Saturday, 21 March 2015

Blue Talk And Love by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan / Perfect by Rachel Joyce / Nemesis by Louise Marley

Blue Talk and LoveBlue Talk and Love by Mecca Jamilah Sullivan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of my WorldReads from America

One of my Top Ten Books of 2015

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I received a copy of Blue Talk And Love from its publishers, Riverdale Avenue Books, via NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review. This is my eighth review for Sophie and Suze's NetGalley Challenge.

I chose Blue Talk And Love almost entirely because of Mirlande Jean-Gilles's stunning cover image. The black woman proudly facing out shows exactly what this story collection is about. Fourteen short stories portray lives of black women in America, primarily contemporary New York. I didn't know what to expect having not read any of Sullivan's work before, and so was pleasantly surprised by the book. Her grasp of character is brilliant and the women fairly leapt off the page into my imagination. Some of the speech took a bit of working out, but the atmosphere of each story came across convincingly and I loved picturing the locations and people in my mind.

Sullivan includes a wide sweep of women within her tales and I was particularly taken by the historical story of conjoined twins We-Chrissie and We-Millie. Their struggle from slavery through freak-shows and a kind of fame, to dwindling popularity and uncertainty about their future is sensitively written and emotionally moving. I also liked the quiet desperation of Dominique and her family in the story Adale. Driven out of their home by rising rents, pregnant Dominique, her mother and her son are facing a new life away from the support of their friends and church group. Told against the backdrop of news reports of the 2005 tsunami, I liked how Sullivan contrasted that swift devastation of towns and lives with the slower but equally relentless destruction and rebuilding of Dominique's district as new money moves in. Dominique's donation to the Somalian victims of the tsunami - an imaginable horror - was emotional. Other stories tackle issues of weight and body image, gender identity and artistic integrity - as I type this I've just remembered the story Ruidos which could make a thoughtful bridge from the Kazuo Ishiguro story collection Nocturnes.

I hope Blue Talk And Love won't be sidelined as being of minority interest. The first stories feature lesbian characters and I think Riverdale Avenue is an LGBT publisher, but this is not just a book of stories about gender identity or about race, but about women. It is an interesting collection that I think will resound with women of any colour worldwide.

PerfectPerfect by Rachel Joyce
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

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Buy the paperback from Waterstones.

I enjoyed Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry , especially I think due to hearing it read by Jim Broadbent who did a fantastic job of the narration. Consequently, when Dave downloaded Perfect for our Kindle, I looked forward to the read.

Perfect tells the story of one hot summer and its aftermath from the point of view of Byron Hemmings, a 'posh' boy living with his ornamental mother, his younger sister and, at weekends, his father who returns to his family from The City. I liked Joyce's portrayal of this family, their strained relationships and quiet desperation to maintain appearances at any cost. However, as we see them through Byron's eyes, much of the adult interaction is only revealed via misunderstood eavesdropping. I thought the most interesting character was the mother, Diana, and I would have preferred to follow her instead. I didn't think Byron's childhood friend, James, was realistic and found his pretentiousness irritating. And Beverley started out well, but then went way over the top.

Alternating with Byron's summer, we learn about Jim, a man who has mental health issues resulting in a need to observe repetitive rituals and an inability to easily communicate. Jim is portrayed very sympathetically and I think Joyce created a memorable character here. She manages to be humorous but without laughing at him which is tricky to do.

Unfortunately, I thought the ending did get too schmaltzy and relied on an overly convenient coincidence for a feel-good factor. Overall, I was a bit disappointed, probably due to having had too high expectations. Perfect is a nicely written book with good pace and an original storyline, but too many events were unbelievable and I found this frequently distracted me.

NemesisNemesis by Louise Marley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my Top Ten Books for IndiePrideDay 2016.

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I recently discovered Louise Marley via her short story The Indecent Proposal. I liked her writing, but found the subject too fluffy for my tastes so Louise kindly offered Nemesis as a more suitable read. She was absolutely right!

Nemesis is a nicely plotted, slick crime thriller. It jumps in time between the present day and fifteen years previously, gradually revealing pertinent details of an unsolved murder. The periods are linked through the presence of Natalie, our heroine and the sister of Sarah, our murder victim. While the numerous characters aren't all completely fleshed out, Natalie came across as very real, she is gutsy and impetuous, but without seeming impervious. Natalie's childhood home life was marred by her violent father and his scenes have a distinct chill which was fun to read. I thought most of the male characters were unlikeable in that they had a realistic lack of respect for the women.

Marley's descriptions of Hurst Castle and its surroundings made it easy to imagine and, if it does have a genuine counterpart, I'd certainly like to visit some day. The layers of historic detail added interest to the story.

The plot twists of Nemesis kept me guessing right to the end, actually having talked myself out of the right answer on the way. I didn't want to put the book down and kept reading way past bedtime!

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