Sunday, 3 November 2013

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

                     What would you do if you found a letter from your husband to you, but with the note to say only to be opened after his death?  Cecelia is in their loft looking for a piece of the ‘Berlin Wall’ for her daughter who wants to delve into this!! (I thought that was a bit ridiculous!)

She is immediately intrigued and when she speaks to her husband who is away on a business trip and mentions it, he is obviously uncomfortable and asks her not to open it.. she has already put it safe and unopened. Her suspicions that it is something quite serious are alerted as he arrives home three days early from his trip. She doesn’t give him the letter but says she has just put it back although she hasn’t. And it is left, but when she hears him in the loft after they have gone to bed and he thinks she is asleep, she knows he is desperate to find it. Of course then she opens it and her life is turned upside down by the contents Also central to the story are Tess O'Leary, whose marriage has just broken up, and Rachel Crowley who is still grieving the loss of her only daughter after 28 years. It is necessary to  mention Tess and Rachel as I did wonder at the start whether I was reading a different book to what I thought I had purchased, but it soon becomes apparent that they are linked; they just don't realise it at the start of the story.

You can really feel for the characters throughout the story - Cecelia who does not know what to do for the best when it comes to John-Paul's letter, Tess who is trying to come to terms with her own husband's revelation and Rachel who is still angry at the circumstances of her daughter's death. There is someone to relate to. The story does a good job of creating suspense and making you feel sympathetic towards the main characters. I will admit that I had suspected the twist (as in, it was one of a few possibilities I had considered once I was getting into the story), but it did not make it any less shocking and the twist is established about halfway through so there are plenty of things happening before the story's climax.

A great read which only took a few days to read and was extremely difficult to put down.

After the Fall by Charity Norman

        The opening lines are of Finn falling from the balcony, his little body disappearing into the dark and then the thud as he hit the ground. Beautifully described giving the reader the full impact of the fall; quite startling.

 The McNamara family consists of Martha and her husband Kit, Martha's daughter Sacha and the twins Finn and Charlie. From the outside they look like the perfect family; Sacha is a talented musician, clever and popular at school. The twins are cute bundles of energy and life. Martha, an occupational therapist is close to her family and in love with the handsome and charming Kit. But scratch the surface and the picture isn't quite so sunny; Kit has recently lost his well paid job and the family is under pressure as he tries to face his demons. As crisis hits, the family seek a new beginning in New Zealand but although their new life might seem like paradise, the tensions soon begin to grow again.

Martha wanted the best for her family hence the move from England to New Zealand. But not it seems for Sacha her 16 year old daughter who dislikes the move, where they live and her school, a typical difficult teenager. Kit is an artist and the move is to help his career.

We don’t know how and why Finn fell and Martha’s explanation that he sleep walks doesn’t ring true and nor does it to the Drs in the hospital. The story has many twists and turns. The rail on the balcony was too high for Finn to just fall. The true story doesn’t come out till right at the end. 

This book raises the question of how far would a mother go to protect her family. This book had so many facets and would be a good read for reading groups, as there is so much to discuss ranging through topics of substance abuse and dependency, emigration and its impacts, parenting choices and the pursuit of a dream lifestyle.  
I would certainly recommend this..  I couldn’t out it down and sat up into the early hours reading. 
It was the second book I have read by Charity Norman and she is now on my list of favourite authors. I loved it so much that I left  a message on the FB page and she answered! Wa-hooo!!

Other books read by Charity Norman:- Freeing Grace; The Son in Law.

A Song for jenny by Julie Nicholson

In 2012 I read 67 books plus the  Bible and various other sewing, quilting and gardening books..

This is one of the first books I read in 2013 and what a book!

`A Song for Jenny ` is a mother's account of her life for five weeks and six days - from a beautiful summer’s  morning until her daughter Jenny’s funeral.
It started with a phone call, interrupting her holiday in the family holiday home on Anglesey, from her other daughter to say that Jenny wasn’t answering her phone and that there had been some explosions in London that morning.
At first they all held the hope that Jenny was busy at work and couldn’t answer her phone. But her boyfriend could get her on the phone either and her office reported that she hadn’t arrived. Julie and the family found out four days after that morning, that suicide bombers had taken the life of Julie's daughter. 51 other innocent people also lost their lives and many were injured and maimed on that summer morning July 8th in 2005 
The book is so descriptive and beautifully written, that I could have been standing in Julie's shoes looking out of the window that morning watching the birds and remembering family holidays gone by; but then, of course, she takes us with her into the waiting, the hope, despair, the anger, the disbelief and the guilt for being so focused on the one child who had gone. Julie's description of the pain and longing is heart wrenching to read but with equal skill brings Jenny to life on the page; this beautiful and vivacious daughter. Even though the account concludes with Jenny's funeral, the reader knows that Julie must have Jenny very securely in her heart to have written this and that gives us hope.
That a mother can survive the loss of her daughter in such terrible circumstances and go on to write such a moving account of the experience is an inspiration to us all.
Once I started reading this book I couldn’t put it down and there were many times when my eyes filled with tears. Even though you know the outcome, I recommend that this book is worth reading, because until you do you can never understand or realise the actual effects that these dreadful acts have on those who remain behind after a loved one is taken so suddenly

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Sea of Tranquility by Katya Millay

Every now and then I come across a book that is fat full of words! I know all books have words but these full of words books, as I call them delve right into the characters thoughts and we have an insight into them that doesn't always happen in other books. The Sea of Tranquility is one of these.

It is  told through a dual narrative of Nastya and Josh, the two main characters of this story. At the beginning of the story, Nastya is just registering at new school; she is an elective mute and thoroughout the book the reason why she is like this slowly becomes apparent.
She delibrately choses to wear very short skirts, low revealing tops and high heels and black goth makeup. It's as though she is saying, you can look at me but I don't care.

Even though Nastya doesn't talk, it doesn't stop her from gaining the attention of Drew, one of the really popular guys at school. He doesn't ever take no for an answer and when they go to a party together and she gets very drunk, Drew drops her off at his friend Josh's house. Previous to this, Josh and Nastya had a moment in the school court yard, just looking at each other, but they don't know each other. After Josh looks after her, the pair end up with a very strange kind of relationship. Josh loves to build things and is often found in his garage, making something or other out of wood. Seemingly fascinated, Nastya turns up nearly every night, sitting on the side and watching him work, without a word. She arrives there the first time after almost getting lost late at night when she was out running, something she feels she has to do to rid herself of the horrors in her mind.
I absolutely loved both Drew and Josh. As the second narrator, we get to know Josh very well. Unlike Nastya, whose problems are kept under wraps, Josh's life is not such a mystery. Josh is emancipated due to his whole family being dead. He lives on his own and has problems with letting people get too close to him. However, Josh was an absolute sweetheart and he made my heart melt a little bit. Even though he is lovely, Josh still speaks out about certain things and isn't afraid to speak out to  poeple, especially Nastya. It was also interesting to see both the relationship he and Nastya had with Drew and also how they were so different.

I would never have guessed that this was a debut novel. Katja Millay's writing, and her story, is absolutely stunning. I can't remember the last time I read such an amazingly beautiful book that I just couldn't put down. Not only are Millay's characters so interesting and deep, but the story is addictive. I wanted to know the story behind Nastya and her problems. I loved watching Nastya and Josh trust each other more and more with every passing day. I couldn't help but love the secondary characters, who are such a big part of this book.It's not until the last part that we find out where Nastya's Sea Of Tranquility is, I won't say here as I don't want to spoil it for you.
As this is a young adult story it is  not the sort of book I would normally read but I wouldn't have missed reading this book, the depth of characterisation was amazing and I loved Josh!

The Meryl Streep Movie Club by Mia March

The book is the story of the women of one family, each going through their own personal turmoil but being united by the weekly Meryl Streep Movie Club held at their guesthouse. There's family matriarch Lolly, who has her own daughter but took in her nieces when they were children after their parents were killed. The three girls think Lolly's distant and not overly affectionate, but when she summons them all to the guesthouse for a surprise announcement, they are left wondering what it could be. Lolly's daughter Kat is running her own cake business but is struggling with her love life and the expectations put on her. Her cousin Isabel, living a comfortable life and married to husband Edward is about to get a shock, one that will make her question everything she thought was true, and welcomes the break at Aunt Lolly's guesthouse. Then there's her sister June, a single mother to son Charlie, and whose heart is still in the past and damaged. Will June be able to find answers to hers (and Charlie's) questions, and will the Meryl Streep movie club make the four women closer again?

What I loved about this book is how much it relies to family to work, and highlights the importance of letting your family take care of you when you really need them. None of the women in the story are especially close at the beginning of the book - sisters Isabel and June don't even speak unless they're at a family occasion, and Lolly and Kat aren't exactly a close mother and daughter. Yet events throughout the book enable the women to let down the boundaries they have built up and finally let the others in to help them, even if they can't be of much use, just for emotional support. I loved each of the female characters in the book, Mia March has written them to be really likeable and I found myself feeling sad along with Isabel and June, frustrated along with Kat and accepting along with Lolly.

My favourite character was certainly Isabel. She's a bit of a snob at the start of the book, someone you can't expect to like, but as the book goes on, I really warmed to her and felt sorry for her due to her circumstances. She is really going through a bad time, and I liked her development throughout the book. I really enjoyed reading June's story as well, how well she does as a single mother and her wanting to find Charlie's father - that was an intriguing storyline and it was really fun to read too. Lolly and Kat were also well written characters, and the mother-daughter relationship wasn't at all perfect which I am sure a lot of women will be able to relate to in different ways. The chapters are all written from different perspectives too, all in the third person, but the change allows the reader to get more involved in each of the stories, and I found it really fun to read.

The issues in the book were all written so incredibly well. I don't want to go into any real detail here to avoid spoilers, but I found all the themes weren't easy but were weaved into the book beautifully and were each important for their characters in their own ways. I found the way March used Meryl Streep's movies at exactly the right part of the book to be fantastic, I haven't seen some of the movies but they are each perfect for the time they appear and for the characters to see something in them that helps them too. The whole thing is just beautifully written, from the lovely descriptions of Lolly and Kat's guesthouse, to the small town they live in - it all sounds perfect, and a great cast of likeable characters make it even better. This book will be a keeper on my shelf as I know I'll want to read it again, and this is certainly up there amongst my favourite reads this year, it was wonderful, I absolutely loved it.... And I have bought five Meryl Streep DVDs!!

The Memory Keepers Daughter by Kim Edwards

I have now read this book twice but only because it was my Reading Group’s choice for this month. I hadn’t remembered it in detail nor the ending, so I quite enjoyed reading it again and it is well worth a read.
It had me gripped from the first page to the last. It starts with a young couple, Dr David Henry and his wife Norah who are very excited about the imminent arrival of their new baby. When Norah goes into labour it's in the midst of a blizzard, David and Norah can only make it as far as David's own surgery where David delivers his perfect son. Then David delivers an unexpected twin but immediately recognizes the signs.....his daughter has Downs Syndrome. In 1964 children with Downs weren't expected to have any kind of life so David makes a decision and hands his daughter over to his nurse (Caroline Gill) and tells her to take the child to an institution where she can be looked after. Norah is under the influence of the gas and air and doesn’t know she has had a live child. David tells her that their daughter died at childbirth. When Caroline sees the place where she is to leave Phoebe she makes a decision that will change her life. She disappears with Phoebe and decides to bring her up as her own daughter. It's a decision that changes so many lives.
David lives with the lies and continues with the deceit even after he receives a note and a photograph of little Phoebe. His hobby is photography and he takes photos of everything and everyone around and earns high acclaim for his talent; hence the title, photographs being a way to keep a memory.
Norah’s grief of a lost child and his lies slowly tears the family apart and you are drawn deeper into the entangled lives of two families.
I loved the story and although it moves slowly I liked that about it. The descriptions of Phoebe as a grown young woman with Downs Syndrome were very poignant and I really felt for her and her need to be allowed to live her life as normal young woman. And although David’s decision was wrong, he thought he was protecting his wife from the anguish of having a child with Downs, and I liked him
A good read in my view.

The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson

The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson
Story Over view
Two brothers, Arthur and Jake Dunn, are the sons of a farmer in the mid-1930s, when life is tough and another world war is looming. Arthur is reticent, solid, dutiful and set to inherit the farm and his father’s character; Jake is younger, attractive, mercurial and dangerous to know – the family misfit. When a beautiful young woman comes into the community, the fragile balance of sibling rivalry tips over the edge.

Then there is Ian, the family’s next generation, and far too sure he knows the difference between right and wrong. By now it is the fifties, and the world has changed – a little, but not enough.

These two generations in the small town of Struan, Ontario, are tragically interlocked, linked by fate and community but separated by a war which devours its young men – its unimaginable horror reaching right into the heart of this remote corner of an empire. With her astonishing ability to turn the ratchet of tension slowly and delicately, Lawson builds their story to a shocking climax. Taut with apprehension, surprising us with moments of tenderness and humour, The Other Side of the Bridge is a compelling, humane and vividly evoked novel with an irresistible emotional undertow.
This is one of the best novels I have ever read, I absolutely loved it and am in awe of the writing, the storytelling.
I couldn’t wait to read each night The characterisation was wonderful and such believable relationships, the hardship and romance, pain of life and love is told in superb and stunning prose. I love how the story is told, how the setting in rural Northern Canada is evoked so strongly that the reader can close their eyes and see Arthur farming his land and Ian helping him. I wanted to be there.
I have read her first novel Crow Lake which was wonderful too, why is it the authors I like only write two or three books and once you've read them that's it!!

Other books read by Mary Lawson:- Crow Lake.

Every Light in the House Burning by Andrea Levy

Every Light in the House Burnin' was Andrea Levy’s first novel, and is semi-autobiographical written in 1994. The story is of a Jamaican family living in London in the 1960s . They arrived from Jamaica in 1948 for a ‘better opportunity’ the Dad, Mr Jacob in the story’s own words and in all probability her own Dad’s words too as this mirrored her own life.
Six months after her mother followed him and they set up home in a council flat in Highbury, London. The story is told by the youngest child, Angela.

Twenty years and four children later Mr Jacob has become seriously ill and starts to move unsteadily through the care of the National Health Service and the chapters swing between that time and Angela’s memories of her childhood life. I loved this book and was sad when I got to the end; the innocence of the parents in a very prejudicial England, their outlook was to keep low and not make a fuss made me feel sympathetic towards their plight. When the Dad was very ill they were typical of that time that they didn’t want to trouble the Drs. It was Angela then in her early twenties, who tries to help her mother through this ordeal. Delightful little insights to girls growing up in the sixties was just as I remembered this time.. I am that old!
 Her book ‘Small Island’ was televised in two parts.Another good read.

Other books read by Andrea Levy:- Small Island.

The First Wife by Emily Barr

The First Wife is in part like Emily Barr's previous novels, there's an edge of suspense to it. An edge that it isn't all as it seems and there's a certain aura to the novel where you wonder when the bottom is going to drop out and it's all going to go bonkers, it's all going to implode. I thought the initial plot was excellent although it made me think of the Dorothy Koomson’s, ’The Woman He Loved Before.’  I was entranced by Lily Button, a young girl, whose life revolved around her grandparents until they died and she was suddenly  thrust into the world. I found Lily's naïveté charming, rather than annoying, but what I did find annoying, was how she was smitten with Harry Summers and how their relationship raced along, I wanted to say. ’Watch out he isn’t what he seems to be.’  It was so predictable you knew something was wrong, especially as his wife was supposed to have committed suicide in Spain when they were there for Christmas on Christmas day!  I must admit, I did find the suspense lacking.

Don't get me wrong, it was there, and like I said, I was waiting for it all to drop, but it was miles more sedate than ‘The Sisterhood.’ The synopsis makes a big mention of a `shocking discovery' about Harry's wife Sarah, but the action of the novel is relegated to those final 50/75 pages. Up until then, it's a fairly pedestrian novel. Very readable, but not what I expect from an Emily Barr novel. I still enjoyed it, mind, because Lily's story and how she goes from a practical hermit to being out in the world and making her own money is indeed very interesting, but not really believable.  I liked the house where she lodged, I thought the family was lovely, and I liked her friendship with Al, and her burgeoning relationship with the family. I also liked the story about Jack, a New Zealander fed up with his life and wanting to break free and visit Europe. It was all done very well, it just didn't make my heart race as much as some of her other novels.

I must admit, I did find the latter stages of the book to be beyond the realms of believability. Lily takes off to Barcelona and I just felt that from what we knew of her thus far, it wouldn't be in her make-up to do that. I found it hard to believe that Lily would survive the bustle of an airport and the flight to Barcelona and the enormity of being in a city where people speak a different language. It might have been necessary to the plot, but it was entirely out of characters for me and it sort of spoiled it a little bit. You don't give us a character who in all of her 21 years has only ever left Cornwall a couple of times and then have her, on a whim (suspicious, or no) head to Barcelona. Especially as she found Sarah in a place she had never been to before. Nevertheless, the ending was very fast-paced and frantic and everything all sort of spilled out in one long shocking confession. It was all rather predictable, so it was rather anti-climatic in a sense, but still dramatic in others. Overall, although I  enjoyed The First Wife, I don't personally believe it was as good as any of her other books and was like a not very good chick lit book. Some of the speech from the characters was facile and irritated me.

What irked me even more, that having promised myself I wouldn’t buy any new books this Autumn, ( I had 16 books at home to read) I saw and bought this (as she was one of my favourite authors) and at full price from W. H. Smiths!
Other books read by Emily Barr:- Cuban Heels, Atlantic Shift, Baggage, The Sisterhood, The Sleeper,  Back Pack,  Plan B,  The Life you Want, Out of my Depth, The perfect Lie.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Anybody Out There by Marian Keyes

How do people choose books? Is it the cover, the blurb, recommendation or a literary review? I have in the past used one or more of those reasons but I chose Marian Keyes ‘Anybody Out There’ because when on holiday I saw so many women reading one of hers and what struck me was that they were thick ! The books I mean not the women!
This book isn’t my usual choice of books but I really did enjoy it once I got into the way it was written.
It starts with Anna in Ireland, far away from her wonderful life in New York, her perfect husband seems to have disappeared and she has been horribly scarred. As to why she is scarred or how she has ended up back in her home in Ireland is a mystery which is revealed slowly and intriguingly throughout the book. As Anna recuperates in Ireland we are introduced to the Walsh family,. Readers get to know Helen, the youngest of the Walsh Clan, she is a private detective and spends most of her time hiding in bushes trying to catch cheating spouses with her long range camera lens. Also Mother Walsh, whose concern for all her daughters is sometimes only fuelled by what other people may think of them. A typical Irish mother!
When Anna returns to New York, in search of her missing husband and against her mother's wishes, we meet a whole host of other characters, including Nicholas, a conspiracy theory nut, who believes everything from Alien Abductions to the fact that Elvis is alive and working in Taco Bell! All of these characters bring the book alive and help you to laugh through what is at times a heart breaking story.
`Anybody Out There?' is a good read, with elements of humour, tragedy and indeed mystery. It has a few short comings, when the great mystery is revealed to the reader it seems to lose pace and any story about young single women set in New York might be compared to Sex and the City. And when doing a straight comparison `Anybody Out there?' falls a little bit short. As a light summer read it is perfect, definitely a must if you need to read something while sitting beside the pool, sipping a glass of wine in Spain.
I would advise anyone who likes this sort of fiction to certainly read it. I would not say it has converted me to become a fan of `Chick Lit' fiction but it certainly has made me consider, after I have read few more juicy murder stories, to try another one of these types of stories.

Eleven Hours by Paullina Simons

This book had me afraid for the Didi the main character and reading it before the story really unfolded had me feeling uneasy! I knew the worse was to come.

She is nine months pregnant and goes off in the noonday heat of Dallas to do some last minute shopping. She is approached while in the cool of the shopping mall by a pleasant young man, who asked could he help her with her bags; although he looks quite innocuous, she has a feeling of unease about him and says no. But because she thinks he is following her she phones her husband to meet early for lunch, of course like all hubbys when you need them their phones are on answer machine.
Back out in the scorching heat of the day in the parking lot, she hears a voice behind her and the nightmare begins.

The book is written with each alternate chapter about Didi and her abductor and then her husband Rich and the FBI man who informs Rich in situations like this only 20% of victims are found alive.
This is a real page-turner and I stayed up till the early hours to finish it!
I am certainly going to look out the other two books written by this author in my library, A thrilling frightening read!!