Newest Literary Fiction Reviews

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Review of

Sistersong by Lucy Holland

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Sistersong is part of a genre I particularly enjoy, the modern retelling of folk and fairy tales. These stories, for most of us, are a cornerstone of childhood and I relish seeing them retold with fresh eyes and a fresh perspective. If handled well these retellings give new life and new meaning to stories that are now becoming increasingly narrow and outdated, fleshing out characters, examining relationships and re-evaluating the role of women. Sistersong is a perfect example of a modern retelling done well, the plot is handled with care, keeping its archaic historical feel but allowing the characters to come to life, to feel real and human, most importantly they feel relatable in a modern world whilst still feeling appropriate for the pre-Saxon age they live in. This is a masterpiece of storytelling and I was captivated from beginning to end. Full Review

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Review of

The Complete Barchester Chronicles by Anthony Trollope

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

When I told my daughter that I didn't know what to listen to now that I'd finished The Complete Novels of Jane Austen for the second time on the trot she had the perfect answer: The Barchester Chronicles and they were in my inbox in a matter of minutes. They're not quite as well known as the Austen books but they're an excellent follow on. Full Review

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Review of

The Complete Novels: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion by Jane Austen

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Yes - that's over eighty-one hours of listening for the purchase of one audio book. All six major novels are read by conmedienne Alison Larkin and they're presented in the order in which they were published. Full Review

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Review of

If You Kept a Record of Sins by Andrea Bajani and Elizabeth Harris (translator)

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

This was an incredibly readable novella, but one that left me a little conflicted. We start as our hero arrives at Bucharest airport, and before we even know his gender or the nature of the person he's addressing in his second person monologue of a narration, we see him picked up by his mother's chauffeur, and carted off to do all the necessary introductions before said mother is buried the following day. The mother was a businesswoman, who clearly left northern Italy and settled in Romania with her (night-time and business) partner, and feelings of abandonment are still strong. And so we flit from current (well, this came out in the original Italian in 2007, so moderately current) Bucharest, to the lad's childhood, and see just what he has to tell her as a private farewell address. Full Review

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Review of

Kokoschka's Doll by Afonso Cruz and Rahul Bery (translator)

2.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Well, this looked very much like a book I could love from the get-go, which is why I picked my review copy up and flipped pages over several times before actually reading any of it. I found things to potentially delight me each time – a weird section in the middle on darker stock paper, a chapter whose number was in the 20,000s, letters used as narrative form, and so on. It intrigued with the subterranean voice a man hears in wartorn Dresden that what little I knew of it mentioned, too. But you've seen the star rating that comes with this review, and can tell that if love was on these pages, it was not actually caused by them. So what happened? Full Review

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Review of

Snow by John Banville

5star.jpg Crime (Historical)

Well, at least you're a Wexford man.

So said Colonel Osborne when he welcomed DI St John (pronounced 'Sinjun') Strafford to Ballyglass House just before Christmas 1957. Osborne was master of the Keelmore Hounds and had done something memorable with the Inniskilling Dragoons at Dunkirk. The niceties had to be established even when there was a Catholic priest dead on the library floor with some precious bits of his anatomy missing. Strafford was from Roslea at Bunclody and this, along with his good-but-shabby suit, marked him out as of Osborne's class and obviously Protestant. The dead priest was Father Tom Lawless from Scallanstown, who - despite the different religions - was in the habit of spending time at Ballyglass House. His horse was stabled there. Full Review

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Review of

Astral Season, Beastly Season by Tahi Saihate

3.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

We long for our past even though it is a place to which we can never return. Tahi Saihate, in her debut novel Astral Season, Beastly Season illustrates how these rose-tinted glasses often lie. Her novel is a meditation on youth and how the things we do as a teenager can seem intensely important and often life-altering. Full Review

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Review of

The Phone Box at the End of the World by Laura Imai Messina

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

In the northeast of Japan, in Inwate Prefecture a man installed a telephone box in his garden. Inside there is an old black, telephone, disconnected, that carries voices into the wind. It is a real place, a necessary place, and I am pleased to see the IMPORTANT NOTE that the author attaches to her story, that the place is not a tourist destination, it is a sacred place, a place that must be left to those who really need it. Full Review

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Review of

The Disoriented by Amin Maalouf

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Adam has lived in Paris for years, speaks French more easily than his native Arabic. In fact he hasn't been back to his homeland for 25 years. An old friend is dying…or as Adam prefers to think of him a former-friend, perhaps not as harsh as an ex-friend, or maybe. The falling out was a long time ago, and Adam's partner has no idea what it was about, even so she urges him to go knowing that he'll regret not doing so. Not knowing whether he's going because he needs or wants to, or simply because he was asked, he's on the next plane. Full Review

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Review of

A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne M Harris

5star.jpg Confident Readers

I have always been of the mind that once you're above picture-book level and before you get to graphic sex & violence, there is no difference between books for children and books for adults. There are good books and poor ones. And Joanne Harris does not produce poor ones. A Pocketful of Crows is clearly aimed at the younger readers as witness the use of the middle initial in the author's name to differentiate from her adult offers. Ignore that if you have loved anything from Chocolat onwards you will know that Harris is mistress of the modern fairy tale. This is no different. It is an utter delight. Full Review

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Review of

A Life Without End by Frederic Beigbeder and Frank Wynne (translator)

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

I looked at the calendar the other week, and disappointedly realised I have a birthday this year – I know, yet another one. It won't be one of the major numbers, but the time when I have the same number as Heinz varieties looms on the horizon. And then a few of the big 0-numbers, and if all goes well, I'll be an OBE. (Which of course stands for Over Bloody Eighty.) Now if that's the extent of my mid-life crisis, I guess I have to be happy. Our author here doesn't use that exact phrase, but he might be said to be living one. Determined to find out how to prolong life for as long as he wants – he would like to see 400 – he hops right into bed with the assistant to the first geneticist he interviews, and they end up with a child, which is at least a way of continuing the life of his genes, and a motive to keep on going. But how can he get to not flick the 'final way out' switch, especially when foie gras tastes so nice? Full Review

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Review of

The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana by Maryse Condé

4.5star.jpg Literary Fiction

We live in a post- world: post-colonialism, post-modernism, post truth. The list goes on. There are numerous works that utilise the prefix post- in their categorisation, but perhaps none more so than Maryse Condé. In her new novel, The Wondrous and Tragic Life of Ivan and Ivana, Condé writes with fervour about the scars left by colonialism on the countries to which it latched itself. Ivan and Ivana are twins born in Guadeloupe, a French overseas department. They grow up with intense and passionate feelings for each other. As they grow up and move overseas, the ravages of a post-colonial society drive them apart with tragic consequences. Full Review

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Review of

Ogadinma Or, Everything Will Be All Right by Ukamaka Olisakwe

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

The new novel by Ukamaka Olisakwe is a look at the trauma and heartache of being a woman in 1980s Nigeria. The title is Ogadinma Or, Everything Will Be All Right. Ogadinma is the eponymous heroine of the story.. We are with her in every scene and it is her narrative voice that leads the story, although Olisakwe writes in third person. This provides a sense of detachment for the reader and highlights the isolation of Ogadinma. She is exiled from her father's home and sent to Lagos where she is married to an older man named Tobe. Their marriage descends into violence and indignities and Ogadinma must utilise her resourcefulness to escape. Full Review

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Review of

A Key to Treehouse Living by Elliot Reed

4star.jpg General Fiction

This is the story of a young boy, William Tyce, who is being raised by his uncle after the death of his mother and his father's abandonment. However, it isn't told in the usual narrative way. Instead, the book is made up of glossary entries, written by William, as a way of describing certain events, situations and emotions. It runs alphabetically, starting with ABSENCE, then moving to ALPHABETICAL ORDER. As I began to read I did find myself thinking 'what on earth?!' but I soon grew used to the style, and was instead caught up in William's story. Full Review

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Review of

It Would Be Night in Caracas by Karina Sainz Borgo and Elizabeth Bryer (translator)

4star.jpg Literary Fiction

It Would Be Night in Caracas illuminates the everyday horrors of modern day Venezuela. It begins with the death of Adelaida Falcon's mother and chronicles Adelaida's coming to terms with her new solitude in this world and her attempts to escape it. Danger stalks the shadows and, in a society where the establishment is crumbling, who can you turn to? Full Review

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Review of

Photographer of the Lost by Caroline Scott

4.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

May 1921. Edie receives a photograph through the post. There is no letter or note with it. There is nothing written on the back of the photograph. It is a picture of her husband, Francis. Francis has been missing for four years. Technically, he has been "missing, believed killed" but that is not something that a young widow can believe. She hangs on the word 'missing', disbelieving the word killed. Full Review

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Review of

The Nightjar by Deborah Hewitt

4.5star.jpg Fantasy

The Nightjar is an unusual and exciting story. Alice Wyndham lives a normal life in London until she finds a box on her doorstep one morning and her life begins to unravel, fast. From that very moment, her life is flooded with magic, loss, expectation and particularly, betrayal. As everything around her shifts, all that she knows, all that she thinks she knows, must change. Who can she trust? Who must she trust? Who will she trust? More importantly, can she even trust herself? Full Review

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Review of

Equator by Antonin Varenne and Sam Taylor (translator)

3.5star.jpg Historical Fiction

It strikes me that nobody can speak well of the Wild West outside the walls of a theme park. Our agent to see how bad it was here is Pete Ferguson, who bristles at the indignity of the white man against Native 'Indian', who spends days being physically sick while indulging in a buffalo hunt, and who hates the way man – and woman, of course – can turn against fellow man at the bat of an eyelid. But this book is about so much more than the 1870s USA, and the attendant problems with gold rushes, pioneer spirits and racial genocide. He finds himself trying to find this book's version of Utopia, namely the Equator, where everything is upside down, people walk on their heads with rocks in their pockets to keep them on the ground to counter the anti-gravity, and where, who knows, things might actually be better. But that equator is a long way away – and there's a whole adventure full of Mexico and Latin America between him and it… Full Review

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Review of

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

When we first meet Danny and his elder sister, Maeve Conroy, they're both living at The Dutch House with their parents and under the gaze of the portraits of the former owners whose oil paintings still hang on the walls. It's a strange family dynamic: Cyril Conroy is distant and the closest Danny seems to come to him is when he goes out with him on a Saturday collecting rents from properties the family owns. Elna Conroy is loving, but absent increasingly often until the point comes when the children are told that she will not be returning. In other circumstances, this might have affected Maeve and Danny deeply, but their primary relationship is with each other. It's a bond which only death will break. Full Review

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Review of

A Winter Book by Tove Jansson

5star.jpg Literary Fiction

Tove Jansson's worldwide fame lasts on the Moomin books, written in the 1940s and later becoming television characters of the simplicity, naivety and sheer 'goodness' that would later produce flowerpot men or teletubbies. Simple drawings, simple stories, simple goodness. What is often forgotten outside of her native Finland is that she was a serious writer…that she wrote for adults as well as children…and that she had a feeling for the natural world and the simple life that not only informed those child-like trolls but went far beyond any fantasy of how the world might be. Full Review

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