Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Kin - a short story by Bruce McCallister

This rather wonderful discovery Is  thanks to the brand new endeavour "read by Levar Burton " in his new Short story podcast which seeks to replicate for adult readers the success of his Reading Rainbow series... Think Jackanory in the U.K.

This inaugural story is simple really, young boy calls on Alien assassin to deal with the man who wants to murder his sister and the ensuing relationship between boy and otherworldly visitor.

For such a short tale it packs in a really good chunk of science fiction in a sophisticated and believable way. The existence of aliens is accepted by humanity, in fact school curriculum involves extra terrestrial history and social study. More sinister than this however  is the idea that population control is part of life and choice is no longer the everyday woman's prerogative but that of Government and big business.

There is a hefty emotional punch too, the final paragraphs create a warm and fuzzy glow, more surprising for what was gritty and visceral at the outset. A thoroughly immersive half hour.

The Postcard by Fern Britton

The Postcard by Fern  Britton

This being my first book by Fern I was not sure what to expect. Having now read the book and read the blurbs of other books by her, I see that this setting is a firm favourite and I can see why as the village and the surrounding environs are delightful.

The motley crew of characters all have distinct voices and personalities and create a cosy and encompassing group into which the individual trials of our main four protagonists fit. That support network is necessary as these somewhat lost souls find their place and to some extent themselves.

I have to admit that I found Penny a little bit jarring in the early part of the book, her behaviour seemed extreme despite the ultimate revelation that explained it to a degree. However this is an ensemble piece and the good very much outweighed what is really a very small and subjective quibble!

I would read more and most certainly probably before much more  time passes.

Darien - ( Empire of Salt 1 ) by C.F. Iggulden

Darien (Empire of Salt book 1)

What a fabulous book from the consummate Historical Saga expert Conn Iggulden, this is a much more whimsical affair of course where magic and Millitary Might meld in equal measure. We are dropped into a world run by twelve ruling families with a nominal head who takes on the role of head of state. This fragile hierarchy is balanced precariously and this book, the first in the Empire of Salt series begins with that hold unravelling after a military coup.

The action revolves around a core group of ordinary folk who turn out to be rather extraordinary and whose personal journeys begin to impact and drive the destinies of the others. The richness of the dynasties are evidence of Conn’s mastery of a long historical view and the battle which takes up the final third of the book is indicative of his skill in military matters.

It is in the addition of the more fantastical elements that makes this sword and sorcery romp so light and frothy. The plot clips along at a fair old pace and the characters are likeable and irksome where necessary.

I thoroughly enjoy it!

Saturday, 10 June 2017

The Olive Harvest by Carol Drinkwater

The Olive Harvest.

Through some awful accident I have managed to read the third in the trilogy before the second and for that reason I am loathe to provide even a hint of what the story reveals in terms of timeline to those who( more cleverly  than I) ,can actually count years in order and are reading the books chronologically.

Instead I can passionately and unreservedly say that this  book like the 'The Olive Farm' before it,is a true sensory gift. I am a recent convert to these kinds of books. As I hit my late thirties I seemed to have been seeking, even vicariously a simpler and yet richer experience and Carol has provided the most perfect window into that. In fact I think she has probably spoiled me for other authors!

That is not to say that life on the farm was idyllic or perfect by any means and this book in particular reveals some really dark times, where landscape and Mother Nature herself brought down an ominous weight to the story.  It is in contrast though with this darker examination of the land that she loves, that the joys of life are shown more starkly with a sheer brilliance and clarity that burns into the reader's imagination and remains indelibly etched.

To say that Carol writes beautifully about the natural world  is like saying Shakespeare wrote passable plays. Carol has an incredible talent for descriptions of nature at it's most tranquil and delicately exquisite. At the same time though, she exposes the harshness, the raw power and the bitter truths that reliance on the land and the need for balance and sacrifice for the greater good can reap in one's soul. These too achingly beautiful in their ferocity.

The country people we encounter, the familiar faces and those revealed anew in this third book are realists and stalwarts they have seen it all before and despite several years in situ, Carol was still a newcomer, an innocent and naive of the realities of some areas, the steeling of resolve that is needed to make the hardest decisions and it is her struggles to maintain her principles but be true to the traditions and unspoken rules that have made the time honoured Olive industry so enduring is another interesting facet to a story that truly is about love, the deepening of bonds, the spreading of roots and the joy of seeing the smallest thing grow and thrive  as a reason to celebrate life as a whole.

I adored this book and I am not ashamed to admit that I cried some gentle tears at it's final paragraphs. I suggest you settle down somewhere where flowers grow, perhaps next to your herb garden or lavender bush and just immerse yourself for a while, then pause to see the beauty of your own environs, drink in the scents and sounds and then read on. You will not regret it.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy

Inevitably this book is going to be compared with The God of Small Things, I think people will either love or hate it, I personally found it to be a deeply textured and thought provoking read. I do not generally précis books in my reviews and this book is so densely packed with brilliantly observed characters that to attempt to distil them down would be a disservice to the skilled weaver of tales that is Ms Roy.

What I can  say is this is a deeply personal book, much as Small Things was before it and that despite certain political leanings, that it is a heartbreaking and interesting examination of conflicts that remain even into modern day between Pakistan and India through the prism of several normal folk who are on the fringes of society. It is a vibrant story, written in beautiful prose even when approaching matters of violence, discrimination and degradation.

Ultimately I left the story feeling uplifted and positive about the human condition and equally entertained and educated about a volatile and intriguing area of the globe.

Friday, 2 June 2017

The Handmaid's Tale - REVISITED

I am a proud Dystopian book fan and I think I can categorically say that Margaret Atwood is a prophetic Genius.

Having read The Handmaid's Tale when I was nineteen, given to me by a dear friend who has taught me much  about feminist issues,  the specifics evaded me so after the much lauded Television adaptation hit UK shores, I thought I would revisit the book. My pervading memory from my callow youth was one of  mild outrage at the treatment of women as baby vessels in a distant future, but in actual fact the book is far more disturbing  and infinitely more nuanced.

I am a childless woman entering the age group  when women loose the potential to conceive or carry to term so this now is a much more faceted story for me personally.

Offred is a brilliant central character, she is the epitome of modern woman actively rebelling against efforts to turn women into classifications and destroying every possible way for expressing individuality.  She is a valuable commodity. She has proven fecundity and yet her own child is used as a weapon of manipulation and yet she herself exploits her position as a protected asset and higher in the strata than poor barren women.

The ruling class seemingly powerful are in actual fact beholden to the circadian  and hormonal rhythms of chattels.

However  Offred is not a activist she is a realist,  she knows her room for manoeuvre is limited,which makes her more relatable than her younger modern counterparts Tris and Katniss.

This is not science fiction or Dystopian fantasy, this is modern day global reality showcased in a chilling and resonant story written with a sparse  prose that is at once at once starkly bleak and yet described with such brilliant eye for sensory detail. The use of colour to show rank and standing, the lack of any kind of humanising by the manner of address to the Handmaid's are all brilliant devices to create divides and boundaries to prevent transgressions which might topple what when examined from the reader's outside eye,  is  a somewhat  vulnerable ruling class.

Fear is created through mis informaion and omission and the acceptance of the change for the "Better Good "in the early stage of this patriarchal coup is one of the most disturbing elements.  It is common knowledge that When the book was penned Atwood drew on reserves of knowledge of civil injustices already happening across the globe, but reading the book in 2017 is an even more sobering activity.

Whatever your side of the political spectrum it is hard to avoid the correlations between modern day Pro-lifers in the USA or the teachings of Al Qaeda and Isis, even to some degree the treatement of disabled children in parts of Africa where the weak are deemed devils and destroyed by witch doctors.

What I find most interesting and telling is that even moderate countries are veering into what Atwood cites as triggers for the changes. Women are sold and exchanged on the black market as sex slaves and servants even in modern London and the digitising of finances and the decline of physical currencies all provide a similar Petrie dish for the  more enterprising fanatical puritan group.

This book is a Tour De Force and Margaret Atwood  a literary trailblazer.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

I am very much a believer that a TVs adaptation can never do a book justice, so when a TV show affects me as much as this one did I have to go to the source material.

The book was certainly traumatic and my mind was filled with anger and  sadness that so many small acts could end in such a way, but I found the book to be somehow less than what I expected. There was no real resolution after such a traumatic evening, Clay seems almost numb, there was no confrontation, no reaction and for me worst of all no consequence.

The acceptance that this was like a documentary, just a linear explanation with no punishment to be meted or culpability owned up to ,just frustrated me and in a way made me less sure that the book would be a positive thing to inform parents or those teens  in the throes of dark times. The show seemed to be more dynamic and thought provoking because it actually showed the horrendous fallout both from the seemingly small acts of selfishness, wilful ignorance or straight out arrogance that led to Hannah's death and the effect that the revelations on the tapes had on those thirteen individuals and Hannah's parents.

Good but not great.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith.


This is so much more than your average tale of unrequited love between two childhood friends. Suddenly one has the capacity to do whatever he pleases, will they be torn apart as the shared experiences of childhood become overshadowed by endless possibility, can friendships survive such a life changing event?

This is a book that actually packs in a whole heap of themes in one deliciously bite sized portion. I read it in one tremendous gulp and enjoyed it immensely.

Ms Smith has managed to write a wonderfully entertaining story with a trio of central characters that are so thoroughly likeable and relatable that I was disappointed to leave them. At it's heart we see people already at a crossroads in their lives even before the lottery Jackpot muddies the water. Can they let go of the legacy that hard childhoods have dealt them, dare they make the decisions that will change their lives forever and set them potentially on wildly differing pasts, can young love survive or even be kindled when life is so unpredictable rather like the odds of winning the lottery.

The windfall of the title immediately becomes a catalyst for the examination of every aspect of their lives, their fears, their losses and their regrets. It becomes a symbol of potential and of paths to be taken. It becomes a burden and a boon.

It is a hopeful and positive story that left me feeling lifted and convinced that the world is filled with promise and in today's day and age, that can be no bad thing. Just living  Life is the biggest win of all and Love and true friendship the only real jackpot to desire!

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Phenomena - The Lost and Forgotten Children by Susan Tarr

It is hard to put into words how much this book affected me. It is a book that transports, educates and makes you think . As I read I found it hard  not to be infuriated by the injustices of the treatment of those with mental health conditions and the fear and dread that "difference" seems to instill in the human heart.

At the heart of the Story is Malcolm, a inmate/patient of a New Zealand institution for the mentally ill. Here the vulnerable live together in a strange melting pot of archaic treatments, friendships forged and mysteries unravelled.

Malcolm was incarcerated as a child and a rehabilitation process has succeeded in allowing him to live in a halfway house of sorts, where an awful tragedy sends him reeling back into his own black fog and an untimely return to the only home he truly has ever known.

The truths of his story are gradually revealed as he claws his way through the fog of distorted memory caused by emotional trauma and the use of  the ECT  treatment that is in it's infancy.

Malcolm's determination to remember and order his thoughts is  the thread that binds this story and his inate  personal curiosity allows him to be the  conduit for the stories of other poor souls who orbit him at the hospital.

Despite the squalor, the brutality and the tragedy of these people being sequestered away,out of sight and out of mind, there is a beautiful dignity to the subjects of these stories, sadness mixes with small mercies and kindnesses and humanity in all it's forms exists within the community of those left to fester behind closed doors.

There is something so sad about reading a book where people suffering easily identifiable mental conditions are treated uniformly as lunatics, Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, Post Partum Depression,  and some physical disability and even to some degree,just simple grief all play a part in the condition of these people who were sent away, to be hidden so as not to distress the "Normal People" outside.

That this story is based on the real life patients of a real institution makes it doubly resonant. It seems historically accurate and is  written with an honesty that does not sugar coat, but celebrates the complexity of the human mind, but also the greatness of the human spirit.

I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in the care of the vulnerable in our society.  It is a hopeful book about those who might have been lost to our sight forever had not Ms Tarr excavated their tales into such stark but beautiful relief.

Easy five stars.

Monday, 15 May 2017

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

This is one of those books that I have been meaning to read for some time. It has been languishing on my kindle for months,but after the  news that a television mini series would be shown here in the U.K.   I dragged it to the top of my To Be Read pile. To my shame I have to admit I watched  the Tv show first!

However a novelisation of the life of Dinah, known to Christians as the sister of Joseph (He of the dream coat) and daughter of Jacob was just too intriguing to only allow the screen to tell her story. She is a victim of rape and a forced marriage in the Bible and the reason for a massacre  that creates the fissures in the family that leads to Joseph's exile into Egypt but here in this story reveals a worthy heroine.

This is not a bible story, this is a life story imagined in a world where the Patriarchal WORD OF GOD lives in harmony with ancient goddesses of fertility and fecundity. The lunar cycle and the power of women are showcased under the fabric of a tent where women hold court,are honest and unfettered in their speech and opinion.

It is a story of sibling jealousies of a motherhood shared amongst sister-wives and the joys and heartbreaks of  childbirth . Dinah is strong woman who always forges her own path and this was a really enjoyable reimagining of a woman who was merely a side note. Her story is entwined with but mainly runs parallel to that of Jacob and his sons and for my part is just as interesting.

Redemption at Hacksaw Ridge by Bolton Herndon

Redemption at Hacksaw Ridge is the authorised Biography of an extraordinary man. Desmond Doss is the subject of the recent critically acclaimed movie about a conscientious objector who despite never picking up a service weapon managed more feats of bravery and heroism in the field of battle than is believable when you examine how often he placed himself in harm’s way in the service of his fellows.  At face value this is a relatively simply written  book for military enthusiasts, fans of the books of Stephen .E  Ambrose will find it informative and battle packed. The prose is not lyrical, but a group of Concise depictions of actions that Doss was involved in  but it was still a wonderful story.   The movie has obviously been adapted for dramatic purposes as the ill treatment of his platoon was not as blatant and violent as depicted there. He soon earned their trust and respect even before he hit foreign soil because of his application of the idea of others before himself.

He was however heavily penalised for his religious observance of the Sabbath on a Saturday and it was this prejudice that caused him the most consternation . For me it is the vein of dogged faith and belief in the Will of God (and the seemingly miraculous close shaves and near misses that grew  from that unshakeable faith) that intrigued me. Desmond became a hero to me as a man, not as a soldier. His Seventh Day Adventist heritage and his legacy to other non- combative soldiers in later conflicts fascinated me. He was a beacon to those who honoured country, but was held accountable by a higher cause.  Many of the contributors to the account were members of the SDA church who put peace and service before self who honour Desmond for his lifelong service to those beliefs,their support for one of their own is clear throughout  his story .

I was pleased the book delved a little into his later life although I was much saddened to read of his health issues, many of which stemmed from his own lack of self -preservation when others were in need. In a world where media creates stars for notoriety rather than worth, this was a humbling story about a meek man with the hugest heart and a warrior’s spirit, one I am pleased History has remembered both on screen and page.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Summer with the Country Village Vet by Zara Stoneley

This is exactly the kind of book I need when the British Weather is a bit hit and miss, the kind of halcyon British Summer we all crave.

This was like a lovely big hug with a fluffy towel after a warm bath.

What is often called the "Meet Cute" can often seem contrived to get the two potential  lovers together quicker than natural relationships develop  but it is dealt with adeptly here. Despite a chemical attraction, the voracity of that is kept in check by the belief that the other will be  leaving the village after both return to a village life  after different personal difficulties. Both hold back so as not to get embroiled in more complexity.

Lucy and Charlie are nicely matched in the book both in the plot and the amount of time the reader gets to see their points of view as the story progresses. Both troubled by their own personal demons , they are good hearted and kind and perfectly suited to their careers and it was the vet and Primary School Teacher roles that really drew me to this book in the first place..

I love a village setting, it is what draws me to my police detectives, Marple and Barnaby  being prime examples so I was intrigued and delighted to meet the inhabitants of Langtry Meadows. I was not disappointed as the cast of characters are varied, and endearing, the setting familiar enough to feel comfortable, but fresh and authentic too, so whilst the book is a tried and tested formula, it never becomes staid or stale.

Thee are plenty of fun vignettes  with the little humans and feathered, furred  and scaled citizens which will be enjoyed by fans of Herriot and Gervaise Phinn, a book still worth settling down with even if you are jaded by tales of romance. This book was thoroughly enjoyable, wonderfully constructed tale of secrets discovered, sacrifice and hearts mending, oh and Geese!

Many thanks  to Zara and the Publisher for the privilege of reading it.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The Jungle by Pooja Puri

The Jungle is a book about one of the most troubling issues affecting huge swathes of the World today, the movement of thousands of souls trying to escape poverty, despots or  early death in the direct path of armed conflict.

What makes this book all the more important is that this is a book written for children and young Adults about Children.  Set in The Jungle, the squalid camp  in Calais where the refugees from many war torn regions congregated in the hope of reaching the United Kingdom, this is the story of a young boy as he waits for something, anything at all , to change to allow him to escape to England.

This is an unflinching examination of the duality of existence in a refugee camp, within spitting distance of the civilised lives of French neighbours and yet people are  cramped in crude tents, fighting boredom, discrimination and each other to stay alive but fighting too to stay  themselves, striving to be individuals in a crowd. A feat in itself for adults, you might think, but even harder for children.

Pooja Puri does a tremendous job in avoiding morality judgements or political bias, she just delivers a startling vignette in the lives of two children brought together in adversity, trying to be adults, dealing with brutality and deprivation years before their time, living on hope and bravado. This is a book that will stay with me for a long time.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

The Idea of You by Amanda Prowse - Review

Whenever I hear about a Amanda Prowse book, the reviewers tend to use the terms, heartbreaking or tear jerking. There is no denying that she is an accomplished writer of what is broadly termed Family Dramas and can certainly harness the essence of the Human Condition in all manner of family settings.

I am certain "The Idea Of You "will join the ranks of her most adored books.

Without giving  too much away, the recent media coverage of  Amanda's own tragic miscarriage  Story has added another dimension to my experience of this story of a loving and devoted couple and the children that never quite made it into this world.

The family dynamic here is all important, this is a story of many strands and about so  much more than pregnancies wished for. The complexity of a modern family is depicted here with a stark honesty and the plot itself evolves too with revelations and developments coming thick and fast.

Whilst it is emotionally ravaging, the story never sinks to mawkishness. The emotions are honest, sometimes unvarnished, always authentic.

The  Idea of You hits you right in the solar plexus, it is written in strong relatable voice which resonates and remains with the reader long after the final page;prompting many questions about the trials of motherhood both realised and thwarted alike but leaving you with a hopeful glow at it's end.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Chroma- Imogen's Secret by B .Fleetwood. Review.

What a revelation, a  children's fantasy grounded in the  Present Day and the Present Day UK at that.

Anyone who has popped over to my sister blog 

will know that the idea of emotions being read through the medium of colours is an idea close to my heart, but this book, the first in a series, takes that premise to a whole new level. And knocks my little effort into a cocked hat.

I do not want to give away plot, but suffice to say that Imogen's gift and the origins of it will keep you reading from first page to last. 

The story is fast paced, the mythology  and rules of the world(s) Imogen inhabits are solid and intriguing and the romantic elements seem authentic and not forced unlike many of the stories written for younger readers. 

Suffice to say this older reader was equally enthralled by the tale. There is enough tension and mystery in the plot to ensure that readers who pick up this book will thirst to read the next. No one is quite who they seem which makes Imogen's particular skill so central to the narrative .

It is beautifully written with the colour motifs being excellently utilised to represent every facet of human emotion and mood. This attention to fine detail lifts the story into a richer and more cohesive piece that I thoroughly enjoyed.

I happily offer five stars

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Fingers in the Sparkle jar by Chris Packham

I am of a certain age, my childhood viewing was dominated by two things Mr Phillip Schofield  in his pre-greyfox days and the rather interesting spiky hair stylings of one Chris Packham, a young man whose sheer exuberance probably inspired a million child naturalists.

Thanks to the good people at Netgalley, I am privileged to have been given the opportunity to read this memoir by the naturalist best known now for Autumn watch and Spring watch.

This is not a comfortable read by any means, there is a choppiness to the narrative that takes a little bit of getting used to but it is worth the effort. The story of this vulnerable and fragile soul is told often by incidental bystanders, neighbours , shop staff , all the adults whose spheres this rather otherworldly child might have passed through. Often a figure in the distance, always a little too earnest for adults not yet familiar with the (and I hate to use this term) Autism spectrum.

Young Chris is like a much much more intense version of a young Gerald Durrell, a room filled with jars, carcasses and bones, an unlimitless desire to learn and watch every living thing, to see things closer, to exist in the same space as all the wonders of nature is brilliantly demonstrated in the vignettes that make up the book.  His passion is fascinating and the enthusiasm we see on our screens today and what endeared me to Chris back in my childhood, is evident in every description of a fall of light on a leaf or the scents and sounds of the wonders he catalogues and researches with such meticulous attention to detail.

The description of the relationship between the kestrel and Chris is some of the most beautiful writing I have seen in a while. Boy and bird have a symbiosis that just leaps off the page.

What makes this book a little bit sobering , is the distinct emotional disconnect that appears  to have delineated the isolation that seems to have dogged Chris' formative years. The book made me sad and uncomfortable but Chris's story is compelling.

The tragic meeting of circumstances that led to Chris's suicide attempt is still a little bit nebulous, but the bravery it took to expose this part of his life is astounding. In fact the searing honesty that is evident on every page, the unflinching way he reveals himself is what makes this memoir all the more affecting. Where perhaps Chris lacks in what "normal folk" might consider empathy, his acceptance of the condition is what actually makes Chris extraordinary and his book so memorable.

Highly recommended.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Book Review: Then, Now Always by Isabelle Broom

Having enjoyed Isabelle Broom's previous novel which was set in Prague, I had very high hopes about this offering set in Andalusia. I was not disappointed, Ms Bloom is extremely skilled in evoking the sensual delights of the settings of her novels and here the flavours and scents of Spain provide a wonderfully sensual experience to the reading of the novel.

The relationships explored whilst on a location shoot in the Spain of the holidays of her teenage years are as tangy and complex as the Sangria served in the quaint bars of heroine Hannah's Memory. We have plenty to get involved in here, we have the crush (unrequited ) on the older more sophisticated boss, a glamourous French ingenue, the stalwart best friend who has been around so long that perhaps she is taking him for granted?

Into this mix comes the mysterious British woman who has made the area home for forty years and the step -Sister whose presence in her life has caused Hannah much consternation and resentment at home, so this invasion of her perfect idyll and her interest in best pal Tom are the ultimate betrayals.

This is a glorious story, rather more than a sun, sea aand romance novel. It is  brilliantly nuanced and beautiful whilst still treading familiar  romantic waters so that  it is the book that will  happily grace any lounger next the pool this Summer, and I suspect, brighten a dull day in autumn just as beautifully. With an ending that travels rather differently that I first suspected it might, the story becomes more about Hannah discovering truths about herself rather than a pure romance fantasy, giving the book much more breadth.

I cannot reccomend this any higher than to  simply say I found myself missing Spain the moment I finished and yet I have never myself set foot on it's shores.

Then.Now.Always. Is Published on 20th of April by Penguin U.K. -Michael Joseph

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Book Review: Kate and The Kid by Anne Rothman-Hicks

I thoroughly enjoyed this book...right up until the ending that I found really rushed and a little bit unsatisfactory, but that is testament to the way characters grew on me and I was invested in their evolution within the narrative, there were several strands of the story that needed more development and resolution particularly the fate of The Kid who was the star of the story. 

I was left with more questions than answers, which is sad as it was shaping up to be a corker! In this case I did not want my imagination to have to fill in the gaps.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Book Review: Miss Seeton's Finest Hour by Hamilton Crane

Miss Seeton’s Finest Hour. By Hamilton Crane.

Oh my Goodness, I am now a huge Emily Seeton fan.

Having been totally unaware of this series before this last few days , it is fortuitous then that this prequel of sorts was my first adventure in her company.

 Fans of older detectives such as William Murdoch, Father Brown and of course  the canon of “Agatha”  herself will be able to bury themselves in this story of the young  art teacher engaged by the government to winkle out a Nazi collaborator. It is my understanding that all future outings are the adventures of a much more aged protagonist, but this was a delightful introduction.

She is clever, resourceful and observant, she is sweet without being saccharin and she is interesting and a self contained character in her own right rather than just  an observer before whom the action is played out.

The attention to period detail makes this an incredibly immersive read. I liked the way the story often grounded itself in the speeches of Winston Churchill and the title then becomes more resonant.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and will definitely be making Miss Seeton a constant reading companion.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Book Review: Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Britt-Marie was Here. By Fredrik  Backman

By the same author as one of my absolute favourite books discoveries in 2016,,this is another one of the  kind of  books that the Swedish seem to do so  terribly well. Forget Nordic Noir, think Swedish sweet and sour.

 Wry and darkly comic ,Backman writes a sad tale with a hulking great seam of compassion for those on the fringes of society, running through it. The book made me chuckle and weep. There are huge highs and belly laughs but these are punctuated with moments of wonderfully pitched  pathos and loss and grief are beautifully examined in the midst of what seems like a much lighter tale than it actually is.

As with the lovable  Ove before her, Britt- Marie’s own personal idiosyncrasies which might at first glance, seem irritating or odd to the average person, suddenly become charming  as the full scope of Britt Marie’s situation and heartsickness is revealed.

Homeless and jobless in her early sixties, Britt Marie undertakes a dead end job in a town on the cusp of total economic collapse. It  is  there she becomes embroiled in the lives of a motley bunch of black marketeers, alcoholic women with severe vision impairment, jovial policemen with a penchant for evening classes and a number of rag tag children. The only common thread just barely binding this fragile community is the upcoming tournament starting their local youth football team.

Into the chaos,Britt brings two very important  things; an expertise in making a “good impression” and a prestigious amount of bicarbonate of soda with which she gradually begins to clean up the town. Here she forge bonds of friendship and brings light and hope into the hamlet again and with it, a level of self fulfilment that  she has never once experienced in all her life.

This is a wonderful book where again Backman utilises loneliness and missed opportunity as  central themes.  Football takes on a mythical power as a metaphor for so  very much more than boots on leather. It becomes a measure of your personality, your tenacity and your passion.

I still feel a deep empathy  for Britt-Marie who never quite reaches bliss, but I am hopeful for her and this book drew me in from the very start. The  characters are rough around the edges, all are much more than they seem on first viewing , but so utterly lovable and even the least likeable are still relatable. My initial  loathing for husband Kent, was moulded and honed into a sadness that he was just ignorant for too long and that life could have been so different for them both, but that is Backman’s true gift
He presents  things with a stark clarity and allowing things to just develop with contrivance.

He is an exceptional crafter of tales.

Britt-Marie is my favourite sort of heroine, the one who strives for the smallest things but actually is a catalyst for the most amazing positive change. She is the tiny screw that suddenly makes the whole mechanism purr into life.

I must admit to wanting a  slightly different ending, but you cannot always have the  perfect ending even when your strip is spotless, your aim laser-sharp and you turn the game around in the final moments. Life is just is not a game  and you cannot win them all. Sometimes a draw is all you can hope for, but when things get difficult, at least you know you can get the worst of the smuts out with the  liberal application of baking soda!

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Book Review: Edward Unspooled by Craig Lancaster

Edward Unspooled by Craig Lancaster

Forget about Lenten Fasts, what the heck am I going to do about my involuntary Stanton Fast?

Hot on the tail of Edward Adrift comes Edward Unspooled and all I can say is cripes what a finale… or is it? Edward seems to speak  at random intervals from the recesses of Author Craig Lancaster’s mind. Just when he thinks that this precise and direct man has been silenced, he has a little something more to say, so  let’s hope and pray  there is more!

Now to the book itself, This instalment is slightly different to the previous two as there is less statistical data and more internal dialogue within the pages of the letters that Edward pens to give to his as yet unborn child. The voice of Edward is complimented by the asides and additions of his wife Sheila, for whom Edward fell in Adrift.

Things are not plain sailing of course and Edward’s familial problems are expanding as more than growing embryos are joining the clan and his mother is Not best pleased. Everything is changing, from Sheila’s body to their living arrangements and Edward is just trying to juggle all the balls he has in the air to keep everyone happy and contented.

The beauty of the books has always been the human heart of Edward and his interaction with his small band of friends and as Edward has loosened his grip  on the need to regiment every minute of his life, his circle has grown and his attachments have born fruit.

He has a veritable army ready to fight when the unthinkable happens in the final act of the book, a
masterful stroke by Mr Lancaster and a wonderful way to bring the story to a satisfying and beautiful conclusion.

  I have loved these books, they have kept me rapt and made it exceptionally hard to get on with my own life as I travelled with Edward through some of the most important moments of his!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Book Review : Edward Adrift by Craig Lancaster

There was no secret that I loved the first book in the series as my original blog below will attest.

‪Screen Wipe... TV ,MOVIE and BOOK Review: Book Review : 600 hours of Edward by Craig Lancast...‬

I thus took a long time to pluck up the courage to read this the second in the series as I did not want to sully the lovely memories of that first meeting with Edward Stanton. I need not have worried in the least. Edward is even more lovable in part two as he is in the first book.

When we meet him again,Edward is a little discombobulated. After his seeming awakening in the first book, he is still coming to grips with his Father’s inability to grasp the nature of His specialness and his subsequent death. Trying to make sense of his loss and the fact he misses his Dad despite their fractured relationship, he is increasingly  disturbed by His mother who  on the other hand seems to have moved on smoothly and without much emotional trauma which of course causes Edward more consternation.

He is learning to adapt, but the hits keep coming.

Breakthroughs with his therapist are thrown into disarray as she retires and a new man must be broken in and taught that punctuality is the mark of greatness in a mental health professional.

His sense of self esteem knocked by his unceremonious sacking despite his diligence and good work, his financial stability is not at stake as of course he is “f***ing Loaded” but his circadian rhythms are out of whack, his health is suffering and into this tumultuous melting pot comes an SOS from his best friend Donna.

The true emotional heart of this book, as in the last; is the relationship with the young  boy across the street who was catalyst for an easing in his obsessive compulsive behaviours, his innocence and own  loneliness and need for friendship struck a chord even in Edward’s regimented thinking.

  It is  a shared feeling of loss of control that again unites and eventually heals them both after Edward drives cross county to help Donna deal with the sudden Wild an belligerent youth who was once a sweet boy. What follows is  the most bizarre road trip of literary record, where comfort stops take on a mythical grandeur and gamesmanship becomes De rigour.

There is also at last romance on the cards when a woman as sweetly different as Edward, strong willed and opinionated falls into his path and begins to work her own magic.

Is the world changing Edward, or is Edward  simply applying his own behavioural processes onto circumstances and making them mould to him?  It is not so much that he changes, I think, it is just he comes to accept himself more and more as he navigates  the chaos around him.

He brings his  world view and coping strategies  into a situation and his very particular ways of dealing with trials, bring understanding, acceptance and peace to those he touches, he is in some respects a human Mirror. He reveals  more to the receiver of his wisdom about themselves than about Edward himself.

 He is a Healer rather than a person needing healing in the end. He is the best kind of hero, he one that does not recognise  that heroism in himself. When he loves, he loves entirely and he is definitely the friend I would want in my corner.

I loved the book and whilst it takes a while to accustom oneself to the patterns of Edwards thought processes, it is well worth he effort. The book is warm, funny, emotionally rich and yet innovative and fresh. There is nothing quite like this series out there in my opinion.

Edward Stanton for President! He cannot be worse than  a certain Mr Trump.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Book Review: Sometimes Moments Len Webster

Sometimes Moments by Len Webster

Romance/ Women's fiction

This was my first book by Ms Wiseman and it was three hours very well spent. This is a really beautiful story that at first glance seems to follow an age old path. Young couple seemingly in love prior to College consummate their relationship one special night,  the boy then inexplicably leaves without giving a reason. Leaving  her to remain in her small time life and to grieve his loss without ever knowing why he left, resulting and bitterness and emotional stasis. He  returns to seek redemption when they are grown up. The truth behind the seemingly selfish act reveals  itself in due course and love is rekindled

So far so formulaic, or so I thought...

In actual fact “ Sometimes Moments” was so beautifully crafted and almost lyrical in the sentiment of it’s prose that I found myself drawn into the lives  and falling in love with all of the characters who make up this complex story of so many different kinds of Love that I found myself emotionally invested until the final bittersweet pages.

The cover art and the floral imagery  adds an additional sensory layer  to the beauty of the story, you can smell the blossom and Lavender fragrances as you read the story and this gave me great pleasure.

This is a book that evokes much  emotion, and a lump formed in my throat on more than one occasion, but the underlying theme that Love is precious not for it’s quantity, but in it’s depth  is just beautiful. That even in the direst of circumstance, the  simple times when Love is present should be cherished  and treasured as, for all  their transience, they are gifts from one heart to another.

A touching read.

Four Stars.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Book Review: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Bali Kaur Jaswal

Erotic Tales for Punjabi Widows. By Bali Kaur Jaswal

Regular visitors to my blog will find that India and Pakistan are settings I gravitate towards when picking a new book to read. Here we are based in exotic Southall and sunny Enfield (The latter a mere stone’s throw from where I currently sit)  yet we still are permitted to learn about  the realities of life for Punjabi women in a modern London

Nikki is concerned that  her sister is settling for less than she deserves by choosing an arranged marriage via the message board at the Temple. She feels deep guilt that her youthful rebellion of throwing away a promising degree in law and desertion of the family home in favour of more literary aspirations forced her traditional Father to an early grave.

This emotional baggage is all the experience that she takes into an evening class where she will be teaching creative writing to a group of traditional Sikh Widows. A more vocal and opinionated bunch you could not find! There initially for  a myriad of reasons, a lack of literacy and fluency in English being the uppermost, Nikki discovers that they believe she will be teaching a English language course and begins the biggest and ultimately most dangerous writer's circle in London.

Nikki is at a loss, she wanted to curate an  anthology of  feminine Sikh voices.  What she ultimately gets is a number of sweetly innocent tales of a mildly raunchy nature, the kind of fantasies and revelations no one expects from women of this community. Through sharing these stories the dynamics of the group and the people in their sphere  shift and secrets long held begin to be excavated, examined and exorcised

I thoroughly enjoyed the book, the lighter parts punctuated by the stories, are balanced rather brilliantly with a much darker and very topical undertone of misogyny and extreme traditionalism, where the need to protect respect and honour veers off into a need to blindly control and coerce.

The characterisation is  vivid and varied and each person has their own distinct voice within the narrative as a whole. What is most refreshing for me  is that none of the women  fall into stereotypes making the plot less predictable and their personal stories  show a commonality  between people who at first seem Pole opposite and culminate in a brilliant act of altruism that warrants much praise.

A strong four star read.
Thanks to netgalley for the ARC via publishers HarperCollins

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Book Review: SHTUM by Jem Lester

SHTUM by Jem Lester.

 I caved to popular pressure on this one. I had heard so many positive comments about the book from The Book Club on Facebook, that veritable melting point of literary readership and authorship, that I finally just had to join the gang?

As ever they were correct. Jem Lester has penned a book that grips hold of you by the throat and does not unfurl those clawed fingers until the final word.

 It seems that for me at least, this is the year of the Autism book. This is perhaps one of the best I have ever had the pleasure to read. It is one of those glorious amalgams of searing emotional impact and laugh out loud humour that make it so easy to immerse oneself in. It touched me and tickled me in equal measure.

On paper, the premise of an alcoholic father Ben, left alone to deal with his severely Autistic Son, whilst living with the acid tongued father  who he feels deliberately left him at arm’s length does not seem very jolly at all. This plight, just to use a legal loophole to get Jonah proper Local Authority Care is just one more thing to add to Ben’s self imposed list of frustrations.

This could have been a very different book, but it is as heartwarming and wryly funny as it is (forgive the pun) Sobering. I laughed out loud several times and can officially announce that George  is my spirit animal, his Hungarian gruff wisdom balm for my continued grief for my own Grandfather whose journey appears to have been very similar to that of George and Maurice, two curmudgeonly old geezers who are Heroes through and through. It is through that refracted grief that I found myself viewing the sadness and loss that this family have to endure.

This is not Jonah’s story Persé, but that of the whole family unit. His suffering is of the moment, but theirs for so many reasons are lingering and destructive and self perpetuating and it is the joint fight on his behalf that ultimately brings clarity and resolution.

This is not a linear story and revelation and explanation continue throughout, which like life itself creates a rich tapestry of threads which when unpicked, reveal a raw, but totally satisfying read that lingers well beyond the final page.

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Book Review: Home by Kate Hughes

Home by Kate Hughes

Full disclosure, Kate contacted me to ask whether I might like to read and review her new book. The premise intrigued me so I readily agreed.

Single mum Sophie , struggles with her decision to place her Autistic daughter into a residential school.

Rosie is a loving and happy  Twelve Year old child. There is one minor problem , her Autism causes her to fixate on things and whilst the physicality  that the expression of her frustrations when thwarted, was easy to manage  when she was small , her size now makes it impossible to manage  her rage and lashing out . It’s never malice, the destruction is not out of any intent, but due to an inability to adequately communicate she expresses her frustration physically.

I found this book a beautiful snapshot into the lives of thousands of families who are blessed with a special needs child.It showed with quite moving  honesty, the trials and tribulations that families face. Siblings taking on carer  responsibilities and perhaps sacrificing part of their childhood in the process. Grandparents who due to societal changes  would perhaps have been totally oblivious to the idea of a  Autism Spectrum who find understanding the condition difficult within the confines of their own experience.

Then of course you have the struggles of parents like  Liam and Sophie, who in the process of dealing with such a heart wrenching decision find themselves on a journey to acceptance and healing after a bitter and painful break up, with the addition of two potential love interests for Sophie, two equally kind enough whose empathy and gentleness are a balm for Sophie’s pain.

This is definitely a book I would recommend ,it is at once an absorbing and interesting story in it’s own right, but also an honest account of the effect Autism can have on a whole family.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Book Review The Primitives by Rebecca Fernfield

 Primitive by Rebecca Fernfield.

I am a big fan of this type of Dystopian story, the trouble is after a while you begin to see familiarity in plots. There are the barest whiffs of the Hunger Games and The Handmaids tale in this first book in a series.

It is however, a wholly satisfying beginning and where similarities  to other stories occur, the necessity for them in Ms Fernfield’s imagining are clearly delineated. The world has been at war and a group of totalitarian overlords have seized control of everything from resources to religious freedom. The lore is solid and the decline for humanity in the wake of their machinations is highly plausible.

Merrial is a spirited young woman and her family’s tiny almost imperceptible rebellions begin to make her too visible. I liked her very much, she is not passive but she is not your average heroine either. Her goodness is balanced by a violent temper and an impulsivity that gets her into more scrapes than gets her out.

The story is cleverly woven and the feeling of unease and not knowing who to truly trust is palpable, a sure boon in a book where trust above all things is proven to be shattered over and over again and secrets and lies are cracked open like little nutty nuggets.

There is a sweet underlying romance too (thank heavens the notion of a love triangle has been eschewed!) which makes this a solid pick for young adults but the complexity and underlying themes of misogyny and slavery make it just as readable as an adult.  I can find little to complain about and look forward eagerly to read the next instalment 

Four solid stars.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Book Review: My Name is Leon by Kit De Waal

My Name  is Leon. By Kit De Waal

This was a lovely book. It also truly resonated with me personally  as my own baby sister was born in 1981 and although our parentage was infinitely more conventional and stable than that of Leon and baby Jake, I remember  when I first became aware of the need to protect and nurture her. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to endure what Leon did!

I was very impressed with the subtle and nuanced  approach to the  blatant racism of the period. Leaving two brothers separated, one heart broken and (arguably) six lives changed  irrevocably the damage is  mirrored  graphically by the unrest that seemed to explode in London in the early eighties.

Seen through the prism of  a child’s eyes, prejudice is played out before Leon whilst his own life is turned upside down and his grief and frustration at the adults he is meant to trust, is   juxtaposed against some of the biggest events of  the year. The petty squabbles and empty posturing in the group of outsiders he meets at the municipal allotments are  in contrast with the volatility of  The Brixton riots, erupting  between  dissatisfied Black men who felt marginalised and the police . These clashes  are spectres in the periphery of the main  plot and eventually these skirmishes become integral to the final explosive release of Leon’s pent up aggression and frustration born of the inertia of officialdom to give him peace and serenity.

Even that  infamous fairytale Royal wedding becomes part of  Leon ‘s tumultuous journey of adjustment through  abandonment, loss , resentment and eventually acceptance.

I felt a mixture  pity and pride for little Leon, who was forced to be a man too often  when what he truly needed was to be was a little boy. I wish he had been able to enjoy being a big brother, to get to know Jake and feel the unconditional love of a mother. He was a little scrapper, and even when he is being bad, there is a inherent goodness in him that brought a lump to my throat often.

Kit De Waal cleverly weaves in so many references that any child of the eighties will secretly thrill at, Star Wars, Action man and BMX  all give this heartfelt story a grounding in the decade that shaped me, but this is a book that anyone can enjoy. The characterisation is brilliant in my  humble opinion.

There  are no real villains in this piece, every single one  of the people who come into Leon’s sphere have difficulties, and troubles. All are trying their best to make the most of a bad situation. The social Services are depicted sympathetically and the Foster Care system gets a generous boost from the positive way that Leon’s awful situation is made  better by kind, down to earth people.

I did not want to stop reading the book and I was awfully sad to see it end. When you miss characters when you have read the last few pages of a book, you know it is a great book. This story made me angry, sad and nostalgic and I absolutely loved it.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Book Review: Pearl Harbour and beyond -various authors

A diverse collection of WWII stories loosely connected by taking place in the same year as the Pearl Harbour attack. Some were more personally resonant, but all reflected the futility and far reaching consequences of the war and the diverse people it touched, bringing them good luck or bad but leaving none untouched. A number serve as introductions to series by the individual authors and several characters and settings will be revisited. I thought each was interesting in it’s own right and definitely encourages further reading of these authors.

“Deadly Liberty”  by R.V.Doon was a solid opener for this collection. It introduces the reader to  Navy nurse Connie “Coco” Collins onboard the USS SOLACE, a hospital ship in the Pacific fleet. The story centres around events on the evening before the attack on the harbour. It establishes Coco’s inquisitive mind, her moral code and as a result I found her  a deeply likeable character. The island and naval life prove a delicious backdrop  in what I am presuming is the prequel in this historical WWII mystery series.   Here a AWOL nurse, a missing baby and an assassination in the midst of the Pearl harbour attack, ,combine into a tantalising taster.

Looking forward to meeting “Coco” again in.  A Murderous Disguise.

The List by Vanessa Couchman

A wonderful story of a woman persecuted  for her relatively humble origins thrust into the nobility through marriage , aiding a Jewish fugitive who is hunted in reprisal for a resistance assassination. Tense and evocative it brought to mind the work my personal Historical  hero Nicholas Winton.  Wonderful.

Christmas Eve in the City of Dreams. By Alexa Kang

Chancer and  Rogue Jesse spends his last few hours in NYC prior to leaving after being drafted, drifting from person to person making arrangements and tying up loose ends, some cynical and jaded,  others touching and heartfelt. Not your usual hero, but intriguing none the less.

Allies after All  by Dianne Ascroft  is a tale of the classic jealousies roused by the American’s joining the war effort. A young man in Northern  Ireland spends the first portion getting his nose put out of joint by a US engineer there to build the airbases that will house all the Airmen who will “oversexed, over rated and over here” and the second half learning not to be so hasty in his judgement.

“Time To Go “ by Margaret Tanner

Is the kind of love story that fans of the stories of soulmates and star crossed lovers love will adore. It was a tad too short for my personal taste but very sweet and tender The connection to the Pearl Harbour attack is enough to bind it to the other stories in the collection but it would exist equally well in relation to any tragic loss of life and still have the same impact

Turning point by Marian Kummerow

This resonated more strongly with me as the Granddaughter of a man persecuted by the Nazis and who like Margarete managed to escape through a combination of luck and cunning. The tension is kept taut until almost the end of the story, but that slackening of the grip of the story in no way detracts from the reminder that people were cattle to the Nazis rather than human beings with lives and worth before cleansing began. I liked this one very much.

“I am an  American” by Robyn Hobusch Echols

My only real reference to Japanese Americans is that of Mr Miyagi in The Karate Kid films, but this is even more piquant as I view it through the lenses of what seems to be happening in the USA this very week as Trump takes office on an anti Muslim platform. These immigrants like many others moved to the USA for freedoms not afforded in Japanandvyet were treated abominably because they happened to be of a certain appearance..

A Rude Awakening by Robert Kingsley

 A Real  Boy’s Own adventure this one, planes, trucks, exotic shores  and the scream of the planes as the Japanese planes draw in, a brilliant book end to the collection as it begins and ends with invasion.

Friday, 20 January 2017

CLASSIC BOOK REVIEW: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

Today marks  the first in a  series of reviews of Classical Novels and other texts that were on the school curriculum when I was growing up.

 I will not be approaching them in quite so much depth as a school imposed essay might but I am interested in themes particularly in regards to the depiction of women at the time as the Bronte's were forced to pose as male Novelists and poets before they were taken up by a publisher. Their own lives were adversely affected by the spectre of their brother’s weaknesses and ego so I am deeply interested to look for correlations in their stories.

This first  few book  choices are inspired by the recent BBC film about The Bronte Family.

I had read Wuthering Heights by Emily during my GCSES  and Jane Eyre by Charlotte  as  an A level student The latter  holds a precious place in my heart, the former, well let’s just say Heathcliff and Cathy are not my favourite couple! My plan is to read the more obscure books by this incredible family across this year along with other Nineteenth Century novels suggested by friends.

I wanted to start the with Anne Bronte’snovel, “ The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” as it was one that I had started, but  never finished when I started reading the additional reading list  prior to my A levels.

Twenty Four years later...

I enjoyed the book very much and it falls very easily  into the Eyre area on the spectrum. Written in the form of a prolonged letter to his Brother in Law with a large portion of journal  reproduced in it’s centre, Gilbert describes the development of his acquaintance and later love for the mysterious Tenant  Mrs Graham  whose installation along with her young son at the rather forlorn and dilapidated Hall  of the title causes much  gossip in the drawing rooms and on the paths of the locality. Over time we learn the truth of her isolation and aloofness.

It is a complex story, filled with many imperfect personalities.  Gilbert is revealed to be a dedicated and loyal man at heart, but he is not immune to the faults and excesses of emotion  and he is not always admirable, but always likeable. The most interesting male character is in fact a true gothic villain.

I believe that Anne Bronte’s  own experience with her Brother Branwell and his excesses and addictions, may well have inspired the central antagonist Arthur Huntingdon whose alcoholism and mental torture of Helen inspired equal measures of pity and anger that she is held in his thrall beyond their physical proximity.  His dissolute ways and that of his circle of friends and acquaintances are depicted with stark honesty and you can just hear the sarcasm and vitriol pouring off the page.

There are other cads and heroic saviours in play, but it is  in fact the women of the novel that left me with the most resonant impressions, some are cruel and catty, exalting in their ability to bring misery on others particular others of their own sex, others meek and utterly ruled by by their husbands, whose behaviour is utterly reprehensible.

Helen Graham is a character apart, not truly cowed by her circumstances, but still a victim of Male pride and disrespect.She is a multi layered personality, her own exacting standards for herself and each of the men who pass into her sphere is as much an impediment to her happiness as a protective bubble to prevent her falling into total desolation.

This is a story about more than Love  and romance and despite it’s Happy resolution is much more hard edged and socially revealing about the disparity between the lives of men and that of women in the time, where breeding and morality stand for little in the face of socially accepted misogyny.

A thought provoking and interesting read.