Friday, 25 January 2019

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry - #BookReview

"The morning express bloated with passengers slowed to a crawl, then lurched forward suddenly, as though to resume full speed. The trains brief deception jolted its riders. The bulge of humans hanging out of the doorway distended perilously, like a soap bubble at its limit."

Set in the mid 1970's in India, A Fine Balance tells the story of four unlikely people whose lives come together during a time of political turmoil soon after the government declares a 'State of Internal Emergency'. Through days of bleakness and hope, their circumstances - and their fates - have become inextricably linked in ways no one could have foreseen.

Written with compassion, humour and insight, A Fine Balance is a vivid, richly textured and powerful novel by one of the most gifted writers of our time.

The first thing I did when I finished this novel was to order everything else the author has written. This is an extraordinary novel written by a highly skilled author who has wholeheartedly won my admiration.

I was gripped from the very first page of this novel. The authors ability to create characters that are multilayered along with an atmosphere that made me feel as though I was living in India were quite remarkable. In fact, I think it is the sense of involvement that kept me hooked throughout the entire novel.

I felt as though I understood and knew these characters. Although the novel focuses around the four main characters whose backgrounds are all very different but whose lives become intertwined, the more minor characters are equally multi-layered. Indeed, Mistry's ability to breath life into his characters is superb and I am not sure I have ever come across another author who has done this with such excellence.

There is nothing superficial about this book.  It is packed full with depth and meaning and so beautifully written I could not get enough of it despite it running to over 600 pages in my edition. Indeed, for a few days after I finished reading I have felt a sense of loss and I could happily have kept reading this book for so much longer.

I cannot recommend this book highly enough and fully urge you to read it for yourself. Or perhaps, you have you read this book? Have you read any of Rohinton Mistry's other novels? I would love to hear your thoughts.

ISBN: 978 0571230587

Publisher: Faber & Faber


About the Author:

Rohinton Mistry is the author of a fine collection of short stories, Tales from Firozsha Baag (1987), and three novels that were all shortlisted for the Booker Prize: Such a Long Journey (1991), A Fine Balance (1996) and Family Matters (2002). His fiction has won, among other awards, the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (twice), The Los Angeles Times Award, The Giller Prize, The Governor-General's Award, and the Royal Society of Literature's Winifred Holtby Award. In translation, his work has been published in over twenty five languages.

Born in Bombay, Rohinton Mistry has lived in Canada since 1975.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Love is Blind (The Rapture of Brodie Moncur) by William Boyd #BookReview

Brodie Moncur stood in the main window of Channon & Co. and looked out at the hurrying pedestrians, the cabs, carriages and labouring drays of George Street. It was raining ......

So begins the story of Brodie Moncur. Set at the end of the nineteenth century, William Boyd's heart stopping new novel follows the fortunes of Brodie, a young Scottish musician about to embark on the story of his life.

When Brodie is offered a job in Paris, he seizes the chance to flee Edinburgh and his tyrannical clergyman father, and begin a wildly different new chapter in his life. In Paris, a fateful encounter with a famous pianist irrevocably changes his future - and sparks an obsessive love affair with a beautiful Russian soprano, Lika Blum. As Brodie moves from Paris to St Petersburg to Edinburgh and back again, his love for Lika and its dangerous consequences pursue him around Europe and beyond, during an era of overwhelming change as the nineteenth century becomes the twentieth.

Love is Blind is a tale of dizzying passion and brutal revenge; of artistic endeavour and the illusions it creates; of all the possibilities that life can offer, and how cruelly they can be snatched away. At once an intimate portrait of one man'e life and an expansive exploration of the beginning of the twentieth century, Love is Blind is a masterly new novel from one of Britain's best loved storytellers.

I always feel incredibly optimistic when the first book that I read in any given year is a good one. It always suggests to me that I have a worthwhile reading year ahead and having just read this book I am anticipating an excellent year.

Mr Boyd has written a well structured and character driven novel. His sense of time and place is excellently portrayed through sound research and a wonderful writing style. He not only depicts the period of the setting through the minutiae of Brodie's life but also through the wider issues prevalent at the time.

Geographically, the book is wide ranging and the reader is able to accompany Brodie on his travels. Along the way, we are introduced to a plethora of characters but this never felt confusing.  I have read books in the past, written by lesser authors and have found this same scenario difficult to follow. However, with this book I always felt firm in the knowledge of where we were and who we were meeting and the author handles this with skill.

I felt completely immersed in Brodie's world and could not wait to get back to reading it each day. It is a story of music, love, obsession and the chaos which these can create. This is a memorable book which I would encourage you to read for yourself.

Have you already read this book? Have you read anything else by William Boyd? I would love to hear your thoughts on his writing.

ISBN: 978 0241295939

Publisher: Viking

About the Author:

William Boyd was born in 1952 in Accra, Ghana, and grew up there and in Nigeria. He is the author of fifteen highly acclaimed, bestselling novels and five collections of stories. He is married and divides his time between London and south west France.

Monday, 31 December 2018

MY TOP TEN BOOKS OF 2018 - #TopTen

Each year seems to pass by more quickly and it only seems five minutes since I was posting my top ten books of 2017.

So here we are again, reflecting on another year of reading. In no particular order, here are my Top Ten Books of 2018. Did you read any of these? What were your favourite books from 2018? I would love to hear from you.


Snap by Belinda Bauer

On a stifling summer's day, eleven-year-old Jack and his two sisters sit in their broken-down car, waiting for their mother to come back and rescue them. Jack's in charge, she said. I won't be long.

But she doesn't come back. She never comes back. And life as the children know it is changed for ever.


Three years later, mum-to-be Catherine wakes to find a knife beside her bed, and a note that says: I could have killed you.


Meanwhile Jack is still in charge - of his sisters, of supporting them all, of making sure nobody knows they're alone in the house, and - quite suddenly - of finding out the truth about what happened to his mother.


But the truth can be a dangerous thing.


White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht 



Hana and her little sister, Emi, are part of an island community of haenyeo, women who make their living from diving deep into the sea off the southernmost tip of Korea.


One day Hana sees a Japanese soldier heading for where Emi is guarding the day's catch on the beach. Her mother has told her again and again never to be caught alone with one. Terrified for her sister, Hana swims as hard as she can for the shore.

So begins the story of two sisters suddenly and violently separated by war. Switching between Hana in 1943 and Emi as an old woman today, White Chrysanthemum takes us into a dark and devastating corner of history. But pulling us back into the light are two women whose love for one another is strong enough to triumph over the evils of war.


How To Be A Heroine by Samantha Ellis

On a pilgrimage to Wuthering heights, Samantha Ellis found herself arguing with her best friend about which heroine was best: Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw. She was all for wild, free, passionate Cathy, but her friend found Cathy silly, a snob who betrays Heathcliff for Edgar and makes them all unhappy - while courageous Jane makes her own way.

And that's when Samantha realsied that all her life she'd been trying to be Cathy when she should have been trying to be Jane.

So she decided to look again at her heroines - the girls, women, books that had shaped her ideas of the world and how to live. Some of them stood up to the scrutiny (she will always love Lizzy Bennett); some of them decidedly did not (turns our Katy Carr from What Katy Did isn't a carefree rebel, she's a drip). There were revelations (the real heroine of Gone With the Wind? It's Melanie), joyous reunions (Anne of Green Gables), poignant memories (Sylvia Plath) and tearful goodbyes (Lucy Honeychurch). And then there was Jilly Cooper......

How To Be A Heroine is a funny, touching, inspiring exploration of the role of heroines, and our favourite books, in all our lives - and how they change over time, for better or worse, just as we do.


Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman  

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive - but not how to live.

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted - while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she's avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than... fine?

An astonishing story that powerfully depicts the loneliness of life, and the simple power of a little kindness.


When the Moon is Low by Nadia Hashimi

Mahmoud's passion for his wife, Fereiba, a schoolteacher, is greater than any love she's ever known. But their happy, middle-class world implodes when their country is engulfed in war and the Taliban rises to power.

When Mahmoud becomes a target of the new fundamentalist regime and is murdered, Fereiba is forced to flee Kabul with their three children. Finding a way for her to reach her sister's family in England is her one hope to survive. With forged papers and help from kind strangers they meet along the way, Fereiba manages to smuggle the children as far as Greece. But in a busy market square, their fate takes a frightening turn when her teenage son, Saleem, becomes separated from the rest of the family.

Faced with an impossible choice, Fereiba pushes on with her daughter and baby, while Saleem falls into the shadowy underground network of undocumented Afghans who haunt the streets of Europe's capitals. Across the continent, Fereiba and Saleem struggle to reunite, exhausted but undefeated, and ultimately find a place where they can be a family again.


The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy 

When Queenie Hennessy discovers Harold Fry is walking the length of England to save her, and that all she must do is wait, she is shocked. Her note to him had explained she was dying. How can she wait?

She must write again, someone says. But this time she must tell Harold everything. In confessing to secrets hidden for twenty years she will find atonement for the past.

Queenie thought her first letter would be the end of the story. She was wrong. It was just the beginning.



My Real Name is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih 

Hanna Slivka is on the cusp of fourteen when Hitler's army crosses the border into Soviet-occupied Ukraine. Soon, the Gestapo closes in, determined to make the shtetele she lives in "free of Jews." Until the German occupation, Hanna spent her time exploring Kwasova with her younger siblings, admiring the drawings of the handsome Leon Stadnick, and helping her neighbor dyes decorative pysanky eggs. But now she, Leon, and their families are forced to flee and hide in the forest outside their shtetele--and then in the dark caves beneath the rolling meadows, rumored to harbor evil spirits. 

Underground, they battle sickness and starvation, while the hunt continues above. When Hanna's father disappears, suddenly it's up to Hanna to find him - and to find a way to keep the rest of her family, and friends, alive. 

Sparse, resonant, and lyrical, weaving in tales of Jewish and Ukrainian folklore, My Real Name Is Hanna celebrates the sustaining bonds of family, the beauty of a helping hand, and the tenacity of the human spirit.

I was thrilled to have Tara Lynn Masih write a guest blog spot this year. Please click here to read


Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter  

The story begins in 1962. Somewhere on a rocky patch of the sun-drenched Italian coastline a young innkeeper, chest-deep in daydreams, looks out over the incandescent waters of the Ligurian Sea and views an apparition: a beautiful woman, a vision in white, approaching him on a boat. She is an American starlet, he soon learns, and she is dying.

And the story begins again today, half a world away in Hollywood, when an elderly Italian man shows up on a movie studio's back lot searching for the woman he last saw at his hotel fifty years before.


Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward 

An intimate portrait of a family and an epic tale of hope and struggle, Sing, Unburied, Sing examines the ugly truths at the heart of the American story and the power - and limitations - of family bonds.

Jojo is thirteen years old and trying to understand what it means to be a man. His mother, Leonie, is in constant conflict with herself and those around her. She is black and her children's father is white. Embattled in ways that reflect the brutal reality of her circumstances, she wants to be a better mother, but can't put her children above her own needs, especially her drug use.

When the children's father is released from prison, Leonie packs her kids and a friend into her car and drives north to the heart of Mississippi and Parchman Farm, the State Penitentiary.

At Parchman, there is another boy, the ghost of a dead inmate who carries all of the ugly history of the South with him in his wandering. He too has something to teach Jojo about fathers and sons, about legacies, about violence, about love.

Rich with Ward's distinctive, lyrical language, Sing, Unburied, Sing brings the archetypal road novel into rural twenty-first century America. It is a majestic new work from an extraordinary and singular author.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara 

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they're broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel painter pursuing fame in the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their centre of gravity.

Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented lawyer yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by a degree of trauma that he fears he will not only be unable to overcome - but that will define his life forever.

In a novel of extraordinary intelligence and heart, Yanagihara has fashioned a masterful depiction of heartbreak, and a dark and haunting examination of the tyranny of experience and memory.

Friday, 21 December 2018

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy - #BookReview



Dear Harold,

This may come to you as some surprise. I know it is a long time since we last met, but recently I have been thinking a lot about the past. Last year I had an operation on a tumour, but the cancer has spread and there is nothing left to be done. I am at peace and comfortable but I would like to thank you for the friendship you showed me all those years ago. Please send my regards to your wife. I still think of David with fondness.

With best wishes, QH





When Queenie Hennessy discovers Harold Fry is walking the length of England to save her, and that all she must do is wait, she is shocked. Her note to him had explained she was dying. How can she wait?

She must write again, someone says. But this time she must tell Harold everything. In confessing to secrets hidden for twenty years she will find atonement for the past.

Queenie thought her first letter would be the end of the story. She was wrong. It was just the beginning.
                                                                          
Ms. Joyce insists that this is not a sequel to her previous book, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, but is a companion volume and I completely agree. This does not follow on from her earlier book but is written from Queenie's perspective as she lies in the hospice awaiting Harold's arrival.

Incidentally, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, was one of my Top Ten books of 2017 and I heartily recommend reading it if you have not already done so. It will also enhance your reading of this novel, although this book will still make sense if you have not previously read it. However, Harold's journey is well worth reading about. I did not think that I could possibly enjoy this companion book as much as I had enjoyed reading about Harold's journey in the previous book but how wrong could I be? 

Written with wisdom, compassion and understanding this book was a joy to read. Following Queenie on her emotional journey alongside Harold's actual journey gave real insight into their lives. Having previously read the narrative of Harold's walk I further enjoyed accompanying Queenie on her journey through her past and reading how her story interlinked with Harold's.

This is a fantastic novel and a wonderful piece of writing. If you hold any pre-conceived ideas regarding a hospice as a mournful, dreary place then this book will blow those ideas completely out of the water. The author brings alive the characters in the hospice in a way that had the ability to make me laugh and cry simultaneously. 

However, this is not a book about dying. Rather it is about living every moment to the full. It is about love, redemption and how each of us plays a part in the life of others. It has a very real feel-good factor about it and I hope that you will enjoy it as much as I did.

ISBN: 978 1784160302

Publisher:  Black Swan

About the Author:

Rachel Joyce is the author of the Sunday Times and international bestseller The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, The Music Shop and Perfect. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and has been translated into thirty-four languages. She was awarded the Specsavers National Book Awards 'New Writer of the Year' in December 2012 and shortlisted for 'Writer of the Year' 2014.

She is also the author of the short story volumes A Faraway Smell of Lemon and A Snow Garden and Other Stories.

She is the award-winning writer of over thirty original afternoon plays and classic adaptations for BBC Radio 4.

Rachel Joyce lives with her family in Gloucestershire.



Monday, 19 November 2018

Nobody's Sweetheart Now: The First Lady Adelaide Mystery by Maggie Robinson

"Once upon a time, Lady Adelaide Mary Merrill, daughter of the Marquess of Broughton, was married to Major Rupert Charles Cressleigh Compton, hero of the Somme. It was not a happy union..."

A delightful English cozy series begins in August 1924. Lady Adelaide Compton has recently (and satisfactorily) interred her husband, Major Rupert Charles Cressleigh Compton, hero of the Somme, in the family vault in the village churchyard.

Rupert died by smashing his Hispano-Suiza on a Cotswold country road while carrying a French mademoiselle in the passenger seat. With the house now Addie's, needed improvements in hand, and a weekend house party underway, how inconvenient of Rupert to turn up! Not in the flesh, but in - actually, as a - spirit. Rupert has to perform a few good deeds before becoming welcomed to heaven - or, more likely, thinks Addie, to hell.

Before Addie can convince herself she's not completely lost her mind, a murder disrupts her careful seating arrangement. Which of her twelve house guests is a killer? Her mother, the formidable Dowager Marchioness of Broughton? Her sister Cecilia, the born-again vegetarian? Her childhood friend and potential lover, Lord Lucas Waring? Rupert has a solid alibi as a ghost and an urge to detect.

Enter Inspector Devenand Hunter from the Yard, an Anglo-Indian who is not going to let some barmy society beauty, witnessed talking to herself, derail his investigation. Something very peculiar is afoot at Compton Court and he's going to get to the bottom of it - or go as mad as its mistress trying.

I have recently read two books which were quite heavy going so decided to treat myself to a little light reading entertainment. The stylish cover of this book suggested just that and it was such a good choice as it was exactly what I needed. It was fun, humorous and has a cozy, non-graphic murder mystery to boot.

I am delighted that this is going to be the first in a series. As far as I am aware, the second book has not yet been published but I am certainly looking forward to when it is. If you are looking for a nice cosy read in the run up to the festivities, then this book will be perfect for you. It would also make a great gift to slip under the tree for any reader who enjoys some fun mixed in with their murder mysteries. If this sounds like an oxymoron, trust me, it works in the very capable hands of Maggie Robinson.

Both Addie and Dev were very likable characters and the attraction between them was delightful to read. However, the conversations between Addie and the ghostly Rupert, bordered on comic genius.

I have looked through Ms. Robinson's back list and she seems to primarily be a writer of historical romances and the covers suggest some eroticism. They are not really my cup of tea and Nobody's Sweetheart Now appears to be a departure from her usual genre. In my opinion that was a good move and I look forward to reading more in this series.

ISBN: 978 1464210723

Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press


About the Author:

Maggie Robinson is a former teacher, library clerk and mother of four who woke up in the middle of the night, absolutely compelled to create the perfect man and use as many adverbs as possible doing so. A transplanted New Yorker, she lives with her not-quite perfect husband in Maine, where the cold winters are ideal for staying inside and writing hot historical romances and her latest venture, the Lady Adelaide Mysteries. Her books have been translated into nine languages. 

She also wrote two erotic historical romances as Margaret Rowe.


Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke

"Darren Matthews set his Stetson on the edge of the witness stand, brim down, the way his uncles had taught him."

Southern fables usually go the other way around. A white woman is killed or harmed in some way, real or imagined, and then, like the moon follows the sun, a black man ends up dead.

But when it comes to law and order, East Texas plays by its own rules - a fact that Darren Matthews, a black Texas Ranger working the backwoods towns of Highway 59, knows all too well. He tried to get as far away from Texas as he could, until duty called him back.

Trying to escape troubles at home, Darren is drawn to a case in the small town of Lark. where two dead bodies washed up in the bayou. First a black lawyer from Chicago and then, three days later, a local white woman. He must solve the crimes - and save himself in the process - before Lark's ever-widening racial fault lines tear the community apart.

I enjoyed this book very much. My knowledge of Texas comes solely from watching episodes of Dallas back in the 80's so I was enthralled by the setting of this book as I had lots to learn. Without a single reference to JR and oil fields I really enjoyed this very different take on the State of Texas. Coupled with excellent atmospheric writing I loved the setting of this book.

I was intrigued by Darren's role as a Texas ranger within the law enforcement system. I do not think we have an equivalent here in Britian so I felt that this was a 'different' read from my usual mystery fare. This was an excellent thriller written with skill and an ability to highlight the existence of racial tensions in the modern day world.

This is a very satisfying novel. It has a great plot, an atmospheric setting and wonderful characters. In fact, I think I am a little bit in love with Darren. He is a man of strong integrity, principled and compassionate and a memorable character to boot. It is a thought-provoking book which is well-grounded in contemporary society.

This is the first book that I have read by this author and I am keen to read more of her books. Have you read this or any of her other works? Which one do you think I should read next?

ISBN: 978 1781257685

Publisher:  Serpent's Tail


About the Author:

Attica Locke is the author of Pleasantville, which won the 2016 Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction and was short-listed for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction; Black Water Rising, which was nominated for an Edgar Award and an NAACP Image Award; and The Cutting Season, a national bestseller and winner of the Ernest Gaines Award for Literary Excellence. Attica is also a screenwriter and has written for Paramount, Warner Bros, Twentieth Century Fox, HBO and Dreamworks. Most recently, she was a writer and producer on the Fox drama, Empire. 

A native of Houston, Texas, Attica lives in Los Angeles, California, with her husband and daughter.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Tara Lynn Masih - Guest Post - My Real Name is Hanna



I am honoured to be hosting Tara Lynn Masih on the blog today. Tara is the author of the fantastic novel My Real Name is Hanna and I can honestly say that it has been one of my favourite reads this year. My review of the book can be found here. Without further ado, over to you Tara.


"When I began writing My Real Name Is Hanna five years ago, I had no idea where my plot was going. I had just seen the powerful documentary No Place on Earth about the Stermer family, who hid in Ukrainian underground caves to avoid being found by Nazis during the Holocaust. Within twenty-four hours of viewing the film, I started writing what would become my first completed novel. At the beginning of the process, all I knew was that some version of their story had to be told in fiction, and I felt driven to be the one to do it. Toni Morrison once wisely said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.”

I very much wanted to read this book, and I very much wanted to have young readers be inspired by the story as well.

I was lucky to awaken the morning after I saw the film with the voice of Hanna in my head, her name, and the first few lines. From there, a very rough outline grew. Within thirty days, I had scaffolding, but little else. There was no good foundation to make the book sturdy and liveable. And I needed to find a way to reveal the horror that was the Holocaust as clearly and as accurately as it needed to be revealed, without using the pain of others to advance a story.

Until I came to realize that this book would not be about the Holocaust as much as it would be about the Holocaust’s devastating effect on community and family and tradition and culture. And that it would be about how one family managed to find a way to survive not just physically, but emotionally. We tend to concentrate more on physical survival during traumatic events, but emotional survival is more complex and, I think, even more important.

Besides the obvious strong family bonds and deep faith the Stermer family had, they had stories. What else can you take with you into the dark? For centuries humankind has been staving off the darkness with myths, fairy-tales, and folklore, both fantastical and ordinary. I love what writing coach Lisa Cron says about storytelling: “Before there were books, we read each other.” Around campfires and kitchen stoves, beside beds and on pulpits.

So my novel became one overarching story of one woman reading herself. Then as I continued to do research and fill in the flooring and hang the support beams, I heard other voices, other stories. “Story” in My Real Name Is Hanna becomes a replacement for community, even for food during times of starvation. It bonds the hideaways in shared history and educates them about their past. They “read” each other to survive, just as Hanna reads her treasured Joan of Arc story, as told by Mark Twain. Hanna clings to Twain’s iconic crusader story through the voice of Joan, as a way to hold on to her own self.

My hope is that this novel will be the kind of book that will allow you to better read yourself and your neighbours, and that what you find during your “reading” will help you build up your community, not tear it down and divide it once again.

A portion of the author’s royalties will be donated to the Unites States Holocaust Memorial Museum in memory of Esther Stermer."