Category: book reviews

Exploring Inner Space in The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

Exploring Inner Space in The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

The WanderersThe Wanderers by Meg Howrey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I requested The Wanderers by Meg Howrey because I love reading pretty much anything about space. While I was expecting a novel about traveling to Mars, I found something unique and unexpected in this novel: the three astronauts at the center of the story, chosen for their unique skill sets and their supposed compatibility, remain on Earth but in an unearthly simulation, isolated from their loved ones for seventeen months, caught up in an experiment that tests them intellectually, physically, and emotionally. Thoroughly enjoyable.

>Recommended for NASA lovers, anyone who went to space camp, and fans of Lydia Netzer’s brilliant and beautifulShine Shine Shine< /em>.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing a review copy in exchange for my honest review.

Bleaker House by Nell Stevens – Loneliness & Creativity in the Falklands

Bleaker House by Nell Stevens – Loneliness & Creativity in the Falklands

Verdict: an unusual and utterly absorbing memoir, an apt examination of one young woman’s struggle to create in solitude

In general, I think memoirs are best told by writers who have a few decades under their belts. Memoir by its very nature tends to veer toward navel-gazing; it takes a degree of intellectual rigor and self-depecration to pull it off without being dull at best, annoyingly narcissistic at worst. I struggled with this problem myself, when, at the age of 28, I traveled solo to Beijing for work. During my time there, I tried to make a memoir of it, but upon my return home, the memoir became a novel. I ultimately felt that, at my age, I could tell a story, but my own story wasn’t interesting enough to make a memoir.

So I was more than pleasantly surprised by Nell Stevens’s Bleaker House, a memoir about the writer’s time isolated on the frozen Bleaker Island, with only the penguins for company. How she came to be there would be the envy of any young writer. Upon completing their MFA year at Boston University, students are given an unusual opportunity: every student receives a fellowship to pursue his or her writing for three months anywhere in the world.

When Stevens chooses the tiny, isolated Bleaker Island in the Falklands–in order to get away from everything, to write her novel in solitude and struggle–the director of her MFA program advises against it. Why not Paris? he wants to know. But Stevens is determined to leave behind the distractions of Boston, and of her home city of London, of civilization in general, and be a writer. Getting to the island is difficult, and she is allowed only a very limited amount of luggage. Because the island has no stores and no residents beyond the mostly absent owners of a barely-operating farm, she must bring all of her supplies with her. She allots 1,000 calories per day, mostly in the form of instant oatmeal, raisins, and Ferrero Rocher chocolates.

What emerges from her grueling self-imposed exile is not a novel, but instead this memoir: a blunt and beautifully introspective examination of solitude and the creative process. She discovers that an island of one’s own is a far cry from a room of one’s own, and a story doesn’t necessarily flow just because you’ve shut out all ordinary distractions. Hunger and loneliness prove to be even more formidable distractions, and the time stretching out before her is more harrowing than liberating.

Interspersed throughout the memoir are snippets from Stevens’s failed novel. While the fictional interludes serve to show the way life feeds into art, they are the least interesting part of the book, at times feeling like filler. That said, as I read the fictional chapters, it occurred to me that they were bizarrely marketable, and had she finished the novel, it might have proved an easy sell. Instead, she returned home to London and wrote something stranger and more riveting, a hybrid gem of a book that captures the heady, scary, promising feeling of just starting out.

While the failure of the novel vexed the writer, it is to the reader’s advantage that Stevens did not write what she set out to write, but something else entirely. The something else entirely is where the beauty and heart of this book lie.


Michelle Richmond is the author of two story collections and four novels. Her new novel, The Marriage Pact, is forthcoming in 28 languages.

Sunday Suspense read: THE CHILD by Fiona Barton

Sunday Suspense read: THE CHILD by Fiona Barton

THE CHILD, by Fiona Barton

Berkley, June 27, 2017

As the newspaper for which she works is firing journalists left and right, making way for a crop of inexperienced writers of sensationalist online content, veteran reporter Kate Waters catches the whiff of a story: a baby’s skeleton is discovered during a construction project. Unable to stop thinking about the “Building Site Baby,” Waters sets out to investigate alongside the police detectives, insinuating herself into the lives of women who once lived on the street where the skeleton was found. She also meets Angela and Nick, who were ruthlessly scrutinized after their baby was kidnapped from a maternity ward forty years before. Angela desperately hopes the skeleton at the building site is that of her kidnapped baby, so that she can finally have closure, while Emma, who had a difficult childhood with an unloving mother, fears she will be caught out for a crime she committed as an adolescent. A poignant, well-paced novel that examines the intrusiveness of investigative journalism along with its power to provide answers. The final few pages provided an aha moment I absolutely did not see coming.

Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing for providing a free ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Three Suspenseful Thrillers to Love

Three Suspenseful Thrillers to Love

THE WOMAN IN CABIN 10, by Ruth Ware

The Woman in Cabin 10, by Ruth Ware, is a delightfully creepy journey into the strange, frightening goings-on of the rich and decadent aboard a vessel at sea. Our narrator is certain that she interacted with a woman in the supposedly empty cabin, but no one wants to believe her. The journalist at the heart of the story and the identity of the mysterious passenger kept me reading. This one will keep you eagerly turning pages.

THE GIRL BEFORE, by JP Delaney

If you’re a sucker for minimalist design, you’ll wish you could live at One Folgate Street. The house at the center of this novel is a model of modern minimalist perfection, but the architect’s rules for living there prove impossible. For example, you’d have to leave your books behind. Snuggle up with a throw pillow? No way. But these are sacrifices Emma and Jane are willing to make to start afresh and live in their dream home. But the house is not without tragedy. Who is responsible for the death of the architect’s wife and child? And who is watching? A gloriously suspenseful read that kept me guessing until the very end.

 

A DEATH IN SWEDEN, by Kevin Wignall

When a bus crashes in Northern Sweden, a stranger and fellow passenger risks his life to save a teenaged girl before disappearing from the scene. The act of heroism puts him on the radar of CIA operative Dan Hendrick, whose job is to hunt down and assassinate a man who went off the radar years before. A fascinating character study, unexpectedly poignant.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publishers for providing free review copies of these titles in exchange for an honest review.

Teju Cole – Known and Strange Things

Teju Cole – Known and Strange Things

There is another possible book that contains all that is not in this one.

 So says Teju Cole in the introduction to his wonderful essay collection, Known and Strange Things. Wide-ranging and deliciously exploratory, the collection tackles politics, art, literature, and travel. I love essay collections that are not narrowly defined, collections that lay the path open for surprise, as this one does. 
While Cole is referring, in part, to the many previously published pieces that he has not included in this collection, hos words ring true for me as a novelist. In every book I write, I fall short of my own expextations. For every book that I publish, there exists another one, just out of reach, “that contains all that is not in this one.” 

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