Friday, November 25, 2016

Local is lekker

I love finding a new author and when they are local then that's even better. Most of the books we read are set in the States or the UK or penned by authors from there and its so lovely to read words that are unique to your country and that are set in places you have travelled to. In fact I make a point of reading books set in the country I am holidaying in - I read Wilbur Smiths "The River God" in Egypt and Christie's "Death on the Nile", I read a thriller called, Mud, Muck and Dead Things by Anne Granger in the Cotswold's and Eucalyptus by Murray Bail in Melbourne.

So I found myself tucked up in bed with Tannie Maria and her Recipes for Love and Murder on a guest farm in the Karoo last month. A debut novel by Sally Andrews - I devoured every morsel.
It's set in Ladysmith in the Karoo and tells the story of aunty or 'Tannie' Maria who works in the small newspaper office as a food columnist. Her life changes when the editor is told to scrap her column for an advice column - you remember those interesting problem pages written by 'agony aunts' - then you get the picture. Tannie Maria loves food and decides that her delicious boer kos (farm food) can cure any problem and so she dispenses advice and recipes! She ends up in the middle of a murder investigation. You cannot help but relate to this character - everyone has an aunty like this in their lives and she is delightful. The book is a real page turner full of suspense and funny at the same time and there are real recipes that you want to try out too!
In  quick succession came Tanie Maria and the Satanic Mechanic and I expected to be disappointed but I am loving it. Not reading it in the Karoo but my mind is so there when I open the book. The second book features many of her characters from the first one and you get to know them and her better as a completely new mystery unfolds. Keep them coming Sally - our bookclub is loving them!

I seem to be in a rural roll as bookclub also enjoying a book called "The Trouble with Goats and Sheep' but this one is set in the UK and all the action takes place not in a rural town but in an industrial street. Mrs Creasy is missing as as the English summer holidays stretch endlessly ahead, ten year old Grace and Tilly become junior detectives determined to find out what happened to her. The neighbours are harbouring a secret from a decade ago and as the real police investigations into Mrs Creasy;s disappearance proceed, they become increasingly worried about what skeletons may pop out of the cupboard! Its a lightish summer read written in a naive style (which I personally don't much enjoy) but the story is sound and the characters dark and interesting, and if you grew up in England in the 60s and 70s then you will enjoy a trip down memory lane as I did.
Its a real feast for sequels and series and Lucinda Riley's 3rd book is out "The Shadow Sister" in the Seven Sister series.
Its sitting on my Kindle waiting for me so I can only go by reviews read here. It promises to be as good as the previous two in the series and I know I will love it as its set in Cumbria and in an antique bookshop in London - by all accounts the mysterious housekeeper, Flora's, story is entwined in this book too.
I have started another Lucinda Riley book, The Italian Girl (I hadn't realised she had written so many), but Tannie Maria and a bed in the Karoo with a crocheted coverlet beckoned me so I have yet to go back to it!
Not a book but a film - The Girl on the Train was released last month and was an excellent adaptation of Paula Hawkin's book. Its not often that the film lives up to the expectations created by the word but happily this one did.
If you are looking for other reading ideas for your down time in December then Good Reads have some great ideas on their site.

Please Please share your bookclub's favourite books by commenting here. Its difficult to choose sometimes and books are so expensive - its a costly mistake to make buying a dud!

Bookclub Christmas parties are in preparation all over the place and ours is Christmas by the Sea this year! Enjoy yours ...........

Sunday, July 17, 2016

A good book, a comfy chair and plenty of quiet time is a great combination!

It a long time since I have had time to sit and read quietly for hours but Vs illness and isolation have meant that he just wants a presence at his bedside and not necessarily conversation, and there being a lazy boy recliner in there, I have been able to read and read and read some more. After months of snatching a chapter before bed or a few pages in a break,  I had forgotten the pleasure of reading a book almost in one sitting and getting completely lost in a story. Bliss!
What I have enjoyed......
I am currently reading YEAR of WONDERS by Geraldine Brook. Bookclub loved her novel PEOPLE of the BOOK and I stumbled across this earlier novel by chance. Its a wonderful read (and very cheap on Amazon Kindle)
The novel is set in an English village in the year 1666 - the year of the Great Plague of London. Plague is carried to their village through a bolt of cloth and as every household is affected, Anna, the main character, emerges as unlikely heroine and healer. As the plague sweeps through the village bringing death to each household the villages turn from prayers to murderous witch hunting. As Anna struggles to survive and grow - a year of catastrophe becomes a year of wonders! It is based on the true story of the village of Eyam and is wonderfully researched and written in the style of the day. I am loving each page and can barely wait for my hours in the lazyboy tomorrow when I know the year of wonders will come to an end!

Before this I read two 'big' books. Each with over 600 pages which I would never tackle mid year normally but again - the blessing of an isolation ward and a comfy chair have made this possible, For author, Lucinder Riley, this is a seven book project and having read the first two book I am looking forward to number three! Each book is set to tell the story of seven sisters adopted as babies in unusual circumstances by their wealthy 'father' a mysterious man they know as Pa Salt. The first book THE SEVEN SISTERS starts with them gathered at their home on the shores of Lake Geneva as they mourn his death and each one of them is left geographical coordinates and a letter with clues to their identity. The first sister Maia traces her birthplace to South America and a crumbling mansion in Rio ......and so unravels the fascinating history of her biological family. As this novel ends so it links to the second sister, Ally -THE STORM SISTER - who is a talented yachtswoman and realises she stumbled across her fathers burial at sea - not knowing that is what was happening when she encounters his yacht moored off the coast and before she has had the news of his death. Ally's clues to her birthplace see her abandoning her ocean racing career to explore the icy beauty of Norway and Grieg's Peer Gynt suite to explore her other gift - her musical talent - and her links to a talented and yet unknown young singer and another compelling story unfolds.
When I heard Maggie O Farrel had a new book out I pre-ordered it and just on time it appeared on my Kindle like magic. She is one of my favourite authors and I have read everything she has written and have never been disappointed. Her latest novel, THIS MUST BE THE PLACE, is her finest yet and is that rare literary beast - technically dazzling and deeply moving.It leaps effortlessly across continents, relationships and time frames and at its centre is a story about people who are lost, flawed and troubled as they struggle to connect with those that they love. The main character is Daniel Sullivan, an Irish American linguistics lecturer, who at the start of the book is living with his reclusive, ex movie star wife, Claudette in the isolated Donegal countryside. He is on the way to his fathers 90th birthday when he hears something on the radio which mentions the fate of an old girlfriend from decades ago and this sends him careering across continents and into his past - a quest that threatens his marriage and his sanity and the very threads that hold his life together. The story is woven like an intricate tapestry and one cannot help but be impressed by the authors use of perspective, grammatical tense and style as each chapter is narrated by a different charachter and their point of view. Brilliant is the only word to describe her writing and ability to hold the reader in her hand.

I have also enjoyed ORPHAN NUMBER 8 by Kim Van Alkemade, a fasinatng story inspired by true events, of a woman who must choose between revenge and mercy when encountering the woman who subjected her to dangerous medical experiments when she was in a Jewish New York orphanage some years before. The book also contains actual photographs and records of the orphanage run by the Jewish church in New York during the depression which makes the story more believable and the choice more real. Excellent read!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

We lose ourselves in books and we find ourselves in there too!

2016 and a whole new year of books await. December and January, being the main holiday season here, lends itself to relaxation and reading - whether on the beach or while travelling. I have had a good holiday and enjoyed losing myself in stories and worlds created by books and I never fail to find a little piece of myself in there too!

The Collected Works of AJ Fikry
This is set within an isolated community living on an island - here lives AJ Fikry a traditional bookstore owner, widowed and as isolated as the island. One day a baby is left in his store bearing  note asking that he looks after her and ensure she is brought up surrounded by books -  and his life changes forever. The book also gives insight to the cut throat world of publishing and of reading and how books connect people. Fikry says that you learn all you need to know about a person by asking them one question, "What is your favourite book?" It;s a lovely moving story spanning two decades and you really want to know what happens to A J Fikry, his 'daughter' and the characters in the community that are woven into the story. An enjoyable read by Gabrielle Zavin.

A God in Ruins
Kate Atkinson's dazzling and complex novel Life After Life outsold every book in the UK last year apart from Gone Girl and Dan Brown's Inferno. A God in Ruins tells the story from the viewpoint of one character, Teddy, a young man who signs up as a bomber pilot in 1939 and who is shot down and declared missing presumed dead. Astonishingly he turns up in 1945 having spent the last year of the war in a prisoner of war camp. The novel is wonderfully researched and gives great insight in to what it must have been like to be a pilot in the second world war and given that 90% of them didn't survive the war - Teddy is most surprised to emerge alive and well. He returns to civilian life and marries his childhood sweetheart, Nancy, and loves her in a robust and dependable way. He settles for a career as a school teacher and a journalist and a life of ordinariness, A God in Ruins was particularly poignant for me as my own father was a Lancaster pilot during the war and his family were RAF through and through - my grandfather having been awarded the DFC and the DCO for bravery in his magnificent flying machine in WW1. We witness Teddy ageing, becoming widowed and being at the mercy of his difficult daughter Viola in his old age and your heart bleeds for him and the many others like him who gave their everything for Queen and country but were cast aside in civilian life. A fascinating story, brilliantly written by one of the greatest authors of our time.

Up against the Night

Justin Cartright is a Africa author living in London and I have enjoyed his previous books. His work is well written and he has the rarest of talents of being able to write serious fiction which encompasses the strangeness and comedy of life. The main character, Frank, is a descendant of Piet Rietief who was murdered by the Zulu King. Frank is about to visit South Africa with his lover Nellie and his daughter is arriving from the States where she has been in rehab. Franks Afrikaner cousin is becoming disillusioned and desperate about his life in South Africa with the undercurrents of violence and racial tension. As the story unfolds against a backdrop of Table Mountain and the winelands, the mystery around his daughter's holiday guest, the chaotic and volatile life of his Afrikaner cousin combined with the gentle love he has for Nellie all entwine to create a fascinating story. Up Against the Night is a brilliant and subtle novel about South Africa and its beautiful landscape, its violent past and its uncertain future.

Summer at the Lake by Erica James
A perfect beach or holiday read - not all challenging, perfectly relaxing and yet a story interesting enough to want to pick it up and start reading. Lake Como - romantic, enchanting and beautiful and for Floriana its is where the love of her life is marrying another woman and she has been invited to the wedding. For Esme its where she fell in love for the first time over 60 years ago to a man destined to become a priest. Their unlikely friendship takes them there with Adam who is in danger of burying himself in his work since his girlfriend left him. Will Lake Como weave her magic and heal all three of these characters. The answer is the book and find out! I recently read The Dandelion years, the latest book by the same author and found it just as delightfully relaxing!

All the Light we Cannot See.
A real bookclub favourite and winner of the Pulitzer Prize 2014. A beautifully told story about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as they both try to survive WW2. Doerr skillfully weaves the stories of Marie Laure, the blind daughter of a museum curator who has built her a detailed model of the city they live in to help her navigate her way through it, and Werner, a German orphan with an extraordinary talent for radios that throws him into the Nazi regime of the Hilter Youth Academy and into battle at a young age. Their lives converge when the Nazis are searching for a most valuable and dangerous jewel that was in the museum collection and Werner is sent to the small town in France where they believe it is hidden. It's a sad and deeply moving story of lost youth, cruelties of war and the ways which people valiantly survive against the odds and  try to be good to one another. It took ten years to write and I believe each sentence is a masterpiece!

So a really great literally end to 2015 and my bookpile is waiting for 2016 - I have just started Lisa Genova's new book Inside the O'Brians and looking forward to getting lost again!