Book Review: Postcards from a Stranger ****

I am proud to be a Ten Reviews or More reviewer on Net Galley.

I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review.So here it is (It’s been hanging around meaning to be posted for quite a while!):

The Net Galley synopsis says:

A secret lies buried at the heart of her family—but it can’t stay hidden forever.

When Cara stumbles across a stash of old postcards in the attic, their contents make her question everything she thought she knew.

The story she pieces together is confusing and unsettling, and appears to have been patched over with lies. But who can tell her the truth? With her father sinking into Alzheimer’s and her brother reluctant to help, it seems Cara will never find the answers to her questions. One thing is clear, though: someone knows more than they’re letting on.

Torn between loyalty to her family and dread of what she might find, Cara digs into the early years of her parents’ troubled marriage, hunting down long-lost relatives who might help unravel the mystery. But the picture that begins to emerge is not at all the one she’d expected—because as she soon discovers, lies have a habit of multiplying . . .

I enjoyed the book – the mystery at the heart of the story was interesting, and I found myself rooting for Cara from the very beginning, although I did feel she let her brother get away with rather too much!

The story centres around Cara who is caring for her father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and through a random discovery, she starts to find out that the story she had been told about her mother’s death is not true. She then begins a journey of discovery, trying to unravel the truth from lies, and she uncovers things that perhaps she would rather not have known, about her family, and her childhood.

The characters were engaging, well-written, and believable; the story itself was gripping, and poignant. I would definitely recommend this book. Four stars.

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Book Review: Connectedness ****

I am proud to be a Ten Reviews or More reviewer on Net Galley.

I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review. I haven’t been reading so many books recently – there was a period in my recovery when I was romping through them, but it’s slowed down. I read a few pages in bed, but not much. I finished this book about three weeks ago, though, and since then I’ve struggled to get into anything. But, here’s the review.

The Net Galley site says:

TO THE OUTSIDE WORLD, ARTIST JUSTINE TREE HAS IT ALL… BUT SHE ALWAYS HAS A SECRET THAT THREATENS TO DESTROY EVERYTHING

Justine’s art sells around the world, but does anyone truly know her? When her mother dies, she returns to her childhood home in Yorkshire where she decides to confront her past. She asks journalist Rose Haldane to find the baby she gave away when she was an art student, but only when Rose starts to ask difficult questions does Justine truly understand what she must face.

Is Justine strong enough to admit the secrets and lies of her past? To speak aloud the deeds she has hidden for 27 years, the real inspiration for her work that sells for millions of pounds. Could the truth trash her artistic reputation? Does Justine care more about her daughter, or her art? And what will she do if her daughter hates her?

This tale of art, adoption, romance and loss moves between now and the Eighties, from London’s art world to the bleak isolated cliffs of East Yorkshire and the hot orange blossom streets of Málaga, Spain.

I have to say that although I enjoyed this book, it took me a long time to read it.  I’m not sure why. I suppose it was that this wasn’t exactly gripping – that’s not to say it wasn’t enjoyable, or well written; I just didn’t feel inclined to race through it.

The description above sums up the plot well, and I certainly felt for Justine, both in her present day situation, and in her messy student life, with the predicament of an unplanned pregnancy. The character of Rose was also engaging , and it was interesting to see how her situation compared to Justine’s, and how this affected her dealings with the artist. Certainly all the characters were believable, the descriptions were good and I was involved in the recounting of the story. It just didn’t totally enthrall me – but, having said that, I was interested enough to want to finish the book, unlike others I have had from Net Galley!!

I give this 4 stars. I was going to give it three, but I think I was being unfair. It wasn’t the book’s fault that I wasn’t in a reading mood….

Picasso’s house, in Malaga, which features in the book.

PS This isn’t the “lost post” from yesterday, but one that I’ve been meaning to write for quite some time!!

Book Review: Be Still the Water (****)

I’ll tell you about my dinner tomorrow (I’ve got to download the photos) but here’s my review of the most recent read from Net Galley:

I am proud to be a Ten Reviews or More reviewer on Net Galley

I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review. So, here it is:

BE STILL THE WATER

by Karen Emilson

The Net Galley synopsis says:

From the award-winning author of Where Children Run comes a smoldering tale, set in 1906 along the unspoiled shores of Lake Manitoba.

Be Still the Water brings us into the fold of the Gudmundsson family—immigrants determined to begin life anew in the Icelandic farming and fishing community of Siglunes. At the heart of the novel is dutiful Asta, the middle daughter who loves the local mill owner’s son, but the devastating secret they share drives a wedge between them, complicating their love for decades.

When Asta’s younger sister goes missing, she embarks on a quest to find her and bring her home. She tells the heartbreaking tale some seventy years later, while on her deathbed, finally discovering the truth of what happened on those fateful days that set the course for her life and the lives of everyone she loved.

Loosely inspired by area events, this is an emotional, slow-burning story of family love and sacrifice, of a secret revealed and promises broken—told in the spirit of the Icelandic Sagas.

While I might take issue with the adjective “smouldering” (please note, I’ve spelt it correctly!) I certainly wouldn’t complain about the rest of this description. I found this an interesting story, with characters that I both believed in, and engaged with. It covered both a period of history, and an area of the world, about which I knew nothing – I didn’t even know that Icelandic people settled in Canada!

The main protagonist, Asta, was a likeable character, and her struggles, together with those of her family, were well recounted. The story starts at the very end of her life, as she is preparing to die, and she wants to know what happened to her sister, who disappeared. In order to do this she “travels” back in time, and retells the story of her life. It is a life full of tragedy, secrets, hardship, but also the joy of family and community. As the telling unfolds we discover more about Asta and her history.

I did find it a little over-long, but, having said that, there was no extraneous episodes, no unnecessary descriptions. The writing was good, and (thank heavens) well-edited. I enjoyed this author’s style. I’d certainly recommend this to lovers of historical fiction, giving it four stars

Book Review (again…sorry!): Ten Days One Guernsey Summer (***)

I am proud to be a Ten Reviews or More reviewer on Net Galley

I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review. So, here it is:

The Net Galley synopsis reads thus:

This is the story of a family living on the Channel Island of Guernsey, faced with the potential of invasion by the forces of Nazi Germany during June 1940. Based on a true story, this is how they faced up to the decisions that needed to be made during the last few days before the occupation of the British Channel Islands.

We also follow the story of a German bomber pilot, and the actions he was involved in during the same period and how his life and actions impacted on that Guernsey family during 10 Days one Guernsey Summer. This is a story of love and compassion in the face of extreme adversity.

A must read for anyone interested in this period of history, 10 Days One Guernsey Summer is a story that will warm your heart and bring you to tears. Prepare to live those days and experience what it was like to face a period when decisions had to be made without anyone knowing where those decisions might lead.

I really, really wanted to enjoy this book – it was written by the grandson of the main characters, it involves a period of history that I find interesting, set in a place about which I know very little. The reviewers on Net Galley gave it five stars almost unanimously, with very flattering write-ups. I was looking forward to a story that hooked me from the first pages, that would “grab your heart and not let go until you can breathe a sigh of relief at the last page” (as one reviewer wrote.)

I think you can probably tell that there is a big “but” coming….

BUT…

I’m afraid that I found the story, and the telling of it, incredibly pedestrian. There was not a lot to hold my interest, just a slightly tedious recounting of everyday life (albeit during a momentous time in history) wherein the protagonists go to work, come home, discuss options, make decisions…but not much else happens until the day before the invasion of the island by the Nazi army.

I was more interested by the non-familial story, that of the German bomber pilot. This story held a little more jeopardy, and it was interesting to read “the other side”. Bernhard was a sympathetic character, an ordinary German, who was doing a job that he had to do, in as “moral” a way possible. He tried to avoid killing defenceless civilians, he acknowledged the bravery of his opponents, he wrote to his family and girlfriend, keeping the worst of the war from them. He was a likeable character, but we didn’t get much insight into his psyche: it was more a straightforward description of his actions: what he did rather than why he did it, or what he thought about it

And I think this was my problem with the telling of this story: it read very much like an account of actions, without much going beyond this. There was very little dialogue, very little descriptive writing, very little observation about motivation and character. So much so, that by the end I didn’t really care what happened to any of them, let alone being moved to tears, as one reviewer promised. Yes, I learned about how people went about their every day life on Guernsey in early 1940; I found out a little about the tomato growing and export business on the island; I even discovered information about the food that was eaten…but I had no sense of getting under the skin of the characters.

As readers of my reviews will know, I also find myself getting irritated by bad punctuation and poor writing, and there were examples of both in this book. When I was teaching 9 and 10 year olds, I refused to allow them to use the adjective “nice” – I explained that this was lazy writing, and always pushed them to find another adjective that told me more about the thing they were describing. The author uses “nice” too many times for my liking, and, I’m afraid, not many other adjectives.

He also thanks his proof reader – quite frankly, I wouldn’t be thanking someone who has such a poor understanding of the use of apostrophes. They were used in a very random fashion: frequently used for plurals (which is wrong. Example “The three K’s climbed into the plane”), sometimes used for the third person singular neutral possessive (which is wrong. Example: It’s wings shone in the sunlight), sometimes NOT used to denote a missing letter ( which is wrong: “Its a lovely day today” ) It’s this lazy editing that really annoys me, and I seem to find it so frequently! I’m sorry, regular readers, that you get subjected to my rants about it so often!

I’m not sure if it is an editing, or a proof reading, or an e-reader problem but there were also rather too many occasions when the spacing of words was incorrect, with words broken in the middle, or running into the next word with no space between them. Only a small matter, but a tad irritating.

I’m sorry to sound so down on this book, as it is obviously a subject close to the author’s heart. At the end of the book he talks about his love of Guernsey, of his grandparents and his family; he tells us how he has lived and worked on the island for all his life, and describes his childhood experiences. I really wanted to like this book, and maybe that’s why I gave it three stars – because finally, the author’s love for the subject shone through. In my opinion, it isn’t well written, but at least I knew that there was a passion in the writing, that the people meant something to the author, even if, sadly, I ended up not being terribly interested in what happened to them.

Nazi troops march through St Peter Port, Guernsey

A view of St Peter Port today


	

Book Review: The Map of Us (*** and a half)

I am proud to be a Ten Reviews or More reviewer on Net Galley

I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review. So, here it is:

THE MAP OF US by Jules Preston

The description on Net Galley was interesting: Violet North is wonderfully inconvenient. Abandoned by her family and lost in an imagined world of moors and adventure, her life changes in the space of just 37 words exchanged with a stranger at her front door.

Decades later, Daniel Bearing has inherited his father’s multi-million pound business, and is utterly lost. He has no idea who he is or where his life is headed.

When Violet’s granddaughter’s marriage falls apart, Tilly, always adept with numbers, compiles a detailed statistical report to pinpoint why. But the Compatibility Index Tilly creates has unforeseen consequences for everyone in her world.

Tilly and Daniel share a secret too. 10.37am, April 22nd.
Soon, a complex web of secrets and lies is exposed and an adventure begins with a blue typewriter…

and what convinced me to choose this book was the tagline: “One of the most original and charming books you will ever read, this is a must read for all those who love Eleanor Oliphant and The Keeper of Lost Things

While I haven’t read “Eleanor Oliphant” I have read “The Keeper…” and I did enjoy it, so I thought I would give this a try. I was glad I did, although I do have a few reservations.

It is written in very short chapters, with slightly bizarre titles, such as “More Sofa” (it makes sense within the story) or “64.726%” – some chapters are written in almost free-form poetry, others from different points of view, and with a definite style, depending on the subject/narrator. Each character’s story is woven together neatly, and the whole book is a pleasure to read. However, other reviewers found the writing style quite difficult to get along with, and even gave up reading the book.

In my opinion, the characters were engaging, and well delinated, and the story moved along briskly. While the writing was “different”, I didn’t find it put me off too much. I particularly enjoyed the chapters telling Violet’s story, and the characters described therein; Dog appealed most of all.

My reservations are two-fold – although the first is not so much about the book as the publicity. Billing anything as “The most uplifting and unmissable feel good novel of the year!” is possibly dangerous, as it sets the reader’s expectations almost unattainably high. I have read other books equally (or more) uplifting this year, although I’m not denying that this was a satisfying (although partially very predictable) read.

My second reservation is that at times I felt that the author was almost trying too hard to be quirky. There were times when I felt he was raising his eyebrow archly and saying “Aren’t I clever?” I guess that more and more novels have to have something to make them stand out from the crowd, but with this I just felt slightly put on edge by the knowing eccentricity of the way the story was told.

Don’t let this put you off: if you enjoy stories with “something different” about them, then I would recommend it. It’s not as good as the equally quirky “A Year of Marvellous Ways” which I loved but it is still a very enjoyable book. I have given it three-and-a-half stars (losing half a star for being “arch”) but for Net Galley, who don’t give half stars, I’m rounding it UP to 4 stars.

Book Review: Good Harbor (****)

This wasn’t sent by Net Galley. It’s a proper book – and one that I’ve had for several years, and have read several times.

Even though I know the story well, I still enjoy reading this book. I pulled it off the shelf as I was looking for something to read last night, as I wasn’t sure where my Kindle was. As always, I was drawn into the story, and found that I couldn’t put it down, finishing it off this afternoon. OK, I have the excuse of fatigue to mean that I can sit around reading for a good part of the day, but I still enjoyed this.

The Good Reads description says: Good Harbor is the long stretch of Cape Ann beach where two women friends walk and talk, sharing their personal histories and learning life’s lessons from each other. Kathleen Levine, a longtime resident of Gloucester, Massachusetts, is maternal and steady, a devoted children’s librarian, a convert to Judaism, and mother to two grown sons. When her serene life is thrown into turmoil by a diagnosis of breast cancer at fifty-nine, painful past secrets emerge and she desperately needs a friend. Forty-two-year-old Joyce Tabachnik is a sharp-witted freelance writer who is also at a fragile point in her life. She’s come to Gloucester to follow her literary aspirations, but realizes that her husband and young daughter are becoming increasingly distant. Together, Kathleen and Joyce forge a once-in-a-lifetime bond and help each other to confront scars left by old emotional wounds.

It’s interesting that this is the first time I’ve read it since I had trhe diagnosis of breast cancer, as one of the main characters is in recovery, just as I am; she is going through radiotherapy, and it was fascinating to compare Kathleen’s reactions and emotions regarding her cancer to my own – some very similar, some very different. All the characters – even minor ones – are well delineated, and are believable; they are multi-faceted and behave in ways that are consistent with what we know about them.

It’s an interesting study of friendship, and made me consider – and be grateful for – my women friends. I don’t have the close friendship that Kathleen and Joyce forge, but it brought home to me how important friends are. It also looks at how religion plays a part in family life, and at how misunderstandings that arise out of tragedy can have long lasting effects on relationships.

I found this – as always – a deeply satisfying book to read. Especially as there are none of the glaring grammatical or literary errors that I find in so many of the Net Galley books that I review!

Four well deserved stars.

This is a picture of the “real” Good Harbor beach

 

Book Review: England’s Lane (****)

I am proud to be a Ten Reviews or More reviewer on Net Galley

I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review. So, here it is:

My attention was caught by the description  – a little less ordinary than many of the “blurbs”, which made this book sound as though it might be more interesting than a run-of-the-mill love story.

Lily: Caught up in a complicated love affair, unable to leave but unable to stay. Is this really her happy ever after? 

Pippa: Sinking into despair as she discovers her marriage is based on lies. She can’t bear the humiliation, but what’s the alternative?

Harry: Torn between two women and fighting depression to make it through each day. Will love be enough to save him from going under? 

England’s Lane is a tale of betrayal and forgiveness, family and friendship, loss and redemption. A painful but powerful modern love story, it explores the cost of marital infidelity and the challenges of single motherhood, the legacy of suicide and the healing power of love.

I was right. I found this a really interesting, well-written book. From the onset I was engaged with the characters – although annoyed by one or two, I found each one believable and their actions were consistent with what we knew about them. The one possible exception is Pippa; I wasn’t totally convinced by her voice, especially as it purports to be in a blog. I’m not sure that one would reveal such intimate details in a public blog.

I think the final sentence of the description sums up the themes of the book very adequately “A painful but powerful modern love story, it explores the cost of marital infidelity and the challenges of single motherhood, the legacy of suicide and the healing power of love.” Perhaps the challenges of single motherhood were glossed over a little – the character (I name no names – spoilers!) seemed to have things fall quite neatly into her lap at times, and the baby was remarkably well behaved and considerate, but hey, this is fiction, after all! The effects of one person’s suicide on those around was sensitively described, as was the importance of family, in all its different guises.

It examines some difficult issues – infidelity, depression, family break-up – but is, finally, a book that left me feeling more hopeful for the characters than one might imagine at the beginning of the book.

There were a few issues for me at the beginning, when timelines, voices and stories were not adequately seperated or indicated, so I was a little confused. However this settled down reasonably quickly, and I was able to follow the timeline more easily.

The other issue – possibly just an e-reader issue- was the way paragraphs were laid out. Sometimes there were paragraph breaks in the middle of sentences, or incorrectly placed. Some punctuation was missing too. I hope these will be sorted out before publication as they did rather spoil the reading experience for me.

In all, however, this was an enjoyable, engaging read, which deserves its four stars.

And this is a photo of England’s Lane, in London. Very nice…