Tuesday, 30 May 2017

TLC BOOK TOURS REVIEW: Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki

Woman No. 17 by Edan Lepucki
Hardcover: 320 Pages
Publisher: Hogarth (May 9, 2017)

My Rating:
Disclaimer: A complimentary digital copy of 'Woman No. 17' was provided by TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest unbiased review and to take part in this blog tour.

A sinister, sexy noir about art, motherhood, and the intensity of female friendships set in the posh hills above Los Angeles, from the New York Times bestselling author of California.
High in the Hollywood Hills, writer Lady Daniels has decided to take a break from her husband. Left alone with her children, she’s going to need a hand taking care of her young son if she’s ever going to finish her memoir. In response to a Craigslist ad, S arrives, a magnetic young artist who will live in the secluded guest house out back, care for Lady’s toddler, Devin, and keep a watchful eye on her older, teenage son, Seth. S performs her day job beautifully, quickly drawing the entire family into her orbit, and becoming a confidante for Lady.

But in the heat of the summer, S’s connection to Lady’s older son takes a disturbing, and possibly destructive, turn. And as Lady and S move closer to one another, the glossy veneer of Lady’s privileged life begins to crack, threatening to expose old secrets that she has been keeping from her family. Meanwhile, S is protecting secrets of her own, about her real motivation for taking the job. S and Lady are both playing a careful game, and every move they make endangers the things they hold most dear.

Darkly comic, twisty and tense, this mesmerizing new novel defies expectation and proves Edan Lepucki to be one of the most talented and exciting voices of her generation.

My Thoughts:
Set high in the Hollywood Hills, LA, Woman No. 17 is a contemporary 'dramedy' with a razor sharp, edgy dialogue and a dark creepy undertone, an undertone in my opinion that didn't really surface. There are some real comedic moments where I laughed out loud, one of my favourite involving the shit-faced nanny and the pooch. Shamelessly, I loved it.

Pearl 'Lady' Daniels, the mother of two boys, one a lively toddler, Devin, and his half brother, 18 year old Seth, has been commissioned to write a book. A book about motherhood and caring for children with special needs. A book which she has no true impetus to write. She hires a nanny to enable her to concentrate on writing without the distraction of family interruptions or routines. This solution in itself brings its own distractions.  Lady is a complex woman with a simmering mass of emotion and hidden depths to her personality that will gradually bubble over during the course of the story.

Esther Shapiro has a very strong dual personality, hers and that of her alter persona of 'S' Fowler which lends an underlying creepiness into the mix.  Esther a 21 year old college graduate is committed to her latest piece of conceptual art, 'The Katherine May Project' where she will devote every waking moment to impersonating her mother as a young girl.  There's nothing she won't do to succeed in the project. Esther, transformed into the unshaven, plain faced, drably dressed, renamed 'S' Fowler is taken on as the Daniels' live-in nanny.

Seth's character is somewhat unique and impressive. As a mute, self imposed or not really doesn't necessitate too much contemplation, Edan has given depth and perception to a character that could so easily have fallen into the background, or have been one-dimensional at best. He uses his iPad, Twitter feed and sign language, including secret signings for Lady, to communicate and interact in a believable fashion.

Early on its pretty obvious that a relationship is inevitable between the nanny and Seth.  It is a relationship that will have a troubling, powerful impact on all three of them.

During the course of alternating perspectives and back stories, a fuller understanding of how the complexities of the family dynamic, significantly that of the mother-daughter relationships, have shaped the women into who they have ultimately become. Sometimes full of selfish tendencies as with Lady not wanting to share Seth with anyone for fear of losing him, and dismissing Devlin's needs in order to fulfill her own; and Esther with her utter disregard for those caught up in her performance art, as she causes upset and mayhem, crossing boundaries, and taking advantage of everyone to the point of exploitation, all for the cause of her art.

I really enjoyed Edan Lepucki's second novel and think it perfect for fans of art literature or anyone wanting to read something 'off-centre' about art and dysfunctional relationships.

Highly recommended.

Edan Lepucki’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS for WOMAN No. 17:

Monday, May 8th: Bewitched Bookworms
Tuesday, May 9th: Books and Bindings
Wednesday, May 10th: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, May 11th: Thoughts on This ‘n That
Tuesday, May 16th: Kahakai Kitchen
Wednesday, May 17th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, May 18th: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Monday, May 22nd: Art Books Coffee
Tuesday, May 23rd: Palmer’s Page Turners
Wednesday, May 24th: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, May 25th: Booksie’s Blog
Tuesday, May 30th: SJ2B House of Books
Wednesday, May 31st: Fuelled by Fiction

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

TLC BOOK TOURS Review: Vanishing Point by E V Legters

Vanishing Point by E V Legters

Publisher: Lethe Press (May 27, 2017)
Genre: Contemporary Fiction /LGBT

My Rating:
Disclaimer: A complimentary digital copy of 'Vanishing Point' was provided by the author in exchange for an honest unbiased review and to take part in this blog tour.

"Nothing's changed except Angela Dunnewald." From the inside of her life and marriage, Angela discovers she's gone quite mad. Her sense of self, of direction, has frayed and she finds herself lost and alone despite a calendar full of society events, charity meetings, shopping dates, and dinners her aloof husband expects her to attend. Her best friend is a vivacious flirt, but Angela only strays when she discovers a young drifter haunting the grounds of her house. Desire to be intimate unlocks the need for achievement; Angela becomes unrecognizable to her peers and to herself.

Legters’ new novel offers betrayal, passion, secrets, and truth, all from inside a world that threatens to suffocate to the vanishing point.

My Thoughts:
Written in the present, third person narrative and interspersed with flashbacks to Angela's early married life, much of the book is written in a bleak and languidly depressive tone, but it does have an uplifting anticipatory edge and ultimate feeling of hopefulness too.

Evie's characters are well rounded and plausible with flawed, highly complex personalities, all working to their own agendas.  I didn't particularly like any of them, far too spoilt, spiteful and full of their own self importance for my liking.

I had a real sense that Angela was, indeed, at vanishing point. Her mental state affected me in such a way that I felt despair and miserable reading about her achingly dull, insignificant existence. There, only to give meaning and purpose for another; for Ross her husband of 19 years; or for her friend Lydia of 12 years in accompanying her to the many committee meetings or social gatherings where no one is interested in anyone but themselves.

Change is on the way when Angela notices a young man in the garden.  Ross would call the police insisting on his removal...they don't pay taxes for drifters to endanger them or their property...but Angela doesn't do anything, she is fascinated by his self confidence. He has possession of himself, a surety whereas she has none.  What follows is an intense relationship with some pretty heated sex scenes between Angela and her lover which I felt uncomfortable about to begin with. I'd worried, needlessly, that such an emotive plot line was going to descend into a tasteless porn romance. Nothing wrong with 'pornance' except it wouldn't have been in keeping with the start of this book. The sex scenes were tastefully, and sensually written and showed the evolvement of their relationship perfectly. It is within the realms of her relationship with Daniel that Angela encounters an unknown depth of feeling and desire for, and from another, and where the seeds for her empowerment and personal transformation grow.

There is such an elegance and beauty to Legters' style of writing as illustrated here when Angela is comparing Ross' hands to that of her lovers:

"Daniel’s hands are thin, and the skin also fine-grained; she would have expected a carpenter’s hands to be rough and worn, with a callous or two on the palm. Instead, when he touches her, it’s almost as if he weren’t touching her at all; she has the impression of air, and peace.
Ross’s hands have become wide and heavy and obvious. If they grope her in the dark,she stays still, pretending they can’t wake her."

As for Ross, has he not provided Angela with everything 'they' could possibly ever want?  Ross is infuriating in his insensitivity to Angela's needs and her desires, in dismissing them as petty and unimportant.  He doesn't take anything she says seriously and disregards her almost to the point of not listening to her at all.  She'd loved this cherry tree...

"Ross had said the cherries dropping stained the flagstone. She came home one day to a stump. She’d loved its blossoms; their first spring in the house, she took a dozen pictures of them, and had one framed for the study. Ross said the flagstones were more important, and that he hadn’t known she cared about it. He never apologized."
...Ross never apologises for his actions.

One compromise that Ross had made at the start of their marriage, reluctantly, was to keep a treasured wicker chair Angela had since childhood.  Even so, she was still made to feel silly about wanting to keep such a valueless item...as in evidence here:

"The wicker chair is the one thing from her childhood...She spent hours in it growing up, reading, dreaming."...“Let someone have it who really needs it.” When she told him she needed it, ...he said, “doesn’t wicker belong out of doors?” She reminded him that he’d have plenty from the house where he grew up...“Yes, valuable antiques...” “Ross.” He gave in, ..."Beginning with that conversation, nearly everything she wanted gradually became too much work to gain, and so she gave in to more and more, telling herself all these petty things didn’t matter."

His incomprehension as to why Angela should be so ungrateful or unhappy within their marriage frustrated me no end. It was all too easy for me to think that Ross was all deserving of his wife's infidelity. However, even with such an intense dislike of him, that moral part of me still felt he was as much a victim as his wife and entitled to be told the truth. Alas, real life isn't that way so why should it be for him.

Overall, Vanishing Point is a stylishly written literary tale about a woman so conditioned over time to feel undeserving of attention or real consideration in any way that her reaction is to compromise, and comply in order to save others from their own fragility, and of how as a disillusioned housewife she acts out of impulsiveness to embark on an illicit affair.

Fans of Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road, and Bernard Schlink's The Reader, will undoubtedly savour this one.

About E.V. Legters

Vanishing Point is E.V. Legters’ second novel. Her first, Connected Underneath, published under her given name, Linda, instead of her chosen name, E.V., was released last year and is an INDIE Press Book of the Year finalist. Born in the far western reaches of New York State, and a long-time resident of Connecticut, E.V. is exploring new venues in which to finish her third. She is currently in Portugal.

TLC Tour Stops

Thursday, May 11th: From the TBR Pile
Thursday, May 18th: SJ2B House Of Books
Monday, May 22nd: Sweet Southern Home
Monday, May 29th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, May 31st: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen
Tuesday, June 6th: Books and Bindings

Find out more at website.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

After Birth by Elisa Albert

After Birth by Elisa Albert
Publishers:Vintage Publishing
Source: Publishers/NetGalley

Read: February 2017
(DNF'd on first attempt in 2015)


Disclaimer: A complimentary copy was provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest unbiased review.
Sometimes I'm with the baby and I think: you're my heart and my soul, and I would die for you. Other times I think: tiny moron, leave me the fuck alone.

A year has passed since Ari gave birth and still she can't locate herself in her altered universe.  Sleep-deprived, lonely and unprepared, she struggles through the strange, disjointed rhythms of her days and nights. Her own mother long dead and her girlhood friendships faded, she is a woman in need.
When Mina - older, alone, pregnant - moves to town, Ari sees hope of a comrade-in-arms. Perhaps the hostile terrain could be more easily navigable together.

With purifying anger and outrageous humour, Elisa Albert unleashes on a culture that turns its new mothers into exiles, and expects them to act like natives. And as she defines the raw experience of motherhood, Albert offers a hilarious and devastatingly honest examination of how we become the women we are.

My Thoughts:
"An edgy, raw 'of the moment', anger rant about pregnancy, birth and motherhood"
'After Birth' is a hard hitting, revelatory tale about 'life after birth', and motherhood told with brutally honest portrayals of its character's and their unforgiving, often outrageous hilarious and irrational observations. With the exception of the lesbianism, drugs and some other scenarios, specifically the 'milk mother' relationship (an unselfish act practiced within certain social/religious groups), it was as if I were reading a close encounter of 'my' life 'After Birth'.  Decidedly the most traumatic experience I've had to date, I felt utterly humiliated and devastated as the fairytale promised me fractured and disintegrated. You know, the one about 'the most beautiful rewarding experience a woman should have is giving birth'. I felt betrayed...It certainly wasn't meant to be the way it played out for me...was it ?

Ari the central character feels similarly... “the baby books said nothing about this,” ... and again about her cesarean section: ...“They cut me in half, pulled the baby from my numb, gaping cauterized center...Sewn back up again by a team of people I didn’t even know...Severed from hip to hip iced, brutalized, catheterized, tethered to a bed, the tiny bird’s heartfelt shrieks as they carted him off somewhere hell itself.”...

On one of her home visits it was obvious to my health visitor that things were a little off when after weeks of sleep deprivation, and still unable to stand upright from my emergency c-section op, and subsequent emergency op to repair the reopening of the aforementioned, I told her that I didn't want my baby, he didn't want me, and to take him away.  Fortunately she didn't believe me and immediately telephoned the doctor who prescribed antidepressants. Why did I let things take such a hold? Well, at the time I 'knew' that I couldn't tell anyone because 'they' would take my baby into care as I was such a bad mum, and then section me for being mentally ill...but they did neither.

Ok so not everyone has such an awful time of it but some mothers do, and although a fictional account 'After Birth' was a revelation and potentially a 'self help' book in my opinion.  Reading about these character's experiences dredged up such powerful emotions from deep down, but ultimately it brought about an acceptance and exorcism 'of sorts' to that period in my life.

My experience was nearly 19 years ago and If this book said anything to me...NO, IT SCREAMED OUT AT ME...that sometimes we need help... that we're not alone...that we'll probably get over it and be okay in the end...that we should not be afraid to ask for help! I went on two years later to have another baby, by elective c-section, and had the polar opposite experience.

After Birth is not a fluffy tale of motherhood, it does not paint a pretty picture of talcum powder smelling newborns, and reading it may destroy the cutesy image. What it does, is give the reader an insight into the frightful nightmare that the experience can be like, at least for some.

The tone of anguish, and despair of the characters was right on the button and the book truly resonated with me. This is a personal emotional account of my thoughts rather than an actual review and other readers will take more, or less from it but essentially it is an harsh story with tender moments narrated by well written colourful characters, some likeable and others not so much, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

I wouldn't say that all mothers should read it especially if going through a first pregnancy but I'd definitely suggest giving it a try.  It may not be the right moment, but it's worth giving it a chance.

A narrative of pure emotion and highly emotive, I wholeheartedly recommend 'After Birth' for it's entertaining value and stark honesty. Perfect for the new wave feminism happening now, and guaranteed to whip up some frank and excitable debate in book reading groups.