Review: Death of a Prima Donna by Brina Svit

death of a prima donna

The next stop on my Global Reading challenge was Slovenia.  I had some trouble finding an author whose work had been translated into English, but eventually discovered Brina Svit, a a journalist, screenwriter and film director who has written three novels.  Death of a Prima Donna is her second novel to be translated into English, the first being Con Brio.

Now, I confess to having some prejudice against this book before I even began.  The title just kind of makes me shiver and roll my eyes – I have no desire to read about prima donnas in the colloquial sense of the word.  But it turns out that the prima donna in this book is actually a famous (fictional) opera singer, so I guess she is a prima donna in the true sense of the word.  Anyway, whatever.

I really don’t like giving bad reviews but there’s no point in being dishonest.  Unfortunately, I thought this book was pretty awful.  The characters were extremely unlikable and, more importantly, very irritating – a neurotic, crazy, beautiful superstar, a crazy stalker superfan … ugh.  I had no sympathy for any of them and couldn’t have cared less what happened to them.  The timeline is confusing, with annoying allusions to things the reader will learn later (pet hate alert), it is quite repetitive and to be honest, I couldn’t tell you now what the mystery of the prima donna’s death was, or even how she died!

Not all books will appeal to everyone, and this one is just not my cup of tea.  It is definitely someone’s cup of tea, as this has quite good ratings on Goodreads, and Brina Svit is clearly an accomplished and well thought of author, so what do I know?!  Just not for me I’m afraid.  2 stars.

If you have any recommendations for Slovenian authors whose works have been translated into English, or any other translated works for that matter, please let me know in the comments!

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Review: Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera

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Translated by Lisa Dillman

I have to admit, booktube made me buy this one.  A couple of months ago, just about every booktuber I follow (a blog post about which will be coming soon …) had read this book, and the vast majority of them were raving about it.  And second confession … I adore this cover.  So with those two things combined, I had no hope of resisting buying this book.

Maybe I’m just not clever enough, because unfortunately I just didn’t get it.  I mean, it’s an engaging story, and the writing/translating is interesting. The main character has some struggles to overcome (I guess that’s putting it mildly!) and I did feel for her.  Herrera creates a vivid picture of the grim life of Mexican immigrants crossing the border into the USA, and he sure knows how to write a beautiful sentence.  But the whole way through this (very short!) book, I felt like I was missing something … it was almost there but I just couldn’t grab it, and this saddens me because I think I have missed something great.  Perhaps this is one for the ‘re-read’ shelf as I think I would get a lot more out of it on a second read.

All this is not to say I hated the book – I didn’t.  I enjoyed the story, the characters were well drawn and the writing almost poetic.  The translator’s note at the end of the book was very interesting and insightful, and it is clear that Lisa Dillman was diligent in her translation, and did a wonderful job.  An author to watch, I think.  3 stars.

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Review: How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer

how to breathe

One of my aims this year is to read more short story collections, and this was the first one I chose.  Julie Orringer’s debut  collection is fully set in the real world, and the focus is on childhood, friendship and family dynamics.  Several of the stories deal with loss and dying and evoke an almost ethereal atmosphere, though some of them are just downright crazy! (I’m looking at you, Pilgrims …).  They are touching stories about the difficult times in life.  There is quite a focus on the competitiveness of female friendship, particularly during the teenage years, and although this may be difficult to read at times, I thought it was portrayed quite realistically and sensitively – teenage girls can be bitchy and competitive as they grow and find out who they are going to mature into, and this is something Orringer does not shy away from.

My favourite story was The Isabel Fish which tells of a girl who survived an accident in which her brother’s girlfriend died.  The sibling dynamics were portrayed in a very interesting way, and I thought this was the most touching of all the stories.

Orringer certainly has a talent for evoking a sense of place and atmosphere.  Her first novel, The Invisible Bridge, was published in 2011 and is one I will certainly check out in the future.  As for this short story collection, I really enjoyed it and gave it 4 stars.

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Review: Forensics by Val McDermid

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This book had been on my radar for some time, but it was bumped up the list while we were watching Making a Murderer on Netflix.  I am fascinated by all things crime related, and if I could live my life again I would definitely pursue a career in forensics of some kind, probably forensic psychology.

Although I’m a fan of crime fiction, I’ve actually never read a novel by Val McDermid, which does seem a bit weird and something I will remedy soon!  However, I’d heard good things about this non-fiction title and decided to jump in.  I was not disappointed.

McDermid’s writing style is conversational and informative without being lecture-y.  The science is interspersed with fascinating examples of real crimes, crime scenes, autopsies and criminals, but my absolute favourite thing about this book (apart from the blowflies dotted randomly throughout the pages!) is that most of the examples she uses are from UK crimes, many of which were familiar to me and all the more intriguing for it.  As you would expect, some bits are gruesome, and some of it is downright scary, but it is such fun to read and will arm with lots of interesting facts to gross out your dinner party guests!  I highly recommend this if you have even a passing interest in true crime.  4 stars.

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Review: Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

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This was a first time read for me – I’d never read any Steinbeck before, but he is on my list of authors to read in 2016.  Of Mice and Men was not on my school reading list and I have never had the urge to pick it up before.  My daughter studied it for her English Lit GCSE, and she kind of spoiled the ending for me (I knew the what, but not the how – and I don’t blame her, I bugged her til she told me!).  So going into this, I knew very little, and it really took me by surprise.

I loved the atmosphere in this book – the scene setting is incredibly vivid.  A heartbreaking story with overarching themes of friendship, hope and dreams, Steinbeck deals with subjects that are just as relevant now as they were in the Great Depression era – racism, sexism, prejudice.  It is a short, quick and depressing read that really packs a punch and leaves you gasping.  If you haven’t read this classic, I urge you to pick it up it is very accessible, readable and a great place to start.  Steinbeck is definitely now on my ‘read more of’ list!  4 stars.

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Review: In A Land Of Paper Gods by Rebecca Mackenzie

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I requested a copy of this from bookbridgr, and the was kindly sent a copy by the publisher in return for an honest review.  I really wanted to love this book, and everything I’d heard made me think I would …  Firstly – gorgeous cover.  And it’s set in China.  And more than that, it’s set in a boarding school in China.  But unfortunately the story just did not ignite my interest.

I can’t put my finger on exactly why I didn’t love it.  The characters were quite interesting and quirky, but ultimately I felt  they were a group of silly girls.  The teachers were more intriguing, but their part is not huge.  I feel terrible for not connecting more emotionally with the undeniably tragic aspects of this story.  It should be a heart-wrenching story, but it left me feeling … blah.  For some reason I just felt no empathy for any of the characters and I didn’t really care what happened to them.

I did enjoy the setting – the mystical Chinese mountain was atmospheric and quite eery, but again, the setting did not play a big enough part in the story for me.  So unfortunately this one gets a thumbs down for me, and a rare 2 stars – I finished it, and I liked some aspects of it, but in the end it was just not my cup of tea.

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