Posts Tagged ‘reviews’

Review – Who is Mr Satoshi? by Jonathan Lee

Posted in Contemporary Fiction on July 5th, 2010 by admin – 4 Comments

“One afternoon, last October, on the concrete of her patio garden, my mother had a fall”. 

Thus begins our story, narrated by Robert Fossick (Foss), a reclusive figure who has retreated from society since the death of his wife several years before.  Now, his mother’s death sets in motion a modern day quest which leads Foss to Tokyo in search of the mysterious Mr Satoshi who he discovers was his mother’s first love. 

This is Jonathan Lee’s first novel and indeed, it is an impressive debut.  Despite the opening lines reminding me of Camus’s The Outsider and “Today Maman died or maybe yesterday”, it is evident early on that Lee has a distinctive narrative voice and the novel flows with a simple, lyrical style which shows a great empathy for the needs of those on the periphery of what we call “normal” society. 

Considering he has barely left his flat for several years, embarking on this voyage to discover Mr Satoshi and what eventually becomes a journey of self discovery is no easy task for the reclusive Foss.  Through his eyes we see a chaotic, bustling Tokyo but he is fortunate to meet Chiyoko, a young Japanese girl with pink hair and a refreshing outlook on life who takes him under her wing and is both his physical and emotional guide on his journey. 

Another colourful character is Daisuke, the former sumo wrestling Dolly Parton fan who runs a love hotel in downtown Tokyo.  As well as quirky characters, there is a feeling of the hubbub of downtown Tokyo with no street names, crowded subways, all the sights, sounds and smells of this busy metropolis.  One criticism I would have of the writing is that sometimes it feels like a tutorial on Japan and there is more telling than showing – less is more.

So, does Foss succeed in his quest to find the elusive Satoshi?  Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out but ultimately I think it’s more important how Foss copes with life whilst coming to terms with the death of his wife and mother.  The Tokyo scenes reminded me of Lost in Translation, I couldn’t quite picture Foss other than Bill Murray, and at times Bladerunner sprang to mind – the novel is quite cinematic.

All in all, a good start for Mr Lee’s writing career – it’s not perfect but certainly shows a lot of promise for future novels.  Perhaps there is too much effort at times and the artist’s hand occasionally feels slightly forced but it’s an enjoyable novel overall with some splashes of brilliance.

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Review – House Rules by Jodi Picoult

Posted in Contemporary Fiction on May 16th, 2010 by admin – 7 Comments

I am a Picoult fan, having read and enjoyed 14 of her 18 books published to date (3 of the 4 remaining are on my shelves, to be read!).  I’ll be the first to admit that she has a very distinctive style, some would say formulaic…there is usually a moral/social dilemna which pushes a family to the limits, invariably a court case and usually a twist at the end.  I’m not going to get all defensive here but this is MOR reading, neither highbrow nor lowbrow, but I have encountered very few storytellers who can engage you and make a book as readable as Jodi Picoult can.

So, what’s the big social/moral theme this time ?  Here, the focus is on Aspergers via the story of the Hunt family comprised of single Mum, Emma, her son, 18 year old Jacob, who has Aspergers and Theo, his younger brother who doesn’t and is therefore Neuro-typical (NT) – well, if we’re into putting labels on folk, let’s label the so-called “normal” characters too!  Perhaps I should declare a slightly vested interest here as I am very familiar with Aspergers/ASD as a member of my family was diagnosed with it a couple of years ago.  So, I recognise that my view of the story and the author’s presentation of Aspies may be slightly skewed at times but I think I can still attempt a reasonably objective review…

As usual, Picoult employs multiple POV narrative to show the feelings and opinions of all of the main characters, those already mentioned from the Hunt family plus Rich, a policeman and Oliver, the newbie lawyer who ends up defending Jacob in a murder trial.  I have read quite a few novels structured this way and I must say that Jodi is the expert in this field, given that she doesn’t confuse the reader and still manages to give you well rounded, extremely believable characters.  Even Jacob’s estranged father, who plays a peripheral role, is fleshed out to give us a credible picture of a man living with undiagnosed ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder).  

I’ll refrain from giving away anything about the plot and instead focus on the characters.  The author has clearly done her research on Aspergers and forensic procedures meticulously.  Anyone who has ever met, worked with or lived with someone on the autistic spectrum will readily recognise certain aspects of Jacob’s behaviour – one can’t generalise as every one is individual but I found myself nodding away at some of Jacob’s traits and even recognising the portrait of the mother who is so used to living life in such a rigid routine to keep Jacob placated (certain colours of foods for certain days of the week..) and the other sibling who seems completely left out of the picture as all attention is focused on Jacob.

I only have a couple of slightly negative criticisms – it does seem a bit odd that such a strong, independent woman as Emma falls so quickly for the charms of the first interested party or that the murder investigation isn’t solved very quickly but I guess there would be little room for drama if everything was packaged so neatly.  If you’re a fan of detailed mystery/thrillers don’t go searching for holes/inconsistencies as there are probably lots of them so the realistic depiction of Autistic Spectrum Disorder is slightly marred by some incongruous sections but not to the extent that my own reading enjoyment suffered.  I also wondered if the attention to detail re Aspergers including a constant stream of anecdotes to explain Jacob’s quirky behaviour might have bored those who aren’t remotely interested in learning about ASD – just a thought which niggled me…

If you’ve already read and enjoyed Jodi Picoult at her best, My Sister’s Keeper, Plain Truth, Nineteen Minutes, you will love House Rules and like me, want to devour it in one or two sessions.  If you’re already familiar with Aspergers, you will be pleased that the author hasn’t sensationalised the condition and has created a realistic picture of a young Aspie –  if you don’t know much about Aspergers, then you will come away from this book, having learned a great deal and hopefully realise how foreign the allegedly “normal” world seems to Aspies and perhaps be a bit more flexible in your thinking about how we, as a society, treat those who don’t match our behavioural archetype.

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Review – Thursday’s Child by Sonya Hartnett

Posted in Contemporary Fiction, YA Fiction on May 13th, 2010 by admin – 5 Comments

This is my first taste of Sonya Hartnett’s writing and her 11th novel (published in 2000) – no mean feat for a then 32 year old.  Thursday’s Child is set in rural Australia during the Great Depression although the environment is somewhat generic with little to identify it as antipodean apart from a few sundry references to plant life and some place names.   However, this is, first and foremost, a novel about people rather than place.

The story is narrated by Harper Flute with the Thursday’s Child of the title being her younger brother “Tin James Augustus Barnabas Flute, he was, born on a Thursday and so fated to his wanderings, but we called him Tin for short”.  Her other siblings are Caffy, her youngest brother and her older brother and sister, Devon and Audrey.  Not only are the name choices quirky but so is the fact that Tin becomes a feral child living in a series of subterranean tunnels and that his parents barely bat an eyelid!  As Tin merrily excavates his way underground, literally, his parents, meanwhile, stick their heads in metaphorical sand as they blithely go about life, barely eking out a living on their soldier settlement.  The father, ex soldier,Court, knows nothing about farming and doesn’t seem interested in learning so he hunts rabbits most of the time whilst his family and home degenerate around him.  The mother doesn’t contribute much either and it seems that Audrey and Harper are the mother figures here with Harper taking the most interest in Tin and his exploits.

This is a novel for Young Adults so I suppose the author can be forgiven for having a certain lack of depth to her characters but I feel it had so much potential as a novel for all ages.  Lots of philosophical questions are raised like how small and fragile human beings are when pitted against nature and how, if we’re not careful, lethargy can swallow us up just like the earth consumed Tin and others.  It’s a coming of age story, with moments of brilliance in its deeply lyrical narrative.  The overall tone is sadness as the family disintegrates under the weight of grinding poverty.  You feel that Harper has grown as a result of all this turmoil but at what cost?

There is an ethereal, mystical quality to Sonya Hartnett’s writing which has really impressed me.  Part of me wishes the setting could have been more distinct but I guess the indeterminate background serves to highlight the Everyman element of this tale as poverty is universal and doesn’t recognise geographical borders!  I will most definitely be on the look out for more from this author.

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Review – The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Posted in Contemporary Fiction on April 6th, 2010 by admin – 3 Comments

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd (5 Mar 2009)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0007281196
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007281190
  • My Rating = B+
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    I’m glad I didn’t have any preconceptions about this book as I won it as a result of completing a survey for Harper Collins and, horror of horrors, I didn’t even read the blurb!   I think I’d have taken to the hills at the thought of a story narrated by a dog whose master uses Formula One racing as a metaphor for life.   Ah, you see, you’re already making a judgement, thinking it must be a lot of over-sentimentalised nonsense but this bizarre, contrived melange actually works!

    Enzo tells the story of how he first met Denny, how Denny subsequently met and married Eve and how they had a daughter, Zoe.  Of course, the (race) course of true love/life inevitably does not run smoothly and Enzo proves to be an insightful observer of events.  At times hilarious, at times extremely poignant (box of tissues needed…) the story is more than that of one man and his dog. 

    The analogies with racing seem particularly apt – “In racing they say, your car goes where your eyes go”, “Another way of saying, that which you manifest is before you”.  Ok, I know that quote looks like it’s been lifted straight from Confucious or even the Kung Fu tv series but you need to rein in the cynicism, it simply means life is what you make of it – maybe a dog’s perspective works better than our overly complicated philosophizing!

    I must admit to shedding a tear or two whilst reading this,  (Lassie films make me cry too..) and I know that some folk will steer well clear of this heartfelt story.   I found it entertaining, engrossing and now I want an Enzo to make my life complete…

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    Review – Philippa Fisher and the Stone Fairy’s Promise by Liz Kessler

    Posted in Children's Books, Proofs on April 6th, 2010 by admin – Be the first to comment

    Published
    03/06/2010

    Publisher
    Orion Children’s Books (an Imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd )

    ISBN
    9781842559963

    Format – Hardback 224 pages

    My Rating – if you are a young girl (8-12) and like all things Faerie, 

    This is the third Philippa Fisher story but it can easily be read as a stand-alone.  Philippa, our heroine, is spending the Christmas holidays in the village of Ravenleigh where she first met Robyn on a previous holiday.  Robyn and Daisy are her best friends but Daisy lives ATC (above the clouds) as she is a “fairy god-sister”. 

    Unfortunately, Daisy and Philippa inadvertently swap places and are obliged to test the boundaries of their friendship by completing a very challenging mission involving the missing Stone Fairy.

    It’s a very appealing read, targeted at girls aged 8 to 12 who appreciate good storytelling and feisty heroines.  Told from multiple points of view, the result is a fast paced, magical tale which shows the value of true friendship.  This is an ideal read for confident, independent readers and is enhanced by simple illustrations which break up the text.  My 6 year old daughter can’t wait to read it!

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    Review – The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

    Posted in Children's Books, Proofs on April 1st, 2010 by admin – 6 Comments

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: W&N/Orion (27 May 2010)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 0297856421
  • ISBN-13: 978-0297856429
  • My Rating = B+

    I truly believe that Carlos Ruiz Zafon and I are fated to be together forever – or should that be the novels of Carlos Ruiz Zafon and I – that would suit me fine!  The Shadow of the Wind is one of my all time favourites – a very generous Book Fairy sent me an ARC of The Angel’s Game and now I have been fortunate enough to receive a proof copy of The Prince of Mist but would it meet my high expectations…

    Firstly, I think that this is very much a teen/YA novel so anyone expecting the complexity of Zafon’s previous two novels would be disappointed and would probably do better to wait for his next proper “adult” book.  However, I love YA, fantasy type tales and it was very interesting to see how this, Zafon’s first novel (1993),  has informed his later more adult novels as the author himself states in the foreword ”When I look back at everything I have written since, I feel that the seed of it all was contained in this little novel”.

    It is 1943 when the watchmaker, Maximilian Carver decides to uproot his family from their city home and to resettle in a quiet coastal town where they can lead a more peaceful existence….or will they?  In this tale, at times reminiscent of Enid Blyton’s  Famous Five,  the young Max (13), his older sister Alicia and their new found friend, Roland embark on an adventure which will eventually climax in their confronting The Prince of Mist, a shadowy, infernal figure who has returned to settle an ancient debt.  I must admit to being scared at times (I’m a bit of a wimp..) as there are some very tense moments especially with some mysterious moving statues on the scene.  Zafon is certainly an expert at cranking up the suspense and making the unimaginable seem quite feasible thanks to his fast paced storytelling and vivid descriptions.

    I think it is important to mention that The Prince of Mist has been expertly translated from the original Spanish by Lucia Graves and her translation is just as flowing as in Zafon’s other two novels published in English.  Yes, this is a book targetted at a young audience but if you enjoy a good story without too much hand wringing psychology then this will do the trick – I do love novels which succeed in removing me from my humdrum existence even for just 208 pages!

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    Review – The Well and the Mine by Gin Phillips

    Posted in Literary Fiction on April 1st, 2010 by admin – 2 Comments

    “AFTER SHE THREW THE BABY IN, NOBODY BELIEVED ME for the longest time.  But I kept hearing that splash”

    What a fabulous opening to this debut novel!  Nine year old Tess Moore and her older sister Virgie strive to discover the identity of the strange woman who threw a baby into their well in 1931.  However, the more important story which comes to the fore is how the community of Carbon Hill,  Alabama cope with the hardships which accompany the Depression. 

    The story is told from multiple points of view in the first person from the five different members of the Moore family.  Sometimes this can be very distracting in novels as the reader strains to remember plot details but it works very well here as the prose is simple and strong and the story is related in a relaxed manner which matches the lazy hot Summer during which events take place.  This is a very subtle, gentle tale very much focussed on the characters rather than a complicated plotline – I was reminded at times of Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with A Pearl Earring, not thematically but it shares the same langourous ambiance as Chevalier’s novel. 

    Whilst the story is low key, the themes are significant – racial tensions, family relationships, moral values.  Poverty is colourblind but there is still a hierarchy and social order to be observed and Tess’s father Albert is very naive to think he can readily challenge long established segregation. 

    This is a wonderful debut novel written in a very understated way which is reminiscent of Fannie Flagg’s novels.  I will certainly be on the lookout for more novels by this writer.

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