Recently, on my Facebook profile, I posted a status update questioning why so many reviewers start their reviews on Amazon by saying, "I don't normally read this sort of thing." Surely, I asked, they must realize that this is just going to negate the value of their opinion to those that DO normally read this sort of thing?
I have been long aware of Alisha Sufit's work as a musician and songwriter and have been on her mailing list for some time. When I received one of her regular mailings yesterday, promoting her new novel, I was to say the least intrigued. As a regular book reviewer for the British Fantasy Society website, I decided to write to Ms. Sufit asking for more details and if she'd be willing to send me a review copy.
Ms. Sufit wrote back immediately, to inform me that her book didn't really have any fantasy elements as such, and was actually more the sort of thing that would be considered "womens' fiction", but she'd be happy to send me a review copy anyway, if I wished. Curiosity got the better of me, so I told her to send away, warning her that I did have a huge review backlog, so she shouldn't expect anything back from me very soon.
When I transferred the review copy to my Kindle, I decided to read just a little, to see if it was any good at all. The fact is, these days anyone can publish a book and depressingly large numbers turn out to be, if not actually badly-written (although plenty are) but to not have been properly edited, leaving them full of typos and errors that make them a chore to read.
This was definitely not the case here. The book is very well-written indeed, with a lead protagonist who engages immediately with the reader. Sophie is separated from her husband. Her son is away at Uni and her parents are both recently deceased. At the beginning of the book she shares her huge house with a couple of lodgers, but the day to day running of things is getting too much for her. Central to this is the malfunctioning water heating system, around which the major events of the book initially revolve.
The first half of the book is darkly comic, as Sophie's efforts to get that boiler working involve a series of amateur and professional tradesmen, one of which ends up dead. In the midst of all that chaos, the offending boiler is finally fixed by Tasos, a Cypriot, who really complicates her life. I couldn't help but be reminded of `Shirley Valentine' in this story of a mature Englishwoman and her relationship with the Greek man she hires. I couldn't help thinking that it was a shame that Tom Conti isn't still in his forties, as this book would work so well as a film, or TV drama.
If Sophie's life wasn't complicated enough, this is the point at which her husband reveals that he's split up with the woman her left her for and wants to come back! I'm not going to say any more about the plot, for fear of leaving no surprises.
I stated that there were no fantasy elements in the book. That's not completely true. There's one scene that strays very close to magical realism. Still, I didn't really see it as a fit for the British Fantasy Society website, so I decided to post my review on Amazon instead.
So, I repeat...
I don't normally read this sort of thing.
I decided to have a quick look at the first few pages.
I finished the book in two sittings!