Category Archives: Reading and reviewing

Review Wednesday – Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

I was drawn to this fictional account based around the last months in the life of Agnes Magnusdottir, the last woman to be executed in Iceland.

Recently there seem to have been a number of excellent books whose narrative is set in snowy wastes and that can add great atmosphere to the story. Burial Rites is no exception.

After being convicted and sentenced for her part in the murder of two men, the authorities send Agnes to a remote farm to await her fate. The year is 1829. The family are horrified by this enforced proximity to a convicted murderer and, at first, avoid contact with Agnes as much as possible. But when the summer months give way to the harsh Icelandic winter sheer survival compels all members of the household to work together and the farmer’s wife and daughters, along with Tóti,  a young priest charged with the task of ministering to Agnes during her final days, begin to see that the story of Agnes is not as straightforward as it first may have seemed.

The ending is, of course, already known. It is shocking as is some of the background detail, like the sourcing of the axe and who should pay for the execution.

I have to say that, for me, the beautiful writing failed to bring me closer to Agnes and though I felt a deep sorrow for her she remained a shadowy figure. In contrast that bleak, Icelandic countryside was ever present. Being turned out of an isolated farmstead was nothing short of a death sentence in itself. There was literally nowhere to go, no one to turn to and only the bitter landscape for company. No wonder, in such circumstances, women found themselves bound to their home, no matter what the conditions.

Burial Rites is a good story set around true events and a memorial to Agnes whose true part in the murders is not known. I listened to the audio book and mention must be made of the narrator Morven Christie who did an absolutely outstanding job of switching between English and Icelandic pronunciation. In less capable hands the audiobook would not have had the haunting impact that it did.

 

 

 

 

Review Wednesday – Whisky From Small Glasses by D.A. Meyrick

This is the first book in the series about Scottish policeman   DCI Jim Daley and is a great start. I read several reviews prior to purchasing the book that refer to the way the Scottish accents are written phonetically and that it made the story a little more difficult to get into. I listened to the book on Audible and can highly recommend the excellent narrator who brought the characters to life for me.

As for the story, Jim Daley is sent away to the remote Scottish town (fictional) of Kinloch where a body has been found in the water. At first it seems that the case will be straightforward and Jim’s biggest headache is the grumpy local police chief. That’s not his only problem though, simmering in the background is his shaky relationship with his wayward wife who, in the midst of everything decides to pay Jim a visit at Kinloch and whilst trying to deal with this development the case suddenly becomes more complex and nasty.

I was lulled at first by the narrator’s dulcet tones and the descriptions of Scottish life into a kind of cosy mystery feel where the murderer would be the last person anyone expected; the vicar or the librarian but actually this turned out to be quite a red herring in itself. The story becomes very dark with more murder, drugs and smuggling at its heart and though not peppered with violence when it does come it is quite graphic and shocking.

This was a good introduction to Jim Daley, his personal life and I really loved the ending!

 

Children’s Corner – The Great Jumperee by Julia Donaldson

This gorgeous new book by Julia Donaldson is sure to delight little children, perfect to cuddle up with!

Rabbit is on his way home one day when he hears an alarming voice coming from his burrow,

‘I’m the Giant Jumperee and I’m as scary as can be!’

Rabbit is understandably reticent to go into the burrow and cries for help. Along comes Cat who is sure she won’t be scared… she goes to the burrow and…

So it goes on, Bear and Elephant also being frightened off by the terrible voice. But then Mummy Frog comes along and all is revealed.

This is a familiar and winning format with the repetition that little ones love so much. A lovely story and most beautifully and finely illustrated by Helen Oxenbury.

*Many thanks to Penguin Random House UK Children’s, Netgalley and the author and illustrator for an advance copy of this book*

Review Wednesday-Tattletale by Sarah J Naughton

I finished reading  this book today just in time for its publication and, I must say, it’s a great read.

The story revolves around Mags whose brother had fallen from a bannister and is in a coma. Very quickly the questions around ‘the fall’ come rushing in. Did he jump? Was he pushed? Or was it just a terrible accident? Mags is determined to find out what happened to Abe and her first port of call is his fiancée Jody who was with him moments before the fall.

Nothing in this book is what it seems, however and as we read from several viewpoints the mystery deepens.

After a pull-you-in start Tattletale was a little difficult to settle in to. The viewpoints chop and change and there are also flashbacks which made me backtrack a couple of times to establish who was who. But ultimately I was hooked and ready for the ride. None of the characters are wholly likeable but I think that is because, like Mags, I was suspicious of all of them and their motives. The converted church which is the main setting for the book and where Abe lived is a great, atmospheric location.

If anything, for me, the ending was a little drawn out with the author, perhaps too eager to tie up every loose end but as she had created a very convoluted plot better that than to leave questions unanswered.

With more twists and turns than a twisty-turny thing, Tattletale is a good story and a satisfying read.

*Many thanks go to Orion Publishing Group, Netgalley and the author for an advanced copy of this book*

Review Wednesday – Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land

Annie grows up in a truly nightmarish situation. Her mother is a serial killer, her young victims brought to the family home where they are murdered. When Annie can stand by no more she takes the most decisive step of her life and goes to the police. This is where the story starts.

Whilst waiting to attend her mother’s trial Annie is protected with a new identity, a foster family and a new name, Millie. But nothing is easy for Millie, her new school, the well-meaning though already dysfunctional family who take her in and her past, never very far from her thoughts.

As the date of the trial draws nears tensions arise, at home, at school, even with the one new friend Annie has made. Her ‘step’- sister, Phoebe is certainly not her friend, making life at school and at home almost intolerable with her name calling and taunts.

The title of the book, Good Me Bad Me, is a tantalising one. Has Annie/Millie told the entire truth about what happened in that house of horrors? Perhaps not. Having shown her strength in going to the police, is she her own person or a chip off the old block?

After reading the book I have concluded a little of each. Surely we are all a product of our upbringing to some extent? When that upbringing is bad an individual may be consumed by that badness and become part of it but many break away, taking with them the scars, perhaps even benefiting from them as a reminder of what they do not wish to be.

At the heart of the story is a young teenager desperately seeking the stability of family life. moral dilemmas and extreme actions scream to be justified but, of course, they can’t be.

The writing style of this addictive read is short and choppy, sometimes effective, sometimes not so for me, but I always wanted to read on and the ending, the way paved throughout the narrative, was expected but surprisingly executed. 

A fast and effective read!

Review Wednesday – Salisbury Square by Geoff Le Pard

img_1997Set in London, Salisbury Square is a story that nevertheless unfolds a million miles away from the city many visitors know; The London Eye, St Paul’s Cathedral, cruising on the Thames… this is a different London.

Jerzy Komaza is also a visitor but he is Polish, he speaks no English and he’s on the run. After all the years of abuse, Jerzy finally had enough of the way his sister suffered at the hands of their father, back on their Polish Farm, and he killed him.

Now Jerzy has fled with a promise of work if only he can meet up with his cousin Jan in Salisbury Square. Immediately things begin to go wrong, Jan is nowhere to be seen and, when he sees she is in trouble, Jerzy goes to the aid of a young drug addict, Suzie. He is drawn into a new life of workgangs and drugs and acts of violence.

The story is told from several viewpoints and the cast of important characters is quite large. They take a little getting to know but soon the links between them begin to become obvious, their lives entwined in ways even they are not aware of. Told in short chapters the pace quickens towards an end that is surprising, original and somewhat inevitable.

Salisbury Square is a story of lives gone wrong and the far reaching effects on family and friends. It’s about people who care and people who don’t.

A gritty, interesting and, at times, poignant read that left me with lots to think about and to be thankful for.

* Many thanks go to the author who provided a copy of this book with no obligation to review*

 

Children’s Corner – Spider School by Francesca Simon

img_1996Spider School is written by the author of the hugely popular Horrid Henry series and illustrated by the brilliant Tony Ross.

kate wakens on her first day at a new school. It’s a big day and she doesn’t want to go, so much so that she gets out of the wrong side of bed and this is where the trouble starts.

Kate is late and she can’t find her school clothes. Her mum is less than helpful and bundles her off in old clothes leaving her at the gates to find her own way to class. There are no toilets, the teacher is a gorilla who likes to read comics and the dinner lady is serving spiders for lunch.

Load of silly fun here and a perfect ending as, after running home to bed, Kate gets out of the right side and finds herself in a lovely school full of nice kids and teachers – and no spiders for lunch.

This is an early reader that, I expect,  will appeal to a lot of five and six year olds who are not so keen on princesses and fairy castles.

Review Wednesday – A Suitable Lie by Michael J Malone

img_1995Andy Boyd is a widower with a young son, his wife having died in childbirth. With full-time work and family responsibilities Andy’s social life has become non-existent. He is accepting of this and it’s his mum and brother who encourage him to ‘get out more.’ When he does and he meets the beautiful Anna he feels that life is giving both him and his boy Pat, another chance.

But Anna is not what she seems and even as early as their wedding night the problem begins to show. It isn’t easy reading about domestic abuse and even more unusual from the male perspective. Though it happens to many people, it is difficult, as an outsider, to understand those (both male and female) who choose to soldier on through an abusive relationship. In Andy’s case the decision to leave is made doubly difficult by the arrival of a new baby.

On top of all this, money has been going missing at the bank where Andy is a manager, his relationship with both his mother and brother are strained because of Anna’s demands and her jealousy of him spending time with them. Andy begins to keep secrets from Anna, to lie and to cover things up to keep her from flying into one of her rages. He suffers indignation for the sake of his wife and boys. And all the while he  must try to discover what has been happening at the bank.

It’s a total nightmare.

A Suitable Lie is harrowing at times and, I think, necessarly a little repetitive as the abuse and soul-searching must go on and on in order for Andy to finally make a decision to change things. His co-worker, Sheila, who has also suffered abuse at the hands of her husband and the ongoing investigation into fraud, as well as Andy’s impossible situation regarding any kind of disclosure to his colleagues make his life intolerable. Finally something has to give but there is a twist in their fate that Andy couldn’t possibly anticipate.

Enjoyable maybe isn’t the word to describe this novel, but it is interesting and insightful. At the end  I could sympathise with the way Andy chooses to explain the events to his two young children, to love and protect them at all costs but I couldn’t fully understand his own feelings. As damaged as Anna was she was also very wrong.

 

 

Review Wednesday – Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

img_1987The story begins with the most unlikely of events, a death at a school fundraising night in the small beachside town of Pirriwee. We then go back six months to begin a countdown of happenings and misunderstandings that will eventually lead to that death.

Jane has moved into the community with young son Ziggy who is just about to start nursery school. On the way to the all-important orientation morning Jane meets Madeline and Madeline introduces her to Celeste. It turns out they are all on their way to the orientation meeting. 

This is an upmarket community where the important things in life like money and status are what matter most. The topics of conversation are what someone was wearing, hair-dos, ex husbands, ex wives and school politics. As a single mother Jane is an outsider to this exclusive club but soon finds allies. 

There are lots of little sub-plots. Madeline is having problems with her 14 year old daughter, Celeste is unhappy at home and Jane has a deep, dark secret that is going to shatter them all. There are serious issues covered here in a way that I felt was both sympathetic and realistic.

Throughout the narrative we hear commentary from some of those that were there at the fundraiser-from-hell. Everyone has their own opinion as to who was to blame for the untimely death.

I have to say I didn’t love this book. At times, I didn’t even like it and it was tough to go on to the end, but I did always admire it. The writing is confident, the dialogue spot on and the story cleverly wends its way to a conclusion  that is unexpected but also neatly ties in all the loose ends.

My problem was the characters and their self-centred, self important ways. After a reading session I felt as if I needed a long walk on a deserted beach to appreciate the simple and good things in life and that I should drag these characters along with me, (away from their poor children), kicking and screaming if necessary and say LOOK AROUND YOU. APPRECIATE NATURE. FORGET ABOUT WHO HAS A BLONDE BOB AND WHO HIT WHO IN THE PLAYGROUND.

Lesson learned. This book has great reviews but it just wasn’t a good choice for me.

Children’s Books and What They Mean to Me

img_1990Books. When I was a child, I couldn’t get enough of them. Picture books, children’s encyclopaedia’s especially the sections on Volcanoes, tropical islands and exotic animals! I loved Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven and Famous Five series, because those kids had such adventures. Also, just William by Richmal Crompton and Jennings and Derbyshire by Anthony Buckeridge for their downright naughtiness. Later I loved the Nancy Drew mysteries.

When my children were small I began to discover children’s books all over again, old favourites and bright, new books. Parents are so lucky, moving through a few short years of The Hungry Caterpillar and Dear Zoo to The Tiger Who Came to Tea, Mog and Winnie the Witch and on to longer stories. When we read together (long after the children could read for themselves) The Animals of Farthing Wood, Terry Pratchett’s Bromeliad Series, Diggers, Truckers and Wings, and of course Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox and others I couldn’t wait for the next chapter any more than the children. I never got to read the Harry Potter books to my children as they came a little too late but I’m looking forward to that pleasure with my grandchildren.

At the time that I finished writing my first novel, The Palaver Tree, we also happened to be moving house and I came across an old box file of my writing from way back when I used a typewriter. In there was the outline for a children’s book that I had long ago imagined and named Kelly at Come-alive Cottage. I was excited by the story that I had forgotten and decided there and then that I would next produce a children’s book. After all, I told myself,  the process of writing a novel is a long and sometimes arduous task. I thought my little fifty page chapter book would be a breeze.

Wrong

It  was hard, just like any writing project, but it was fun and different and also gave me a new respect for children’s writers.

My blog is all about my love of and experience with books and, for a while I have wanted to separately feature some of the best children’s books, both old and new.  This is what Fridays will look like on the blog.

I started last Friday with a brand new and lovely book by Cat Michaels, The Magical Aquarium.

Which  children’s books have you loved and remembered? If you can recommend a favourite old or new or have written a children’s book please contact me with ideas for this feature. I will be choosy, I want to feature those that I would love to share with the next generation of readers (and parents!) I will be reading and reviewing each book, so please, none longer than about fifty pages. There  are still a lot of novels out there to read too!

Children are the next generation of readers. Who knows what publishing will look like by the time they grow up? Let’s give them all the encouragement we can with great books to start their reading journey.

My Come-alive Cottage Series

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