Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category


The Wrong Girl?

In Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,Fiction on February 4, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Ellies Oneill’s The Right Girl reads like a fairly standard chick-lit novel, its frivolous, whimsical and a little fluffy. BUT, it has the most fascinating under current – it raises interesting questions about our digital identities and our relationship with privacy.

Two years prior Freya, our protagonist, was a waitress with little or no direction in life, no hope of a partner and no money in the bank. Freya then signed up for the lifestyle app BBest – designed to streamline her life. She surrendered her digital footprint and BBest took her past search history, likes and dislikes and then gave her the best option, the first option – it knows her better than she knows herself. Our heroine no longer has to make those decisions for herself and thanks to Bbest she no longer makes mistakes. Freya becomes a first option chooser, she prefers to let BBest control her life and relishes in the success it brings. BBest chose her fiance, her career and her business model. Bbest told her what to wear, what to eat, what to watch on TV. . . . BBEst gave Freya her best life.

But what happens when Freya doesn’t choose the BBest first option? What happens when she actually makes a decision for herself? When she’s actually got everything she ever wanted what would make her risk it all?

An entertaining holiday read that gives you just that little bit more, perfect fodder for a dinner table discussion. Ellie O’Neills writing is not taxing, her narrative races along and her structure is well crafted. I was a little disappointed with how fast the story came to its conclusion and I wonder of more could have been made of the reveal. But, having said all that, I thoroughly enjoyed The Right Girl – it reminded me of Dave Eggers’ the Circle but it is much lighter in tone, perhaps reminiscent of Lauren Weisberger or Sophie Kinsella.





Heather, The Totality. Brilliant.

In Book Reviews,CannonballReadX 2018,Fiction,Short Stories on January 21, 2018 by mrsdillemma Tagged: ,

IMG_3151Matthew Weiner’s first foray into fiction is one of the most striking works I have read, its very clever, very odd, but very clever. At 134 pages long it is more of a novella but still packs an enormous punch – a punch that comes in the most unusual format. The novel is written in a series of short choppy paragraphs with little to no dialogue – you will either love or hate Weiners first work.

Weiner sets his characters on what seems to be an inevitable collision course. New York 80s Power couple Mark & Karen Breakstone and their daughter – the eponymous, Heather, are on a trajectory headed straight for Newark born & bred, raised & incarcerated; Bobby Klasky. They are a collection of people tumbling towards an irrevocable breakdown, and in places, it is terrifying to read.

Weiner establishes the characters histories and their intentions; his writing has echoes of a Woody Allen-esque movie, a little un-funny and quite banal. He establishes, quite early, an underlying feeling of dread – there is something just awful coming but you don’t know what. Bobbys menace and malovelence just grows with each passing paragraph and the way in which Weiner creates the almost unbearable tension is beautiful, compelling and disturbing.

Weiners creative history ( a writer on The Sopranos then writer, creator, director and executive producer of Mad Men and most recently writer, creator, and executive producer of The Romanoffs – an anthology series expected to premiere in the northern spring of 2018 ) is second to none, he has crafted quality television and I wonder whether Heather: the totality was an experiment to see if his writing genius translated onto the page – I think it did, but you need to read it to see for yourself.


destruction, decimation, desolation, devastation….. Annihilation.

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Fiction,Science Fiction on November 12, 2017 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , , ,

anniSo, I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover – but, just look at how beautiful its cover is. . . . The artwork is utterly stunning. I found this spectacular edition staring up at me from a display table in Hatchards London at St Pancras. It is not what I would normally read but I could not resist the cover – odd really. Annihilation should open up Vandermeer’s writing to a much larger audience, he’s fast paced, unsettling and compelling, he’ll have you up late at night on the edge of your seat. . . .

Annihilation is equal parts psychological thriller, science fiction adventure, and dark fantasy horror. It’s a completely self-contained story, but it’s also clearly an introduction to a much broader mystery that VanderMeer will explore in the Southern Reach Trilogy sequels Authority and Acceptance.

Decades ago, an inexplicable environmental change occurred, a large swathe of land and sea, was sealed behind an invisible barrier and held under strict quarantine by a mysterious goverment agency. This clandestine agency is known as Southern Reach and they have sent 11, mostly failed, expeditions into Area X, Annihilation is the story of the 12th..

Annihilation focus on the experiences of the four scientists who are part of the 12th expedition, none of them are named, they are identified by their roles with the expedition team. There is a minimum of character development but it is not needed, these women are trimmed back to the bare essentials and we are only told what the narrative needs us to know. The richness in VanderMeer’s work is the environment – he brings the lush overgrown ecosystems of Area X to life, hinting at terrifying invisible animals in the distance. It’s a land of transitional, constantanly changing, even overlapping ecosystems – The expedition are tasked with experiencing and then explaining Area X to the folks back home – if they make it home.

You should all get down to your local bookstore and own it now….. 5 star review from me.


Freedom, like everything else, is relative,

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Feminism,Fiction on July 14, 2017 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , ,

Margaret Atwoods The Handmaids Tale tells the story of Offred; a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead – a reconstructed United States. Offred witnesses the dissolution of her former way of life and the transformation of society into a totalitarian theocracy. Women are enslaved and stripped of even their most basic rights, they cannot choose who to be in a relationship with, they cannot, read, write, own property, gain employment or even hold on to their own name. Offred is a patronymic, it is a name gifted to the individual to signify ownership, she is of fred, therefore Offred.

Prior to the start of the story an environmental disaster has caused mass infertility and women are only valued if their ovaries are still viable, they have become breeding stock. These women are called Handmaids, they are forced to provide the Commanders with children in a grotesque parody of lovemaking, they exist as a sum total of their biological ability.

Atwoods story is full to the brim of fragments of Offred’s past, remembered with; perhaps, rose colored glasses, juxtaposed against the brutal reality of her life in Gilead. “All of those women having jobs: hard to imagine now, but thousands of them had jobs, millions. It was considered the normal thing.” In an attempt to make life in Gilead believable Atwood only used atrocities that have already occurred in our lifetimes; the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia under Wahhabi Law, The Lebensborn program ad book burning in Nazi Germany and the east German surveillance state.

I devoured this book, not only is Atwoods writing sublime, but the world she has created and the characters that inhabit it are challenging, thought provoking, demanding and above all else utterly real. I would have this book as compulsory reading in each and every American high school – but I guess that would challenge the status quo much to much.

With the inclusion of the seemingly additional final chapter ( Historical Notes ) it appears to me that Atwood wrote the Handmaids Tale as a sort of 1980s Anne Franks Diary – it is the literature of witness, her story has been recorded in the hope of being discovered, the hope of being shared and the hope of being understood so that it never has to happen again. She is an eyewitness to the fallen regime.

In reading a book which was released in 1985 I was interested to read how it was received, there were many positive reviews and a large number of prizes awarded but there is always one that can come back to haunt an author. When first released there was a review in The New York Times by Mary McCarthy. ( ) McCarthy deemed Gilead as insufficiently imagined, she suggested that The Handmaids Tale is powerless to scare. She went on to say;  “I just can’t see the intolerance of the far right, presently directed at not only abortion clinics and homosexuals but also at high school librarians…. as leading to super biblical puritanism.” I wonder if she can see it now?

Dystopian literature or as Atwood calls it; Speculative Fiction, should be a cautionary tale not a blueprint for society. She imagines a terrifying world where Women are subjugated by the ruling male patriarchy – its all starting to sound just all to familiar. . . 32 years ago when it was first published it still felt overwhelmingly far fetched, now, not so much. Atwoods tale has taken on a frightening new relevance.



Completely fine. 100% fine. a thousand percent fine.

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Fiction on July 14, 2017 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , , ,

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is the debut novel for author Gail Honeyman. The book rights have sold for huge sums worldwide and the movie rights now belong to Reese Witherspoon’s new company Hello Sunshine.

In writing Eleanor, Honeyman has created a character I would love to get to know – She is unfiltered, forthright, smart, funny and profoundly lonely. Eleanor has no interpersonal skills, no social skills, no concept of what opportunities life could hold for her and she is very very real, there are parts of Eleanor I see in myself and parts I cannot hope to ever understand. She is an utterly contradictory character; She has a quite warmth coupled with a deep and unspoken sadness, She comes across as harsh and yet totally vulnerable and she is smart as hell but exceptionally naive.

When we meet Eleanor she has a 9 – 5 job, a routine and a carefully timetabled and choreographed life, she is physically and psychologically scared through some traumatic childhood event which is slowly but eventually revealed to the reader. We, the reader, are gradually fed morsels of information until we feel we understand Eleanor and it is then we realize that we don’t have a clue.

Through a series of seemingly innocuous events Eleanor is very slowly drawn into the lives of others and she beings to slowly build connections. These characters she connects with may appear as new fixtures in her life or as brief utterances but they are written with such brilliance that they transcend labels; they are not the good guys, they are not the bad guys, they are not just plot devices, they are real people. Honeyman’s character driven writing is faultless and I want to read more.

Reading Eleanor Oliphant will remind you to take a look at the people you love and say thank you to whoever put them in your life, it will remind you of the importance of friendship, and indeed the importance of human interaction and connection. It will remind you that it is never to late to hope.



The beautiful in the ordinary

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Fiction on June 25, 2017 by mrsdillemma Tagged: , , ,

In Sycamore, Bryn Chancellor writes of grief, of regrets, of love but most importantly of loss and the impact one mothers loss can have on an entire community.

One afternoon a new comer to town stumbles across what appears to be human remains in a desert ravine, over the next few days as the news makes it way round small town Sycamore, residents fear it may be missing teenager, Jess Winters, who vanished 18 years previously. Rumors swirl, stories are rekindled and recollections are shared.

The narrative flips back and forward between 1991 and 2009. As the story unfolds in snatches and snipets we learn more and more of the backstory of the differing townspeople; Each chapter is told from a different characters point of view and provides an alternative insight into their role, however large or small, in the disappearance of Jess Winters.

Chancellors writing is upbeat and fresh, while there are unusual changes in form and style throughout the work, they are devices that move the story along rather than faults.  The story as a whole is heartfelt, powerful and well told. There are individual stories within the bigger pictures and they are captivating within their own right – it makes sense that Chancellors previous writing has been short stories.

Chancellor challenges us to think about our preconceived notions about age in relationships, How our communities function and how we interpret lust versus love. There are a number of themes that standout in this work, ones that are fairly stock standard ( A child of divorce, the urge to wander, parental abandonment and sexual exploration )but when combined they are even more interesting and when a flashback narrative is employed it increases the storytelling factor even further.

I thoroughly enjoyed Chancellors take on teen angst, confusion and loneliness and then the comparison provided in the alternate ‘adult’ chapters, the sense of betrayal and forgiveness they still felt as adults is so beautifully crafted – get to your local bookstore and pick up a copy!


“High heels on the mossy path. Tippity-tap. Toddle on.”

In Book Reviews,CannonballreadIX 2017,Fiction,Short Stories on May 7, 2017 by mrsdillemma Tagged:

CBR9 16Hilary Mantel, twice winner of the Man Booker Prize, released a collection of short stories – titled The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher and other stories –  in 2014 and I have finally finished the compilation.

This collection peruses a host of difficult topics; misogyny, culture shock, adultery,  alternate realities and much more. While the subject matter is different across each story there are similarities that occur throughout the collection; Mantel has a great eye for the minutiae  of suburban life, the dreck of urban reality and even the bleak but often unsettling sunshine of the very English countryside.

There is no doubt Mantel is a master storyteller – every word moves her story forward and every word she uses is chosen and serves a purpose, sometimes, even more than one. I wouldn’t say her writing is ‘wordy’ because, well it isn’t, every word is valuable, Her writing is taut, controlled and acerbic.

The Plot can at times be secondary to the dialogue, and sometimes, even to the environment in which the action is taking place but when this happens it is all in the name of advancing the story, it is done with a  greater purpose in mind. The denouement in most of the collection appears a little forced which can come across as unsatisfying but on a second read is actually completely genius.

Overall I was underwhelmed with Mantel’s collection, I thought she could’ve made more of a number of the stories. While the titular story was provocative, profound, funny and by far the best of the lot the rest were still above par. I went into this the first time round with very high expectations and was disappointed but on that second reading, I loved every word.