Kate Reed Petty – True Story

kate reed petty true story
Kate Reed Petty – True Story

Nick, Max and Richard are the members of the promising lacrosse team of their college. Apart from doing sports, partying is what they like most, getting drunk and making out with girls. After one especially wild party, rumours spread, but the versions of what happened vary. Richard and Max claim their innocence while Alice cannot really remember, but she is sure that her best friend Haley tells the truth when she asserts that immediately after the deed, the boys boasted about what they had done to her. Years go by, Richard turns into a rich businessman, also Haley made a career in the film industry. Things didn’t turn out that well for the others, Nick is closer to death by drinking or simply being stupid and Alice struggles forever with psychological problems stemming from the assumed assault. It will take years until the four of them confront again and the truth about what happened comes to the light.

One thing is absolutely sure: this novel was different from what I have read before. Normally, it is quite easy to put a plot into a genre or at the maximum having two combined, but here, it is a genre mix in which you never know where it will lead you and what the end might be. There is quite some suspense since the whole plot is moving towards the final confrontation – even though this is not really obvious for quite some time – but it is also really tragic when Alice’s part is told. It did not have that much sympathy for Nick admittedly, a character I more or less despised from the beginning. You make assumptions about what happened but you have to correct them repeatedly, which I liked a lot since this cleverly shows you based how a limited point of view one’s verdict quite often is.

There are several novels, apart from all the psychological books, which give some insight in how much impact an assault can have on a victim’s life. Here, too, Alice is completely thrown off the track after that night, the lively and joyful girl turns into a nervous and easy to exploit, insecure young woman. Richard, on the other hand, seems unaffected by the accusations, he goes to Princeton and makes a career to become the hottest bachelor of the country. Nick is not immediately affected, he is a friend confronted with the question if he should or could believe the boys’, whom he has known forever, version. Yet, he is an example of someone who was gifted and had a promising future but threw it all away with being lazy and preferring partying over working hard for his success.  In the end, you might even see him as a tragic character, but I wouldn’t say so, he had his chances but didn’t take them.

A novel I simply rushed through as I couldn’t put it down anymore once I had started. Quite an interesting approach and a very cleverly crafted plot made it a great read.

Frances Macken – You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here

frances macken you have to make your own fun around here
Frances Macken – You Have to Make Your Own Fun Around Here

Since their childhood, Katie, Maeve and Evelyn have been friends and it was never a question who was the leader of their gang. Admired by the other two girls, Evelyn decided on what and who to like or dislike. When a new girl moves to their small Irish community, she immediately knows that Pamela is arrogant and stupid. Due to her mother’s interference, Katie is prone to become Pamela’s friend, but before they could really get to know each other, the girl vanishes and is never to be seen again. Rumours go from her being killed by one of the trio’s friends, over being abducted to her having run away. When school is over, Katie and Evelyn plan to move to Dublin together, but when her friend is not accepted at university, Katie for the first time is on her own and cannot rely on her friend anymore.

What a great beginning of a novel. I totally adored to careless and adventurous kids who then developed into typical teenagers. Unfortunately, the novel lost a bit of its spirit when the three separate. Even though this is necessary for Katie’s development, from this point on I struggled a bit with the reading, first and foremost because I found it hard to endure Katie’s naivety and her inability to become an independent person, to develop her own ideas and tastes, she is totally dependent on others and their opinion, thus just bounces somehow in her life without goal. Her return to her small hometown is a logic consequence which even makes things worse for her.

In my opinion, the protagonist is well developed and throughout her life, the decisions made are well motivated by her personality and point of view, yet, she is certainly not a character to sympathise with or to take as a role model. In spite of that, I found it quite realistic to see how she struggles with her future, not having really developed but play but only a mere vague dream, she cannot succeed and must end up being totally disappointed. Similarly, her blindness when it comes to her friend Evelyn is well portrayed, she ignores all warnings and other views and is thus left to learn it the hard way.

A wonderful first part and some great aspects, nevertheless, I was a bit disappointed in the end, as I think the author could have made more of her plot and character.

Rosanna Amaka – The Book of Echoes

rosanna amaka the book of echos
Rosanna Amaka – The Book of Echoes

The new decade has just begun when life as he knows it ends for 16-year-old Michael Watson: his mother is murdered in their home and he and his little sisters find themselves alone in Brixton. The person who always told him that people of Jamaican descend have to work two times as hard as others and should keep their head down is gone and it does not take too long until his mother’s concerns are proven right. Thousands of kilometres south in a small Nigerian village, Ngozi has to say goodbye to her mother and younger sisters, she is sent to town to work as a maid and earn money for the family. Two kids who hardly have anything in common except for the very poor and hard start in life. Yet, they are born fighters and in them, they carry the echo of decades of people who had to face a similar situation and also fought for their future.

Rosanna Amaka tells the two very different stories alternatingly, you switch from Thatcher London to chaotic Nigeria and even though the surrounds could hardly differ more, there are some parallels between Michael and Ngozi. It is obvious that their lives have to collide at one point, yet, much less obvious to answer is the question if they will succeed and escape the poor life they are born in.

I totally adored the story around Ngozi even though there is not much to adore in her life. The hardship of her family who does not know how to make ends meet, a father who ignores his kids and later the families who employ and exploit her. Born and raised in Europe, one cannot really imagine the life of a girl of her background:

“’Ngozi, as a woman there are some things we have no choice in,’ she says and gets up from her chair. (…) She goes to sleep and to cry over the innocence her daughter will lose.”

Young girls are the most vulnerable and those who can just take advantage of it. Her employer, the employer’s wife, white men coming to Africa who believe to be superior and to have the right to treat people there like goods – it is not just what they have to endure but also how they seem to accept this as a fact of life, just as Ngozi’s mother put it.

For me, it took a bit too long to bring the two parts together, admittedly, the end was also a bit too foreseeable and sweet. Each on its own works perfectly well and could have done without the other actually. Nevertheless, the novel is beautifully written and I totally enjoyed reading it.

Lily King – Writers & Lovers

lily king writers & lovers
Lily King – Writers & Lovers

Casey Peabody has always wanted to be a writer. At 31, she finds herself waiting tables, living in a run-down garage and with several debt collectors on her heels. For six years she has worked on her novel but somehow it does not work out, too high the pressure from real life. When her mother died a couple of months before, she not only lost her confidant, but constantly feels the big hole this loss left behind in her. Then she meets Oscar, a successful writer and widowed father of two, who seems to be the way out of her misery: a lovely home, stable relationship, two adorable boys, a life without worries. But it does not feel right, especially since there is Silas, too, quite the opposite of Oscar. When Casey is fired from the restaurant and her landlord tells her that the house is to be sold, the anxiety that has accompanied her for years becomes unbearable.

Raise your hand is you never dreamt of writing a novel. Isn’t that what we as avid readers long for? To intrigue others with what is lurking within ourselves and, of course, to be praised and complimented for our artistic capacities. Well, that’s just one side of being a writer, many more authors will actually have to face a life just like Casey: never to know if you can make the ends meet, frustrated because the writing does not move on, the words do not come, taking on any job just to survive and organising the writing around working hours. Lily King has painted quite a realistic picture of a novelist’s situation in “Writers & Lovers”. Yet, that’s by far not all the novel has to offer.

Her protagonist belongs to the generation who struggles to grow-up. They have been promised so much, they were full of energy in their twenties, but now, hitting 30, they have to make a decision: giving up their dreams for a conservative and boring but secure life just like the one their parents lead or going on with a precarious living that feels totally inadequate. No matter how they decide, it could be the wrong choice and the fear of not picking the right thing paralyses them, an overwhelming anxiety takes over control making them incapable of moving on or doing anything at all. They are stuck in a never-ending rat race which covers all areas of their life. Casey is the perfect example of her generation, highly educated, intelligent, good at dealing with people but nevertheless full of doubts about herself and frustrated by the constant setbacks.

I totally adored the novel, it is somehow a coming-of-age at a later age novel. The characters are authentically represented, the emotional states are wonderfully conveyed and thus easy to follow. Even though there is quite some melancholy in it, I did not feel saddened since it also provides a lot of hope just never to give up since all could turn out well in the end.

Douglas Stuart – Shuggie Bain

douglas stuart shuggie bain
Douglas Stuart – Shuggie Bain

Agnes had so many hopes for her life. Her first husband was simply a disappointment, too well-behaved, too boring. With Shug Bain things could be different. But soon she wakes up still in her childhood room with her parents, aged 39 and mother of three kids. Shug promises a better life and rents them a home in a run-down public housing area on the outskirts of Glasgow. Yet, Shug does not really move in with his family, he is driving his taxi more and more often and spends his free time with other women. Soon enough, Agnes finds comfort in alcohol, her new neighbourhood is the perfect place to drown your thoughts and worries in cans of beer. Shuggie’s older brother Leek and his sister Catherine can distance themselves from their always intoxicated mother, yet, Shuggie is too young and for years, he hopes that one days, Agnes will be sober and they will have a life like any normal family.

Douglas Stuart’s novel is really heart-wrenching. You follow Shuggie’s childhood in the 1980s, a time when life was hard for many working class families who often did not know how to make ends meet which drove many fathers and mothers to alcohol. Shuggie’s love for his mother is unconditional, he is too young to understand the mechanisms behind her addiction and to see what it does not only to her but also to him. It would be too easy to blame Agnes for the misery she brings to herself and her son, she too is a victim of the time she lives in and the society that surrounds her. Industrial times are over in Scotland and the formerly working class turn into a new underclass.

It is not the plot that stands out in this novel, actually, all that happens is a downward spiral of alcoholism and decay that leads to the necessary end one would expect. Much more interesting are the two main characters, mother and son, and their development throughout the novel. Agnes tries to preserve her pride, to be the glamorous and beautiful woman she has once been and who has always attracted men even when times get tough. She keeps her chin up as long as she can – at least when she happens to be sober.

Already at a young age Shuggie has to learn that life will not offer him much. His family’s poverty and his mother’s addiction would be enough challenge in life. However, the older he gets, the more unsure he becomes about who he actually is. As a young boy, he prefers playing with girls’ toys and later he does not really develop an interest in girls either which makes him an easy target of bullying. No matter how deep his mother sinks, he always hopes for better days, days with his father, days without hunger. He is good at observing and even better at doing what is expected of him. He learns quickly how to behave around the different men in their home, how to hide his life from the outside world. In Leanne, he finally finds somebody who can understand him because she herself leads exactly the same life. They only long to be normal, yet, a normal life is not something that their childhood has been destined to.

Quite often you forget how young Shuggie is, his life is miserable but he has perfectly adapted to the circumstances. Douglas Stuart provides insight in a highly dysfunctional family where you can nevertheless find love and affection. It is clear that there is no escape from this life which makes it totally depressing. Somehow, the novel reminds me of the “Kitchen Sink” dramas with the only difference of being set in the 1980s and shown from a female perspective. Agnes is not the angry young woman; she is the desperate middle-aged mother whose dreams are over and who provides only one example to her son: do not expect anything from life or anybody.

An emotionally challenging novel due to its unforgiving realism.

Olivia Rayne – My Mother the Psychopath

Olivia-Rayne-my-mother-the-psychopath
Olivia Rayne – My Mother the Psychopath

When children grow up, they do this in the believe that their parents know best and that they only want the best for their children. Since they hardly have any insight in other children’s homes, they forcibly must come to the conclusion that what they experience is how things in a family should be. Olivia has always known that her mother isn’t easy, they have changed home so many more times than any other kid she knows and even as a small child, she knew what to avoid and what to do around her mother for fear of her reaction. But it took her many years to understand the woman who gave birth to her and to find an explanation for her mother’s behaviour: she is a psychopath.

Olivia Rayne tells her experiences of growing up with a psychopathic mother. The chapters are dedicated to typical clinical features that a person diagnosed with this mental illness shows and a short explanation. Then, she outlines how this realised in her mother’s case. It is unbelievable to read what the girl had to endure and how she was left alone while her father watched and could clearly see what was happening. Not only did he not provide any help or shelter, he even supported his wife’s erratic behaviour. Outside the family, hardly anybody had the chance to do anything about the situation since the facade portrayed a totally different picture of the events that at times made people wonder.

The book is highly informative since you get a lot background information of how a psychopath operates. You can also recognise the patterns of manipulation they use and thus, at least I hope, get an idea of how they remain undiscovered for a long time. Yet, first and foremost, it is very moving and heart-breaking and should startle anybody who works with children to provide them with help and clear ideas of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable parental behaviour.

Katy Regan – Little Big Man

katy-regan-little-big-man
Katy Regan – Little Big Man

With his eleventh birthday approaching, Zac decides that it is time to actively look for his father. He has never met him because his father was not interested in him and left his mom before he was born. His friend Teagan is going to help him with his search and they are quite determined even though they have to keep their mission secret since in Zac’s family, it is forbidden to ever mention his father because of what he had done. But it’s not only the Dad-finding-mission that keeps Zac occupied, for months now he has been bullied due to his weight and now the school has written a letter to his mother. Life is not easy when you are ten years old. Especially when there are adults around you with secrets they want to keep.

I really loved this book even though in its story, there is not much that is positive after all. Zac’s life is all but easy: his mother Juliet is fighting, but as a single parent with a low income, they cannot afford any fancy pastime activities and the lack of a partner doesn’t make things easier. Both find relief in food which isn’t helpful after all, so another war that has to be fought. However, the love they show for each other is genuine and the only actual ray of hope.

The story is told alternatively from Zac’s, Juliet’s and Mick’s point of view – this is a bit astonishing as in the beginning you cannot really figure out why Juliet’s father Mick is that important while his wife’s perspective isn’t given. Yet, the secrets the adults have kept from Zac for more than ten years are slowly unfolded and the more you hear from Mick, the more obvious his role becomes.

Katy Regan did a great job in portraying what life in school can be for outsiders like Zac and his friend Teagan. It is hard to say, but all the bullying is just too authentic. And she also shows what this does to the kids – luckily, Zac has found a friend he can confide in. It would be a lot harder if he was on his own. The author also found the perfect voice for Zac, his diary entries sound like the one’s of a 10-year-old, a clever one but nevertheless a child.

Even though the lives of the characters are not too joyful, the novel is often full of humour and definitively of love – a classic bitter-sweet story that hits the heart.

Lauren Berry – Living the Dream

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Lauren Berry – Living the Dream

Two young women in their twenties, two dreams. Emma dreams of working as a writer, she blogs about her life with quite a remarkable success, but actually she is stuck in an advertising company where she has to be creative in the dullest of imaginable ways. Her best friend Clementine Twist has just returned to London from a Year in New York where she attended Columbia film school to become a screenwriter. The feedback to her work is throughout positive, but back home she has to secure her living and moves back in with her parents and accepts a job as a receptionist of a club. Only their friend Yasmin seems to get it all right: she’s got a fancy job that she exerts successfully and the wedding with Mr Right is just around the corner. The more goes right with Yasmin the more seems to go wrong for Emma and Clementine. When does the adult life they always dreamt of finally start?

Lauren Berry really managed to catch the mood of women at the end of their twenties. Emma and Clementine are full of energy and passionate about what they love, but somehow life is in their way and they are stuck between mundane everyday-life problems. Reality and dreams seem to be many miles away from each other. Even though they are good at what they want to do, the chances just do not come to really show the world what they are capable of. The necessities of the world keep them from just indulging in their creativity, bills have to be paid, food has to be bought, so the need to earn some money is overwhelming and paralysing.

What I liked about the novel is the fact that even though the girls could easily give up and despair, they somehow stick to their dream and they have a certain sense of humour not to take themselves and their lives too seriously. Many scenes are quite funny – as long as you just read them and do not have to live them through. Even though it is at times quite close to being chick lit, the author can keep some seriousness in the story and the fact that her protagonists find themselves in the same situation as masses of young women who can surely identify with them, gives the novel an actual relevance.

Julian Fuhrman – This is How We Talk

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Julian Fuhrman – This is how we talk

An evening in Tel Aviv, Yonatan finds himself outside his home without money and no idea where to go. He thinks deep into the city’s nightlife, with alcohol, women and drugs. How could he end here in the streets between party-goers and protesters? He once had a plan, for the time after his gap year after the IDF, a career as a photographer, a loving wife and a son. But also Lia, his wife, has to find her place and has to cope not only with the demons of her past, but also with the picture she had of her brother. Just like her sister Sharon who tries to forget and not confront all the negative events that happen in her life by filling her day with work.

I struggled a bit with the novel at first. The narrative structure which always alternates between the present and different points in the past was not very easy to sort out at first. However, this gave it a lot more dynamics and made it actually livelier. I found Yonatan’s and Lia’s story quite interesting, especially having two opposite characters approaching the same point of culmination. I can see what the other two characters contributed to the story, but I could have done without them.

What I appreciated most was the fact how Julian Fuhrman caught the atmosphere of Israel. On the one hand, the carefree and light-hearted nightlife in which you can indulge and forget. On the other hand, being threatened by war and confronted with actual bombings is also a part of their life. Likewise, the question if, as an Israeli, you can befriend an Arab – to which extend do political implications limit your personal sphere? The necessary and mandatory service in the army and the need to flee from this time after having completed the IDF – a constant crucial test of the love for your country. The protesters and their fight for affordable housing and food, it was reported worldwide about this movement and Fuhrman thus integrated very mundane aspects in the novel which rendered the characters and the plot authentic. In the centre, of course, the basic conflict between Lia and Yonatan. How can you love joyfully in those circumstances and make you love last?

A novel which traps the attitude towards life of a whole generation.

Carys Bray – The Museum of You

carys-bray-the-museum-of-you
Carys Bray – The Museum of You

The summer she is 12 years old will change a lot for Clover Quinn. She has been living alone with her father all her life, her mother died only six weeks after her birth. There is still a room in their house where her father keeps all the belongings of his beloved wife he never could get rid of. Now, Clover ventures into the room and inspects the items. After having visited a museum with her school, she decides to become a curator herself and to set up an exhibition about her mother. She carefully selects the items and – just like in any other museum – writes accompanying notes for them. The more she advances with her work, the more she knows about her mother, or invents when she does not have any information. Yet, there are blanks which will only be filled when her father sees the museum fir the first time – but this moment ends not as planned.

“The Museum of You” is a really heart-breaking novel about – well, that’s the question. It is about love in different shapes, about friendship and family relationships. But it is also about death and loss and how to cope with it. This extreme combination makes it an emotionally loaded novel which oscillates between the exuberant love the characters sometimes feel, especially Darren for his daughter, and the emptiness because all of them suffer from the loss they have never overcome.

The story line is marked by flashbacks, Darren recollects the time with Becky, thus only slowly the whole picture unfolds and the reader learns how and especially why she died. This is definitely the hardest part of the story. Becky is never a real character in the story but the scenes after Clover’s birth are striking.

Clover of course is the most lovable protagonist you can imagine. She is clever and meticulous when it comes to her museum. Her friendship with Dagmar takes some time to develop, but she is sympathetic and open-minded which allows her so bond with the young Hungarian. Concerning her grandfather and her uncle, two men with severe problems, her carefreeness permits her to interact with them, ignore what has to be ignored and find the right words to talk to them. With her father things are more complicated, the one thing she need she cannot articulate. But this does not reduce her love for him and the way he is – even though he is different from all other dads she knows. Darren, the male protagonist, could be seen as somebody who never achieved something in his life. He always postpones things, lives in a mess and has some difficulties in showing affection. On the other hand, he does what has to be done, he is what you could call a “good person”, he puts himself last and his love for Becky and Clover seems to be limitless. He would do everything for them – isn’t that all that counts in life, to love somebody?

The novel really surprised me, I did not expect so much depth in. Additionally, Carys Bray found their perfect words in describing the characters with so much love and never judging them even if some character traits are not that favourable.