The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

I borrowed the audio book of The Little Stranger from my local library last month and wasn’t quite sure what to expect from it. I truly enjoyed most of Sarah Waters’ previous books. Some to a greater degree than others, but still found enjoyment in reading them. I read several reviews and some people claimed it was her best work to date and others said it was a huge disappointment. I nearly quit listening after the first few chapters. It’s LONG and I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit that much of my time to something I wouldn’t end up liking.

Well, I’m glad that I stuck it out. The Little Stranger centers around a Georgian mansion in the mid 20th century. Our narrator, Dr. Faraday, seems quite obsessed about the house and, after a call to take care of a supposedly ailing housemaid, becomes close to the mother, son, and daughter who own it. But there seems to be something very wrong going on at Hundreds Hall and after an unfortunate incident with the family dog and a visiting child, the occupants of the house are witness to, and sometimes victims of, well, something. At least that’s what the Ayers’ and their servants think. Dr. Faraday, however, is quite unconvinced.

On the whole, I found The Little Stranger engaging and at times a bit spooky. There were several instances when I completely stopped whatever I was doing while listening to focus that much harder on the scene being described. On another note, if you have an urge to pick up the audio book, the narrator did a great job. I think my only real complaint – that may be a little strong – is that the author has Dr. Faraday go into such minute detail while describing events that took place when he wasn’t there. But now that I’m thinking of it, maybe there’s a reason for that. Hmm… I hadn’t thought of it before. Well, you’ll have to let me know what you think. Feel free to post a comment or find me over at Goodreads where we can hide the spoilers!

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

I finished my second read of this Sarah Waters book earlier today. Wow. I want to reassure you that all of those 4 and 5 star ratings you see for this fantastic book filled with twists and turns are not inflated.

Fingersmith takes place in and near London during the mid-1800’s. Ms. Waters is a master at setting the scene and dropping us right in the dirty, stench filled city and into the minds of our two protagonists, Susan Trinder and Maud Lilly. The book is broken down into three parts – as is common with Sarah Waters’ work – the first part is told by Sue, the second by Maud, and we wrap it up with Sue. This book is about deception and is filled with thieves and villains and victims and there are times when we’re not sure who is playing what role.

Sue, a poor orphan being raised in a house of thieves, is drawn into a plot to steal away the fortune of another orphan, Maud. Sue has a softer heart that she initially thinks but fully intends to stick to the scheme. What she doesn’t plan on is developing strong feelings for Maud. Or that her accomplice,  who goes by the nickname Gentleman, has a plan separate from the one he’s shared with her.

One of my favorite things about this book is being able to observe the same time frame from the perspectives of both Sue and Maud. And the author does a wonderful job of not dragging the reader through the events in a redundant way but, instead, one that enhances our understanding of what’s happening.

This book is masterfully put together and I highly recommend it to anyone who loves a period piece or suspenseful mystery. And once you’ve read the book, be sure to check out the BBC production which, I thought, was also well done.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

The Last Nude by Ellis Avery

When the publisher offered me an opportunity to review The Last Nude, I wasn’t sure. I mean, I know nothing about Paris during the mid 1920’s and I know about the same amount about painters. I had never heard of Tamara de Lempicka. But the premise sounded interesting so I agreed. In a nutshell, the story is about the relationship between 17-year-old model Rafaela Fano and the famous painter, 12 years her senior. It’s also about Rafaela’s coming of age and, later on, Tamara’s final days.

The first two-thirds of the book is told by Rafaela and, while she had been around the block a few times, she was young and naive when it came to love. She had learned how to use her body to survive but she had not experienced anything like what she had begun to feel for de Lempicka. The final portion of the book is told by the painter. I wasn’t prepared for that switch but, after I got over the shock of the change in tone and voice, I settled in to learn more about her and how she viewed the events with that taken place decades before. The differences between Rafaela’s perceptions and Tamara’s were immense.

I don’t want to give away too much more about the plot but I do want to say that I was immediately engaged in the book. Ms. Avery gave us a tough but naive and sensitive 17-year-old young woman who was jaded, yet hopeful.  Through Rafaela’s eyes, we see the beautiful Tamara as an artist who is gifted, driven, and self-centered but who could also be tender, giving, and loving. We get a glimpse into the parties filled with artists, athletes, royalty, and plenty of drugs and alcohol.  Once the relationship between Rafaela and Tamara is cemented, the story moves on to the battle between two men to own a painting that Tamara has sworn never to sell. Once I got to this part of the book, I couldn’t stop reading.

The Last Nude was beautifully written and engaging with characters that were complex and felt real. I cared about them, even when I  didn’t want to. The author did a fantastic job of grabbing me and holding on through the entire book. I highly recommend The Last Nude and look forward to reading more by Ms. Avery.

Oh! I nearly forgot to mention that, because I was unfamiliar with Tamara de Lempicka’s work, I did a bit of research and her paintings are incredible. One of her works is described by Rafaela very early in the book and it was a delight to have seen it myself. From the author’s description, I  would have known it anywhere. Which reminds me, again, of how well Ms. Avery uses her skills to bring Paris to life in the book. Thank you, Ellis Avery for the great read!

The Last Nude by Ellis Avery