Book review: The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn

The book:

The Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn
Published in 2016 by Orenda
Pages: 276

The blurb:

TV presenter Allis Hagtorn leaves her partner and her job to take voluntary exile in a remote house on an isolated fjord. But her new job as housekeeper and gardener is not all that it seems, and her silent, surly employer, 44-year-old Sigurd Bagge, is not the old man she expected. As they await the return of his wife from her travels, their silent, uneasy encounters develop into a chilling, obsessive relationship, and it becomes clear that atonement for past sins may not be enough.

Haunting, consuming and powerful, The Bird Tribunal is a taut, exquisitely written psychological thriller that builds to a shocking, dramatic crescendo that will leave you breathless.

My thoughts…

I had been hearing a lot of good things about this book, but didn’t really know anything about it, so I went into it without any real knowledge or expectations. 

What is incredible about this novel is that the vast majority of it revolves around just two characters … and what is even more exceptional is that the author manages to pull this off. I felt that this worked because the two characters are so intriguing – Allis is mysteriously on the run from a scandalous past, while the man she goes to live with is surly and brusque – and seemingly has several secrets of his own. This makes it a real page turner as you try and fit the pieces together, and find out what happens to these two unusual characters. 

The isolated setting of the book also adds to the creepiness of the novel, and definitely cranks up the sense of mystery and foreboding. You can sense something bad is just around the corner…

I loved reading this short novel and trying to work out what was going on. The two main characters are both odd but this adds to the mystery and makes you want to read on. It is one of those books you want to spend a day curled up with, with no interruptions! (Although you could argue that describes any book…)

The only thing that bugged me – enough to make me knock off a star – was the lack of quotation marks, which at times made the book confusing and is one of my pet hates! But other than that minor gripe, I thought this was a really fantastic and creepy little thriller.

My rating: 9 out of 10

Book review: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

The book:

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
Published in 2013
Pages: 412

My copy: Library

The blurb:

From Subhash’s earliest memories, at every point, his brother was there. In the suburban streets of Calcutta where they wandered before dusk and in the hyacinth-strewn ponds where they played for hours on end, Udayan was always in his older brother’s sight. So close in age, they were inseparable in childhood and yet, as the years pass – as U.S tanks roll into Vietnam and riots sweep across India – their brotherly bond can do nothing to forestall the tragedy that will upend their lives. Udayan – charismatic and impulsive – finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty. He will give everything, risk all, for what he believes, and in doing so will transform the futures of those dearest to him.

My thoughts…

I found this to be such an incredible book that it’s taken me a few days to get my thoughts together and write a review. In Calcutta in the 1960s, brothers Subhash and Udayan are incredibly close, sharing everything and getting up to mischief together. But as they get older, Udayan becomes increasingly involved with the Naxalite movement – a group of people in Calcutta intent on a revolution and with communist ideals. Subhash finds it hard to relate to Udayan’s new strong set of beliefs, and the brothers start to drift apart – yet still have that strong sibling bond. But eventually, Subhash leaves India to study in the US. He becomes almost estranged from his family, unable to phone them, and getting only the occasional letter from Udayan. And then tragedy, inevitably, strikes, and the lives of the family are turned upside-down.

I absolutely loved this book – but it is seriously heavy going at times! It is incredibly sad in places, and some sections are quite devastating – Subhash particularly has a pretty bad time of things and I did feel for him throughout the novel. The political side of things, while essential, never takes over the book and we are given enough information to ensure this aspect of the novel really adds something to the story without overwhelming it. 

The novel covers about 60-70 years, so often things move forward quickly and it can be hard to get to know some of the characters as a result of this. However, we get the points of view of several different characters in the novel, and this helps to create a rounder, fuller picture of them as we find out more about their pasts and what has motivated them. I also think the author perfectly encapsulates how the actions of one person can have such catastrophic and far reaching effects on so many people, for so many years. 

As I say, this can be a hard novel to read at times, and it does feel relentlessly sad in some ways. But I still enjoyed it immensely and I thought it was beautifully written. I also thought the ending tied everything up perfectly.

My rating: 9 out of 10

Book review: Black Water by Louise Doughty – blog tour


I was delighted to be asked to take part in the blog tour for this novel – thank you so much to Sophie Portas at Faber & Faber for inviting me to take part, and for providing a copy of the novel for review purposes…

The blurb:

John Harper lies awake at night in an isolated hut on an Indonesian island, listening to the rain on the roof and believing his life may be in danger. But he is less afraid of what is going to happen than of something he’s already done.

In a local town, he meets Rita, a woman with her own troubled history. They begin an affair – but can he allow himself to get involved when he knows this might put her at risk?

Moving between Europe during the cold war, California and the Civil Rights struggle, and Indonesia during the massacres of 1965 and the decades of military dictatorship that follow, Black Water is an epic novel that explores some of the darkest events of recent world history through the story of one troubled man.

Black Water confirms Louise Doughty’s position as one of our most important contemporary novelists. She writes with fierce intelligence and a fine-tuned sense of moral ambiguity that makes her fiction resonate in the reader’s mind long after the final page has been turned.

My thoughts…

Having read Apple Tree Yard, I thought I knew exactly what type of book to expect from Louise Doughty, but I was proved wrong – in a good way! I admit it took me a while to get into the book as the start is shrouded in mystery, and I found myself asking all sorts of questions as I tried to piece together the main character’s situation. I liked the Indonesian setting, and as I continued reading I got more and more into the story, and was compelled to find out what had happened to John in the past, and how this had affected him in the present day.

The introduction of Rita early on in the novel added yet another dimension, as I also found her an intriguing character and I was keen to find out what would happen to them both.

We then step back in time and start to fill in some of the gaps in John’s life. Moving back to the conflicts in Indonesia during the 1960s, this is a time and place in history I didn’t know much about, and I felt I not only learnt a lot about this period in time, but also found out a lot more about John himself, which helped to fill in some of the gaps in the present day. It is hard to always like the character of John but I think the author very successfully built up a picture of him that allowed the reader to sympathise with him, while not necessarily relating to him.

This is not the twisty thriller you might expect from this author; instead this is a heavier drama that studies one key character in depth. It is not my usual sort of read, but I found it interesting and informative, and Doughty had clearly done her research. I do love a book that inspires me to do some research of my own, and that was certainly the case here. It has definitely confirmed that Doughty is an extremely interesting and multi-faceted writer, and I do look forward to seeing what she writes next!

My rating: 8 out of 10

Book review: We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan

The book:

We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan
Published in 2017 by Bloomsbury Children
Pages: 366

My copy: Library

The blurb:

Jess would never have looked twice at Nicu if her friends hadn’t left her in the lurch. Nicu is all big eyes and ill-fitting clothes, eager as a puppy, even when they’re picking up litter in the park for community service. He’s so not her type. Appearances matter to Jess. She’s got a lot to hide.

Nicu thinks Jess is beautiful. His dad brought Nicu and his mum here for a better life, but now all they talk about is going back home to find Nicu a wife. The last thing Nicu wants is to get married. He wants to get educated, do better, stay here in England. But his dad’s fists are the most powerful force in Nicu’s life, and in the end, he’ll have to do what his dad wants.

As Nicu and Jess get closer, their secrets come to the surface like bruises. The only safe place they have is with each other. But they can’t be together, forever, and stay safe – can they?

My thoughts…

I have enjoyed Crossan’s other novels – particularly Apple and Rain – so I was looking forward to reading this one when I found it in the library.

Jess comes from a troubled home, and has to complete a course of community service clearing up a local park when she is caught shoplifting. Also on the course is Nicu – recently arrived from Romania and desperate to escape an arranged marriage. The two very slowly and cautiously become friends – with devastating consequences.

Like Crossan’s other books, this book is written in verse, and told in alternate chapters from each of the two main characters’ points of view. The style of writing creates an extremely quick read (you can easily get through this in an hour or two), and it also means that we get straight to the point – there is no superfluous description or rambling. Instead the action is very immediate. However, on the downside, this does sometimes make you feel like everything happens too quickly and you have little time to really get to know the characters or relate to any of them – and you definitely don’t get to know anything about the peripheral characters at all.

The friendship that develops between Jess and Nicu is very sweet, and it’s hard not to fall a bit for Nicu, who is kind and sensitive. Jess, on the other hand, isn’t so easy to like, and this contrast works well. And as we find out a bit more about her, it is easy to see why she is more cautious and suspicious than Nicu. 

I have quite mixed feelings about this book overall. Although I liked the two main characters and the relationship between them, the style of the novel makes it a bit too short for me to have invested anything in them – although I appreciate I am not the intended audience and that young adult readers may well like this shorter style. But I did finish the book feeling a bit indifferent – and considering what the characters went through I probably should have cared a bit more!

I also found some of the descriptions of north London life unconvincing . The novel is set in the present day (Brexit crops up several times), yet it felt like the residents of Wood Green, and the students in Jess and Nicu’s school, had never seen an eastern European before. It didn’t feel like the realities of living in a hugely diverse and mixed city were well portrayed at all. Also, I haven’t seen anyone selling travelcards outside tube stations, as the characters in the book do, for about ten years – again this small detail bugged me as it made me question how well the authors actually know the city where the novel is set.

But overall this was a very easy read and I liked that the ending left some questions unanswered and wasn’t a typically happy conclusion. I also liked the two main characters and their friendship. I definitely think this is a thought-provoking book for 13-14 year olds. 

My rating: 6 out of 10

Book review: The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

The book:

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
Published in 2012 by William Collins
Pages: 336

My version: Hardback


The blurb:

It’s 1956 and Samuel Lake, a handsome preacher, is voted out of his ministry by yet another congregation, disappointed by his relentless pleas for them to live more charitable lives. Out of options and out of pocket, Samuel and his family are forced to move in with their Arkansas in-laws, the rambunctious Moses clan.

At first they thrive in the unruly sea of relatives – Willa, Samuel’s wife, runs the bar for Grandma Calla, while the boys, Noble and Bienville, run riot through the surrounding countryside. But when Swan, their formidable but loveable 11-year-old tomboy, crosses the path of neighbour Raz Ballenger, things take a turn for the worse.

My thoughts:

This novel focuses on a big and fairly dysfunctional family. Grandma Calla runs a store out of the front of the house while Grandad John runs a bar at the back – and he enjoys a drink himself. When tragedy strikes, and daughter Willa moves back into the family home with her husband Samuel and their three children, the house is filled with noise and craziness. The children run free but family dramas continue around them – not least their aunt Bernice’s attempts to get Samuel to fall in love with her, right under her husband’s nose. But her husband has other worries too, having never quite recovered from his experiences during the war – and what he did when he returned. 

But despite the general air of fun and craziness surrounding the family, the book often takes a much darker turn, particularly when they become embroiled in the lives of their next door neighbours. Although the book is often humorous, some of the sections involving the violent Raz are distressing and hard to read. The book builds up to a pretty horrible climax, and I found myself gripped at this point and desperate to know what would happen to this family that I found myself becoming increasingly engaged with with as I read the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would recommend it to anyone who enjoys a family drama with lots of humour thrown in. I loved the 1950s setting and the idea of this house in Arkansas with a shop at the front and a bar full of the local men at the back. There are plenty of family dramas and a range of interesting, complex characters.

But be warned that this isn’t a light and fluffy book at all and there are a lot of parts of the book that are quite upsetting. But for me this created a very readable and enjoyable novel, and a range of characters that will stay with me for a long time. 

This Week In Books – 29 March 2017

download (2)
This meme was set up by Lipsyy Lost and Found.

Here is what I am reading now, then and next!

Now…

I’ve nearly finished The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, which I previewed in my teaser post yesterday. It is a fantastic book but definitely not light reading – in fact parts of it are really quite devastating. Here is the blurb…

From Subhash’s earliest memories, at every point, his brother was there. In the suburban streets of Calcutta where they wandered before dusk and in the hyacinth-strewn ponds where they played for hours on end, Udayan was always in his older brother’s sight. So close in age, they were inseparable in childhood and yet, as the years pass – as U.S tanks roll into Vietnam and riots sweep across India – their brotherly bond can do nothing to forestall the tragedy that will upend their lives. Udayan – charismatic and impulsive – finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty. He will give everything, risk all, for what he believes, and in doing so will transform the futures of those dearest to him.

Then…

I finished last week’s read, The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield, which I really enjoyed. I also read We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan, which I also enjoyed … but with some reservations. I’m going to write reviews later today and get these posted over the coming days. 

Next…

I’ve signed myself up for several blog tours in April, which means I need to get on with reading several books in preparation!

What are you reading now, then and next?

Teaser Tuesday – 28 March 2017

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly meme hosted by the Should Be Reading blog.

download

If you fancy joining in, here’s how…
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two teaser sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS!
• Share the title and author so other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers!

I’m currently reading The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, the tale of two brothers from Calcutta who are incredibly close, despite their differences, until tragedy strikes. I’ve read over half now and it’s a fantastic read. 

Here are a few sentences taken at random from p104…


“He had forgotten the possibility of so many human beings in one space. The concentrated stench of so much life. He welcomed the sun on his skin, the absence of bitter cold. But it was winter in Calcutta. The people filling the platform, passengers and coolies, and vagrants for whom the station was merely a shelter, were bundled in woolen caps and shawls.”

If you’ve published a teaser today, feel free to link to it here!