Ghosts by Dolly Alderton

I’m limping to the reading finish line this year, and in order to get there, I’m choosing books that demand very little from me. Ghosts by Dolly Alderton fitted the bill nicely.

‘Chick-lit’… ‘Women’s fiction’… I’m not even sure what these labels mean now. When I was in my twenties, it meant you could walk into a book store, pick up a novel with a hot pink cover and a picture of a stiletto shoe on the front, and be sure that you would have a fun bit of reading ahead. This genre has not been my choice in the last 15 odd years, but 2020 seems to have changed all sorts of things. Continue reading

Very Nice by Marcy Dermansky

Satire isn’t my go-to when I want a laugh but I did enjoy this spiky little story about relationship triangles and over-inflated egos.

Marcy Dermansky’s Very Nice is told from the perspective of three characters – it begins with Rachel Klein, who never meant to kiss her creative writing professor. Said writing professor is Zahid Azzam, and he never planned to become a house guest in Rachel’s sprawling Connecticut home, but he does. Rachel’s mother, Becca, never thought she’d have a love affair so soon after the end of her marriage, but when Zahid arrives, she does… Continue reading

Disturbing the Peace by Richard Yates

It’s time for my AY (that’s Annual Yates, not Young Adult).

I limit my reading of Yates because I find his stories intensely depressing. But I admire them for exactly the same reason.

Given that most of the year has been spent in lockdown, I decided I hardly needed to add a Yates-induced-existenital-crisis to the mix, so chose to re-read one of the first books I read by him (pre-blogging) – Disturbing the Peace. Continue reading

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

I will preface this review by saying that I very much admire Curtis Sittenfeld’s work… But Rodham was not the book for me.

In summary, the novel is a ‘sliding doors’ look at Hillary Clinton’s life, and what might have happened had she not married Bill, and instead ‘remained’ Hillary Rodham. Sittenfeld gives Hillary a career as a law professor and a successful life in politics, but these things come at a cost – she has no family of her own, and few intimate relationships.

The story exposes the double-standards between male and female politicians, imposed by the public, the media, and society in general.

…complaints about sexism were perceived as sour grapes. Proof was elusive, situations subject to interpretation. Continue reading

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

Every year I look forward to the announcement of the ‘word of the year’ – some years I agree with the choice, other years they’re less meaningful to me (‘youthquake’ didn’t shake my world in 2017 but I’m pleased ‘climate emergency’ was recognised last year).

Pip Williams’s novel, The Dictionary of Lost Words, explores the development of the Oxford English Dictionary through the lens of gender, historical events, and social structure. Williams uses real and imaginary characters to tell the story, which spans the women’s suffrage movement and the beginning of the Great War. Continue reading

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

Things I wonder:

  • When Elizabeth Strout first wrote Olive Kitteridge, did she envisage a sequel?
  • And when she started thinking about where Olive’s story would pick up, was it easy to know what she wanted for Olive?

No doubt I could find an interview with Strout about Olive, Again, and these questions would be answered. Instead, I’ve chosen to ponder over Olive – because she is far from an easy character. She’s cantankerous. She’s prickly. And yet we love her. Olive is judgemental. She’s tone deaf. She lacks the emotional insight needed to guide her through tricky times. And yet, her obliviousness to discomfort is precisely what allows her to be a comforting presence at the most unexpected times. Continue reading

Long Bright River by Liz Moore

In choosing fiction, my preference is for narratives driven by emotion rather than action – I want to be in a character’s head and to know what they are feeling, as opposed to being a bystander, ‘watching’ what happens to them.

Long Bright River by Liz Moore is very much an action-driven story. It tells of two sisters, Mickey and Kacey, whose lives begin in the same troubled home but then take very different paths . Kacey lives on the streets of Kensington, Philadelphia, addicted to heroin, and doing what she has to do to feed her habit. Mickey also knows the streets of Kensington but that’s because she joined the police force. Although the sisters are estranged, Mickey keeps an eye out for Kacey. When a string of unsolved murders occur – the victims all young women with drug habits – Mickey fears for her sister. Continue reading