Full House Reading Challenge – Love, Lies and Lemon Cake – Sue Watson

Genre: Romantic comedy

Narrative Style: First person chronological

Rating: 2/5

Published: 2014

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Faye Dobson’s marriage has grown stale. She no longer has anything in common with her husband and she is bored with her life. She had had dreams once but now they all seem dead. When a new deli opens with a hunky Australian behind the counter, she realises something has to change.

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre – Food in title.

Okay, so I knew this might not be for me from the start. I was struggling to find a book with food in the title. All the obvious ones like Chocolat, for example, I’ve already read. There are a lot of rom-com sounding books with food in the title so I thought I’d give one a go. It’s good to read outside of your norm once in a while anyway.

So, the narrator of Watson’s novel is Faye Dobson. She is a bored housewife whose husband is a stereotypical pig who only cares about his plumbing. Her daughter is away at university and no longer needs her. She works in a hairdresser with an assortment of stereotypes and this is not fulfilling her. So far so typical. Everything in Faye’s life is a cliché. Which would be okay if she broke out of the mould and did something exciting.

Unfortunately, the trope of Antipodean hunk rescuing middle-aged frump is just a different sort of cliché. Dan is everything you’d hope he would be. Perfect on the eye, understanding, just longing for an older woman to be his mother substitute.

As you may be able to tell, I found this book rather irritating. It isn’t particularly badly written. In fact, it was one of the more enjoyable of this genre that I have read. It just wasn’t for me. I’m not going to deny my intellectual snobbiness. The main character was a hairdresser and her husband was a plumber. I really don’t think I was the target audience.

I think the thing that I found the most irritating was the fact that this was pure escapism. Faye leaves her husband in the most easy way possible and then we barely hear from him again. She is allowed unlimited time away from work to have her Mediterranean adventure with Dan. And when history repeats itself with her daughter, everything turns out rosy in the way that it didn’t for Faye. Real life has no place here.

It made me think about why I read. I wouldn’t say that escapism is very high on my list. I like to read about other people’s lives to find out about different times and places. This told me nothing that I didn’t already know.

Full House Reading Challenge – The Mysterious Affair at Styles – Agatha Christie

Genre: Cosy Mystery

Narrative Style: First Person

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1920

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Just before her death by strychnine poisoning, Emily Inglethorp is heard arguing with someone.  It is assumed to be her husband. In fact, the case seems cut and dried at first. However, Hercule Poirot soon proves that this is not the case.

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre Cosy Mystery.

I have read some Agatha Christie before but it was a long time ago and the only thing I was sure of was that it wasn’t a Poirot book. I seem to remember enjoying it but I was certainly still at school, it was that long ago.

It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy this book. There was some interest and intrigue. It was fun working out the mystery. But that was as far as it went.

The main problem was that it felt like all the mechanisms were on show. Maybe I am just too used to reading detective fiction but this one was definitely lacking in subtlety. It was just too pat. Poirot just happened to be in the area. Hastings was just a little too stupid. (And as he was presumably supposed to represent the reader, it was a little insulting.) The double bluff was a step too far with Poirot the only one clever enough to have figured it out.

As ever, I found it difficult to cope with people who are so incredibly posh. I did not feel particularly bothered about their fates. The main thing here was the mystery. The characters were almost incidental.

Finally, I suppose it was a little tame. I’m not suggesting that I need gore and horror, necessarily but I do prefer stories with a bit of meat to them. There was not a lot here to sink your teeth into.

Full House Reading Challenge – Breath – Tim Winton

Genre: Bildungsroman, Australian Fiction,

Narrative Style: first person, flashback framed by present day.

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2008

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Bruce Pike is a paramedic. When he attends what appears to be a suicide by hanging, it takes him back to his thrill-seeking adolscence with his friend Loonie. They meet Sando, an older man who is keen to take their daring to new levels. 

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre Australian Fiction.

The story starts when Bruce Pike is called to what seems to be a suicide by hanging. A teenage boy has been found hanged by his parents. It is a horrific and emotional opening. There is something not quite right about the scene and Bruce knows straightaway that it is not a suicide. Much to the chagrin of his paramedic partner, he refuses to spill the beans as to how he knows.

The incident takes Bruce back to his childhood when he hung around with Loonie, the town’s wild boy when they spent their hours surfing. Not longer after, they meet Sando, an older man who lives a hippie lifestyle and seems to have no cares in the world.

The novel goes on to explore masculinity and the need for adrenalin. There is a stark contrast between the daring and exciting Sando and Bruce’s parents who are decsribed as dull and everyday. As the friendship between the three deepens, so the waves they take on get bigger and Bruce gets more and more nervous. A rivalry develops between Loonie and Bruce, and Bruce knows he has no hope of winning. He just isn’t brave enough.

When Sando goes away, taking Loonie with him, to explore foreign waves, Bruce is bereft. He begins to visit Sando’s wife and becomes involved in her erotic thrillseeking, something that both repulses and attracts him.

Bruce’s voice is very much an Australian one. Winton captures the speech patterns of his native country successfully while also putting Australian masculinity under the microscope. I enjoyed it immensely. My only criticism is that the end of the novel seemed a little rushed as Bruce moves to talking about his adult life. Apart from that, a very good read.

 

 

 

Full House Reading Challenge: The Short Drop – Matthew Fitzsimmons (Contains Spoilers)

Genre: Thriller

Narrative Style: Third Person from various viewpoints.

Rating: 2/5

Published: 2015

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Ten Years ago, senator’s daughter Suzanne Lombard disappeared. She has never been found. Gibson Vaughn, childhood friend of Suzanne is still finding her disappearance difficult to deal with so when he is approached by old nemesis, George Abe, who has a new lead, he is torn between wanting to find the truth and his dislike of Abe. When he agrees, he has no idea of the tangled web into which he will be pulled.

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre – Debut Novel. 

People really seem to like this book. There are barely any reviews on Goodreads that are less than 4 stars. I really don’t understand this as I found this book to be ordinary at best.

It started well. Gibson Vaughn was painted as a loner, a man haunted by his past and by Suzanne’s disappearance and that sounded interesting. The fact that he was being observed by a mysterious group that might be FBI added to the tension straightaway. Quickly Vaughn is pulled into an attempt at finding Suzanne’s abductor. So far so good: pacy, interesting characters, plenty of clues and insinuations.

However, for me it quickly went down hill. Various events stretched my willingness to suspend my disbelief to breaking point. It started when Jenn Charles and her ex-cop partner, following Abe’s orders, despatch some Guantanamo Bay style torture on the suspect they have captured. Then there is the psychopath Fred Tinsley, who is following the gang, waiting for the instruction to start bumping them off. And the security heavies Cold Harbour, who are controlled by Lombard’s father who is determined that nothing will spoil his presidential candidacy.

This just didn’t ring true for me. I must admit that I’m not overly familiar with the genre of political thriller but it just seemed a little too much. What had seemed fast paced and interesting at the beginning, began to feel like a rollercoaster gone off the rails.

On top of that, I saw all of the twists coming and that was annoying. The ending was unsatisfying. While Lombard resigns his candidacy, it seems like more should happen to him, that the terrible truth of what he has done should be revealed. Vaughn takes possession of Suzanne’s daughter without anyone so much as blinking and the girl herself is remarkably calm and unconcerned about what is going on.

Still, it seems I am in the minority. Most people love this book. Maybe it is just another genre that doesn’t really suit me.

Full House Reading Challenge – The Immoralist – Andre Gide

Genre: Classics, Translated Literature, Philosophical

Narrative Style: First person narrative 

Rating: 4/5

Format: Kindle

Published: 1902

Synopsis: Gide presents us with the confession of Michel, a man who seeks to live by his own desires. Having married to please his aged father, Michel soon discovers beauty in the shape of an Arab boy and is changed irrevocably. He starts to live by his own desires. He becomes restless and despite his wives ill health, travels constantly until at the end he arrives back at the place where he first discovered beauty. 

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge: European author.

This is not an easy read. Not because Michel abandons his wife and social convention to follow his own desires. In fact, it is still possible to like Michel even though he behaves badly towards Marceline. His questioning of moral constraints and his longing for a freedom that is meaningful mean that the reader is able to understand his behaviour.

The unease comes from Michel’s fascination with the male children that he meets. He sees the beauty in them and begins to spend all of his waking hours with them, leaving his wife to her own devices to be with them. The oldest of these children is 15. It is important to note that everything is innocent but still it makes for uncomfortable reading. Michel is fascinted by them and longs to follow his desires. So begins his journey towards becoming an immoralist.

Michel’s striving for freedom makes him restless and he cannot settle to anything, He becomes fascinated by the farm workers on his estate, with criminal lowlife and allows himself to become involved with poaching his own estate. Towards the end, he needs to keep moving, despite the fact that his wife is dying. This restlessness relates to his homosexuality which, in the end, he acknowledges with the last line of the novel when he says that he prefers the brother of the girl who has been looking after him. Earlier, he has the opportunity to take his freedom, through his friendship with Menalque but instead stays with his wife, who is representative of all  that society expects from Michel.

Whilst feeling uncomfortable with the object of Michel’s desire, it is still possible to empathise with his struggle. In fact, it is this aspect that is so difficult. Michel is not evil. He is conflicted and selfish and longs to be free of society’s constraints but in the end, he is recognisably human.

Full House Reading Challenge – American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Narrative Style: Third Person

Rating: 5/5

Published: 2001

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Shadow is looking forward to getting out of prison and seeing his wife again. However, on the day of his release he receives the news that his wife has been killed in a car crash. Then on the plane home, a strange man asks him to work for him. He knows things about Shadow he can’t possibly know and when he tries to escape him, he finds he can’t. This is only the beginning of the oddness that will now occupy Shadow’s life. The Gods are going to war and who knows what will be left afterwards.

Reading challenges: Full House Reading Challenge: Genre Two word title. 

I was hooked from the very beginning of this book. Shadow was intriguing from the very start. On the plane on the way to his wife’s funeral, he meets Wednesday who knows an awful lot about Shadow for a stranger. He wants Shadow to work for him. Shadow wants no such thing but finds it is impossible to escape his fate.

Shadow meets a lot of Gods along the way. Some were more obvious than others, perhaps due to my familiarity with certain legends over others – I’m much more familiar with Norse and Egyptian legends than I am with Native American for example. All of them are well drawn and recognisable even in their human form.

The old Gods are all dying out, due to lack of belief. Having been dragged to America from their native lands, they are finding survival in the modern world difficult. New Gods such as media and technology are trying to take over. Wednesday wants to take on this new world. He takes Shadow on a journey, trying to persaude other Gods to join forces and fight.

Of course, all is not what it seems and Gaiman carefully plants clues to the truth of Wednesday’s plan and Shadow’s place in it from the very start. There is a lot of talk of cons and sleight of hand so it should be no surprise that as an author, that is exactly what Gaiman does to the the reader. Not that it feels like a cheat. It certainly doesn’t. More like the satisfaction of watching a master pull of an impressive trick. Why didn’t I see that coming?

Gaiman is also a master at melding fantasy and reality. This tale of gods and myths takes place very firmly in modern America. The myth and the truth are not two separate things. It is easy to accept the magic because it feels like an everyday thing.

Full House Reading Challenge – Big Brother by Lionel Shriver – Contains spoilers

Genre: Literary Fiction, Family

Narrative Style: First person narrative

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2013

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: When Pandora goes to pick up her big brother, Edison, from the airport, she doesn’t recognise him. He has become a literal big brother, that is he is extremely fat. Pandora’s husband is a health nut and when Edison starts to cook extremely unhealthy meals for everybody, things become tense. Then Pandora decides that something drastic needs to be done and moves in with Edison to help him shed the pounds. 

Reading Challenges – Full House Reading Challenge – Size word in title.

There is a lot that is good about this book. I always enjoy Shriver’s novels and the way she tackles big themes. Here, the thoughts on obesity and the way society eats its problems are dealt with in an interesting and emotional way. The characters of Pandora and Edison are complicated and realistically drawn. I did get fed up with Edison’s constant jazz talk but it was consistent with his character. It would annoy me in real life so it was nothing to do with Shriver’s writing.

The story starts when Pandora goes to pick Edison up from the airport to stay with them as he has nowhere else to go. There is already tension between Pandora and her health nut husband, Fletcher, about the visit. So when Edison arrives and he is 200 pounds heavier, you know there are going to be sparks flying.

The first section of the novel details this stay in all its gory detail. As Edison pours his heart into making massive, unhealthy meals, Fletcher becomes more and more controlling of his own intake.  No one discusses Edison’s obesity but ignore the problem so he becomes a literal elephant in the room. Fairly soon, things reach a breaking point.

When it becomes apparent that Edison has no prospects at all, Pandora decides to help him lose weight and they move in together, much to the annoyance of Fletcher. (If truth be told, it was hard to understand what Pandora saw in Fletcher. He could have done with a little rounding out, character wise.) They then embark on a miraculous diet which eventually sees Edison losing the required amount of weight. This section was interesting as it started to explore the reasons behind Edison’s weight gain. Edison becomes livelier and more like the brother that Pandora remembered from her youth as he loses weight. He becomes a metaphor for the way that society views fat people as not quite human. His humanity returns with his slimmed down body.

At the end of this section, they throw a huge party to celebrate Edison’s weight loss. All is going well until Edison realises that Pandora will return to Fletcher and he will be on his own. He begins to overeat again and quickly regains the weight. All through the novel, the nature of the sibling relationship is examined and compared with that of a married couple. In the end, Pandora realises that her relationship with Edison is unhealthy and returns to Fletcher.

This is where it all goes a bit wrong. Suddenly, Pandora begins offering different possibilities for Edison. Maybe he did this, maybe he did that and then we are into the final section of the book. Pandora then confesses that she didn’t move in with Edison and that none of that section was true. I know on some level it is stupid to complain about a writer selling you a lie but I find this particular narrative trick incredibly annoying. It’s a cheap trick. I can see the point Shriver was trying to make – Pandora feels guilty that she did nothing to help Edison so she concocts the fantasy to make herself feel better after his death. Also, it is a more realistic ending than the miraculous weight loss. Still, it had the feeling of being led up the garden path.

It’s a shame because I had been really enjoying this book. I couldn’t put it down but now all I am left with is the feeling of having been cheated.