The setting is London, in the midst of the Cold War in 1960. Simon and Lily Carrington, a modest, content couple, live with their three children in NoThe setting is London, in the midst of the Cold War in 1960. Simon and Lily Carrington, a modest, content couple, live with their three children in North London. Simon is some sort of a clerk at the Admiralty, and Lily, a teacher, mostly manages to hide her origins—as a child she emigrated with her Jewish mother from Germany before the war. But Lily is unaware that Simon has a dark past, and the consequences of this are slowly revealed as their world becomes a nightmare when he is accused of espionage, and without a minute to explain to Lily, is thrown into jail. The reader knows he has been set up, but does Lily? The reader knows more than Lily, thanks to the viewpoints of the real spies, dapper and seedy Giles Holloway, and the sinister Julian Clowde.
For me it is Lily who is the star of this story, as she flees London and fights her own quiet battles to protect her children, each forced to grow up too quickly in their desperate circumstances. This is no mere espionage tale, but a psychological drama with human character at its heart. Thank you to Netgalley for an advanced reader copy of this new novel in return for an honest review. ...more
Chris Cleave’s new novel “Everyone Brave is Forgiven” puts him on a par with Sebastian Faulks. As WWII is declared, eighteen year old well-heeled andChris Cleave’s new novel “Everyone Brave is Forgiven” puts him on a par with Sebastian Faulks. As WWII is declared, eighteen year old well-heeled and lightly rebellious Londoner, Mary, signs up for an adventure. Teaching school children turns out to be fun as well as a challenge for her, and when all the healthy, white children are evacuated and she is left with the waifs and strays, including Zachary, an eleven-year-old black negro child whose father is a minstrel singer, for the first time in her life she gets a hint of what real connection means. It takes her very little time to fall for Tom, a man who in peace time would never have made it into her social circle. Tom is a gentle fellow, and as administrator of the school district is guiltily grateful that this essential occupation allows him to avoid active service. Not so for his flatmate, Alistair, who volunteers immediately. The other important character is Hilda, Mary’s friend, and from the beginning much more of a gay socialite than Mary.
This beginning draws us in, ever so gradually, as the British were drawn in, to the horrors of the London Blitz, experienced mainly through Mary’s character arc, and the less well known and every bit as terrible Siege of Malta, experienced viscerally through Alistair’s character arc. Tom, Zachary, and Hilda play supporting roles, and by the end of this gut-wrenching tale we see each of their characters change immeasurably as the war grinds on. The love story that binds these characters together is, like so many forged in times of war, based on just a few in-person meetings, yet as deep as the ocean for all that. Cleave’s writing is superb and this is a book that is difficult to put down. The ending is never certain, and in the end, is realistic and right. Thank you to Chris Cleave, Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for an advanced reader copy of this wonderful new novel in return for an honest review. ...more
I am a fan of Anna Quindlen's writing and this is another wonderful novel, written in her hallmark style. It is incredible to me, having been broughtI am a fan of Anna Quindlen's writing and this is another wonderful novel, written in her hallmark style. It is incredible to me, having been brought up in New Zealand in what was, on the surface a completely different environment and social milieu from Anna Quindlen and her wonderful fictional characters, that so many things in her books ring true for me and take me back to my own growing up in the 60s and 70s. This was especially true for her memoir, "Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake" but it is also true of her novels. "Miller's Valley" drew me in immediately and held me there to the last word. It is one of her best I think, although for me not quite as heart and soul shaking as "One True Thing" which is still one of the two best novels I have ever read (and I have read thousands). (The other is Wallace Stegner's "Crossing to Safety.") I won't repeat the story of "Miller's Valley" here, but just say that yes, it is a joy to read and savour. Thank you Random House and Netgalley for an advance review copy in return for an honest review. ...more
I loved MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND and was looking forward to reading Helen Simonson’s second novel. It is always difficult to follow a major succesI loved MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND and was looking forward to reading Helen Simonson’s second novel. It is always difficult to follow a major success and I fear THE SUMMER BEFORE THE WAR is no exception to this rule. It is certainly elegantly written but I struggled to get through it and found myself skimming pages and more pages. The sharp wit and engaging characters of MAJOR PETTIGREW were sadly missing, and the themes of the English privileged coping with the onset of WWI all too familiar to readers, as novels and TV dramas—some excellent—around this theme proliferate. I did read to the end, hoping that something more impelling than the usual would happen, and while the last quarter did improve, overall this was a disappointing read. Thank you to Netgalley for a digital review copy in return for an honest review, and I will certainly read Simonson’s third novel in the hope that it fulfills the promise of her first. ...more
This may be Jacquelyn Mitchard’s best adult novel since the fabled THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN which began her long career as a teller of engaging storiThis may be Jacquelyn Mitchard’s best adult novel since the fabled THE DEEP END OF THE OCEAN which began her long career as a teller of engaging stories about the human condition. TWO IF BY SEA begins in Brisbane as a tsunami hits on Christmas Day. As retired US cop, Frank Mercy, now a resident of Brisbane, joins the rescue effort, pushing aside the certain fear that his pregnant wife and her family must surely have been swept away, he pulls from a vehicle sinking in Brisbane river a small boy, but is unable to save the woman and the child’s older brother. The child, Ian, becomes his lifeline out of grief, and beyond all reason he finds himself breaking the rules, fleeing from Australia back to the family farm in Wisconsin, taking the child with him under the pretense that he has a legal right to the child. As Ian’s gift to influence people to do his bidding—usually for their good—becomes increasingly clear, Frank’s love for him and Ian’s dependence on the man he calls ‘Dad’ grows ever deeper. Frank returns to training horses and his and Ian’s relationship with Glory Bee, the horse that accompanied him from Australia, is reminiscent of parts of “The Horse Whisperer” although it is Ian who has the whispering skills. Frank’s closeness with his own Wisconsin family and his developing relationship with psychiatrist and equestrian, Claudia, form the bowl of light that fights the darkness lurking around Ian and his other-worldly gift, fueling Frank’s desperate attempts to keep the person he now loves more than anyone else from harm. This is a love story, a story of loss, a family drama, and a psychological suspense, but at its heart it is a story of the all-encompassing bond that can form between a parent (whether biological or adopted) and a child. The parent-child bond is where Jacquelyn Mitchard’s writing has always shone brightest and in TWO IF BY SEA she has triumphed again. Thank you to Netgalley for a digital review copy in return for an honest review.
The premise for this psychological suspense is very clever, if not entirely believable! Ellie and Helen, 6-year-old identical twins of very differentThe premise for this psychological suspense is very clever, if not entirely believable! Ellie and Helen, 6-year-old identical twins of very different personalities, change their identities as a prank. But when the time comes to stop play-acting, the previously submissive twin refuses to change, and everyone believes her and not her once dominant (and rather unpleasant) twin. The once submissive twin now holds all the cards, and this continues into adulthood! The consequences for the now submissive twin are terrible, as we discover as the story moves between the twins' childhoods and their adult lives. The now dominant twin appears to get all the good things until she gets her just desserts… This is a rather disjointed and sometimes difficult to follow story (which twin is which, even for the reader) of a chaotic life and mental illness. There are any number of very unpleasant characters, the twins’ mother being the ultimate in uncaring and wicked. Good writing and well worth a read for readers who like Domestic Noir and psychological suspense. ...more
Loved this rich memoir translated into English for the first time. Told in Coco Schumann’s words, the writing style is not always the best but this maLoved this rich memoir translated into English for the first time. Told in Coco Schumann’s words, the writing style is not always the best but this may be partly because of the translation. The events this young half-jewish German jazz musician witnessed and endured when young are horrific, and in some ways the unemotional way in which they are related (perhaps because this is the only way such atrocities of the Nazi death camps can be told) make them almost bearable to read. His is another story of a musician whose music saved him in the camps. His passion for jazz shines through and his tales of postwar life and the musicians he knew are fascinating. A great book for anyone interested in jazz and Germany in the 1930s to 60s, or for readers who want to increase their understanding of what it was like to survive Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and Dachau. I received an eARC from Netgalley in return for an honest review. ...more
The Bronte Plot wasn’t really my sort of book; a bit too chic-lit. I have spent quite a lot of time in Haworth and the Bronte country, and Wuthering HThe Bronte Plot wasn’t really my sort of book; a bit too chic-lit. I have spent quite a lot of time in Haworth and the Bronte country, and Wuthering Heights is one of my favourite books, and the references to literature and the locations in England Lucy and Helen visited were mostly enjoyable. However many of the characters were two dimensional and not particularly engaging, and it was a bit of a struggle to finish the book.
I received an eARC from Netgalley in return for and honest review. ...more
‘One Summer In Venice’ is delicious in every sense: the food; the eccentric characters (especially those MUCH older than me) and their flamboyant clot‘One Summer In Venice’ is delicious in every sense: the food; the eccentric characters (especially those MUCH older than me) and their flamboyant clothes; the tango (yes, in Venice); the gorgeous Italian men; and the sights and sounds and smells and tastes of that romantic city. Nicky Pellegrino’s latest novel is an effortless read but it has a heartfelt message. The protagonist—stressed out, unhappy London chef Addolorata Martinelli (Dolly!)—escapes London after a bad review of her own restaurant, and in shock after her husband’s revelation that he is tired of her self-centred lifestyle and no longer wants to be with her. In Venice she decides to write a list of what makes her happy, no easy task. By the end of the book you will be making your own list and perhaps planning your own escape, preferably to Venice! We were last in Venice 5 years ago, and Nicky Pellegrino’s delectable descriptions brought it all flooding back. It also stimulated a search of the pantry to seek out ingredients for crostini toppings (anchovy, sardine, goats cheese, roasted red peppers?) to have with the long G & T in the evening sun. Had to make do with blue cheese and quince paste on crackers. Not Venice but lovely anyway. ...more
Hope you enjoy this book as much as I loved writing it! And if you ever have a chance to spend time on a coral cay on the Great Barrier Reef, take it.Hope you enjoy this book as much as I loved writing it! And if you ever have a chance to spend time on a coral cay on the Great Barrier Reef, take it. Likewise if you get an opportunity to watch (quietly and without bright lights) marine turtles nesting, you are in for some magic. But it is not all lovely in paradise, of course, so prepare for that neurological slant...
Below the 5 star review from Readers' Favorite
Reviewed By Danielle Urban for Readers’ Favorite A Drop in the Ocean is a brilliantly well written novel, one that will instantly pull readers into its deepest depths. Jenni Ogden has beautifully woven a story that readers won't easily forget. A story of one woman's journey to life, love, and loss, A Drop in the Ocean is a fictional world where readers will truly lose themselves inside its plot.
Jenni Ogden's novel, A Drop in the Ocean, is the first of her novels that I have read. After reading this compelling story, I have fallen in love with Jenni Ogden's work. In a world depicting one very intelligent yet strong woman, Anna Fergusson isolates herself inside her work. This work requires a lot of back breaking old-fashioned research. It's not until her 49th birthday that she reads a letter that will forever change her life. The life and work that she has come to know and love is taken away, but still she hopes for a miracle. Soon, she finds herself on an island and discovers a lot more to life than just research.
Readers will laugh and cry and want to hug Anna Fergusson as the scenes unfold. But that's not all. Readers will be taken into the vivid imagery of the island and the turtles. A beautiful world indeed. Life throws us curve balls and here we see Anna struggle with the ones tossed her way. Jenni Ogden's story is realistic and heartfelt. This is a must-read for all. A breathtaking journey of second chances. Life, love, and loss are strong themes that will lure readers back to this unforgettable novel. I loved it! A powerful read that I highly recommend to readers everywhere....more
Losing a mother when you are a teenager changes your life in ways nothing else can, and Tammy Flanders captures those feelings here. Losing your bestLosing a mother when you are a teenager changes your life in ways nothing else can, and Tammy Flanders captures those feelings here. Losing your best friend too young changes us as well. This lovely story combines these two life-changing circumstances in a moving and well-written story. ...more
This is one of the most moving memoirs I have read; also one of the most remarkable, both in topic and writing style. Lene Fogelberg is a poetic, honeThis is one of the most moving memoirs I have read; also one of the most remarkable, both in topic and writing style. Lene Fogelberg is a poetic, honest writer with a strong voice to match her strong spirit. It is frightening how neglected her medical care was in Sweden; almost unbelievable that she could go all the way into adulthood and through pregnancy without a proper assessment of her heart murmur. Clearly if circumstances hadn’t sent her husband and their family to the US, Lene would not have survived to write so eloquently about her long and emotionally terrifying journey, through the medical system in America, through double open heart surgery, and out the other side. It is a love story. It is a story of a courageous family; a story that probably would not have had the happy ending it did without Lene’s husband, Anders, who never failed to believe her when no one else seemed to, and supported her through multiple grueling decisions and procedures while caring for their daughters. Not easy in a strange country, where everyone speaks not ony in medical lingo but in a foreign tongue.
Lene’s skill at showing, not telling, was the golden reason this memoir stands head and heart above most others for me. For example: I have heard many descriptions of the experience of being injected with contrast dye before undergoing a CAT scan, both from radiologists and from patients. Lene’s is by far the most evocative and the one that I am sure is closest to the truth. The difference between her experience and the experience of other patients in a similar situation is simply that Lene captures it in words.
At first I feel nothing. Then it comes. The rushing, the heat, in all my blood vessels, large, small, arteries, veins, rushing, rushing, a waterfall in my body. In my head, my brain, somone creeping into my brain paths, a small electrician pulling wires, everywhere at the same time, the heat, the rushing, in my eyes, my neck, my arms, stomach, legs, feet, and I wet myself, I can’t help it. The voice of the technician comes out of a speaker: “It’s all right, you’re not wetting yourself.” The rushing is over. (from Chapter 32, p183-184).
Wonderful. Lene and her family, homesick for Sweden, returned there where health-care reform has thankfully now improved the situation for future patients. And as Lene writes in an Author’s note, she will always carry a piece of America in her heart. Absolutely a memoir to savour. ...more
This is a charming story about the power of books and community. When Sara arrives from Sweden, expecting to stay with her book-loving penfriend Amy,This is a charming story about the power of books and community. When Sara arrives from Sweden, expecting to stay with her book-loving penfriend Amy, she finds that Amy has died, leaving behind her a sad small-town community in a dying town in Iowa. As Sara finds her place in Amy’s house, with Amy’s books, and opens a bookshop, the town gradually transforms, with the subtle help of the books Sara finds for each of them. In return, as the time draws near for Sara to return to Sweden, the town becomes a matchmaker. This is a book for book lovers, and for readers who enjoyed The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. ...more
July 9th, 2015: As I write this, Oliver Sacks is celebrating his 82nd birthday. Almost five months ago, his readers, fans, patients and friends read, with heavy hearts, his New York Times essay My Own Life: Oliver Sacks on learning he has terminal cancer. I was one of numerous thousands who felt a very personal sadness that this lovely man had not only been going through a tough time, but had more hard times ahead. Somewhat selfishly—also like thousands of others—I felt bereft as I looked at my shelf of Oliver Sacks books and realised that there would be only one more.
But what a one. Dr. Sacks’ autobiography, On The Move: A Life, published just two months after his moving tribute to life and death, is a triumph. The cover shows Marlon Brando in leathers astride a motorbike—who knows, perhaps Brando had been a patient or friend of the unconventional Dr. Sacks? No, of course it was Oliver himself in his younger years when his greatest passion was motorbikes. As a young neurology resident in Los Angeles he would take off on his bike on Friday when he had finished at the hospital and ride 500 miles in a straight line along Route 66 to the Grand Canyon, arriving with the sunrise. There he would hike in the Canyon before riding back to LA on Sunday night, arriving in time to appear “bright and fresh” for neurology rounds on Monday morning. Around the same time he was a weightlifter of some note, in the heavyweight class. He also swam enormous distances in the sea, and loved scuba diving, photography, botany, natural history, music and poetry.
The first book of his that I read was The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat and I suspect that this is still the best known of his many books. I had recently completed my PhD in clinical neuropsychology, and had already decided that what I wanted to do more than any other sort of research was to seek out and study single cases, so reading this when it was first published in 1985 was a wonderful confirmation of my decision—especially as large group studies were (and still are) considered more respectable and “scientific”. In fact Sacks’ first book was Migraine, which he wrote in a period of days in 1967 and then struggled to publish, primarily because of the efforts to prevent it being published by the jealous head of the Migraine Clinic Sacks had been working in.
This is just one of the stories that populate On The Move which is written almost as separate stories, where one tale flows naturally into another, yet where there is a feeling of time passing from his years as a young man, to middle age and finally to old age. In this sense it is almost as if he is observing himself as he does his patients. There has often been an autobiographical thread through his books; in one of my favourites, The Mind’s Eye, he is one of the cases—he describes his own lifelong problem with recognising faces, and later his terrible loss of depth vision when he loses the sight in one eye. Then of course there is A Leg To Stand On, which draws on his own hallucinatory experiences after an accident when the muscles of his leg were badly damaged, Hallucinations, inspired by his own hallucinatory drug-fuelled experiences, and his memoir of his childhood, Uncle Tungsten. In On The Move he comments: “It seems to me that I discover my thoughts through the act of writing, in the act of writing”, and this certainly encapsulates what he achieves in his books . Yet he has never revealed the private Sacks until now, in On The Move. Perhaps it is only as he stands (on both legs) looking back and reviews his long and eventful-rich life that he sees these deeply personal and vivid memories as core to this final story.
In his eighties he has no qualms about shocking his readers with his straight-forward honesty as he tells us about his sexual baptism in Amsterdam in 1955, and his introduction to the gay lifestyle. Candid observations of his drug addiction, sultry love affairs and unrequited desires for beautiful young men at one end of the spectrum, and 50 years of psychoanalysis with the same therapist at the other, are all here. His close relationships with his doctor parents, his aunts and uncles, and his disabled brother, each of whom contributed to the gentle, curious, shy, eccentric, deeply thoughtful man he became; his friendships with many famous people including W.H. Auden, Francis Crick, Stephen Jay Gould, and Carol Burnett—none because they were famous but all because their minds and personalities clicked with his—; his reliance on Kate Edgar, the amazing woman who for 30 years has been his personal assistant, editor, collaborator and friend; the enduring doctor-patient relationships he formed with his patients; the stories behind his books and the Awakenings movie: all are captured here in this engaging story of his life.
There is a wry sense of humour throughout and many poignant moments; the most poignant, perhaps, that about finding love. Halfway through the book he tells us about a wild week of drug-fuelled sex he had with a delicious young stud he met on his 40th birthday—“the perfect birthday present….parting without pain or promises when our week was up.” But then he notes “It was just as well that I had no foreknowledge of the future, for after that sweet birthday fling I was to have no sex for the next thirty-five years.”
Not until the end of the book do we learn that in 2008 when he was 75 he met Billy Hayes, also a writer, and two years later they discovered they were deeply in love. He observes “It has sometimes seemed to me that I have lived at a certain distance from life. This changed when Billy and I fell in love… now (for God’s sake!) I was in my seventy-seventh year.”
As I closed the book I was left with the feeling that in these final months—many more I hope—Oliver Sacks has reached a truly happy place. And from this reader, what more is there to say than thank you Dr. Sacks. ...more