Review: Death of a Prima Donna by Brina Svit

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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: 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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Review: Good as Dead by Mark Billingham

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On a fairly regular basis, the mood strikes for a crime spree.  Crime fiction used to be my favourite genre and it is still one I delve into often.  I love a great police procedural, and have been a long time fan of Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne series.  I like to spread the books in this series out to make them last.  The 9th book in the series  (From the Dead) didn’t float my boat quite as much and I was a little disappointed, but I was confident that number 10 would see Billingham and Thorne back on top form.

Good as Dead is certainly a faced paced read.  The action unfolds over three days and Thorne needs to work quickly due to the hostage situation.  The plot is thoughtfully composed with all the requisite red herrings, clues and garden paths, and the tension is palpable.  But for all its’ pace and tension, I was left disappointed again.  Things seemed to tail off towards the middle-end and I feel this one could’ve done with a bit more editing.  I found the ‘love interest’ aspects quite boring and tedious and there was not enough of the great relationship between Thorne and Hendricks.  Sadly, I was left with the feeling that I may have outgrown Tom Thorne.  But this is by no means a terrible book – it is suspenseful, there is tension, and a good mystery … it just didn’t quite meet my high exceptions.  3 stars.

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Review: The Book Collector by Alice Thompson

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From the summary on the back of the book, I was looking forward to a dark, creepy, gothic read, and while this was delivered to a degree, I was not wholly satisfied.  There are certainly some dark and creepy elements within the covers of this book, along with some odd and quirky characters.  In places it is an uncomfortable read, with the feeling that something is prickling at you throughout the story.  But the outcome was fairly obvious from early on in the story, and because of this there was a distinct lack of suspense.

The writing is by turn simple and beautiful, but I also found it a teeny bit pretentious at points.  There are some gorgeous passages, however, and some astute observations of life in the Edwardian era which are just as relevant today …

Many years later, looking back, she was amazed at the capacity we have for not wanting to confront the truth. How the humdrum of our own lives, the security of habit and comfort, prevent us from questioning the clues and hints that the truth gives us.  We can ignore them, make excuses and forget whatever we want.

Although unsettling and fascinating at times, with some very dark moments, this book was ultimately unsatisfying and a bit of a disappointment.  I initially gave this 3 1/2 stars, but on reflection, it’s a 3.

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The Month That Was: August

August has passed us by and summer is drawing to an end.  I’ve had 6 weeks off work, probably the last time I’ll be able to do this as the kids are now teenagers and don’t need me around as much.  Thank goodness I found my reading groove again!  I managed to read 10 books in August, watched 4 films and 1 TV series 🙂  Here’s a quick roundup.

The Books

I managed to squeeze in10 books for August, the last one ending up  my highlight of the month!

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A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale was an impulse buy.  I went into town to get my haircut at this place where you just turn up without an appointment, but even though I got there 10 minutes before opening I was already 4th in the queue.  So I bought books instead, of course!  I got home and started reading this straight away, and then I pretty much didn’t put it down until I’d finished.  Beautiful writing; I wish everyone would read this book.  This one gets a rare 5 stars from me (my third of the year).

Other books read this month (reviews will be coming … if I ever get my act together!):IMG_7424

  • You by Caroline Kepnes – there’s been a lot of buzz around this book and I had high hopes, but I really didn’t like it very much at all and it was just a 2 star read for me.
  • Dear Girls Above Me by Charlie McDowell – I listened to this on audio through Scribd.  I liked it, it was a bit of fluff, easy to listen to with a few chuckles along the way.  3 stars
  • The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler – I feel like this one could’ve been so much better with a little more editing!  Swedish husband/wife duo author, so it fits with my global reading challenge. 2 stars
  • The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson (who I keep wanting to call Ron Jonson!) – this was a fun non-fiction read.  His writing style is very conversational and this was an interesting look at the topic.  3 stars
  • The Reader by Bernhard Schlink – A German author, so another one for my global reading challenge.  I really enjoyed this story.  4 stars
  • Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – Australian author, another for my global reading challenge.  A quick, easy read with a great plot.  4 stars
  • An Untamed State by Roxane Gay – I’d been waiting for this one to come out in paperback.  Wow.  This one gets you right in the heart.  4 stars
  • Blue Is The Warmest Colour by Julie Maroh – French author, and also my first graphic novel! I read this on my kindle through Scribd.  A quick easy read was just what I needed after An Untamed State and this fit the bill perfectly, though of course the subject matter is quite serious.  I really enjoyed this.  4 stars
  • Little Face by Sophie Hannah – I think this was my dud of the month.  I’ve heard good things about Sophie Hannah and was really looking forward to this, but sadly it did nothing for me.  2 stars

What we watched:

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  • First up this month was The Enemy starring Jake Gyllenhaal … Oh my god this movie was awful.  Slow, boring, tedious, confusing – the ending had us both looking at each other with WTF looks on our faces.  3/10 from Dave and 2/10 from me.  Afterwards I read some reviews and most people are of the opinion that it’s better the second time around and has some deep and meaningful message that you’ll only understand if you research the film.  Well, I’m afraid I watch a film to be entertained – if I learn something while I’m watching that’s dandy, but I’m not going to go and do a load of research so I can understand what I’ve just watched, and then waste another 2 hours of my life watching it again!  No thank you 🙂
  • We then watched The Conjuring and holy moly was this film scary!  It really freaked me out.  Thoroughly enjoyable in that way only scary films can be!  7.5/10 from Dave, 8/10 from me.
  • Next was Dog Day Afternoon.  I’m ashamed to say I don’t think I’ve seen any Al Pacino films!  This film was really good – he is such a great actor.  It was a little dated, obviously, but it was fun to see the 70s portrayed authentically and we both really enjoyed this.  8/10 from both of us.
  • Gladiator with Russell Crowe was next.  I’d seen bits of it before and Dave had seen all of it before.  It was enjoyable, but it kind of dipped a little for me in the middle, and could’ve been 30 minutes shorter.  8.5/10 from Dave, 7.5/10 from me.
  • And finally we watched the first series of Peaky Blinders.  I had heard many many good things about this series and Dave bought me the box set for my birthday in January, so I was looking forward to finally sitting down to watch it.  We were hooked straight away and watched the first series over three nights.  Good story and great acting.  7.5/10 from Dave and originally I gave this 9/10, but if I compare it to Breaking Bad, our series barometer, I think I should probably downgrade it to 8/10 – it’s good, but not BB good!

Elsewhere in August:

  • Natasha received her GCSE results and did amazingly well with 7 A*s and 4As.  Her place at 6th Form College is all confirmed and she starts next week
  • A lot of lounging around was completed – outside in the sunshine when possible, or curled up indoors when it was raining (most of the time!)
  • Here’s the rest of August in a nutshell:
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And now I’m looking forward to September!

What was the highlight of your month?