The Last Mrs. Parrish

Amber Patterson was tired of being invisible.

This was insanely fun, until it got serious, and then luckily got fun again. A story like a roller-coaster, no matter how big a cliche that is. It’s fast, gets a bit scary/ugly at some times, and gives you no break from it.

It starts out with Amber, who’s planning to take a rich woman’s husband and with that, a woman’s life. Take over, there’s no need for murder, although Amber definitely has some murderous thoughts from time to time. She feels grossly neglected by faith and luck and life, so honestly – shouldn’t she grab whatever she can?

Then there’s Daphne Parrish, the delicate rose whom refuses to recognise how good she’s got it, no matter how often she says she does. It’s easy to view Amber as a bit of an angry Robin Hood, but the Constantine sisters (the author exists out of a duo) flip that around, having the reader end up in the ugly part.

And all this with such a tempo that it feels like the story is being poured straight into your brain. I honestly can’t remember downsides to it; it just leaves you with such a ‘FUCK YEAH’ feeling that blemishes are blown away.

The Last Mrs. Parrish, Liv Constantine, Harper Collins 2017

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Why did Mindi want an arranged marriage?

And yes, the erotic stories are shared.  Just because of the title, I expected comedy, some coming of age and Learning Life’s Lessons, but I got much more. It’s a credit to Jaswal’s writing that I wasn’t disappointed by that, sooner the opposite.

Yes, there’s definitely comedy, and main character Nikki (Mindi’s sister) needs to discover what she wants to do in live and how she’ll do that without hurting her Punjabi family (and surroundings, in a way). This is definitely a story about the two lives immigrants/children of immigrants live, but it’s never just that. Nikki thinks she’s going to teach the widows Creative Writing, the widows prefer to share their creativity in another way.

Alongside that is a plot line that at first might feel tacked on. Missing girls, bitter feuds, really? But then it all starts to connect and this isn’t just a comedy any more, this is an all too realistic calling card to look at misogyny. Suddenly the tempo is picked up and the reader has to juggle several plot lines colliding.

But as mentioned before, Balli Kaur Jaswal does it well. Making this novel all-round entertaining and informing.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, Balli Kaur Jaswal, Harper Collins 2017

Half the World

He hesitated just an instant, but long enough for Thorn to club him in the balls with the rim of her shield.

It’s like a bodice ripper with barbarians. Usually I’m fine with what Joe Abercrombie has on offer; brutish fantasy with some comedic relief. Nothing highbrow or what you have to put your brain to work for but still, entertaining. Not so much this time.

The unlikely hero is a young woman that wants to fight, but she’s a woman so she’s laughed off and despised for being better than most. It is also repeatedly mentioned that she’s ugly and not-feminine. Anyway, she ends up as part of a trip around the world and both she and the (male) people around her learn that there’s more to her anger, violence and unappealing face.

This time even the world building just seems to be filler between the fight scenes and insult filled dialogues. I know that sequels are always viewed as to be a bit more challenging, but this was just a slog. If you want barbarian fantasy, try some of his other series.

Half the World, Joe Abercrombie, HarperCollins 2015

Who’s That Girl?

Life through a phone is a lie.
It always feels a bit like betrayal, when I call chick lit/romance smart because it so easily implies that all books in this genre are dumb, drab or both. I don’t like the term chick lit for starters anyway, why is it called ‘slice of life’ or ‘coming of age’ for men but for us again cut down to ‘chick’ and ‘lit’? I’ve never met a woman that called herself (unironically) chick. But this is a side note.
Who’s That Girl? has a premise that made groan a bit; the main character allows the groom to kiss her on his wedding day and she flees the absolute mayhem that follows. All that, and it needs almost 500 pages? Honestly, I can’t even remember why I took this book from the library, but I’m glad I did. Because Mhairi McFarlane shows oh so realistically how the victim is blamed, how bullying isn’t just something for (high) school and that it’s easy to outrace yourself and your needs without really noticing it. So Who’s That Girl? is definitely a coming of age, lessons learned book for the thirty-something woman.
Besides all that, it’s fun. It’s heartfelt, whatever Edie does and tries, especially when she starts adjusting to being back in Nottingham (having fled there), connecting with her family and neighbours (in a way), and finding satisfaction from work (ghostwriting the biography of an actor). She tries and she stumbles but it never looks like it happens For The Plot or as filler. Okay, of course there’s some stuff that will make you harumpf in (embarrassed) disbelief, but none of it feels quirky because it has to be quirky. Honestly, if this can happen when you’re half way into your thirties, I’m looking forward to it.
Who’s That Girl?, Mhairi McFarlane, Harper Collins 2016

Of Things Gone Astray

Mrs Featherby had been having pleasant dreams until she woke to discover the front of her house had vanished overnight.

For a few months, I’ve only read books from my To Read list. It’s satisfying to see the number go down, but now there’s mostly nonfiction and yet unavailable books, I gave myself the freedom of going to the library without a list. Yes, wild, I know (I still managed to find two books of my To Read list, but it’s not about that right now).

Of Things Gone Astray got my attention with its cover, and the description was appealing enough for me to ignore it being a collection of stories (pro: there have to be at least a few that are nice. con: the nice ones will never last long enough).

Even though it’s a collection of different characters, some of them slowly move into each other’s orbit, making it feel more like a world building from different angles than completely stand-alone stories. I feel like this made me like the story more, making it a bit more eerie than playing connect-the-dots.

Still, it’s not a novel that will stay with me forever, it was different and random enough to be something weird and quirky in my reading. A bit like a pause, maybe.

Of Things Gone Astray, Janina Matthewson, HarperCollins Publishers 2014

The Hate U Give

I shouldn’t have come to this party.

This one is probably going to be relevant for a long time coming, and that’s why I’m unsure how to go about this. As one of the blurbs on the back of the book says, everyone should read it, maybe especially if it makes you uncomfortable, but how do I put into words why you should read it?

Maybe because it gives a face to Ferguson, to Black Lives Matter, to Flint and all the other cases in which it’s easy to think of an entity, instead of a collection of individuals. Starr is one of the few black people on a very fancy school, which makes her feel like she’s living two versions of herself. When she witnesses a shooting, it’s harder to keep those two apart.

But it’s not just Starr’s story. It’s her family, her community and the endless attempts of being heard and seen as people, instead of thugs, low-lives, useless. Angie Thomas balances that impressively, and even though there are rough patches to get through, you’ll be so attached to the people you’re reading about, that you just take it.

And again, definitely a book I would have rather seen in my YA Literature class than another white boy story.

The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas, HarperCollins 2017

Acceptance

Just out of reach, just beyond you: the rush and froth of the surf, the sharp smell of the sea, the criscrossing shape of the gulls, their sudden, jarring cries.

And the Southern Reach Trilogy is done. As it looks like I haven’t reviewed the previous novels, I’ll just judge the entire trilogy in one go. It’ll be easier than just Acceptance, the last (and biggest) novel.

The Southern Reach Trilogy is an eerie set of books you’d best ignore if you like your conclusions clear and your clues obvious. In these three books, especially the first one, a lot of uncomfortable weirdness builds up, but Jeff VanderMeer doesn’t give you a breather.

There’s an unfamiliar place where life functions along different rules. It infects, it controls, it changes the research teams that enter, and no-one seems to be able to understand if it’s aliens, the planet itself, or something they can’t even think of.

The first two books are small ones, just enough to give the reader the creeps without feeling like you’re being brought along for a ride to nowhere. Acceptance might mean that the people involved are accepting, but the reader will have to do without a clear answer. The creeps stay though, just in a lesser amount.

Acceptance, Jeff VanderMeer, HarperCollins 2014