More Mini Summer Reviews!

 

The summer is slipping away from me and although I’m reading LOADS, my reviewing has stalled. I have been very busy in work trying to get everything in place for leaving my current job, and this has left me incapable of doing much in the evenings bar drinking some wine and watching some telly.

 

Adobe Spark

So, here I am again with a few mini-reviews to get be up to date with my 20 Books of Summer challenge.

No 620 – My Lover’s Lover by Maggie O’ Farrell

my lover's lover - Copy
I wanted so much to love My Lover’s Lover as I’ve been so impressed with O’Farrell’s other books. Unfortunately, this one didn’t really work for me. It starts well enough – Lily (a strangely vacant character) moves into a flat with the charismatic Marcus and the moody Aidan and begins a relationship with Marcus with almost ridiculous haste. Very soon, she is haunted by the ‘ghost’ of Marcus’ ex Sinead, whose room she has taken and whom Marcus refers to as ‘no longer with us. References to Hitchcock would suggest this is a tale of the dead taking retribution on the one who has taken their place, and the first half of the book is creepy and interesting. Things fall apart though as Lily, and the reader, discover that Sinead is in fact alive and well but devastated by the break-up of her relationship with Marcus. The novel then shifts focus to explore what happened between Sinead and Marcus before seemingly running out of steam by the end. My main problem with My Lover’s Lover is that the characters were so insubstantial. Lily doesn’t register much of anything, and Aidan remains on the periphery throughout. For a man that two obviously smart young women fall for without hesitation – Marcus is actually a bit of a shit, if you’ll pardon my language. Unpleasant, unpredictable and unfaithful, it’s amazing that he manages to hang on to one girl let alone too. Add to that, the supernatural aspects of the book, which I found most intriguing, are presented and then never explained. As an exploration of how our past relationships can affect our current emotions, the ghost is a potent symbol, but it is jettisoned halfway through this rather disappointing book.

Read on: Book
20 Books of Summer: 9/20
Number Read: 127
Number Remaining: 619

No 619 – The Keep by Jennifer Egan

the keep
Given that I expected so much from My Lover’s Lover and felt disappointed, it was great to follow it with a book about which I expected little, but enjoyed a great deal. The Keep is a clever, well-structured tale within a tale that confounds expectation at every turn. It opens with Danny, a feckless Wi-Fi addicted 30-something New Yorker, arriving at a European castle to work for his cousin Howie. Howie plans to turn the castle into a boutique hotel where people come to turn off their devices and turn on their imaginations. The castle contains a mythical keep, inhabited by an old woman who claims ownership and refuses to leave it. With incredible stylistic skill, Egan also introduces Ray to the story. Ray is in jail, attending a creative writing course and writing the story of Danny, Howie, the castle and its keep, to try and impress Holly, his teacher. Either one of these stories would have been interesting enough, but that Egan manages to interweave the two and have them mirror, blend and bounce off one another, is quite a skill. The reader is at all times reminded of the authorial voice, but is never jolted out of either story. This is a stunning piece of metafiction and through the imagery of trap doors, reflections, pools and caves, Egan reminds us that we can only come to know ourselves and heal ourselves through the power of our imagination. The Keep is clever and stylised and also immersive and moving. One of my favourites of the summer.

Read on: iBooks
20 Books of Summer: 10/20
Number Read: 128
Number Remaining: 618

No 618 – Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty

apple tree - Copy
Apple Tree Yard is another case of me hearing the hype about the latest exciting thriller, feeling the need to buy it immediately and then never getting around to reading it. By the time you find out that a book is getting a BBC adaptation, you know you are coming a little too late to the party. Apple Tree Yard is an interesting courtroom drama, well-structured and well- paced, but something about it left me a little cold. Dr Yvonne Carmichael is a successful 52 year old woman, with a good career as a geneticist, a loving husband and two grown up children. One day, while giving evidence to a select committee in the Houses of Parliament, she meets a man, chats to him briefly and ends up having sex with him in a public place without knowing his name. We then find out that Yvonne and her mystery man are in the dock in the Old Bailey, accused of murder and Doughty examines, as you would a court case, the decisions and acts that brought a seemingly normal woman to this point. Yvonne narrates her story as a letter to her lover, looking back over their relationship, her relationship with her husband and the chain of events that led them to more destruction than they could have imagined. Apple Tree Yard is a novel about stories – the stories we tell ourselves to justify our behaviour, the stories we invent to make ourselves appear more successful or attractive and then ultimately, the story that is told to a jury – all open to interpretation. It is also about manipulation and the far reaching consequences that can have. As a courtroom drama, it’s very successful and it was refreshing to read a book about the sex life of a middle aged woman that was clear eyed and unpatronising. However, as with My Lover’s Lover, I couldn’t quite understand Yvonne’s attraction to her lover, who came across as shifty and dangerous from the start. However, this is a chilling novel that explores the lies we can tell ourselves to justify what we have done.

Read on: Kindle
20 Books of Summer: 11/20
Number Read: 129
Number Remaining: 617

Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl by Carrie Brownstein

hunger modern girl - Copy
This last year has felt like a bit of a golden age for the female rock autobiography. From Patti Smith’s M Train to Kim Gordon’s Girl in a Band, there is no shortage of musical memoirs at the moment, with Viv Albertine, Chrissie Hynde and Brix Smith Start all releasing books. Carrie Brownstein in the founder member of Sleater-Kinney one of the break out Riot Grrrl bands to come out of that 1990s scene. Now a respected actor and screenwriter (Portlandia, Transparent), Brownstein documents her life growing up in the suburbs of Seattle through the early days of Sleater-Kinney to the ultimate breakup of the band while on tour in Europe. Brownstein had a troubled childhood, her mother had anorexia and left, while her father came out as gay while she was in her teens. Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl captures perfectly how performance came to be both an escape and an identity for a young woman trying to make sense of a confusing world a create an identity of her own. Brownstein writes in a clean, downbeat manner, always willing to share her own embarrassments as much as her successes. She explores her relationship with band mate Corin Tucker with insight and clarity and her feminist voice demands to be heard. Fans of her later work in television may be disappointed but Brownstein is clever to end the book when the band ends, self-imploding just as things were going well. This could have been a frothy, girls on the road melodrama of a book, but by avoiding the high drama, Brownstein insightfully explores a life lived the only way it could be.

Read On: Book borrowed from my very accommodating husband
20 Books of Summer: 12/20

So, I’m back on track – 8 books to go in 6 more weeks, which I really hope I can manage. I may do a swap as I have now tried to start Moon Tiger on several occasions and it is not grabbing me at all, but I may give it one more go.

How is everyone else getting along? Can you believe there are only 6 weeks of summer left?

 

20 Books of Summer The 746

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Cathy746books View All →

I am a 40 something book buying addict trying to reduce the backlog one book at a time!

49 Comments Leave a comment

  1. I loved your contrasting reviews of the O’Farrell and Egan. I have loved recent O’Farrell novels but not gotten to her first few. It sounds like her talent took a while to develop. Despite being very impressed with A Visit from the Goon Squad I’ve not picked up any of Egan’s others since. I hadn’t even heard of The Keep but it sounds fascinating! Thanks for alerting me to it.

    Liked by 1 person

      • Totally agree about After You’d Gone – still my favourite O’Farrell! – and I was similarly underwhelmed by My Lover’s Lover. The Distance Between Us is better. It’s a long time since I read The Keep but I remember loving it.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. O’Farrell can be very up and down. I’m jealous that you’ve read Brownstein’s book – I haven’t even got it yet! And the period she writes about is exactly the one I’m interested in, so that’s definitely on my list.

    I’m working through my 20 books, have just read number 11, I think, and still on 12 and 20 (which I know I will finish last, if at all). I’ve had a few side-projects, though, reading a friend’s new novel and some running books in preparation for my August marathon.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve got seven books to go, so should manage before the end of summer (winter). One of the ones I have left is Apple Tree Yard – like you I bought it because of the hype and have never got around to it…

    Liked by 1 person

      • I’m the same – bought it ages ago, read about a third, then gave up on it. I will get back to it…sometime! I have never heard of that band (Sleater-Kinney?) but I’ve got Viv Albertine’s, and I’ll grab Kim Gordon’s once it’s paperback sized (It may well be so already but I’m purposely avoiding the bookshop!) I think one of The Breeders has a book out too – I loved them. I think I’ll be employing your mini-review style, if I may, otherwise I’ll never get through them, especially as I’ll be trying to read some authors appearing at Bloody Scotland soon too!

        Liked by 1 person

      • I actually got it from Edelweiss! She’s a bit before my time, but I used to be a real music fanatic – been to over 200 gigs. I went to see Springsteen in June and unbelievably the seats were so crap I didn’t see him once! (I did glimpse the drummer at the end….!) They still sounded brilliant, but I’m thinking of complaining as it was advertised as “seeing” him live! My daughter got the tickets but didn’t look at the map of the seating of Hampden so they obviously palmed her off with s**t tickets! I’d have paid more than £64 each if I could have got a better seat. I’ve listened to him since I was 14, but not all his stuff – just what everyone knows! They did sound amazing. It’s not their fault, it’s Ticketmaster – so greedy!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. It’s always nice to get a pleasant surprise with a book you never expect, I’ve had a few of those during this challenge (and a few that I’ve expected to be good turning out to be duds). Good luck with the rest of the challenge, but it seems like you’re flying through with no problem!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Drinking wine and watching the telly – yes, I can relate to that! Glad to hear you enjoyed The Keep. I was rather taken with Egan’s Goon Squad when I read it a few years ago but have never been tempted to try any of her others since then. Not sure why, possibly a lack of reviews or recommendations from trusted sources. I should take another look at her at some point.

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  6. Oh well done! You’reYou’re going great guns!

    Only 6 weeks left… nooooooooooo! That can’t be right- although our kids are back in school in 2 weeks. Mind, mor a bad thing as having them at home means I’ve strayed from the track a bit… onwards!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Cathy, sometimes ‘mini’ reviews work better than the longer version. Thank you so much for posting these. Frankly, My Lover’s Lover sounds wonderfully haunting and poignant, and The Keep is one I searched for on GR’s ( I couldn’t find it). And, I’m truly attracted to the sub motifs you discuss in Apple Tree Yard: I find the ideas to be very clever.

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  8. Considering how busy you’ve been you have made great progress and I can definitely sympathise with review writing – I am well behind! I have now finished 5 books and I have just started my 6th book off my 10 Books of Summer list.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. You’re doing great, especially with changing jobs in the middle of it all! Oh dear, The Keep sounds irresistible…

    I plunged into a deep reading slump post-Brexit but am climbing my way back out. Currently reading books 10 and 11, and should be powering through the rest in August – it’ll be touch and go though. Hopefully I’ll catch up with reviewing over the next couple of weeks.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I think writing mini reviews makes you more sassy, Miss Cathy, and I giggled several times while reading this post! I am right on track. I’m at book #3 in the Anne of Green Gables series. My husband and I finished Bobby Blanchard, Lesbian Gym Teacher recently, but I’m saving that review so it appears in my list in the correct order. Then it’s a Christopher Moore book and I’m done! I’m even working on my fall syllabus a bit, which I was TOTALLY convinced I would be unable to do with the 20 Books of Summer challenge. Actually, every semester I’m positive I know nothing of how to teach and am a big failure. Nerves!

    The metafiction book about the castle sounds delightful. I’ll ask my book club on Sunday if they want to read it.

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  11. The Keep sounds brilliant – I’ve picked it up in bookshops several times only to put it down again, but I’ve now got a Waterstones gift card to spend (I, too, have left a job this summer…), so maybe it’ll be good for that. Do give Moon Tiger another shot; I read it yonks ago but remember finding it really moving!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. It sounds like My Lover’s Lover was still in the rough draft stage and could have used a few more drafts.And your report on Apple Tree Yard reminds me that it may very well be a good idea to read only books 25 years or older. If they’ve stayed in print that long, that means they probably are worth the time to read them.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I bought ‘The Hand that First Held Mine’ during my last visit to the UK last month because everyone insists I have to read O’Farrell. However, I am a bit scared, as everyone kept telling me how wonderful she is. What if I didn’t enjoy her works? But now you’ve given me some room to breathe with your mini-review. Thanks, Cathy.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. So good to hear I’m not the only one who was left cold by My Lover’s Lover which I DNF. I really enjoyed Apple Tree Yard, I think I took the attraction to be part of her madness, this was a woman acting totally outside the confines of her normal life, and boy did she pay the price. Great mini reviews!!

    Liked by 2 people

  15. Okay, so My Lover’s Lover won’t be my next O’Farrell. I had never heard of that one anyway!
    I’ve put The Keep on my book club list, and I already had Apple Tree Yard on my book club list. It sounds like they both have some juicy topics to talk about.
    It sounds like you’re well on your way to making 20 this summer!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. The Keep totally surprised me too! At first, I felt torn from a story that I had been truly enjoying (so delightfully mysterious and gothic-y) but then I think I ended up liking the direction it took even more! I’ve yet to try a Maggie O’Farrell, but have heard many good things about many of her titles, so that’s something to look forward to!

    Liked by 1 person

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