Less by Andrew Sean Greer

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

There has been so much buzz around Andrew Sean Greer’s Less so I was keen to see what all the fuss was about.

Arthur Less is about to turn fifty and is essentially having a mid life crisis. He’s a novelist who has written one good book and the love of his life is about to marry someone else.

Arthur feels enough is enough and decides to embark on a round the world tour by accepting invitations to literary events. His travels take him to Mexico, Germany and India to name a few.

The chapters are broken down by countries and each chapter could be read independently from the rest.

The novel offers antic-dotes for the reader to understand how Arthur has ended up how he is.

Arthur is reeling from his ex-boyfriend’s impending marriage and as a result has lost confidence in himself and considers himself a failure. He has a wide network of friends, some of whom are more supportive and encouraging than others.

Although there are some funny one liners, the novel is essentially about mental health and how learning from mistakes can make you a richer and happier person.

The 250 page book took me three weeks to read and the first half was an absolute struggle. I felt I perhaps needed to be a little older to understand Arthur’s woes and as a result couldn’t to relate to him. It has won lots of awards and has received high praise so don’t let my review out you off!

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Force of Nature by Jane Harper

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

I had really high hopes for Force of Nature – from the chilling title to the dramatic cover to the praise it received. I thought the novel would take me no longer than a week to read as I wouldn’t have been able to put it down, in actual fact it took me just over a month to finish it. I felt as though I was constantly waiting for it to get going and the suspension and tension, for me, was too vague and ambiguous therefore I started to lose a bit of interest.

It wasn’t all bad though. The last hundred pages saved the book and was where all the action happened.

Five work colleagues, as part of a team bonding weekend, go into the Australian bush. None of the women partially like each other. There’s Jill Bailey, who’s brother owns the company they work for. Sisters Bree and Beth who on the surface cannot stand each other and the latter is slowing getting her life together after drink and drug problems. There’s Lauren who’s work conscious but it constantly thinking about her anorexic teenage daughter who used to be friends with Alice’s daughter before a big falling out. Alice’s mind is also on her daughter who is the subject of having naked photos posted on the internet supposedly by her ex-boyfriend.

Throughout their weekend there is constant arguing of which route to take, when to stop for food and their personal baggage spills over into the team bonding trip. Following an argument Alice sets off to find her own way back to the lodges and this is where the trouble starts. Lauren chases after Alice and the pair have a huge physical fight about their daughters. Alice hits her head and Lauren leaves Alice, who she believes to be still alive. Bree then goes out to find Alice dead and looks at her bag which has an item marked ‘property of Beth’. To save her sister Bree moves the backpack and removes the item. When Alice doesn’t come back the group go into panic mode.

Woven into the novel is the narrative of the detectives trying to find out what has happened to Alice and the chance that her death might have something to do with the a murderer who has already claimed the lives of three women.

The last hundred pages highlights the social politics of a group of women and the lengths women will go to to defend their family.

Can You Hear Me? By Elena Varvello

Can You Hear Me? By Elena Varvello

I thought Can You Hear Me was going to pan out completey differently to how the blurb describes the novel.

The blurb focuses on the kidnap of a young girl and the disappearance of a boy. However the book is about the effects of these events on Elia and his father’s involvement in them.

Ettore is a complex man who loses his job and his mental health takes a downward spiral because of this. He disappears for days and when he does come home is aloof and does not speak to his wife or Elia.

This has a huge effect on the family, not least Elia, especially at a sensitive time during his teenage years. His mother is in complete denial about his father’s actions.

So Elia turns to his friend Stefanio’s mother, Anna, for comfort. The two have an enomorous amount of sexual tension but both know entering into an sort of encounter will cause damage to many people.

In between Elia’ s thoughts is the actual event of the kidnap. Although the girl is unharmed, it is at times really harrowing and is a difficult read.

When Ettore is taken in for questioning over the kidnap of the girl, the family’s world comes crashing down Elia’s mother stands by her husband and Elia turns to Anna and does sleep with her.

Elia’s whole teenage years are ruined by his father’s actions and his mother’s reactions to this. His father then dies in prison of a heart attack a few years later.

I think the book is a great exploration into the indirect effects of a parent’s actions which isn’t always explored in novels as the focus tends to be on either the victim or tormentor. Although the novel wasn’t what I thought and at times was difficult to follow with all the changes in time, it was still a thrilling read.

The Beautiful Summer by Cesare Pavese

The Beautiful Summer by Cesare Pavese

A Beautiful Summer was recommended in Waterstones weekly email. At the moment I get a lot of the recommendations from the email they send out and having only been to Italy three months ago, I am still obsessed with all things Italian.

Written in 1949 and translated from Italian to English, A Beautiful Summer tells the story of Ginia and Amelia. The young girls don’t really have a care in the world. The things they do hone in on and worry about are the trival things you obsess about at that age. This is what Cesare Pavese so brilliantly captures – I remember at that age not really having a care about the bigger picture and not seeing the consequences of actions. Instead I would worry about trival things, a fly away comment, that in the grand scheme of things was not remotely important.

Although not set in Florence, the novel had me dreaming of those old cobbled streets and old artsy buildings.

I have to admit I enjoyed the beginning and the ending but lost it a bit in the middle. I’m not sure if there was enough to keep me entertained. It felt like one of those books I would have been made to read at uni and one which my lecturers would have gone mad over.

For once I read the introduction (this was by Elizabeth Strout) having background on the author gave more substance to the novel for me.

It’s a nice artsy novel however I don’t know if I’d be reaching for it again.

The Missing Girl by Jenny Quintana

The Missing Girl by Jenny Quintana

So I’ve read my 6473838 thriller of the year. In comparison to others I’ve read The Missing Girl by Jenny Quintana sits in the middle however it’s not to be dismissed as a bad novel and is definitely worth a read.

The book flits between present day and 1982. Anna is in her hometown for her mother’s funeral and to sort through her family home and late father’s business. Anna rarely visited her mother in her final years and the relationship between the two is incredibly fractured and via flashbacks we learn why.

Anna and her sister Gabriella were incredibly close growing up, that is until Gabriella goes missing. She just vanishes and no one can offer any clues as to what happened. Anna becomes the ‘girl who has the missing sister’ and her parents completely fall apart. Anna is given food and comfort from relatives but nothing compares to the longing and desire to know what happened to her sister. The event tears the family apart and their father suffers a fatal heart attack in the woods looking for Gabriella.

Edward Lilly and his family have recently moved to the village and not much is known about them. Edward is stern and unwelcoming and his children, Martha and Lydia are shunned by their classmates for their peculiar nature. But it’s Martha who turns out to be the missing link in the mystery of Gabriella’s disappearance.

By sorting through her parents stuff, Anna uncovers the secret that Edward Lilly was really Gabriella father and as Martha was one if the last people to see Gabriella alive Anna forces Martha to tell her what really happened on that awful day. Edward and Gabriella had a disagreement and Gabriella told him that she wanted to be with her family, not him. He took her into the house where his wife murdered Gabriella and buried her in the garden. This isn’t Edward’s first murder and the tradegy is he cannot be brought to pay for his crimes having died some years earlier.

This is a good book and defitnitely one you could devour of a summer afternoon.

He Said She Said by Erin Kelly

He Said She Said by Erin Kelly

He Said She Said by Erin Kelly is the ultimate in thriller fiction. I really could not put this book down. Each section I read had so many twist and turns that I genuinely did not see coming and the best bit…having one of the protagonists as completely unreliable. The novel flits between Laura and Kit’s viewpoints from 1999 and 2015. I’ll try and summarise as best I can.

Laura and Kit are two young lovers who are obsessed with ecplises. The pair travel to Cornwall, one of the best places in the world to see 1999’s eclipse. Laura travels down a day later than Kit and he along with his twin brother Mac have a hot drink stand running at a festival.

Laura notices a purse lying in the grass and follows a trail to the owner, who is found face down in the dirt with a man on top of her. The police are called and Jamie the attacker is arrested on suspicion of rape. Beth, the victim doesn’t say anything when questioned by police. Laura struggles to believe what she’s witnessed. Was it really rape?

The trial takes place in Cornwall, Jamie’s family are incredibly wealthy and do everything they can to try and get their son off the hook. But money cannot save him when Laura tells the court that Beth was shouting ‘no’ during the assault – a lie.

Beth befriends Laura and Kit but becomes too friendly, constantly in their flat and causing struggles between the couple. When Laura tells Beth to back off, Beth leaves the flat. A few weeks later broken glass is put through the letterbox and a fire breaks out in their flat. Meanwhile Beth is getting threats sent in the post from Jamie for the lie she told in court.

The pair decide to start a new life with a new identity to avoid Beth but Laura constantly lives her life in fear.

But halfway through the book we hear Kit’s version of events. Kit knew Beth before Laura found her being raped because he slept with her the night before the attack. The friendship Beth then strikes up the Laura puts him on edge so he was the one who put glass though the door and set fire to the flat to make it look like Beth did it.

When Kit is out of the country, in 2015, Beth tracks down the pregnant Laura thanks to a social media post from Kit detailing his travel plans for the year’s eclipses. Beth tells Laura than Jamie is now out of prison and has broken his wife’s jaw – he’s been abusing his wife for years. This is the information they need to put Jamie back behind bars. The novel’s climax is Jamie holding Beth and Laura hostage but one of them doesn’t make it out alive as Kit bursts into the flat and Laura find some out the real truth of Kit and Beth’s relationship.

I loved this novel, it had me hooked from the off. I could easily see this being turned into a film or tv adaption. I’m definitely going to read more of Erin Kelly’s novels if this is what I can expect.

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

I bought The Witchfinders Sister by Beth Underdown on a bit of a whim. With post wedding blues and a negative bank balanace to boot I was after a bargain. Even reading the blurb I was slightly unsure if I would like the novel but thought I’d give it a chance seeing as I love anything set in history.

Alice Hopkin’s husband sadly dies and she returns home to her brother. Feeling fragile and lost, Alice is carrying her late husband’s child, tragically she’s lost many children before birth previously, so is understandably feeling worried about what might happen now.

Her brother, Matthew felt Alice’s husband was too lowly a match so Alice conceals the preganancy from her brother (tragically she does loose the baby). Matthew though is far too preoccupied to notice. He is obsessed with finding witchcraft in the community and torturing, sometimes innocent, women.

The book is haunting and Matthew’s obsession and dark behaviour is linked to his traumatic first few days of life where is falls into a fire.

For me, the plot wasn’t strong enough and detailed enough to keep me hooked, I wish Alice and Matthew were both developed more as characters and to make more of an impact the narrative could have been made even darker.