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

From Puffins to Peacocks

Which might be a slightly ambiguous post title, but can be explained…

I wrote earlier about my childhood reading, and my membership of the Puffin Club, a club affiliated to Puffin books, an imprint of Penguin Books publishing house, targeted at children. Peacock books were the fairly shortlived “young adult” series, a step on from Puffin books; but they made up a fair amount of my transition reading.

Titles such as Fifteen, by Beverley Cleary, a story about first love, and all the pain and joy associated with it…

This list shows the first Peacock books – just reading it through has made me go “Oh, Yes! I remember that!!” for so many books. I wonder if there’s any there that you have read and enjoyed?

After graduating to the adult library section, I started reading a lot of Mary Stewart’s romance/mysteries. I really enjoyed these – usually there was a smart, sassy female protagonist, who fell in love, often with someone a bit unsuitable, who she suspected to be the wrong doer. She could usually look after herself, but there would be a life-or-death situation at the end where she would be rescued by (or sometimes rescue) the Love of her Life. They would be set in exotic locations, and I really loved them; I read one quite recently, and although it was a bit dated, I still enjoyed it.

I didn’t really like Agatha Christie mysteries, but enjoyed other crime novels – a genre which I still enjoy today. I can’t remember any particular authors that I gravitated towards, although I do remember my aunt taking Ngaio Marsh mysteries on holiday with her: she brought them from the library (shock! horror! we were never allowed to take library books on holiday in case we lost them!) and they all had standard library issue covers in a particularly unpleasant yellow! I tried reading one, but didn’t enjoy it.

I fell in love with two books about time slip/ghostly, doomed love – A Portrait of Jennie, by Robert Nathan, and Jenny Villiers, by JB Priestly. Both of these fed my adolescent need for love… I read A Portrait of Jennie again recently – while I enjoyed it, I wasn’t quite gripped in the same way…

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One book that had a profound effect on me was “In this House of Brede” by Rumer Godden. I had already come across Rumer Godden’s book “The Kitchen Madonna” in the children’s section of the library – a lovely story, in which Gregory, a nine-year-old boy, has a deep love and respect for his family’s Ukrainian maid, Marta. When he discovers that Marta is sad because she does not have an icon in the kitchen, he commits to doing something about it. He makes his own picture, using various things such as jewel-bright sweet wrappers to frame it. I moved onto reading Godden’s “The Greengage Summer” (another Peacock book) which is another book about the joy and pain of first love, but this one set in 1920s France

After this, I wanted to read other books by the same author, and found “In this House of Brede“. As Wikipedia describes it: a portrait of religious life in England that centers on Philippa Talbot, a highly successful professional woman who leaves her comfortable life among the London elite to join a cloistered Benedictine community of contemplative nuns. It begins in 1954, as Philippa enters the monastery, Brede Abbey; continues through her solemn vows in the changing, post-Second Vatican Council environment; and ends as Philippa reluctantly accepts the call to lead a new Benedictine foundation in Japan, where she spent part of her childhood.

I think reading this book helped me to see that it was okay to have questions about God, to struggle with being a Christian. I said “Yes” to God at school, aged 17, and went along to a House church, which was in many ways a great start for my Christian life, but in other ways not so good. It was very Bible based, with every answer to every question considered to be in the Bible, God’s direct word to us, and never to be questioned…. This was not my experience, and it was not how I had been educated: I had been taught to ask questions, and my church upbringing had been more open and liberal. Being torn between two stances, this book helped me to start to form my own opinions and become stronger in my faith.

As I write this, I remember more and more books from my adolescence, that I really enjoyed…I could be writing this blog post for ever as I recall more and more!

The L-Shaped Room, by Lynne Reid Banks

Last Year’s Broken Toys

The Silver Sword by Ian Serrailer ( Maybe that was a childhood book, rather than adolescent – but an excellent read!)

Fifth Chinese Daighter by Jade Snow Wong

The Owl Service by Alan Garner…

and so the list goes on. What do you remember reading in your teenage years?

Readers required

OK, I’ve written a novel. It’s about a woman who moves to France, and what happens to her.

I don’t know if it’s any good. I’m too close to it. But I’m thinking I need to try to whip it into some sort of shape, and maybe try to get it published.

I need a few people who would be willing to read it, and give me some (kindly worded but honest) criticism.

Is there anyone who would be willing to have me send them the novel by email, chapter by chapter, and then to tell me (kindly, but honestly) what they think of it? Let me know in the comments section, and also make sure there’s some way I can contact you by email.

It’s called “Teaching Donkeys to Dance” and according to my mother has a bit too much sex and food in it!

Memory loss!

Yesterday I wrote a post about my childhood reading; as the initial post had been lost through my ineptitude, I had to re-write it. Due to my decrepitude I forgot certain things that had been included in the original post, and I was reminded of them by a comment from Bev.

I talked about authors that I enjoyed reading (and that Mum had frowned upon slightly) but I forgot about some that were happily sanctioned by my parents…First and foremost, there were The Little House on the Prarie books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. Way, way before the TV series of the same name, I was enjoying Laura and Mary’s adventures in the pioneer community. I remember my delight when Dad bought me a box set of the books

It didn’t contain “These Happy Golden Years” but I was less interested in the series after Laura had grown up and married Almanzo. That set of books was carefully looked after and read, and re-read numerous times. They led me onto Anne of Green Gables which I also enjoyed, although I was less enamoured by Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. I think she and Pollyanna were too good for my liking.

If you’re sharp eyed you may have noticed a very important logo in the top left hand corner of both of these books – the Puffin.

 

This is the logo of the Puffin publishing group – part of the Penguin books franchise – but also the logo on the badge of The Puffin Club. This club was created by Kaye Webb, to encourage children to read more and to become involved in the joy of books. Every quarter members would receive a copy of Puffin Post, a magazine full of articles (written by children!!!) and competitions, jokes and stories.

    

I loved being a member of the Puffin Club! My older brother and sister were also members and they actually won one of the competitions – I still remember it. They had to write a story, including as many Puffin Book titles as they could. I guess that I was probably 9 or 10, my brother 12, and my sister 15 or so at the time; Judy encouraged me to enter too, but I didn’t quite have the courage to do so; I started a story, but didn’t finish it. But both Judy and Mike did, and they both won, in their age categories. They won a week’s sailing holiday, with other Puffineers, in the Forest of Dean, at Symond’s Yat. How exciting!

I think the Puffin Club was a great idea, encouraging young people to become involved in reading, but also in sharing their love of reading with others; it also encouraged budding writers to try their skills. I think I owe much of my love of reading to this excellent venture…Are any of my readers ex-Puffineers? Please do let me know in the comments section!!

On books and reading… (1)

This has been in my draft posts folder for a while – I was annoyed because I’d lost half the post with a little bit of unjudicious button pressing, so I flounced off in a bit of a huff. I’ve revisited it…

It’s interesting that I have recently read two posts about reading habits and how they started. The first is over at The Homeplace Web, where the author recalls going to the library in her youth, and searching out books to keep her (I assume it’s her!) going through the week. Secondly, and purely by coincidence, I read Sue, in The Cottage at the End of the Lane as she wrote about Lucy Mangan’s book, “Bookworm”, which is on the subject of childhood reading.  Both posts are interesting, and I urge you to go over and read them.

Isn’t it a beautiful book cover?!

These posts started me thinking about my reading habits…

We always, always had books around the house. I think a lot of them were from book clubs, such as the Folio book club, as they all had similar covers. I don’t remember my parents reading much – I imagine they were too busy, as mum had a part time job as a teacher and a full time job as a housewife, and dad was a busy GP – but there were always books by their bedside. I remember the built-in bookshelves in the lounge, filled with books that I would browse and flick through if I was feeling bored:  an entire set of Winston Churchill’s memoirs, with the great man’s signature embossed on the front, and also a book about the sinking of the Titanic. I would sometimes pull this off the shelf, and look at the photos, read the tragic stories, and dream about what would have happened had I been on that ship…

We were always encouraged to read, and I don’t remember a time when I didn’t read. I think we learned using Ladybird books, as I can recall a lot of Janet and John; I also remember the pride of working my way through the reading scheme at school – each different level had a colour. The Silver book of Fairy Stories and the Gold book of Fairy Stories were the pinnacle of achievement! It was in one of these that I first read the fairy tale of The Wild Swans, by Hans Christian Anderson, which was a story that I loved! The sadness that the princess couldn’t fully transform her youngest brother, whom she loved, was so sad to me then!

Books always featured in our Christmas pillowcases – I still have two that I pored over until they were quite battered. Both were by the author Roger Lancelyn Green – “Myths from Many Lands” and “Tales of the Greeks & Trojans” I loved the illustrations, and later on, I used them a lot when I was teaching, as each story was on a double page spread, lasting between five or ten minutes to read aloud, and offering lots of food for the imagination.

Whenever we went on holiday, mum would buy us one or two new books, which we were never allowed to even open before we arrived at our destination. What a difficult choice – did I choose a book which I really wanted, or did I choose a thick book which would keep me going? It would have been unthinkable to run out of reading material! We often stayed at the appartment of a friend-of-a-friend in Geneva, and I got to know Glynn’s bookshelves very well. He had vintage editions of Doctor Doolittle’s Circus and Doctor Doolittle’s Zoo, so I knew I could always reacquaint myself with these if I ran out of books! I loved Doctor Doolittle, and went through the whole series.

There were certain authors Mum considered more “suitable” than others. Enid Blyton was frowned upon, but tolerated, as, I think she thought that any reading was better than none. My friend Val and I devoured the Famous Five books – Val had almost all of them in hard back, so I was able to borrow them. We dreamed of being child investigators, and solving mysteries, but a suburb of Liverpool didn’t seem to contain the same adult villains that Kirren Island did! I was never as enamoured by the Secret Seven, but loved the “boarding school” series: The Twins at Saint Clare’s, and Mallory Towers. I longed to go to boarding school almost as much as I longed to be an investigator!

Rather like the HomePlace Web, the library was my Saturday morning hideaway. I can still picture the layout of the place, with its beautiful parquet flooring. There were three public areas: the children’s library, the reference section, and the adult section. In the childrens section there were tables and chairs where you could sit and do homework, using the non fiction books (because you weren’t going to waste any of your precious six tickets on anything as boring as non fiction! ) and deep window sills, with hot air blowers underneath, which were a pleasure to sit on in winter! Books were arranged alphabetically by author, but sometimes the staff would arrange a special display of a particular theme, to encourage us to try new authors or subject matter.

I had six library tickets, rather like these

Each book would have a label inside, with a pocket and a card with the title & author on. When you took the book out of the library, the book card would be put inside your library ticket (which you can see is like a little pocket), the label inside the book would be stamped with the date you had to bring it back by (usually in 3 weeks), and the library ticket placed in some sort of filing system. On returning the book, the assistant would riffle through the filing system to find the ticket with the card inside. The card would be returned to inside the book, and your own ticket returned to you.

Every Saturday I would get my six allocated books from the library, go home, and lie on my bed, reading as though it was going out of fashion. I had usually finished all six books by Sunday evening, so would be reduced to re-reading old favourites from the shelves in my bedroom. I had three shelves, each about a metre long, screwed to the wall above my bed, each one loaded with paperbacks.

After Enid Blyton, I advanced to lots of historical novels, particularly enjoying Rosemary Sutcliffe. I remember loving her books “Brother Dusty Feet” and “The Armourer’s House” with their illustrations by C. Walter Hodges. These stories swept me away to another time and place – together with books by Geoffrey Trease and Henry Treece, again historical novels set in Tudor or Roman times.

As I grew older tastes changed slightly, and I found the young adult (or “teenage” as it was called then!) choices at the library less appealing. They were also rather thin on the ground. One book that has stuck in my mind is one called “Sugar Mouse” by John Branfield.

It is about a girl with diabetes, and her dog. She is trying to come to terms with her illness and realises that her dog has many of the symptoms of diabetes. Instead of taking the dog to the vet, she tests the dog’s blood and discovers the dog does have diabetes. Instead of taking the dog to the vet at this point, she starts giving the dog shots of her own insulin… I don’t know why I remember this book more than any other, as I’m not diabetic, nor did I know anyone diabetic as I was growing up, but for some reason this book, and its cover, has stuck firmly in my mind…

As there were few teenage orientated books on offer at the library, I graduated on to the adult section round about 14 or 15. Instead of turning left into the children’s room, I turned right into the adult section…bigger, with so much more choice…More about that another time.