‘The Brightest Star in the Sky’, Marian Keyes

‘The Brightest Star in the Sky’, Marian Keyes

I have read pretty much everything that Marian Keyes has written, and this book is, by far, my favourite. I couldn’t put it down. The Brightest Star in the Sky has a myriad of interesting and unique characters, all live at 66 Star Street, the narrator bounces between characters, homes and stories, and in this way, you get to know the intimate details of the comings and goings at 66 Star Street.

The Brightest Star in the Sky is written from an unusual perspective, that of an unborn child.  For most the book, I thought that it may have been written from the perspective of death, it was not until the final chapters that I realised that couldn’t be the case. The narrative voice just seemed too bouncy and chatty to be death…

The story moves at astonishing pace, and tells the story of individuals almost poetically. And you quickly realise that not all is what it seems at 66 Star Street.  It made me smile and cry in equal measure. Keyes tackles deep issues, rape, estrangement, death, and suicide. Albeit difficult to read these scenes are necessary and by weaving these events into her work Keyes is helping to bring attention to issues that remain taboo.

Conceptually, the novel is very different to Keyes’ usual style, the narrator is not yet born, the time line moves quickly, and the rapidity of the pace is reinforced by short chapters. Some fans of Keyes may not like this change in narrative style.  There are two very definitive tones used in the book – the first half of the book lulls you into a false sense of security, creating almost idyllic representations of the lives of those living at 66 Star Street, mirages of perfect lives crack suddenly in the second half of the book. The narrative voice switches to one that is angry and exposes the heartbreak behind the perfect façade.  You learn of Maeve’s rape, and the subsequent decline of her marriage, and the attempted suicide of Maeve’s husband. You learn of Jemima’s cancer, and Lydia’s struggle to look after her mother.

The book ends with Maeve and her husband coming back together, and the narrator ‘finding’ its family just in time. The Brightest Star in the Sky is a very different Marian Keyes book, Keyes has never written just ‘chick lit’, her books are intricate, and her characters flawed but flawless, this book is no different. The characters are complex, and evoke strong emotions in the reader.  Loss and life come together in this book in a unique way and in spite of its differences to Keyes’ other work, and the polarised opinions it has given rise to, it is one of Keyes’ best works to date, and I highly recommend it.

‘Somerset’, Leila Meacham

‘Somerset’, Leila Meacham

 

Until I picked this book up I had never heard of Leila Meacham, and when I asked around no one I knew had read anything by her either. After reading this book I went out and bought everything else she’d written. It is that good. If you like historical fiction, romance, and a deep narrative, then you should pick up this book. The book starts slowly, but the characters creep up on you and it quickly becomes hard to put down.

Somerset is a prequel to Leila Meacham’s first novel ‘Roses’,  and is set in nineteenth century America. Somerset tells the story of Jessica Wyndham, an outspoken abolitionist, and her marriage to Silas Toliver. The marriage is one of convenience, Silas needs money, Jessica’s father has money and wants to get his daughter out of South Carolina, a slave dependant state. As Jessica accompanies Silas on his journey to the unruly and dangerous state of Texas she slowly works her way into the heart of her husband and step-son, Joshua. The journey to Texas is one riven with danger and challenges, and Meacham cleverly weaves in historical detail to evoke a realistic image of America in the 1830s.

The narrative unfolds in various ways. The use of diary entries, change of character perspective, and character narration add to the richness of the story that Meacham creates. Meacham artfully weaves together a rich American history with a story of pain, passion and triumph. The narrative spans sixty years, and the reader is placed as an observer at the centre of Jessica’s life witnessing births, deaths, and marriages. The book ends with Jessica’s death, and exactly where Meacham’s first book, ‘Roses’ begins.

 

Nicholas Sparks, ‘The Longest Ride’.

Nicholas Sparks, ‘The Longest Ride’.

I’ve never really enjoyed reading Nicholas Sparks, the books seemed predictable and samey… that being said I actually really enjoyed reading ‘The Longest Ride’, I read it quite quickly, in a day in fact, and if your like for something easy to read, on a beach, or in a park, its kinda perfect. No thinking required.

The novel tells the story of two couples whose lives come together in a profound, although slightly predictable today. Ira Levinson is ninety-one years old, a widow, and trapped in his car that has veered into a ravine during a snow storm. During the time he is trapped in the car he sees his wife, and it is in this way that the story of his marriage, and his life with Ruth is told. It is the image of his wife that keeps Ira alive, and alert. In the same town a student of Wake Forest University, Sophia Danko, is about to meet Luke, through whom she is introduced to a different world. One of life and death. As Sophia and Luke’s relationship grows, Ira grows weaker, and he sees his wife more and more frequently. The two couples are separated by experiences and many years, but their lives converge when Sophia and Luke find Ira trapped and injured in his car.

The book is written in three different narratives. And although at points the narratives feel rushed, all three entwine to create a powerful narrative. Although I would say that Ira’s story is perhaps the most beautifully and poignantly written, the other narratives do contribute a different perspective to the story. The discovery of Ira by Sophia and Luke is somewhat predictable, it was only the events of the last few chapters that surprised me.

The book is essentially light reading, and although some parts are beautifully written, those parts are few and far between. Its more what I would think of ‘teen’ reading I guess…

Karen Rose, ‘I’m Watching You’.

Karen Rose, ‘I’m Watching You’.

So before Christmas this past year I had never read anything by Karen Rose, and gosh I was missing out! I got lots of her books as gifts this year, and I’ve only just started working my way through them, and I have to say I’m a fan, they’re addictive reads. Especially if like me, you like books that are filled with plot intrigue, crime and relatable characters. So do expect numerous reviews of Rose’s work in the next couple of days!

‘I’m Watching You’ was published in 2007, and details the victimisation of Kristen Mayhew, a ‘star prosecutor’ in Chicago’s Public Defender’s office. Kristen is being watched, extremely closely, by an individual who dedicates his murders as tokens of respect to Kristen. The body count rises rather quickly in this book, and the victims of the killings have all been implicated in criminal activity, and the killer’s need for retribution becomes increasingly obsessive eventually threatening Kristen and her loved ones. The story is full of plot twists, unexpected occurrences, and intricate details. The narrative is action packed! And events happen quite quickly, at first this could maybe be overwhelming, but Rose manages to move the narrative on, whilst making sure the reader can follow character and plot developments.

Although the murders dominate the book, and Rose is a crime fiction writer, the book also develops full characters and the relationships between the characters are superbly written. Roses’s creations are relatable, and as a reader, I started to build affinity with the characters, I wanted Kristen to be safe and happy, and the murderer to be someone different (no spoilers…)! Rose effectively blends romance and crime in a way that I haven’t really seen before, and it works! I found this, and the other Rose book’s that I have read truly difficult to put down, and I will be going out and buying all her other books!

 

Suzanne Joinson, The Photographer’s Wife

Suzanne Joinson, The Photographer’s Wife

After reading Joinson’s previous novel, A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar (2012), I was really looking forward to reading The Photographer’s Wife, after a rather slow start it did not disappoint. The book is hauntingly beautiful. The narrative creeps on you rather unexpectedly, revealing details about Prudence Ashton’s childhood, marriage and relationships in an unobtrusive way. I started the book with a rather avid dislike of the protagonist, when I finished the book I was not ready to let her go.  I had more questions, and wanted to more about her childhood, her route to motherhood and the troubled relationship with her father.

The narrative is written from the perspective of Prudence at different times in her life. At the start of the book the rapid change between timeframes and setting seemed really disjointed, however, after persevering through the first sections I grew accustomed to the style, and admittedly enjoyed the way it enabled slow reveals about each of the characters. Although the book is written from the point of view of Prudence, and her experiences, each character has been expertly crafted by Suzanne Johnson. Eleanora, a photographer and friend of Prudence, is one example of how the narrative succeeds in simultaneously revealing everything and nothing.

The setting of inter war Jerusalem and London provide a compelling, and evocative, backdrop to the story. Place is extremely important in this book – manifesting itself in Prudence’s artwork, and in her psychological state.

However, the book is more than a powerful story about a child and her troubled upbringing; it is a story about relationships. Prudence is known as a ‘little witness’ Prue’s uncanny ability to go unseen tells the story of deep betrayals between husband and wife, and between nations.

I have consciously chosen to omit details of the narrative from this review; this book is one that is made to be read. To have its story revealed by turning a page. It is a book that will stay with you long after you have turned the last page.

The symbiosis of troubled characters, the inter-war setting and the shocking acts of extreme violence, work to create a book which is moving, passionate and at times slightly disturbing.  Suzanne Joinson is a master at her craft, and this book is a beautiful expression of her ability to create a narrative that stimulates an emotional response in her reader.

Read courtesy of NetGalley and Bloomsbury.