The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

A book about a road trip…….

This is likely to be a fairly short review because I only gave birth 5 days ago to little Elsie.

So, not a conventional road trip in a car but I think it fits well enough. Dear old Harold sets off from his home and made his pilgrimage by road. It’s not a book I would have picked up to read because I desperately wanted to however my Mother in Law bought it and it looked like a nice easy read for this tired and emotional time of my yharold-fryear where I am very busy so I took it. I also have read quite a few books recently which are about lost people (mentally, emotionally or physically) so it seemed a little samey. I know what is going to happen and a bit of suspense always helps my enthusiasm to continue to read.

The story is, of course, about Harold Fry. A retired oldie who receives a letter from a former work colleague, Queenie Hennesey. She has cancer and not long to live. Harold is a man of few and distant words however, the product of a troubled and cold childhood. He never quite knows how to conduct himself or know what to say to put people at ease. His reply to Queenie Hennessy is brief and on his way to the postbox Harold decides to keep walking. He is going to walk to visit her. He just needs her to wait. There is something from his past he needs to say. The only problem is that Queenie Hennessy is way north in Berwick and he lives far south in Devon. But does he make it and does he offload the way he needs to.Harold’s pilgrimage takes him on a journey that changes him and allows him the space and time to reflect on his life, his wife, his failings and his son.

As much as I did enjoy this book and did read it fairly quickly because I wanted to know what happened (and I have a lot of time whilst breastfeeding!) It didn’t inspire or motivate me in a way I was told it would. The plot is very simple and story reasoning is very simple and although that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it just didn’t satisfy me. I found it hard to sympathise with the characters although I think that may be because I knew exactly what was going to happen…..apart from that one thing.

I was a little disappointed, however I loved the literary style and wording. I found it easy to follow and to read.

3/5

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Lost and Found- Brooke Davis

A book with a blue cover……

This is another book I swiped quickly from the new in section at the local library whilst changing over Noah’s books. That seems to be how I do it these days! Chosen purely for it’s blue cover was how this ended up being driven home,  with no chance of the synopsis being attended.

Lost and Found is quite an intriguing book. It’s not a book that I would describe as compelling or innovative, rather it is fairly dreamlike and it tickled me. I say dreamlike lost and foundbecause although the events in the book are described in real time they are not possible or plausible but somehow, very cleverly, are believable.

The story has three main characters; Millie, Karl and Agatha. Whilst Millie is the most obviously lost in the physical sense, having been abandoned by her mother after a terrible bereavement, she is also emotionally lost.  As is Karl and Agatha who find themselves on a journey they both needed but didn’t expect to find themselves upon. For me the story was about Karl. I fell in love with him around page 96 where we learn his innermost thoughts and feelings. He is in a care home and knows full well he shouldn’t be here. He has too much more to give in life, too much life left in him and it erupts like a volcano, breaking free to change the course of his life. I wonder how many other elderly people have the same life crisis? Karl simply wanted to still matter, he wasn’t  ready to fester, he needed to still be spontaneous, reckless, make people turn their heads. I loved his audacity from then on in the book- the way he describes what he wants from the rest of his life, the way he talks about sex on the train and the way he pursues his love interest. I would buy a book on the tales of Karl the touch typist. For me, he was the most ‘found’ in the story and I didn’t warm to the other characters much at all.

I really enjoyed Brookes ‘bluntness’ in writing and the concise , sharp sentences. They were to the point and suited the story. It didn’t need to be frilly; it isn’t a frilly story. I like how she made the characters frank with their speech, using swearwords and making candid reference to sex brought the book alive and made it more real because, lets be honest, who doesn’t have those kinds of thoughts, they just usually stay hidden. I did however find the lack of speech demarcations  a little confusing at times. Probably only because I’m not used to this format.

Brilliant book after page 96 and fell in love with Karl. 3.75/5

Back to Back by Julia Franck

A book based on a fairy tale……

As with most books I seem to choose these days I did so with this one based on the front cover as a quick choice from the library. It looked heartfelt, yet heartbreaking and full of love and betrayal. It wasn’tquite  what I expected or how I expected it to unfold. I didn’t actually realise it was based on a German fairy tale until I had already begun reading and happened to flick back to the front insert where it held a small explanation. Perfect! I thought, perfect for the fairy tale category.

It all started well. I loved the beginning. It was heart wrenching to think about how these poor children were being treated. Being a Mum now I relate everything back to my little boy and it is all so much deeper and more wrought with emotion. To me it was stereotypically German back to backand knowing a small amount about German fairy stories in general I know that they are hard and barbaric and not particularly pleasant. I continued to read on, as predicted it didn’t prove to be any less uplifting as it progressed. The secrets, the coldness. the lies, the rape, the abuse continued until I unfortunately and with slight embarrassment (as i don’t like to think of myself as a quitter) gave up. I just couldn’t bring myself to continue. It felt like I could predict what was going to happen and realised that my life is too short to drag myself through. After 170 odd pages, my emotion towards it had evaporated and my next book sat watching me with an awful lot more potential charisma.

It would be an excellent read for anybody who wants to learn more about Germany during the 1930’s and wants to know more about communism and the Berlin Wall. The character structures are established and strong with dark childhoods that resonate through into their adulthood. It is excellently written, unfortunately is just wasn’t for me.

1/5

 

Love and treasure by Ayalette Waldman

A book set in a different country……

I bought this book with my Christmas voucher. The front cover is beautiful with it’s elaborate peacock and golden glint and it offered something a little different; something a little extra. I don’t normally sway towards books around the time of the war, mainly because it’s just an area of history that I don’t find too interesting but I suppose the front cover led me to believe it wasn’t just about the war and that was correct. It is set during this time but that isn’t fundamentally what it is about.

Jack is old and not long in this world. The story begins with him meeting his Granddaughter Natalie before heading back to the time he served as an American infantry captain and in charge of a fugitive train from Hungary, full of Jewish treasures. Among these treasures of home wares, gold and jewelry, Jack found a dazzling pendant in the form of a peacock.

I really enjoyed the Narrative of this book. It is really well written and the wording is enjoyable, with excellent and believable characters throughout. The three story idea is interesting, all linked together by the pendant, but as I neared the end I just needed more. I needed it to tie together; to be summed up; to be brought to a conclusion, maybe for the pendant to have found it’s true heir. It just underwhelmed me.

The Last Time We Spoke- Fiona Sussman

A book published this year….

So, the year is 2016 and I found this book in the new releases at the library. The choice was based on this fact and that I liked the look of the front cover. It looked deep, with substance and it is an award winning book. I was hooked from the beginning although it wasn’t a pleasant start to a story.

The book is about 2 very different families. On the one had is Carla and Kevin Reid and their long awaited and deeply loved, successful son Jack. On the other hand is Ben, who was born to a loving but misguided Mum who is abused and who, initially wanted the best for her ever growing brood but through circumstance and her emotionally drowning life has lost her way. Ben, her eldest son has also lost his way and has become involved in gang culture. One night Ben and a mate is high on drugs and break into the Reid household, causing havoc and completely destroying lives of the happy family. The rest of the story is about Carla’s brave struggle to find some light and hope to move forward in her life, somehow, and through perseverance and deep struggles she does manage to, in her own way.

It is a really touching book and Ben’s story is so current for many of the problems in society today. My husband and I have worked with such a range of children and young adults and have experience and some understanding of how this can happen, how broken homes, drug addictive and neglectful parenting negatively sets these children up. It can never be emphasised enough how critical a stable home life is. No matter who the role models are, children need to feel  safe and secure to flourish. The story line Fiona has created is SO unfair. It is so devastatingly unfair that I was almost in tears after the first pages and I really felt myself there in the house with Carla. Why? How can it ever be ok for anybody to completely shatter the lives of others for nothing more than petty personal gain. I wanted to be there with Carla to help her through, as I would anybody going through such trauma but it was only Carla herself who could find her way out of the turmoil and heartbreak. Her choices and endless strength to face Ben head on began her healing process.

I wouldn’t recommend this book for anybody after a light , pick-me-up read but it really is worth a read even if it is just to remind yourself how lucky you are and to appreciate what you have.

4/5

Alice and the Fly- James Rice

A YA best seller……

I’ve always enjoyed young adult books despite not often picking them up to read. I’ve always found they tackle real issues prevalent to the daily struggles of so many teenagers in a way that is accessible- without the extra words and gumpf! I chose this from the library whilst finding books for my little boy. It looked interesting and as if I might learn something from between the pages. It is James Rice’s debut novel and he didn’t disappoint. I’m not sure if it is a best seller, but if it’s not it should be!

I was immediately interested. I always am when it comes to issues for children because it might in some way help me to understand, even just a little. I didn’t read the blurb (because Ialice and the fly don’t) so I had to figure out what his difficulties were. The main character Greg lives with his Mum, Dad and Sister, Sarah. It’s not a happy family. Each member has their own life problems that they are tackling, and although each are aware and care deeply for Greg, he is swept under the carpet and left to fend for himself with regard to what is going on inside his head. Not only does Greg have schizophrenia, but he is also very socially awkward and finds school and socialising a really challenging part of life, especially when his hallucinations rear their ugly head- literally! With the guidance of his English teacher- who also has life problems- it is suggested to Greg that he keeps a journal, and it is through this journal that we learn the inner workings of this vulnerable, thoughtful, sweet but misunderstood teenager. It all goes wrong for Greg but not through his own intentional wanting and the book ends without much resolve for the family. Although the read learns the truth- his family don’t and you’re left wondering whether they ever will; whether this poor, poor young la
d will ever have anybody who will understand him.

I just thought this book was fascinating. I don’t know much about schizophrenia at all. I’m only aware that it can manifest itself in a split personality or hallucinations, but of course there are other repercussions, self-confidence, self-esteem and social belonging must be so present as it was for Greg. The uncertainty of not knowing if/when he may see them and know the everything that follows afterwards. It seemed, in the book, that Greg coped really well considering his circumstances but I just wanted to take him home and help him! It was a really easy read and to me a book is very good when I don’t take any notice of how many pages I have read.

I would highly recommend this book to both young adults and adults. It is a really insightful read that won’t take you long to finish.

4/5

Black- Eyed Susans- by Julia Heaberlin

The first book you see in a book shop……

There is sat, number 1 on the Waterstones’ reader chart. How could I resist. I bought it with my Christmas vouchers and  let it sit on my shelf for a few weeks before I read it to let it gather even more anticipation and suspense. As I handed over the plastic, the cashier even expressed how much she wanted to read it so that just made me even more excited.

The book is so current I really don’t want to give anything of the plot away. As I’ve written many times, I never read the synopsis of a book because I don’t black eyed susanslike to be swayed or influenced in any way before I read. It’s fundamentally a murder mystery, with the protagonist being the only survivor. However with no memory of the event she is haunted by whether she made the right choices after it happened and whether her choices and guidance led to negative and possibly deadly repercussions.

I loved the front cover of the book and I love a mystery, not knowing what happens until the end adds to the suspense and (hopefully) no amount of guessing will be correct. I was so excited to read it and had heard so many many wonderful things that unfortunately I was a little disappointed, to begin with anyway. It took be a fair few pages to find where I wanted to be. I didn’t instantly feel attached or engaged which I like, especially with a quick moving thriller. I was a little confused and it took me a while to find my bearings; who was who and what was happening. I wasn’t even completely hooked until near the very end when the truth was being revealed.

Although it may not have completely met my expectations,  that’s not to say its a brilliant book. It has an excellent plot and the characters have depth and integrity and the conclusion wasn’t what I expected or imagined. For me it just didn’t quite live up to my expectations based on other reviews.

3.5/5

The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry

A book set on an Island……

This is another of those books that I’ve had to stretch to apply to the category but a large part of it does take place on an island. the book is set in Salem, and Yellow Dog Island, even though I have just discovered it is fictional. This book I the lace readerborrowed from the library, a quick choice based on the beautiful front cover. Exactly the kind of design I am drawn to. I may not have pursued if I had read the blurb, however……I don’t, and with no expectations I really enjoyed it from beginning to end.

The book is about Towner Whitney, a confused and psychologically disturbed lady who grew up on the fictional island close to Salem. Towner, born Sophya, makes a painful return to her home following the disappearance of her great aunt Eva. To begin with we are discovering what happened to her however as the book progressing it becomes more about Towner and how she became tangled in such a strange emotional mess and how the death of her twin sister affected her so fundamentally.

I was really keen on this book from the beginning. It was quick and dark and I wanted to know more straight away. I though it clever how Brunonia had introduced Towner Whitney and their family history as disturbed and quirky and especially that she wrote that Towner tells lies; that is an immediate challenge right there. Will I be able to distinguish between the truth and lies or will I be fooled? Everybody loves a challenge…in actual fact I completely forgot about this until I needed to remember.                                                                    I enjoyed the book throughout. It was written in a ‘easy to read’ way and I do like that so I can feel the characters in more depth as opposed to having to concentrate solely on the words I am reading. It was predictable and it suited the plot, some books wouldn’t get away with it but this one completely worked and it was still believable. I particularly loved the ending to this book. I was supposed to be starting dinner but I got a little bit lost and couldn’t pull myself away and quite frankly, I didn’t try to. I needed to find things out and the conclusion was excellent, everything explained. The plot and character list was vast and I’m convinced it must have taken a lot of planning. Although it did work I think that any more content or characters would have spoiled it. It was on the cusp. The main point of the book that I found  a little difficult was how the telling of story kept changing. I often had to stop and work out who was telling me this part and it chopped and changed a little too much for me. I don’t want to be confused when reading a book.

I would recommend this book to those who enjoy a thinker and like films such as shutter island. I’m still reflecting on it now and mulling parts over.

3.75/5

 

The Little Paris Bookshop- by Nina George

A book translated to English from a different language…..

I bought this book using some vouchers I was given for Christmas from my little boy. I didn’t realise it had been translated until I delved further, but yes, it was written in French and then translated to English so perfect for this category. I’m not really sure why I chose this book in particular to bThe little Paris bookshopuy. It doesn’t have the front cover I am normally attracted to; I thought it might be lacking in substance and depth, but it was on the book chart so thought it worth a go if others had enjoyed it so much.

The book is about a man called Jean who is wallowing in an enormous hole of self pity and bitterness after his lover, Manon, didn’t return to him one day. He isolates himself from most of society and concentrates solely on his book barge and ‘treating’ peoples’ emotions with books, prescribing some and refusing to sell others. One day a new lady, Catherine,  who is also sad and recently singled after a lonely marriage moves into the flat upstairs with nothing , so Jean provides her with a table; something he can spare. Inside the table however, Catherine, discovers a letter from Manon that he had decided not to read for the 20 years he has been by himself. Eventually he does though and much to Jeans detriment he discovers the real reason his lover did not return. Things change after this, he strikes up a relationship with his new neighbor but it is empty, neither are ready for what they both want. Jean then embarks on a journey, on his book barge  that leads him to discovery, peace and ultimately happiness.

I loved this book from the beginning. It was sad but it caught me. I wanted to read more and straight away I had empathy for the man’s heartbreaking situation. It made me want to cry, despairing over the waste of life. It was easy to read and understand without a hint of pretentiousness; it simply told the tale. I loved the fact it didn’t add any twists because it really didn’t need any and in my opinion would ave spoiled the genuine tale; I knew what would happen but I really didn’t mind (which is unusual,) I just enjoyed being part of it as it unfolded, making me cry again.

I found the story similar, in a very good way to Eat, Pray, Love- Elizabeth Gilbert. A book of self discovery and most of all finding happiness. Eat, Pray, Love desperately made me want to visit Italy, learn Italian and travel from there. The Little Paris Bookshop has made me want to spend time in France especially to visit the small vineyard towns and villages, steeped in history and romance with my husband (minus the children) drinking wine and eating smelly cheese.

This is a really beautiful book and I will be recommending it to many as a heart reaching novel to shed some tears but also warm your soul.

4 out of 5 stars.

Black Opera- Mary Gentle

A book that is more than 600 page…………

Black Opera is 670……a long 670. I can’t tell you why I chose to read this book. I suppose I was in a rush at the library and it was the first that caught my eye. It looked quite dark and mysterious and I like that. It wasn’t what I expected…..but then did I have any expectations in mind?

Black Opera is as it says in the title really…its about opera. It’s all about opera and Italy. The main character is a man, Conrad, with many versions of his name is goes by. Conrad finds himself in a spot of bother, being an atheist and after an opera house is burnt down, supposedly by God because of Conrad. On his way to imprisonment, he is summoned by the King of the two Sicilies, Ferndinand. Ferdinand discloses information about a secret, Devil worshiping cult called The Princes Men who plot to use opera to cause a catastrophic natural disaster. Conrad has been summoned to produce a counter opera to stop this from happening. Working alongside Conrad is Roberto De Caspiro a prolific, genius composer with a cold personality and a wife who happens also to be a love lost from Conrad’ past. I won’t go further into the plot so as not to spoil it for anybody who is or wants to read the book but the question on mine and I expect most reader lips is; will the miracle be stopped?

I really struggled with this book from the beginning. It didn’t catch me, capture me or invoke me. I couldn’t identify with the characters and struggled to keep up with the terminology. I think you would need to be an opera enthusiast at least for it to appeal. I struggled with the fact that there are ‘returned dead’ and ghosts around. For me a book either needs to be fantasy with clear paranormal activity from the beginning or it clearly doesn’t, and to me this book felt as though ghosts were there for story line convenience. I patiently persisted for the first 400 pages and had a spark of interest when Leonora reveals herself but then soon lost it again. I must admit the final 160 pages were flicked through and the last pages read. I couldn’t endure much more with other inviting books waiting to be read. To me it was all a little bit far fetched and the bottom line was that I just didn’t believe it.

If you are an opera fan then I’m sure you would have much more success with this book than I did. Although I really struggled it is a book that I imagine once your teeth are stuck into is epic; just not more me.

1 star out of 5