For the last seven years, Mary O’Connor has waited for her first love. Every evening she arrives at Ealing Broadway station and stands with a sign which simply says: ‘Come Home Jim’.
Commuters might pass her by without a second thought, but Mary isn’t going anywhere. Until an unexpected call turns her world on its head.
It will take the help of a young journalist called Alice, and a journey across the country for Mary to face what happened all those years ago, and to finally answer the question: where on earth is Jim?
This is a very unusual novel, well-written and thoughtful, and it handles mental health issues with compassion and understanding, and without judgement.
I did find Mary a bit frustrating at times, but she has made her own choices and has her own reasons, and she is firm in that, which gives her agency in a life that often feels pointless. Her work at the helpline gives her another dimension, and her burgeoning friendships there give us hope that there is more for her.
Alice is lovely, and her back and forth with Kit is a highlight of the novel, providing some needed lightness and humour. I felt too that Jim was drawn with sensitivity and care, and that his character was an interesting portrayal of the difference between what people might want and what they need.
An intelligent book, the author’s love for her characters is clear. I really enjoyed it.
Born at the stroke of midnight at the exact moment of India’s independence, Saleem Sinai is a special child. However, this coincidence of birth has consequences he is not prepared for: telepathic powers connect him with 1,000 other ‘midnight’s children’ all of whom are endowed with unusual gifts. Inextricably linked to his nation, Saleem’s story is a whirlwind of disasters and triumphs that mirrors the course of modern India at its most impossible and glorious.
It feels a bit ridiculous that I’ve got to the ripe of age of fifty-three without having read any books by Salman Rushdie. I have had this one in my bookcase for about five years! And I decided that 2023 would be the year I would finally read it.
Well, it certainly got the year off to an excellent start. This is one of those books that, when you read reviews on Amazon, you wonder what the people who have given it less than five stars are reading. I know everyone is entitled to an opinion, and that reading can be subjective, but the moment I opened this book I was completely and utterly captivated.
The writing is breathtaking, absolutely on another level to almost everything I’ve read before. That this won the Booker of Bookers is no surprise. Every page, indeed, every paragraph, contains something that makes you stop in your tracks (at least if you are a nerdy, book obsessed person like me).
Saleem, with his huge, dripping ‘cucumber’ nose and amazing sense of smell is such an unusual narrator – if you want a masterclass in how to write an unreliable narrator, then this is the place to find it. Do these things really happen to him? Is he telepathic? Is he linked to the other ‘midnight’s children’? Or is he weaving a tale to make his life seem more interesting, as he recounts these events to Padma, delighting in surprising and shocking her as he does.
The parallels of his life to the changes in India after independence and through partition are beautifully woven throughout. I learned more about the history of India than I ever did at school. If you want to get the most from this book, you will need to not mind looking up things as you go – but it is really well worth it.
The writing is unconventional, and breaks all the rules – but this is a writer who knows how to break those rules, and certainly doesn’t do so for the sake of it. The narrative is carefully and beautifully constructed, metaphors, similes, imagery, vocabulary all working seamlessly together to create a wonderful story.
The people that populate this extraordinary novel are gorgeously drawn – like ayah Mary Pereira, who infuses her pickles with all her bitterness, hurt and love; Parvati-the-witch, who loves Saleem; Naseem, who really begins it all; and gorgeous Aunty Pia; Picture Singh the world’s most charming man; Uncle Hanif, film director; Shiva, Saleem’s huge-kneed rival, the novel is bursting with life and all the human emotions you can think of – love, hate, jealousy, empathy, cowardice, fear, sadness, joy, the list goes on and on.
I was genuinely sorry to get to the end – and very sorry I had taken so long to read it. I’m also very glad that I have a whole back catalogue of Rushdie to enjoy.
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.
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 (but perhaps a lot more fun!). Still, whether you object to the commercialism or not, it’s as good a day as any other to tell someone you love them!
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I know your name, your birthday, your kids’ names, where you live, where you work. I know when you get that big promotion, or when you argue with your spouse.
But someone knows everything about me too. Someone knows all my secrets and they’re using them against me. They’re setting me up.
The police think I murdered Emily Parker. To prove my innocence I need to find the real killer.
I need to beat him at his own game
Bartender Clay gets caught up with a murderer and finds himself the suspect. He goes on the run, accompanied by a journalist trying to make a name for herself, and the pair track down the real killer.
This is an exciting and gripping novel, and great fun to read. I did enjoy it. It’s well-written, and is an easy read. The denouement (which is not quite the ending) is great, very well-executed.
That said, there were a few things that I didn’t like so much. There were grammatical errors that were hard to avoid. I also didn’t really buy the involvement of Clay’s best friend and her new boyfriend. Why would they risk helping him? And their involvement didn’t amount to very much, even though it put them at a huge risk, so I wasn’t sure why that particular plot line was necessary; the novel would have worked better without it.
So overall, not perfect, but very definitely worth reading.
In the days before Homeira Qaderi gave birth to her son, Siawash, the road to the hospital in Kabul would often be barricaded because of the frequent suicide explosions. With the city and the military on edge, it was not uncommon for an armed soldier to point his gun at the pregnant woman’s bulging stomach, terrified that she was hiding a bomb. Propelled by the love she held for her soon-to-be-born child, Homeira walked through blood and wreckage to reach the hospital doors. But the joy of her beautiful son’s birth was soon overshadowed by other dangers that would threaten her life.
No ordinary Afghan woman, Homeira refused to cower under the strictures of a misogynistic social order. Defying the law, at the age of thirteen, she risked her freedom to teach children reading and writing and fought for women’s rights in her theocratic and patriarchal society.
Devastating in its power, Dancing in the Mosque is a mother’s searing letter to the son she was forced to leave behind. In telling her story – and that of Afghan women – Homeira challenges us to reconsider the meaning of motherhood, sacrifice, and survival.
This is a beautiful book. It is not simply a memoir of misery and gloom, although there is sadness and grief and loss and anger here. This is much more. This is a real story, about a real woman, who had to make an incredibly difficult decision.
Because it is real, and because life is so much more complicated than simple ‘good’ and ‘bad’, there is humour here too, and laughter, and love and friendship. There are wonderful family relationships, and insights into a world that feels very different but that, in some ways, shows how similar people actually are.
The writing is absolutely beautiful in places, and this is a story that carries you along, caring so deeply about the writer and what happens to her.
I find it difficult to review books like this because it is all to easy to point out the faults in another country when we don’t acknowledge the slow erosion of rights in our own country – particularly those of women and the LGBTQ+ community (especially when situations in other countries are often partly or wholly caused by the actions of this country). I prefer to let the women of these countries speak for themselves. Books like this are so important because they allow women a voice.
Highly recommended – a very important and beautiful book.
Just a child herself, could Chrissy Cornwall really be a cold-blooded killer?
Years later, the murderer is getting out and Natalie Bryers, unable to forget the night of Jenny’s murder, still has questions.
Did Chrissy lie then or is she lying now? Did she really kill Jenny? And if so, will she kill again?
Aspiring writer Natalie Bryers feels like life is at a standstill. She’s going nowhere, living alone at the old family home, in a dead end job, and making no progress on her writing career. She’s haunted too by the memory of the discovery of the body of a murdered teenager in a field belonging to her family. Years later, her father and brother are dead, and her mother left years ago.
Now the murderer, who was a teenager herself, has been released, and she claims that she was innocent. For some reason, Natalie thinks she might be telling the truth – something about the murder just doesn’t add up. Could hearing Chrissie’s story put those ghosts to rest? And could it kickstart Natalie’s dream of a career as a writer?
This novel has some very good moments, gripping, creepy, intriguing. Natalie is a complicated main character, uncomfortable with her own questionable motivations, selfish at times, but ultimately sad and lonely – you can’t help but hope that things get better for her.
You can’t help but feel sorry for Chrissy, either, even though she is quite hard to like.
So good, well-written characters, an interesting plot, and plenty of twists and turns. The issue for me, however, was that the ending felt very rushed. After a big build up and lots of drama, everything was just tied up very quickly, and I was left feeling a bit ‘meh’ if I’m honest.
So a good story, an entertaining read, but a bit let down by the ending.
All she has left is her sanity. Will the asylum take that from her too?
In 1939, Matilda is admitted to Ghyllside hospital, cut off from family and friends. Not quite twenty, and forced to give up her baby for adoption, she feels battered by the cruel regime. Yet she finds a surprising ally in rough-edged Doris, who risks harsh punishments to help her reach out to the brother she left behind.
Twenty-five years later, the rules have relaxed, and the women are free to leave. How will they cope in a world transformed in their absence? Do greater dangers await them outside?
The poignant prequel to Matilda Windsor Is Coming Home is a tragic yet tender story of a woman robbed of her future who summons the strength to survive.
It isn’t all that long ago that women who stepped outside of convention were ‘sent away’ for the good of society. This is what happens to Matilda in this short novella that explores how someone can be institutionalised in such a cruel and unfeeling way, but still manage to keep that spark of who they really are.
Told from Matilda’s point of view, this is a really well-written story, that deals with its subject matter sympathetically and unflinchingly. The coldness with which she is treated is horrible, but completely believable, unfortunately, and is written with authenticity. That aspect was, for me, the strongest part of this story and the writing – the way in which Matilda is tossed aside and treated as if she has no feelings, no worth.
There are moments of real humour and levity here too, which are a relief and which lift this novella above those that dwell in misery.
I would have liked more exploration of the way Matilda felt about giving up her child – for me this wasn’t developed enough. But that aside, this is a well-written and worthwhile read, and one that I definitely recommend.