The Return of the Wanderer

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
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!



  • 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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    1. Tiny Sunbirds sounds like a book I would enjoy and I’ve been wanting to read Alice I Have Been for ages too. Hope you had a great holiday :)

    2. admin says:

      Thanks Sam, we had a lovely, relaxed break. I must try and catch up on everyone else’s blogs now that life is sort of back in a routine again.

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