Sunday, August 18, 2013

What's New Pussy Cat?

"When a book begins with.......
 "Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I'll meet you there." Jelaluddin Rumi. So then, you want a story and I will tell you one!
You just know that you have a great book in your hands - and so it was with And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini.
 He has two previous bestsellers, The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns - Mr Hosseini is a truly gifted teller of tales who is not afraid to pull every string in your heart to make it sing. 
This is a story that spans generations, yet starts and finishes with the same characters. In 1952 a father and his two young children are travelling across Afghanistan, father has been promised some much needed work. The children; Abdullah and his little sister Pari are happy to be together, they adore each other and Abdullah has become more of a parent than a brother to Pari. When their mother died just after giving birth to Pari and then their father re-married and new half-siblings joined the family, Abdullah took on the protection and care of Pari. Neither of them can know that this journey will be the beginning of heartbreak that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
With heart-breaking realism, Hosseini tells the tale of a family split apart by poverty and desperation. From the small rural villages to the large bustling cities of Afghanistan, the writing transports the reader into the heart of the story, experiencing the sounds, the smells and the changing political landscapes. From immense poverty, to the greatest riches. From the modest and humble, to the arrogant and the proud, the cast of characters are a triumph.That one event in Kabul in 1952 leads on to many others, including characters and settings from Paris, to the Greek Islands and back to Afghanistan. Characters who appear, on the face of it, to be so different and so diverse are all connected in one way or another to the day that a loving father told his two small children the story of farmer Baba Ayub - it is this story, and its meaning that is threaded through the whole novel and which eventually turns from a fable to the truth.
Whilst And The Mountains Echoed does not have the shock-factor of Hosseini's two previous novels, it is still a very important epic story that will leave a mark on anyone who reads it. The cast of characters is huge and the narrative often slips back and forward, which can at times, appear a little disjointed. However, this really does not detract from the story, or from the wonderfully evocative writing.
Once again, Khaled Hosseini has produced a story that will break hearts and leave his fans, new and old, gasping for more. I loved it!

My second read this month is by Lisa Genova - also a third successful novel! This time its a book about friendship and a mother coping with the loss of her autistic son
Olivia Donatelli's dream of a 'normal' life was shattered when her son, Anthony, was diagnosed with autism at age three. He didn't speak. He hated to be touched. He almost never made eye contact. And just as Olivia was starting to realise that happiness and autism could coexist, Anthony died. Now she's alone in a cottage on Nantucket, separated from her husband, desperate to understand the meaning of her son's short life, when a chance encounter with another woman facing her own loss brings Anthony alive again for Olivia in a most unexpected way. In a piercing story about motherhood, love and female friendship, Lisa Genova offers us two unforgettable women on the verge of change who discover the small but exuberant voice that helps them both find the answers they need. It is beautifully written and poignantly observed and really heartwarming. I sped through this book in a matter of days but some of the writing is so beautiful I have returned to it a few times to read sections - Stunning!

I have yet to start my third book - a stormy night and my electric blanket awaits! This is what Amazon says about it.
"This is a superb, moving and insightful book about war and its effects on the men and women who take part in it. The author, Kevin Powers, is a veteran of Iraq in 2004 where this book is set and is now a poet. This combination of first-hand experience and ability with language coupled with great insight and honesty creates something quite remarkable. The book is narrated in the first person by private John Bartle on his first tour of duty in Iraq. The language is heightened throughout, often poetic and sometimes almost hallucinatory. The timescale moves between his time in Iraq, his pre-tour training and his homecoming and after. The story is really that of Bartle's psychological journey and is quite stunning in its evocation of the war itself and of the state of mind of the young man who went through it. It is deceptively quiet in tone with even the violent action (of which there is relatively little) described without hysteria, and this lends it a remarkable power to convey things like fear, exhaustion, the rush of excitement and the dreadful problems of reintegrating once home. All this may sound forbidding, turgid or preachy but it isn't at all. This is an engrossing, readable book which is quite short but has immense impact and which will stay with me for a very long time. I think this genuinely belongs among great war books such as All Quiet On the Western Front and Dispatches. I could give a long list of examples of how thoughtful, insightful and honest it is, but I will just say that I recommend that you read it. It is truly exceptional and you will never forget it."

It looks like a hat trick for me this month when it comes to books.

Now to Shakespear's Sisters Book Club. At our July meeting we laughed a lot - A delicious dinner was served by our excellent hostess. I am still trying to remember what we laughed at.... We had a guest of honour Sally and that was a great catch up for members who know her and - Oh and a discussion around Oscar. I am still trying to remember what we laughed at.....We spoke about the up and coming travel plans for some of our members to the Ireland and Spain but I am still trying to remember why we laughed so much..... I know the three bummed cat was mentioned and that is to be our theme for the next bookclub. You will find us on the prowl in Summerstrand early in September Meiow!

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Between the Covers

Is it true that people in Europe read more than people in the south just because winters are longer? I certainly seem to be enjoying my winter early nights snuggled up with a book! This week is no exception and I stayed up far too late last night reading The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh.

 I enjoyed it and found the book gave fascinating insights into the world of diamond mining in South Africa through the personal story of Frances, a young English girl forced to emigrate and marry a man effectively against her will, the only alternative being a life of drudgery in Manchester. Her new husband turns out to be an idealist, prepared to put up with penury and terrible living conditions in his pursuit of truth, setting himself against the rich diamond mine owners who wield all the power. Frances is just about coming to terms with her life and her marriage in a tumbledown cottage on the veldt when she finds herself moving to a tent in the midst of total squalor - no wonder the girl brought up in polite London society finds it hard to cope. And always in the background is the romantic figure of the man with whom she had a shipboard romance, promising to take her away from all this. So yes there are cliches, in the sense that shipboard romances and loveless marriages were fairly common currency in Victorian times, when women were beholden to men for their very survival, but this does not in any way detract from a powerful story of greed, power and the struggle for survival.

Staying with Africa - I have also enjoyed Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexander Fuller. I really enjoyed this author's previous books - Scribbling the Cat and Lets not go to the dogs tonight. I love the way she uses language and so accurately describes her characters that you will know them as old friends by the end of the book. This book is a memoir and a tribute to her mother and their family's life and experiences in Africa.  Her mother's family origins in the Isle of Skye makes it all the more surprising that Nicola Fuller should have Kenya in her blood. She left Kenya soon after independence when the life they had known was gone for ever and they moved to Rhodesia - soon finding themselves on the front line, literally, in the war which eventually brought Mugabe to power. After a spell in Derbyshire the family returned to Africa, Zambia this time, and that is where this story finishes, on the family's banana and fish farm on the banks of the Zambezi. A wonderful story, of the white settlers struggle to tame the un-tameable Africa. I love that the Tree of Forgetfulness is named from a tribal concept of having a village tree where disputes are settled, conflicts resolved and old scars left within its branches.  something every 'tribe' needs!

So now for something a little different Thursdays in the Park by Hilary Boyd - the jacket says that " one Thursday in Autumn, Jeanie meets Ray in the park, and a chance encounter blossoms into friendship as they laugh, talk, share hopes. secrets and heartbreak. they offer each other a second chance at life and love - but will they have the courage to take it"?
I have heard that its a light but enchanting read - enjoyable and not too taxing - Perfect for me right now!

Shakespeare's Sisters are enjoying The Twelve Tribes of Hattie; The One Hundred year Old Man who Climbed out of the Window; Bring up the Bodies; Maggie O Farrell's Instructions for a Heatwave; The Mountains Echoed by Kite Runner author Khaled Hosseini and The Housemaid's Daughter.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Present and Present!

I haven't blogged on books since January - I have had my own drama and there is no apology!

I attended my bookclub in February and was there but in 'screensaver' mode - not fully engaged but looking like I was. In March we met and had a surprise visitor - no not the Sunday Times columnist who poked fun at our themed evenings, but one of our precious 'old' members who now resides in the big city where folk are far too sophisticated for their own good! We laughed .....and laughed....and then some more. We also discussed that none of us are getting younger and at some date in the near future hair nets and facial hair may be a problem. Their was a consensus that hair nets will not be worn to book club - unless the theme is old age! A clever strategy has been devised so that members can let one another know that they need to visit the salon - a bookmark in the shape of a moustache is to be designed and discreetly left in your book. The thought of receiving such a book mark has sent me scurrying into Clicks to purchase a 10x magnifying mirror!

Books that are getting the thumbs up are:-

The Housemaids Daughter by Barbara Mutch.

 Love and Duty collide in Cradock during the apartheid years in a beautifully told story reminiscent of The Help.Cathleen Harrington leaves her home in Ireland in 1919 to travel to South Africa and marry the fiance she has not seen for five years. Isolated and estranged in a harsh landscape, she finds solace in her diary and the friendship of her housemaid's daughter, Ada. Cathleen recognises in her someone she can love and respond to in a way that she cannot with her own husband and daughter. Under Cathleen's tutelage, Ada grows into an accomplished pianist, and a reader who cannot resist turning the pages of the diary, discovering the secrets Cathleen sought to hide.
When Ada is compromised and finds she is expecting a mixed-race child, she flees her home, determined to spare Cathleen the knowledge of her betrayal, and the disgrace that would descend upon the family. Scorned within her own community, Ada is forced to carve a life for herself, her child, and her music. But Cathleen still believes in Ada, and risks the constraints of apartheid to search for her and persuade her to return with her daughter. Beyond the cruelty, there is love, hope and forgiveness.
Feildwork by Mischa Berlinski
Set in Thailand, this is a brilliantly original and page-turning first novel of anthropologists, missionaries, demon possession, sexual taboos, murder, and one obsessed young American reporter. When his girlfriend takes a job in Thailand, Mischa goes along for the ride, planning only to enjoy himself as much as possible. But when he hears about the suicide of a young woman, Martiya van der Leun, in the Thai prison where she was serving a life sentence for murder, what begins as mild curiosity becomes an obsession. It is clear that Martiya was guilty, but what was it that led her to kill? this book is very much in demand and I have bought a Kindle copy as I know that I will wait ages otherwise for it.
Gone Girl by Gillain Flynn is getting great reviews at book club and elsewhere. 
 An utterly gripping thriller (EMERALD STREET )

Gone Girl should be the big poolside read this year. Fresh out om paperback, it's a page-turning abduction mystery with an awful lot of twists. (MAIL ON SUNDAY )

A tautly written thriller about the unravelling of a marriage that is deservedly topping the bestseller charts. (THE OBSERVER )

The story of a husband searching for his vanished wife has everything - psychological acuity, humour, an unflagging pace and more twists than you could hope for in your most serpentine dreams...a sumptuous, satisfying read. (STYLIST )

The story-telling is incredibly compelling, with the cunning opening mystery soon turning down unpredictable routes, while the characters are superbly believable. No wonder it's the book that everyone seems to be reading. (Boyd Hilton HEAT MAGAZINE )

If you haven't yet caught up with this word-of-mouth bestseller - about a woman's mysterious disappearance and the secrets she and her husband are keeping - get hold of it soon. It really does live up to the hype. (WOMAN MAGAZINE )
My turn to buy books this month and I was spoilt for choice - Read my selections next week.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Kindle Bargains

The China BirdThere are many great advantages to having a Kindle from carrying a ton of books whilst travelling by air to being able to buy a book while lounging at the side of your swimming pool, but one of the best reasons for converting to an e-reader for me has been the affordability of reading material. There are some great bargains on offer at Amazon. One of my latest purchases was China Bird by Bryony Doran.

It tells the story of Edward, a sad and solitary man in his late middle-aged, twisted-spined and hump-backed, a loner who works in the archive basement of the library, lodges with Mrs Ingrams who makes his tea and ruins his laundry, and hoards letters from his mother. Like many an unmarried man with an aging, widowed mother, Edward finds his relationship with Rachel, his mother, somewhat strained. Unlike many of those men, his relationship was always that way. Rachel, the mother in question, is not a particularly unhappy widow. The best she can say of her late husband is that he was a good man. Rachel has had  a secret life as a life model for an Art College and holds a dark family secret. Then there is  the novel's main female character, Angela. Young, beautiful and studying art with true passion, she is hugely talented. In Edward, Angela finds her muse. Fascinated by his deformity and his solitary journey in life, Angela persuades Edward to pose for her as she prepares for her masters portfolio and she expects him to pose nude. As the work progresses, Edward awakens from years of suppressed emotion and apathy and begins to take an interest in the world around him, in his own being, and – naturally – in Angela. Their relationship is the prime focus of the novel, as it develops along a tightrope of understanding, empathy, misunderstanding, love, repulsion, attraction and confusion. It is a delicate novel - not over-emotional it hovers and quietly insists that you turn just one more page.
All of this cost me just 99p!!! It was one of Amazon's daily Kindle deals and the book kept me spellbound for its duration. I shall be enjoying more of her work int he future I'm sure.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Pure Poetry!

A year of bones, of grave-dirt, relentless work. Of mummified corpses and chanting priests.

A year of rape, suicide, sudden death. Of friendship too. Of desire. Of love...

A year unlike any other he has lived.
Deep in the heart of Paris, its oldest cemetery is, by 1785, overflowing, tainting the very breath of those who live nearby. Into their midst comes Jean-Baptiste Baratte, a young, provincial engineer charged by the king with demolishing it.
At first Baratte sees this as a chance to clear the burden of history, a fitting task for a modern man of reason. But before long, he begins to suspect that the destruction of the cemetery might be a prelude to his own.
A strange topic for a book but I have so enjoyed reading this historical novel by Andrew Miller. Pure fiction - I can see why it won the Costa Book of the Year (2011)