Tag Archives: Female Narrator

Elizabeth is Missing, Emma Healey

Elizabeth is Missing, Emma HealeyElizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

First Published: 2014

Pages: 282
Form: Novel

Rating:5/55/55/55/55/5

Maud is forgetful. She makes a cup of tea and doesn’t remember to drink it. She goes to the shops and forgets why she went. Sometimes her home is unrecognizable – or her daughter Helen is a total stranger.

But there’s one thing Maud is sure of: her friend Elizabeth is missing. The note in her pocket tells her so. And no matter who tells her to stop going on about it, to leave it alone, to shut up, Maud will get to the bottom of it.

Because somewhere in Maud’s damaged mind lies the answer to an unsolved seventy-year-old mystery. One that everyone has forgotten about.

Everyone, except Maud . . .

Elizabeth is Missing is part mystery, part historical fiction and part family drama. But really what it’s about is Maud; an elderly woman slowly losing her memory to dementia. And the real strength of the book is not in the mysteries (which aren’t that hard to solve) but in the way Maud narrates the story. First person present tense – which I normally loathe –  works absolutely beautifully here for a woman not giving an account of something that has happened, but permanently stuck living in the moment (either in the present or in her 1940s childhood). The repetition, the contradictions,confusion, and denials of something she has already said all make her very sadly realistic as she progresses from ‘forgetful’ to in need of permanent care.

But, throughout the dementia; the blanks in her memory, the confusion over words, the occasional inability to recognise her own daughter, Maud maintains a strong and distinct personality of her own and is never ‘just’ a forgetful old lady. She’s not the sharpest tool in the box (even before the dementia) but she is likeable, funny, strong-willed, and tenacious. So once she’s decided that her friend, Elizabeth, is missing she does not let go of it as her carers and her daughter all tell her to, but determines to find her for herself. And, as she slowly loses grip on the present, trying to find Elizabeth brings back memories of her older sister, Sukey, who disappeared in 1946.

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The Dark Heroine: Dinner With a Vampire, Abigail Gibbs

Dinner With a Vampire, Abigail GibbsThe Dark Heroine: Dinner With a Vampire by Abigail Gibbs

Publisher: HarperVoyager
Pages: 549 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: The Dark Heroine #1

Rating:

For Violet Lee, a chance encounter on a darkened street draws her into a world beyond her wildest imaginings, a timeless place of vast elegance and immeasurable wealth where a decadent group of friends live for pleasure alone. A place from which there is no escape…no matter how hard Violet tries.

Yet all the riches in the world can’t mask the darkness that lies beneath the gilded surface embodied in the charismatic, sexy and very dangerous Kaspar Varn.

Objectively the worst book I have read, not just since I started thinking critically about books or reviewing, but ever. Dinner With a Vampire combines all the worst traits of paranormal romance – a bratty and self-absorbed female narrator, an unlikable physically, emotionally, and sexually abusive love interest, vampires who are ‘perfect’ with no faults or weaknesses, the human character being somehow more ‘special’ than other humans, barely fleshed out side characters, forbidden love etc. etc., you name it. Just a few of these would be bad enough on their own even if written competently, but instead we have them mushed together nonsensically into a big mess where basic principles of writing such as ‘plot’, ‘continuity’ ‘character development’ and ‘worldbuilding’ seem unheard of. It’s a genuinely terrible book, and one I wouldn’t recommend to anybody (and would advise people who have ever been raped or in an abusive relationship to steer well clear of) but somehow I couldn’t  bring myself to actively hate or abandon it. It’s so bad that I had to keep going, just to see how much worse it could get (the answer: lots) but too bad for me to hate it. Rather than resent her poor writing, I can’t help  but feel rather sorry for the teenage author (I certainly wouldn’t like my teenage writings published!). This is, essentially, a first draft of a book that should never have got past the publisher’s slush pile, let alone seen the light of day as a published novel and as such it feels very harsh to judge it even by the basic standards of what I expect in a published work.

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Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Publisher: Collector’s Library
Pages: 650 including Afterword (Hardback)
Form: Novel
Series: Standalone

Rating:

Jane Eyre  has long been one of the most popular of all literary classics. It tells the moving and eventful story of Jane, an orphan entrusted to the care of her aunt by her dying uncle. The aunt cares greatly for her own children, on whom she lavishes praise and attention, but dislikes Jane, whom she ignores and unfairly punishes. Jane escapes by being sent to a strict Evangelical school where, despite the austerities of the environment, she finally meets pupils and teachers who nurture and encourage her. From there she goes to work as a governess at a large country mansion, where she falls in love with the mysterious master of the house, the Byronic Mr Rochester, a charismatic character with a troubled past. Part fairy tale, part Gothic horror, part love story, Jane Eyre is the archetypal account of an orphan’s progress through a confusing and often cruel world. 

A wonderful book, spoiled, in part, because  I already knew the story. It’s (deservedly) a very famous book and the plot is one that is hard not to know, even if you’ve never read it. Normally this isn’t a problem for me, I read classics I know the story to or have seen on film/tv/stage all the time. The problem is that with this book, like  The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde or Rebecca, knowing the basic plot essentially robs you of the ‘aha!’ moment when the twist is revealed, and all the uneasy suspense and questioning you should be doing leading up to it. It worked for me in the same way rereading does; knowing the big twist, I could spot the hints and the foreshadowing, and appreciate just how good a writer Charlotte Brontë was and how well plotted and put together that bit of storytelling is – but I felt robbed of that ‘first read’ feeling and as a result the book wasn’t an unputdownable five stars. Continue reading

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Ella Minnow Pea, Mark Dunn

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

Publisher: Methuen
Pages: 203  (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Standalone

Rating:

As Ella Minnow Pea writes to her cousin with the latest news on the small, quiet island of Nollop, little does she imagine the crisis ahead. The letter z has fallen from the statue of Nevin Nollop, revered author of the sentence ‘The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog’ – and the island’s rulers interpret this as a sign of divine displeasure and ban its use in any form. In a novel composed of correspondence, the loss of z is inconvenient; but far worse is to come as more letters fall and more are banned until only l, m, n, o, p remain…

The story of a battle against tyranny, this extraordinary novel, written with an ever-shrinking alphabet, is at once a moving love story, a brilliant political allegory and an unforgettable celebration of language.

Another one of my impulse buys, I picked this up based on nothing but the cover and blurb – expecting a fun and slightly quirky little story. What I got was…well a funny and slightly quirky little story, but I had to slog through a first half that was trying to be a bit too clever for its own good before I got there. Continue reading

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Cinderella: Fables Are Forever, Chris Roberson and Shawn McManus

Cinderella: Fables Are Forever

Form: Comic Book (Trade Paperback)
Writer: Chris Roberson
Artists:
Shawn McManus
Publisher: Vertigo (DC)
Series: Cinderella #2 (Fables spinoff)

Rating: 

Fashionista, socialite – spy?

Hey, if the shoe fits…

She poses as a haughty socialite in glass stilettos by day – and okay, sometimes by night. But Cinderella is actually Fabletown’s master spy. Tasked with doing jobs too dirty and deadly for the average Fable, Cindy’s faced down dangers from a dozen worlds and lived to tell the tales (over cocktails in a hot tub, if you’re lucky).

But every secret agent has one annoying ruthless archnemesis and Cindy is no exception. Back in the Big ’80s, Cindy encountered her dark mirror, a rogue American Fable, who was in league with the mysterious Shadow Fabletown. Cindy thought she’d destroyed her rival years ago. But when a powerful magician turns up dead and another seeks her help, Cindy’s hunt for her old enemy begins anew.

From the frigid back alleys of Russia to the steaming desert, Cindy will follow the clues down the blood-flecked yellow brick road and risk everything she’s got – including her secret identity – to solve the crime and finally get revenge on Silver Slipper.

Eugh. I really wanted to like this one. I was looking forward to it as some superlight reading after my dissertation but no. And it makes me sad because, despite the recent lackluster issues, I do love Fables and Cinderella was one of my favourite characters. I enjoyed her last miniseries too – not as much as the main comics but enough to buy the second – but this is just…underwhelming on all fronts. Continue reading

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The Time Traveler’s Wife, Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Publisher: Vintage Future Classics (Random House)
Pages:
519 (Paperback)
Form: Novel
Series: Standalone

Rating:

This is the extraordinary Love Story of Clare and Henry, who met when Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry suffers from a rare condition where his genetic clock periodically resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future. In the face of this force they can neither prevent nor control, Henry and Clare’s struggle to lead normal lives is both intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

Not to mention ‘mind-numbingly tedious’.

I really wanted to like this book, after all the reviews I expected to like this book. I pretty much knew I wasn’t going to give it 5 stars – I’m not a romance kinda girl, but I loved the idea of the story and, based on what I’d heard, expected it to earn a solid 4 stars. As you can see that didn’t happen. I don’t actually hate – or even actively dislike – this book. I can even see why some people love it, but to me it just read as a very interesting idea ruined by mediocre execution. It’s not ‘bad’, there are glimmers of ‘good’ but for the most part it’s simply so ok it’s average. And when a book is over 500 pages long it really needs to be more than ‘ok’. Continue reading

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The Oxford Despoiler, Gary Dexter

The Oxford Despoiler and other mysteries from the case book of Henry St Liver by Gary Dexter

Publisher: Old Street
Pages:
256 (Paperback)
Form: Short Stories
Series: Standalone (?)

Rating:

Eight thrilling mysteries introducing Henry St Liver, Victorian detective extraordinaire, and his spirited sidekick Olive Salter

Back Cover

And cause that’s not really that descriptive of what’s inside:

Tall, rake-thin and copiously moustachioed with a high, piping voice, Henry St Liver is at first glance not an impressive specimen. But the moment he is confronted with a mystery to solve – one with a risqué element – he is turned into a positive genius of detection and decision. In this first collection, he and his spirited assistant Olive Salter tackle eight cases that have baffled Scotland Yard, taking them on a series of dramatic journeys into the most exotic reaches of Victorian society, and of the human heart. With an extraordinary cameo appearance by Oscar Wilde, and informed by a wealth of lightly worn erudition, these stories mark the fiction debut of a brilliant talent. They will be relished by all aficionados of the Victorian detective genre.

Amazon Product Description

Ok, well that’s a bit more detailed but I still don’t think either blurb is being entirely open about two very important aspects of this book – aspects that could be deal-breakers for someone just looking for the simple Victorian detective stories this seems to be being advertised as. Continue reading

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