Month: February 2018

‘Castles in the Air’ by Alison Ripley Cubitt @lambertnagle #FridayReads #RBRT #BookReview

#RBRT Review Team

I read ‘Castles in the Air’ for Rosie’s Book Review Team.

castles

 

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

An eight-year-old child witnesses her mother’s secret and knows that from that moment life will never be the same. 

After Molly, her mother dies, Alison uses her legacy to make a film about Molly’s relationship with a man she had known since she was a teenager. What hold did this man have over her mother? And what other secrets was her mother hiding?

Castles in the Air follows the life of Molly Ripley through the eyes of her daughter Alison. From Molly’s childhood in colonial Hong Kong and Malaya; wartime adventures as a rookie office girl in the far east outpost of Bletchley Park then as a young nurse in the city; tangled romance and marriage to her challenging middle-age when demons from the past seem set to overwhelm her.

The writer in Alison can’t stop until she reveals the story of Molly’s past.
But as a daughter, does she have the courage to face up to the uncomfortable truths of Molly’s seemingly ordinary life?

As she unravels the private self that Molly kept secret, Alison realises that she is trying to find herself through her mother’s story. By trying to make sense of the past, can she move on with her future?

Honest yet unsentimental and told with abundant love and compassion, this is a profoundly moving portrait of a woman’s life, hopes and dreams.
We learn not only about Molly, but about mothers and daughters, secrets and love.
A story for readers struggling to come to terms with the trauma of losing loved ones.

Using letters and journal entries, this book traces the life of the author’s mother, Molly, from her childhood in Hong Kong and Malaya, through marriage and motherhood, detailing her career in nursing, living in New Zealand and her struggles in adult life.

I enjoyed the letters – they give an honest and authentic glimpse into Molly’s life and the upheaval she faces in the war years. As the book progresses, the narrative is unflinching. The author hides nothing, and even though Molly has demons to struggle with, and even though these must have affected the author in her childhood and beyond, the love and affection she felt for her children  shines through and brings a real warmth to the book.

I found the historical detail fascinating and thought that Molly was so interesting. She must have been a fascinating lady, with so many experiences to share. That said, there was some repetition, and some details that, while I can see how they would be interest for the family, did become a little monotonous.

The book is well-written, and the author is obviously a competent writer. I found myself wishing that she’d taken the letters and journals and made them into a novel. I feel this would be much more interesting for most readers and there’s an absolute wealth of material here.

An enjoyable read, but something I felt had the potential to be a great deal more.

3.5

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‘A Horse Walks into a Bar’ by David Grossman #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

horse

 

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

WINNER OF THE INTERNATIONAL MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2017

The setting is a comedy club in a small Israeli town. An audience that has come expecting an evening of amusement instead sees a comedian falling apart on stage; an act of disintegration, a man crumbling, as a matter of choice, before their eyes. They could get up and leave or boo and whistle and drive him from the stage, if they were not so drawn to glimpse his personal hell. Dovaleh G, a veteran stand-up comic – charming, erratic, repellent – exposes a wound he has been living with for years: a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between the two people who were dearest to him.

A Horse Walks into a Bar is a shocking and breathtaking read. Betrayals between lovers, the treachery of friends, guilt demanding redress. Flaying alive both himself and the people watching him, Dovaleh G provokes both revulsion and empathy from an audience that doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry – and all this in the presence of a former childhood friend who is trying to understand why he’s been summoned to this performance.

 

This has some mixed reviews, and I can understand why, to an extent. It’s very unusual, very dark and is difficult to read at times. But it’s brilliant.

Stand-up comedian Dovaleh G is giving a performance in a small Israeli town. A childhood friend has been asked to attend – he doesn’t know why, and as the evening progresses, he feels more and more uncomfortable, as do the audience, who realise that this isn’t the show they were expecting.

Dovaleh is telling his own story, and it isn’t very funny at all. It’s heart-breaking, and he tells it unflinchingly. From the performance, we learn about Dovaleh, his life, his tragedies, and we learn about betrayals, about loss.

It’s an unusual structure, but it really works, allowing for Dovaleh’s character to come through so authentically – which is where it is sometimes hard to read. As a reader, it’s as if you’re there in the audience at times, witnessing Dovaleh falling apart. And you really feel for the child that he was, and the pain that he felt, and you understand how that has made him the man he is. It’s about more than one man though. Dovaleh’s mother is still suffering from what she experienced in the holocaust. His father loves him, but, like many men of his generation, he finds it hard to show that love. And Dovaleh, who has the potential to be so much, who is intelligent and funny and shows flashes of kindness, has no real chance of meeting that potential – his individuality sets him firmly outside and he suffers for that.

Like the audience in the little club in Netanya, it was hard to know whether to laugh or cry. This is an unsettling novel, but it is beautifully crafted, and highly recommended.

5 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy

Happy Lupercalia! #valentinesday

Lupercalia heart

Happy Valentine’s Day! Here is my annual Valentine’s Day post about the real ideas behind the celebration.

Yes, I know it’s Valentine’s Day and lots of you will be receiving bouquets of roses and planning romantic dinners (not me- my husband knows I have no time for the gross commercialism that is Valentine’s Day and is under pain of divorce not to buy me flowers – and I mean it), however, it would seem that Valentine’s Day has always had a lot more to it than hearts and flowers. In fact, it originates from an ancient pagan ritual that was celebrated for years before anyone had heard of Valentine.

In Rome, many centuries ago, the festival of Lupercalia was celebrated from the 13th to the 15th of February. On the 14th of February, a day devoted to Juno, queen of the gods and patron of marriage, young women would place their names on slips of paper put into jars. The young men would pick out a name and the two would spend Lupercalia together.

Lupercalia itself was a strange festival. It was held in honour of the gods Lupercus and Faunus and the founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. The ritual began at the cave where Lupa the wolf was reputed to have suckled Romulus and Remus. A goat (fertility) and a dog (protection) would be sacrificed, and the goat flayed. Men would then run through the streets whipping women and crops with this flayed hide, in a bid to encourage fertility and to ease pain in any future childbirth. Not quite as romantic as a candlelit dinner, but this was ancient Rome.

lupercalia

So how did this rather wild sounding festival become the St Valentine’s Day of today? The rise of Christianity saw Pope Gelasius officially condemn the pagan festival, banning it at the end of the fifth Century. He declared that 14th February be St Valentine’s day. Although no-one really knows who this Valentine was, he is possibly an amalgamation of two different men. During the reign of Emperor Claudius, it was decreed that all marriages be stopped. A priest called Valentine was imprisoned for continuing to perform marriage ceremonies. In the 3rd Century A.D. another Valentine was imprisoned for helping Christians. He allegedly fell in love with the daughter of his jailer and cured her of blindness. This good deed did him no good whatsoever, as he was executed on 14th February 289 A.D. These two Valentines may be the ones at the heart of Valentine’s Day (sorry!).

Even the tradition of young women placing their names into a jar to be picked by a man was incorporated into this new celebration – with one rather huge difference. The girl’s names were replaced by those of saints; each man vowing to emulate the life of the saint whose name he picked for the coming year. Not quite as romantic as the original really.

So, like many other feast days and holidays, Valentine’s Day has its roots in something far from saintly. Still, whether you object to the commercialism or not, it’s as good a day as any other to tell someone you love them!

Valentines

‘Everything You Do Is Wrong’ by Amada Coe #BookReview

everything

Amazon.co.uk   Amazon.com

Harmony’s teenage craving for drama is answered when a body is discovered by her aunt Mel on Evensand beach. But the naked, lifeless young woman turns out – problematically – to be alive. Unable to speak or remember where she came from, the woman is named Storm by her nurses.

Surrounded by doctors, psychiatrists and policemen, Storm remains provocatively silent. Harmony is desperate to fill in the gaps in Storm’s story, while the responsibility Mel feels for the woman she rescued begins to skew the course of her own settled life. Their efforts to solve the mystery clash with the efforts of rookie constable Mason, assigned to the case and determined to help this damsel he feels to be very much in distress.

Will any of them be able to find out who Storm really is? And what if the distress belongs to everyone but her?

Everything You Do Is Wrong is a compelling exploration of how this enigma sets a family’s good and bad intentions crashing into each other, with unforgettable consequences.

This is an interesting and unusual book, full of some wonderful imagery and description and some really clever little insights into people, places and situations that give the writing authenticity.

I found the descriptions of Evensand particularly well done and very evocative of a typical British seaside town out of season. The rain and the wind and the depressing greyness of it all came over very well. And little things like Harmony sneakily eating a KitKat in the library added to that.

I found it easy to warm to Harmony – while there were aspects to her character that verged on the stereotypical in places, her confusion and unhappiness came over clearly. I felt the hints around an eating disorder should have been more detailed – if she was suffering form something like this, it would have been a bigger aspect of her life, and if she was ‘playing’ with the idea for the sake of drama, then that too should have been developed.

I liked Mel a lot too, and it was nice to have a more realistic middle-aged woman in a novel. Too often they are either old before their time or impossibly perfect for their age – Mel was Mel, authentic, believable, kind and warm but with her own jealousies, and regrets.

I liked the subplot around Storm, the girl on the beach, and thought that the revelation as to how and why she as there was very unusual and made a refreshing change form the usual conclusions to these scenarios. It was a clever idea.

This is a slow burner – don’t expect fast-paced drama and lots of twists and turns. And there are places where I felt things could have been developed a bit further – Mel’s relationship with her husband and sons, Mason’s past, what compels the protagonists in the story behind Storm to do what they do, for example. But there’s some fabulous writing here. I really enjoyed it.

4 stars

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the review copy