Posts Tagged ‘book review’

The Secret Life of William Shakespeare – Jude Morgan

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction on July 31st, 2012 by admin – 2 Comments

The Secret Life of William Shakespeare

Published
12/04/2012

Publisher
Headline Review

Source – Amazon Vine

My Rating – 3 stars

I loved A Taste of Sorrow, Jude Morgan’s wonderful novel about the Brontes and hoped to be similarly thrilled by this window onto the world of William Shakespeare.  Unfortunately the view is rather blurred, to the point of opacity and I was left feeling slightly bewildered and convinced I must have missed something which was so obvious to other readers….so I waited a month before reviewing, thinking that I’d soon experience some sort of epiphany, a dawn of understanding but nope…it didn’t arrive.

If Shakespeare remains elusive and reclusive, we at least have some interesting snippets via Morgan’s portrayal of Kit Marlowe and Ben Jonson.  Anne Hathaway captured my attention also, a feisty lady whose stoicism allows her to survive extended time with the in-laws, raise a family, all with her husband living away from home.  Unfortunately these characters weren’t enough to hold my interest in a novel whose central character remains not only enigmatic (enigmas can be interesting!) but extremely dull and dispassionate.

Overall, a disappointing read for me.  I should really stick with the Brontes as they rarely disappoint me!

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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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The Prisoner of Heaven- Carlos Ruiz Zafon

Posted in Books about Books, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction on July 16th, 2012 by admin – 2 Comments

The Prisoner of Heaven

Published
21/06/2012

Publisher
Weidenfeld & Nicolson

ISBN
9780297868095

My Rating – 4.5 stars

The Prisoner of Heaven is the long awaited third instalment in the Cemetery of Lost Books series.  Carlos Ruiz Zafon is such a talented storyteller I think he could make the phone book unputdownable! I always approach his new books with a mixture of pleasure and dread – I’m always confident they’re going to be good but I know I’ll feel bereft once the final page is turned.

The story begins in 1957, a year after Daniel and Bea Sempere’s wedding and they now have their hands full with a new addition to the family, baby Julian.  All seems peaceful enough apart from the usual pressures of adjusting to parenthood and the need to bring more customers into Sempere and Son’s Bookshop where Daniel and family now live with his father.  Fermin is still working in the bookshop and will soon be married to Bernarda so what could possibly happen to taint this picture of domestic bliss?  Cue the entrance of the mysterious stranger who readily spends a small fortune on a rare copy of The Count of Monte Cristo only to instruct Daniel to pass it onto Fermin.  Thus, a window is opened on the murky past of Fermin Romero de Torres and we are swept back in the mists of time to 1939 when Barcelona fell to General Franco.   Fermin was amongst those unfortunates imprisoned in Montjuic Castle, considered as escape-proof as the Chateau d’If in The Count of Monte Cristo.  Yes, the past has a nasty habit of catching up on folk and Fermin is no exception.

If you enjoyed The Shadow of The Wind and The Angel’s Game you will experience equal delight in this latest episode.  The usual Zafon ingredients are present – the gothic undertones, the inner heart of Barcelona, the love of literature, the sheer joy of creating a vibrant, atmospheric story peopled with characters who feel like old friends. 

The only thing preventing me awarding  a five star rating  (maybe I’m too greedy or too harsh..) is the fact that, at 288 pages,  this novel is almost half the size of its two sister volumes (The Shadow of The Wind 528 pages, The Angel’s Game 544 pages) and it feels more like part one of a two parter a la Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows movie version.  I guess it prolongs the inevitable despair of finishing the series, which will happen with the next novel but it could frustrate those accustomed to the “meatiness” of the previous tomes.  I’ll just have to bide my time waiting on the final course, grazing on less savoury fare to satisfy my literary munchies in the interim…

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Heft – Liz Moore

Posted in American Fiction, Contemporary Fiction on June 18th, 2012 by admin – 8 Comments

Heft

Published
03/05/2012

Publisher
Hutchinson

ISBN
9780091944209

Heft is Liz Moore’s debut novel and what a promising start to a writing career!   Told by two very different narrators, their stories meander with the reader desperately hoping that their narratives will eventually converge and reach a common goal.  In Brooklyn we have former academic, the reclusve Arthur Opp, weighing 550 pounds and confined to his home for ten years.  Not too far away, in Yonkers, 17 year old Kel Keller has similar difficulties fitting in with his peers, the odd one out in a school for rich kids.  Kel’s mother, Charlene, is the catalyst connecting their stories, hoping that Arthur (or the Arthur she remembers from long ago) can help Kel where she has failed.

Heft is a heartwarming tale which steers a clear path through an emotional minefield, never veering into over-sentimentality.  Arthur is quite matter-of-fact about his obesity and his candour is mirrored in the clear, unpretentious prose in which his tale unfolds.  There is sadness, life is never seen through rose coloured glasses yet the overall tone is one of quiet optimism, a hope that all will turn out well in the end.  Reading this novel made me think about what family means to different people, how friends and even acquaintances can make you feel much better about yourself than your blood relations.  It’s definitely a book which will provoke a wide variety of emotions and will appeal to a wide range of readers – definitely one to pass on.

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Peaches for Monsieur le Curé – Joanne Harris

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, Literary Fiction on June 15th, 2012 by admin – 4 Comments

Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure: Chocolat 3

Published
24/05/2012

Publisher
Doubleday

My Rating – fabulous 5 stars!

Peaches for Monsieur le Curé is the perfect antidote for a typically British Summer (wet and dismal!) as you’re immediately swept to the sultry setting of Paris in August.  A voice from the past returns to haunt Vianne Rocher, now living on a houseboat with Roux and her children, Anouk and Rosette.  It is eight years since she left Lansquenet in the South West of France and she “seems” to be settled and happy but something is calling her back and, after all, “What harm could it do?”.

Readers who have shared the trials and tribulations of Vianne’s stormy life from Chocolat to The Lollipop Shoes will be equally enthralled by this latest instalment.   Our story takes place during the month of Ramadan, beginning with the sighting of the new moon and the return of Vianne to Lansquenet.  There are two narrators, Vianne and her arch-enemy, Reynaud, the village curate.  The passing years seem to have mellowed Vianne and she keeps a low profile in the village.  Once she was the threatening newcomer, the one who shook the foundations of this sleepy village but new tensions are emerging with the growth of a Muslim community.  What follows is a thrilling narrative with two communities thriving on their own fear and ignorance.  Reynaud is no longer the golden boy but will Vianne forgive and forget past grievances?

I loved Peaches for Monsieur le Curé and only wish that every book I read had  the same power to transport me elsewhere in the midst of characters so vivid I feel I know them.  Joanne Harris weaves a seductively spellbinding narrative exploring what makes any community tick – our fear of the unknown, how easily prejudices take root spreading unease and tension.   She’s not afraid to tackle  the controversial subject of the niqab, the face veil which was banned by the French government in 2011.  Indeed “Peaches” certainly provides a lot of food for thought!  If you enjoyed Chocolat and The Lollipop Shoes you will relish this latest story and we can all live in hope that we haven’t heard the last of Vianne and her family.

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The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

Posted in American Fiction, Dystopian Fiction, Proofs, YA Fiction on June 1st, 2012 by admin – 3 Comments

The Age of Miracles

Published
21/06/2012

Publisher
Simon & Schuster Ltd

My Rating – 3 Stars

With apologies to TS Eliot, is this how the world ends then, not with a bang but a whimper, with the slowing of the earth’s rotation?  Karen Thompson Walker’s novel certainly stands out from the glut of post-apocalyptic novels currently crowding bookshop shelves with its quiet, reflective style and gentle tone but does this debut have enough oomph to grab the reader and keep him transfixed until the bitter end?

I don’t require a lot of action in my reading, sometimes the quiet ones are the ones which draw me in the most.  I also don’t need everything tied up neatly at the end but for several reasons this novel didn’t quite work for me and left me feeling rather unsatisfied.  Firstly, I am not sure what type of story it’s trying  to be – Young Adult or perhaps crossover, coming of age tale, stark dystopian drama? 

Told from the perspective of 11 year old,  Julia, we hear a lot about her trials and tribulations as a young adolescent – falling out with friends, exploring first romantic feelings, lack of communication with parents BUT considering the earth has shifted on its axis and days are sometimes 48 hours long we have little in-depth analysis of a global catastrophe.  Divisions are caused when the “Real-Timers” go against government advice and decide to live their lives according  to whatever naturally occurs, sleeping during the dark time and remaining awake during daylight hours – I couldn’t quite fathom how they could do this during “48 hour” days!  Everyone else goes by the clock even if  it means trying to sleep in broad daylight and going to and from school in the dark. 

All in all, this is a promising debut but the intriguing premise was let down by a rather pedestrian story – one of those kitchen-sink books where everything gets thrown in but somehow it doesn’t quite blend to form a palatable whole.   Some beautiful writing but just not in this format…perhaps it would have worked better with an older narrator?

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Wonder – R J Palacio

Posted in American Fiction, Children's Books on May 21st, 2012 by admin – 9 Comments

Wonder

Published
01/03/2012

Publisher
Bodley Head Children’s Books

My Rating – 5 stars

I read quite a few children’s and Young Adult novels and it’s only rarely that one of them truly fits into the “crossover” category where I can truthfully say anyone of any age will enjoy this novel.  Wonder fits that niche perfectly, its deceptively simple narrative veiling a myriad of depths and insights.

Wonder is mostly about August (Auggie) Pullman, a 10 year old boy with severe facial disfigurement.  Auggie has already been through a multitude of painful operations but his latest experience could well be the most challenging – going to school.  He’s been home-schooled up until now and sheltered from the curious and insensitive eyes of society at large but hopefully the three mentors chosen by Mr Tushman, the principal, will ease his transition.

What follows, in a series of short chapters, is an account of Auggie’s experiences at Beecher Prep, narrated by Auggie himself and, in other sections, by his sister Olivia, his friend Summer, Olivia’s boyfriend Justin, her friend Miranda and Jack who was chosen to be a guide/mentor for Auggie.  The language is simple but the feelings examined are complex – what does it feel like to be different in a world which has such a limited view of beauty/attractiveness?  What is it like for the siblings of someone who doesn’t fit the norm?  Isn’t it really difficult to tread the “middle ground” and neither ignore nor stare?   Auggie represents anyone who doesn’t fit in and all our associated hang-ups when we strive to be politically correct but fail miserably.

There will be those who avoid this book as it sounds like some preachy manifesto and I fully understand their reticence.  Yes, there is a moral message, basically,  ”When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind” and yes, I know it sounds didactic but this isn’t Mitch Albom territory and there is no deliberate pulling on the heartstrings or straying into schmaltz.   Having said that,  we could all learn something by having this little peek into Auggie’s life, and perhaps adult readers have the most to learn from it.

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Blow on A Dead Man’s Embers – Mari Strachan

Posted in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction on May 14th, 2012 by admin – 8 Comments

Blow on a Dead Man's Embers

Published
04/08/2011

Publisher
Canongate Books Ltd

My Rating – 4.5 stars

I thoroughly enjoyed Mari Strachan’s first novel, The Earth Hums in B Flat, set in rural Wales in the 1950s with its unforgettable 12 and a bit narrator, Gwenni.  Blow on a Dead Man’s Embers is set in an earlier era, it is 1921 and Non (Rhiannon) knows she should be relieved to have her husband Davey safely returned from the Great War where so many perished.  Davey might be physically present but Non worries about his emotional and mental state and she is determined to “fix” him and make him whole again even if it means subterfuge on her part. 

This is such a beautifully written story peopled with vibrant, interesting characters.  I felt like I really got to know Non and her step-children including the quiet, reticent Osian and the wilful, teenage Meg.  I felt immersed in the intensity of the interminable heatwave assailing the small Welsh village and its inhabitants and the fact I was also brought up in a tiny, remote village made the characters resonate with me even more.   Life is hard, the laundry is never-ending but there is little for it but to just get by the best one can.  However it’s not all doom and gloom and comic interludes are provided by Maggie Ellis, the village gossip (my village still has one like her!) and Non’s dour mother-in-law, Catherine Davies.

As well as the stifling ambiance of village life we have the global issues of love and loss, post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia, autism, the struggle for Irish independence, medical advances, women’s rights, the growth of the Labour party.  Change is coming whether the villagers like it or not. 

Mari Strachan has a knack of engaging the reader almost immediately, drawing you into this other world, immersing you in another era - highly recommended particularly if you enjoy excellent storytelling in a rural setting.  I’m really looking forward to seeing what Mari comes up with next.

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Between the Lines – Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

Posted in American Fiction, Children's Books, Proofs on April 28th, 2012 by admin – 2 Comments

Between the Lines

Published
05/07/2012

Publisher
Hodder & Stoughton Ltd

My Rating3.5 stars (for pre-teens)

I was intrigued when I first heard about Between the Lines, a collaboration between Jodi Picoult and her sixteen year old daughter, Samantha, aimed at a younger audience.   Equally attractive was the idea of fictional characters coming to life, a theme which I loved in Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart trilogy and Jasper Fforde’s madcap Thursday Next series.  I was also keen to see if this would be good enough to join the likes of Cornelia Funke, Sally Gardner and Michelle Harrison and other great writers on my ever expanding TBR pile of future reads for my daughter.

This is quite a light-hearted read with touches of humour along the way.  Fifteen year old Delilah is not a typical teenager and her efforts to fit in with her peers usually end up in disaster.  Instead of dating in real life, she spends her time immersed in reading her favourite fairy tale, wishing and hoping that she could meet someone just like the fictional hero, Prince Oliver.  Well, in this case, wishes do come true but if only the “happily ever after” was as easily attainable – the barrier between fiction and reality is thicker than paper and Delilah has the difficult task of convincing her mother that she isn’t certifiable when she stays cocooned in her room, talking to fictional characters.

Jodi Picoult’s trademark style of multiple narration is at play here with three separate narrative strands each in a different font, Delilah’s story, Oliver’s story and the actual text of the fairytale, Between the Lines.   The pencil and silhouette illustrations are exquisite and really complement the whole notion of stories as living, breathing entities with characters climbing up the margins and objects made of actual words.

This is a clever, wholesome romance probably best suited for the pre-teen reader as older readers might prefer a bit more bite (not always of the vampire sort!) to their reading consumption.  Not as dark as the Inkheart trilogy, it will appeal to fans of The Princess Bride and The Neverending Story

Jodi and Samantha

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The Book of Summers – Emylia Hall

Posted in Dual Time Frame, Literary Prizes, Proofs on April 27th, 2012 by admin – 6 Comments

 

Title:   The Book of Summers
 
Publisher:   Harlequin
 
Imprint:   HarlequinMIRA
 
Pub Date:   May 29, 2012
 
ISBN:   9780778314110

My Rating = 4 stars

I seem to have had a few Proustian moments with this novel  as different smells and sounds brought me back to my youth just as the protagonist explores her past via her own book, The Book of Summers.  Admittedly my own past was somewhat less eventful and less traumatic than that of Beth Lowe but I really enjoyed the atmosphere of nostalgia, the memories of summers past and, I think, despite the sadness, a certain optimism about the future all of which added up to an enjoyable read for me.

The “summers” of the title are the seven vacations which Beth spent with her mother, Marika, in Hungary.  In the present-day narrative, thirty year old Beth is leading a very quiet, almost reclusive life, working in an art gallery in London, but the tranquillity is fractured when her father makes an impromptu visit bringing with him a parcel which, once opened, lets loose all the memories Beth has tried so hard to suppress.  The Book of Summers is the scrapbook memoir which Marika had compiled over the seven summers Beth enjoyed with her in Hungary – memories of hot dry summers, bathing in ponds, first love, wandering in the wilds – all of which form a sharp contrast with home, a rather dreary Devon with a quite depressed Dad who can’t really compete with the exotic wild whirlwind created by Marika.

Of course, such idyllic days were bound to be disrupted and you really feel for the young Beth/Erzi.  Her only hope of closure as an adult is to relive those days via the Book of Summers.

Once, when she was trying to explain why she’d returned to Hungary, Marika said, Sometimes if you don’t go backward, you can’t move forward.

This is an impressive, evocative debut which will transport the reader to another time, another place.  I’m looking forward to reading more from this talented young writer.

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