This Week In Books – 22 February 2017

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This meme was set up by Lipsyy Lost and Found.

I have been a terrible book blogger so far in 2017 – I have been struggling to finish books and the ones I do finish I’m finding that I haven’t tended to enjoy! I started a new job in January so I’m putting this sorry state of affairs down to being distracted with other things. But I’m determine to get my reading / blogging mojo back, and in today’s post I’m going to list a few of the books I have enjoyed over the past few weeks…

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

Now…

51aghjfgdrl-_ac_us218_I’m steadily working my way through A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton. It is set in Japan and is narrated by Amerterasu, who is shocked and disbelieving when a man claiming to be her grandson – who she believed to have died in the Nagasaki bombing years before – turns up on her doorstep. You can read my teaser from yesterday, and here in the blurb…

Amaterasu Takahashi has spent her life grieving for her daughter Yuko and grandson Hideo, who were victims of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945.

Now a widow living in America, she believes that one man was responsible for her loss; a local doctor who caused an irreparable rift between mother and daughter.

When a man claiming to be Hideo arrives on her doorstep, she is forced to revisit the past; the hurt and humiliation of her early life, the intoxication of a first romance and the realisation that if she had loved her daughter in a different way, she might still be alive today.

Then…

oveSo I kicked off February by reading A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman. I had heard so much about this novel, but wasn’t really sure if it would be my thing, but I decided to give it a go after a found a cheap secondhand copy – and I wasn’t disappointed! The book is funny, sad and uplifting, and the character of Ove is a brilliant invention and I loved his old man grumpiness – and how we peel back the layers of his life to find out why he is as he is. Since reading this, I have picked up two other Backman novels from the library, so I hope these prove to be as enjoyable! 

ladderTo help me out of my reading rut, I decided to read a few books by authors who I feel can do no wrong! I started with Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler, which I have read before but many years ago. The novel tells the story of Delia, who one day simply walks away from her husband and grown-up children and starts a new life. As always with Anne Tyler, the small details and cast of characters make this a great read, and one I would highly recommend – even though at the end I wanted to grab Delia and give her a good shake! 

boneI followed this with The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan. The novel follows Tan’s tried and tested formula of writing about different generations and the conflicts between Chinese culture and tradition, with a western lifestyle. We meet Ruth and mother LuLing, who is suffering with dementia. I thought the depiction of LuLing’s illness was pitch perfect, and I loved the ways in which the relationship between mother and daughter developed. I also enjoyed reading about LuLing’s troubled past. 

frankieFinally I also read The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom – another author I’m a fan of. This novel tells the story of world famous musician Frankie Presto, starting at his funeral. The novel is narrated by music (yes, really), and also contains sections by other musicians (including many real artists who the author had permission from to include in the novel). I loved the novel at first but did find it became somewhat repetitive – and the ‘twist’ at the end took it a step too far for me. But overall I enjoyed this book and it was definitely a bit different!

Next…

goat roadI must read The Green Road by Anne Enright – it was a Christmas gift from my mother-in-law and she’s bound to ask me soon what I thought of it! I also have The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon, which I have heard nothing but good things about, as well as the Fredrik Backman books to get through. Not to mention about 30 NetGalley proofs clogging up my Kindle! 

What are you reading now, then and next?

Teaser Tuesday – 21 February 2017

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

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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 A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton, which is set in Japan and is narrated by a woman who lost her daughter and grandson in the horrific bombing of Nagasaki in 1945. I’ve read about 40 pages so far, and it’s promising to be a very good read – although there have been some harrowing scenes.

Here are my two teaser sentences taken at random from p24…

51aghjfgdrl-_ac_us218_“What survivors saw differs in the telling. To some, the explosion was like a giant pulsating chrysanthemum, a thousand boiling clouds of purple and cream and pink, or it was a giant tree ablaze, shooting high into the sky, or yes, it was shaped like a mushroom, collapsing into itself and then rising away.”

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

Book review: Early One Morning by Virginia Baily

The book:

Early One Morning by Virginia Baily
Published 2016 by Fleet
Pages: 400

My copy: Secondhand paperback


downloadThe blurb:

A grey dawn in 1943: on a street in Rome, two young women, complete strangers to each other, lock eyes for a single moment.

One of the women, Chiara Ravello, is about to flee the occupied city for the safety of her grandparents’ house in the hills. The other has been herded on to a truck with her husband and their young children, and will shortly be driven off into the darkness.

In that endless-seeming moment, before she has time to think about what she is doing, Chiara makes a decision that changes her life for ever. Loudly claiming the woman’s son as her own nephew, she demands his immediate return.

Three decades later, Chiara lives alone in Rome. But when she receives a phone call from a teenage girl named Maria, claiming to be Daniele’s daughter, Chiara knows that it is time for her to face up to the past.

My thoughts…

January has been a bad month for me bookwise – I’ve ditched a lot of books that I just couldn’t get into, and found myself not enjoying several books that I had thought I would love. I can’t tell if I’m in a new year slump, or have just been picking up duds!

Early One Morning had been on my wishlist for a long time, and I loved the premise of the novel so thought it might be the one to bring me back on track after so many weeks of dire reading.

The start is intriguing, with Chiara finding herself making a split second decision that changes her life forever when she ‘rescues’ a young boy, Daniele, from being taken away from his family by the Nazis. 

From Rome, we quickly move to Wales where we meet 15-year-old Maria – she’s a bit stroppy, and things get worse when she finds out a secret about her family. The reader finds out straight away how this connects to the story in Italy, and from here on in we move between the past and present, but even the scenes set in the present day, most of which follow Chiara who is now in her 60s, hark back to the past. And in this way, we slowly fit the pieces of the story together.

The premise of the story definitely is interesting, and Chiara is a complex character who often does not make the best decisions. She seems to live a very quiet life now she is older, but there are hints that there is still a fun-loving woman inside her, of whom we occasionally get glimpses. It is clear that she hasn’t seen Daniele for many years, and we slowly piece together what had happened to the two over the years.

Strangely, though, we never really find out quite enough about Daniele himself- he is such a central character in the book but we just get snippets of his past and how he coped over the years. This to me was a major flaw of the novel, as there was so much more I wanted to know about him. Yet at the same time the book seemed to have a lot of irrelevant detail – not least the section where Chiara gets injured by a car, and ends up spending the day with the driver. This added nothing to the story at all, and just seemed to slow things down. There were lots of sections like this – where there is a lot of extra detail that is sometimes repetitive, yet so much of the actual story seemed to go unsaid.

I did find this frustrating, and the quite tidy ending could also be annoying for some readers. But overall I did like the novel – and I managed to finish it, which is something of an achievement for me this year! I loved the setting of Rome, and the contrast between the past and present worked well in the main. However I did feel there was something missing from this book and I almost wished the author or editor had gone back and ripped out a bunch of stuff and replaced it with detail more relevant to the plot. 

My rating: 7 out of 10

Teaser Tuesday – 24 January 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!

It’s a late post from me today, but I really wanted to make sure I posted a teaser from my current book, Early One Morning by Virginia Baily. I have had a real reading slump so far this year, and racked up a lot of DNFs, but I’m really hoping this one is going to buck the trend. And so far, it’s fantastic…

Here are my two teaser sentences taken at random from the p68…

download‘My mamma is dead,” she says sweetly. ‘Dead, dead, dead.’ She leans towards the boy, her face an inch from his, and says, ‘What about yours?’

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

Book review: The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer

The book:

The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer
Published in 2017 by Faber & Faber
Pages: 368

My copy: Advance review copy

*** Thank you to the publisher for the early copy of the book ***

61dzfbxypbl-_ac_us200_The blurb:

My name is Ruby. I live with Barbara and Mick. They’re not my real parents, but they tell me what to do, and what to say. I’m supposed to say that the bruises on my arms and the black eye came from falling down the stairs.

But there are things I won’t say. I won’t tell them I’m going to hunt for my real parents. I don’t say a word about Shadow, who sits on the stairs, or the Wasp Lady I saw on the way to bed.

I did tell Mick that I saw the woman in the buttercup dress, hanging upside down from her seat belt deep in the forest at the back of our house. I told him I saw death crawl out of her. He said he’d give me a medal for lying.

I wasn’t lying. I’m a hunter for lost souls and I’m going to be with my real family. And I’m not going to let Mick stop me.

My thoughts…

If I had to sum this book up in just one word, that word would be: weird. There are lots of spooky things happening, which are only enhanced by the forest setting of much of the novel, but actually I wonder how much the book benefited from its cast of ghosts…

Ruby is delighted when she finds out, on her 13th birthday, that she is adopted. The man she believed to be her real father is violent and abusive, and her adopted mother, while loving towards Ruby, still does nothing to stop the abuse. Ruby’s escape route is the forest, where she comes alive and feels at home, and is often joined by Shadow, a ghostly figure that has a personality all of his own. 

Ruby ends up making some real friends eventually, and enrols their help in finding her real parents. In the meantime, we also get short flashbacks to the 1970s, where we find out more about Ruby’s real roots.

I liked the two strands of the novel, and it was hard not to feel for poor Ruby, who has had a pretty miserable life. Her new friends are also intriguing, and their relationship is nicely portrayed. I also liked the sections set in the 70s – although short, they gave us an insight into where Ruby came from, and why she ended up with adoptive parents. 

But it was the ghostly elements of the novel that sometimes felt like wrong turnings for me. They were at times confusing, and actually took away from the main story. There was more than enough going on for there to be no need to add to this, and if all the supernatural elements were taken away – or at least played down – I think there is more than enough here for a brilliant novel in its own right. While the ghosts added an unearthly weirdness to the novel, and made it a bit different, I did feel sometimes this was at the expense of the actual story, and it did feel forced at times. On occasions, the ghosts did tell stories that added to the plot, but this could quite easily have been done via real characters within the book! There are also other parts of the storyline that weren’t very believable or didn’t quite add up. 

There was a lot I did like about this book – the characters are intriguing and I loved the spooky forest setting. But the addition of the ghosts seemed, in the main, unnecessary and some parts of the story just didn’t quite work for me.  

My rating: 6 out of 10

Teaser Tuesday – 17 January 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!


In December last year, I was delighted to receive a review copy of The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer, courtesy of Faber & Faber. I really loved The Girl In The Red Coat by the same author (you can read my review here), and I’m hoping this one is just as good!

Here are my two teaser sentences taken at random from page 9…

61dzfbxypbl-_ac_us200_“I felt sure, the more I thought of it (and that’s about all I’d been thinking of since my birthday), that my real parents did not want to give me up. I expected that went double for my mother, because mothers shouldn’t want to give their children away.”

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

Book review: The Ballroom by Anna Hope

The book:

The Ballroom by Anna Hope
Published in 2016 by Black Swan
Pages: 352

My version: Library

51xrkm7kkfl-_ac_us200_The blurb:

1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors,  where men and women are kept apart by high walls and barred windows, there is a ballroom vast and beautiful. For one bright evening every week they come together and dance. When John and Ella meet it is a dance that will change two lives forever.

Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, the end of the Edwardian era, THE BALLROOM is a historical love story. It tells a page-turning tale of dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.

My thoughts…

I have been completely hopeless at posting book reviews so far this year, but I’m hoping this post is the start of my blogging comeback! 

This story is told from three points of view, and the first we hear is that of Ella, who finds herself in the infamous Sharston Asylum (based on a real asylum in Yorkshire where the author’s own great-grandfather was hospitalised). We also have narratives from John – one of the male patients, and Charles, a doctor at the facility who wants to try and use music to heal the patients. 

I was sucked into the book from the very opening pages – why had Ella been committed to the asylum? And when you find out why, and the sheer number of men and women that are also living here, you really get a sense of just what an appalling place this is. The scene was set really well at the start, and I was eager to read on.

But despite being sucked into the story early on, about halfway through I did find myself struggling with this book. The pace is very slow and hardly anything actually happens. The build up to the meeting between the two characters takes a long time – but when they do finally fall for each other, as we know they will from the blurb, it didn’t completely convince me.

I think one other issue I had with the novel were Charles’ sections. This perspective was in some ways vital to give the reader an insight into the views towards mental patients at the time, and some of the more medical and scientific thinking – and some of this is eye-opening and disturbing. But these sections tended to slow the plot down for me quite a bit. The way Charles changes throughout the book is also really interesting and cleverly done, but I felt like it could have been a separate novel entirely, and again shifted the focus away from John and Ella. 

I was really disappointed when I finished this book to be honest, as I had expected so much more and I felt it had promised so much. And maybe it was just me, as I have read so many glowing reviews of this novel, but it just didn’t quite work for me. I was never completely convinced by the central characters, and there seemed to be too much going on that didn’t add to the storyline. The relationship between Ella and John didn’t feel believable and the pacing was too slow for me.

My rating: 5 out of 10