Proofs

And The Mountains Echoed – Khaled Hosseini

Posted in Literary Fiction, Proofs on April 11th, 2013 by admin – 6 Comments

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (21 May 2013)
  • Source : Amazon Vine
  • My Rating : 4.5 stars

It’s been six years since the publication of Khaled Hosseini’s bestselling second novel A Thousand Splendid Suns and his fans have been eagerly awaiting his latest novel.   Hosseini has said that it focuses more on the relationship between siblings rather than tales of fatherhood and motherhood.  This is true but it also differs from his previous novels in other ways.

This is an epic multi-generational family saga starting in the 1950s with a variety of settings – from Afghanistan to France, from Greece to the United States.  Siblings Pari and Abdullah are devoted to each other but their paths take very  different directions early on in their lives.  Hosseini uses his skill as a master storyteller to weave a complicated pattern of family stories which take off in different directions.  The narrative is quite complex, flitting between eras, characters and locations but Hosseini is always firmly in control, pulling the strings and easing the reader’s journey.

I found the descriptions of siblings Abdullah and Pari’s childhood the most evocative and moving.  Also, the story of their Uncle Nabi in Kabul and his dedication to his employer left a big impression on me.  Less effective for me were the Greek interlude and the story of the Afghan Warlord Baba Jan – yes, they were linked to the main story but I found them less engrossing and found myself mistaking Baba Jan for a reincarnation of an earlier character – mea culpa!

The final section of the novel, set in the US, was the piece de resistance for me.  I won’t give away any spoilers but, suffice to say, Hosseini expertly captures the effects of age with quiet, understated but supremely powerful writing – a quiet domestic scene between siblings can be as, if not more, effective than all the battle scenes one can conjure.

And The Mountains Echoed lacks the gut-wrenching impact of Hosseini’s previous novels but it remains a compelling read.  I have no doubt it will be a bestseller.  Now, how long do we have to wait for the next volume??  Not that we’re impatient…

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Posted in Proofs on March 20th, 2013 by admin – Be the first to comment

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The Promise – Ann Weisgarber

Posted in Proofs on March 17th, 2013 by admin – 1 Comment

The Promise

Published
14/03/2013

Publisher
Mantle

ISBN
9780230745650

My Rating
4 stars

Ann Weisgarber’s debut novel The Personal History of Rachel Dupree was shortlisted for the Orange Award for New Writers and longlisted for the Orange Prize in 2009.  Her second novel The Promise looks like it will attract similar plaudits.

Set in the US in 1900, we are told the story of young pianist Catherine Wainright who is left in desperate circumstances following an inappropriate liaison with a married man.  Shunned by the “proper” folk of Dayton, Ohio she grasps at straws in an effort not to be totally “ruined”.  By reigniting a friendship with a former admirer she manages to rescue her reputation but this requires her moving a thousand miles away to Galveston Island, Texas.  Her rescuer, recently widowed dairy farmer Oscar Williams is a quiet, reserved man but he does his utmost to help Catherine settle in.

This is a compelling read peopled with characters who will engage the reader.  Catherine sticks out like a sore thumb with her townish ways but you feel for her as she struggles to adjust to reduced circumstances, a stifling climate and a grieving step-son, Andre.  Whilst Oscar’s housekeeper, Nan Ogden, does not overtly reject the new Mrs Williams she feels unable to give a wholly warm welcome to the newcomer.

I loved the vivid descriptions of the island and you get a very strong sense of the isolation of the islanders, always at the mercy of the elements, both the sweltering sun and the unpredictable waters.  Equally prevalent in the story is the theme of music and how it affects people’s emotions, creating a spark between Catherine and Oscar, building bridges  between Catherine and Andre  and, in Nan’s case, resurrecting feelings she’d prefer to keep buried.

A powerful, moving story which is sure to garner even more fans for this talented author.

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A Place Called Perfect – Helena Duggan

Posted in Proofs on March 8th, 2013 by admin – Be the first to comment

A Place Called Perfect

Paperback, 306 pages

Published November 2012 by Wherever You Roam Publishing
ISBN
1480093440 (ISBN13: 9781480093447)
Source – review copy from author
My Rating – 4 stars

Helena Duggan is a graphic designer based in Kilkenny and this is her debut novel aimed at readers age 9+ although it would be equally enjoyed by adults who enjoy magical tales.

Only  child Violet Brown finds her life disrupted when her parents decide to up sticks and move to a town called Perfect.  Her optician father has been offered an almost perfect job in this new location and despite her misgivings, Violet must do as she is told.  The strange thing is that everyone in Perfect wears peculiarly tinted glasses, something to do with living too near the sun, and the mysterious Archer brothers want Mr Brown to solve their optical problems…or do they??

With echoes of Roald Dahl, Neil Gaiman’s Coraline, the Wizard of Oz and the films of Tim Burton, this is a charming, whimsical tale sure to appeal to those who  enjoy quirky, imaginative stories.  Whilst the adult characters go blindly about  their daily perfect lives it is left to the children to seek the truth of the matter and discover what the fiendish Archers are planning.

A Place Called Perfect is an impressive debut.  Looking forward to sharing this with my own children and to reading more from Helena Duggan.

You can find out more about the author on her website here.

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The Last Runaway – Tracy Chevalier

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Proofs on March 1st, 2013 by admin – 5 Comments

The Last Runaway

Published
14/03/2013

Publisher
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

Source
New Books Magazine

My Rating - 4.5 stars

Tracy Chevalier is one of  my favourite authors and she has a way of making history come alive in her novels which have subjects as diverse as Vermeer and fossils.  In The Last Runaway she switches her focus to America, in particular 1850s Ohio where the young English Quaker, Honor Bright starts a new life very different to her quiet upbringing in Dorset, England.

It is a time of great upheaval in America as the country inches towards civil war with a variety of runaways, both black slaves and white settlers, trying to forge a better life for themselves.  Honor finds life hard as a single woman unaccustomed to the American way but she is aided by the flamboyant Belle Mills, a milliner, who takes Honor under her wing.  Belle’s brother, Donovan, sets his sights on Honor but his reputation as a dissolute slave hunter makes him an unlikely suitor.

Reminiscent of Gone with the Wind, this is a novel with strong female characters who use their wits to survive difficult times.  Those travelling the Underground Railway are not the only runaways in this well-researched and eloquently written novel.

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Lynnwood – Thomas Brown

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Proofs on February 15th, 2013 by admin – 1 Comment

Publication date 17th June 2013 Sparkling Books Ltd

Paperback  £7.99  €9.95   US$12.95

ISBN: 978-1-907230-38-7

Ebook  £4.99  €5.49  US$6.99

Source – NetGalley

My Rating – 3.5 stars

Thomas Brown’s debut novel is a distinctly chilling read with elegant touches of gothic horror.  Lynnwood looks like any other quaint, picturesque village set on the edges of the New Forest in the South of England.  However, under the pretty exterior lurks dark intrigue as the villagers are at the mercy of ancient traditions and urges.

The writing has a cinematic feel which helps stack up the menacing images and the pervading sense of doom which permeates the novel.  I was reminded of darker episodes of Torchwood, of films like The Village, The Wicker Man and even The Blair Witch Project – all good in my case as I love a bit of rural horror. My one criticism would be that I felt a bit confused at times but then again the plot deals with the inexplicable!

A promising debut from a talented writer.

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Queen’s Gambit – Elizabeth Fremantle

Posted in Historical Fiction, Proofs on February 14th, 2013 by admin – Be the first to comment
Queen's Gambit

Published
14/03/2013

Publisher
Michael Joseph Ltd

ISBN
9780718177065

My Rating 4 stars

I have read and enjoyed Philippa Gregory’s Tudor series of novels so I was keenly anticipating this debut novel by Elizabeth Fremantle which focuses on Henry VIII’s sixth and last wife, Katherine Parr. My knowledge of Katherine was rather limited given that other queens especially Anne Boleyn tend to hog the Tudor stage!

This is an impressive debut novel with assured, confident writing. We see the many aspects of Katherine’s character – she was so much more than a nursemaid to the ailing king – with her contribution to religious reform, her survival instincts, her desire for love even after two marriages of convenience. Complementing Katherine’s story is the tale of her chamberer, Dot Fownten (Fountain), whose life has been colourfully reimagined by the author. Whilst I enjoyed hearing about Dot’s life, I did find myself wanting to know more about Katherine and what made her tick.

A handy list of the main characters with some extra biographical information is included at the back of the novel along with a basic Tudor timeline – ideal for Tudor novices.

Queen’s Gambit will appeal to fans of romantic historical fiction with moving accounts of Katherine’s love for Thomas Seymour. They say love is blind and this must certainly have been the case for Katherine, an intelligent, perceptive woman, to overlook/remain blissfully ignorant of all of Seymour’s machinations. The novel works well as a light read and is an impressive debut, the first of what should be a popular trilogy of novels set in the Tudor era.

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The Twelve Tribes of Hattie – Ayana Mathis

Posted in Proofs on February 6th, 2013 by admin – 5 Comments

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie

Published
17/01/2013

Publisher
Hutchinson

ISBN
9780091944186

Source – Amazon Vine

My Rating – 4 stars

There has been a lot of buzz surrounding The Twelve Tribes of Hattie as it is one of Oprah’s Book Club Picks and destined to be a bestseller as a result. So is the hype justified?

Hattie Shepherd is part of the Great Migration, moving from Georgia to Philadelphia in the mid 1920s, hoping for a new start in life. Aged just 17, the story of her new life begins with the tragic death of her twin babies, Philadelphia and Jubilee who had ironically been given “names of promise and hope, reaching-forward names, not looking-back ones”. Surely she has already had her share of tragedy but no, there is a lot more to follow as she gives birth to nine more children whose lives are equally imbued with sadness and it is these eleven off-spring plus one grand-daughter further down the line who comprise her “twelve tribes”.

There is much to weep about – a womanising preacher, marital difficulties, tuberculosis, gambling, confused sexual identity, mental illness…a diversity of dysfunctionality. In order to survive the harsh reality of her life, Hattie hardens her heart and gives the impression of having no love for her off-spring but you just know she would be there for them in their hour of need. Indeed this is more a story about motherhood than the Great Migration.

There are so many characters and the novel’s structure, almost a series of short stories/vignettes about Hattie’s children, unfortunately prevents a really deep understanding of characters and their motivation. Having said that, it is beautifully written and a very impressive debut novel.

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The Night Rainbow – Claire King

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Proofs on January 30th, 2013 by admin – 6 Comments

The Night Rainbow

Published
14/02/2013

Publisher
Bloomsbury Publishing PLC

ISBN
9781408824672

My Rating – 4 stars

Source - Amazon Vine

Claire King’s debut novel is an absolute delight with a narrator who will grab your heartstrings and never let go. Set in Southern France, during a blistering hot summer, this is the story of five year old Pea aka Peony aka Pivoine and her younger sister Margot. Their mother has retreated into herself following a miscarriage and the later death of their Papa. Maman is heavily pregnant again but Pea and Margot are left to their own devices, wandering the countryside where they meet up with Claude, a middle aged man with whom they strike up a friendship. Not everyone approves of their friendship but Maman’s absence, both physical and emotional, means that the girls have to fend for themselves.

Narrated by Pea, this is a beautifully written story with equal amounts of joy and sadness. Pea and Margot’s interactions will make you smile as they strive to make a plan to cheer up Maman but the smiles quickly vanish when their efforts fall flat. Yes, there is sadness here but the overall mood is one of optimism as Pea just bounces back and looks for another remedy for her mother’s despair.

The author has captured Pea’s five year old voice perfectly, that eternal optimism, the desire to live in the moment, the clarity of vision which can see when grown-ups are just overthinking and making things more complicated than what they really are. One could learn a lot from a child like Pea. This is a sparkling, quirky, captivating debut, highly recommended.

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The Adoption – Anne Berry

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Proofs on January 28th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

The Adoption

Published
28/02/2013

Publisher
Ebury Press

ISBN
9780091947057

Source – Amazon Vine

My Rating – 4.5 stars

The Adoption is Anne Berry’s third novel but this is my first encounter with this writer. Having devoured this compelling read, I am keen to acquire her earlier novels.

The story is told from the viewpoints of three very different women. The first, Bethan, a teenage girl living on a farm in Wales during WWII, falls pregnant with the child of a German POW and is forced to give up her baby girl, Lucilla. Her baby is adopted by Harriet, an older, conservative woman who is disappointed when Lucilla doesn’t fulfil her ideal image of the perfect daughter. We also hear from Lucilla, now married with her own family but it is obvious that the mystery surrounding her real parents leaves an aching hole in her life.

Usually, with multiple narrators, I find myself more drawn to one of the characters but here, each character’s story drew me in equally. Anne Berry is very adept at weaving all the strands of the story, building up the background in such a way that you see the motivation of each character, the birth mother, the adoptive mother and the adoptee.

The female characters are particularly well drawn and their strength contrasts sharply with the more slimy male characters especially Lucilla’s odious, obsequious cousin, Frank and that supposed pillar of society, her father Merfyn. Somehow Lucilla manages to bounce back and forge her own way in life, on the surface a strong, independent woman.

Anne Berry eschews oversentimentality in this beautifully written novel about identity, family ties, motherhood and relationships. Highly recommended.

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