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review 2017-09-14 20:55
The Smallest Thing
The Smallest Thing - Lisa Manterfield
Emmott Syddall wants nothing more than to leave her small town and move to London.  She does not want to become another dead Syddall buried in the small Eyam cemetery.   Emmott make plans to move to London with her boyfriend, Roland right before her 18th birthday.  However, before she can get out of Eyam, her neighbors begin dying.  At first, it looks like a weird flu, but no one really knows, and then, Eyam is quarantined.  There is no leaving, the exits are surrounded by military patrol.  Relief workers in yellow haz-mat suits flood the town and begin asking questions.  No one wants to go out and about or interact with anyone else.  Except for Emmott, who just wants to escape and her father, who just wants to help his neighbors.  Emmott's mind begins to change about leaving when a suited up relief worker named Aiden begins visiting.
 
The Smallest Thing is a creative re-imagining of the self-imposed quarantine of the village of Eyam in the 1660's due to the plague.  At that point in time, the villagers of Eyam were seen as selfless, heroic- allowing the plague to ravage them, saving countless others.  In modern times, with social media and aggressive TV reporters, the town is a spectacle, the victims are no more than statistics. Emmott is very easy to identify with, restless and burgeoning on adulthood, her story is one of growth and finding her place.  I enjoyed watching her change her opinion of her father from a fearful man who is tying her down, to a hero who allowed her to grow.  The virus also interested me, this was not just a resurgence of the plague, but something unknown, brought about possibly by climate change and increased human movement.  The romance in this felt just right, not rushed, not insta-love, but definitely intensified by the situation. If not for the fact that it was a haz-mat suit, the fact that Emmott saw nothing but Aiden's eyes felt almost exotic  their connection was based on something deeper than physical attraction when Emmott wants nothing more than to connect with someone.  Overall, a heartfelt story of devastation and how a community can pull through. 
 
This book was received for free in return for an honest review. 
 

 

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review 2017-09-03 18:32
The Discreet Hero, Mario Vargas Llosa, trans. Edith Grossman
The Discreet Hero: A Novel - Mario Vargas Llosa,Edith Grossman

This book put me in a bind: while I found the story and characters engaging, fun, even, there are aspects that offended me. As I read, I would wonder: "Is this attitude or behavior endorsed by the author, or just described by him in depicting this place and these personalities?" By the end, I decided that there are definite ideologies at work here, including the beliefs that when it comes to family, blood is all; that the younger generation is responsible for squandering the hard work of their parents'; and the conservative viewpoint that if one only works hard enough, one can be successful. Other troubling attitudes that are questioned by characters but nevertheless feel condoned by the narrative: blaming victims of rape or sexual coercion; treating women as objects; racism; masculine pride as more important than the lives of loved ones.

 

After I finished the book, I read several reviews as I tried to work out my opinion of it. These mention that Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize for Literature but that this may not be his best work; that he used to be a social progressive but became a conservative who ran for president of Peru; that some characters appear in other books of his; that some elements are based on real events and his own life.

 

The book is divided between two alternating and converging narratives with separate protagonists, both fitting the "discreet hero" label of the title. The stories take place in two different areas of Peru, one Lima, one provincial, and their plots appear to have no connection. When they link up, it's very satisfying, even though the connection is quite minor. Each plot has elements of a mystery-thriller that propel the story; I found it hard to put down. The characters are often charming and easy to root for (until they're not). In story one, a man who worked his way up from nothing and owns a transport company is anonymously threatened unless he pays for protection; he refuses. In story two, a man on the verge of retirement and a long-awaited trip with his wife and son finds his life upheaved when his wealthy boss decides to marry his servant to punish his errant sons; at the same time, the protagonist's teenaged son is being approached by a mysterious stranger who may or may not be real, the devil, an angel, or just the kid fucking with his parents (this last mystery is left ambiguous).

 

Other elements I enjoyed included the relationship between the second protagonist and his wife, his feelings about art's role in life, the police sergeant from the first story, and learning about Peruvian life across two settings.

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review 2017-09-01 14:46
great read
TERMINUS: A thrilling police procedural set in Scotland - Pete Brassett

The fifth book in the series and no less tension and suspense than the others. The detectives have a new case that involves a strange figure from Norway. Can the police finger this man before he commits further grave crimes?

Exciting and in parts funny. One to keep.

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review 2017-08-28 00:37
The Night Guest, Fiona McFarlane
The Night Guest - Fiona McFarlane

The Night Guest opens with elderly Ruth fearing she can hear and smell a tiger in her house--in Australia. One of the great pleasures of this book is its unreliable narrator, unreliable not because she's deceptive but because her mind isn't what it used to be and may be getting worse. Yet the phantom of the tiger presages what may be a real danger: the arrival of a woman named Frida who claims to be a government carer. Is she, or is she fleecing Ruth?

 

Ruth's narration leaves just enough room for the reader to come to their own conclusions about her and Frida. Some things are left diaphanous, but not so hazy as to cause confusion. On top of that, the prose is terrific: distinctive but not overbearingly poetic. McFarlane capture fine states of feeling or consciousness with her language and imagery. I really delighted in reading it.

 

Not so delightful is the nature of what's going on, or even the suspicion of it. My grandmother, who died a few years ago, suffered from dementia. She had an excellent aide, but my parents eventually had to put her in a nursing home close to where they live. Even the best of those places upset me, and it was hard for me to see my grandmother--the smartest person in my family--lose herself. This recent experience made it difficult to continue at times.

 

I also found myself thinking about Frida's race and physicality--she's a brown-skinned and heavyset woman. Ruth is tiny and was fair-haired. What's being said about Frida and race? I searched reviews and finally found one that addresses the issue by referencing the author's own explanation (in the Sydney Review of Books, here). This explanation satisfied me, though I'm still wondering about Frida's size.

 

Finally, it was lovely to see a bit of romance between Ruth and her almost-love from the past, who's even older than she is. A delicately handled rarity in literary fiction.

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review 2017-08-25 18:29
The start of an adventure
The Mysterious Benedict Society - Carson Ellis,Trenton Lee Stewart

I have really been enjoying the exploration of my library's middle grade fiction section. For the most part, I just grabbed books from the shelves that had interesting covers. This led me to The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart with illustrations by Carson Ellis (I told you she'd be mentioned again). If you're looking for a contemporary adventure story mixed with science fiction then you've found the right book (and series). The reader follows 4 orphaned (or semi-orphaned as the case may be) kids as they are taken under the tutelage of Mr. Benedict, a narcoleptic genius intent on saving the world. These aren't your typical children either. They are all gifted in very distinct ways and their combined powers make a heckuva team and that's what Mr. Benedict is counting on to turn the tide in their favor. The kids are set a seemingly impossible mission and are beset with obstacles at every turn. And that is what makes this such a fun and exciting read. I'm being deliberately vague in regards to their gifts and the specific peril that they are fighting against as it would no doubt ruin the twists and turns of Stewart's narrative. Suffice it to say, this was a really enjoyable book and I fully intend to continue the series.

 

Source: priscilla perizeau

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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