result it took me a very long time to finish the book as I was forced to keep reading back to understand what had happened. For me this was the biggest drawback and had it not been for this style I would have easily considered this to be the book of the year.

Despite not taking a liking to the writing style, I still found a lot to love in Girl, Woman, Other. It felt revolutionary to me, partly because I am ashamed to say that I did not previously consider the struggles that black women face in society. This book truly opened my eyes to some of these hardships and encouraged me to reflect on this more, which I am very grateful for. After finishing Girl, Woman, Other I can completely understand why it won the 2019 Booker Prize and will continue to encourage others to read this book so they can understand it for themselves.

Girl, Woman, Other is now out to buy!

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup


Title: The Chestnut Man

Author: Søren Sveistrup

Genre: Thriller

Publisher: Penguin

Publication date: 10th January 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Summary:

“The police make a terrible discovery in a suburb of Copenhagen. A young woman has been killed and dumped at a playground. One of her hands has been cut off, and above her hangs a small doll made of chestnuts.

Young detective Naia Thulin is assigned the case. Her partner is Mark Hess, a burned-out investigator who’s just been kicked out of Europol’s headquarters in The Hague. They soon discover a mysterious piece of evidence on the chestnut man – evidence connecting it to a girl who went missing a year earlier and is presumed dead, the daughter of politician Rosa Hartung. A man confessed to her murder, and the case is long since solved.

Soon afterwards, another woman is found murdered, along with another chestnut man. Thulin and Hess suspect that there’s a connection between the Hartung case, the murdered women and a killer who is spreading fear throughout the country. But what is it?

Thulin and Hess are racing against the clock, because it’s clear that the murderer is on a mission that is far from over . . .

My review:

“Chestnut Man, do come in.

Chestnut Man, do come in.

Have you any chestnuts that you’ve brought for me today?

Thank you, kindly… won’t you stay?”

Dark, intense, stunning – there simply aren’t enough words to describe the brilliance of this book! I was awake until the small hours of the night and left guessing right until the end.

After a young girl is found ruthlessly murdered with one of her hands cut off and a small chestnut hanging above her, detectives Thulin and Hess are called in to investigate the ghastly killing. The murderer strikes again soon after and this time the next victim is found with both hands cut off, urging the team to realise that they are running against time, dealing with a skilled murderer who is always one step ahead of them.

The characters are impressive and just enough details revealed of their personal lives to allow the reader to form a connection with both Thulin and Hess. Both detectives are portrayed as talented and resilient and still there were several parts during the book where they took me by surprise. There is also a group of other minor characters who are introduced and sometimes reappear based on how the investigation is progressing and the author handles these transitions effortlessly. Although these minor characters are too many to recall, it never feels overwhelming or confusing and the interactions between the detectives and the other characters is always relevant to the crime.

The plot is intense and filled with surprises and twists. There were many opportunities to guess the murderer as little snippets of information were revealed along the course of the investigation. Although these details may not seem relevant at first, each piece of information is ultimately consistent with the profile of the murderer and is revisited in the last chapters where the chestnut man is revealed.

I believe that the success of this book is ultimately related to the fast pace and brilliant writing style. Sveistrup writes with flair but without unnecessary complications or unnatural word choice. It was shocking to find out that this is a debut as based on the writing style I am surprised that he is not a bestselling author.

A powerful plot and range of diverse characters were the winning points in this book for me, along with the fast-paced and never ending action and excellent writing. I was certain that I couldn’t love The Chestnut Man more until I reached the ending and was left in shock when the murderer was unmasked. It surpasses many other books in the Nordic Noir genre and is easily the best Thriller I have read this year.

Book review: Woman in the Water by Katerina Diamond


Title: Woman in the Water

Author: Katerina Diamond

Genre: Mystery/Thriller

Publisher: Avon

Publication date: 11th November 2019

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Summary:

“I’m alive. But I can’t be saved . . .

When a woman’s body is found submerged in icy water, police are shocked to find she is alive. But she won’t disclose her name, or what happened to her – even when a second body is discovered. And then she disappears from her hospital bed.

Detectives Adrian Miles and Imogen Grey follow their only lead to the home of Reece Corrigan, and when his wife Angela walks in, they immediately recognise her. She’s the woman from the river, with her injuries carefully masked.

The more they dig into the couple, the less they understand about them.

Why have people in their past been hurt, or vanished?

And why doesn’t Angela want to be saved?

My review:

A woman is found horribly bruised in a river and moments after a man’s body is also discovered close by. The team of experts, comprising of detectives Adrian Miles, Imogen Grey and their teammates, are working against time to solve the puzzle in order to protect the woman and avoid another murder.

The beginning of this book was exceptional. The first few chapters captured my attention and I was glued to the book as I read on, trying to understand why the mystery woman ran away from the hospital during a murder investigation. The plot thickened as the mystery woman was identified as Angela Corrigan and more characters were introduced who were later revealed to be enemies of her powerful and abusive husband, Reece Corrigan. The pace was steady and seemed perfect for this stage of the novel, with just enough details disclosed to pique the reader’s interest.

Around the halfway point the story line shifted from the murder investigation to Adrian’s and Imogen’s relationship and it was at this point that I lost interest. Although I enjoy seeing snippets into the detectives’ lives in a crime series, I felt that the author took it a little too far in this book as at one point the main crime appeared to be completely forgotten. A series of events lead to a tragedy in Adrian’s story line and, although the author handled this with care and sensitivity, it felt too brusque and unnecessarily detailed. The constant interaction between Adrian and Imogen became stale and the reminders of how inappropriate their relationship is in their professional environment were too repetitive. I was completely invested in the Corrigan’s connection to the murder investigation but had no desire to delve into the detectives’ personal lives.

Several sensitive topics were discussed in Woman in the Water and the author handled them with care. I would have preferred a deeper focus on the crime and less of an emphasis on the recurring characters however I understand that this book is part of a series which also features the detectives so it is fair to bring up past character traits and relationships. An unexpected ending and shocking twist helped to assemble the last few lose ends in a fast-paced and exciting conclusion. Overall, Woman in the Water features a series of interesting characters and despite the few issues I had with this book it still remains a solid addition to the series.

Woman in the Water is out to buy next Monday!

Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for providing a free advanced reader’s copy in exchange for my honest review.

Book review: The Lost Daughter by Gill Paul


Title: The Lost Daughter

Author: Gill Paul

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Review

Publication date: 3rd October 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

1918
With the country they once ruled turned against them, the future of Russia’s imperial family hangs in the balance. When middle daughter Maria Romanova captivates two of the guards, it will lead to a fateful choice between right and wrong.

Fifty-five years later . . .
Val rushes to her father’s side when she hears of his troubling end-of-life confession: ‘I didn’t want to kill her.’ As she unravels the secrets behind her mother’s disappearance when she was twelve years old, she finds herself caught up in one of the world’s greatest mysteries.

My review:

When it comes to good quality historical fiction I always look for a bold set of main characters coupled with a powerful and compelling plot. I got this and more in The Lost Daughter and I was hoping that this book would become my favourite historical fiction novel of this year until unfortunately right at the very end due to the abrupt ending.

The storytelling aspect in The Lost Daughter is compelling and intense and takes the reader on a journey from 1918 Russia to 1973 Australia. This book captured my attention right from the beginning as I was transported to the luxurious setting of the Romanov household and was left breezing through the chapters, eager to discover Maria’s fate. Although I didn’t know much about the Romanov family before reading this book, this particular version of the story does not seem too farfetched and I enjoyed seeing another opinion on the possible outcome of the events described in all history books.

Parallel timelines are tricky to develop in historical fiction because quite often the focus ends up being on one of the two timelines which makes for a distorted plot. However, the author handled this effortlessly in this book and I truly felt like equal importance was given to each setting until the end when the two stories merged. I was also interested to see how the characters would meet as I originally could not see much similarity between Maria Romanov’s story and that of Val’s father but it becomes clear at around the halfway point and from then on the story develops into an adventurous and fascinating tale of forgiveness, reminiscence and fate.

Although the writing maintains a steady pace throughout the book, I felt that the ending was a little too rushed and in this case I would have preferred a simple but sealed ending rather than the open ending the author chose. It gives the reader the opportunity to interpret the book in their own way but I did not believe that it suited the prior style of the novel. Despite this small drawback, The Lost Daughter still tells a marvelous story that not only focuses on an important family in history but also takes the reader on an amazing journey around the world with its beautiful writing.

The importance of endings

Studious Saturday

A few months ago I posted my feelings on the influence of opening lines and catchy beginnings and today I wanted to discuss the importance of endings, an aspect which I find can completely change my feelings towards a book, for better or worse.

Unexpected twists

There is something so captivating about stumbling upon a twist that you never saw coming. If executed well it is my favourite writing mechanism in thrillers as it is always surprising and shocking which I feel is the most crucial aspect of mysteries. Many authors choose to throw in twists within the middle of the plot however I always find that some of the best twists are those which the author delivers with precision, ease and skill towards the end of the book.

Bittersweet phase out

Perhaps one of my least favourite types of endings are those in contemporary fiction and romance where the author decides to tie up any lose ends by summarising the events that occurred throughout the book. It is often concluded by the main character sitting in a park/their house/a train station or any other main location, staring off into the distance after they have ended their relationship or someone close to them has died. Although I enjoy delving into the characters’ mind and exploring their emotions, I find these endings repetitive and exaggerated and often feel like the plot slowly drifts away until it reaches the last mediocre sentence. I am often left feeling disappointed with these endings, even though the story line until that point may have been interesting.

Revelations and discoveries

In Historical Fiction which switches from past to present day, authors often try to link the main characters and events but it is only towards the end where their stories merge. It is at this point that the reader understands the significance of their existance as many anecdotes are shared and discoveries made, often through a face-to-face encounter. This type of ending can be very powerful and moving, especially if the main character has been through many obstacles to arrive at this point. It is also very difficult to keep the suspense until the last few chapters and few authors manage to handle this well so I am usually impressed with these kind of endings.

Cliffhangers

To put it simply, cliffhangers as endings can make or break a book. I personally believe that it can be an effective way to encourage the reader to continue reading the next book in the series however I do not understand why many authors decide to end a book cliffhanger style in a standalone book if there is no follow-up. I end up frustrated and upset that I invested so much time in the book and connected with the characters to then read a few closing lines that do not reach any conclusion. However, if there is a sure way to keep the reader interested in a series it is definitely through a cliffhanger and I have read several series where the author uses this mechanism well, for example the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith/J. K. Rowling and the Clifton Chronicles series by Jeffrey Archer, both of which made me rush to buy the following book in the series as soon as I had read the previous one.

Question time

Which type of ending do you enjoy and think is most effective?

Book review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid


Title: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Author: Taylor Jenkins Reid

Genre: Contemporary Fiction

Publisher: Washington Square Press

Publication date: 13th June 2017

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆

Summary:

“Aging and reclusive Hollywood movie icon Evelyn Hugo is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. But when she chooses unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant for the job, no one in the journalism community is more astounded than Monique herself. Why her? Why now?
Monique is not exactly on top of the world. Her husband, David, has left her, and her career has stagnated. Regardless of why Evelyn has chosen her to write her biography, Monique is determined to use this opportunity to jumpstart her career.
Summoned to Evelyn’s Upper East Side apartment, Monique listens as Evelyn unfurls her story: from making her way to Los Angeles in the 1950s to her decision to leave show business in the late 80s, and, of course, the seven husbands along the way. As Evelyn’s life unfolds—revealing a ruthless ambition, an unexpected friendship, and a great forbidden love—Monique begins to feel a very a real connection to the actress. But as Evelyn’s story catches up with the present, it becomes clear that her life intersects with Monique’s own in tragic and irreversible ways.

My review:

I must start by saying that I have never read a book like this before and I don’t think that any other similar books exist. It is hard to categorise as there are so many different aspects that merge together to make this book the masterpiece it is. Although it is not quite an autobiography as it involves fictional characters, the narrative stuns with detail and creates the same feeling of proximity as that of an autobiography. Throughout the entire time I felt like I was right next to Monique as she was taking notes of Evelyn’s life and this notion created a very atmospheric feeling which is hard to come by and even more difficult to explain.

Evelyn Hugo has experienced many difficulties and hardships in life and her relationship are the focus of this book. Although “Husbands” is included in the title and the book is separated in sections relating to each of her husbands, I was actually more interested in her relationship with Celia. I really appreciated the divisions but even more so the way in which all the characters were interlinked and continued to reappear in future chapters as it added continuity. Each relationship had its downfalls leading to the continuous row of husbands and ultimately it was the complexity of each relationship which added depth and intensity.

Unfortunately as much as I tried I could not warm to Monique and felt that the chapters focused on her were too plain compared to Evelyn’s. I understand that it was her job to note down Evelyn’s life but I think that Monique’s character could have been developed in other ways to make her bolder and more charismatic. In contrast, Evelyn is perceived as a mesmering, mysterious and exquisite actress with many secrets which are about to be revealed. Characters are often portrayed as either good or bad but Evelyn could not be more of an inbetween character with many wonderful qualities but also a range of immoral and unjust actions and decisions she has taken in her past. Her character is without a doubt the main reason this book seems so different and special and, even though she made many mistakes in the past, the intricacy in her character traits made her a very memorable character and an iconic part of this book.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is an extraordinary book with a great deal of aspects to love, from its multilayered main character to its narrative. A huge part of what makes this book so powerful is the discussion of sensitive topics such as sexuality and violence with a lot of thought and inclusion. This book is certainly original and unlike any other book in the market. For this reason alone I can highly recommend any reader interested in trying out something different to choose this book because I can guarantee that you will not be disappointed.

Book Addiction Tag

Studious Saturday

 

I’ve been tagged in the Book Addiction tag by Ash. Thank you so much, Ash, this looks like a really fun one to do! If you don’t follow her blog then I definitely recommend that you check it out!

QUESTIONS

1. What is the longest amount of time you can comfortably go without picking up a book?
2. How many books do you carry on your person (or kindle) at any one time?
3. Do you keep every book you buy/receive or are you happy to pass them on to make space for more?
4. How long would you spend in a bookshop on a standard visit?
5. How much time per day do you actually spend reading?
6. Where does the task ‘picking up a book’ appear on your daily to-do list?
7. How many books do you reckon you own in total (including e-books)?
8. Approximately how often do you bring up books in conversation?
9. What is the biggest book (page count) you have finished reading?
10. Is there a book you had to get your hands on against all odds (i.e searching bookshops, online digging, etc.)?
11. A book you struggled to finish but refused to DNF?
12. What are 3 of your main book goals for 2019?
13. Have you ever had the privilege of converting someone into a reader (maybe via inspiration or incessant nagging)?
14. Describe what books mean to you in five words.

MY ANSWERS

1. What is the longest amount of time you can comfortably go without picking up a book? – There have been times when I didn’t read for pleasure for months, mostly when I was at university. However, as a general rule I can go a few days without reading if I am very busy.

2. How many books do you carry on your person (or kindle) at any one time? – I normally only carry my kindle with me if I am going out and I generally have around 10 unread books at any time. It gives me the option of choosing a book I am in the mood for when I’m travelling which is always great.

3. Do you keep every book you buy/receive or are you happy to pass them on to make space for more? – If I buy them as an ebook then I am very happy to share with others however I rarely give away any paperbacks. There are exceptions, for example books I didn’t enjoy or those which friends want to borrow.

4. How long would you spend in a bookshop on a standard visit? – I could easily spend hours! I tend to go alone as it is usually what ends up happening but if I go with people I would only spend a half hour.

5. How much time per day do you actually spend reading? – It varies, sometimes I don’t read at all and other times I can spend hours reading. On several occasions I have read a book from start to finish in one sitting and I only realise when I finish it that I have been reading for hours.

6. Where does the task ‘picking up a book’ appear on your daily to-do list? – I try and prioritise it but it doesn’t always work, quite often life gets in the way. However I usually read on my commute to and from work.

7. How many books do you reckon you own in total (including e-books)? – I own roughly 200 books, the majority of which are ebooks.

8. Approximately how often do you bring up books in conversation? – It depends who I am with but if I know the person likes reading then very often! If not then I try not to bring it up as I know many people get bored (though how they can get bored I really don’t understand!).

9. What is the biggest book (page count) you have finished reading? – I had to check my Goodreads statistics and it appears to be 576 pages – Absolute Power by David Baldacci – and I am quite surprised as his books never seem that long to me!

10. Is there a book you had to get your hands on against all odds (i.e searching bookshops, online digging, etc.)? – I had to get Origin by Dan Brown as soon as it was published which was difficult because it wasn’t originally available in English here in Spain but I managed to do it eventually!

11. A book you struggled to finish but refused to DNF? – I really struggled with The Martian by Andy Weir but decided to keep reading until the end as everyone around me at the time was insisting that it would get better. I found it to be an average read in the end but I think it wasn’t for me and can see why others really loved it.

12. What are 3 of your main book goals for 2019? – Read more in Spanish (I am failing at this miserably!), read 55 books, read a wider range of genres

13. Have you ever had the privilege of converting someone into a reader (maybe via inspiration or incessant nagging)? – I wish but unfortunately not!

14. Describe what books mean to you in five words. – Possibility to escape and dream

I won’t tag anyone this time as I realise that I have been doing a lot of tags lately. However, it has been quite an interesting one and looking back at some of my answers it may seem that I am not such a keen reader although I promise I am! If you want to find out more about your reading style then I suggest doing this tag as it’s very insightful!