At the heart of The Knowing is a lovely opposites attract romance. I loved how Lunden has JB asSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
At the heart of The Knowing is a lovely opposites attract romance. I loved how Lunden has JB as an elderly man remembering important moments in his life with Ellie - their first meeting at school when Ellie's family move to Bulwark, the start of their fledgling relationship, and the events which drove them apart. I got such a strong sense of his love for Ellie and, indeed, of her love for him. This central theme shines through the swirl of weirdness which surrounds Bulwark - a lamp burning in the mists!
I was fascinated, but also frequently bewildered by the oddness in this novella. The title, The Knowing, is an apt description for JB and Ellie's sense of belonging together - they just know this is right - but it is also confusing for this reader looking in as there was so much I didn't know or understand! What was the puddle's source? Who was in the car? What's the reason for that time jump? I'm not used to fictional stories deliberately Not answering so many questions so this aspect of Lunden's writing quite compelling and unusual. I have another of the Bulwark novellas to read sooon so perhaps the town's mysteries might become clearer?...more
In reading Difficult Women by Helen Lewis I was reminded of Roaring Girls by Holly Kyte which ISee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
In reading Difficult Women by Helen Lewis I was reminded of Roaring Girls by Holly Kyte which I read late last year. Both works introduced me to women who should be household names but, in the majority of cases, have been forgotten. As We Need New Stories by Nesrine Malik pointed out, as women we need to both create our own new narratives and to remember the stories of our female forebears. Lewis' selection, other than law reform campaigner Caroline Norton, brought to my attention women from more recent years than those Kyte featured. Annie Kenney and Marie Stopes were familiar names - although I soon realised my ignorance of much more than that about their lives. What particularly shocked me though was learning about women such as strike leader Jayaben Desai, women's refuge founder Erin Pizzey, lesbian MP Maureen Colquhoun, ... These women were politically active within my own lifetime, yet I knew nothing about them! When is the Grunwick film going to be made? Surely it could be as big a hit as Made In Dagenham!
Lewis organises Difficult Women by topics with each chapter focusing on a theme such as Divorce, The Vote, Sex, Play, Work, etc. I liked that the progression is roughly chronological so I could understand how new changes built on what had changed before. I didn't agree with all Lewis' interpretations of events, but did appreciate her recognition that we need to remember each of these women as they actually were, rather than being tempted to airbrush out aspects of their characters that don't agree with our current worldviews. Personally I don't want my heroines to be made to appear perfect in every way because then I feel less encouraged to step out behind them. Realising that real women could effect such huge changes through sheer determination is inspiring, and knowing that they didn't always look fabulous whilst doing so or got some things wrong makes it seem more feasible that I too can have the courage to quietly rebel in my own way....more
I've enjoyed following Carole Matthews' entertaining Twitter and Facebook posts for probably aSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I've enjoyed following Carole Matthews' entertaining Twitter and Facebook posts for probably a couple of years now, but had never actually gotten around to reading any of her novels So when I spotted a well-thumbed copy of It's A Kind Of Magic at a campsite book exchange late last year, I swapped for it. As my regular visitors will know, frothy chick lit isn't one of my favourite genres! In fact, I'm not sure how long ago the last time I read this kind of story would have been. However, giving the current grimly apocalyptic state of my social media timelines, (Carole's lovely posts excepted, of course!) this novel turned out to be just the kind of silly, light-hearted escapism I needed to lift my mood.
Emma and Leo aren't characters with whom I could sympathise - certainly not when I first met them and my opinions didn't improve much as their escapades unravelled. I did enjoy reading about them though, especially their reactions to the increasingly implausible situations in which they find themselves. They are the kind of affluent white Londoners for whom the rest of the country doesn't really exist and I frequently found myself spitting feathers at their arrogance and cushioned lives. Their wealth and connections don't help much when one of them unintentionally wishes a mischievous fairy into existence though. I don't want to give away too much of the plot in case I'm not the last person who hadn't already read this, however I do now have a greater wariness of casual wishing - and of Superglue.
It's A Kind Of Magic is an easy read which I happily devoured in a day. It is perhaps rather too repetitious at times and should have been trimmed to 300 pages instead of just over 400. There are also a few hows and whys which I would like to have seen explained, but then this isn't really the sort of book that calls for a lot of post-read pondering. If self-isolating has got you needing a fluffy mood lift already, then maybe give It's A Kind Of Magic a try....more
The Society of Reluctant Dreamers in a beautifully bewildering novel in which I found itSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
The Society of Reluctant Dreamers in a beautifully bewildering novel in which I found it frequently difficult to be entirely sure what was real, what was imagined, and what was dreamed. Agualusa explores the psychological damage caused by war, colonialism and oppression on characters who, at first glance, seem very different, but who find themselves linked by the surrealist device of finding themselves involuntarily featuring in each other's dreams. I felt that The Society of Reluctant Dreamers had more in common with the magical realism genre of novels and I loved Agualusa's richly detailed prose style. Dreams might be shown in the sense of dreaming whilst asleep, or daydreaming while awake, or having aspirational dreams for the future.
I was interested in discussions of identity throughout this story. At one point characters talk about whether embracing a new country's culture does actually change one's national identity which is a question I frequently encounter in my WorldReads project. Language is another factor of identity and it was interesting to see how, despite Angola's eventual independence from Portuguese domination, the effects of European colonialism still linger through the official use of the Portuguese language, links with other formerly Portuguese colonies such as Brazil and Mozambique being stronger for Angolans than links to, say, English or French-speaking nations. Agualusa also explores how much one's past influences one's present and future life. Can people truly atone for their past actions, and to what extent can children escape the effects of decisions made by their parents' generations.
The Society of Reluctant Dreamers is an impressive onion of a book! I enjoyed reading it initially at one level and, now, the more I think back over the story the more concepts I find myself wrangling with. Agualusa has a real depth to his writing, yet I didn't feel myself getting bogged down in Deep Truths as I read. I think The Society of Reluctant Dreamers can be appreciated as an insightful novel of human behaviours and connections with Angola's violent past providing a particularly unique base from which to contemplate and understand this tale....more
I'm so happy to have been given this opportunity to read and review The Faerie Tree because ISee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I'm so happy to have been given this opportunity to read and review The Faerie Tree because I loved this novel! I hadn't read any of Jane Cable's other work before so, while the synopsis appealed to me, I wasn't exactly sure what to expect, however Cable's writing style and storytelling expertise had me completely gripped from the first page until the last. The Faerie Tree has a second-chance romance at its heart, but I felt its storyline went deeper than a standard romance or domestic drama novel. Cable weaves contemporary issues such as homelessness, children caring for parents, physical disability and mental health problems into this story, yet without ever making it feel as though this was a social commentary piece. Instead, the characters' lives flowed perfectly naturally leading me to almost see myself as one of the family. I was quite bereft after I finished reading!
I would highly recommend The Faerie Tree to readers who love unreliable narrators, especially when the characters themselves utterly believe their own truths. Cable had shared the real Faerie Tree photograph on social media prior to my starting to read and I appreciated having the same sense of authenticity regarding this anchor as both Robin and Izzie. I think it helped me to connect with them. I could strongly empathise with Robin's overwhelming grief and the way he reacted to it while, at the same time, really sympathise with Izzie's predicament as she was left alone. To even begin to try and overcome such a rift would be challenging enough, but in their circumstances and after twenty years have passed? It certainly does make for a compelling tale! ...more
Child Of The Universe is an interesting poetry memoir through which Katleho Mosotho tells theSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
Child Of The Universe is an interesting poetry memoir through which Katleho Mosotho tells the story of his rise from a childhood laced with neglect and abuse to his present successful career as a teacher with university qualifications. His determination to succeed shines through the poems as does his fervent Christian faith - in fact I felt as though several of these works could be read as uplifting prayers as well as personal poetry. I was disappointed that the collection doesn't give a picture of Lesotho life as I had expected elements of this from the synopsis. Instead I would say that Child Of The Universe is an aspirational and motivational work. Mosotho picks out themes and people that had a profound influence on his blossoming, immortalising them in accessible poetry which I appreciated having this opportunity to experience....more
Three Apples Fell From The Sky is an utterly charming novel. A deserving prize winner in itsSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
Three Apples Fell From The Sky is an utterly charming novel. A deserving prize winner in its original Russian, I was delighted to spot this book on NetGalley sympathetically translated into English by Lisa Hayden. Narine Abgaryan's portrait of the slow decline of an isolated mountain village should by rights be something of a depressing read. Maran loses its population to war, to famine, and to a horrendous mudslide that sweeps away half the village overnight. However, the fabulously depicted characters who remain, stubbornly and grumpily overcoming every hurdle life can throw at them, make Three Apples Fell From The Sky a wonderfully heart-warming read. In these days of selfish panic-buying and self-isolation, reading about Maran's occupants and their daily lives was just the tonic I needed.
This novel reads almost like a fable or a fairytale in style and has moments which could be magical realism or could just be the effects of stories well-worn over years of retelling. By the time we meet them, Maran is down to less than two dozen residents, the youngest of them being fifty-eight, and all of them living in conditions that seem unbelievably harsh by modern Western standards. Food is reared or gathered by hand and cooked over open fires, laundry is a whole day of hard work, and evenings are for making or mending - at least while the light lasts. Its a hard but simple way of living which I found myself being more and more strongly drawn to as I spent longer with these amazing people. I loved learning each family's history through witnessing their friendships and I could appreciate their sense of themselves as a true community. Three Apples Fell From The Sky is beautifully written (and translated) so I could always empathise with each person's joys and sorrows yet, at the same time, I was always aware that this village was maintaining a very different culture to my own. Their superstitions and rituals underpin a way of life that I think has mostly vanished from everywhere now, except for one tiny village somewhere in the Armenian mountains!...more
I'm really undecided how I feel about A Widow's Tale by Frances Paul. It's admittedly not mySee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I'm really undecided how I feel about A Widow's Tale by Frances Paul. It's admittedly not my usual reading genre so my reactions might result from leaving my comfort zone. However, while certain scenes had me gripped, I also nearly DNFd this novel twice. Aspects I particularly enjoyed were when we got to see our heroine, Karina, in action. She's a kick-ass assassin and the head of an Argentinean drug dealing family - neither of which are the usual career choices for fictional women - so I appreciated how Paul has turned gender stereotypes upside down in this way. There's lots of macho tough talk which is entertaining and Paul writes her action scenes as though they were movie clips which results in a fast, exciting pace as bullets fly and buildings explode.
I struggled, though, with Paul's idiosyncratic writing style. She frequently uses disjointed sentence fragments and jumps between tenses. Initially I blamed poor proofreading or insufficient editing, but this style remains consistent over the five hundred pages of A Widow's Tale and I did become accustomed to it eventually. As A Widow's Tale is an action read, there is limited emphasis given to the characters' emotional development. When crime family is pitted against crime family, not getting shot is a much higher priority for most of them! I would have preferred deeper motivations than the spiralling eye for an eye revenge scenarios. I'm not sure that I would personally venture into another Frances Paul novel after reading this one, but, for action thriller fans who are already chafing at self-isolation, A Widow's Tale could provide plenty of exciting escapism!...more
I loved returning to Cuba for Queen Of Bones, Teresa Dovalpage's second Havana Mystery. We againSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I loved returning to Cuba for Queen Of Bones, Teresa Dovalpage's second Havana Mystery. We again have the main protagonist, who finds himself caught up in a murder investigation, being a visitor to the enigmatic island, but this time that man is former refugee, Juan, who fled Cuba twenty years previously on a homemade raft. His bewilderment at the recent changes within Cuban society and culture allowed me, as a reader, to get a good understanding of the phenomenon myself. I imagine it must be just as difficult for lifelong Cubans to cope with rapid commercialisation and shifting attitudes as it was for Juan. Transgender woman Victoria embodies the new open society as she embraces the personal identity which was forbidden to her two decades previously. In contrast, Dovalpage also focuses on the traditional Santeria religion with its blend of African deities and Catholic saints. I appreciated these insights into the faith as this helped to understand several characters' motivations.
The murder mystery aspect of Queen Of Bones is nicely plotted and I did manage to work out the murderer by about the halfway point. The whys and wherefores eluded me for considerably longer though and I found myself taken in by red herrings along the way. Thank goodness that Santeria priest Padrino isn't so gullible! Padrino's dual profession gives him access to most places and when it doesn't, he's not adverse to simply letting himself in! My only irritation with Queen Of Bones was the character of Juan's wife, Sharon, who was such a sulky wet blanket that I couldn't recognise what I was being told about her from the way she actually behaved. The dichotomy was quite distracting and I wished Juan had followed his initial inclination to leave her back in America for the duration of his visit! Sharon aside though, Queen Of Bones is a vibrant and culturally interesting story which I enjoyed reading just as much as its predecessor....more
I picked out Salty, Bitter, Sweet by Mayra Cuevas from NetGalley because of its Own VoicesSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I picked out Salty, Bitter, Sweet by Mayra Cuevas from NetGalley because of its Own Voices authorship. Isabella's part-Latina heritage is an important aspect of this authentically complicated character's emotional makeup. Still reeling from emotional family upheavals, Isabella's need to find herself a new way to belong reminded me of similar themes in Natalie Tan's Book of Love and Fortune by Roselle Lim. Both novels are essentially foodie coming-of-age stories for which I would strongly recommend having plenty of snacks to hand whilst reading! If you love your food as much as I do Salty, Bitter, Sweet will make you hungry!
I loved how Cuevas incorporates French and Spanish locations and language into her novel. Despite Isabella being American herself, Salty, Bitter, Sweet feels like a European novel. I recognised the portrayals of Lyon and Barcelona from my own visits, and the swirl of cultural identities throughout the story reflects Isabella's own confusion about who she is and, perhaps more importantly at this stage of her life, who she wants to become. Her need to hide in a kitchen drives her culinary ambitions and she is obviously talented, however Cuevas shows how hanging our entire sense of ourselves onto one facet of our makeup is not a healthy way to live. I appreciated the correlations between Isabella's obsessive behaviour and Diego's similar situation. They are each at different stages of their emotional journeys, but this allows them to make a connection that might not otherwise have been possible - once they stop bickering that is.
Friendships, particularly female friendships, are featured prominently in Salty, Bitter, Sweet, with much of the culinary storyline taking place in an ultra masculine environment - a Michelin starred kitchen. I loved how Cuevas mutes the majority of the male characters though so, while we are always aware that the three female students are very much the minority, for us they carry the focus. Cuevas shows the dark side of what it takes to become 'the best', leaving me questioning why such hostility and angst is considered essential to creating high quality food. I, too, would rather eat imperfectly cut chips cooked with love!...more
I was intrigued by the premise of this short philosophical work, especially as I have completelySee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I was intrigued by the premise of this short philosophical work, especially as I have completely rethought my own attitudes towards clothing and possessions over the past few years. The Dharma of Fashion is, I think, intended as a wake-up call for people who habitually use retail therapy to cheer themselves up or as a reward - and end up being ultimately no happier plus then find themselves dealing with the added stresses of an overstuffed wardrobe and empty bank account as well. In the days when I had a fairly smart office job, this was often me. Otto von Busch discusses how Buddhist thinking can help individuals to overcome such an empty addiction to clothes shopping. I was particularly interested in his descriptions of what is actually happening in our brain chemistry as we search out the perfect slimming dress, for example, and why that life-changing outfit loses its magic so quickly - sometimes even before we've carried it home.
As with a lot of sound psychological thinking, In common with Alain De Botton's work, Status Anxiety, The Dharma Of Fashion's guidance encourages readers to look inwardly for solutions to unhappiness rather than hanging our dreams on the acquisition of yet more pieces of fabric. Von Busch demonstrates the destructive pointlessness of our current overconsumption - both to ourselves and our planet - and I appreciated the inclusion of Buddhist practices that can help change our mindsets. I liked that the advice here reinforced my pride in my own minimalist wardrobe because I often find myself feeling I should have more clothing - not because I have any need for more, but just because being different creates unease. Now I can rationalise those nagging doubts. I wonder if von Busch's lessons will also work for book hoarding?...more
I was initially attracted to Distorted Days by its austere cover art - monochrome with a dash ofSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I was initially attracted to Distorted Days by its austere cover art - monochrome with a dash of mustard yellow - and the jagged font which suggested that this novel would be something different from the ordinary run of domestically themed drama stories. Within just a few pages I was gripped by Louise Worthington's prose and her circular storytelling style. We soon discovered that heart-broken Doris likes her wine rather too much and I loved the repeated refrains that accompany each return to the bottle. As someone who has struggled against alcohol addiction myself, I appreciated the authenticity of these scenes.
Worthington has a wonderful understanding of her characters. In less empathic hands Doris especially, but also Andy and Colleen, could easily have become overblown two-dimensional caricatures. Instead they felt so real that I found myself missing their friendship when I finally closed this book. Their believable reactions to what are unfortunately common life events depict how easily our mental stability can be derailed by unpredictable shocks. What was so poignant though was how their need to present a certain stoic face to the outside world exacerbated their suffering behind closed doors. It's all too easy to allow a person's public face to mask their inner turmoil and to accept their protestations of being 'just fine' when we have our own lives to navigate. Distorted Days' exploration of self-inflicted emotional isolation reminded me of Mile Marker 139 by Cynthia Hilston and I feel that readers who enjoyed Hilston's similarly themed novel will also like this one.
My review so far does, I think, make Distorted Days sound like a much heavier read than it actually is. Despite its serious themes, Worthington's writing has a humorous lightness that kept me happily engrossed in this story while also giving me a lot to mull over after finishing. I do like a novel that gets me thinking! Distorted Days, also, was definitely written by a keen reader so, from its frequent mentions of other books and authors to its hushed library setting, I felt very much at home....more
I picked up this little Penguin Classics short story at a campsite book exchange and read overSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I picked up this little Penguin Classics short story at a campsite book exchange and read over an hour or so whilst lazing on a beach. It's a fun tale of national oneupmanship in which Russian craftsmen are set the task of bettering an English invention - a tiny lifesized steel flea automaton which jumps about when wound by a key. It's all quite silly and the narrative frequently wanders off at odd tangents as all good shaggy dog stories do. Especially worth noting is William Edgerton's idiosyncratic translation which I imagine echoes the original Russian text in that wrong words are substituted to humorous effect throughout the story. An entertaining short story and one which I think would benefit from being read aloud, performance style, to an audience....more
I picked out Sisters In Arms by Julie Wheelwright after reading Roaring Girls by Holly Kyte andSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I picked out Sisters In Arms by Julie Wheelwright after reading Roaring Girls by Holly Kyte and The Shadow King by Maaza Mengiste, both books (one nonfiction, one fiction) which in part explored the idea of female soldiers and the effects living and working in such a male dominated environment had on those women. Sisters In Arms is a well-reseached companion volume which allowed me to view the subject through a wider historical lens. However, while the original Amazons do feature briefly, most of Wheelwright's soldiers are from the 1700s to the present day. I was a little disappointed that older eras didn't feature as strongly, but perhaps sufficient primary sources aren't available. Individual soldiers of colour are also noticeably absent from Sisters In Arms with the majority of of named women by white and from Britain, America or Russia.
Wheelwright themes her chapters around stages in soldiers' careers which meant I got a good understanding of common experiences as well as individual differences. It was interesting to see how the way the women were portrayed in contemporary newspapers and books has changed with the progression of time. Social attitudes to women in combat have fluctuated considerably over the past few centuries and our present-day acceptance of their wide-ranging roles has been a long time coming. Very few women actually had the opportunity to tell their own stories too without a male filter to edit or reshape their experiences. This, obviously, must have hindered Wheelwright's research as the authenticity of accounts cannot be taken for granted.
Unfortunately I wasn't as enamoured of Sisters In Arms as I had hoped when I began reading it. There's certainly a lot of information in its pages, but I found the delivery to be too dry and, sometimes, too repetitive for my tastes. ...more
I was drawn to Joy Su's book, Truth vs Illusion, because of the author's personal journeySee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I was drawn to Joy Su's book, Truth vs Illusion, because of the author's personal journey towards the peace and happiness she now enjoys. I understood that she hadn't always been able to deal positively with life events and that this had previously led to episodes of severe depression. At one point Su talks about having never felt as though she truly belonged anywhere. I could identify with that sense. Truth vs Illusion is a deeper, more philosophical work than I had expected. It draws upon varied religious and spiritual traditions, and I appreciated learning how their practices overlap, particularly in the area of meditation. Usually I feel as though religious teachings are deliberately identified as being as different from each other as possible so this was one of several eye-opening topics for me.
I found that I am noticeably happier and more content within myself since I became vegan last year, and diet choices is one of Su's themes. However I still want to improve upon this positive mindset. Truth vs Illusion has good ideas towards achieving this goal. I admit I didn't understand everything that was laid out for readers, but feel I now have a sound grasp of the basics of Su's suggestions regarding the connectedness of life, the destructive tendencies of the subconscious mind, and the benefits of engaging in regular meditation which I now plan to undertake. I will be interested to return to Truth vs Illusion once I have established this new habit because I feel I will understand more of the detailed philosophy once I actually have personal experience of what Su is discussing, rather than trying to imagine so much at once.
I'm glad to have discovered Truth vs Illusion and am grateful to Joy Su for sharing her book with me. It is not an instruction manual so readers wanting to be told how to meditate, for example, will be disappointed. At times Su writes in almost a stream of consciousness style so this is a work to study and reflect upon. It doesn't offer easy answers, but I feel it was a rewarding read....more
I was sure I must have read an Ngaio Marsh novel before now, but - according to my Goodreads -See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I was sure I must have read an Ngaio Marsh novel before now, but - according to my Goodreads - Vintage Murder is my first. I hope, therefore, that I inadvertently picked up one of her lesser works because I'm sorry to say that I wasn't as impressed as I thought I would be. Vintage Murder is the fifth story featuring Scotland Yard Chief Inspector Roderick Alleyn who sends himself to New Zealand to recuperate from an unspecified injury - possibly inflicted during book four. Marsh doesn't go in for recapping previous novels. Alleyn is a bit of a fish out of water when he finds himself pushed to the forefront of a theatrical murder investigation. The local New Zealand police are unbelievably grateful that this posh English detective graces them with his expertise though. It's all very colonial - from an English perspective.
The mystery itself is suitably intriguing and I did enjoy reading the glimpses we get of New Zealand landscapes. (I hadn't realised that Marsh herself was from that country.) I did find the story itself a little dull though. There's an awful lot of repetitive chitchat and, for a troupe of theatricals, I found most of the characters to be unmemorably bland and interchangeable which is inconvenient when trying to decipher which one of them is a murderer! I was disappointed with the racism too although, as Vintage Murder was published in the 1930s, I probably should have expected it. However, Marsh repeatedly has characters mention racial colour-blindness being part of the New Zealand culture then has her sole Maori character 'behaving like a savage' when he loses his temper. White characters' violence, of course, does not merit a 'savage' descriptor.
Vintage Murder might well have been 'one of Marsh’s most ambitious and innovative novels' in 1937, but it felt rather too formulaic and pedestrian to me in 2020. Fortunately my copy was a free book exchange swap and I think I would try other Ngaio March paperbacks under the same circumstances, but I won't be rushing out to buy her entire back catalogue....more
Eliska Tanzer's memoir of her life growing up as one of an outcast people in Slovakia is a starkSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
Eliska Tanzer's memoir of her life growing up as one of an outcast people in Slovakia is a stark reminder of how unequal opportunities can be, not only on a global scale but within countries and then towns. Ancestry or skin colour should not be the factors which decide a person's future practically from their birth, but all too often this is still the case and, other than for a quirk of fate, I would never have read Tanzer's searingly honest memoir because she would never have had the opportunity to write it. She quite possibly would not even have been able to write.
While The Girl From Nowhere is a shocking story of grim family circumstances, it is in no way a depressing read. Tanzer captures the vivacity and determination of her Gypsy family roots and relationships, and I did love how she captured her mother's character. Lenka is heartless, selfish and abusive towards her daughter so not an empathic woman by any account, but the more I learned about the Zlatkov family, the more I could understand how Lenka's own history drove her behaviour towards Eliska particularly, but also towards everyone else who failed to get out of her way swiftly enough.
I haven't yet read Tara Westover's memoir, Educated, so I can't comment on how well The Girl From Nowhere might appeal to Educated fans. I would recommend Eliska's story to readers of inspirational memoirs though, and to people who appreciate tales of succeeding against all the odds. The Girl From Nowhere is a strong read and Tanzer doesn't often shy away from unpalatable details, yet she still manages to retain an appealing dry humour and has a good sense of her strengths and weaknesses. Even having now read her story, I still can't really begin to imagine how difficult it was for Tanzer to repeatedly pick herself up, metaphorically and actually, and keep striving for her goal. That she did is amazing and I am grateful that she also has the strength of mind to share this story with us....more
Livvy is such a wonderfully exasperating protagonist! I think that Sandy Day has perfectlySee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
Livvy is such a wonderfully exasperating protagonist! I think that Sandy Day has perfectly captured her mix of childish deliciousness and teenage uncertainty in her new coming of age novel, Head On Backwards, Chest Full Of Sand. Livvy (not Libby!) narrates her story in the first person which adds to the sense of this young woman being so wrapped up in her own existence that she seems barely aware of anyone else's needs. I could strongly empathise with her obsession for Kane even while, to us readers at least, it soon becomes quite obvious that he isn't as into Livvy as she would have herself believe. Having built her dreams around his presence though - and, repeatedly, told anyone who would listen - Livvy doesn't find it easy to imagine a more realistic future.
I loved the Cape Breton setting, especially with Day's poetic prose describing the natural landscapes. I felt this place reflected Livvy well. Interactions between the characters are always convincing with Livvy's gradual realisations of how others see her being poignant at times. Concepts of family and community are very much to the fore and, while Head On Backwards, Chest Full Of Sand is firmly rooted in its 1970s historical era, its messages of finding one's own senses of identity and belonging are just as vital for young (and older!) women all these decades later.
Head On Backwards, Chest Full Of Sand lives up Sandy Day's high writing standards. Although it is not a long novel, it covers a lot of emotional ground, giving a authentic portrayal of Livvy's summer on the cusp of childhood and womanhood. It shows that physical maturity and emotional maturity don't occur in tandem and that learning how to honestly be ourselves is far more important for our mental wellbeing than clinging to unrealistic dreams. I described Day's previous book, An Empty Nest, as a coming of age story for older women. I feel the two stories work well as a pairing, exploring the transformational times in women's lives. ...more
In a time when there is so much confusion and uncertainty about the potential for devastationSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
In a time when there is so much confusion and uncertainty about the potential for devastation from climate change, looking back just over two centuries to 1816 can give us an idea. In her new novel, The Year Without Summer, Guinevere Glasfurd does just that. Ash fallout from a huge volcanic eruption in Indonesia changed weather patterns around the globe, albeit only for months rather than permanently, but the effects were catastrophic. This unusually styled novel interweaves six people's very different experiences. Each of them take turns to speak to us readers, sometimes directly, sometimes in the third person or through letters and, as the individual narrative lines don't ever converge, the approach felt to me more like reading a short story collection at the beginning. It wasn't until I had met characters three or four times that I became really drawn into their stories.
I did think that Glasfurd had picked an interesting range of people and locations on which to focus. I was first drawn to The Year Without Summer for its Mary Shelley connection, but actually ended up feeling most moved by the stories of Sarah Hobbs and Hope Peter. I knew little about the dire social situation in England at that time - although can now see it's pretty much what our current Tory government would like to return us all to! This is the time of the Luddite Rebellions and Glasfurd shows similar acts of unrest across fenland farming communities where jobs are being usurped by new machines and Common lands stolen by rich landowners, leaving thousands of semi-skilled farm workers unemployed and starving through no fault of their own.
The Year Without Summer is a harsh read on several levels because of the horrors of its subjects. I wish I could now unsee Henry's grim descriptions of Sumbawa island and its surrounding seas, for example. Glasfurd's prose is beautiful however and I appreciated that contrast. This is very much a historical fiction novel and, I think, a well researched one which brings the events of 1815 and 1816 vividly to life on its pages. The book could also be seen as prophetic fiction. Its starving, transient climate refugees, its depictions of violent selfishness on the parts of those who have not yet lost everything, its unpredictable and savage storms and floods, its all-consuming droughts and wildfires. This all happened two hundred years ago with just a one degree dip in temperatures. How much worse will be the effects of a two, three, or four degree temperature rise?...more
One aspect of book blogging that I particularly love is unexpectedly discovering books that,See more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
One aspect of book blogging that I particularly love is unexpectedly discovering books that, while they seem to bear no relation to each other, actually explore similar topics but through very different narratives. Killing Them With Kindness and my previous read, Mile Marker 139, are a perfect example of this. Loneliness and social isolation were major themes of Mile Marker 139 and alleviating end-of-life isolation is the central theme of Killing Them With Kindness. I loved how Any Paulcroft manages to tackle such an emotionally fraught subject in a humorous way, yet without ever appearing disrespectful to the outlandish characters he created. His humour is very British with lots of silliness thrown in, the style reminding me of Charlie Laidlaw's Love Potions so fans of Laidlaw's work may well enjoy Paulcroft and vice versa.
Our heroine, Deidre, is simply wonderful! A large, vividly clothed woman with a heart of gold, she is the hub around which the rest of the novel unfolds and, with so many larger-than-life characters clamouring for our attention, she needed her distinctive voice in order to fulful this central role. Her friends and lame-duck projects - often the very same people - interlink through various events, often with observant Deirdre giving them a good shove in the 'right' direction, and I can't begin to imagine how tricky it must have been for Paulcroft to map out all the individual timelines. Imagine a kitten with a ball of wool to give you an idea of the complexity! Sometimes I did lose track of whose irate relatives were whose. I did like the periodic time jumps to focus on each character's back story. By the time Deirdre appears in their lives, Margery, Stan, Marina and Deirdre herself seem resolutely settled into their self-destructive behaviours, so seeing the life events which led each of them to that point allowed me to really understand and empathise with their choices. The humorous caricatures regain their poignant humanity.
Behind the entertainingly implausible antics that lead this story, there is a serious social commentary about how elderly people often find themselves isolated. Families move away, personal mobility is limited, and friends or partners die. In Killing Them With Kindness, Deirdre takes the view that a long life has little value if it has no enjoyment so gives her ailing pensioners the treats they crave - even when the calories, for example, or the alcohol will end their lives more quickly. Her ambiguous morality is an interesting question to ponder - and means, I think, that Killing Them With Kindness would lead to energetic book club discussions! ...more
The premise of Mile Marker 139 really caught my eye when I was offered a review copy of thisSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
The premise of Mile Marker 139 really caught my eye when I was offered a review copy of this book and I am glad I took the chance of reading it. I previously liked Cynthia Hilston's historical fiction work, A Laughing Matter Of Pain, and think I enjoyed this new novel even more. The isolated rest stop setiing together with the four central characters and the conversation-driven narrative made me feel that Mile Marker 139 would also work very well as a stage play. I wonder if Hilston has considered this?
I loved the authenticity of the character portrayals throughout this story. Each of the four poeple is hurting in a different way, but their combined experiences show just how easy it is for people to slip through societal cracks into isolation and, for Shelley, homelessness. I appreciated the honesty of each story and especially how their intertwining never felt forced or overly convenient. Hilston obviously has a profound understanding of each of these people which enabled me to empathise with their situations and decisions.
I did wonder early on if Mile Marker 139 would be too long for itself, but actually found as the story progressed that this was not the case. I became more and more engrossed in the lives I was witnessing and almost felt, at times, like a fifth character at the picnic table. That Mile Marker 139 is a novel exploring very ordinary everyday lives belies its power because Shelley, Mike, Sarah and Russ are often the people we choose not to see or, at least, not to acknowledge. Indeed at one point, barista Sarah is described as simply being an anonymous smiling uniform in a transaction where a cup of coffee is the real focus. Hilston reminds us of the importance of human connections, of just taking a single moment out of our lives could make a huge difference to someone else who needed that contact. In an era where people are becoming ever more estranged from each other, I think Mile Marker is a timely reminder of where our lack of real life friendships could lead....more
I'm going to start this review with the admission that I haven't actually read any of KathleenSee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
I'm going to start this review with the admission that I haven't actually read any of Kathleen Shoop's Letter Series novels yet so I can't tell you how this novella really connects to the series. I felt it would be a good introduction though because this story takes place earlier in time. It's a lovely, romantic historical novel set in rural Des Moines. Shoop captures a wonderful sense of this Iowa community in the years before many were forced to move away, and I loved how she contrasted the life priorities of Des Moines against those of rich Manhattanites. The River Jewel is an opposites attract romance and, while as a reader I was always pretty confident of the ultimate conclusion, Tilly and Landon weren't able to share my certainty.
I loved Tilly as much as I disliked Landon! Even once he begins to understand how emotionally rewarding Tilly's lifestyle is, Landon still insists on doing things 'for' her without the basic courtesy of asking her first - and then expects gratitude! Their characters and connection are convincingly portrayed though and I found myself fervently wanting them to succeed. Tilly's minimalism, common as it was at the time, now appears an unusual way to live, albeit a way that I would happily embrace given half a chance - perhaps without all that diving into cold water though.
I'm glad to have had this opportunity to read The River Jewel. I'm not a big romance reader, but was entranced by this story and am now tempted to start Shoop's Letter Series novels from the beginning to discover the full story of this family....more
Monsterland Reanimated is the second novel in this fun young adult series and it starts prettySee more of my book reviews on my blog, Literary Flits
Monsterland Reanimated is the second novel in this fun young adult series and it starts pretty much where its prequel, Monsterland, left off. I would definitely recommend reading the series in order because, while Michael Okon does a good job of recapping what went before, obviously he doesn't remind readers of every detail! This novel takes more of a science fiction dystopia direction for its main narrative, but there are still plenty of nods to classic monster movies - and classic horror novels too. I managed to spot several myself, but I am sure that horror aficionados would enjoy identifying even more references.
Our intrepid group of teens (minus one, plus another) sets off in stepfather Carter's police car when Copper Valley loses all outside communication, to discover what has happened in the wider world. There's a great highway chase scene on the way - and then things all start getting very weird! I won't say anything else about the plot in order to avoid spoilers, but I was amazed at the breadth and quantity of ideas that Okon incorporates into this tale. At times there was almost too much to get my head around so I felt I needed to slow right down to understand everyone's role and motivations. It's certainly an exciting ride!...more