Friday, 29 July 2016

Book Review: Forgotten Women by Freda Lightfoot

Forgotten Women by Freda Lightfoot

Genre: Historical Romance / Women's Fiction

This was a Netgalley copy gifted to me by Publisher Lake Union Publishing

Set both in the modern day Scotland and during the facist Civil War in Spain. This is the tale of three young women and their menfolk, husbands, lovers and brothers.

A young gallery worker Jo has persuaded her private Grandma to let her display a painting depicting the Spanish Civil War and a chance meeting with a Spaniard who questions the origins and authenticity of the piece sets her on a journey into Spain , the past and a chance for love herself.

A rich story interweaving the lives of Rosita a young girl tricked into marriage to a vile facist masogynist when they start taking dissenters from their homes, Charlotte a lady seeking independence from a tyrannical step Father who happens to be Laird and Jo's own grandmother Libby who has got herself into a bit of a pickle over the bad choice of bedmate. They meet and bond over the horrors of armed conflict and none are untouched, each scarred by what they experience and culminating in sharing in a  act that means their silence for decades and a shared secret that resonates into the modern day revealing secrets they had sworn never to reveal.

There is a cast of male characters too who serve as romantic foils and complications, but the central females are the focus here and their romances and heartbreaks are well realised and ring true within  the confines of the plot set in a time of such upheaval in Spain which serves as an ominous pre-cursor to the later perils of the Second World War.

A well paced and easily relatable tale of strength in adversity. This was my first book by Freda Lightfoof, but probably not my last. The cover artwork is beautifully evocative  and perfectly fits the story.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Book Review: Love Comes Later By Mohanalakshmi Rajakumar

Love Comes Later 

A Romance set in modern day London and Qatar.

I was sent an  advance/ review  copy from publisher. This is my honest review.

I was drawn to this book for the simple reason that in today’s climate where much of the Western world is at best wary of the Middle East, I wanted to get an insider viewpoint. The perceived idea that seem to be attached to predominantly Muslim countries  is that they are oppressive and misogynistic; this book sought to allow a small insight and I was hoping it might allay some stereotypes.

It was only after I had finished that I realised the Qatar Government had bannned it for sale in their book outlets.

The story itself surprised me as  went in entirely a different direction to the one I thought it might. This was refreshing and kept me engaged.

The three main characters are well drawn although by losing sight of Hind for a good portion of the middle of the book, it seemed to lessen the power of her worries and  her struggles. She became less sympathetic to me because her motivations were obscured and so her rash action to save her own skin that becomes part of the ultimate dramatic conclusion made her seem less likable.

I particularly liked the juxtaposition between the similar, but ultimately different lives of Sangita and Hind however, and enjoyed the correlation  between Hindu and Muslim tradition despite the apparent mutual exclusivity that faith from following The Book derives.. Sangita is an anomaly in herself, an Indian and American never completely at home with either nations’s social morés and traditions

There can be no denying Women are not equal in either country or religion and family interference is a problem even in the modern day for Muslims and Hindus alike. Despite  the  relative sophistication of the richness of Qatar, we realise wealth does not necessarily mean progress and I was left feeling a little bit anxious for both women despite the attempt to give them both  a happy ending of sorts. Again the bitter reality of  the lives they might be forced to lead  was the “seasoning”  that made this book much more than a romance set in exotic and expensive settings.

The Olympic Games in London and in preparation in Qatar  features heavily in the background  and the London Portion certainly gave this reader a little frisson of excitement as it was an event in my own experience with some minute part in background preparation which connected me to the story more than if it had been set slightly earlier or later.

For once a romance that  develops more naturally and with more believable hurdles than the usual tropes, this alone recommends the book to readers who would like a fresh approach.

A Grandfather full of stories and intrigues and  the inclusion of a hero in Abdulla, who is as equally troubled by the traditions that might entrap him as the female protagonists are,who  is in a precarious position after a  massive personal loss of his own, sealed my enjoyment for this interesting and diverting book.

Friday, 22 July 2016

The second book in a this endearing little series by Alan Parks

Alan and Lorna are still trying to scrape a living from their alpaca farm in Andalucia. The weather is still extreme to say the least and their menagerie of dogs, cats and  some chickens are ever the source of  consternation and humour, often at once!

Moving to warmer climes for Lorna’s health they have settled in  the area close to Córdoba and despite some terrible mortalities for some of the babies, the Alpaca family appear to be starting to adjust. Written as a series of short chapters about events in and around the  plot of land for their Alpaca venture and the Friends they have garnered around the locality, this book is light and frothy, so a perfect summer read.

This is much the same territory as “ Seriously Mum , What’s an Alpaca”  we stray not a jot from the style or format of the former book in the series, but that is no bad thing.  The animals still get a little voice over at the end of every chapter, rather like Arkwright at the end of “Open  All Hours”. Their contribution is always endearing.

This is not high drama or high farce for that matter, but  more about normal lives being lived out in a extraordinary locale.  It is but a  tiny casement window into the life in that area of Spain where olive growing and stray dogs are part of everyday life! But it is nice to peek  in every once in a while.

This is a gentle book that does not try to be anything more than a personal story of anecdotal vignettes, but it  is wonderful to read with a glass of something chilly and crisp as light starts to fade on a summer evening as you sit and wonder if the solar panels at the mill have managed to store enough residual power to allow Alan to turn on the washing machine!?

A thoroughly enjoyable little read

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Book Review : The Keeper ( A Novella ) Dark deeds and Detection with a twist

An ARC copy of novella The Keeper. By Katrina Bowlin-MacKenzie

Thank you TBC and Katrina for this chance to read the story.
I enjoyed the story, I liked the idea very much, and it clipped along at quite some pace. I also very much liked the hero Ardan in  the story, but slightly bereft that having set up  Elle as the strong heroine who had survived great adversity we lost sight of her for so long in the length of the book. I found it strange that the story suddenly switched point of view so radically almost without any preamble, thus depriving the reader  of the chance to experience her ordeal alongside her which is also a shame as the actual investigation seemed to flow just a tad too tidily for me and some interspersion  with some of her storyline would have amped up the tension even further. 
The central peril  was written well and the dreams device kept the peril in the reader's eyeline at all times. However by introducing an actual supernatural entity into the book, I thought it should be present at it's culmination. It left me with questions.
I do have some other  minor quibbles, for a short story of this length it was slightly distracting  to have quite so much description of the private lives of minor characters, whilst I appreciate this may be a precursor to more in depth stories with this set of core characters, they seemed disproportionate to the story in hand.  

Trying to avoid spoilers , my only real gripe was the use of a certain term to describe an important character which  did not seem appropriate to me, there seemed to me at least, a  term that might have been more fitting given the circumstances  and my deliberation of that fact distracted me from what should have been the most tense part of the plot and I wonder if it might not do the same for other readers.. This  just an uneasiness with a writer's choice of word rather than a comment on the plot twist itself which was refreshing and definitely added a bit of variety to the plot.
Overall a diverting read that would encourage me to seek out this group of characters again

Monday, 18 July 2016

Book Review : 600 hours of Edward by Craig Lancaster. A true delight.

This book became something of a mythical creature to me, something to be sought out and captured for all posterity. The name Edward has been bandied about in my book club (or reading support group for voracious, capacious readers )so often that I felt I was being kept out of a very exclusive club.

The publication of Craig Lancaster's  third installment of the continuing tale of Edward Stanton coincides with my  first first tentative steps into his life.

What can one say about Edward? At first glance he is what one might  term "peculiar" his habitual culinary preferences, his dogged recording of fact and his dedication to the viewing of Dragnet, all seem to make him stand out and remain excluded from reality,  and in less sure hands than those of Mr Lancaster might have become  grating but actually once you have been in his presence for just a short while, he becomes less and less obscured by his habits and his approach begins to make  total and utter sense! 

A high performing aspergers sufferer we soon realise, it is not that Edward is” different”, it is just he is more open and honest about the things that make his life bearable and we discover  that we are rather more like him than we care to admit.

This book,despite following a very specific and deliberate style and structure  (which like Edward himself seems simpler than it really is) is a beautifully crafted portrait of a very special human being who has used order and disciplined behaviour to control the harsh realities that life might throw at him. We realise that whilst we may not live in such strict order that we too use the familiar as crutches to hold us aloft when we too are faced with hard or confusing times.

His “letters of complaint”reveal more about the wounded soul inside and the honesty of his reactions to his Father and his seeming coldness is deeply affecting and exceptionally effective in making him a deeply sympathetic character.Therefore  as he  navigates the murky world of Internet dating, supermarket shopping and familial strife he is actually gradually flowering and bearing fruit and the reader joyfully joins him in the revelations about both himself and the world  at the book’s uplifting end.

A series I will definitely be carrying on with.

I am definitely a fledgling member of #TeamEdward

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Book Review: ARC Destined For A King. Ashlyn Macnamara

Thank you to the wonderful people at Random House and Loveswept  the publishers who gifted me this ARC of the first book of new series from Ashlyn Macnamara

The Bastard Brotherhood : Destined for a King. Published on September 6th 2016

I am new to Ms Macnamara work, but I am pleased as punch to have discovered her!

I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Fair warning it is a Adult Book, but the scenes are not overdone and despite some of the language being bawdy it does not grate on delicate sensibilities and is fitting in setting and genre.

As with all such fantasy romances I look out for certain things, strong mythology, characterisation that is believable and not formulaic or derivative and a rich narrative. I was happy on all counts. 

The world of ice castles and keeps, marauders, healers, evil kings and brave rebels is one I like very much. I wish there was more to get my teeth into in fact,as everything present tantalises the  pure fantasy geek in me,but this being a romance first and foremost, length requirements are obviously required.

I truly hope that the fantasy elements are ramped up in subsequent books, more Magick and Mayhem please!

The central pair are likeable and I was infinitely pleased to find a heroine in Calista who was not overly rebellious or bratty as can be the norm in these kinds of plots, she is an ordinary girl with some privilege through birth,thrust into a extraordinary circumstance. Her foil in Torch is a good one, he is neither truly rakish or roguish but instead a man set on a path not of his making with steely determination and a strong faith in his fate (even if it is tested !) I liked him immensely!

There are several potential pairing I see coalescing here and secretly hope that at  least two or three of my favourites get a strand of their own to inhabit.

I got a great kick out of the names of the motley band that Torch has about him, they convey so much and means less superfluous description which can often bog down a book of this nature with many "Fighting folk". Keeping  ranks and natures clear in one's head can be tiresome, but Ms McNamara has dealt with this marvellously, the name fits every single time!

I have no qualms in reccomending this book to all fantasy or Romance fans, I await the next with great anticipation!

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Book Review: Cockroaches by Scholastique MUKASONGA

I was gifted this as an ARC by Netgalley

Published by on 04/10/2016 by Penguin Random House by Archipelago Books
Translated by Jordan Stump

The Genocide of the Tutsi people by the ruling  Hutus in the 1990s( like the war in the Balkans in the same decade)  was one of the most shocking events  that people of my generation remember . The News footage of children with machetes and mass graves is most vividly imprinted in my minds eye. This book immediately spoke to my interest in the period.

This is an intensely honest account of the effect the civil unrest in Rwanda had on a  young girl,  her family and an entire ethnic group.Translated here  from the author’s original book written in French. The human story of a  family history  set against  the backdrop of the breakdown in the system that enabled Tutsi people to become so hated and subjugated by the Hutus is rich in socio- political context, but reads like a  personal account rather than a documentary piece.

It is measured , not written to elicit  pity ( although it does ) at the  vicious deaths of so many. No this book  is more a expression of a  revelation of a truth to the people of the west, whose “help” through UN intervention (or lack therein)  was absolutely ineffectual and almost laughable in it’s impotency. 

The reality of this simple truth is  hardest to stomach and face by me as a  British reader because this massacre of almost a whole Rwandan ethnic tribe  was  allowed to occur despite the historical build up being a gradual and yet a  well defined and documented  descent into anarchy and chaos.
The world watched. The world remained inactive.
This is not a victim's tale, it is in fact more a tale of survivors guilt,as felt by the young girl whose own familial losses number in the seventies with nieces, nephews and in laws all factored in. The listing of the names in her memory in a tattered exercise book  serves as bitter memorial to those lives lost so needlessly. Her guilt focused on the fact  that  she and her children lived, simply and wholly on the merit that their Father was French and so had ease of travel. Her anguish is not that family died for this seemed almost a foregone conclusion when the persecution of Tutsis was so continuous and blatant, but more that she lived whilst they perished.

 The fact that so many of the atrocities across Rwanda were carried out by near neighbours whipped up into angry frenzies by corrupt militarised government , by  young men barely older than children themselves;makes this so very hard to read about.

 The book is graphic but descriptions are not lurid or deliberately gratuitous, they fit the seriousness of the subject matter.  Everyday domesticity of banal tasks and violence of extremity not witnessed outside the region, are delivered with subtlety with an eye for detail.

A book  I would strongly recommend to anyone with an  interest in  foreign affairs and a good contextual book when examining faction wars in the Middle East which at times come perilously close to similar internal political implosions. A cautionary tale for anyone who witnesses conflict on the basis of race and ethnicity in East or the  West for that matter,on how pettiness can so quickly become carnage and ultimately genocide.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Review: The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen. Hendrik Groen.

Gifted this by the publishers as an ARC 

What strange little gemstone of a book. This man is a geriatric genius.  His comedic voice in the face of  some grim realities make what might have been quite the depressing subject matter  much more palatable.

Wisdom and observation make this more than a humorous diary there is much here about the state of Modern Europe and our treatment of seniors. The setting maybe in the Netherlands, but the realities discussed herein are universally recognisable by anyone who has the elderly  family or has experience of care homes and other social care provision for the elderly. 

Long gone is the time when older family members were taken on by younger family in their homes, so we will be sending more and more folk into similar group scenarios.

A lack of identity,  a loss of individualism for the older citizen seems to be common place so can it be any wonder that the elderly take every opportunity to be naughty, subversive and rebellious? The stories are gently funny,but the realities for older people are sobering. Here a Golden Oldie here has scope to speak to all manner of current affairs issues and his brain is sharper than a tack.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who has elderly parents just a reminder that old does not mean spent even if energy and or joints are flagging a tad.

This book is published on 24/08/2016 by Penguin Random House.

Sunday, 10 July 2016

Review: Baring Witness. Edited by Holly Welker Mormon Marriage attitudes laid bare.

36 Mormon Women Talk Candidly about Love, Sex, and Marriage

I am a seeker. I am a Christian in a Anglican low Church with methodist roots. I have recently made  a concerted effort to examine other denominations of Christianity . This book provided an excellent  way to learn more  about Mormonism  and dispel a few myths whilst still examining  bigger themes, most notably ideas of marriage and feminist perspectives from within the confines of  Mormon matrimony.

This collection of essays was well prefaced with explanation and supported by a fine glossary of terms. It is hard to review a whole with such diverse voices , but the curation of the topic was tight , the women chosen to contribute; brave, open and honest. 

This is not a fun read and is at times challenging reading as my own beliefs chafe quite considerably with Mormon teachings, but every viewpoint was balanced and not preachy in sense which could have been the case in a collection such as this.

I learnt much and feel my understanding of both Mormon Marriage and  the challenges of marriage on the whole, has been increased in an interesting and  accessible way.

If I ever feel the need to delve deeper into these topics, Holly Welker would be one on the first authors I might seek for source material.

This was an ARC from the publisher.

It is published on 16/08/2016 by University of Illinois Press

Review: Role Reversal by Iris Waichler. Caring for Elderly parents a useful guide.

Given an Advance reader copy by the Publisher, was pleased to delve into this one as it has personal resonance.

This book was part biography and part advice manual.

It works equally well as both. 

The personal Story of Iris  Waichler, a nursing professional whose expertise in geriatric and social care  and work as a medical advocate was helpful as her own family watched the decline of their beloved Father is both comforting and inspiring for anyone seeing a parent come into the autumn of their years.

The pride in her Father and his indomitable spirit is really evident  here and the open and frank style makes it easier to relate to the trials and tribulations the family face, as so many readers will be familiar to anyone with ageing or ailing parents. Yes Iris has more grounding in the areas that might become problematic but her human and honest reactions are a comfort and show the reader that they are not alone in their worry or shock at the decline in their once healthy and vibrant parents. 

This reassuring style is invaluable in a book of this nature.

The advice sections are well researched, and arranged in such a way as to be just as easy to dip into when the need arises,  as to read as a whole.  This is the way I advise the use of this book. Read the whole thing and highlight and annotate those portions that most relate in the moment and then come back again to use as a reference resource, a springboard into more extensive research in the areas of most concern.

There is a focus on the USA in service provision but there are plenty of tips and techniques that cross the pond very easily.

The book hits stores on 16/08/2016, published by She Writes Press

If more books follow I would happily recommend them!

Monday, 4 July 2016

Book Review: Filmic Cuts, Sunshine and Lollipops Vol.1 by Oli Jacobs

I am fond of short stories.

When I was given the opportunity to  review this collection of tasty morsels,  by writer Oli Jacobs; I jumped at the chance. I have to say my reaction is overall very positive.  

Without giving away plots, the themes are varied enough to offer a story to whet any appetite.The ideas here are clever, macabre, at once familiar and fresh,  and often very funny but to my mind they seem  just a little bit unformed, as though the foundation is  solidly there but the walls of the tale are not quite solidly in place.  

The best way I can describe it is that with each story you feel like you have come in to a room where the conversation has already started.  You wanna know what has come before so you can join the conversation intelligently. I know that short stories need to be pithy and get to the point, but here I feel we needed just a tad more lead -in to the tale. 

This is just a personal stylistic quibble and should not detract from the actual inventiveness of the stories, which is very high. It is never a criticism to want more from an author, it is in fact a compliment! I like the explanatory notes and the cover is rather gloriously macabre.

I would definitely read more from this author.

Friday, 1 July 2016

Review: The Wildings by Nilanjana Roy

This was was a  book that attracted me from the very start. 

Full disclosure : I read an ARC kindly given by Pushkin Press, a publisher that specialises in stories from overseas for children and Young Adults.The cover is arresting and the premise intriguing.

Set in a cityscape in India it was bound to beguile me! Here we behold Fakirs, birds of prey, Tigers,Monkeys  and of course the heroes of the piece ,the cats!

The idea of all creatures being connected, but most particularly cats is so attractive.

This is really the  story of two kittens trying to create a place for themselves within the hierarchy of the Wildling cats who live in the parks, cemeteries and under bridges  by the River.

 They are  not feral cats(as they love to stress), but free; not curtailed by an indoor life with humans or Bigfeet.

Mara is an Orphan, her mother lost in a fight with Dogs, her powers as a “Sender” ( a kind of mystical security system and telepathic telegraph ) are untapped and unguarded much to the chagrin and despair of all the cats and other creatures in the locality. 

Southpaw is a mischievous little kitten whose ability to get into scrapes and danger is prestigious.

Both little Cats are closely supervised, mentored and protected by older cats who are adamant that their way of life be protected and that neither kitten become imprisoned by domesticity or warped into the feral lifestyle that is an ominous threat emanating from the dark dank, evil place they call the Shuttered House.

When the precarious status quo is unbalanced and the Feral cats enter the Wildling Territory  their world is tipped into chaos.

Some very  deep themes are explored  here about the value of Friendship, the pain for parents as children grow up and away,  all wrapped in a story that couples the truth of the ferocity of the natural order with  the morality of a “merciful killing”

This is not fluffy stuff or childlike in the least, it is mythical and in the best traditions of myths and legends, it has a edge that modern  tales for children often  lack and the  violence and menace in parts is not , I would suggest for small children.

I enjoyed the book immensely as an adult and think older children in the 10 to 14 age bracket are best suited as it’s core audience. Parental supervision might be advised for younger readers, but it will definitely prompt some youthful discussion.

Fans of the Redwall Series by Brian Jacques and the seminal Watership Down will get immense pleasure from this story and  I wholeheartedly long to read the next instalment, The deliciously titled:

The Hundred Names of Darkness..