Tara Calaby

writer, editor & phd candidate

Tag: adult fiction (page 2 of 6)


bookcaseI have been extremely tardy in posting this link, alas! I’ve been up to my neck in moving house and all that it entails, and now have very limited internet access. Thank goodness for personal hotspots and iPhones!

Finally, however, I can point you over to Every Day Fiction to read my story, “Wound”. It’s one that was initially inspired by something that happened in my own childhood, although it’s been reworked and refined a lot since its first incarnation. It was my first time playing with magic realism, and I’m really glad it’s found a good home πŸ™‚

Review: The Skeleton Key – Tara Moss

The Skeleton Key coverWhen I received The Skeleton Key in the mail, I wasn’t sure it would be my kind of book. I’m a bit (okay, a lot) over paranormal romance at the moment, so I was worried that I might find myself wading through just the kind of novel I’m avoiding right now. As it turned out, I really needn’t have worried. There’s a hint of romance here, but the emphasis is strongly on the paranormal, and the book as a whole is much more Buffy than Twilight. I actually recommend it strongly to Buffy fans, because Pandora is from a similar kind of normal-but-kickass-chosen-one mould. (Try to say that one three times quickly.)

Although I haven’t read the first two books in the Pandora English series, I didn’t struggle at all with picking up the premise and the universe. Tara Moss creates an interesting world full of all the usual paranormal types, and manages to avoid the same-old-same-old trap. There are vampires – sorry: Sanguines – here, but there is a refreshing lack of uniformity when it comes to their characterisation. Deus (whom I loved) is a very different character to the undead supermodels who plague Pandora’s existence.

One of the things I liked most about The Skeleton Key was the humour that marked the narrative and the character voice. There’s a healthy sense of irony here, and that makes the occasional genuinely creepy moment stand out even more. The key villain of the novel is suitably discomforting and, while Pandora largely operates on instinct and employs extreme powers she doesn’t fully understand, I didn’t find this annoying. Her resignation to her responsibility as the Seventh and her commitment to doing the very things she doesn’t yet know how to do somehow made up for the relative ease of her achievements.

Pandora is nineteen, and The Skeleton Key very cleverly walks the (fading) line between young adult and adult fiction. There are no pubescent dramas to distance the book from adults, and there is nothing within its pages that could be considered too ‘old’ by younger readers (or their parents). The idea of crossover appeal is often thrown about these days, but I think it’s an apt descriptor for this series.

All-up, I found The Skeleton Key a light and enjoyable read and I shall definitely look up the first two books in the series – even if my arachnophobia does make me a little nervous about The Spider Goddess

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Twelve Red Herrings – Jeffrey Archer

I quite enjoyed Jeffrey Archer as a teenager, so thought I should revisit this volume to see whether the writing holds up at all as an adult. It’s a collection of short stories, all of which contain a twist. While twist fiction is generally held to be a little hackneyed these days, it’s not something I mind personally. When you know there’s going to be a twist, however, it’s hard not to focus on predicting it, instead of just letting the plot unfold.

Trial and Error
Long and rambling, with unlikeable characters. The ending is slightly different from the one signposted in the story, but I actually felt like the alternative would have made for a better conclusion.

Cheap at Half the Price
Another set of unattractive characters, without the plot or the pay-off to make up for them.

Dougie Mortimer’s Right Arm
No real twist in this one, and not a lot of interest, either. Also, it has a first line that could’ve been great, but wasn’t. When you compulsively edit a story while reading it, it’s not a good sign.

Do Not Pass Go
This, like most of the stories in this collection, was supposedly based on a true story, and I’d very much like to hear that true story, because it’s quite an amazing occurrence. Although the very ending is a little pedestrian compared to the story, it’s nonetheless my favourite of the twelve.

Chunnel Vision
Predictable and rather annoying. It seemed like a short gag that went on for too many pages.

Shoeshine Boy
I found this one enormously dull. Long-winded and not much else.

You’ll Never Live to Regret it
I felt bad for not predicting the first twist in this one! Quite a clever tale, that might have bugged me a little if it hadn’t been based on a real life event.

Never Stop on the Motorway
Very predictable from early in the piece, but the tension was built well nonetheless.

Not for Sale
Quite a standard short story, but entertaining enough.

Timeo Danaos…
Another one about annoying characters. There’s really not enough plot to make up for them!

An Eye for an Eye
Not a bad tale. One of the better ones in the book.

One Man’s Meat
This one has four possible endings. I personally don’t think it was an interesting enough story to warrant that, although some may enjoy the gimmick.

All up, it’s a reasonable collection of short stories, but not one that changed my world. I’m not quite the fan I was as a teenager, but I’m not appalled by my past taste, either!

Review: The Writing Class – Jincy Willett

The Writing Class book coverThe Writing Class is an interesting novel. For much of its first half, it feels like light-hearted women’s fiction – a study of the standard “types” that fill writing classes across the world. The second half, however, ventures into cosy mystery territory, when the nasty pranks being played on the class’s members lead up to murder. I think it was this dual nature that limited my appreciation of the work. I could enjoy both aspects separately but, together, they both ended up feeling a little lacking.

As a novel about a middle-aged widow, a published author who has not written for years, The Writing Class initially feels promising. Amy is a multi-faceted protagonist who feels very real, and her situation as a writing teacher who no longer writes is interesting. At first, it seems like the reader will be treated to similar character explorations of the large ensemble of students who join her class, but unfortunately this is one of the areas in which the novel falls short. Of the students, only Carla feels truly three-dimensional. The rest are mere ideas – hinted at, but never really fleshed out at all. You know that a cast is too large for its story when you confuse one character for another and feel surprised when a name is mentioned, because you’d forgotten that character existed. This kind of thing works (just) in the standard And Then There Were None-esque whodunnit novel, because the reader is more invested in working out who the killer is than in the characters themselves, but it felt like The Writing Class was attempting to be more than that, and the lack of developed characters greatly hindered this ambition.

As a whodunnit, The Writing Class is just too slow to get started. Although mentioned in the blurb, the first hint of murder doesn’t happen until well into the novel. The motive isn’t sufficiently explained and the overall pacing is just off. Readers looking for a good mystery will likely struggle with the long lead-up to the crimes, not caring much for the development of Amy’s character and the glimpses Willett offers into her lonely and solitary life. The action picks up in the second half of the book, but there is not a great enough pay-off to make up for the amount of time needed to get to the denouement.

The Writing Class is not a bad novel, by any means. I was actually quite entertained by it most of the time. My issue is more with the fact that I felt like it could have been better than it actually was. It’s an interesting read and a nice way to pass time on public transport, but it’s ultimately quite forgettable.

(As an aside, the writing course that I took was not filled with these “standard” types at all. Perhaps it was due to the extremely competitive selection process, but regardless of the reasons why, my classes were filled with students who wanted to write a “literary” novel and looked down on anything that could be labelled genre fiction!)

Review: Sons and Lovers – D.H. Lawrence

Sons and Lovers book coverI picked up Sons and Lovers as the next book to read from my 100 Books list, simply because I’m trying to cull my book collection at the moment, and years of hearing how much people dislike D.H. Lawrence – and this book in particular – led me to assume that I’d have a similar reaction. Really, I should’ve known better. After all, I like Conrad!

I find it fascinating that so many people have been bored senseless by Sons and Lovers, because I was interested and entertained from start to finish. It’s true that there is not a great deal of plot here. Rather, it’s a book that focuses on character and on family relationships. It’s slow-moving and slightly dreamy tale, and Lawrence holds his characters at something of a distance from the reader, but I was nonetheless ensnared very quickly in the piece.

Most of the characters here are awful. There are no genuinely likeable people amongst them. Annie is quite inoffensive and I found myself rather sympathetic to Walter Morel, despite his faults, possibly because of how keenly he was judged by his family for his lack of pseudo-middle-class airs. Or perhaps it’s just that Gertrude and Paul are just so utterly detestable that I feel a kind of solidarity with anyone they disdain. I feel a bit cruel saying so, given that Sons and Lovers is highly autobiographical, but Lawrence certainly didn’t represent himself in his best light when he took on the guise of Paul Morel. And I feel utterly sorry for Jessie Chambers, upon whom Miriam was based, because Miriam is portrayed with such disgust. Clara, too, is sneered at and the reader is left to wonder whether it is merely Paul Morel who has such a Madonna/Whore complex (to go with his Oedipus Complex), or whether that stemmed from Lawrence himself.

Despite the ghastly characters, however, I found Sons and Lovers itself thoroughly likeable. The writing is lovely – elegant but not overwrought – and I’m a big fan of these kinds of slow, intimate stories of family and human nature. I shall be very interested to see whether my enjoyment of Sons and Lovers extends to all of Lawrence’s work. In the meantime, this will not be joining the pile of books to give away!

Review: Does My Bum Look Big In This? – Arabella Weir

Does My Bum Look Big In This? book coverI picked this book up years ago, because I’m a big fan of ‘The Fast Show’, even if the ‘Does My Bum Look Big in This?’ sketches aren’t among my favourites. Arabella Weir is a very capable comedian and this shows through in her writing, with several scenes in the book provoking audible snorts. The question, however, is whether a fairly limited premise – a protagonist with cripplingly low self esteem – can comfortably support an entire novel. For the first hundred or so pages of Does My Bum Look Big In This?, it doesn’t seem like this is the case, but there is more character development and action in the second half, meaning that there is less reliance on the tiring joke of an attractive woman who just can’t see that’s what she is.

I think my key difficulty with Does My Bum Look Big In This?, however, is the fact that it’s a little too realistic to be enjoyable reading. It’s hard to be amused by a self-destructive internal monologue that bears a little too much resemblance to my own negative thought patterns. While I can definitely appreciate the accuracy of the protagonist’s voice, and the consistency of her characterisation, I didn’t gain a lot of enjoyment from the novel. Some things just hit a little too close to home.

That said, I think that a lot of fans of humorous chick lit will find plenty to enjoy in Does My Bum Look Big In This? There’s an interesting supporting cast, complete with a caddish ex, a likeable new love interest and a large circle of friends, family, neighbours and workmates. It’s told in diary form, so is a light and easy read, and is laugh-out-loud funny in places. One for readers who can empathise with feelings of insecurity – but perhaps not for readers who are overwhelmed by them.

Review: White Horse – Alex Adams

White Horse book coverI’ve been reading a lot of YA dystopian and post-apocalyptic books recently, so it was a nice change to pick up a more adult example of the genre. The trouble with writing for a teen audience is that you have to hold your punches a little when it come to the more horrifying aspects of a universe, whereas Alex Adams has been able to show the consequences of war and mass death with true clarity.

White Horse flits back and forth between present action and the past events that led to humanity’s demise. It’s a slow way of revealing the universe, but also a clever one. The reader is allowed to speculate upon events and to enjoy the gradual reveal, while the action of the present ensures that the novel remains a gripping read. I’m not sure it’s a technique that I would choose as a reader, but Adams carries it off well and I quickly adapted to the format.

Zoe worked well for me as a protagonist. She’s not superhuman, which I found important. The things she manages to do are prompted and powered by the survival situation she finds herself in, and her reactions generally feel realistic. Some secondary characters worked better for me than others. I found Nick quite likeable, although he was tainted somewhat for me by his enormously unprofessional and unethical pursuance of Zoe. Morris is a welcome presence during her parts of the novel, equal parts efficiency and warmth. Lisa, however, I was less convinced by. She reads a lot younger than her stated age and, for a character who is present for much of the book, I never felt like I got to know much about her. Instead, she seemed a personification of weakness and stupidity, with a large touch of shallow thrown in!

The Swiss is an interesting villain, if perhaps a little too obvious a one. I am not entirely sure about the reveal at the end, in terms of how it will sit with a group of often-maligned people (sorry, to say more would be an immense spoiler), but he is certainly a worthy – and creepy – opponent for Zoe.

White Horse itself, the disease that ravages human kind, is creative and interesting and raises all manner of questions about humanity and evolution and the costs of survival. There is a slightly paranormal feel to the effects of the disease, but it is much closer to horror than it is to the current glut of paranormal romance!

Given its genre, it’s interesting that White Horse makes such heavy use of figurative language. The vast amount of metaphor, simile and personification meant that I struggled a little to get past the language to the plot. I was heavily reminded of Mafi’s Shatter Me in this regard. There is a lot of pretty language, but it often seems to lack authenticity on the page.

Like most books seem to be these days, White Horse is the first in a trilogy. As much as I’m tiring of this phenomena, I appreciated the fact that White Horse felt complete as-is. Readers will not have to wait until the final novel for the resolution to conflicts introduced in this one. In fact, I am left wondering what other stories the trilogy will have tp tell, so I shall be very interested to see where Adams next takes her broken world. I found the ending to White Horse a little abrupt and easy, so perhaps that was a hint that there is more to come.

White Horse is a fast-paced and enjoyable read, with a clever concept and a likeable protagonist. It should be well-received by fans of its genre.

Warning: contains a non-graphic rape scene.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier

Rebecca book coverRebecca is one of those classic novels that somehow invade your consciousness long before you pick them up for the first time. There are allusions to it in all manner of modern books and television programs and I, personally, saw the Comic Strip’s “Consuela” well over a decade before I finally read the original. None of this, however, dulls the power of Daphne du Maurier’s rich prose and the overwhelming feeling of discomfort that catches hold of you the moment you start turning the pages of this book.

Anger, sadness and joy are all familiar emotions to feel while reading, but never before have I felt so intensely uncomfortable as I made my way through a book. Sometimes it’s extremely hard to read Rebecca, so enormous are the sensations of inadequacy, ineptitude and uncertainty that flood from du Maurier’s text. Anyone who has experienced being second best or a rebound partner will find that the thoughts and emotions of the second Mrs. de Winter resonate far too clearly. There were times that it almost hurt to read this novel – times that were reminiscent of burying my head in a pillow to avoid someone else’s embarrassment on TV. But even when the uncomfortable truth of the text is at its most painful, the suspense of the plot ensures that the reader can’t quite turn away.

There are few likeable characters in Rebecca. Maxim de Winter is appallingly paternalistic by today’s standards, and it is hard to understand his place in literature as a fictional heart-throb when he treats his second wife so very much like a child (and wishes to keep her forever in that childlike state). She herself is too weak to be admired, particularly if the reader is able to see anything of their own weakness in her! It somehow doesn’t matter, though. The book is just so artfully constructed and written that one is able to adore it even while caring little for its main characters.

And adore it I did. It’s clever and engrossing and so prettily written that it’s no surprise that it’s considered a modern classic. A wonderful read.

Review: Mateship with Birds – Carrie Tiffany

Mateship with Birds coverMateship with Birds is a lyrical, calm novel set in rural Australia. There is a strong contrast between the beauty of Carrie Tiffany’s writing style and much of the content of the book. The elegance of her prose, along with the regular insertion of blank verse, serves to emphasise the harshness of life in the country and the mortality of beasts. Here, humans are unmistakably shown to be animals themselves. The mating and family life of the kookaburras that Harry watches mirrors the slow courtship between him and Betty, and between Betty’s son Michael and his girlfriend Dora. Likewise, the deaths of the men that Betty looks after at the local nursing home are spoken of in the same perfunctory manner as the deaths of the birds that Little Hazel’s class looks after at school. It is a comparison that should possibly feel confronting. Instead, it is simple and natural – in keeping with the flow of words and time over the book’s pages.

An interesting stylistic choice with Mateship with Birds was made with the decision to include multiple sections of blank verse. These sections focus on the life of a family of kookaburras, rather than that of the forming family of Harry and the Reynoldses. Other sections of the novel are devoted to Harry’s reminiscences about his early experiences with sex and sexuality, in the form of letters he writes to Michael – his clumsy (and sometimes inaccurate) attempts at educating the boy about the mechanics of sex and the curiosities of the female body.

There is a distance to Tiffany’s style that results in a similar distance between the reader and her characters. While I was sympathetic to Harry, Betty and her children, I felt a lot like I was observing them from afar, much as Harry observes his birds. This degree of removal, however, does not adversely affect the more unpleasant events and descriptions within the text, which retain the power to produce feelings of sadness or disgust. The four most difficult scenes all centre upon the one peripheral character – Mues – leading me to tense at the mere mention of him by very early in the book.

I think, in some ways, I am too sensitive a reader for books like Mateship with Birds. There is a bleakness here that I struggled with, and the constant tide of animal death is something that never sits well with me. The novel also contains an incident involving sexual abuse (via exposure) of a child, along with animal abuse (including bestiality). For these reasons, I would hesitate to recommend this work widely. It’s a book for readers to consider on a personal basis. The language is lovely, but the content may prove too gritty for many people.

Mateship with Birds is artfully written and a very strong work of Australian literary writing. While its content was not always in line with my reading preferences, Tiffany’s use of language was a delight to experience.

(Warning: contains scenes that readers may find upsetting, as detailed above)

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

Review: Free-Falling – Nicola Moriarty

Free-Falling book coverIf Nicola Moriarty’s surname sounds a little familiar, that’s because her sisters Liane and Jaclyn are also authors. With Free-Falling, Nicola makes her own writing debut – and it is one that shows that talent sometimes really does just run in a family!

Free-Falling is a novel about loss, first and foremost. However, it’s also about moving on from great loss, and about the convoluted, complicated journey that may entail. Due to its focus, this novel can be very hard to read at times. The first two chapters are particularly harrowing, as the joint protagonists experience the first short period of time after Andy’s death. For anyone who has experienced deep loss, there will be an uncomfortable level of identification with Belinda’s and Evelyn’s emotions – and lack thereof.

It’s an interesting technique to show grief from two perspectives that really only interesect at the book’s opening and close. For Belinda, there is the loss of an expected future along with the loss of her fiancΓ©. For Evelyn, there is the realisation of lost opportunities and the gradual understanding of the changes wrought in her after the years-earlier loss of her husband, Andy’s father.

The rest of Free-Falling‘s cast slowly gathers as the book progresses. While Andy’s identical twin, James, remains a little undefined due to his being seen through Belinda’s and Evelyn’s eyes, Bazza definitely emerges as a likeable and sympathetic character. If anything, he’s a little bit too good to be true!

The greatest strength of Free-Falling, however, is how real it feels. Perhaps things tie in a little too neatly at times, and it is true that there is a level of near-melodrama to a couple of the events and developments, but the characters are very realistic, as are the emotions that they experience. I particularly enjoyed the fact that Belinda and Andy’s relationship is portrayed as being flawed. The glimpses that flashbacks afford of him explain Belinda’s love for him, while not making their love out to be something unique and perfect – and therefore unbelievable.

Free-Falling is a very solid debut and one that should establish Moriarty as a rising Australian author. Although focussed upon two women, it should resonate with anyone who has experienced loss and the conclusion allows for enough hope that the reader is not overwhelmed by the sometimes-depressing content. I look forward to seeing what Nicola Moriarty produces next.

(I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.)

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