Lovely Additions

Posted in Lovely Additions, Proofs on February 11th, 2014 by admin – 2 Comments

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A few interesting new arrivals on the book front recently – 2 from the library, 1 competition win, 1 purchased, 1 requested review book and 4 unsolicited review books.  Clicking on the covers will take  you to their Amazon Affliate Link.

I don’t like the word diet as it conjures up visions of torture and faddish ways to lose weight.  I’ve never dieted in my life but for the past 6 months or so I have been trying to eat more healthily.  A blood test in June revealed raised cholesterol so I decided to cut down on the cheese (my nemesis!) and be a bit more active.  I’ve lost 10lbs so far and am no longer overweight but I bought The Hairy Dieters book as it came highly recommended by friends especially as it contains meals which all the family, even my fussy bunch, will enjoy.  I’ve reserved their first book How to Love Food and Lose Weight at the library.  There’s a queue of 9 ahead of me but I have plenty of food for thought in the meantime… By the way, the weight loss hasn’t improved the raised cholesterol so a new exercise regime is the next step – wonder if I can run and read simultaneously…

 

Kill or Cure was a win in a competition organised by We Love This Book.  It has proven a big hit with the all the family, particularly the more gruesome parts, of the book, not the family!   Detailing the history of medicine from prehistory to modern times, this is one for dipping into and may well provide useful in the healthy eating regime…as in inducing  loss of appetite.

 

The Cleaner of Chartres will be a re-read this month as it is our library book group’s choice for February.  With less funding for libraries and limited stock, it is becoming increasingly difficult for Liz, our librarian, to source enough copies if we recommend a particular title.  I know we could source them ourselves but that defeats the whole purpose of it being a “library” book group.  Soon there will be no books left!  Seriously…

Lean On Pete is another library loan.  My bookish friend Mandy has been raving evangelically about this writer so I really need to get to it.

North of Nowhere is the latest novel from children’s author Liz Kessler.  My daughter Eva loved this author’s previous books so this is one for both of us to read and enjoy.  Apparently this story was inspired by a South Devon village which fell into the sea during stormy weather – ironic considering the horrendous damage the storms are currently wreaking on the Devon and Cornish coasts.

The last batch of four are unsolicited review copies which dropped through the letterbox.  Sometimes these are so wide off the mark for me, even with my eclectic tastes, but these four do appeal in very different ways.  I’ve enjoyed Valerie Martin’s writing style in the past and Byron Easy looks intriguing with The Winter Folly promising to be an entertaining dual time-frame story.  When I was Young isn’t really singing to me at the moment, I sense saga vibes coming off it!

Wondering now if I should choose my next read according to the weather today but then they’ve forecast amber alerts for gales, rain and possible snow – enough to make an indecisive Libran doolally!

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The All-Girl Filling Station Last Reunion – Fannie Flagg

Posted in American Fiction on February 9th, 2014 by admin – 6 Comments

The All-girl Filling Station's Last Reunion

 

Published
13/03/2014

Publisher
Chatto & Windus

Source
Netgalley

My Rating
5 stars

 

A couple of confessions to make –  I simply love Fannie Flagg’s writing and I grew up in a filling station (rural Ireland, not Wisconsin..) so it’s obvious why I was drawn to her latest novel.  Admittedly we didn’t race around the forecourt on roller skates or have a kissing booth – minor technicality!

If you’re into heartwarming stories with that southern twang and if you enjoy a few tears with your laughter then you’re onto a winner with this story.  There are two narrative threads, one set in contemporary Alabama, although sometimes you might be forgiven for thinking time has stood still in Point Clear, Alabama, the  other story set in 1940s Pulaski, Wisconsin via Poland.  In the present, almost 60 year old Sookie (Sarah Jane) Poole is having a well-deserved rest after marrying off her three daughters.  Well, she  could have a rest if it wasn’t for the constant demands of her elderly mother Lenore, a narcissistic southern matriarch who is obsessed with preserving the glory of the family name.  In the past, four young sisters of Polish descent discover endless opportunities open to them when World War II occupies their men  folk.   The ever widening  horizons of the Jurdabralinski girls contrast sharply with the insular, claustraphobic life of Sookie who doesn’t really know what her role is now that all her children have flown the nest.   The author skilfully draws the two threads together until the bomb drops and Sookie’s life is forced to take a new direction.

Okay, it doesn’t take a genius to work out what way the narrative is heading but Flagg’s stories are less about what she tells you and more about how she tells you.  It’s like sitting down with an old friend and having a catch up.  You quickly feel like you’ve known these characters forever.  The more cynical reader might be inclined to find Sookie tiresome or her mother Lenore just too much but perhaps these readers cannot imagine the psychological distress caused by empty nest syndrome or the frustration of dealing with a snob, especially if that snob is your own mother!   Even the subsidiary characters are vividly presented – from the “normal”, understanding husband, Earl to the wacky, new-age Maravaleen.

If  I enjoyed Sookie and pals, I simply fell in love with the Jurdabralinski family and their exploits – from their efforts to make the  filling station stand out to Fritzi’s wing walking to their wartime duties as WASPs ( Women Airforce Service Pilots).   I hadn’t realised such women existed never mind how poorly they were treated at the time – WASPs who were killed in service were neither accorded military honours nor was compensation given to their families.  I loved how the author incorporated this fascinating part of history into this novel.

I can always rely on Fannie Flagg to entertain and engage me with her wit, humour, empathy and joie de vivre and The All Girl Filling Station encapsulates all of those qualities.  Highly recommended for existing fans and for anyone who enjoys good old-fashioned storytelling.

WASPs during WWII

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A Burnable Book – Bruce Holsinger

Posted in Historical Fiction on February 3rd, 2014 by admin – 4 Comments

A Burnable Book

Published
30/01/2014

Publisher
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

Source
Lovereading

My Rating
3.5 stars

 

Bruce Holsinger’s fiction debut, A Burnable Book, is the first in a proposed series of historical thrillers set in 14th century London.  This is Chaucer’s London, it is 1385, a time of flux especially for the young king, Richard II, whose life may be in danger before he gets the opportunity to rule independently.  Rumour has it there is “a burnable book”, a treasonous tract the contents of which could overthrow the monarchy and threaten the stability of the whole country.

Enter John Gower, part-time poet and friend of Geoffrey Chaucer who has requested Gower’s help in tracking down this dangerous tome.  What follows is a well paced but complex story with many twists and  turns.  Equally complex is the vast range of characters, both real-life and fictional, and I was grateful for the list of characters at the front of the novel in order to frequently remind myself who was who.   Holsinger is well respected in the area of medieval research, as attested by his back catalogue of 6 non-fiction works in this field.  Such expertise is evident in the ease with which he brings alive the sights, sounds and smells of medieval London.

This is an accomplished debut novel reminiscent of the sprawling narratives of Ken Follett and C J Sansom.  It is slightly too detailed and convoluted for my liking but I think that Bruce Holsinger’s first foray into fiction will win him lots of new fans.

 

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This Dark Road to Mercy – Wiley Cash

Posted in American Fiction, Literary Fiction, Southern Gothic on January 30th, 2014 by admin – 4 Comments

 

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday (30 Jan 2014)
  • Source: NetGalley
  • My Rating: 4.5 stars

Having been very impressed by Wiley Cash’s debut novel A Land More Kind Than Home, I was really looking forward to This Dark Road to Mercy.  As in his first novel, he manages to pack a lot into a relatively short read at 240 pages.  Set in North Carolina, this is a compelling story about family ties as well as family breakdown alongside a convincing depiction of the innocence of childhood.

Narrated by a compact cast of characters, each with their own distinctive voice, this bleak tale of  loss and redemption grips the reader from the opening pages when we hear the  story of twelve year old Easter Quillby.  Easter is an unforgettable narrator who never sinks into self-pity even when disclosing the worst parts of her life so far with her six year old sister.  The two girls are not long in foster care before their wayward father, Wade,  arrives to disrupt their lives once more.  What follows is a well-paced, gripping narrative involving a particularly nasty hitman named Bobby Pruitt who is determined to settle an old score.

Wiley Cash is fast becoming one of my favourite authors as his two novels have more than satisfied my predilection for Southern Gothic.  His characterisation is spot on especially for Easter and Wade – Easter with her self-assurance, guts and determination and Wade, the washed up former minor league baseball player, who has made and, indeed, continues to make mistakes.  The bleak and stark nature of  the story with its unremitting tension is balanced with the remote possibility of redemption.

With echoes of Cormac McCarthy, especially No Country for Old Men, this novel sees Cash going from strength to strength.  More please!!

You can discover more about the author at his website here.

Wiley Cash

Photo by Tiffany B. Davis

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Mother, Mother – Koren Zailckas

Posted in American Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Thriller on January 29th, 2014 by admin – Be the first to comment

Mother, Mother

Published
16/01/2014

Publisher
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd

Source
Amazon Vine
My Rating
4 stars

” They f___ you up your Mum and Dad,  They may not mean to but they do. “  Harsh words from Philip Larkin but he has a point…except here it’s Mommie Dearest who is most at fault in the shape of Josephine Hurst, narcissistic mother of 3 vulnerable children with  a rather needy husband too.

It might seem quite trite to state that a book was “unputdownable” but in this case I was so engrossed that everything else had to be put on hold.  I just had to keep  on reading – this was car crash tv, the subject matter was disturbing but fascinating and it’s been a while since a book had such an immediate  hold on me.

From the early stages we know that Josephine Hurst is the manipulative matriarch at the heart of  all her family’s woes.  Eldest daughter Rose ran away, middle child Violet tried to escape through drugs and the youngest, 12 year old Will is so wrapped up in his mom’s web of lies he worships the ground she walks on.  The dad, Douglas, is distracted by his own demons – he is an alcoholic and completely unaware of the danger his children face.

Josephine has psychological abuse down to a fine art.  She knows her family’s pressure points and boy does she exploit any weakness with the seemingly innocuous remark, the pouring out a glass of wine for Douglas, the downright disturbing babying of her son.

It is Violet (Viola) who decides to fight back but as a 15 year drug user with no support from her ineffectual father, it’s not going to be an easy battle to win – especially not against Manipulative Mom.   I loved her gutsiness and determination.

The story is told from the point of view of  Violet and Will in short alternating chapters. It quickly becomes clear that Violet has more of a mind of her own than Will who has a questionable diagnosis of autism and epilepsy – a diagnosis actively encouraged by Mom.

Whilst many of the plot twists are predictable and a tad theatrical, this is still a fascinating read and I think it will have huge commercial success and will also be a favourite for book groups.  I can already see folk entering the nature versus nurture debate re Will Hurst.  It doesn’t have the depth of We Need to Talk about Kevin but it will raise age-old issues which we never tire of debating.

A great debut, this psychological thriller will have you on tenterhooks.

 

 

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Barracuda – Christos Tsiolkas

Posted in Australian fiction, Contemporary Fiction on January 24th, 2014 by admin – Be the first to comment

Barracuda

Published
02/01/2014

Publisher
Atlantic Books

Source

Real Readers

My Rating
4 stars

 

This is a review of Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas, not Finding Nemo by Walt Disney, so anyone offended by strong language and/or explicit sex scenes should turn away now.  It is Tsiolkas’ fifth novel but my first experience of his writing; perhaps all the more interesting as I went in with an open mind.

Our leading character, talented swimmer,  Daniel Kelly is a bit of an odd fish and the madcap, disjointed narrative is a perfect match for his unstable, ever changing  personality as he flits between Daniel/Dan/Dino/Barracuda.  This powerful novel deals with identity and how we fit/don’t fit in our own skin/family/country.   Kelly is far from likeable with his antsy ways and psychopathic tendencies but I found myself rooting for him – not for him to win the swimming galas and join the “golden boys” but just for him to find his place in life.

Barracuda is a challenging, thought-provoking read.  Yes, it’s not perfect and there is a lot of repetition of the swimming/water imagery but I really liked its honesty and “in your face” attitude, its representation of the less liberal side of Australia and its realistic lack of neat and tidy endings.

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The Midnight Rose – Lucinda Riley

Posted in Historical Fiction, Saga on January 20th, 2014 by admin – 6 Comments

Midnight Rose

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Pan (16 Jan 2014)
  • ISBN-10: 1447218434
  • My Rating – 3.5 stars

Sometimes I need a good dollop of escapism in my reading material, especially during the dreary Winter months when sunshine is in short supply.  Fortunately I had The Midnight Rose, Lucinda Riley’s latest novel, to keep me entertained when the Christmas festivities had fizzled out.

This is the story of Anni (Anahita) Chavan, a tale which spans four generations and two continents.  As Anni celebrates her 100th birthday in Darjeeling, India, surrounded by her extended family, she decides to entrust her great-grandson, Ari, with the task of uncovering long buried family secrets – secrets which will lead him to Astbury Hall and the staid world of the English aristocracy.

As the novel progresses, we see the vivid colours of India at the height of the Raj; a warm, vibrant setting which contrasts sharply with the cold, reserved atmosphere which awaits Anni when she comes to England.   The characters are larger than life, particularly the strong women in the shape of Anni and her nemesis, Lady Maud Astbury.

The Midnight Rose is a thoroughly entertaining read which will appeal to those who enjoy historical sagas in the style of Barbara Taylor Bradford and Lesley Pearse and perhaps fans of Downton Abbey.  Yes, there are a few predictable elements but there’s no doubt Ms Riley can spin a good yarn to keep her readers captivated.

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The Invention of Wings – Sue Monk Kidd

Posted in American Fiction, Historical Fiction on January 9th, 2014 by admin – 4 Comments
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  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Tinder Press (7 Jan 2014)
  • Source – Netgalley
  • My Rating – 4 stars

 

Set in early 19th century Charleston, Sue Monk Kidd’s latest novel is the story of two women from very different backgrounds. On her eleventh birthday Sarah Grimke, daughter of a wealthy judge, is gifted ownership of ten year old Hetty “Handful” Grimke, a slave who will act as her handmaid. Both young girls have many dreams and aspirations but these are thwarted by social convention in Sarah’s case and the brutal reality of enslavement for Handful. Indeed, Handful points out that her slavery is that of the body whilst Sarah is held captive by her own mind.
Narrated in turn by Sarah and Handful, the story paints a realistic picture of the deep South where anyone speaking out against slavery is ostracised. Sarah has had a privileged background but she’s an intelligent woman who wants more than needlepoint and a socially acceptable match. As a teenager she sees how her brothers’ horizons expand whilst her prospects become limited. Meanwhile Handful is raised by a strong mother, Charlotte, who advocates quiet rebellion and unlocks the possibility of freedom for her daughter.
Spanning 35 years, this novel is loosely based on the life of Sarah Grimke and her sister Angelina who were the first female abolitionists and feminist thinkers in the United States. The parallel stories of Sarah and Handful provide an intriguing insight into the racism, misogynism and inequality which pervaded the Southern States during this era. The voices of Sarah and Handful are very convincing as is the depiction of the claustrophobic life of the landed gentry and the daily brutality of life for slaves.
This is a very readable, thought-provoking story which packs a slightly stronger punch than the author’s first novel The Secret Life of Bees.

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The Reader’s Return – Wolfsangel – Liza Perrat

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction on November 27th, 2013 by admin – 4 Comments

Apologies for my extended absence.  I do have a note, I promise!  I haven’t been reading a lot recently as my eyesight hasn’t been great and it’s not just down to getting older but rather a nasty skin condition which gives me spots and blurred vision.  I must have been very bad in a previous life!  Thanks to a combination of eye drops and antibiotics it has improved slightly in so far as I can now read more than a couple of pages at night without my eyes feeling all itchy and tired.  I doubt I will come anywhere near my annual target for Good Reads but I’m just glad I can read anything….albeit much more slowly.

I have read a few children’s books but am trying to reduce online time and therefore ease eye strain so no reviews of them for the moment.   I must share what I’m putting in Luke and Eva’s Christmas Book Boxes this year.   Luke is definitely off-fiction at the moment but I have a couple thrown in which might tempt him…here’s hoping!

In the meantime, here’s Liza Perrat’s new novel set in Vichy France – a real page turner and the eyes were certainly not dry at the end!

 

 

Publisher – Triskele Books

Publication Date – 17th October 2013

My Rating – 4 stars

 

Back in September 2012 I thoroughly enjoyed reading Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat which was the first of the Auberge des Anges historical series set in late 18th century France.   Therefore I was very eager to get my hands on the second in the series, Wolfsangel which is set in occupied France during WWII.

As in the first novel in the series, you can expect strong female characters and extensive research which both serve to make this a gripping and engaging read.   The Wolfsangel title can have different interpretations, the more benign being a guardian angel watching over the Jewish Wolf family in the novel.   However, the other meaning has more menacing connotations as the English translation is “wolf’s hook”, a symbol of the Nazi regime.

Indeed this is a novel of duality, a tale of divided loyalties as the villagers of Lucie-sur-Vionne are torn between hatred of the Nazi invaders and their desire to survive.   It is difficult to take the moral high ground when your choice is between a one way ticket to the concentration camp or informing on your neighbours.

Our narrator is Celeste Roussel, an ambitious young woman, keen to join her brother in his work for the French Resistance.  When she falls in love with a German officer she finds herself torn between her own desire and loyalty to her fellow villagers.

Once I picked this up I found it nigh impossible to put down as I got so involved in Celeste’s story.  Loosely based on the tragic events which  took place in Oradour Sur Glane in 1944,  this novel doesn’t pull any punches and will remain with the reader for a long time.

Already looking forward to the next instalment in the series which is set in France in 1348 as the Black Plague sweeps across Europe.

 

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She Is Not Invisible – Marcus Sedgwick

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, YA Fiction on October 10th, 2013 by admin – 2 Comments

Published
03/10/2013

Publisher
Indigo (an Imprint of Orion Children’s)

My Rating
5 stars

She Is Not Invisible is a gem of a read,  a thought provoking and intelligent thriller which can be read on so many different levels.  On the surface, it’s an adventure story with our heroine, Laureth, accompanying her younger brother, Benjamin, on a quest to discover the whereabouts of their father, famous author, Jack Peak.  Sounds straightforward enough but then Laureth has the extra obstacle of her blindness plus she isn’t really sure that her Dad is officially missing.

There are so many layers to this deceptively simple story.  Jack Peak is obsessed with the nature of coincidence in our daily lives and as you follow Laureth and Benjamin on their journey you find yourself pondering the same issues.  Do we manufacture our own destiny or is it predetermined?  Laureth is certainly determined to make her own mark on the world and is most certainly not invisible.  She and Benjamin make an excellent team with superhero qualities, Batman and Robin  spring to mind.  I loved the way they worked together as one, along with Benjamin’s trusty sidekick, Stan the crow!  So many questions are raised and happily they aren’t all answered and neatly tied up  with a pretty bow.

This is a novel which makes you think, not just about the nature of coincidence but about family relationships, about what it is like to be different, about what influences our path in life.  A highly recommended read for anyone with an inquiring mind.  If you enjoyed The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon you’ll love this.

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