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!

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