Three Quick Reads by Women Writers

After a series of gruelling (though riveting) reads in April, I opted for the comfort factor and chose some lighter reads this month, all by women writers.

committeeJulie Schumacher: Dear Committee Members

Jason Fitger is a professor of creative writing at a small, second-rate college, who feels he is spending most of his time writing references rather than getting any real work done. His department is facing serious cuts, he’s made a mess of his personal life, his literary ambitions have been thwarted and his views on his students’ abilities, their job prospects and future are painfully funny. Written as a series of letters (and the occasional online form) of recommendation, this will bring a broad smile of recognition (and an occasional pang) to anyone who has ever worked in academia (or anyone involved with writers). A short, satirical book, with a narrator full of pompous self-justification and whingeing, who is unintentionally funny – a delightful way to pass a lazy afternoon. I read it in one sitting, because, having been a victim of endless bureaucracy myself, I kept saying: ‘Just one more letter…’

bloodywomenHelen Fitzgerald: Bloody Women

Another early Fitzgerald book, this one was recommended by fellow bloggers and writers Hollyanne, Cleopatra and Kate Evans.

Despite the macabre and serious subject matter, this was such a zany, fun read. Fitzgerald has a deceptively easy, free-flowing style that makes you think ‘chick-lit’ at first glance. But no chick lit would feature a storyline in which the main protagonist, Catriona, ties up loose ends before her wedding by contacting each one of her former boyfriends, having one last farewell bout of sex with them (usually while being completely drunk) and then discovering their mutilated bodies shortly afterwards. Needless to say, Catriona is the prime suspect and, in an interesting reversal of timeline expectations, we get to hear most of the story in retrospective, while she is in jail on remand. A journalist wants to write a trashy biography of her, hilariously misinterpreting or cherry-picking from interviews with former friends and family. Catriona contrasts the biography with her own recollection of events, but we suspect her own interpretations are sometimes unreliable, while her memory of her last encounters with her exes are hazy, to say the least.

I did guess the final plot twist, but to me this book is not about the twists and turns of a criminal investigation, but about the fresh, original voice.The frank, no holds barred language and messed-up characters, the deft characterisation and sly asides: this seems a stormy assault on British restraint (Fitzgerald comes from Australia originally, but has now settled in Scotland), yet at the same time has a lot of self-deprecating humour that is forever British to me.

Penny2Louise Penny: How the Light Gets In

This doesn’t quite qualify as light reading, as it’s full of tension and drama. I’ve read the Armand Gamache series out of order and this was one I’d missed out on. There are two murder mysteries involved, plus a larger conspiracy involving Gamache’s boss (building on from previous books in the series). The conspiracy element did perhaps feel exaggerated, leading to the very top of Quebecois politics (not sure how well-received this particular book was in Quebec).  However, it certainly led to some very tense moments and real sadness when we realised how a wedge has been driven between Gamache and his former sidekick Beauvoir. The ‘proper’ investigation took second place to this drama, but had an additional poignant word to say about what goes on under the ‘happy families’ façade.

The reason why I have included it in my ‘escapism’ fiction is because it is such a delight to revisit the village of Three Pines in the company of Louise Penny and her fictional characters: the grumpy poet and her duck, the artist, the wise bookseller, the big-mouthed but warm-hearted gay couple running the B&B… these are not types, but over the course of many books have become our friends. We know their quirks intimately, yet they always manage to surprise us a little. I want to live in Three Pines, as do most of Louise Penny’s faithful readers, although I may have to give up on the Internet forever (no signal).

Have you read any of these books and what did you think of them? And do you like to alternate harder reads with more light-hearted or escapist ones? What comfort reads do you turn to?


19 thoughts on “Three Quick Reads by Women Writers”

  1. I loved Dear Committee Members and handed it on to my (academic) partner who chortled his way through it. I think the exasperation with bureaucracy transcends all borders. Another very funny read for academics should you be interested is Richard Russo’s Straight Man.

    1. It’s on my ‘most wanted’ list. I love academic novels – still occasionally yearn for the academic life I abandoned – but then my friends who are in academia bring me down to earth with their stories.

  2. Love the sound of Commitee Members … and got Bloody Women on tbr pile… Both sound fab.

    My reading choices & habits have changed completely since finishing studying & joining Twitter last Sept… Now reading such a diverse array but very sporadically; trying to fathom some method to focus more… Not an easy task as after years of prescriptive reading feel like a bairn in a sweet shop.

    1. Enjoy the freedom while you can – very soon you will get into a rhythm, which can sometimes feel good, but sometimes feel relentless. Nothing wrong with a child in a sweet shop!

      1. Very true! Was initially considering putting a routine in place by May but just quite happily deferred to September… academic habits die hard! Ultimately gives me the summer to take a good run at my tbr mountain 📚📚📚📚

  3. Delighted to hear you enjoyed Dear Committee Members as it has been on my radar for a while. I haven’t worked in academia (well, not unless you count a bit of coaching/supervisory duty as part of my PhD) but the environment sounds familiar…

  4. Thank you for the mention Marina 🙂 I have Bloody Women on my kindle to be read which I’ve been saving as I do love this author’s writing – when I get through the enormous pile of review books (not sure how I have quite so many) it is going to the top of the list after your review.

  5. Oh, so glad you enjoyed the Fitzgerald and the Penny, Marina Sofia. I’m a big Louise Penny fan, so it’s always nice to know that others read her work too. And I must try the Schumacher. I can guess that I’ll be able to relate…

    1. I think the Schumacher might even be a little too close for comfort – you’ll recognise many academic types in there, I’ve no doubt.

  6. Marina Sofia, thanks for visiting me – and for gifting me with three ideas for books! You are a good reviewer; you understand how to give just enough of the story without “rosebudding” details, and there is that personal touch, a la wanting to live in Three Pines. It reminds me of my longing for Wessex… but I would have to sneak some antibiotics along with me, ha ha. Nicely done, and thanks! Amy

    1. Thank you for your return visit! Wessex? Is that because of Thomas Hardy? I’ve got a thing about Cornwall and the new Poldark TV series is just making things worse…

  7. Awesome recommendations, thank you! I’ll be adding Dear Committee Members to my reading list… I’ve had too many near-death-by-committee experience not to be intrigued by this one! Thanks, Marina! X

  8. I’ve heard good things about Dear Committee members. It sounds like lots of fun. I keep forgetting to add it to my this though, but this time, thanks to you, I have!

  9. Reading your post makes me want to discover Louise Penny’s books. Unfortunately just a few are available at my local library, do you know if I can read them not in order?

    1. It is better to read them in order- but I haven’t, because I couldn’t find them either (and can’t afford to buy every one of them).

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