Saturday, 31 December 2016

My Top 10 Books of 2016

I can hardly believe that another year is almost behind us. For me, it's a time of reflection on the joys and sorrows that 2016 has brought. It's also a time to reflect on my reading for the year and to try to whittle down the 64 books that I read this year to a mere ten - not an easy task as I read some exceptional books this year.

So, in no particular order, here are my top 10 (click on the book title to go straight to my review.)

Nemesis by Philip Roth - My first foray into reading Roth and he is certain to figure in my reading for 2017.

The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths - This could have been any of the Ruth Galloway series which I have thoroughly enjoyed reading this year.

A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray - a debut novel who writes with insight and compassion.

The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood - very different to anything else I have read this year and which I enjoyed enormously

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah - this was my introduction to Kristin Hannah and a fantastic book.

The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer - A very touching and powerful read.

Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakmi - I love Murakami's writing and this did not disappoint.

This Secret We're Keeping by Rebecca Done - A novel concerning a taboo affair and very thought provoking.

After the Last Dance by Sarra Manning - A most enjoyable story of life in the London blitz with a slightly different take on other books set during WWII.

The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi - I have really enjoyed reading the Greek Detective books this year and am anticipating reading more of them in 2017.

The Report by Jessica Francis Kane - A little publicised tragedy from WWII London.

Did you spot that there are 11 books? Sorry, but there was one I just could not leave out.

Thank you so much for following my blog throughout 2016. It means alot to me to know that you are sharing in my reading experience. Happy New Year and I wish you all peace and happiness in 2017.

Monday, 12 December 2016

The Great Christmas Knit Off by Alexandra Brown

Heartbroken after being jilted, Sybil has been saved from despair by her knitting obsession. But after perpetrating the cock-up of the century at work just weeks before Christmas, Sybil decides to make a hasty exit to the picturesque village of Tindledale.

There, Sybil discovers Hettie’s House of Haberdashery, an emporium dedicated to the world of knitting and needlecraft. But Hettie, the owner, is struggling to cope and now the shop is due for closure. But when Hettie decides that Sybil’s wacky Christmas jumpers are just the thing to add a bit of excitement to her window display, something miraculous starts to happen.

This was the perfect seasonal read for me as it combined two of my main interests in life – reading and knitting. It is a wonderfully heart warming story with lovely characters and a beautiful setting.

Ms Brown creates a snowy winter in an English village so perfectly that it made me want to up sticks and move there (with bag of knitting in tow obviously) and demonstrates that the author is extremely skilled in describing her picturesque setting.

I was captivated by this story and sat and read the book more or less in one sitting as it was so engaging.  I was completely caught up in Sybil’s story and raced through this book.

On a personal note I completely identified with Sybil’s love of knitwear. I, too, tend to notice whether a person garment is wearing a hand knitted item almost before I notice anything else about them. I wonder if this is a trait common among knitters?

This book also contains the knitting pattern for Sybil’s Lovely Little Christmas Pudding which I suspect I will be trying out at some point.

I am also very excited that this is the first in a series of books to be set in the fictional village of Tinderdale and I am certainly intending to read the second book, The Great Village Show.  I do not read many books of this genre but this novel has whetted my appetite for more. Does anyone have any suggestions?

ISBN:  978 0007597363

Publisher:  Harper

About the Author:

Alexandra Brown began her writing career as the City Girl columnist for The London Paper  - a satirical diary account of her time working in the corporate world of London. Alex wrote the weekly column for two years before giving it up to concentrate on writing novels. The Great Christmas Knit Off is Alex’s fourth book and is the first of a new series set in the fictional village of Tindledale, following the lives of all the characters there.

Alex lives in a real village near the south coast of England, with her husband, daughter and a very shiny black Labrador.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Nemesis by Philip Roth

It's the sweltering summer of 1944, and Newark is in the grip of a terrifying epidemic, threatening the children of the New Jersey city with maiming paralysis, life-long disability, even death.

Decent, athletic, twenty-three year old playground director Bucky Cantor is devoted to his charges and ashamed with himself because his weak eyes have excluded him from serving in the war alongside his contemporaries. As polio begins to ravage Bucky's playground - child by helpless child - Roth leads us through every emotion such a pestilence can breed: the fear, the panic, the anger, the bewilderment, the suffering and the pain.

This is an exceptionally good book and Roth's invention of Bucky Cantor is one of the best characters I have had the pleasure of reading.

For decades I have claimed that my favourite book is Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird as the characters of Atticus Finch and his daughter Scout left a lasting impression on me since I first read it at school when I was just thirteen. I have also re-read it on numerous occasions during the intervening decades. However, this book comes very close to knocking it off the pedestal from which I have held it for so long.

This is a very powerful book and contrasts the war raging across Europe to that of a localised war taking place in Newark as a polio epidemic sweeps through, claiming many lives in the process. The pace of the book is fairly slow but echoes the events taking place within the plot perfectly and at no point did I want things to hurry along.

Atmospherically, Roth creates a sense of being there. I could feel the heat being experienced that summer as I read this book through the tangible descriptions the author creates. He is succinct with his words and thus packs his writing with meaningful narrative.

Written with a gritty realism whilst at the same time demonstrating sensitivity, Roth has written an intelligent and powerful novel which will remain with me for a very long time.

ISBN:  978-0099542261

Publisher:  Vintage

About the Author:

Philip Milton Roth is an American novelist. He gained early literary fame with the 1959 collection Goodbye, Columbus (winner of 1960's National Book Award), cemented it with his 1969 bestseller Portnoy's Complaint, and has continued to write critically-acclaimed works, many of which feature his fictional alter ego, Nathan Zuckerman. The Zuckerman novels began with The Ghost Writer in 1979, and include American Pastoral (1997) (winner of the Pulitzer Prize). In May 2011, he won the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement in fiction.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

The Saint Zita Society by Ruth Rendell

When millionaire banker, Preston Still, kills his wife's lover by pushing him down the stairs, he looks to the family au-pair to help him dispose of the body.

But the au pair belongs to the Saint Zita Society, a self-formed group of drivers, nannies and gardeners, who are servants to the rich - and whose intentions are not entirely benign.

Accident, murder, illicit affairs, and a young man recently released from a hospital for the criminally insane come together with devastating consequences in Ruth Rendell's gripping crime novel.

When I was in my twenties I devoured everything that Ruth Rendell had to offer and, for no reason whatsoever, I haven't read any of her books in the intervening period. So, reading this novel was like being reacquainted with an old friend with whom I was able to just pick up from where we last left off.

There are a lot of characters in this book which would have been hard to keep track of if it had not been for the useful street map with a key to who lived in which house at the beginning of the book and which I referred to on several occasions whilst reading the first few chapters. As my reading progressed through this book and the characters were fleshed out this became less necessary.

It is the coming together of this contrasting cast of characters that Ms Rendell always did so well. In this book she brings together characters from different classes and cultures and allows the reader to observe the way in which they interact with one another as the plot line develops. I think what this book does so well is to allow the reader to be the judge of whether the various characters dealt with the consequences of their actions appropriately.

I found this book thought provoking. Ms Rendell never sugar coats her characters, and therefore, they are not always terribly likeable. However, the plot is played out so intricately around the characters that they are very easy to engage with.

Reading this book has reawakened my admiration for this author and I am looking forward to reading and re-reading more of her work. Here, she wrote an excellent psychological thriller that will keep you turning the pages. Her death last year remains a great loss to the crime fiction genre.

ISBN:  978-0099571032

Publisher:  Arrow

About the Author:

Ruth Rendell was an exceptional crime writer, and will be remembered as a legend in her own lifetime. Her groundbreaking debut novel, From Doon With Death, was first published in 1964 and introduced the reader to her enduring and popular detective, Inspector Reginald Wexford, who went on to feature in twenty-four of her subsequent novels.

With worldwide sales of approximately 20 million copies, Rendell was a regular Sunday Times bestseller. Her sixty bestselling novels include police procedurals, some of which have been successfully adapted for TV, stand-alone psychological mysteries, and a third strand of crime novels under the pseudonym Barbara Vine. Very much abreast of her times, the Wexford books in particular often engaged with social or political issues close to her heart.

Rendell won numerous awards, including the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger for 1976’s best crime novel with A Demon in My View, a Gold Dagger award for Live Flesh in 1986, and the Sunday Times Literary Award in 1990. In 2013 she was awarded the Crime Writers’ Association Cartier Diamond Dagger for sustained excellence in crime writing. In 1996 she was awarded the CBE and in 1997 became a Life Peer.

Ruth Rendell died in May 2015. Her final novel, Dark Corners, was published in October 2015.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

This Secret We're Keeping by Rebecca Done

A pupil and a teacher. Is it ever right to break the rules?

Jessica Hart has never forgotten Matthew Landley. After all, he was her first love when she was fifteen years old. But he was also her school maths teacher, and their forbidden affair ended in scandal with his arrest and imprisonment.

Now, seventeen years later, Matthew returns to Norfolk, with a new identity, a long-term girlfriend and a young daughter, who know nothing of what happened before. Yet when he runs into Jessica, neither of them can ignore the emotional ties that bind them together. With so many secrets to keep hidden, how long can Jessica and Matthew avoid the dark mistakes of their past imploding in the present?

From debut author Rebecca Done, This Secret We're Keeping is a powerful and provocative novel about the ties which can keep us together - or tear us apart.

I liked this book very much in that it made me question myself on several occasions and I think it is a skilled fiction author that can make me, as a reader, deliberate over my feelings several days after I have finished the book. I suppose what I mean by this is that I was very engaged by the story of Jess and Matthew. I was very caught up in their relationship and hoping they would find a way. However, I had to continually keep reminding myself of the illegality and non appropriateness of their relationship and therefore, I should not be rooting for them. It is a very thought provoking read and one that I would recommend you read for yourself.

It was very well written and I enjoyed the dual narration. We hear Matthew's version of how their relationship developed in 1993 when he was still her teacher. Then we also have Jess' contemporary point of view. It flows seamlessly between the two periods and each enhanced the alternate narrative.

For a debut novelist this is a marvelous accomplishment. Ms Done has taken a taboo topic and built a really interesting story around it. I am looking forward to future work by this author.

ISBN:  9781405923941

Publisher :  Michael Joseph

About the Author:

Rebecca Done lives in Norwich. After studying Creative Writing at the Norwich School of Art & Design, she worked for several years as a magazine editor. Currently a copywriter, Rebecca is also a keen runner, fair-weather surfer and one-time marathon canoeist. This Secret We're Keeping is her first novel.

Her new novel, My Husband the Stranger, is due to be published in April 2017.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths

In the next Ruth Galloway mystery, a vision of the Virgin Mary foreshadows a string of cold-blooded murders, revealing a dark current of religious fanaticism in an old medieval town.

Known as England’s Nazareth, the medieval town of Little Walsingham is famous for religious apparitions. So when Ruth Galloway’s druid friend, Cathbad, sees a woman in a white dress and a dark blue cloak standing alone in the local cemetery one night, he takes her as a vision of the Virgin Mary. But then a woman wrapped in blue cloth is found dead the next day, and Ruth’s old friend Hilary, an Anglican priest, receives a series of hateful, threatening letters. Could these crimes be connected? When one of Hilary’s fellow female priests is murdered just before Little Walsingham’s annual Good Friday Passion Play, Ruth, Cathbad, and DCI Harry Nelson must team up to find the killer before he strikes again.

Elly Griffiths is fast becoming one of my favourite writers and I am loving her Ruth Galloway series. This is number eight in the series and I have hitherto read the previous seven. For those of you that have not already become acquainted with the series I thought I would let you know which order they come in (including a charming Christmas novella) along with links to those books that I have previously reviewed:

1.    The Crossing Places
2.    The Janus Stone
3.    The House at Sea's End
4.    A Room Full of Bones
4.5  Ruth's First Christmas Tree
5.    A Dying Fall
6.    The Outcast Dead
7.    The Ghost Fields
8.    The Woman in Blue
9.    The Chalk Pit

Personally, I like to read a series in order but these would standalone. However, the chronology of the devolpment of the relationships between the characters really comes to life when they are read it order.

What else can I say other than that I am thrilled that there is one more book in this series, The Chalk Pit, that I am still to read and I am fervently hoping that Ms Griffiths has many more of these books up her sleeve.

I highly recommend you giving this series a read if you enjoy a good thriller or have an interest in archaeology.

ISBN: 978-1848663371

Publisher: Quercus

About the author:

Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway novels take for their inspiration Elly's husband, who gave up a city job to train as an archaeologist, and her aunt who lives on the Norfolk coast and who filled her niece's head with the myths and legends of that area.

She has two children and lives near Brighton.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the long-awaited new novel - a book that sold more than a million copies the first week it went on sale in Japan - from the award-winning, internationally best-selling author Haruki Murakami.

Here he gives us the remarkable story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. It is a story of love, friendship, and heartbreak for the ages.

I find Murakami to be an intriguing author. He first came to my intention when I read the first volume of his trilogy, 1Q84, and this was very quickly followed with volume two and three. I had never read anything quite like it before and if you haven't read it then I highly recommend it.

I found this story equally fascinating. I love the way he uses language to create an aura around his characters. The language has a formality about it. The author clearly chooses his words very carefully and uses them to full effect. The novel has been translated from Japanese by Philip Gabriel who seems to have done an excellent job.

Tsukuru is a reserved and detached figure stemming from the deliberate isolation inflicted upon him when his group of very close friends unexpectedly isolate him from the group. No explanation is given him and reading his story I could feel his pain and loneliness.

I am fast becoming a fan of this very skilled and intelligent author and I am very keen to sample more of his excellent writing. I highly recommend this book as it makes for an interesting and impressive read.

ISBN:  978-0099590378

Publisher: Vintage

About the Author:

Since childhood, Murakami has been heavily influenced by Western culture, particularly Western music and literature. He grew up reading a range of works by American writers, such as Kurt Vonnegut and Richard Brautigan, and he is often distinguished from other Japanese writers by his Western influences.

Murakami studied drama at Waseda University in Tokyo, where he met his wife, Yoko. His first job was at a record store, which is where one of his main characters, Toru Watanabe in Norwegian Wood, works. Shortly before finishing his studies, Murakami opened the coffeehouse 'Peter Cat' which was a jazz bar in the evening in Kokubunji, Tokyo with his wife.

Many of his novels have themes and titles that invoke classical music, such as the three books making up The Wind-Up Bird ChronicleThe Thieving Magpie (after Rossini's opera),Bird as Prophet (after a piano piece by Robert Schumann usually known in English as The Prophet Bird), and The Bird-Catcher (a character in Mozart's opera The Magic Flute). Some of his novels take their titles from songs: Dance, Dance, Dance (after The Dells' song, although it is widely thought it was titled after the Beach Boys tune), Norwegian Wood(after The Beatles' song) and South of the Border, West of the Sun (the first part being the title of a song by Nat King Cole).

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

After the Last Dance by Sarra Manning

Two women. Two love affairs. One unforgettable story. 

Kings Cross station, 1943. Rose arrives in London hoping to swap the drudgery of wartime for romance, glamour and jiving with GIs at Rainbow Corner, the famous dance hall in Piccadilly Circus. As the bombs fall, Rose loses her heart to a pilot but will lose so much more before the war has done its worst. 

Las Vegas, present day. A beautiful woman in a wedding dress walks into a seedy bar and asks the first man she sees to marry her. When Leo slips the ring onto Jane's finger, he has no idea that his new wife will stop at nothing to get what she wants. So when Jane meets Rose, now a formidable older lady, there's no love lost between them. But with time running out, can Rose and Jane come together to make peace with the tragic secrets that have always haunted their lives? After the Last Dance is an extraordinary story of two women, separated by time but connected by fate, that will make you believe in the redemptive power of unexpected love.

This is the first of Sarra Manning's novels that I have read and it was very enjoyable.

Written with a dual narrative it follows the present day story of Jane, alongside the wartime escapades of Rose, with a crossover as the book progresses. Both characters were excellently drawn and I was engaged with both narratives equally.

There are many novels out there set during World War Two but this had a slightly different perspective as through the character of Rose we see some of the experiences of the GI's in wartime London. The descriptions of Rainbow Corner are very evocative and I was drawn into the atmosphere the author created.

Jane's narrative is equally engaging. She is certainly not the innocent that Rose is portrayed as but her character is equally compelling. Whereas Rose was easy to like from the beginning, the character of Jane was not instantly likable but as the author gradually develops her character she becomes much more engaging and I found I liked her character very much.

I think this book is well worth a read. Combining the past and the present with some romance thrown in this novel will appeal to many readers.

ISBN:  978 0751561159

Publisher: Sphere

About the Author:

Sarra Manning is a teen queen extraordinaire. She spent five years working on the now sadly defunct J17, first as a writer and then as Entertainment Editor. She then joined the launch team of teen fashion bible Ellegirl, which she later went on to edit and has consulted on a wide range of youth titles including Bliss, The Face and More. 

Sarra is now editor of What To Wear magazine. She's also been a regular contributor to ELLE, The Guardian, ES Magazine, Seventeen, Details and Heat and wrote the Shop Bitch column for Time Out. Sarra lives in North London with her dog Miss Betsy.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

The Bradley's see the world as a place where miracles are possible, and where nothing is more important than family. This is their story.
It is the story of Ian Bradley—husband, father, maths teacher, and Mormon bishop—and his unshakable belief that everything will turn out all right if he can only endure to the end, like the pioneers did. It is the story of his wife, Claire, her lonely wait for a sign from God, and her desperate need for life to pause while she comes to terms with tragedy.
And it is the story of their children: sixteen-year-old Zippy, experiencing the throes of first love; cynical fourteen-year-old Al, who would rather play football than read the Book of Mormon; and seven-year-old Jacob, whose faith is bigger than a mustard seed—probably bigger than a toffee candy, he thinks—and which he’s planning to use to mend his broken family with a miracle.
Intensely moving, unexpectedly funny, and deeply observed, A Song for Issy Bradley explores the outer reaches of doubt and faith, and of a family trying to figure out how to carry on when the innermost workings of their world have broken apart.

I would challenge anyone to read this book and not  to be deeply moved by it. It is a heart searing evocation of the grief felt by a family whilst trying to maintain an equilibrium with their faith.

I knew very little about the Mormon church prior to reading this book and it was very informative. It came as no surprise to me to learn that the author grew up in a Mormon  family as she writes with real insight and it shows that she has first hand knowledge.

Every character in this novel is expertly drawn and easy to engage with.  I went through a tumult of emotions with them experiencing the grief felt in its individual way by all of them. I felt moments of frustration and anger with Ian's character, pain for Claire's and my heart bled for little Jacob and his brother and sister. I think an author who can create such feelings in her reader is very skilled and as a debut novelist is one to watch out for.

This is a fantastic read written with insight and intelligence. I do not think I am being preemptive by saying that I will be surprised if this book does not make into into my Top Ten reads of 2016 as it will need to be quite some book to knock this one down the list. Do let me know what you think of this book and whether you enjoyed it as much as I did.

ISBN:  978-0099591870

Publisher: Windmill Books

About the Author: 

Carys Bray was brought up in a devout Mormon family. In her early thirties she left the church and replaced religion with writing. She was awarded the Scott prize for her d├ębut short story collection Sweet Home. A Song for Issy Bradley is her first novel. She lives in Southport with her husband and four children.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Can Anybody Help Me? by Sinead Crowley

It was crazy really, she had never met the woman, had no idea of her real name but she thought of her as a friend. Or, at least, the closest thing she had to a friend in Dublin.

Struggling with a new baby, Yvonne turns to netmammy, an online forum for mothers, for support. Drawn into a world of new friends, she spends increasing amounts of time online and volunteers more and more information about herself.

When one of her new friends goes offline, Yvonne thinks something is wrong, but dismisses her fears. After all, does she really know this woman?

But when the body of a young woman with striking similarities to Yvonne’s missing friend is found, Yvonne realises that they’re all in terrifying danger. Can she persuade Sergeant Claire Boyle, herself about to go on maternity leave, to take her fears seriously?

This is a book about living in the modern world. I think the vast majority of us talk to people who we have met online and this book explores just how well we really know these people and considers whether we should volunteer so much information about ourselves.

The characters in this book are well rounded and believable. I particularly liked Sergeant Claire Boyle who I found to be a very realistic character.  The author was clearly setting her up for future novels of which I will be very happy to read.

The prose is interspersed with extracts from the Netmammy online forum all of which are vital to the plot so it is worth paying close attention when reading these postings.

This book kept me guessing throughout and the ending came  as a real surprise to me.

All in all, a really good read and I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Are You Watching Me?

About the Author:

Can Anybody Help Me? was an Irish bestseller and shortlisted for Crime Book of the Year at the BGE Irish Book Awards in 2014. Her second thriller, which also features Sergeant Claire Boyle was published in 2015.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi

Idyllic but remote, the Greek island of Thiminos seems untouched by the modern world. So when the battered body of a young woman is discovered at the foot of a cliff, the local police--governed more by archaic rules of honor than by the law--are quick to close the case, dismissing her death as an accident.

Then a stranger arrives, uninvited, from Athens, announcing his intention to investigate further. Hermes's methods of investigation are unorthodox, and his message to the islanders is plain--tell the truth or face the consequences. But Hermes brings his own mystery into the web of dark secrets and lies. Who has sent him to Thiminos, and on whose authority is he acting? 

Rich in images of Greece's beautiful islands and evoking a life unknown to most outsiders, this compelling novel leads the reader into a world where the myths of the past are not forgotten, and forbidden passion still has dangerous consequences.

Don't you just love it when you read the first book in a series and find that you really liked it? That is exactly what happened to me with this lovely book by Anne Zouroudi.

The descriptions of the fictional Greek island are wonderful and it is easy to get sucked into the beautiful atmosphere of this book.

I also really liked the character of Hermes Diaktoros (although he is consistently referred to as the Fat Man throughout the book) with his white shoes which he is constantly cleaning. He is an enigmatic character who appears to have materialised from thin air to investigate the apparent suicide of a young woman. The mystery surrounding Hermes continues throughout the book and really adds something.

There were many twists and turns as this book ambled along and as most of the characters appeared to have something to hide I was kept guessing right until the end.

I enjoyed this book very much and already have the next book in the series on my shelf and I am looking forward to getting to know Hermes Diaktoros better.

About the Author:  

Anne Zouroudi was born in England and has lived in the Greek islands. Her attachment to Greece remains strong and the country is the inspiration for much of her writing. She now lives in the Derbyshire Peak District with her son. She is the author of four other Mysteries of the Greek Detective: The Taint of Midas, The Doctor of Thessaly, The Lady of Sorrows and The Whispers of Nemesis.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Night Road by Kristin Hannah

People on the island still talk about what happened in the summer of 2004. They sit on their bar stools and in porch swings and spout opinions, half-truths, making judgements that aren't theirs to make. They think a few columns in a newspaper give them the facts they need but the facts are hardly what matter.

Lexi and Mia are inseparable from the moment they start high school. Different in so many ways - Lexi is an orphan and lives with her aunt on a trailer park, while Mia is a golden girl blessed with a loving family and a beautiful home. Yet they recognise something in each other which sets them apart from the crowd and Mia comes to rely heavily on Lexi's steadfast friendship. Something which, at first, worries Mia's mother, Jude.

Mia's beloved and incredibly good-looking twin brother Zach finds life much less complicated than his sister. Jude thught she'd never have to worry about her son, that he would always sail through life easily achieving whatever he, and his family, wanted and expected - but then he fell in love.

The summer they graduated is a time they will always remember and one they could never forget. It is a summer of love, best friends, shared confidences and promises. Then one moment changes them all forever. As hearts are broken, loyalties challenged and hopes dashed the time has come to leave childhood behind and learn to face their future.

I recently read The Nightingale by this very talented author which I thought was a fantastic read so I came to this book with very high expectations. To be honest, I found the beginning of the book very predictable but then an event happens in the plot which had me gripped to the very end.

What I think really sets Ms Hannah apart is the way in which she focuses her story line almost completely around the characters. Through dialogue and narrative she fleshes them out to the point that, as a reader, I almost felt I knew these characters and was emotionally caught up in their lives.

It is a sad story which deals with privilege and deprivation, the consequences of love in all it's forms and the huge part that forgiveness of ourselves and others has upon us.

I didn't enjoy this as much as I did The Nightingale, but it was worth reading not only by adults but I think mature teenagers would also get alot from this book.

ISBN:  978 0330534970

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

About the Author:

Kristin Hannah is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty-one novels, including the blockbuster Firefly Lane, Night Road and Home Front. She is a former lawyer turned writer and is the mother of one son. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii with her husband.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee

Calcutta, 1967. Unnoticed by his family, Supratik has become dangerously involved in extremist political activism. Compelled by an idealistic desire to change his life and the world around him, all he leaves behind before disappearing is a note.

The ageing patriarch and matriarch of his family, the Ghoshes, preside over their large household, unaware that beneath the barely ruffled surface of their lives the sands are shifting. More than poisonous rivalries among sisters-in-law, destructive secrets and the implosion of the  family business, this is a family unravelling as the society around it fractures. For this is a moment of turbulence, of inevitable and unstoppable change, the chasm between the generations and between those who have and those who have not, has never been wider.

I found this to be a weighty read - both in size and depth.

I was very grateful for the family tree which is included at the beginning of this book as I think I would have been quite confused by all the different characters, of which there are plenty. This enhanced my appreciation of the minutiae of the lives of the people in this household and whilst I cannot claim to have really liked any of them I did at least understand how they had become the people they were.

I like books which are set in India but I found very little in terms of the rich atmosphere which could have been a real asset to this book. I wanted to be able to drink up the sounds and smells of India but I found this sadly lacking.

However, this has been very intelligently written and the author has a clear understanding of the socio political factors of the time.

What I loved about this book was the way Mr Mukherjee's prose flows on the page. It is beautifully written with a poeticism I could lose myself in. I would read his other novel for that reason alone as this book has been well crafted and is simply lovely to read.

ISBN: 978-0099554486

Publisher: Vintage

About the Author:

Neel Mukherjee was born in Calcutta and now lives in London.. His award winning first novel A Life Apart, was published in 2010. The Lives of Others is his second novel.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Forever Yours by Daniel Glattauer

Judith, in her mid-thirties and single, meets Hannes when he steps on her foot in a crowded supermarket. Before long he turns up in the exclusive little lighting boutique that Judith runs with the help of her assistant Bianca.
Hannes is an architect - single and in the prime of life. Not only is he every mother-in-law's dream, but Judith's friends are also bowled over by him. At first Judith revels in being put on a pedestal by this determined man who seems to have eyes only for her. But as time goes by, she finds his constant displays of affection increasingly wearying and his intensive attention becomes oppressive and overwhelming.
In the end she feels cornered, controlled and stifled. All her attempts to get him out of her life fail. He seems to follow her all the way into her dreams, and when she wakes up he's already waiting on her doorstep to pamper her afresh.

I quite liked this book. It has a real eeriness about it and challenged what I was thinking throughout.

The prose is written with a crispness which I think added to the book. The language needed no embroidering or poeticism. In fact, it would have detracted from the intensity of the characters. Both Judith and Hannes are well drawn out characters and I really enjoyed the way the author shifted the emphasis from one character to the other.

However, one criticism I have of this book is that there are times that the dialogue reads like a script rather than a novel and I felt this detracted from the flow of the dialogue.

I found this an enjoyable book. It is never going to make it into my top ten for the year but I keep thinking about it and mulling the plot over in my mind so maybe that speaks for itself. It is worth a read and I would love to hear your thoughts on this book if you read it.

ISBN: 978-0857052490

Publisher: MacLehose Press

About the Author:

Daniel Glattauer (born 1960) is an Austrian writer and journalist. He was born in Vienna, where he still lives and works. He is a regular columnist for Der Standard. He is best known for his novel Love Virtually and its sequel Every Seventh Wave. His literary work were translated in more than 35 languages and have been sold over 1 million times.

Monday, 11 April 2016

The Report by Jessica Francis Kane

On a March night in 1943, on the steps of a London Tube station, 173 people die in a crowd seeking shelter from what seemed to be another air raid. When the devastated neighborhood demands an inquiry, the job falls to magistrate Laurence Dunne.

In this beautifully crafted novel, Jessica Francis Kane paints a vivid portrait of London at war. As Dunne investigates, he finds the truth to be precarious, even damaging. When he is forced to reflect on his report several decades later, he must consider whether the course he chose was the right one. The Report is a provocative commentary on the way all tragedies are remembered and endured.

Being a Bethnal Green girl myself I was very interested to read this book as I was completely unaware of this tragedy when I was growing up there. Maybe that was due to the egocentricity of youth but I am fairly sure that I never heard anyone speaking of it. 

Also, the government of the day wanted this huge civilian disaster kept quiet for reasons of their own and this is certainly the first fictionalised account of the catastrophic events on 3rd March 1943 that I have come across. Ms Kane has done well to highlight this event and written about it so sensitively.

Her writing style is sparse and to the point which makes this a compelling read. It is a dark tale that creates real emotion in the reader as we learn  about the experience of the survivors of this devastating accident.

What I really liked about this book is the humanity which the author portrays through the characters. Whilst the government were looking for somewhere to pin the blame for the accident the author demonstrates how multi layered and complicated the disastrous events really were.

This is well worth reading and I think anyone who enjoys historical books will enjoy this.

ISBN:  978-1846272806

Publisher: Portobello Books

About the Author

Jessica Francis Kane is the author of The Report, a finalist for the 2010 Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction and a Barnes & Noble "Discover" pick. She is also the author of the story collection Bending Heaven which was published in the US and the UK. Her stories have been broadcast on BBC radio and have appeared in many publications, including Granta,Virginia Quarterly Review, McSweeney’s, The Missouri Review, and Michigan Quarterly Review.Her essays and humor pieces have appeared in SalonMcSweeney’s Internet Tendency andThe Morning News, where she is a contributing writer. She lives in New York with her husband and their two children.