Lie With Me – Sabine Durrant

Rating: 5 stars

I picked up Sabine Durrant’s Lie With Me in Marylebone station, because I wanted something to read on a long train journey. It was late, and I figured I would read a couple of chapters and then watch something I’d downloaded for the journey. Boy was I mistaken.

Lie With Me tells the story of Paul – playboy, exaggerator, sleazy philanderer and, most of all, liar. Following some literary success in his youth, Paul now flat-sits for more successful friends, passes the flat off as his own, sleeps with much younger women, and lives in fear of ending up living with his mother. When the opportunity to sponge off a widowed woman his own age presents itself, Paul takes up with the apparently vulnerable (but unsettlingly cold) Alice and blags his way on a family holiday to Greece. The rest – I shall not spoil!

lie with me 2.jpgThe great strength of Lie With Me is in its characters: Paul is the narrator we (I?) love to hate – always staring down women’s tops, and at the bums of his girlfriend’s teenage daughter and her friend, always casually putting other people’s things in his pocket; Alice is somehow both vulnerable and unavailable, both worldly and absent.

The narrative is perfectly paced, and we get just enough to guess at the twist before it is revealed, but not so much that we feel as if we know what it is going to be too early on. I read the book in less than twenty-four hours, and I would be surprised if many other readers didn’t – like me – struggle to put it down.

I would strongly recommend this to any readers!

Louise CAV ReviewsReviewed by Louise

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Lavinia’s Book of the Month: January 2017

His Bloody Project – Graeme Macrae Burnet

Hello 2017! Very excited to be writing up my first Book of the Month – especially since I couldn’t recommend this book more.

Now, I know this isn’t a very daring choice – His Bloody Project was shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2016, so I’m not very far off-piste here – but this book was so brilliant that I couldn’t keep quiet about it.

Graeme Macrae Burnet - His Bloody Project.jpgHis Bloody Project is a sort of murder mystery where we know who the killer is from the start (and in fact he is constantly protesting his guilt) and no one can agree on anything about the version of events that led to the killing, other than on who the culprit was. The culprit, one Roderick Macrae, is a young man from the Scottish Highlands who has brutally bludgeoned three members of the same family to death. No one can agree on what he is like – including whether he is sane or not.

In His Bloody Project we are not offered a complete narrative, but instead a series of fragments Roddy’s own account (which is the largest part of the book), his lawyer’s report, the coroner’s report, an account of the trial – and left to consider for ourselves.

I don’t want to say too much more, because there is so much enjoyment for a reader in trying to piece together what actually happened (and knowing that you cannot).

I raced through this book in a couple of days, unable to put it down, and I would strongly recommend it to any readers of any kind.

You’ll love this book if:
– You like a good mystery
– You like vivid historical settings
– You like complex and ambiguous characters

You might want to avoid this book if:
– You are sensitive to graphic sex and violence

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Find this book on Amazon!

The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood

Rating: 4 stars

Margaret Atwood has been a very busy bee lately. I kept telling people I was reading “the new Margaret Atwood novel”, and apparently this wasn’t specific enough. As well as the Tempest-inspired Hag-seed last year, 2015 saw the release of another dystopian sci-fi, The Heart Goes Last. 

the heart goes last.jpgThe Heart Goes Last tells the story of a married couple, Charmaine and Stan. Reading it in a post-Trump world, I was struck by how disturbingly believable Atwood’s vision of the poverty-stricken Rust Belt was. Stan and Charmaine live in their car, struggling to feed themselves and survive in a post-apocalyptic landscape. When an opportunity presents itself to enter a programme called Positron – in which participants are fed, clothed and housed in a settlement that is a kind of fifties version of the Hank Scorpio episode of The Simpsons, in exchange for pretending to be prison inmates half the time – Charmaine (who is something of a fantasist) persuades Stan to join.

Throughout The Heart Goes Last, I couldn’t make up my mind as to whether I was enjoying it or not. It’s certainly written with the liveliness of character and paciness of delivery of Atwood’s usual work, but I couldn’t quite get a handle on the plot. It’s very fact-paced, which is good, but there is so much going on in this post-econopocalptic, brainwashing, organ-farming world – and so much going on with Stan and Charmaine – that despite enjoying reading it, I felt that it was a little bit formless. It was like five dystopian novels rolled into one.

Another problem I had was with the character of Charmaine. I actually thought she was a convincing and believable character, and there was nothing per se wrong with the way she was written, but as a reader I couldn’t engage with her. I’m sure there will be many readers who feel very differently.

Without giving too much away, I also felt as if the ending was a bit “safe”, and shied away from what might have been quite a pleasingly disturbing conclusion.

All in all, this was an all-too-believable version of the future, with (I think) far too much going on in it. I would still recommend it to anyone who would like to prepare themselves for the post-Trumpian hellscape.

Louise CAV ReviewsReviewed by Louise

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The Mothers – Brit Bennett

Rating: 5 stars

the mothers.jpgIf you read one book this year (assuming you still have enough time – it is nearly Christmas), make it Brit Bennett’s The Mothers. The Mothers tells the story of a close-knit African-American Christian community, and centres around the lives of two women within it, Nadia and Aubrey. It relates Nadia’s teenage romance with the local pastor’s son Luke, and the pregnancy, abortion and cover-up that result from it.

It’s a contemporary novel, dealing with a number of difficult issues, but it has a lightness of touch, a complexity and a sensitivity that mean that the story and characters dominate, and it doesn’t feel moralising (perhaps because it’s not).

The Mothers is a story centred on women and their place in a small community, and though it focuses on two relationships with men – Nadia and Aubrey’s with Luke, and Nadia’s with her father – these relationships don’t dominate, and what emerges as the most significant and enduring relationship is that between Nadia and Aubrey.

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone. Although women are the main players, and a lot of it focuses on female experience, it’s a book that ranges widely and touches all areas of society. It’s also pacy and engaging. Once I started reading, I couldn’t put it down. If you haven’t already read it, read it right now. I promise you won’t regret it.

Louise CAV ReviewsReviewed by Louise

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Lavinia’s Book of the Month: October

The Butcher’s Hook – Janet Ellis

butchers-hookI’ve actually recommended this book before, by accident. When I was in the bookshop (yes, a real bricks and mortar shop filled with books – can’t beat ’em) and I saw it, I said, “Oh look at this! It looks like a bodice ripper but with murders” and the sixty-something-year-old man beside me picked a copy up too, and said, “I’ll have one of those.”

And I am very happy to report that it was well worth it. Very entertaining, darkly comic and completely gripping. Just a wonderful tale, told with wit. After I had got over the fact that our romantic hero is called ‘Fub’, of course.

Anne, our heroine, is a young lady who knows what she wants, surrounded by people in her way. She’s a wonderfully engaging narrator, and you’re (or I was) completely on her side as she goes from wilful to psychotic (but in a good way).

You’ll love this book if:
– You like interesting characters
– You want to read a bodice ripper, but with murders

You might want to avoid this book if:
– You want to avoid stories that contain sexual abuse

Longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2016.

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Lavinia’s Book of the Month: August

Hello! Those amongst you that are the noticing kind might have noticed that we’ve been a bit quiet recently. Well noticed! 

Having had a good summer break, we’re back and raring to go for the autumn term. Lots of nice people sent through lots of exciting new books for review during the holidays, and we’re looking forward to working our way through them over the next weeks and months.

So, without further ado, here’s our friend Lavinia, with her Book of the Month for August…

 

fearless flying.pngFearless Flying – Karen Gordon

The time has come again for my Book of the Month!

This month’s book is a bit of a cheat one – it’s written by a Twitter friend of mine, and it’s not yet available for purchase through Amazon etc., but I was so excited about it that I wanted to share it as my Book of the Month.

Fearless Flying by Karen Gordon is – at first glance – a charming contemporary romance novella. Certainly if that’s what you’re in the market for, you will love this. But I also found it grew deeper as I read on – there’s a lightness of touch about the characters and situations which makes it a pleasure to read, and the depth of significance is subtle. Particularly, our heroine Vivey is engaging and “real”. Usually I hate that – people describing fictional characters as “real”. But if – like me – you’re tired of reading ingenue heroines who are swept up by men, then you’ll love Fearless Flying. I’m sorry I can’t give you a link to own it right now!

There are lots of great little touches throughout – including tiny planes to mark new sections in the typesetting, which I particularly appreciated.

Reading the work of someone you know – even if it is e-friendship via Twitter – is always tense, but it’s joyful too, when you realise that you can whole-heartedly recommend it. Of course, I guessed that Karen and I had similar tastes when we bonded over Outlander (sploosh) and Arthurian literature, but I am so so happy to make Fearless Flying my book of the month, and you’ll just have to watch this space to read it for yourself!

You’ll love this book if: 
– You like engaging female main characters
– You like a good romance
– You’re into contemporary women’s fiction

You might want to avoid this book if:
– For some reason you dislike graphic sex scenes in novels, no matter how enjoyable 😉

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Find this book online – read the first part for free!

Lavinia’s Books: May and June

Every month, our friend Lavinia Collins is going to share with you a book she’s read and recommends. As Lavinia has been busy with the release of the last part of her Queen of the North trilogy, and with the upcoming paperback edition of the series, we’ve decided to put her May and June choices back-to-back.

The Edible Woman – Margaret Atwood

edible woman.jpgAn oldie, but a goodie. The Edible Woman is one of the older and less well-known of Atwood’s works, but it is by far my favourite. I’m slightly cheating because I re-read it rather than read it for the first time this month, but here it is.

The Edible Woman tells the story of Marian, a woman who works at a survey company and is engaged to Peter, a boring man who likes to have sex in the (dry) bathtub. She tries to run away from him (literally), is collected, scolded for being silly, and returns to her life. But the quiet frustrations of everyday sexism – microaggressions, perhaps we could call them now – wriggle under her skin, and Marian finds herself going progressively off her food.

The Edible Woman is a wonderful book, because it is so subtle. All of the little niggles and digs are small and everyday. There is nothing wrong per se with Peter. There is nothing wrong per se with Marian’s life. There’s something about her frustration which is so real, and something about the way it manifests – in the quiet refusal of more and more food – that is at once so real and immediate and so keyed in to a tradition hundreds of years old of women silently objecting to their circumstances by refusing to eat, from fasting nuns in the early middle ages to suffragettes in the early twentieth century. When you can’t control anything else, you can refuse to eat.

This book is also so much more than a feminist parable. It’s funny, it’s light, it’s ambiguous at the end – we are left with the question: who is trying to consume whom?

I would highly recommend this as a first Atwood for anyone who is yet to read her, one for Atwood lovers, and one to re-read. It’s perhaps the most mundane of her works in terms of subject matter (most similar in tone to Cat’s Eye), but in this ordinary setting she achieves so much. I cannot recommend this book enough.

You’ll love this book if:
– You like humour with an edge
– You have ever been a woman

You might want to avoid this book if:
– You secretly (or indeed openly) hate women

 

everyday sexism.jpgEveryday Sexism – Laura Bates

June’s Book of the Month is (!) a non-fiction book.

This book was lent to me by a kind and beloved friend, and I thought it would just be everything I knew, set out in nice neat statistic form. I’ve seen Laura Bates talk, and she presents a very clear-cut case. She’s angry – of course she is – and utterly sick of this shit, but she’s calm. Ordered. Logical. This book is the same. Broken up sensibly into neat categories and set out with factoids and headings, it is a very rational book.

I found it quite emotional to read. I expected to a little, but I was surprised by the toll certain sections took. Would I say it was a fun read? No, I don’t think I would, but it is an important one. To tackle a problem that affects all of us – because sexism is not just women’s problem – we must see it for what it is. Systemic.

You’ll love this book if:
– You’ve been dismissed in one too many conversations and told that ‘feminism is irrelevant’
– You don’t mind looking hard facts in the face
– You want to be armed with cold hard info the next time you get into an internet dispute with a Reddit neckbeard (jk; they don’t care about info)

You might want to avoid this book if:
– You are sensitive to sexual violence and harrassment triggers
– You have ever unironically used the #notallmen hashtag

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Find The Edible Woman on Amazon
Find Everyday Sexism on Amazon