Monday, March 16, 2020

Book Review: THE WIVES

Title: The Wives
Author: Tarryn Fisher
Publisher: HQ
Pages: 352
My GoodReads Rating: 

The book is written in the first person past tense PoV of one of the wives. She introduces herself as Thursday, and the other two wives as Monday and Tuesday, women known by the days on which their husband, Seth, visits them. We don’t realise until much later that Thursday is actually her name.

Her husband visits her on Thursday evening, and by Friday morning, he is gone. Gone either to work or to one of his other wives, the one she knows as Tuesday and the youngest one, who she refers to as Monday.

Her mother taught her that cooking was the only good way to be a wife. And so Thursday became my mother: doting, yielding, spread-eagle emotionally and sexually. But her best attempts cannot hold a husband who has spread himself thin among three women.

At first, Thursday is content to have her husband on Thursdays alone, content to feel no curiosity about the other two women. Then one day, she finds in Seth’s pocket a doctor’s bill in the name of Hannah Ellington with her address on the bill, and all of a sudden Thursday can’t stop herself from wanting to learn more.

The knowledge that Hannah is pregnant, while Thursday, who has had a painful miscarriage and can never hope of conceiving again, is a painful one. Thursday can’t help but feel insecure at being upstaged in Seth’s affections by Hannah who is younger, prettier and most importantly, pregnant.

But the act of finding out more becomes dangerous. When Thursday meets Hannah and finds suspicious bruises on her body, she wonders if she is missing something. When Seth learns that Thursday has been satisfying her curiosity, he isn’t happy at all.

I felt sorry for Thursday. She has no close relationships she can count on. Her parents are alienated from her. Best friend Anna seems happy to psychoanalyse her over the phone. For the most part, Thursday is left to her own devices. She keeps herself busy in her work, as a nurse, but the emotional deprivation is strong.

Thursday is remarkably insightful about the psychology of women. That’s how women are, right? Always wondering about each other – curiosity and spite curdling together in little emotional puddles.

No one tries that hard to keep their husband unless they’ve already lost him.

She knows just as well about the dynamics between the sexes. Experience has taught me that you can drag a man’s eyes if you move the right way.

There was so much about her PoV that makes us warm to her. Her observations, for one. What did people do before emojis? It seems like the only reasonable way to lighten a loaded sentence.

And most importantly, her honesty which shines through her words.

The most telling and ironical quote is this one: That’s what love does. It gives you a sense of well-being – like bad things will evaporate.

I liked this book right up to the end, when it lost me on account of its twist ending. Up to that point, I liked it only because of Thursday, and so the ending came out like a bolt from nowhere. It was totally unexpected and not in a good way.

The thing with a twist is that the reader must feel that the signs were all there, how did I miss them? I didn’t feel like that at all here. The setup sought to prove one point, and then what happened was quite another. The twist left several questions unanswered.

Most of the characters were unlikeable. This includes Seth, the other two wives, Thursday’s parents. The sister we never meet doesn't give us any cause to think of her. The only other character I liked was Lauren, the head nurse at Thursday’s hospital who shows sympathy and true friendship to Thursday.

The most glaring reason for my dislike of this book was the insensitive manner in which it seemed to approach the issue of mental illness. This book dropped from an It-was-okay rating to a Did-not-like, thanks to the end.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Book Review: WHEN I WAS YOU

Title: When I Was You
Author: Minka Kent
Publisher: Thomas & Mercer
Pages: 282
My GoodReads Rating: 

Thirty-year-old Brienne Dougray has been looking over her shoulder, living in fear and unable to resume her normal lifestyle, ever since she was stabbed, beaten and robbed. Now she is confined to her home, afraid to venture out. She watches the neighbours, speculating about the nature of their lives for want of something to do.

Her only friend is her tenant, Dr Niall Emberlin, who rooms at her vast home. Niall is an oncologist, and is separated/divorced from his wife, Kate. Brienne has no close friends or family. Her grandparents are dead, and her mother abandoned her when she was a little child.

She receives a key to an apartment at the Harcourt, a luxury residential building, and thinks it is a scam. When she calls for information, she is told that she has paid for six months for a one-bedroom unit in the building. Brienne believes that it may be a clue to discovering the identity of her attacker, and thus get closure. She also suspects that he may have sold her identity.

Logging on to FB with a dummy account, she discovers Brienne Dougray, even though she herself has never been on FB. This Brienne Dougray is someone who is eerily like her, but not her. Later, she visits the apartment at the Harcourt, and finds there a woman who looks, dresses and acts like her, and drives the same car. Who is she? And why is she living as Brienne?

The question of the impersonation and stolen identity is not the only one that plagues Brienne. She also suffers jealousy at the thought of Niall reconciling with his estranged wife, Kate. Brienne furtively reads Kate’s diary, which she finds in Niall’s room, to find out more about their marriage.

But there is more to the truth than what’s inside Brienne’s head? Is the other woman stealing Brienne’s life? Or is she the real Brienne, whose life our narrator is obsessed with?

Having suffered trauma, Brienne is the classic example of an unreliable narrator. I rooted for her, even though it was hard to trust her, and I hated the antagonist (no spoilers here).

The story is written in the first person present tense PoV of Brienne in Part I. In Part II, it shifts to the first person PoV of Niall, and in Part III, we get alternate chapters in Brienne’s and Niall’s PoVs.

The first part I found a little slow. The author seemed to take her own sweet time, getting to the point of why Brienne deserved our attention, but by the end of it, our patience was well rewarded. The pace soon became fast and relentless.

I liked how Brienne and Niall fit so well together, in Brienne’s account. At that point, I had no idea which way the story would go. But by the time I got to the end of Brienne’s account, I found that it had jumped several hoops at once. By the time, we got to Niall’s account, the story had shot through the roof.

One grouse, the author should have thought of different names for the few characters. The main character is Brienne, and then there are two Brians in the story, one of them inconsequential, the other minor, but still part of the story. It doesn’t really confuse the reader, but why in a world teeming with names, did the author have to give us variations of Brian?

There were three quotes from the book that stood out for me in the light of how the book turned out.
People get too comfortable living with their own assumptions. I read this line and wondered if Brienne’s tendency to do exactly that would be her undoing.

I realized how many doors would open for you if you simply told people what they wanted to hear. No one’s interested in the truth. Most of us just think we are.

At the end of the day, we just want to believe whatever makes us feel good inside. Whatever makes us feel safe. Whatever lets us sleep at night.

There were very few characters in this story, but they were all sharply drawn. All of them ready to take charge of their own lives. Their motivations were so clear, particularly that of the antagonist, who stood out as real, though flawed.

The best thing about this story was that I got caught up in the pace, and kept furiously turning the pages. I couldn’t wait to see how Brienne would re-claim her life.

(I read this book through NetGalley.)

Monday, March 09, 2020


Title: Inlaws and Outlaws
Author: Kate Fulford
Publisher: Thistle Publishing
Pages: 296
My GoodReads Rating: 

Evelyn “Eve” is still in the early stages of a relationship with her professor boyfriend Gideon Rowe when she meets his parents, Malcolm and Marjorie, only to face the thinly veiled hostility and manipulation of his mother.

Gideon, though not exactly a mamma’s boy, believes that his mother is an amazing woman, all because she donated one of her kidneys to a stranger’s kid. So it’s all the more necessary to be accepted by her.

Marjorie does everything she can to thwart Eve and prevent her from marrying Gideon. The measures she invokes involve high-level melodrama and it seems that everyone, but Gideon, can see through them. Even Joe, the husband of Gideon’s sister, Helen, warns Eve to watch her back in the presence of Marjorie. He tells her that Marjorie thinks she alone knows what is best for her family.

But is Eve as nice as Gideon thinks she is? Not quite. She has her own secrets, which include a prior marriage, one that Gideon has no idea about. She makes it her business to find out more about the family, and stumbles upon Meg, Marjorie’s identical twin, who can’t get along with Marjorie at all and who hints at a deeper secret, one that might help find her way through the problem that is Marjorie.

But the enemy is a formidable one. Will Eve be able to marry Gideon? Or will she be yet another casualty?

The book is written in the past tense PoV of Eve. There is a self-deprecatory tone in her PoV that adds to her appeal.

I liked the author’s style of writing, the turns of phrases, the subtle humour, the observations about people that we read in Eve’s account. I loved this line: I felt very much as rats must when they are put into mazes by people in white coats.

Eve’s humour showed her felicity with the English language, a skill which reminded me of PG Wodehouse, though not quite at the same level. I liked the manner in which she casually used a particular skill, and then in an offhand manner, told us that she had worked there before. The list of places in which she has worked before include work with a detective, a lawyer, a researcher and even a realtor. These are all workplaces that she ended up leaving because she didn’t play by the rules, but the skills come in handy as she tries to find the chink in Marjorie’s armour. It is as if her whole life has been a preparation for her run-in with Marjorie.

The only thing I didn’t like about Eve was that she didn’t have a steady job and that made her seem like a sponge.

The characters are all well drawn.

Eve hasn’t known a happy family life and I could understand her need to want Gideon’s parents to like her. Having lost her parents at the age of six, she was raised by her aunt Audrey, who was emotionally distant from her. Younger brother Dominic was raised by other relatives. Eve hopes that the Rowes will be her own family someday.

There is a subplot related to Dominic and his ex-girlfriend Sophie, and their 9-year-old daughter, Pixie, who Eve is quite fond of, and to save whom she even jumps into the water. The jumping into the water to save a drowning person is a motif that is used to great effect here.

If there was one thing I didn’t understand, it was Eve’s friendship with Claire. Despite being a highly qualified person, Claire didn’t seem to have any great insights for Eve. Maybe her only reason for being a part of this story was so that Eve could use her as a sounding board.

At the beginning, I wasn’t sure what to make of Eve. There was so much she wouldn’t share with us, so many secrets she held. When she did share her secrets, there was no slow build-up to them, but a sudden full-blown revelation, indicating that she clearly enjoys shocking the reader. She also admits that Gideon’s posh house was a factor in the all-out move she made towards him.

She asks us, Why do so many people lie… especially when they are so bad at it. I could sense that Eve wasn’t completely reliable as a narrator, that there was something she was hiding, but what that was I couldn’t tell. Also, Malcolm and Gideon too behave oddly.

But then a few chapters later, I began to warm towards her. Partly because of the insidious manner in which Marjorie plays a game. Believe me, you don’t want a mother-in-law like her.

Since this is a first person past tense PoV of Eve, we can’t look into the workings of Marjorie’s mind, but it isn’t hard to realise the lengths to which this woman might go to destroy Gideon’s romantic relationships. The hard-headed Claire insists they are all coincidences, but we’re smarter than Claire. We can see through Marjorie’s attempts.

There was a twist ending and I particularly liked the resolution.

The title was apt and gave us a foretaste of the fireworks that we could expect from the story.

(I read this book through NetGalley.)


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