Vendela Vida – We Run the Tides

Vendela Vida – We Run the Tides

It’s the middle of the 80s and San Francisco hasn’t turned into the tech/IT hotspot it is today. Teenager Eulabee grows up in a more well-off part close to the beach and attends an expensive all-girls school with her best friends Maria Fabiola. The girls are still somewhere between being kids and becoming visibly female and with this transformation also come the problems. Maria Fabiola is the first to attract attention from the opposite sex, but her radiant appearance also charms women which is why she gets away with almost everything. Eulabee is far from being that self-confident and therefore sticks to the truth what leads to her being excluded from the girl circles of her school. When Maria Fabiola vanishes, the whole community is alarmed, but Eulabee from the start does not believe in a kidnapping, she has known Maria Fabiola for too long and is well aware of her former friend’s greed for attention.

Vendela Vida still isn’t as renowned as her husband Dave Eggers even though she has published several books by now and has won the Kate Chopin Award. I found her last novel “The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty” quite exceptional in the choice of perspective and therefore was eager to read her latest novel “We Run the Tides”. This time, she goes back in time and has chosen teenage girls as protagonists. The story is told from Eulabee’s perspective and captures well the mixed emotions a girl goes through when becoming a woman. Also the ambiance of the 1980s is convincingly depicted.

The most central aspect of the novel is surely the friendship between Eulabee and Maria Fabiola and its shift when one of the girls develops a bit quicker than the other. Maria Fabiola is well aware of the effect she has on other people and uses this for her own advantage. Eulabee, in contrast, is still much more a girl, insecure in how to behave and what to do about the situation. She does not fight but accept what’s happening. Her first attempts of approaching boys seem to be successful but end up in total disappointment. She is a close observer and can well interpret the relationships she sees, between her parents, her mother and her sister and also the other girls and teachers at her school. Without any doubt she is a likeable character and treated highly unfairly. But that’s how kids behave at times.

I liked how the plot developed and how the vanishing of the girls turned out quite unexpectedly. Yet, I didn’t fully understand why the author has chosen to add another chapter set in the present. For me, the story was perfectly told at a certain point and admittedly, neither was I really interested in Eulabee’s later life nor in another encounter of the two women as grown-ups. Still, I do not really know what to make of Maria Fabiola when they meet for the first time decades later.

To sum up, wonderfully narrated, a great coming-of-age story with a strong protagonist.

JP Delaney – Playing Nice

jp delaney - playing nice
JP Delaney – Playing Nice

Theo’s birth is highly dramatic, much too early, the young boy has to be taken to intensive care while his mother Maddie is still weakened by the C-section. So, it’s Pete’s task to get familiar with all the machines and to take care of his little son. Despite the turbulent start, Theo develops much better than expected and Pete turns out to be the perfect father while Maddie struggles with her new role. Quite naturally, they decide to have Pete stay at home since his job is less well paid and he totally likes taking care of the boy. When one day Miles and his wife Lucy are in front of their door, they only have faint memories of the couple whose boy was born on the same day as Theo and who was also taken to an incubator. The reason for their visit will shake their lives: the boys were swapped and Theo actually is their biological son. What starts as a friendly encounter, since they all sit in the same boat, quickly turns into the most evil fight no parent would ever like to be in. And just like in war, Miles is willing to use any weapon available to get his boy.

A novel like a roller coaster ride, emotionally challenging and breath-taking, reading it caused me almost a night without sleep since I couldn’t put it away. It is a conflict which is unsolvable, yet, the way it all turns out is unbearable to read and makes you wonder the whole time: could this happen to me, too? What incriminating material would police find if they checked on my computer and mobile phone? And at the same time: this is so absolutely unfair, this cannot be true, but how often do you hear of those stories where institutions are simply wrong and easily fooled?

At the beginning, I was wondering if Maddie’s difficulties of bonding with her son would become the major focus of the novel, quite soon, this shifted when the core problem became known. You cannot say what to do in such a case and just like the protagonists, I would never have expected it all to turn out that way. It is sheer unbelievable how everything that happens is turned against Pete and Maddie, even the most harmless incidents become major reproaches and raise questions about their parenting. It isn’t illogical at all, that is the terrible realisation, from the characters’ point of view, they hardly have any other option than interpreting the signs in this way. It hurts reading it, it really hurts, first and foremost when you look at what the situation does to Pete and Maddie. I guess, at some point, I might have given up had I been in their shoes.

To call it a wonderful read would somehow be awkward, yet, it is a brilliantly crafted novel with a very interesting conflict and, above all, authentic and lively characters who could just be you or me. Even though it is fiction and as a thriller mainly aims at making you feel a cold shiver running down your spine, it is also a novel that makes you ponder a lot.

William Shaw – Grave’s End

william shaw graves end
William Shaw – Grave’s End

An unoccupied house which is for sale becomes a crime scene when a body is found in a freezer. This is just the first of a couple of bodies that DS Alexandra Cupidi has to deal with. They do not seem to be connected in any way, but the deeper she digs, the more apparent it becomes that all is somehow linked to the housing project September Homes which causes fierce protests among locals. One of them is the victim in the freezer, Vincent Gibbons, who had been observing badgers in the area and feared that the new houses would kill them or drive them away. Alex Cupidi’s daughter Zoë and their neighbour and ex policeman Bill South also protest against the destruction of the habitat, but quite soon, all three of them have to realise that powerful enemies are willing to do everything to stop them from interfering with the project.

The third instalment of the DS Alexandra Cupidi series so far is the best in my opinion. A single body with no obvious links to anything is the starting point of a highly complex murder investigation which expands from chapter to chapter. What I totally adored were the chapters the old badger is given a voice, thus, the topic of building houses without considering the impact on wildlife becomes a lot more important and interesting and one can only agree with the badger when it concludes, “People stink.”

The plot is perfectly crafted, first moving at a slower pace but then accelerating and also raising suspense. The connections between the different dots are all but obvious and it was a great fun puzzling over it. In the end, the case is solved without leaving any questions unanswered. What I liked most this time was how the characters developed, especially the relationship between Alexandra and her daughter. Bill also becomes more and more a close friend of the two while remaining a bit stubborn but he has the heart in the right place. Alexandra’s partner Jill also becomes more remarkable providing just glimpses of her past where a lot seems to remain to be uncovered.

A series which I absolutely adore and would like to read more of.

Roberto Saviano – The Piranhas

roberto-saviano-the-piranhas
Roberto Saviano – The Piranhas

Nicolas Fiorello is only fifteen when in Naples the forces between the clans are severely shaken. He is clever, his teachers have realized this already, and he is a naturally born leader. He sees his parents working hard every day and getting nowhere, this is not the life he dreams of. So what he does is fill the gap that has opened up. He creates his own paranza, a group of boys who are going to take over first the quarter, then the whole town. With an initiation ritual he binds them to him, he negotiates hard with the clan elders and thus the group of boys become the most feared clan in their neighbourhood.

Roberto Saviano knows the Italian mafia well, he has written several books on the clan structures of his native country and for many years now he has lived under police protection since he made himself enemy number one of the mafia. “The Piranhas” is a fictional work that nevertheless gives deep insight in how life works in those parts of Italy that are controlled my mafia clans and it is easy to imagine that something like a youth gang could actually take over and terrorize a community.

His protagonist Nicolas isn’t the classic “bad boy” as you know him. Actually, he is quite sympathetic and his cleverness speaks for him. The way he plans his next steps, how he can oversee the whole process of creating and leading a group, his ideas of creating sense of belonging by using rituals and imposing strict rules and punishments – that’s just impressive. You hardly realise that he is only a boy and supposed to go to school and just worry about his first girls friend. On the other hand, is seems to be far too easy to buy weapons, to get in the drugs business and to become the leader of the most feared pack. I cannot really say if this is authentic and credible since I do not have the least clue about these things.

The plot is cleverly constructed towards a final showdown, the characters are interestingly drawn and the topic surely is still as relevant as it has been for many years now.