Sarah is an attractive women in her thirties, living in Salisbury with her far from loving husband. Sarah's life feels empty and it is only her work a...moreSarah is an attractive women in her thirties, living in Salisbury with her far from loving husband. Sarah's life feels empty and it is only her work at the Cancer Charity shop and her best friend Bridie that keeps her spirits up. Sarah's husband is more interested in football and the TV than his wife, her two children are grown up and neither of them appear to notice their mother, or show her any love or respect.
The diagnosis of a serious illness becomes Sarah's turning-point. As she fights to beat the disease that is ravishing her body, she makes some life-altering decisions. With the help of her friend Bridie, Sarah begins to build a new life for herself, where she is the most important person.
Sarah travels to Donegal, on the north-west coast of Ireland, to stay in a little cottage called Maranatha, and it is there in that desolate, yet beautiful place that she finally realises that she is so much more than just a wife and a mother.
Maranatha is a love story and a journey. Whilst I enjoyed the story, I did long for more depth within the characters, I would have liked to learn more about Sarah's marriage. The first half of the story which concentrate on Sarah's illness felt quite clinical, with little emotion shown by any of the characters. Sarah makes some major life decisions that will affect not just her, but her husband and children, yet this is treated almost as though she's just decided to pop out the shops for a few hours.
I enjoyed the second half of Marantha far more than the first, and it was the setting of County Donegal that had attracted me to the book in the first place. My family are from Donegal and I spent every summer of my childhood there, so as Sarah and McBride explore the area I could picture the places that they were discovering.
John Mullen certainly brings Donegal to life. The white rock of Mount Errigal, the desolation of the peat bogs, the beauty of the gardens of Glenveagh are all captured so well and Donegal is the real star of this story.
The author incorporates many topical concerns into the story, and at times this did feel a little forced. McBride is a man who has strong beliefs, whether it is the treatment of pupils by the Irish Christian Brothers back in the 1950s, the plight of the world's rain forests or the issue of international drug barons, Mullen has managed to incorporate a speech about these beliefs within the dialogue. Whilst these are very valid and quite interesting, I did feel that they detracted from the main story at times.
Maranatha is an easy to read story, at it's heart it is a love story, but for me it was a story of 'home', and the beauty of the north west Irish countryside is wonderfully painted.(less)
Set in Pimlico, London in the 1960s, The Pimlico Kid is narrated by Billy Driscoll. Billy and his mates live on a street inhabited by a bunch of vibra...moreSet in Pimlico, London in the 1960s, The Pimlico Kid is narrated by Billy Driscoll. Billy and his mates live on a street inhabited by a bunch of vibrant characters who have been drawn so authentically by Barry Walsh. This is a story that is clearly written from the heart and I'd guess that it also part-memoir, as the novel buzzes with authenticity.
Billy and his friend Rooksy are normal adolescent boys who have discovered the joy of the female form, in the main, they are obsessed with breasts, and find themselves in many scrapes due to their increasing curiosity and the availability of places in the street where they can spy on their female neighbours - young and old.
However, Billy is at heart, a gentle and sensitive boy who loves to read. He has suffered with asthma for many years and this has meant that instead of taking part in all the rough and tumble games, he often has to stay indoors and rest. He loves the library and has a special friend in the librarian there.
Barry Walsh has structured The Pimlico Kid perfectly. Each chapter is a snapshot into Billy's life. Whether it is the joyous and light hearted street party, or the quite dark and more serious issue of domestic violence and abuse, the writing is incredibly perceptive and although it is very nostalgic, it is never sentimental.
The story of a summer in London. A coming of age story and a look back at recent history. The Pimlico Kid is engaging and vivid.(less)
Lizzie Enfield has produced a cleverly woven story of family intricacies and the politics of friendship with the topical and controversial subject of...moreLizzie Enfield has produced a cleverly woven story of family intricacies and the politics of friendship with the topical and controversial subject of the MMR vaccine.
When Ben and Maggie's small daughter Iris contracts measles from Isobel and Eric's teenage daughter Gabriella whilst on holiday in France, there is concern and worry. Isobel decided that her children would not have the MMR jab, therefore she knows that it's her fault that Iris is sick. After all, she knew that Gabriella's boyfriend had recently had measles, she knew that Gabriella's symptoms could also be measles, yet she went ahead and left Gabs with Iris and Maggie whilst everyone else went out and enjoyed their day.
Weeks later, Isobel and Eric learn that Iris is now deaf, she is deaf because she caught measles from Gabriella, and as far as everyone is concerned, she caught measles from Gabriella because Isobel didn't let her children have the MMR jab, and Isobel let Gabs and Iris spend time together.
Ben is angry, very very angry. He is determined that Isobel should pay the price and begins legal proceedings against Isobel and Eric.
Narrated in turn by Ben and Isobel, Living With It is an emotionally charged story that not only deals with the MMR controversy, but also looks at how past relationships can impact on current life. The fact that Ben and Isobel are ex-lovers and that Ben and Eric have been best friends since childhood causes even more difficulties for the main players in this story. The story is set over a few weeks and hearing the differing perspectives of Ben and Isobel during that time adds layers of speculation, distrust and a little bit of confusion for the reader. And that is not in a bad way at all, for me it made the story far more interesting.
My loyalties, as a reader, moved back and forth. I'd back Ben all the way, and then within a few pages, my sympathies would return to Isobel. Saying that, neither of these two characters were particularly likeable, hung up as they are with their own personal unresolved issues, as well as the tragedy of Iris' deafness.
Lizzie Enfield has created a vivid story with some interesting characters. I thought the children of the story were the best by far. Isobel's two sons are quirky and funny and really stole the whole novel.
A great story of modern family life, of mixed-up relationships with a cracker of an end chapter that may just turn the story completely on it's head for you. (less)
This is a short book at just under 50 pages, but it is the perfect read-aloud story for young children. Packed full of the silliest of characters with...moreThis is a short book at just under 50 pages, but it is the perfect read-aloud story for young children. Packed full of the silliest of characters with the wildest of names and wonderfully illustrated by Frances Lee West.
It reminded me of Pippi Longstocking and Roald Dahl's The Twits, and I was really bewitched by the story and I just know that children will be entranced too.
Kellie, the heroine of the story, is the daughter of two explorers. Her two aunts; Aunt Sillime and Aunt Kitty are perfectly bonkers, and Kellie spends a very unpredictable and exciting couple of days staying with Aunt Kitty in Come-alive Cottage. Spells go wrong and watering cans get annoyed, postmen are shrunk and a python appears.
Welcome to the crazy, delightful and colourful world of Kellie and her family. A joy, for both children and adults. (less)
How can it be so hard to review a book that had me sighing and nodding in agreement all the way through? A book that started so many conversations in...moreHow can it be so hard to review a book that had me sighing and nodding in agreement all the way through? A book that started so many conversations in this house .... "Oh, do you remember ......"; "bloody hell, I've not thought of those for years ....."; "now I'm craving ....."
This is not a story, it's not fiction, nor is it a history book ~ well, I suppose it is in a way. I defy anyone over the age of 35 to read this without exclaiming in joy at least ten times throughout.
I remember EVERYTHING in this book - every single thing. The shops on the High Street, and not just Woolworths, but Athena and Our Price and C&A (did every C&A smell a bit funny, or was that just the Lincoln branch?). I remember the frustration of arriving in town at 2pm on Wednesday and remembering that it's bloody HALF DAY CLOSING.
Black Jacks and Fruit Salad chews at half a penny each; Spangles and sweet cigarettes; reading Mandy comic and always having a 2p coin so that we could ring Dial-a-Disc from the red telephone box.
21st Century Dodos brings back so many memories, and yes, I do look back fondly and it's easy to forget that this was mainly the 70s - the decade of very bad fashion mistakes, and terrible disco pants and rock stars who wore platform boots and glittery eyeshadow (and that was the men).
This is perfect book for one of those evenings or summer afternoon when you get all of your friends round, down a few bottles and start reminiscing about the 'good old days'. It will spark so many memories, so many conversations and I'd guess there would be a fair few arguments too.
This is funny and charming and will make you crave things that you'd not thought about in years. The writing is great, not stuffy or text-book like - it's easy and friendly and I loved it. I loved every page.(less)
I knew very little about the Romanov Grand Duchesses, or in fact about Russian history before I read Four Sisters, so for me, this was a whole new wor...moreI knew very little about the Romanov Grand Duchesses, or in fact about Russian history before I read Four Sisters, so for me, this was a whole new world to enter.
Four Sisters is a history book, it's also a joint biography and I have been absolutely fascinated by this story. I don't know if it is all factually correct, I'm sure that the author has slanted the writing with her own perceptions, but nevertheless, this book is a fascinating read - well written and very easy to get lost in.
Alexandra, the Tsarina and granddaughter of Queen Victoria was always determined to create a warm and loving family for her four daughters. Her biggest mistake was to fail to take a bigger part in the life of the imperial court, and this decision alienated her from the Russian people. It was also this decision that probably sealed the fate of her and her beloved family. Alexandra's love and overwhelming passion for her family did create a family who adored each other, but also created a family who were distant from their subjects.
It is clear that Helen Rappaport is both passionate and very knowledgeable about her subject, and she has recreated the life of this family so well. The longing for a son and heir is so strong, and when finally a boy child arrives, the sense of disappointment that he is clearly not well enough to take the throne is overwhelming.
Everyday life before the revolution for these four sisters was fairly ordinary. They developed crushes on young men, they relished being part of the war, whether it was by using their nursing skills or raising money, and most of all they enjoyed being part of a loving, solid family.
There are some wonderful illustrations in this book, my hard back copy really is a joy to own. The author has used letters and diary entries to create a colourful story that I really enjoyed and has certainly sparked an interest in this part of history.(less)
Just like Alys, Always, Her is another elegantly written novel with an ending that made me shout 'f***' as I desperately looked for the next page, and...moreJust like Alys, Always, Her is another elegantly written novel with an ending that made me shout 'f***' as I desperately looked for the next page, and realised that there wasn't one, and that Harriet Lane had yet again left me wondering what on earth would happen in the next chapter, if there was one. But there isn't - it ends, suddenly and dramatically, and that is what really will make Her a memorable read for me.
Her is a portrayal of a toxic friendship that will chill the reader to the bone. Two pretty ordinary women; Emma and Nina meet quite randomly and a friendship is formed. The reader knows that they have met before, many years ago. Emma doesn't remember Nina at all, but Nina has remembered Emma for a very very long time and immediately seizes her chance to infiltrate Emma's life.
Nina is a master in manipulation. She learnt this skill at a young age when she made sure that her mother and father's relationship was fractured beyond repair.
Emma welcomes Nina's friendship because for the first time since she stopped work to become a full-time mother, she's found someone who likes her for who she is, not for what she's become - a mother, a wife, the person who cleans up, who worries about money. Emma used to be someone, she had a successful career, she was a cherished wife and as much as she adores her two children, she's worn down by the constant demands on her time, the dwindling bank account and the shed door that's been falling off it's hinges for so so long.
Her is not a long novel, the hardback edition has just over 300 pages, but it's an intense and quite demanding read that is structured very well, but does take a little while to get used to. Each scene and event is narrated separately in alternate chapters by the two women. The exact same happening, but told from two very different perspectives. This works, it works very very well and once the reader adjusts to the style, it's utterly compelling and very difficult to stop reading.
Harriet Lane has observed female friendships and created a relationship between these two characters that is horrific, yet will be alarmingly familiar to many readers. Two very different women whose lives could not be further apart, yet who want to be friends, albeit for very different reasons. Emma's chapters reveal the feelings of a new mother, the sense of the downtrodden, the worry, the guilt and the resentment. Nina's are a portrait in vindictiveness and revenge, disguised with generosity and smiles.
I am very very impressed by Harriet Lane's writing. She is so so clever and has produced a very intelligent psychological thriller that will certainly feature in my Top Books of 2014. Her is a brilliant read - Bravo!(less)