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review 2020-03-13 16:06
Fair, Unremarkable Thriller
Something She's Not Telling Us - Darcey Bell

Charlotte’s brother’s latest girlfriend Ruth is greeted with some justified suspicion in Darcey Bell’s Something She’s Not Telling Us.  His history of dating highly unstable women, occasional lapses in sobriety and a demonstrated lack of judgement cause his family to scrutinize his latest conquest.  On the other hand, Charlotte is revealed to be an overprotective, paranoid and obsessive person who has some serious problems with objectivity and a tenuous grip on reality herself. Such a character makes for an interestingly biased perspective. This type of “protagonist” is an unreliable narrator akin to those Bell has employed in the past—one that causes the reader to immediately be on guard when evaluating her version of events. Other chapters feature the point of view of Ruth, another source that is transparently skewed. Fans of A Simple Favor and the film upon which it is based may be somewhat disappointed by Bell’s latest effort, for although the novel contains some innovative twists and is well written, it suffers from an overabundance of side plots that distract and stretch credulity. The psychology of the villain is incompletely developed, and her motives are insufficiently substantial to warrant the extremity of her actions. The reader is also left guessing as to why Ruth elects to victimize Rocco’s family, and Charlotte and her family are so unlikeable that not a lot of pity is generated for them. The big revelations are a bit predictable and banal, and the ending falls short of climactic. In sum, Something She’s Not Telling Us is diverting enough as a standard suspense story, but unfortunately is not one that is particularly remarkable or memorable.

 

Thanks to the author, Harper Collins and NetGalley for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

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review 2019-12-28 18:36
Good collection of essays that form a memoir
I'm Telling the Truth but I'm Lying - Bassey Ikpi

FYI - the kindle edition of this book is on sale.

 

Ikpi was part of the Def Poetry Jam, but this is a collection of essays  that function as a memoir.  If you or some one you know is dealing with mental illness, this is a very good read.

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review 2019-09-30 13:27
Beware Of Greeks Bearing Gifts.



The Siege of Troy: A novel

Theodor Kallifatides

Translated from the Swedish edition by Marlaine Delargy

Paperback: 208 pages

Publisher: Other Press (September 10, 2019)  

ISBN-10: 159051971X

ISBN-13: 978-1590519714

https://www.amazon.com/Siege-Troy-Novel-Theodor-Kallifatides/dp/159051971X           

 

Reviewed by Dr. Wesley Britton

               

It's been decades since I read Homer's The Iliad,  so my memory of it is extremely dim. I remember many of the stories, the abduction of Helen, the famous Greek warriors who besieged the city of Troy for 10 years, the use of poetic devices like the opening "Invocation to the Muse," the long descriptions of soldier's armor, etc.

 

Now, Swedish author Theodor Kallifatides has re-imagined the Iliad for modern readers and I suspect most non-scholars of Greek literature are going to prefer the new version. For one matter, all the poetic devices are stripped away and replaced by a much simpler prose narrative. For another, Kallifatides created a framework for his retelling that has a Greek schoolteacher recounting the story of The Iliad day-by-day to one of her classes during World War II when airstrikes repeatedly forced the class to run to nearby caves for protection.

The 1940s set part of the novel includes an ongoing love triangle as well as interactions between the German occupiers and local citizens. I'll confess, I was drawn into this story as much as the retelling of events in ancient Troy. It's a fresh approach even if the two storylines don't really parallel each other.

 

In regards to the old, old stories, I had forgotten just how bloody the war was. I was often surprised by the number of combatants. That many warriors, on both sides, dying in droves and droves? Seems historically doubtful, but I could be wrong.

 

I had also forgotten just how Achilles was a stubborn, selfish, and petulant figure. I didn't know his death by way of an arrow in his heel is not a story in the Iliad and thus not in The Siege of Troy either. The same is true of the Trojan Horse episode which wasn't told until Virgil's Aeneid. I didn't know that either until I did some homework to see why things in Homer's poem weren't in the Kallifatides reworking. Well, Kallifatides turns out to be a very faithful adapter of the ancient stories although he left many things out, mostly descriptions of the various armies and the quarrels between the gods which appear much less frequently in The Siege of Troy.

Author Theodor Kallifatides is actually Greek but immigrated to Sweden where his works are first published in Swedish. The Siege of Troy is his second work Translated by Marlaine Delargy, the first being the 2018 Another  Life. Sounds like a book I would like to explore as The Siege of Troy was one of my favorite readings of 2019. Hopefully, for you too.

 

 

This review first appeared at BookPleasures.com on Sept. 25, 2019:

 

 

tor

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review 2019-05-29 17:19
The Farm
The Farm - Joanne Ramos

[I received a copy of this book through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

At some point, this book was touted as a dystopia and somewhat compared to “The Handmaid’s Tale”, at least in certain blurbs I saw back then, but lest readers approach it thinking they’re going into a dystopian read: it is not (and expecting it to be would probably do it disservice). Or, at least, it’s not more dystopian than the world we currently live in, where you can get everything anyway if you’re wealthy enough (including surrogate mothers).

The story follows four characters: Jane, a naïve Filipina-American girl who gets roped into becoming a “Host” at Golden Oaks (the “Farm” from the title); Ate, her shrewd cousin who is intent on making money in order to take care of her family back in the Philippines; Mae, the Golden Oaks’ director, banking on this new lucrative business to secure her end-of-year bonus; and Reagan, a “Premium Host” who’s been wooed by Mae to carry the child of a billionaire woman from China.

One thing is to be said about Golden Oaks, for starters: it is incredibly believable—if such a place doesn’t already exist somewhere, surely it will exist at some point? A golden prison whose “inmates” submitted themselves voluntarily in exchange for fat money incentives and bonuses, it has a lot of advantages (healthy food, exercise, massages… all in all, quite “privileged” surroundings), but also clearly plays a part in the kind of exploitation that is already going on, when it comes to people (especially of immigrant backgrounds) who can’t be choosers when it comes to jobs.

While it’s not a clear-cut dystopia, the world of “The Farm” nevertheless deals with contemporary problems that do have a whiff of dystopia, namely class and exploitation. Mae and her people (her clients included) go about this with a complete dichotomy of recruiting the Hosts by showing Golden Oaks as a sort of luxury retreat and their role as surrogates as meaningful and contributing to the good in the world… and at the same time, the Hosts are given numbers (not to their faces), and discussed in terms of class and backgrounds. This why Reagan, for instance, is a Premium Host and chosen to carry a very special baby: she’s white, from a clearly upper-middle-class family, she majored cum laude from Duke University, and she’s pretty to boot. Clients can subscribe to different “packages”, and a Reagan will always have more worth than a Jane. At some point, Mae and her boss even discuss introducing a new level, that of impoverished white women from blue-collar families, as a sort of “Premium-at-a-discount”. In itself, it is positively disgusting, and capitalism pushed to a very visible extreme, without any shame. The whole thing is all the more disturbing that Mae’s narrative makes it appear as somewhat sensible: of course, the Hosts are well-compensated—although differently depending on whether they’re Premium or not…

This said, there were a few things that seriously bothered me here:

- The story is told in the third person and in the present tense. I’m not too keen on whole books written this way. It was tolerable, but I can only stomach that much. Probably a case of “it’s not the book, it’s me”, though.

- Jane is clearly of this brand of people who continuously make the worst decisions and choose the worst course of action at the worst moment possible (acknowledged in the novel itself, as Reagan reflects upon this). It makes for plot twists, sure, and it plays into the how the book indeed denounces the exploitation of immigrants, who don’t necessarily know all the “rules” when it comes to becoming part of their host country. Yet at the same time, it made Jane rather worthy of several eye rolls, and also sends some sort of underlying message that, well, she’s so naïve and stupid, so surely it’s her fault for getting into such situations. I’m always on the fence with such characters. I do not want to play the victim blaming game, because that’s rubbish, but it’s not so easy either to find her endearing rather than annoying.

- I’m still not sure of where the story wanted to go. There’s a looming thread of vaguely impending doom through the narrative, as if something really sinister is lurking, but that “something”, in the end, doesn’t materialise, or not the way you would expect. Whatever happens is mostly the product of short-sightedness on the part of the people involved (yes, Mae as well): because they don’t communicate properly, or because they fail to realise that continuously giving incentives to people and then taking them away at the last moment is NOT a good way of ensuring things will go smoothly. The situation unfolding in the last third or so is the result of one huge misunderstanding, and considering the degree of monitoring at Golden Oaks and Mae’s suppose shrewdness, it’s like several people just forgot their brains somewhere at some point. (Ate and her friends are not immune to that either, by the way.)

So, “The Farm” had an important message, but that message wasn’t delivered efficiently through storytelling, which muddled it.

- The characters are rather one-dimensional. Jane is the naïve immigrant who is constantly exploited. Mae is the exploiter and that’s all. Reagan is the typical woke girl struggling with her privilege but not realising that the good she wants to do may just be tainted. Lisa is kinda the resident sex addict and gossipmonger. Apart from these, I’m still not sure who exactly they are.

- The ending was… abrupt? The epilogue dragged a little, while the actual resolution, right before it, pretty much happened behind closed doors.

Conclusion: A good theme to tackle, and chilling when you realise that the way it’s presented makes it appear “sensible” while still underlining its inhuman aspects, so as a reader, you’re never left off the hook in that regard. On the other hand, I found it fell flat, and I never really connected with the characters.

P.S. Regarding the aforementioned comparison with “The Handmaid’s Tale”: publishing houses should stop doing that, because more often than not, it makes me wonder if the people writing those “comparison blurbs” have actually read the book(s) involved. Mostly the common point here is “surrogate mothers”, but “The Farm” never gets to THT’s horrifying level. Let’s be clear here: that’s not a fault of the novel, which is still interesting in its own ways. But I feel such comparisons do harm, since more than just one reader will pick the book because of this comparison, and consequently be disappointed.

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review 2019-04-07 15:29
Flow was Up and Down and the Beginning Was Boring
Telling Tales - Ann Cleeves

Not too much to say about this one. It was fine. I was bored though for the first 1/3 until we get Vera interacting with characters. Any time Cleeves away from her I found myself bored. The ending was very good though and a surprise. I liked how it was wrapped up.

 

"Telling Tales" takes a very long time to get moving. We start off with a young housewife, Emma Bennett who sits around having fantasies about the local potter, Dan. Things change one day when her husband James comes home on the news that the woman (Jeanie Long) who went to jail for murdering her best friend (Abigail Mantel)10 years ago has committed suicide. And to make things even worse, it appears that Jeanie didn't do it. Enter Vera and Joe who have been asked to look into this case and figure out who the first investigation got things wrong. This leads to Vera turning over some rocks and bringing things that haven't been said or thought of in a very long time to light.

 

Emma is a drip. She lives in a fantasy world and has daydreams of having an affair, but stands by her husband even if she finds him less exciting. It seems at times that maybe Emma is suffering from post-partum. She also has a huge issue with her parents. We find out that Emma's father was a very successful architect, but one day suddenly quit his job, and moved his family to the village of Elvet where he focuses on being a probation officer as well as making religion more of a focus of their family life.

 

Emma's husband and brother are both harboring secrets, though Emma's brother Chris has an obsession with Abigail and can't seem to move on from her murder.


We also follow Jeanie's father who is a broken man after realizing that his daughter was innocent and he didn't see her or defend her. He and Vera end up making an unlikely friendship I thought with him doing what he could to help her out on the case, and Vera trying to not get too irritated with him.


We also follow up with the original investigator and another officer on the case and we find out how their lives changed too. 

 

I thought the writing and dialogue got much better when Vera was on the scene. We have people reacting to her and her questions. Cleeves also does a great job with Vera and how she systemically picks things apart. We get some reveals I wasn't expecting and thought they were greatly done.


The flow though was not good. The first part of the book drags beyond belief. It was hard to get into and then things picked up. I think jumping from person to person didn't help.

The setting of Elvet seems a lonely and desolate place. Emma's parent's home seems cold and empty which was a perfect metaphor for what was going on with a lot of people.

The ending was a surprise, and I did wonder about the fallout for certain characters. I wonder if Cleeves ever mentions characters again in future works. 

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