Raven Leilani – Luster

raven leilani luster
Raven Leilani – Luster

Edie, a 23-year-old artist, is somehow stumbling through her life. She does not have a stable partnership and the men she encounters are certainly not the ones to plan a future together, well she does not even know if that is what she wants. When she meets Eric, again, this does not seem to go beyond sex since he is twice her age, married and without the least intention of leaving his wife and daughter. When Edie finds herself suddenly unemployed without money or place to stay, something quite extraordinary happens: Eric’s wife invites her to live with them. However, it is clear who sets the rules: Rebecca.

Raven Leilani’s novel “Luster” has been named among the most anticipated novels of 2020, thus, I was quite curious to read it. The constellation of inviting the young mistress of one’s husband to live in the same house seemed quite promising for an interesting battle between two women. However, I struggled a bit with it, maybe this is due to the fact that the author quickly moves away from the central conflict and the protagonist remains a bit too bland for my liking.

When moving to the Walker family’s house, Eric is away on a business trip. Instead of having two grown-up women who have to negotiate their respective place in the household, Edie turns into another kid who is bossed around by Rebecca and forced into the role of a nanny and tutor for Akila, Rebecca and Eric’s daughter. She herself does not appear to actually dislike this arrangement and easily gives in to it. Rebecca, on the other hand, is not the self-confident and successful women, her behaviour towards Edie is quite harsh but only because she is weak and in this way wants to secure her place.

There are some minor aspects which I found quite interesting but which did not really blend into the story such as Akila and the fact that she is black and adopted. She and Edie become the victim of police brutality – a brief scene which is not pursued on a psychological, societal or political level and of which, there, the function remains unclear to me. This happens at several points where the characters find themselves in a crucial emotional situation which is not elaborated and makes them all appear a bit inanimate, like actors on a stage who perform a role in which they feel awkward and which they cannot really identify with.

Edie is neither a representative of a lost generation who does not know what to expect from a highly uncertain future, nor is she a special individual who struggles after some major life event. She also does not really develop throughout the novel which, all in all, makes her shallow and admittedly quite uninteresting. Maybe the plot might have been much more appealing from Rebecca’s or Akila’s point of view.

Sanaë Lemoine – The Margot Affair

sanae lemoine the margot affair
Sanaë Lemoine – The Margot Affair

It has always been like this: her father would visit them every other day, sometimes they did not hear of him for weeks. But when he opened the door, he was there completely for Margot Louve and her mother Anouk. No holidays together, no show up at school events, he only belonged to their private life and for the world outside their Paris apartment, there simply was no father. Nobody knew who he was because everybody knew him. He was a public man, a well-known politician and the husband of another woman. When Margot meets a journalist, the idea of going public with their story pops up, thus forcing him to finally decide between the two lives and families. She is sure that he loves her and her mother much more than his actual wife and therefore, she sets in motion a chain of events with an outcome she would never have imagined.

Sanaë Lemoine’s story of course immediately reminds the reader of the former French president Mitterrand’s double life which he only revealed shortly before his death thus making Mazarine Pingeot suddenly one of the most famous daughters of the country. The author does not try to hide the parallels, she even mentions and integrates the real life events in her novel thus underlining also the differences between the two. Written from the daughter’s perspective, she convincingly gives the voice to a young woman full of insecurities and marked by her quite naturally limited understanding of her parents’ affair.

I totally adored the first part of the novel which focuses on Margot and her relationship with her father. She does not question her life and the fact that she can never talk about who her father is, knowing that he loves her deeply is enough for herself and the arrangements also seems to work well for her mother. When the two of them accidentally encounter her father’s wife, something in her is set in motion and it only needs a little pushing by a journalist to develop her fatal plot. She is too young to foresee the scope of her action and what the possible outcomes are.

In the second part, unfortunately, the author lost me a bit with the shift of the focus. Margot is fascinated by a woman a couple of years her senior and the journalist’s wife. Brigitte is a strong contrast to her always distanced and rather cold and controlled mother and fills some kind of emotional gap that opened in her life. For the reader it is quite obvious that she is to a certain extent lured on to destruction and falls prey to the reckless woman. Even though the development between them is well portrayed and slowly moves towards the final blow, Margot lost a bit of her charming personality for me and the reflective and thoughtful young woman turns into a naïve and emotionally dependent girl which I did not really like to follow anymore that much.

A psychologically interesting novel about relationships and emotional needs of children and their parents, but also a study of how the choices of life you make always will have an impact on other people, too.

Catherine Ryan Howard – Rewind

catherine-ryan-howard-rewind
Catherine Ryan Howard – Rewind

Andrew, manager of Shanamore Cottages, does not trust his eyes when he watches the camera he secretly installed in the bedroom of the cottages: his only guest has just been murdered. Yet, he surely cannot call the police but has to cope with the situation. Rewind. Strange things seem to happen in the life of influencer Natalie. However, her husband Mike does not believe her, supposedly because he himself is behind it all. He not only seems to have an affair but also wants her to believe that she has gone nuts. The key to it all seems to lie in the cottages where her obviously spent several days, so she packs her bag and spontaneously goes there. She knows immediately that this has been a mistake, the place is not only remote but more than literally abandoned in November and the people out there more than creepy. She does not know how correct her assessment of the place is and how wrong she was about the connection between this village and herself.

I have read Catherine Ryan Howard’s former novel “The Liar’s Girls” about Dublin’s Canal Killer and had liked it a lot. That’s why I was eager to read another of her thrillers and I wasn’t disappointed. Again, she starts with a murder and the reader has to figure out how this character ended up killed. “Rewind” is cleverly constructed and it takes some time to connect the dots and to make sense of it all. Yet, suspense does not decline once you see through the plot as there is still a chance that the actual culprit might simply walk away without ever being discovered and charged.

What I found strongest apart from the carefully composed plot, was the atmosphere the author creates. The small village of Shanamore really gives you the creeps only when reading about it. This place – added the time of the year, November, which is in itself often spine-chilling due to the cold and darkness – is perfect for hideous murders and you wouldn’t expect anybody else than weird and dubious characters walking around there. But also the action taking place in Dublin that makes Natalie feel increasingly hesitant and insecure about herself adds to the overall frightening ambiance of the novel.

Catherine Ryan Howard provides a lot of wrong leads that make you readjust the picture again and again and ponder how all can possibly fit into the picture. The solution is plausible and does not leave any question unanswered. “Rewind” is a perfect page-turner that I read in just one sitting since it hooked me immediately.

Shari Lapena – Someone We Know

shari-lapena-someone-we-know
Shari Lapena – Someone We Know

Aylesford is a small community not far from New York. People know each other, are friends, have barbecues together and share their everyday problems. New to the neighbourhood are Amanda and Robert Pierce, both stunningly attractive and younger than the rest with their teenage kids. When Amanda goes missing, everybody soon blames the husband, the obvious suspect, but then, slowly, the facades of the good people start to crumble. They are not the loving husbands who go to work every day to support their beloved family, they are not the good housewives who only care for their dears and they are not the good kids of the suburbs. They all have their secrets they thought well hidden, but now it’s time for revelation.

I hardly could put down Shari Lapena’s thriller since I was hooked from the first page. She has created the perfect environment for readers who enjoy a bit of schadenfreude. Those nice people who appear to be caring and concerned about the others and who are suddenly confronted with their dark sides that threaten the picture they have drawn of themselves. A great read that was not only fun to read because all of them sooner or later have to admit their misconduct, but first and foremost, because the plot was masterly woven and thus kept suspense high until the very end.

It’s hard to say more about the plot without giving away too much. I liked how Lapena slowly unravels the revelations and shifts the focus from one character to the next. They all act suspiciously and at a certain point, I gave up believing any of them since it was too obvious that none of them is innocent in one way or the other. The author skilfully plays with the reader along these lines and this keeps you addicted since you eagerly want to find out what actually happened. It’s a brilliant, enthralling novel that you cannot stop reading once you’ve started.

Ji-min Lee – Marilyn and Me

ji-min-lee-marilyn-and-me
Ji-min Lee – Marilyn and Me

1954, the war in Korea is over but there are still some soldiers waiting to see their big star come for a short visit: Marilyn Monroe. Alice J. Kim, working as a translator for the Americans, is one of the few Koreans fluent in both languages and who could accompany the blond film star on her tour. But with the arrival of Marilyn also comes somebody else Alice had almost forgotten: Joseph, her former lover who turned out not to be a missionary but an American spy. Alice thought she could leave her past behind, like the war, just bury it all under the ruins and build a new life. But now, it all comes up again.

Other than the title suggests, the novel is not really about Marilyn Monroe and her visit to Korea. She appears as a character, yes, and I found she was nicely depicted, a sensitive woman lacking all kind of allures one might assume. However, first and foremost, it is a novel about Alice and the two loves she had: first, Min-hwan, a married man working for the government, and second, the American Joseph. None is the loves is meant to last and the political developments in the country add their part to these unfulfilled loves.

What I found interesting was the insight in the possible life of a Korean woman at the time of the war. I have never read about it and this part of history is not something I know much about. Nevertheless, the book could not really catch me. Somehow I had the impression that the two stories – Alice’s one the one hand and Marilyn’s visit on the other – did not really fit together and especially the last seemed more a feature to make the story a bit more interesting by adding a big name.

„These sleeping pills are a better friend than diamonds for those of us who want to forget their past.“

Parallels between Marilyn and Alice are evoked: a past they want to forget, well-known lovers who in the end always decide against the affair and for their wife, the change of name to start anew – but the link is too weak to work for me. Unfortunately, Alice also remains a bit too distant, too hard to grasp and to really feel sympathy for her and her fate.

Rebecca Fleet – The House Swap

rebecca-fleet-the-house-swap
Rebecca Fleet – The House Swap

After the hard time they have gone through in their relationship, Caroline and Francis need a vacation, best without their son Eddie. A house swap seems to be a good idea so they leave Leeds for a week in the suburbs of London. Somehow the house is strange, it looks like nobody actually lives in there, it is absolutely impersonal, almost clinical. But the woman seemed to be nice enough to let her into their own apartment. When Caroline receives a strange message on her cell phone, she is alarmed: did something awake the ghosts of the past? Did her ex affair Carl get in contact again? And who is this strange neighbour Amber who seems to observe them and behaves in a very strange way when she comes to visit them late in the evening. Caroline can sense the danger but she doesn’t know where it is really coming from…

The novel starts at quite some low pace and admittedly I was a bit annoyed because I couldn’t make sense of a lot of things at the beginning. It was obvious that Francis and Caroline had some problems in the past, she had an affair with a colleague, he was addicted to pills, but since this had happened obviously two years before, I didn’t quite understand the relevance of all this for the house swap. And there was this voice talking to Caroline, but it was not clear where it was coming from. I do not really like to be in the dark and not understanding anything.

However, the further you get in the novel and the more you understand, the more thrill you feel and the better the plot gets. Of course you are supposed to run in the completely wrong direction with the assumptions of what is behind all this – eagerly I did – just to learn then that it is not only much more complicated, very cleverly constructed, and also a lot more dangerous for the characters than you would have assumed.

“The House Swap” is a fantastic thriller as soon as you get over the first few pages. It can surprise and offers an especially interesting psychological aspect which is only revealed towards the end.

Amy Bloom – White Houses

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Amy Bloom – White Houses

Life does not endow much to young Lorena Alice Hickok. When her mother dies, her father sends her away and she has to make her way on her own. Thanks to her stubbornness and perseverance, Lorena becomes one of the first woman journalists of the United States. In 1932, she works for Associated Press and reports on Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s electoral campaign. This is when she meets Eleanor for the first time. They women fall for each other immediately and this, Lorena gets closer to the famous couple and finally becomes Eleanor‘s lover.

Based on the known facts, Amy Bloom tells the story of two unorthodox and progressive women of the 1930s. It is especially Lorena who is an extraordinary character. She is not particularly charming, nor very attractive at the first glance, nevertheless, there is something fascinating about her, her independence makes her stand out and her courage and self-confidence irritate the men around her.

On the other hand, Eleanor Roosevelt is an outstanding first lady. Educated in the best boarding schools and acquainted with the manners of the high society, she moves smoothly around the rich and famous. When she entered a room, all eyes were on her. Yet, this did not prevent her husband from betraying her and obviously, she was aware of this. His lovers lived under their roof and Eleanor could watch them closely. But, had Franklin and Eleanor lost interest, they could be awful, nasty people.

Amy Bloom unveils a scandalous affair and tells the story of a woman, or rather two women, who followed their instincts and thus were quite ahead of their time.