Advance Copy

Book Review of Julie Bucktin’s Debut – Marlena

Two friends juMarlena_new.inddst don’t know that disaster is waiting for them around the corner.

While we all try on new identities in our youth as a way of trying to manage the enormous possibilities of who
we are and what we will become – sometimes we make damaging choices that never leave us.

When studious Cat finds herself in Silver Lake, a tiny town in rural Michigan, she could not be further away from her New York private school.  Just as the loss of the life she imaged begins to hit her… a new best friend stands ready and waiting.  Marlena.
Marlena is daring and exciting – but also troubled.  She introduces Cat to a fast-paced life of drinking, soft drugs, boys and skipping school.  And while we see Cat’s downward spiral, even more alarming is the reader’s realisation that what is happening to Marlena is even more profound.

Marlena was a book that was difficult to put down. It’s a novel about friendship and youth and that feeling of indestructibility that sadly we must learn just isn’t real.  This is an impressive debut novel that read flawlessly.

Book Review of History of Wolves

Emily Fridlund’s debut novel, History of Wolves is pretty impressive.  30183201-_uy200_

Although many would argue this is a “coming of age” story, I’d argue it is a pretty original one.

Yes, we have a young and naive girl looking to make connection. Isolated even from her cultish parents, she spends much of her spare time in the rugged northern Minnesota landscape.She stumbles onto a young mother and son and insinuates her way into their lives.  Patra, the mother is lonely too.  And then the husband arrives… and the sense of impending doom increases.

The novel flashes back and forward to indicate that something life-changing is about to occur – but what will it be?  Fridlund controls this well.  And on top of that, she weaves in a second minor storyline that sheds further light on her main character.

Slow and rewarding – but you won’t be bored.  Fridlund’s craft is excellent.  I can imagine her developing into someone really worthy of our attention – and even this first novel is absolutely worth your time.

Book Review of The Horseman

9781408876879Tim Pears’ The Horseman is one of those quiet books in which not much happens, but you can take a great deal of comfort.

Set in Devon in 1911, our narrator Leo Sercombe is a twelve-year-old boy dedicated to horses.  Raised on a great estate as the son of the ostler, Leo is drawn to horses too and longs to follow in his father’s footsteps.  Although his brothers are grown up enough to play a variety of farming roles around the community, none share his curiosity or passion. He does find a kindred spirit in the young daughter of the master who wears boys clothes and shoots a gun and eventually is willing to allow Leo to ride her horse.

This is a first in a series – and this is pleasing as the abrupt ending is a bit of a shock and even though this wasn’t entirely my cup of tea (review copy) I do want to know how poor Leo gets on. Definitely one for those who like to read historical fiction of this era.

Book Review of 4321

9781627794466I have to apologise to everyone who I complained to about this book. At the end of the school year I was given this to review – a brick of 860 pages. It’s the story of one life lived through four different possibilities – so the first couple of hundred pages were a bit repetitive until the storylines began to diverge more radically.

Despite my frustrations, I persevered and by page 400 I was hooked. This was brilliant. Auster explores what is at the core of each of our lives – the things that canot and will not change no matter which path we take. In the lives of Artie Ferguson these are his love for books and movies, and his commitment to the written word. He always becomes a writer in one way or another, although the type of writing varies greatly. Many of the same people populate each life – perhaps in slightly different roles, but they are always there. The woman he lives weaves her way throughout, and while he can never truly possess her, in one life he holds her for longer.

It’s a hard read – as each life takes its turn unveiling a section of years. You’ll have to keep looking back to the previous chapters not only to keep track, but also to check the connections between each possibility. If you have the time and energy to spend on it, this is a book well worth taking into your soul.

Book Review of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Here I Am

This was a book I really didn’t want to read. It’s not often a book – even one as long as this here-i-amone – will take me a month to get through. But the subject matter was dense, painful and far too real.

The first level of the novel is the story of a marriage breakdown – Jacob and Julia are entering middle life to find that after working so hard to be good parents to their three sons and good Jews, they have forgotten how to be real with each other. This is raw and brilliant writing – but not for the faint-hearted. Safran Foer pulls no punches here. This is human nature in all its complexity – the beauty of forgiveness, the shallowness and frailty of betrayal. You won’t question him as a writer.

While this might seem like enough for any modern novel, it is also very tied up with Jewish identity. Although Jacob and Julia want to be seen as good Jews – even forcing their unwilling son Sam to have a bar mitzvah because “this is what we do”, they themselves acknowledge they don’t hold as fast as they should to their traditions and customs. Yet Jacob’s grandfather – a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to America – reminds them of the importance of protecting those traditions each day. In addition, Jacob’s Israeli cousins espouse the view that all Jews should have stayed in the Holy Land and that living in America is a kind of betrayal to their heritage.

When an earthquake devastates Jerusalem and her enemies look to make war, will Jacob answer the call of his cousins? Like Abraham before him, when called upon to sacrifice all that he loves, will Jacob answer his God with “Here I Am”, or will he be incapable?

Complex, brilliant, too much.

Gushing Review of The Good People

1472712750201Like many, I was spellbound by the love of writing that was apparent in Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites – a detailed and meticulously researched portrayal of the last woman sentenced to death for murder in Iceland.   Burial Rites was a novel destined to take the international stage – one that blended physical and emotional realities masterfully and explored a complex character and the reactions of those around her with sophistication and deftness.

The Good People, Kent’s follow-up, holds all the same magic.

Set in a remote village near the Flesk River in Killarney, The Good People explores the superstitions of simple folk – and the many ways in which they can lead to tragedy. Kent came across the real event in her research for Burial Rites – the story of an aged woman whose defence for murder was based upon her belief that the murdered boy was but a changeling and thus she should not be held accountable. While it is easy to believe this is madness or an excuse for cold-blooded murder, once again Kent creates real human warmth and invites readers to feel sympathy or at least acknowledge the complexity of such cases.

Beautiful prose, complex but real characters and thought-provoking ideas about being a woman in a backwards time make The Good People another likely best-seller. I challenge anyone who loved Burial Rites to not see this as yet another demonstration of Kent as one of the greatest writers of our time.

Yes, I know I’m gushing. But this is worth getting excited about. Comes out in October.

Book Review of Bright, Precious Days

Unknown-1Jay McInerney is known for his sharp prose and his ability to capture the concerns of New Yorkers – and I would argue he is fairly successful at this in his new novel Bright, Precious Days.

The novel examines the Calloways – Russell and Corinne, a married couple approaching their fifties and attempting to come to terms with how differently their loves have turned out to the dreams of their youth. Once committed to art and love over money and power, the Calloways are looking down the barrel of financial ruin, like many other New Yorkers in 2008. In addition to this, Russell’s professionalism as an editor is being called into question as he makes some poor investments in authors and Corinne is tempted by a former lover who returns with reconciliation on his mind.

Very much an homage to New York and the generation that made it great, Bright, Precious Days is real and finely-crafted. The subject matter isn’t really my cup of tea, but will no doubt appeal to many looking for real human stories.