Wednesday, 24 May 2017
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
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
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
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 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
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 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
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
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
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.
Monday, 3 April 2017
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
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
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
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
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
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... http://screenwiper.blogspot.com/2016/07/book-review-600-hours-of-edward-by.html?spref=tw
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
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.
Thursday, 23 February 2017
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Tuesday, 17 January 2017
My interest has always been piqued by the story of Judas Iscariot. His fall from place at Jesus’s side to the ultimate betrayer always made me wonder why Jesus would have picked him as one of the twelve and here in Roy Bright’s story we get a pretty great theory!
Judas is the plaything of the Angelic Host, sent out on missions to atone for his actions in that garden two millennia ago. His existence is limited and curtailed despite being gifted (Cursed) with eternal life and a resurrection power rivalled only by Lazarus and our Lord Jesus Christ himself!
A grotty tramp when we meet him, he is drafted in on a mission that will have ramifications for the whole of humanity, Judas is tasked with looking after a six year old child who is the vessel of Good in the age old battle between The creator and Lucifer.
The premise is simple and often used. Vulnerable child is the key who must be protected by the powerfully endowed anti Hero who is changed and softened in the process, but I can happily report that it is written in such a way as to keep the reading alongside them.
The book cleverly weaves the current peril of a city under siege by Demonic forces tasked to do anything to stop a little girl come into her birthright, with back story about Judas, his choice, his reasoning and the outcome on that day when he became The Betrayer and we come away thinking Judas is perhaps too much maligned (at least in Mr Bright’s telling).
There is a core group of heroes who join Judas in his quest to protect the frightened little girl Charlotte, who is beautifully betrayed as an innocent destined for massive things, balancing youthful faith against the growing God Given Power within her that makes her more influential than any of her self appointed protectors .
Rounding out the group are Gary, An intuitive police detective whose acceptance of the evidence of his eyes whilst his mind rails is admirable and a prostitute. Both happen across Judas and a demon foe battling it out and become integral the plan and the eventual confrontation with Lucifer the Morningstar himself.
The quest had just the merest whiff of the quartet in Stephen King’s Dark Tower stories. Let me be clear this is an entirely different plot, but the immediacy of my bonding with them as a team was akin to when I first read King’s epic series.
The demon foes here are wonderfully oily and wicked and I found the whole idea of them preferring form as Japanese Business men in a City High rise such a fun idea. Lucifer himself (like all GREAT villains) prefers to speak like a smarmy arrogant Englishman so the interjections are peppered with one liners.
This is a fast paced book, the flashbacks into the past are not jarring to that narrative flow and are necessary to remind us that this gruff slogger is in fact thousands of years old and his jadedness is not borne of bad humour, but of millennia of inertia with brief spasms of useful action and so his gradual resurrection of spirit is just as important as his bodily repairs or his relic infused Japanese Blades.
With Wily Priests and Arch Angels rounding out the character list, this was an exciting and fun romp with biblical undertones that are satisfying to the faithful but not cloying or off-putting to those who do not believe.
I cannot wait to see what happens in the next book!
Wednesday, 11 January 2017
When you look at the slightly moody Black and white shot in the back of “My Girl”, your mind does not immediately assimilate that fresh faced young man with the subjects that make up this rather dark and twisty tale.
That baby face hides a fiendishly warped imagination used with rapier sharp skill and deftness to craft a finely honed thrill ride.
Jack Jordan seems to particularly excel in depicting the seedier things in life. The squalor of the home of Paige, our heroine; living the dissolute life of a woman whose life has been laid waste by the loss of a child in the most violent and horrific manner . His description is fragrant with staleness and rancid vomit. One can see the disarray and chaos both in evidence in her house but also as a symbol of her own internal turmoil.
Never getting the closure she needs to heal and begin life again, Paige’s misery is compounded by the recent suicide of her husband who was seemingly unable to adapt to their shared himself. Now addicted to drink and prescription drugs, Paige is barely existing. It is in the depiction of her inertia that Mr Jordan skilfully evokes the depths to which she has sunk without overpowering the reader with flowery descriptors, the prose is spare and all the more powerful for it.
Seemingly at rock bottom and almost completely lost to herself, let alone those few people left behind who desperately want her recovery, we are like Paige herself left , questioning her sanity as
the strange things that she has put down to lapses in memory during drunken fugues begin to pile up and challenge even her willingness to wilfully ignore all things but the wine bottle and the blister pack of benzodiazepines.
The story is fast paced and filled with enough twists to satisfy any thriller fan. To comment more would be a disservice to a clever plot that just keeps on giving. Thrillers are not normally my genre of choice, but this kept me darkly rapt, my mind at once recoiling and yet clamouring to see where it might all lead.
If I were to complain at all it would be that after such a masterful set up of false crescendos that the final act seemed just the tiniest bit rushed, but I suspect this was just my greed for more of this story, being so absorbing and in no way a real criticism as the brevity at it’s end in no way detracts from what was a truly enjoyable, (if at times cringeworthy ) experience!!
Five bright shining stars!
Tuesday, 10 January 2017
This was a really cleverly plotted book, that is much denser than it first appears.Present Day and historical social gatherings become the framework upon which the story hangs.
The main character is Molly, through whose point of view, we filter all the comings and goings of the suburban close, where she against all odds tries to create an idyll for herself, her husband and her daughter.
This is an ingenious combination of soap opera and melodrama combined, with a dash of mystery for good measure.The Neighbourhood Shenanigans gradually begin to taint her idea of a perfect neighbourhood enclave, as secrets and lies are gradually revealed to the reader.
What makes the story much more nuanced is that Molly herself is a moral contradiction and the gradual revelation of the Caged Tiger of the title, which is her own dark deed(in heart if not in deed) illustrates the fact that even those with the most pure hearted and innocent intentions can be led in darker, more languid directions by the emotions and passions that such close social proximity can breed.
The characters whilst being deeply flawed and selfish at times are interesting and at no time become stereotypes (which would have been quite easy in a book based on a suburban street). You like them, you pity them and I am ashamed to say you judge them, but you never once want to stop unfurling the onion that is their complicity in each other’s secrets, the moral sidestepping and acceptance to maintain the brittle veneer of friendship and neighbourliness.
Thursday, 5 January 2017
Jack the Ripper's appetites are laid bare in this clever amalgam of prose and diary entry to evoke one of the most ardently researched and talked about periods in London's Criminal history.
I enjoyed it very much. I was unaware that both Strychnine and aresenic were used so extensive so as to cause addiction It is the attention to detail here that is so impressive, with secret societies and alliances formed and broken on the spin of fate, this was a very interesting book and a great precursor to the fuller story.
Wednesday, 4 January 2017
Some of the very best stories are the simplest. In Waiting for the Bees Stings, we have a prime example. This is a story about missed opportunities, bad timing and renewal. Four friends bound by shared secrets and the damage those secrets can wreak.
The character list is few, six souls all linked by unrequited passions and lies. For Jason, Mia will always be the one that got away.To Mia, Gary is the man she trusted despite her better judgement. To Chrissie, Jason is the man of her dreams. Gary is a law to himself, secretly playing them all off of each other. A fine mess they make in their callow youth, but now they have all met Forty, only misfortune, revelation and recrimination can follow.
Reunited by Chrissie’s untimely passing, these four friends and the secrets of their student days are laid bare, leaving them all changed affected in ways none of them can expect.
This is a simply structured story with Mia and Jason both chronicling the hectic rather than halcyon days of their student life and also bringing their story into the modern day with their meeting at a funeral and the gentle unravelling of the secrets of the past and their gravitational pull toward each other, bonds forged in the past seem to have remained despite self imposed estrangement.
Their two points of view are woven with deft skill and the story of their burgeoning relationship is sweet, but always grounded in realism
Mia’s discovery and reaction to her husband’s Marital infidelity are dealt with in a subtle way (despite her naked confrontation !) There is no disputing Gary is a bounder and a cad, but his part in the story rings true and reveals his vulnerability despite my utter dislike for him.
Had this been a more hackneyed depiction of love unrequited, I would have questioned quite frankly how Mia ever landed up with Gary in the first place! Even with a painfully shy and tentative Jason pulling back vital points, Gary is quite obviously not a great fit, but this book is honest and authentic and all the better for it. Bad matches are indeed forged when true love is thwarted.
Mia’s children are also beautifully described, their reactions to the evolution of their parent’s break up and Jason’s gradual absorption into their presumed idyl is done with humour, sympathy and an obvious attention to how children react and adapt to change. (Esme might just be my spirit animal!)
This is a great book, both absorbing and truthful. For me though, what added the most delicious frisson of joy,was the fact it was based in the lovely Ormskirk. The home of my own crazy student days, I have to admit to many a night spent in the hostelries there and as familiar haunts and places were mentioned, my mind flew back to my own drunken declarations of undying love, misunderstandings and the lasting friendships born of that time.
This being my first foray with Calvin Wade, I feel pretty sure, we will be journeying again.
A Marvellous start to my reading year!