Friday, 20 April 2018

Nice Guys Finish Lonely by Rachel Dove

This was just what you desire in a good Rom-Com book. I was in love with Rory from the start, his Death bed promise to his ailing Mum brought a lump to my throat. No attitude or clothing Make- over required in this reader’s mind !! Filled with great humour, truly abhorrent adversaries, audacious and knowing progeny and twinkly eyed elders. Littered with the misunderstandings that make tales of this type, you just wish sometimes people would learn to speak honest truths and damn the consequences!

This story was a quick and easy read because you care deeply for all the characters even if one of those  emotion is revilement in the case of Firefighting, womanising errant fathers and mild disdain and judgement  for vacuous business Reps (although she comes good in STELLAR Style, perhaps my favourite ever just deserts moment so far). I am very much a Rory -esque kind of woman so of course I side with the underdog, who is a true hero in every sense of the word and no inappropriate hose required!

It’s no surprise that nice guys do actually win fair ladies, but getting there has never been more amusing and enjoyable. An easy five stars!!

Thursday, 29 March 2018

The Wedding Date by Zara Stoneley

Sometimes you just need a little something sweet to lift your day. Zara Stonely never disappoints in this regard. The blurb on this one reminded me of a movie I watched with my sister  many years ago but there were plenty of ways this marvellous little story diverged from that previous telling of a desperate girl paying someone to attend a huge potentially mortifying wedding.

Here she is trying to show how well she has moved on when she and her cheating Ex are to come face to face at her best friend’s wedding. Her “employee” for a weird and wonderful week in Scotland is charming and cheeky and the inevitable growing desire and affection between them is handled with a tongue in cheek aplomb that  gave me a huge smile from start to finish.

A cast of mildly and not so mildly eccentric family and friends fleshes out this story that trots along at a jaunty pace like one of the horse that features so amusingly in one of the myriad enforced activities of this week long nuptial celebration.

There are enough roadblocks and misunderstandings to make the journey interesting despite the yearned for happy ending. This is as frothy as a wedding gown and as full of fizz as the very best bubbly. My only complaint that there was not more of it!

Sunday, 25 March 2018

Uncommon Type - Some Stories by Tom Hanks.

I dithered over deciding to read this one. I love Tom Hanks as an actor- even his less successful roles are always interesting. I never feel like he has sold out his integrity, so this move into a literary branch on his career tree worried me a little.

I need not have. I am a fan of short fiction and this collection, loosely linked by the appearance of old typewriters in the story, is remarkably accomplished. I was pleased to see the style of his prose is fully formed. This is not an experiment to keep money rolling into the Hanks household, these are proper tales and yarns, told by a rather marvellous storyteller.

Some critics might feel it is a little old fashioned, but for me that is what is so endearing. His vocabulary is wide and rich and best of all accurate! I love it when “good words” are used properly.

Although a varied mix of subject matters , this always feels like an authentic mix of Americana, harking to a halcyon time before the advent of  Trump and the chronic fear, embitterment and doom that seems pervasive , so that even those set in modern day or with a more sombre resolution still feel hopeful.

Tom Hanks is obviously a collector of  (somewhat random) knowledge as his stories are jam packed with details, finely  observed titbits , sounds, sensations and flavours. Food features often and the reader can see and feel it’s sweetness and sourness as they enrich the plots. His wide experience with historical events through his film career has obviously informed his subject matter and he truly excels at those stories about veterans, science, particularly space and aerospace, which makes sense looking at his body of work.

There are some searing and scathing comments here about the dark underbelly of seemingly placid and tranquil surburbia , on fame and the onslaught of modernity on traditional skills in journalism and other artistic pursuits but they always fall short of true judgement or bitter ire. I feel like I know Tom the man, better after sampling his stories, some no more than vignettes, others fully formed afternoon plays suitable for a Saturday afternoon with a cup of joe in one hand and a cushion at your back on a well worn sofa.

I enjoyed this in short sips across a couple of weeks on Audible with Mr H adding his own voice to his words which was truly an additional treat and Tom Hanks is an enthusiastic and clear narrator, and is obviously filled with joy at having brought these stories to a reading audience.  I would happily read his next effort, this time with no trepidation at all.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Blog Tour - The Stranger by Kate Riordan

I am privileged and pleased to be part of the Blog Tour for this wonderfully foreboding novel.

None of the five women this story focuses on, are particularly happy with their lot. At first glance they are tropes;One a neurotic mess, one the quintessential wife in a loveless marriage, a young girl moving into womanhood under the scrutiny of the Grand Dame of a renowned local family. Into this already inflammatory mix comes Diana,a young woman tarred as a trouble maker who is a catalyst for much of the drama and melodrama at play here. 

This is a Gothic mystery in the best sense, it is steeped in secrets that as they gradually crack open like the eggs of a bird, the creatures they reveal are not what outward appearances originally suggest. 
Everyone of them is to some extent the victim of, or the perpetrator of a morally ambiguous act.  The  reader thus finds themselves weighing whether they are to be pitied or judged. 

Deep passions, painful memories of loss and and unfair treatment are relived, revived and juggled as the spectre of war coming to British shores looms large.

A review of this book would be incomplete without looking at the power of of the setting. The Cornish weather, topology and people are all integral to the staging of this rather ominous female -centric tale. We have the waves crashing against the rocks, the saline tang in the air and the corrosive nature of the coastal elements all lending themselves to the canvas for this story of secrets, omissions and fearfulness in the time of war.

The action builds gradually and with skilful plotting  by Kate Riordan the ultimate resolution is very satisfying and surprising. 

The detailing here is magnificent. The senses are teased with sounds of the ocean, the sensations of fabrics, the smells of must and perfume, the iconic imagery of Lighthouses and the good old plucky Grit of a Brit protecting their home. The returning soldiers mustered in the local fishing boats on retreat from France was a clever addition to root the story in History.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

Only Child by Rhiannon Navin

To say this is a topical book is an understatement. Reading it less than a month since the latest U.S. school shooting atrocity gave this book about  the fallout of an Elementary school mass shooting an added frisson of emotional resonance.

This really is a clever book particularly as the author has managed to keep the Politics for the most part out of the story. There is no discernible stance on anything that has caused rage, recrimination or consternation in the past month. This is First and foremost an examination of the visceral human reaction to a catastrophic loss.

Written from a seven year old’s perspective, this deeply insightful story shows that  the reactions to the loss of a child so suddenly and seemingly without reason, bring out the most extreme versions of oneself. The already fractured family dynamic begins to implode and the young hero Zach  is left to take action himself to bring the escalating misery to an end.

I liked the structure of the story and the way that on the surface it is the loss of the child that is the cause of the trouble, but the way as the story unravels that the cracks beneath the surface begin to appear,  I did not always like both  of Zach’s parents, but I did empathise with them.

This is ultimately a story about forgiveness and love and family, the truths so beautifully mirrored in the child’s stories that Zach retreats into, to be closer to his complicated but adored older brother become  the bedrock of his survival as he becomes increasingly isolated.

I was close to tears often as I put myself in the place of all the characters , each of them flawed but I found this to be a satisfying and heart warming story that I suspect will continue to be relevant for decades to come.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

In The Shadow Of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt

This powerful story set after the genocide of Tutsis by Hutus in Rwanda when an estimated 500,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans were killed during the 100-day period from 7 April to mid-July 1994, constituting as many as 70% of the Tutsi population.

Whilst not directly about that awful time, all of the main characters are impacted by it. This is a story about belonging and loss, abandonment , about parenthood in all it’s guises both biological and the care that can be elicited by those who take on the mantle quietly.

I found the juxtaposition of the lives of two of the characters across two fixed points in History a wonderful device to examine the tenacity and resilience of love and how sometimes, to part can be an act of love in itself.

I enjoyed the book immensely it was historically dense and deeply emotionally engaging, everyone has secrets or something they seek and brought together on the red earth of Rwanda all the pieces begin to tessellate into a shape none of them expected. I highly recommend.

Friday, 9 March 2018

The Tattooist Of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

After reading The Tattooist of Auschwitz ,I sat for a long, long  time and just cogitated. I thought about how Humans can be the worst  of monsters and the embodiment of good. About how (if you are lucky) despite being taught the Holocaust in an abstract way at school learning  the horrific numbers of Jews, Czechs, Romanies etc. who  were killed in the genocide, perhaps seeing the piled personal belongings at exhibitions in tours of Krakow, that you never really contemplate what it actually meant to have lived (or rather existed) in one of those accursed death camps.

This extremely personal story was from start to finish a very  uncomfortable read, particularly as it was such a  dreadful chapter in Gita and Lale’s lives that he did not really speak of the horrors they had endured until Gita had passed. 

That Lale wanted this to be his final testimony in the closing chapters of his life as he awaited going after her, just added an ever more poignant frisson to my processing of the story. Heather Morris was an inspired chronicler, her writing is spare and detailed at once. The senses are all tweaked by her descriptions that evoke emotions from a shared suffering, we feel the story as much as we see it unfold before us.

It is an utterly absorbing book about the inevitable mass suffering and loss of faith, strength and dignity but also of an un -erring tenacity of spirit, of resilience  and of the tiniest acts of human kindness that are all the more meaningful for being carried in the midst of such suffering and loss. 

The psychological damage of human ash raining down on you as you went about the hard, humiliating and dehumanising labours set by the SS and being aware that your very geographical presence in the camp could be the difference between life and death must have been dreadful.

The sheer strength that Gita and Lale demonstrate not to give in, to never accept your fate, but rather to shape it by being proactive is astounding.

What makes this story so important is the honesty with which it is written, not written to illicit sympathy, but is rather a searing and uncompromising spotlight on the experience of one couple, one of myriad love stories in this maelstrom of humanity. This is an intimate story all the more moving set within the huge and horrifying tapestry of the Genocide.

With the exception of Mengele, No one is demonised, they are presented with their frailties and their humanity in strong relief. The bold truth Lale allows to be told is that the altruism can never be truly pure when life is on a knife’s edge, but more a thing of self preservation, even if it is to ward off the demons that come at night when you realise you lived when millions of others did not. It is what is left of heart and soul when the horrors end that truly measures you.

That Lale and Gita fell foul of the Communist Regime that  so many forget took up where the Nazi’s left off in Eastern Europe and in many ways  was as cruel and equally as sequestered from prying eyes for many years is a searing indictment of how power corrupts.

The Afterword  from Gary, their much wished for and miraculously gifted  child really touched my heart , the descriptions of their home, the importance of food and their attitudes to life in general triggered many memories  of my own beloved Grandfather’s stories  who had his own tale to tell. 

And I just might tell it...

Just a word on the wonderful narration  by Richard Armitage on Audible. Definitely worth a listen. He embers all that characters with a singular personality and made grim subject matter accessible for the faintest heart.