Good story, could be written better.
Read my full review here.
Purchase the novel here.
A Work of Art by Micayla Lally (She Writes Press)
Review copy provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.
Genres: Drama, Women’s fiction, Romance
Letting go after her abrupt break-up with Samson is harder than Julene thought it would be, especially since her ex has wasted no time in burying himself in the local dating scene. But during an extended visit to her parents overseas, Julene rediscovers her love of art, and a burgeoning career develops. Samson, on the other hand, after trying valiantly—and unsuccessfully—to forget Julene, has settled instead on his own new career. When Julene returns home to Australia, a coincidental meeting leads to an emotional reunion—but her love and patience will be tested when she finds out just how busy Samson has been in her absence. Yes, they have both made mistakes they can work through and move past—but when a spectre from Samson’s past looms, Julene wonders: Can she trust him again?
This is one of the most frustrating novels I’ve read in a long time, and the reason for that is simple. The story is great, but the telling is distinctly not. The novel is very fast paced, but there is little detail in any of the scenes. What’s more, when there is detail, it seems to occur during the most inane occasions. There are some quite dramatic moments in this novel which have the potential to be extremely emotional and involving, but they are written about with the air of an afterthought. The most important aspects of the story are glossed over, whilst mundane conversations about rice pads are dealt with in great detail.
Now that I’m at the end of the novel, I still don’t feel that I have a good grasp of who the characters really are, what their motivations are and how they feel about anything that’s happened in the book. I think part of this is down to the dialogue. The conversations don’t seem realistic, and the writing style brings the phrase ‘hoity-toity’ to mind.
Focusing on the more positive aspects of the novel, the story is a very relatable and realistic. What happens in this novel could easily happen to anyone, and yet there are enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. Unfortunately, you don’t have to guess for very long.
For example, the beginning of the novel is involving, as the two main characters, Julene and Samson, have ended their relationship but we don’t know why. Rather than use this as a way to keep readers interested, the tension is broken a few chapters later when the author reveals the reason for their break-up. I would have loved for her to have drawn this out a little more, as the majority of the book is much less interesting. 70% of the novel could perhaps could be entitled ‘the Sexcapades of Julene and co.’, but sadly this is nowhere near as fun as it sounds. In some cases, her circumstances actually make it feel a bit ‘icky’.
If I could turn back time and read this novel again, I’m not sure I’d bother. I did read it until the end (the story was interesting enough for me to persevere through the bad writing) but maybe it would make a better movie?
A Work of Art is released on 2nd May 2017.
Final Girls by Riley Sager (Random House UK, Ebury Publishing, Ebury Press)
Genres: Fiction, Thriller, Drama, Mystery
Quincy is a baking blogger living a picture-perfect life with her lawyer boyfriend in central New York. At least, that’s what an outsider would see. When Quincy was in university herself and her friends were brutally attacked at Pine Cottage, a trauma which Quincy has carried with her, along with a media label she can’t escape – she is a ‘Final Girl’. This name links her with two other survivors of violent crime, Sam and Lisa.
The famous trio have never met, but that will quickly change with Lisa’s apparent suicide and Sam’s arrival on Quincy’s doorstep.Alongside her Final Girl companions comes the past Quincy wants to forget, and some hard truths which make her question even her most steadfast beliefs.
Final Girls is a compelling mystery thriller with a intricate narrative that keeps the reader hooked until the very last page.
The first thing I thought when I picked up this book was that it was extremely well written.
This may seem obvious – after all it is a published novel. Sadly, that is becoming less and less indicative of quality literature nowadays. When I started reading Final Girls I could tell within the first few pages that it would be an easy read. Sager’s prose has a diversity and fluidity which makes it interesting, engaging and yet not so complicated as you have to work out what she’s on about. Even better, it’s not so simple that you feel like you’re reading a book aimed at tweens.
By no means, however, does an easy-reader mean that we are faced with a simple chick-lit novel for people who aren’t interested in a good plot or character development. The story is one of the most compelling I’ve read in a long time.
Sager has actually managed to write a novel full of twists which I didn’t see coming. I don’t mean to bang my own drum here, but I find imaginative twists more and more difficult to come by. Perhaps I’ve read too many books, so I expect the unexpected. Or maybe quality authors who still have the ability to surprise a modern audience are just harder to come by. Whatever the reason, I’m delighted to have come across Sager. She’s one of those authors who gives you just enough information to make you think you’re clever and that you’ve worked it out, and then throws not one but ten curve-balls at you.
I will admit, I wasn’t always happy about those curve-balls. The ending of the novel is not as satisfying as I’d like it to be, because it results in Quincy losing someone who I thought was a brilliant, admirable character. I felt a little cheated, and I’m not sure that the decision really benefited the novel. That, however, is personal preference.
Final Girls is an intriguing, harrowing, uplifting and occasionally tragic story, which sensitively illustrates the reality for many real victims of violent crime. Sager provides a unique opportunity to delve into the psyche of the ‘victim’, not with one character but with many, and reveals just what we would expect; no two victims are the same, and they may, in fact, be something entirely unexpected.
In many ways Final Girls is a by-the-numbers mystery novel. As you proceed through the story you discover, alongside the protagonist, the gratifying and horrifying truths of life. What helps it to stand out from the crowd, however, are clearly defined characters with real motivations. They are the backbone of this novel. The reader feels for them, understands them, envies them, hates them, and has to find out how their stories end. The plot is compelling, but without this strong cast of characters I’m doubtful the story would have the same impact.
A review copy of this book was sent to myself via Netgalley – the novel is released to the public on 29th June 2017.
I hope you put it on your reading wishlist, and please let me know what you think!
You can follow Riley Sager on Twitter.
Ida by Alison Evans (Bonnier Publishing Australia/Echo Publishing)
Genres: Teens and Young Adult, Fantasy, Science Fiction
Ida is a high school graduate struggling to find meaning in her life. She has a great family and a fantastic relationship, but as far as a career goes, she stuck in a dead-end cafe job with no way out. But she’s still a teenager – does it really matter if she hasn’t decided which high-flying career she wants?
Her lack of inspiration, combined with an unusual ability to turn back time and undo her mistakes, leaves Ida feeling adrift, unable to stick to one path.
A chance encounter with a familiar face makes Ida wonder if she has as much control over her life as she thinks. What if her decisions aren’t actually hers at all?
The Review – SPOILER FREE!
I started this book knowing nothing except the title. By about page 20 I knew I wanted to read it to the very end.
Ida is a truly unique story, and it is very hard to say that in this day and age. It is a beautiful exploration of what it is like to be a teenager today, in a modern world filled with expectations, enforced opinions and stereotypical views. Just thinking about it is stifling. It wasn’t so long ago that I was in a very similar position to Ida. I’d completed my degree, I was working at a cafe, no one would hire me and I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.
Sadly, that’s where the similarities end. Very early on in the book we discover that Ida has the ability to go back in time and not only re-live experiences, but change them. Before discovering this power, I was worrying the book would be a little predictable for my tastes (bear in mind I was on page 4 at this point!). I was soon proved wrong as Ida avoided a near-fatal car crash by going back in time and changing her route home.I definitely didn’t see it coming (no pun intended).
Being able to fix our mistakes is perhaps one of the most coveted fantasies out there. I know I’d make excellent use of it. I’m a bit of a sucker for books which explore these sorts of desires, and Ida is no different. How wonderful would it be to erase every mistake you’ve ever made? You remember them so you can still learn from them, as the old adage says, you just don’t have to inflict your own idiocy or self-importance on others.
It took a while for Ida to realise she had this ability, but once she knew what she could do she didn’t hold back – and why would you? Even simple problems could be swept under the rug – you could clean up the broken china from the mug you dropped, but why bother when you can just close your eyes and make it go away?
As with all good things, however, Ida’s ability has a dark side. She begins to encounter individuals who seem to wish her harm, but by escaping them she digs herself into even darker situations, and ultimately comes to understand that her ability is not at all what she thought it was. These experiences culminate in some excruciating choices for Ida. In situations like this, as a reader, you can’t help but make your own decisions about what you would do in her situation. Evans has managed to write a compelling novel which encourages reflection both of how you live your life but also how your choices impact on everybody around you. Even the smallest decision can make a huge impact later in life -the butterfly effect.
As well as challenging my ideas about myself, Ida also challenged my expectations of people in general. Ida is in a relationship with Daisy, who is genderqueer (i.e. a person who doesn’t conform to the idea of gender as binary). I thought that I’d have absolutely no issue with a character like Daisy, but I am not afraid to admit that initially I found her presence a bit jarring.
Why? Daisy uses the pronoun ‘they’, rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’. This is not something I’ve come across before, and seeing it written down on paper felt, strangely, a little dehumanising to me. I was reminded of a bad habit I used to have of talking about someone to another person, with the first person in the room and without my referring to them by name.”I’m right here you know!”
Thinking about it logically, there is absolutely no reason that referring to someone as ‘they’ rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’ should make me feel like this, and I’m glad to report that it only took a couple of chapters for me to get used to it. I guess it’s a reflection of our society – although being genderqueer is becoming more and more accepted, it might be a long time before we’re completely used to it. It’s a real shame, but the more books published like Ida, the quicker that understanding will come. Daisy doesn’t feature in the book as much as I’d like. They seem to be a great grounding presence for Ida, and Evans really manages to convey Ida’s sense of loss when, for reasons I won’t go into, Daisy isn’t always available.
There is a relatively small cast of characters but they are all extremely well developed. It may seem like small praise, but it’s amazing how many two-dimensional people we read about in novels. In Ida, Evans has been able to create a group of individuals who each clearly have their own thoughts, desires and motivations. I’d perhaps have liked to see a little more of Ida’s father – he was often on the sidelines of Ida’s live, though this may be a reflection of any relationship between a teenage girl and her dad. Always there, but not always noticed.
There are two more characters in the novel who I found very intriguing, Damaris and Adrastos. I won’t go into any detail, but their presence definitely indicates that there is more to the world of Ida than Evans reveals in this novel.
I don’t know whether the book will be standalone or become part of a larger series, but I sure it’s the latter.
A review copy of this book was sent to myself via Netgalley – the novel is released to the public on 30th January 2017.
I hope you put it on your reading wishlist, and please let me know what you think when you read it!