“Gradually the waiting began to feel less like waiting and more like this was simply what life was: the distracting tasks undertaken while the thing you are waiting for continues not to happen.”
Conversations with Friends was a bit of a mixed bag for me. The novel is split into two parts, the first of which I did enjoy and found easy to get into. Part two is where it really lost me and I bounced back and forth from being interested to simply not caring. By the end I just felt confused by the whole thing. It is not a story about a group of friends really, but rather one about a young woman and a relationship she embarks on, along with her thoughts and insecurities with regards to her own worth and her relationship with the people in her life.
Frances is twenty-one years old and best friends with Bobbi, who she had had a romantic relationship with in high school. The two perform spoken word poetry together, and at one point meet Melissa who is a journalist and wants to do a piece on the two friends. This leads to a friendship and a strange dynamic that develops between the two young women and Melissa and her actor husband, Nick. The novel is told from Frances’ perspective and while at times her observations are interesting and contemplative, she mostly comes across as very disinterested and removed. This would be fine, except that it is the case with all the characters which eventually grows rather tiring and contributes to an overall lack of depth. I am one of those readers that enjoys novels with unlikeable/flawed characters, but while the characters in Conversations with Friends are most certainly flawed, they inspire zero emotion or interest. What I did really like was the writing style, which flows very nicely and has a realistic, real time feel to it. Ultimately the story just did not come together for me.
*ARC provided by NetGalley. Publication date: July 11, 2017.
“Everything has a spirit: the willow tree with leaves that kiss the pond, the stream that feeds the river, the wind that exhales fresh snow . . .
And those spirits want to kill you.
It’s the first lesson that every Renthian learns.”
The Reluctant Queen is the second book in the Queens of Renthia trilogy, with the first being The Queen of Blood. I read the first novel earlier this year and it quickly became one of my favourite fantasy books, with its beautiful writing and memorable characters. The Reluctant Queen picks up about six months after the events of the first novel as the newly crowned queen has settled into her role, keeping the peace and protecting her people from the spirits that seek to harm them. However, she is hiding a secret that jeopardizes her position and affects the safety of those she is committed to protect; she is dying. Without anyone in line to take her place, the search begins for a new heir, but finding someone gifted and strong enough to take on such a responsibility is no easy task. The search leads to Naelin, who has spent her life denying her power, and who wishes to stay far removed from the business of the palace. The only problem is, she may be the queen’s only hope.
As with its predecessor, The Reluctant Queen is wonderfully imaginative and inventive. It completely captured my attention from the beginning right to the very last page, leaving me wanting more and eagerly anticipating the next adventure. There is action and a bit of mystery, all of which is fun and enjoyable, but what really propels it all forward is the cast of compelling characters. There are returning favourites from the first novel, as well as new ones that add to the dynamic of the story with amusing dialogue and humorous moments. This is a great second instalment in the Queens of Renthia trilogy, and one I cannot recommend highly enough.
*Book provided by author for an unbiased review. Publication date: July 4, 2017.
“… I feel as if I’m flicking through a filing cabinet, reading files written in a language I once knew, but am out of practice in. The language of being young, of knowing nothing. I’m setting these memories out as though they came to me simply. This happened, then this and then this. But that’s not how it is. That’s not how it was.”
Flesh and Bone and Water is the story of André, a man who grew up in Brazil living a life of wealth and privilege as the son of a successful plastic surgeon. The tragic death of his mother leads to a shift in his life and as a restless teenager he daydreams of a life outside of Brazil. Decades later he is living in London with his wife and children, when out of the blue he starts to receive letters from a person from his past, which both startles and takes him back to that critical time in his life; the loss of his mother and the events that led to his departure from Rio. The novel travels back and forth from London to Brazil, revealing a story that André had repressed.
‘Isn’t it funny?… You yearn for things that you didn’t even like at the time.’
This is a well-written and well-paced debut novel. The story flows smoothly from André’s present in London to his recollections of his life in Brazil after his mother’s death. For a relatively short novel it manages to deal with a lot of topics, primarily those of class, race, and privilege, and it does it well. The author also perfectly encapsulates the restlessness and carelessness of youth, along with that sad nostalgia felt in the present when revisiting the past. As mentioned, the pace of the novel is really well done and I breezed through the story as the truth behind André’s departure comes to light, which is ultimately quite shocking. Flesh and Bone and Water is a strong debut novel and I look forward to seeing more from this author.
‘It was like enlightenment, it was like being in the truth, which is a funny thing to say about deceit.’
When Light is Like Water is a woman’s reflection on her past self, the decisions she made, and the search for home. As a young woman, Alice left the United States to travel and explore the world, which led her to settle in the West of Ireland. A mix of reasons contributed to that decision, these being a growing relationship with a man named Eddie, as well as a lack of direction for where she saw herself going. She gets married and settles into the married life, which she struggles to adjust to, leading her to embark on an affair. Years later, Alice finds herself back in Ireland, going down memory lane and recounting her life and choices.
What are we searching for in life? Is it love, a sense of belonging, connection, or maybe even an understanding of ourselves? What lies behind the choices we make? Alice’s look back on her decisions and her time in Ireland examines these questions and provides an interesting retrospective. The character of Alice is a divisive one. At times I liked her and understood her, while other times I was quite frustrated by her and her seeming detachment and dispassion. But these moments themselves in a way fascinated me, giving a sense of realness to the novel and in turn making Alice’s behaviour and decisions more understandable.
The novel is beautifully written and succeeded in making me think about what was being put forward and the way in which the story is told. I would recommend this to readers who enjoy contemplative novels with the focus on character rather than action driven plots.
*Book provided by publisher for an unbiased review.
‘Do you understand what I’m telling you? When you’re given an opportunity to change your life, be ready to do whatever it takes to make it happen. The world doesn’t give things, you take things. If you learn one thing from me, it should probably be that.’
In The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, a movie legend decides to tell her story to a relatively unknown reporter that she herself chose. What unfolds is a fascinating story of an incredible life, full of high highs and crushing lows, incredible success and painful loss. We learn about Evelyn’s successful career and the seven husbands along the way, while also uncovering a possible connection between the movie star and the reporter chosen for the interview. The result is a gripping tale of ambition and lessons learned along the way, combined with a touch of mystery as the reason for Evelyn’s choice of reporter is revealed.
“It would take me years to figure out that life doesn’t get easier simply because it gets more glamorous. But you couldn’t have told me that when I was fourteen.”
Taylor Jenkins Reid is truly a talented writer, and that talent is evident in this newest release. While it is a departure from her previous novels, it still has all the components that make her books such compelling and addictive reads. The main one being the brilliant depth and complexity of character that comes across so effortlessly, pulling you into the story and allowing you to experience the range of emotions throughout. Evelyn is an incredibly compelling character and it is difficult to not get completely swept away in her story and way of narrating. The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is a spellbinding novel that leaves a lasting impression.
‘Oh, I know the world prefers a woman who doesn’t know her power, but I’m sick of all that.’
“The deeds of men, as footprints in the desert.
Nothing under the circling moons is fated to last.
Even the sun goes down.”
A fantasy novel that sets the stage for an epic journey, The Lions of Al-Rassan is the story of a land with a violent past and the individuals whose paths and destiny intersect during a vital time. Al-Rassan is home to three very different cultures and faiths, which has led to years of turmoil and accounted for the violence and brutality of endless battles. Three notable individuals of different faiths find themselves thrown together by circumstance, and their choices have life altering consequences for themselves and the very future of Al-Rassan.
“It’s one thing to make war for your country, your family, even in pursuit of glory. It’s another to believe that the people you fight are embodiments of evil and must be destroyed for that. I want this peninsula back. I want Esperana great again, but I will not pretend that if we smash Al-Rassan and all it has built we are doing the will of any god I know.”
From the compelling characters to the beautiful writing, I was completely taken with this novel. It is a wonderful fantasy that looks at divided loyalties, the clash between religion and politics, and the price of war. These themes are tackled in a smart and thought-provoking way that really elevates the story. The true heart of this novel are the characters that you can’t help but fall in love with, and who will stay with me for a long time to come. It does take a little time to fall into the rhythm of the story in terms of learning all the characters and where they fit in the overall layout of this conflict, however this did not take away from the enjoyment. The Lions of Al-Rassan is a novel full of humour, wit, tragedy, and a lot of heart. Truly a fantasy worthy of your time.
“There are monsters in the sea.”
Eighteen-year-old Eliza Mirk feels most at home in the online world, specifically in the fandom of the popular webcomic she created, Monstrous Sea. The story is massively popular and has gained a following of millions; people that eagerly await the weekly publishing of new pages and chapters in the saga. When a new student at school turns out to be a Monstrous Sea fan, it leads to friendship that slowly takes Eliza more into the outside world and challenges her in new ways. But when her identity as the webcomic creator is revealed, her reality is turned upside down and affects her in a deep way.
“There is a small monster in my brain that controls my doubt.
The doubt itself is a stupid thing, without sense or feeling, blind and straining at the end of a long chain. The monster, though, is smart. It’s always watching, and when I am completely sure of myself, it unchains the doubt and lets it run wild. Even when I know it’s coming, I can’t stop it.”
Eliza and Her Monsters is a wonderfully compelling novel that charms while dealing with some important issues. Many moments made me smile and Eliza is an endearing protagonist who is very relatable, from her relationships with those around her to her escape into the online world. Her struggle with anxiety is portrayed in a realistic and easy to understand way, particularly when it comes to the pressures of creating and the expectations that come with online success. Eliza and Her Monsters had me eagerly turning the pages, which included screenshots and graphics from Eliza’s Monstrous Sea. A thoughtful and highly enjoyable novel.