Review: A Lovely Way to Burn by Louise Welsh

lovely way to burn

This book sounded right up my alley – pandemic wipes out the city of London, everyones dying AND there’s a murder.  Yes.

Turns out this is a quick, easy read with nothing too taxing for the brain to handle – and just what I was in the mood for, but nothing mind-blowing.  The tension promises to build and sizzle, but ultimately it just fizzles.  The descriptions of London falling apart in the wake of ‘the sweats’ are interesting and scarily believable – it really feels like this is a thing that could happen, people.  But much of it was just a bit too convenient to be truly exciting.  This won’t scratch your apocalyptic itch but it may just hit the spot if you’re looking for an easy mysterious read.  The first of a trilogy, and as I have the second book already, I may as well continue and see how it goes … when the mood strikes.  3 stars.

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Review: The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer

girl in the red coat

Now here’s a book that took me by surprise.  This is an unusual take on the whole ‘missing child’ mini-genre that is so popular these days.  It took a little while to get into, but once I was gripped I did not want to put this book down.

Kate Hamer uses the dual narrative with great success here – two contrasting voices both so well characterised.  The young girl comes as across as very true and realistic; a determined and unique young girl, full of innocent hope.  In stark contrast, her mother is desperately struggling to hold herself together, and keep the hope of finding her daughter alive.  At times the writing is so vividly descriptive, Hamer puts you right in the scene – the festival scene particularly resonates here.  And at times the writing is so poignantly touching and heartbreaking it will bring tears to your eyes.

Intelligently written, this is an unusual story about an unusual girl and although it was not quite the tensely gripping psychological thriller I was expecting, it was intriguing and captivating nonetheless.  4 stars.

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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

signs preceding

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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