The Liar’s Chair by Rebecca Whitney

I started reading The Liar’s Chair by Rebecca Whitney in the worst time possible. I was going through a lot and, now that things have improved and I am back to writing and reading, I do not remember most of the book.

The Liar's Chair by Rebecca Whitney - Review

Rachel Teller, the main character, leads a perfect life in England with her handsome husband, in a huge, luxurious house. However, this is all a lie because Rachel is being psychologically and physically abused by her husband almost on a daily basis. Whitney’s narration is so powerful that I found my own moods reflecting Rachel’s. Rachel and I shared lack of sleep and appetite, and the need to pull a brave face some days, because life has to go on.

I really think that because the narration made time feel as slow and as dense as some difficult times do, that I cannot remember most of The Liar’s Chair. However, when a text is so powerful, it does deserve another chance.

Tell No Tales by Eva Dolan (Zigic and Ferreira #2)

I was offered a review copy of Eva Dolan’s second novel in the Zigic and Ferreira, Tell No Tales, series a long time ago, actually, last year. I had never heard either of the series or of Dolan, so I thought I would rather wait to learn more about the series before reading the book. It was a huge mistake.

Tell No Tales by Eva Dolan (Zigic and Ferreira #2) - Review

‘Zigic and Ferreira’ stands for DI Zigic and DS Ferreira from the Peterborough Hate Crimes Unit, and in Tale No Tales they face the mysterious hit-and-run of a young, Eastern-European. It sounds like a no-brainer since the victim’s sister, and actually a few other witnesses, survived the attack. However, the investigation will take Zigic and Ferreira into the UK’s most conservative and nationalist political parties, closely related to neo-nazi groups.

If you have been reading this blog for some time, you can more or less guess my politics. And Tell No Tales makes a fantastic job of highlighting and criticizing the turn to right-wing politics and parties that has plagued Europe in the last decade. Dolan puts her two main detectives – both descendants from migrants and with names that immediately call them out as non-Anglo-Saxons – face to face with the covert racial discourses that have recently gained power. Because, one thing that Dolan makes very clear is that discriminatory political discourses are a subtext to the actual political discourse. It is not often that crime fiction does such a textual and ideological analysis of present-day politics, so I was very pleased to see that current issues are being inscribed in modern crime fiction.

The other thing that called my attention is Dolan’s decision to have two main characters who work at the Hate Crimes Unit instead of at Homicides. I can’t remember any other detective doing this type of job, even though hate crimes – in which I include domestic violence – are an issue, they are not as glamorous or attractive to the reader. In Tell No Tales there is a hard job to do, and although Dolan builds on the glamour of over-worked, over-caffeinated police detective work, she makes it clear that Zigic and Ferreira are facing a disgusting side of society.

So, even though I have not read Zigic and Ferriera #1, I loved Tell No Tales and I highly recommend it anyone who loves crime fiction and wants to diversify their shelves. If you want to read a review about book #1 Long Way Home, Sarah Ward said, after reading it, that Zigic and Ferreira could become her favourite detectives!

Long Time, No See! Spring Break, Life and Reading

If you check my last update, you can see that it’s been almost a month since I last wrote here. The reasons are many, varied, and come from very different events in my life. But life means change, and living means getting used to these changes the best you can, with the help of your beloved ones (to whom I will forever be grateful!). So bear with me, because there is no better way than to read through everything in life, both good and bad :)

It’s a little tradition over here to discuss Spring Break, because right before I go on holidays in March I usually feel I need a break like a need breathing. Now that things are slowly going back on track – or off, but there’s change! – I plan on spending my deserved Spring Break peacefully reading, although I was just noticed today that some paperwork needs to be taken care of.

I am currently reading Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll and I love it, but I can’t tell you more because it is the first book I am reviewing as a (semi?) professional reviewer for Los Angeles Review of Books, a place where people share my love for all things Foucault.

As usual, I have no idea what I will read next, but I have been so lucky as to have Irish crime writer Janey Casey send me two of the novels in her Maeve Kerrigan series. Talking about Ireland – a country to which I profess an irrational love – I finally bought a second-hand edition of Tana French’s In the Woods (Dublin Murder Squad #1). I have heard only wonderful things about her and her works, all by people whose taste and criteria I trust, so I am very excited to get to know her. And, I also finally bought Gone, Baby Gone by Denis Lehane, because a good friend of mine has been insisting on how much I would love the novel.

You have been writing a lot, so I will check all the posts on my Feedly, even though they are more than 100. I just don’t feel comfortable hitting the ‘Mark All as Read’ buttom, because I follow many of you on Twitter, and I have seen some very interesting reviews going around. I just need a good cup of coffee and a few days to read them all.

Because I’ve been away a long time, so I would love to hear what you’re reading and what you’re doing on Spring Break. Any reading planned?

Waterstones Killer Crime Festival

logo copia

Waterstones and Harper Collins are organising a very interesting event – both physical and online – for crime fiction fans, readers, authors and publishers. The Festival will take place on Friday, 13 March 2015 at 14:00 and Saturday, 14 March 2015 at 20:00 (GMT)

Books & Reviews has been asked to participate as a blog, but I will keep you posted on upcoming surprises ;)

Meanwhile, you can find more information here.

Disclaimer by Renee Knight

I first heard about Disclaimer by Renee Knight as I usually do: on Twitter. Agent Felicity Blunt and publicist Alison Barrow started an amazing campaign: What if the book you are reading werte actually about you?

Disclaimer by Renee Knight - review

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Catherine Ravenscroft is a middle-aged woman who, apparently, leads the most normal of lives. She has a husband and a child, she has a job that she loves, and she likes reading. Now that her child earns his own living, she has just moved to a new, smaller house with her husband. In the chaos that comes with moving, she finds herself reading, The Perfect Stranger, a book she does not remember buying, neither does her husband. Imagine her surprise when the story is actually hers, and only hers. No one, she thinks, knew anything about it. Until now…

The premise for Disclaimer is perfect, especially for book lovers. We usually find wisdom, solace, and many positive things on books, but what if those beloved books turned into our worst nightmare? However, I could not sympathise either with Catherine nor with her story. You all know I like reading about unlikable female characters, and Catherine had many features that would have made her an amazing main character. But there was something that did not work for me, even now, . Eventually, when the truth comes out, Catherine emerges as a strong, very wise woman, but this process is a journey, and that is what Disclaimer is about.

Because I do not want to spoil the mystery side of the book, I will not say anything more. This is just a disclaimer that Disclaimer is more a psychological portrait of Catherine than a fast paced mystery. Knight takes her time to weigh on motherhood, marriage, sex, and the many burdens that women face. What makes you a good mother? What makes you a good wife? What makes you a good lover? And most importantly, who gets the privilege to judge you? It was this side of the book – the one that explores the sudden transformation by which middle-aged, white, middle-class women become less reliable and less important than younger ones – that made me give the book three starts at Goodreads.

Disclaimer by Renee Knight comes out on 9th April 2015.

 

Exclusive Interview with Rebecca Scherm, author of Unbecoming + Free Book Club Kit

As many of you know, I loved Unbecoming by Rebecca Scherm. Her debut novel ponders on love, identity and what it all means when you are a young woman. So, I contacted Rebecca and she kindly agreed to answer some questions for me. Plus, Annie Harris from Penguin has allowed me to share this beautiful Book Club Kit with you all – click here to download it. I hope you enjoy it.

1. We could say Unbecoming is an identity thriller, because Grace’s identity becomes the main mystery in the plot. Where did the idea come from?

I grew up watching Hitchcock films and reading noir fiction, and I held in my mind these two feminine types: Grace Kelly as the Hitchcock blond, virtuous and poised, helpful and well-behaved, well brought-up; and the noir femme fatale, who is really more of a plot device than a person. Her motivations are always very simple. And as I got older, I began to rebel against these types, and I started to wonder about the possibility of the Hitchcock heroine and the femme fatale being one very complicated, very real woman. How did she become who she is?

Grace Kelly and Alfred Hitchcock

Grace Kelly and Alfred Hitchcock

2. Grace is one of the most complex and most realistic characters I have encountered, and certainly a very interesting one. She has ambition, she has passion, she’s a sexual being, but she’s also confused, lost and angry at times. How did you negotiate both sides of her while –at the same time – making her inspiring for readers?

Untangling the psychological knot of a character’s identity is what compels me to write fiction. It would be much easier, sure, to write someone less at war with herself, but that wouldn’t hold my attention! I was always trying to understand her: as a writer, my ambition is to empathize with people or characters who are very, very different from me. There are moments in the book when I’m rooting for Grace and moments that I’m just livid with her, as there will be for most readers. And all our moments will be different, I expect, depending on how we see the world and what we ourselves have experienced.

 3. Love and the desire to be loved play a key role in the narrative. Why did you choose to write such a story around emotional wants and needs?

 Our lives are defined in moments where our emotional wants and needs are in conflict with each other or with our practical wants and needs. These are the moments where we make big, life-altering decisions—to break up, to move, to change jobs, to quit, to lie, to buy something, to make a promise. Unbecoming is very much propelled by those intersections and conflicts, which don’t always make sense to the people around us. But that’s just because they can’t really read our whole stories, not like we can—and that’s where fiction comes in. Mary Gaitskill said in a talk once that reading fiction is the closest you can get to living inside another person for a while—I call it “zipping on someone else’s human suit” to my students—and that emotional experience, both as a reader and writer, is what interests me.

4. Eventually, Grace highlights we are all in charge of our identities, and we can actively construct them. It is a hopeful and very open-minded to approach life. Tells us more about where this philosophy comes from.

 Well, I think we do construct our identities, consciously or not—and our failures to control our identities are part of that. Think about how you present yourself in a job interview as opposed to how you present yourself (ha!) on a Friday night with very old friends. Grace’s identity has more public-vs-private friction than most of us have, but we all know what it feels like to transform yourself for a specific audience or environment, even if it’s just a little tweak on social media, at a party, at work.

5.Learning what makes you happy rather than what you thought would make you happy seems to be Grace’s happy ending. But, it is a process, and reading Unbecoming reflects that process of learning and the acceptance that comes from self-knowledge. How did you achieve this?

 Ah, yes, we say “be true to yourself,” but what if the “yourself” in question is someone dangerous? Without giving too much away, I was railing against our expectations of a classic “redemption” narrative, where bad acts are punished or the doer-of-bad-deeds repents, settles down, vows to be good from now on. Well, Grace vows to be good often in the book, and we see how that goes. For me, a realistic “redemption” for this character meant that we catch her in a moment where she sees herself clearly. And for a character so hard to pin down, who resists revelation about herself, that glimpse can only last a moment. But I was always trying to catch her there. It wasn’t easy.

Thank you very much to both Annie Harris and Rebecca Scherm for collaborating with Books & Reviews. Unbecoming was published in the US on 22nd January 2015. 

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Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon (Persephone Books)

Despite my love for feminist literature and women writers, I had never bought a Persephone Book. In case you do not know about them, Persephone Books ‘reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers.’ You can check their catalogue here, or do like I did and follow them on Twitter. Back in September I wondered if they had some review copies available of crime fiction writers, and they kindly sent me Still Missing (1981) by Beth Gutcheon.

Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon

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‘You could hardly get to age thirty-four without learning something about loss. By thirty four you’re bound to have lost your Swiss Army knife, your best friend from fourth grade, your chance to be the centre forward on the starting team, your hope of the Latin prize, quite a few of your illusions, and certainly, somewhere along the line, some significant love.’

Still Missing tells the story of Susan Selky, successful professor of English literature and feminist, whose son, Alex, goes missing on his way to school one May morning in Boston. He only had to walk a few blocks, and there were other mothers who would keep an eye on him, but on a fatal morning, Alex disappeared into thin air. When Susan arrives home from work in the early evening and Alex is not home, she does not worry. Bad things always happen to other people, don’t they? So, she performs some daily tasks until an hour has passed and her son has not gotten home. Where is Alex? From this moment on the novel explores the anxiety, grief and confusion that comes from losing someone you love, especially when there is no closure. And especially when the recently separated mother was in charge of the child, when her husband was at his lover’s flat. And when that mother has a successful career, never loses hope and is determined to be believed, not to be drugged, and to take control of the situation.

I started this novel last December, but it was not the right time to read it. So, I left it on my desk and decided to give it a try after I got over a very bad reading slump. And it worked. It took me 4 evenings to read the book, even though I was busy and there were other things that needed my time and my attention. Still, I wanted to spend more time with Susan Selky, because – as it happens in real life – anxiety and grief lead to a momentarily joyous obsession. It is not that usual in crime fiction to tell the story from the family’s perspective, although Gutcheon also included glimpses into Detective Menetti’s life, both as a detective and as a father and husband.

But, above all, Still Missing is a character study of 1980’s Boston. At the time, women were successfully entering powerful positions, and they were dealing with the consequences of doing so in a patriarchal society. Susan is a much better professor than her husband, and when her book got better reviews than his, she tried to minimize the praise, to minimize the impact on his feelings. The Selkys are also separated, and they have an amicable relationship in lieu of Alex, a family situation that was being normalized at the time. Meanwhile, they have a friend, Jocelyn, who is a Southern single mother and takes pride on being a liberated woman, sexually speaking, and a French homosexual cleaner who loves fashion, beauty tips, and endless sexual encounters with unknown men. As you can see, it is quite a mix of stereotypes, that somehow represent social groups that would be stigmatized and marginalized in the 1980’s. I found the police’s comments on homosexuality quite revealing, yet offensive. AIDS panic had not yet reached the streets, but homophobia was already spreading quickly.

Beth Gutcheon’s novel has been neglected, even though it reads quickly and is an anthropological, social and emotional study on 1980’s Boston. I would highly recommend Still Missing to any crime fiction fans who are looking for a different novel and do not mind it is quite dated. Because this is one of those novels where there are no DNA, no mobile phones, and no computers. Old school crime fiction at its best.