Things We Never Said – Susan Elliot Wright – 3/10 (DNF)

The-Things-We-Never-Said-SEWIf it’s not an unfaithful partner, it’s a fraught pregnancy. Why, oh why, are we as readers condemned to these miserable renditions? Why can there not be a happy marriage? A simple pregnancy? Children who are well-behaved and intelligent? I suppose none of that makes for much drama, but still. These recurring slow personal tragedies exhaust me.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Maggie awakes in what is undeniably a mental health facility in the 1960s, back in the day when mental health facility was not a way in which one would have commonly heard such a place described. I didn’t get to read much of Maggie’s story but there is a mystery as to why she ended up there, and how she is going to be treated by the psychiatrist who seems to pride himself on pioneering methods. In our other storyline, Fiona has fallen pregnant in the probably here and now (certainly London after 1990-ish), and is delighted, and Jeremy is glad to be at the end of two years of trying, but cannot bring himself to tell his family. Fiona is not happy that he won’t tell his grouchy father; and at the point at which I abandoned the novel, Jeremy’s mother was on the phone.

I like these historical investigative novels. I loved Russian Winter and Blackberry Winter, and I quite enjoyed Before I Met You, but I gave this 50 pages and it hadn’t got going yet. I hope others out there had more success!

(this review is really a whinge about how many “women’s fiction” novels are about infidelity and problems with pregnancy. Why can’t we have more books like Code Name Verity?)

Additional information:

Unsolicited copy sent by the publisher
Publisher: Simon & Schuster, 384 paperback pages 
Order The Things We Never Saidfrom Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting
Fluff, Review copies

A couple of recent DNFs

Someone Else’s Wedding – Tamar Cohen – 2/10 (DNF)

someone else's wedding

Description from the blurb, because it’s very clever:

Mr & Mrs Max Irving request the company of:
Mrs Fran Friedman, mourning her empty nest, her lost baby, the galloping years, and a disastrous haircut.
Mr Saul Friedman, runner of marathons, avoider of conflicts and increasingly distant husband.
The two Misses Friedman, Pip and Katy, one pining over the man she can’t have, the other trying to shake off the man she no longer wants.
At the marriage of their son James Irving, forbidden object of inappropriate and troubling desire.

I never got off the ground with this one. I found Fran self-indulgent, self-pitying and the mystery of her relationship with the groom was very strange. Surely they should be totally different generations? Saul and the daughters were interesting characters and Cohen comes out with a spectacular turn of phrase every now and again, but I got really tired of Fran’s voice. DNF, and sharpish.

I don’t know whether this is just a piece of anti-romance snobbery I have – I just can’t be dealing with people’s nonsense.

(review copy from Doubleday, affiliate link to Amazon in case it looks interesting)

The Burgess Boys – Elizabeth Strout – 2/10 (DNF)

Burgess boys

Jim and Bob Burgess have escaped their Maine upbringing to Manhattan; of the three siblings, only sad single mother Susan is left, struggling with her teenage son Zach. When Zach is caught goading local Muslim Somali refugees, high-powered lawyer Jim won’t give up his exotic holiday and sends tender but ineffectual Bob home instead. Old tensions rise unbidden…

This is written in that ethereal style of much successful contemporary literature – vignettes and snapshots of sad lives, tangled by some bizarre event (it takes quite an imagination to leave a frozen pig’s head outside a mosque…). I didn’t like it in A Visit to the Goon Squad, and I didn’t like it here. If you like this style of writing, this book may hold a lot more promise for you because I didn’t think it was badly written, I just don’t like that style of writing!

(review copy from Simon & Schuster; affiliate link to Amazon)

Fear not, this isn’t all I’ve been reading recently – more positive reviews soon!

Advent with Atwood, Modern Masters

The Edible Woman – Margaret Atwood – 2/10 (DNF)

“I had returned from lunch and was licking and stamping envelopes for the coast-to-coast instant pudding-sauce study, behind schedule because someone in mimeo had run one of the question sheets backwards, when Mrs. Bogue came out of her cubicle.”

edible woman

From the blurb: What happens to someone who has been a willing member of consumer society when she suddenly finds herself identifying with the things consumed? … The witty and diverting story of a young woman whose sane, structured, consumer-oriented world suddenly slips strangely out of focus. As a result, Marian McAlpin finds herself unable to eat: first meat, then eggs, and finally even vegetables become abhorrent to her. In this tour de force, Margaret Atwood presents a striking condemnation of contemporary society and of the rampant consumerism that deprives people of both soul and sustenance.

Well, I don’t know at what point Marian starts identifying with the consumer products, but it hadn’t happened by page 100. Until then, she had just pottered along with her existence, her quite strange boyfriend, her fairly dead-end job, her bizarre housemate… so far, the setting has been confusing rather than dystopian. So I lost patience and gave up.

Additional information:

Current Affairs

More recent DNFs

I’ve realised the blog has become a bit DNF heavy over the last few weeks – which is a reflection of at least one of the following:

– I’m becoming less patient

– I’m less captivated by reading and want to do other things

– the books I’m reading are terrible

– I’m trying to clear some books off the shelves and am not giving them a fair shot because I just want to be rid of them

– I’m reading too many review books in a row and not enough books that I want to read.

In any case, a quick roundup:

Island of Wings

A Casual Vacancy

The Girl on the Stairs

The Slaughteryard – Esteban Echeverria – 5/10 (DNF)

Key short story by Echeverria, political activist in 1830s Argentina, in a new and very complete edition by The Friday Project containing a long and helpful-for-context foreword by translator which set the historical context (without which I would have been lost), text, glossary, original text with note, further poetry by Echeverria, and translation of foreword to original posthumous edition.

The story is barely 30 pages long, and there is no doubt about its gore and grisliness. The political satire/parody is very extreme – portrays bleak and bloody events and then says they show the glory of the regime. 5/10 awarded because I find it very difficult to award any sort of mark – so short and bizarre.

Additional information: copy courtesy of publisher via Twitter with no expectation of review; Friday Project, 170 pages, order from Amazon here.

Over the Rainbow – Paul Pickering – 2/10 (DNF)

Bizarre story set in Afghanistan now (i.e with war and chaos); Malone and his wife are young aid workers. Malone meets and is captivated by Fatima, Oxford-educated daughter of the former head of Pakistan intelligence services. When she films a cover of Somewhere Over the Rainbow and it is leaked, she and Malone have to go on the run – and what’s Kim up to in Kandahar.

This felt like it was written on an acid trip. On the one hand, the portrayal of aid worker life in Afghanistan is interesting, gritty, bleak but appears well researched; on the other hand, filming a cover of Somewhere Over the Rainbow in downtown bombed-out Kabul? Everything in which Fatima was involved was incredible. The whirlwind romance between Malone and Kim and the fundamentalist religious aspect of their marriage didn’t really make a lot of sense either.

Additional information: unsolicited review copy; Simon & Schuster, 303 pages, order from Amazon here.

Shogun – James Clavell – 4/10 (DNF)

Old-timey shipping adventurers end up in Japan (which is where they were aiming) after storms and shipwreck etc. So they land very much on the wrong foot. That is all that has happened in the first 110 pages (out of 1200).

This was borderline as to whether I continued or not, but another 1100 pages of every pirate on the crew saying his bit in what was a fairly straightforward argument, and random and unnecessary violence, was too much.

If you like shipping adventures and new lands and don’t mind ridiculously convoluted conversations, go for it.

Additional information: part of a big box purchase; Coronet, 1244 pages, order from Amazon here.
Current Affairs

A Casual Vacancy – JK Rowling – 4/10 (DNF)

“Krystal’s slow passage up the school had resembled the passage of a goat through the body of a boa constrictor, being highly visible and uncomfortable for both parties concerned.”


Nothing I write is going to change your mind on this book. People are going to read it because they want to read the new JK Rowling, not because reviews have said that it’s particularly good or bad. However, I would say don’t read it.

There are very few likeable characters in this novel; as a number of reviews have pointed out, the best developed characters are the teenagers that Rowling has had so much practice writing. A significant number of the adults are actually repellent. While every book needs the odd repellent character (Filch, anyone?), these ones are caricatures.

What stopped me from carrying on with this book was the way that the writing is not only adult, gritty, dark etc… it was as if Rowling was deliberately inserting adult content simply for the sake of it, to make the book not suitable for under-18s. “Hmm, this sentence is missing any mention of an R-rated body part. Where can I squeeze one in?” Yeurgh.

There is some funny writing (see quote above) and Rowling has a knack for the petty-minded empire-builder. But with a huge cast and vocab from the gutter, it’s easy to turn away.

Additional information:


The Girl on the Stairs – Louise Welsh – 4/10 (DNF)

Jane finds herself heavily pregnant in a new city, unable to communicate effectively, and with a partner who works too hard and isn’t home enough. When a girl in a red coat crosses her path and she hears raised voices next door, she becomes concerned for her young neighbour’s safety; a little too concerned for her own good.

I found the characters in this too extreme, and I suspect the author has a political agenda. The protagonist was both lesbian and pregnant, and consistently putting herself in danger with her obsession with the safety of the girl next door. She was in a foreign city; annoyed because her partner’s career had not been curtailed by pregnancy and her partner was travelling off to Vienna; her German is not very good, so she is quite isolated in her new city. Somehow, her vulnerability and difficulties were over-emphasised, and I struggled to believe her willingness to go walking about a creaky, potentially haunted apartment block in a foreign city while very pregnant.

Maybe my reaction is a sheltered one, one of a person who likes characters to fit into certain boxes, and Welsh is trying to provoke a reaction and shock the reader out of their prejudices. Well, that may be, but I don’t think I am a reader who is all that easily shocked, and this felt political. In which case – fine, but advertise it; I felt ambushed, as I did by “Christian fiction” a few times in the past where a book with a strong agenda was dressed up as a middle-of-the-road thriller.

I found all of the characters slightly overdone, like I was watching a film from the perspective of a character on drugs which amplify all the sensory inputs (that took longer to write than I intended; either you will know the cinematographic trick that I mean, or you will not!). Petra is very businessy, very German (I have a strong link to Germany. “Very German” is not a negative comment!), very unemotional. The old neighbour downstairs has hallucinatory Alzheimers. The priest is very judgemental. The girl next door is aggressive. No one is just a person who serves a plot purpose.

Berlin, as a location, is done well. The buildings with facades hiding derelict courtyards and shameful histories, the underground train stations with a slight sense of menace, the openness of residents once you get past the initial aloofness; all are captured well. What is not conveyed is the energy and positivity of the city, but you don’t want that in a horror novel, do you?!

Quite spooky. If you don’t mind the LGBT agenda smacking you over the head every few pages, and you like Gothic horror stories, this might work for you. It was too much for me.

Additional information:
Copy kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Publisher: John Murray, 288 pages (paperback)
Order The Girl on the Stairs from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting
YA fiction

Clockwork Angel – Cassandra Clare – 3/10

“That’s the same symbol that’s on the Dark Sisters’ carriage – that’s what I call them, Mrs. Dark and Mrs. Black, I mean…”

Having had a rather good time with YA literature pretty much any time I’ve read any (The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, Before I Die, Elsewhere), I thought I’d finally give in and try out one of Mini-Me’s favourite series. Being methodical, I thought I’d start with the prequel and carry on through the (currently) 4 volumes of the Mortal Instruments series…

Well, this was not a good start. I gave up on page 117.

While The Hunger Games was a well-crafted world to which a reader could easily relate, this was not only set in Victorian London but with a hefty dose of not terribly clearly explained magic thrown in as well. As a result, the setting was simply too remote to be able to make much sense of it.

The female character, Tessa, had a fair amount of get up and go about her, but nothing very special, no shining light that those around her recognise. Will was a male character written for teenage girls – full of infuriating grins and sarcastic wit.

And as for calling Mrs. Dark and Mrs. Black “The Dark Sisters” – I couldn’t believe the lack of effort given to that particular name; it dragged the target age group down to 5-8 year olds. At least call them Mrs. Black and Mrs. Shadow, or something!

Additional information:
Copy borrowed from my 15-year-old sister, who loves this series.
Publisher: Walker Books, 476 pages (paperback)
Order The Infernal Devices 1: Clockwork Angel from Amazon*
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting