book review: Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller






Unsettled Ground by Claire Fuller
★★★☆☆
Tin House Books, May 18, 2021






I didn’t hate this book at all but it was just so, so unremarkable. I loved the premise: Jeanie and Julius are 51-year-old twins living with their mother in rural England who drops dead one day and suddenly Jeanie and Julius are forced to navigate a world they don’t fully understand. It’s different and interesting but it just really fell flat for me.

The problem with Unsettled Ground is that there’s just no momentum. And I don’t mean that in the sense that it would have worked better as a page-turner murder mystery or anything like that; I’m an advocate of the literary-thriller hybrid genre and I think Fuller nails that tone here–there is a bit of a central mystery but it’s mostly a vehicle to explore the themes that she’s interested in interrogating. That’s all fine and well. But on a sentence-by-sentence level, this book dragged. There’s no sense that it’s moving forward toward anything, it just feels like it’s spinning its wheels and I did not at any point find myself compelled to pick it up.

Like I said, I did enjoy some of the thematic threads that Fuller explored in this novel and I don’t have an overwhelmingly negative feeling toward it; I just couldn’t bring myself to get invested at any point and I think this would be an incredibly lackluster addition to the Women’s Prize shortlist. 


Thank you to Netgalley and Tin House for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

top 5 wednesday: Summer Reads

Top Five Wednesday was created by Lainey from gingerreadslainey and is currently hosted by Sam from Thoughts on Tomes. Check out the goodreads group to learn more.

May 17th: Summer Reads:  The weather is heating up (for half of the world), so what books remind you of summer and are your quintessential summer reads?

I’ll be honest: I’m not much of a seasonal reader.  I get the logic behind it – some books being better suited for certain seasons – but I can’t say that’s a huge factor in me deciding what’s next on my TBR.  I mean, I read A Little Life in July – coming in at around 700+ pages of pure depression, I’m pretty sure that should be a February book, but not for me.

That said, I’ve read a lot of books that I think would make for good summer reads!  So if you’re looking for something quick, thrilling, and addicting to read at the beach this summer, maybe give one of these a try:

51xb75isx7l-_sx343_bo1204203200_The Last Night at Tremore Beach by Mikel Santiago

The one sentence summary: The recently divorced Peter Harper decides to spend his summer on the idyllic Irish coast, which turns out to be anything but peaceful as this vaguely paranormal thriller unfolds.

Why it’s a good summer read: The beach setting and the page-turning storyline makes this a fantastic summer book.  You won’t want to put it down until you get to the end, making it a great book to take with you while you spend the day by the ocean.  (Ironically, I read this in December.)

9781250098221Castle of Water by Dane Huckelbridge

The one sentence summary: Barry Bleecker and Sophie Ducel’s plane crashes somewhere in the Marquesas, leaving these two strangers to survive together on an island.

Why it’s a good summer read: Because reading about this beautiful tropical island in the middle of winter is going to make you cry.  This short and sweet book is best consumed with a body of water nearby.  As it’s under 300 pages long, this is the perfect book to read in a day, and it’s so compelling that you won’t want to put it down.  If you’re looking for something addicting to help you get back into the reading groove on your summer holidays, look no further.

19542841More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

The one sentence summary: 16 year old Aaron Soto is finally settling back into a routine in the months after his father’s suicide, supported by his mom and his girlfriend Genevieve; but then Thomas moves into the neighborhood, and everything Aaron thinks he knows is called into question.

Why it’s a good summer read: The stifling heat of summers in the Bronx is captured so well in these pages.  Though it starts out slow, this is ultimately a compelling story with believable and sympathetic characters.  I read this in my garden on a hot summer day, and it was the perfect atmosphere to complement the evocative setting of this novel.

30304221Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

The one sentence summary: Ingrid has been missing for years, presumed dead; but little does her family know she’s actually left a series of letters behind, chronicling the years and then months leading up to her disappearance.

Why it’s a good summer read: This is another one that takes place by a beach, but it’s the addicting prose and refreshing storyline that makes this the perfect summer vacation book.  Though the mystery is compelling, it’s really the characters and the family dynamic that make up the meat of this story, so this is recommended to anyone looking to unwind with a quiet sort of family-driven literary contemporary.

51p7ayjdy3l-_sx327_bo1204203200_

The Two-Family House by Lynda Cohen Loigman

The one sentence summary: Two mothers (sisters by marriage) give birth on the same night in the same house, and they come to an agreement which ends up having indelible consequences on their lives.

Why it’s a good summer read: This addicting family saga of a novel will keep you turning pages, even well after you’ve figured out the twist.  Short and sweet and and unexpectedly emotional ride, this is the perfect book for anyone looking for a compelling and unique family drama to devour in one sitting on your holidays.

So what are your favorite summer reads?  Have you read any of these books?  Comment and let me know!

book review: Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

30304221

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

US pub date: February 2017

★★★★☆

I have a lot of fatigue with the particular Marriages Gone Bad genre. Fates and Furies, Gone Girl, The Silent Wife, The Girl on the Train… this particular narrative is just so omnipresent that I find these books feel stale far too often. And in theory, Swimming Lessons doesn’t really sound like it’s going to be the exception. Gil and Ingrid, once in love, each in their own way reflecting on what went wrong. But I’m glad I took a chance on it anyway, because I thought there was something genuinely very refreshing and moving about this book.

Between the present-day chapters that follow the point of view of Flora, daughter of Gil and Ingrid, we have letters that Ingrid wrote to Gil in 1992. Ingrid tells the story of their marriage from her point of view and hides these letters amid the thousands of books that Gil owns, and when she finishes her last letter, she vanishes, presumed drowned, though Flora never believed it. So when Gil thinks he sees Ingrid in town one day, Flora returns home and attempts to learn the truth behind her mother’s disappearance.

While you definitely have to suspend your disbelief with Ingrid’s letters (she writes out lengthy bits of dialogue word for word in a rather un-epistolary fashion), these were still my favorite part of this novel. Ingrid’s character was fascinating and tragic. Seduced by her college professor and finding herself married and a mother at too young of an age, Ingrid writes these letters to assert herself after years of living in Gil’s shadow.

With the exception of Ingrid, these characters are hard to like, but I found them all the more believable for that. Gil was reprehensible in a lot of ways, but he was still human. Flora and her sister Nan were frustrating, but they were products of a difficult upbringing. All of these characters were real and well-crafted, and though I didn’t personally care for many of them, I couldn’t help but to be drawn into their complicated dynamic.

Two themes run parallel throughout Swimming Lessons – first, is it better to live with concrete knowledge of someone’s death, or to hold out hope that they might still be out there? And second, does a story belong more to the author or to the reader? These themes manifest themselves throughout the story in a clever fashion. This is one of those thought-provoking books that you can’t help but to keep thinking about every time you put it down. And you won’t want to put it down, with Claire Fuller’s gorgeous and compelling prose.

One final note – file this one into the Everything I Never Told You and Dead Letters category of ‘the blurb makes it sound like a mystery, but it really isn’t.’ This is a slow but evenly paced character-driven novel, and though the thread of Ingrid’s disappearance runs through it, that isn’t the focus. Just keep that in mind if you’re trying to decide whether or not to pick this up. If you read exclusively mysteries, this probably won’t be for you, but if you appreciate character-driven stories, this is a great one.

+ link to review on goodreads