Proofs

The Misremembered Man – Christina McKenna

Posted in Proofs on January 16th, 2013 by admin – Be the first to comment

The Misremembered Man

Set in 1970s rural Ireland, The Misremembered Man is an insightful tale of two lonely hearts looking for love.  Jamie McCloone, is 41 and a bachelor farmer, still mourning the death of his adoptive parents but his neighbours Paddy and Rose convince him that  all he needs is the love of a good woman.  Forty year old teacher Lydia Devine feels stifled looking after her cantankerous elderly mother and longs to  be happily wed.  Their courtship is filled with comic moments as Rose imparts her pearls of wisdom on love and romance to the shy and socially awkward Jamie.  However the comedy is balanced perfectly by Jamie’s memories of his traumatic upbringing in an orphanage run by the clergy.

Christina McKenna captures the lilting tones of the Irish idiom perfectly with fleshed out, realistic characters who will make you laugh and cry in equal measure.  Despite his dreadful childhood, the gentle giant, Jamie, never complains and simply wants some love and affection in his life.  On the surface, Lydia seems to come from a much more privileged background but her upbringing in a strict Presbyterian home was arid and joyless.  In today’s supposedly “sophisticated” technological age, it might be hard to imagine such a simple world where folk are rather naive and less street-wise than their modern counterparts but, coming from a rural Irish background myself, it all seems very true  to life.

A compelling, heartfelt, moving read which would make a wonderful film.

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The James Version – Ruth Dugdall

Posted in Proofs on January 10th, 2013 by admin – Be the first to comment

The James Version

  • Paperback: 230 pages
  • Publisher: Legend Press Ltd (14 Aug 2012)
  • My Rating – 4 stars
  • Source – Kindle purchase

I really enjoyed  Ruth Dugdall’s psychological thriller  The Sacrificial Man so I was intrigued by the concept of The James Version, a fictionalised account dealing with the Murder in the Red Barn, an early 19th century murder which captured the imagination of the British public.

In 1827, a young woman, Maria Marten, was shot dead by her lover, William Corder.  Maria’s family thought she had eloped with Corder but her body was discovered buried in the nearby Red Barn almost a year later when her stepmother, Ann Marten, said she had dreams indicating the location of Maria.  To modern eyes, it seems ridiculous that Ann was not considered a suspect at the time but Ruth Dugdall weaves a compelling tale about what might really have happened.

The James Version is set in Polstead 24 years after Maria’s murder and it is narrated by James Coyte who arrives at this desolate location to assume his new post as the local Rector.  The locals are not particularly friendly but Ann Marten wants James to transcribe her account of the events surrounding Maria’s murder.  James has good intentions but he just doesn’t seem well suited to the life of a Rector and ….let’s just say, it doesn’t bode well!

The novel has a menacing tone throughout, enhanced by the isolation of the setting and the lack of likeable characters – they all seem to be extremely self-serving, especially the supposedly more religious locals… As Ann’s story unfolds, the Rector sinks lower and lower, becoming dependent on alcohol and laudanum.

I thoroughly enjoyed this gripping tale of intrigue and dastardly deeds, brimming  with atmosphere and ideal for cold Winter nights.

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The Blind Man’s Garden – Nadeem Aslam

Posted in Proofs on January 8th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

Edition: Hardback
ISBN: 9780571287918
Published: 07.02.2013
No of pages: 416

Source -  www.lovereading.co.uk

My Rating – 4 stars

The Blind Man’s Garden is a novel which rewards attentive reading and one in which the reader savours every word.  It is the story of a Pakistani family torn apart in the aftermath of 9/11.  Foster-brothers Jeo and Mikal hope to make a difference to the plight of Afghan civilians by helping those wounded in the ongoing conflict but their altruistic ambitions are thwarted when they fall into the hands of an Afghan War Lord.  Meanwhile, at home in Pakistan, their father Rohan has to deal with Taliban sympathizers keen to join the Jihad whilst the women of the family have ever-dwindling rights in a male-dominated world.

Aslam uses elegant, lyrical prose to describe a world which is often brutal and grotesque.  His characters are vivid, complex and flawed – there are no saints on either side.   Rohan’s garden provides an oasis of calm, respite from the turbulence of the outside world but he also faces an inner struggle.   In a society dominated by religious extremism it becomes increasingly difficult to reconcile family and faith and this inevitably creates tension between generations.

It seems a nigh impossible task to unite East and West but, in this compelling novel, Aslam succeeds in highlighting what we have in common – humanity, loyalty, love and family ties – the building blocks upon which a more peaceful future might be based.  Despite the tragedies which haunt this family, this is fundamentally a story of hope.

My thanks to Lovereading for sending me a review copy of The Blind Man’s Garden.

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My Top Ten for 2012

Posted in Proofs on December 31st, 2012 by admin – 11 Comments

Not all of these were 5 star reads on initial reading but they have stood the test of time and have “stayed” with me when others have dissipated….clicking on each title links to my initial review this year.

Winter’s Bone – Daniel Woodrell
Winter's Bone

Tell the Wolves I’m Home – Carol Rifka Brunt
Tell the Wolves I'm Home

The Secret Rooms – Catherine Bailey
The Secret Rooms: A True Gothic Mystery

Maggot Moon – Sally Gardner
Maggot Moon

Ketchup Clouds – Annabel Pitcher
Ketchup Clouds

The Twelve – Justin Cronin
The Twelve

600 Hours of Edward – Craig Lancaster
600 Hours of Edward

The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon
The Colour of Milk

The Unit – Ninni Holmqvist
The Unit

The Bellwether Revivals – Benjamin Wood
The Bellwether Revivals

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Winter’s Bone – Daniel Woodrell

Posted in Proofs on December 31st, 2012 by admin – 3 Comments

Winter's Bone

Published
12/07/2007

Publisher
Sceptre

Source
Swap

My Rating
5 stars

Ooh, this is a goodie!  The deceptively simple prose masks a suberb, hard-hitting writing style which makes you want to re-read passages for the sheer beauty of the writing.  Set amidst the desolate Ozark Hills of Southern Missouri, this is the story of feisty teenager,  Ree Dolly, who undertakes the daunting task of tracking down her feckless father before he breaks the terms of his bail and loses the family home.  Ree already lives on the edge, trying to keep the wolf from the door and she is advised in no uncertain terms to give up the search for her father.

This is a short but powerful novel with the pace and intensity of an excellent thriller coupled with the elegant prose of a literary novel.  Expect blood, gore, anarchy, drugs – who said it was quiet in the sticks??   I believe there has been a highly acclaimed movie adaptation so that is next on the to be watched list.   Definitely my top read for 2012, I have to read more from this author.

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Hallucinations – Oliver Sacks

Posted in Proofs on December 15th, 2012 by admin – 4 Comments

Hallucinations

Published
08/11/2012

Publisher
Picador

Source – New Books Magazine

My Rating - 5 stars

Oliver Sacks has a knack of making seemingly complex issues accessible to the masses. An expert neurologist, one of his early works, Awakenings was adapted for the big screen as a blockbuster film starring Robin Williams and Robert de Niro. In his latest book, Hallucinations, he tackles a vast subject area but his engaging writing style, liberally peppered with anecdotes from patients and correspondents, makes a really satisfying read, equally entertaining and informative.

The book covers a wide range of hallucinatory experiences from intense visual images experienced by blind and partially sighted people to visions induced by meditation and even “seeing” a loved one after they passed over. Sacks dispels a lot of the stigma and myths which surround hallucinations – no, they are not a sign of madness, yes, they are more common than we might think. He even gives an honest recount of his own experiments with drugs detailing their adverse effect on the brain.

This isn’t a light read but it rewards attentive reading and will clarify a lot of experiences which we might otherwise categorise as paranormal or supernatural. An excellent group read which will provoke plenty of weird and wonderful anecdotes!

My thanks to New Books Magazine for giving me this book to review.

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The Return of the Wanderer

Posted in Proofs on September 14th, 2012 by admin – 2 Comments

With apologies to Baroness Orczy “They seek her here, they seek her there, those bloggers seek her everywhere.  Is she at home, is she overseas?  That damned elusive Lovely Treez.”   Erm, or perhaps no-one noticed…

Anyway, I have been rather occupied over the past couple of months as I was one of those bad mothers who take their children out of school early  to avail of cheaper air fares.  The decision-making process wasn’t difficult, even for a dithering Libran like me, as it was a choice between 12 days of rain and floods in Belfast at the end of June or 12 days of blue skies in the Algarve. saving about £1,000 in airfares for a family of four.  

We spent the rest of the “summer” dashing out for quick walks in between the showers, visiting museums and National Trust sites as well as Truckfest where we all enjoyed the monster trucks – I think I must be a closet-trucker contrary to appearances!

Anyway, back to catching up on all the reviews – fortunately/unfortunately they will have to be in mini-format or I’d still be here at Christmas… it’s always a case of “feast or famine” with me, I’m afraid!

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb: A Novel

Paperback, 480 pages
Published April 3rd 2012 by Bantam (first published July 26th 2011)
Source – Amazon Vine
My Rating – 4 stars
I first heard of the author Melanie Benjamin when I saw positive reviews of her 2010 novel, Alice I Have Been, a fictional biography of the real “Alice” who inspired Lewis Carroll to write Alice in Wonderland.  The latter has been on my wishlist for a while now so I jumped at the opportunity to review her latest novel, a fictional treatment of the life of Lavinia Warren Bump aka Mrs Tom Thumb who, alongside her husband, was the toast of  New York society in the mid to late 1800s. 
I enjoyed reading about Lavinia’s extraordinary life and got the impression she was a very determined, ambitious female.  She isn’t always the most likeable of characters and can sometimes be quite a reserved narrator – one imagines that a lot more went on “off-stage” than she wishes to disclose.  An engaging read for those who enjoy quirky novels, Benjamin raises the curtain on an intriguing part of Americian history featuring PT Barnum, Abraham Lincoln, Queen Victoria and other illustrious names.
Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away
Paperback
Published March 1st 2011 by Quercus Books
My Rating – 4 stars
Source – Library
Winner of the Costa First Novel Award in 2011, this novel set in contemporary Nigeria has already garnered lots of glowing reviews so I was keen to investigate further!  This is the story of 12 year old Blessing, her asthmatic, highly allergic brother Ezekiel and their extended family when they move from the relative affluence of Lagos to the poverty of the Niger Delta following their father’s adultery. 
Blessing ‘s narrative voice is very charismatic and it doesn’t take long for the reader to feel part of her family, experiencing the highs and lows of a harsh hand to mouth existence.  Blessing becomes an apprentice to her midwife Grandmother, seeing at first hand the mutilation caused by cultural traditions.  Some childbirth scenes are quite vivid, not for the squeamish but this rawness and the gaping differences between the extreme wealth of the oil barons and the heartbreaking poverty of the indigent population are offset by frequent elements of humour via Blessing’s Grandparents – who knew Marmite could be so useful?
Overall, a very good, accessible read and a useful introduction to this part of Africa – not quite reaching 5 stars for me as I’m not sure how long it will linger with me although it has whet my appetite for learning more about this region.
Four Children and It
  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Puffin (16 Aug 2012)
  • My Rating – 5 stars (if you are little!)
    Source – Audio – Amazon Vine  and Hardback – our own copy
  • My daughter is an avid fan of Jacqueline Wilson and one of my favourite childhood reads was Five Children and It by E Nesbit so we were both keen to dive into the modern version, Four Children and It.

    Firstly, my 8 year old daughter’s verdict – “My favourite Jacqueline Wilson book! I love the magic and fantasy. Rosalind is into books just like me and I want to read the E Nesbit books now”.

    Now for my opinion…I have reservations about modern authors revisiting and rejigging classics but Jacqueline Wilson is such a clever writer she has captured the perfect tone for her modern day adventurers. Yes, it’s a contemporary setting with a “jigsaw” family but magic still exists for children whether you live in a castle or on a council estate. It’s a perfect book for both reluctant and extremely keen readers, for any children to lose themselves in a gripping adventure and for all of us to wonder what would be the perfect wish. Jacqueline Wilson would wish to be able to write a book in one day so she could have a holiday the rest of the year – I’m still thinking about it!

    This review is of the BBC Audio edition although we also read the book, did I mention we had to have everything written, spoken by Jacqueline Wilson…and she’s fabulous at narrating the audio version too.

    Now, I’m off to read my original version of Five Children and It which I got in 1976!

     

    Snowdrops

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (1 Sep 2011)
  • My Rating – 4 stars
    Source – Library

    This was our library Reading Group’s latest read and an excellent example of how reading groups encourage folk  to venture into previously unexplored reading territories.  I hadn’t read any blurbs/reviews prior to reading and I must say this probably enhanced my reading experience as I had no preconceived ideas and didn’t even know what genre it was.  It’s more of a slow burning psychological drama rather than a swift moving thriller and although it does occasionally veer into a cliched view of contemporary, corrupt Russia I found it very entertaining and a quick and easy read.

    The narrator is a most unlikeable character, Nick, a British high-flying lawyer working in Moscow.  His inability to accept any kind of moral responsibility for his actions reminded me of Valmont in Dangerous Liaisons – the quote from the movie ringing in my ears “It’s beyond my control”.  Nick would like to think we readers will pity him as he is a victim of circumstances but neither I nor any  of my fellow readers in our book group were taken in by him!

    The author spent time in Moscow working as a journalist but is at pains to point out that this novel isn’t intended to  be an accurate depiction of Russian society ….hmmm…truth can be stranger than fiction….  We all agreed it was a very  readable, entertaining novel and it provoked a great deal of chat about international dating agencies as well as the stereotyped representations of different nationalities in literature – a good springboard for discussion!

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    The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon

    Posted in Historical Fiction, Proofs on August 20th, 2012 by admin – 4 Comments

    The Colour of Milk

    Published
    31/05/2012

    Publisher
    Fig Tree

    Source
    Amazon Vine

    My Rating – 5 Stars

    Looks can be deceiving – The Colour of Milk looks like a dainty little thing, measuring just 15cm x 10cm and at 176 pages, more novella than novel but behind that delicate exterior lurks a powerful story with a strong female protagonist.

    It is 1851 and this  is the story of 15 year old Mary, the youngest of four daughters in a farming family where a son would have been more highly prized.  Mary tells it as it is and doesn’t suffer fools gladly.  She tells her story over four seasons and over the course of the year 1851 there are big changes in her life.  Viewed as the runt of the litter by her brutal father, he sees some way to make use of her by hiring her out to the local vicar and his wife.   Perhaps this will be a form of escape for Mary but she misses her home, especially her grandfather.  There is some compensation as she eventually achieves her ambition, to be able to read and write but at what cost?

    I warmed to Mary from her opening words -

    this is my book and i am writing it by my own hand.

    She’ll tell her story as she sees fit, in her own time and in her own barely literate style – don’t expect any airs and graces with this girl!  Her voice is so natural, so true and you can’t help but be engrossed in her tale.  She doesn’t set out to charm or flatter the reader but the bare, direct style of her narration makes her irresistible.  Her love for her grandfather shines through despite the lack of terms of endearment.

    Mary, with her hair “the colour of milk”, is intent on lingering in my imagination – a sure sign of a good read.

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    The Girl You Left Behind – Jojo Moyes

    Posted in Dual Time Frame, Proofs on July 18th, 2012 by admin – 4 Comments

    The Girl You Left Behind

    Published
    27/09/2012

    Publisher
    Penguin Books Ltd

    My Rating – 4 stars

    Hot on the heels of her hit novel Me Before You, Jojo Moyes, twice winner of the RNA Novel of the Year Award ,  has struck gold again with The Girl You Left Behind.  Those familiar with her back catalogue will already know what a diverse author she is, every novel is different from its predecessor – her latest offering has a dual time-frame narrative (my favourite!) an ideal vehicle to show her versatility and skill as a consummate storyteller.

    Sometimes dual narratives can be distracting, disrupting the story’s flow, but here we have time to savour the story of Sophie in occupied France in 1916 with the first third of the novel dedicated to her troubled life under Nazi rule.  Her artist husband, Edouard, is away fighting at the front and she and her sister, Helene remain in St Peronne, scrabbling an existence, forced to feed the German occupiers in their little hotel, Le Coq Rouge.  It’s a constant battle to survive, treading the fine line  between resistance and collaboration – some of the villagers quick  to make assumptions if anyone associates with the enemy with Sophie, despite her best intentions, becoming the target of their gossip.  Jojo Moyes succeeds in creating a living, breathing community, feeling the strain of occupation, their loss of identity. 

    We leave Sophie’s story at a crucial moment and are flung into present day London where Liv Halston, a young widow, is beset with financial worries and finding it difficult to move on after the death of  her architect husband.  Her most treasured possession is a painting entitled The Girl You Left Behind which her husband bought on their honeymoon.  The girl in the painting is Sophie Lefevre and her portrait becomes the subject of a hotly contested court case as Edouard Lefevre’s descendants claim it was looted by the Nazis and therefore it should be returned to its rightful owners.  Throw in a bit of romance for Liv and you have the perfect recipe for a compelling read where voices from the past have a strong impact on the present.

    This is a very cleverly constructed story which drew me in from the opening pages.  Once again, I preferred the historical setting of Sophie’s story to that of Liv’s modern-day travails but the narratives are designed to complement rather than compete with each other and I loved the way elements of Sophie’s story are echoed in Liv’s life.

    Jojo Moyes is going from strength to strength with Penguin.  The Girl You Left Behind should ensure the continued expansion  of her fanbase and increased recognition for this very talented writer.  Looking forward to the next one!

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    River of Destiny – Barbara Erskine

    Posted in Proofs on July 12th, 2012 by admin – 4 Comments

    River of Destiny

    Published
    05/07/2012

    Publisher
    HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

    My Rating – 4 stars

    This is my first foray into Barbara Erskine territory and I’m delighted to report that I will be back for more!   I am a big fan of dual time-frame novels and River of Destiny has not just two but three different time frames – one set in the distant past in Anglo-Saxon times, one in the more recent past in the Victorian era and finally, a contemporary narrative set in Suffolk.

    Echoes from the past haunt the inhabitants of a group of river-side barn conversions in rural Suffolk.   Dutiful wife, Zoe has followed her husband Ken’s dream of leaving the rat-race of London and having easier access to his first love, his boat.  Zoe is not such a keen sailor but she soon becomes preoccupied by the paranormal activity which plagues their new home.  The tension mounts as we gradually hear the stories of past violence and anguish which will inevitably lead to further disaster in the present – these are not friendly ghosts!

    Barbara Erskine sure can spin a yarn and she knows how to hook the reader in the first few paragraphs.  You feel drawn into the mists of time, back to the Anglo-Saxon settlement, torn between Christian and pagan rituals, back to Victorian times where the spoiled lady of the manor is desperate for an heir and a spare and she doesn’t care who, when or where.  As is my wont in multiple time-frame novels, I found the contemporary storyline the least engaging but it certainly had an interesting array of personalities from the loud Watts family completed with troubled off-spring, the physically damaged yet charismatic Leo to the interfering busy-body Rosemary. 

    Yes, it’s a bit cliched at times but this is definitely an unputdownable read, not so creepy as to keep you awake but you’ll probably still be awake in the wee small hours reading anyway.   I can’t wait to catch up with Barbara’s other novels.

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