Friday, February 21, 2014

Three Good Reads

I may not have written my blog for a while but I have been reading - in fact one of my 2014 resolutions is to read something every day. I haven't quite managed to do that but I have certainly reconnected with my reading this year. So far I have finished reading Maggie O Farrell's latest book

Instructions for a HeatwaveSet in London, during the heatwave of 1976, we meet Gretta Riordan, a Catholic Irish woman, mother to three grown-up children, and her husband, Robert, a retired bank employee. As yet another hot and listless day begins, Robert goes out for his daily newspaper, just as he does every morning - however, today, he doesn't return home. As the day wears on, Gretta becomes more and more worried and, when it is discovered that Robert has taken money and his passport, she realizes that her husband had no intention of returning home when he left their house that morning.
Gretta now has to tell her three children that Robert has disappeared; firstly there is her eldest child, Michael Francis, a teacher, married to Claire and whose marriage is in difficulty; then there is Monica, the middle child, whose first marriage broke up after a tragic event and is now married to antiques dealer, Peter, and living in the countryside; however, Monica is not entirely happy - she not only misses London, but Peter's two daughters bitterly resent her and make her life very difficult. And finally there is Gretta and Robert's younger daughter, Aoife, their 'problem' child, whose difficult and challenging behaviour has caused problems for the rest of the family, especially since she has "gone off the rails". (When, in fact, most of Aoife's problems are due to her painful battle with undiagnosed dyslexia).
I love Maggie O' Farrell's writing and her intricate observations of family life and relationships and this novel delivered on that score but I felt the story wasn't as captivating as her previous novels,"The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox" and The Hand that first held mine." Never the less, its a good read.

Bookclub are enjoying The Seamstress. I am about half way through it and when I pick it up I am transported back to the time of the Spanish Civil War by the author's rich descriptions. It is Maria Duena's debut novel and is told from the perspective of Sira Quiroga, a talented seamstress who is engaged to Ignacio, a reliable and dependable young man. As Sira prepares for her wedding, she feels that her life lacks excitement and when she meets Ramiro Arribas, a handsome, charming, older man, she is ready to fall in love. She quickly breaks off her engagement to the bewildered and shocked Ignacio and, as Spain enters a period of instability and civil war looms, she allows herself to be persuaded by Arribas into leaving her homeland and starting a new life in Morocco. However, Sira's life does not turn out as she expected because, after a few months of hedonistic living, Arribas abandons her leaving her heavily in debt. Trapped in Morocco by these debts, and by the worsening political situation in Spain, Sira works hard to build a new life for herself and, with the help of a friend, she starts a dressmaking business and earns enough money to pay off her debts. As the civil war ends in Spain and Europe becomes embroiled in the Second World War, Sira is persuaded to return to Madrid and to take on a new identity as a couturier for Nazi officer's wives and, in her new role, she is employed by the British to infiltrate and spy on the Germans who are stationed in Madrid.This book has taken Spain by storm and has become an international bestseller - I can well imagine this being made into a Oscar winning film starring Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem.

Tracey Chevalier is another favourite of mine and from "Girl with a Pearl Earring" to  Remarkable Creatures her writing really captures the era in which her novels are set and the lives of women living at that time. The Last Runnaway is no exception as it follows the journey of Honor Bright, a Quaker girl, who accompanies her sister to New England where she is to be married. Her sister dies tragically soon after thier arrival but instead of returning home to Dorset, she is drawn into the Quaker community 
It is a time of great upheaval in America as the country inches towards civil war with a variety of runaways, both black slaves and white settlers, trying to forge a better life for themselves. Honor finds life hard as a single woman unaccustomed to the American way but she is aided by the flamboyant Belle Mills, a milliner, who takes Honor under her wing. Belle's brother, Donovan, sets his sights on Honor but his reputation as a dissolute slave hunter makes him an unlikely suitor. Reminiscent of Gone with the Wind, this is a novel with strong female characters who use their wits to survive difficult times. Those travelling the Underground Railway are not the only runaways in this well-researched and eloquently written novel. I loved it!

On the bookclub front - We all survived the Christmas Party - I was away in the UK for the January meeting and I am really looking forward to checking in with Shakespeare's Sisters this week!