Monday, 29 February 2016

Book Review: When We Were Alive by C J Fisher

When we first meet Bobby, he is a shy, twelve-year-old magician who falls in love with his best friend.
William is consumed with self-hate and drinks to escape the memories of his father’s sadness and his mother’s death.
Myles is writing letters to a mother he has never met.
Three different people from three different times each explore the dark side of relationships, search for beauty in sadness and try to bear the burden of guilt from living in a world we are powerless to fix.

Oh boy, this was a tough review to write.

I received an ARC from the publisher in return for an honest review. Which is why I am having trouble reviewing it - I do not like writing negative reviews - no one wants their work ripped to shreds.

I have to confess: overly literary fiction really isn't my thing - it reminds me of being back at school, being forced to read Mrs Dalloway (I think the most pointless book ever *ducks for cover*) and Hotel Du Lac (a close second). Nothing really happens, there's just rambling words that I'm sure are really very clever but I struggle to take in and end up feeling that I really must be quite stupid and ignorant, and definitely not an intellectual. Especially when other reviewers rave about it.

I know it is supposed to be thought-provoking, and it is cleverly written, but I read for pleasure, for escapism, and I found this a challenging read.

We have three main characters, Bobby, who we meet in the 1930s and whose story is told in the third person; in 2011 we have Myles's first person point of view shown through letters he has written to his mother; and nearly half-way through the book, William, in the 1970s, again in the third person. 

The characters are all very different, Bobby is obsessed with magic and illusion; William is an alcoholic and Myles, I think perhaps is somewhere on the Autism spectrum. He is a very different, exacting character.

The book is very descriptive and wordy, and unfortunately I found myself re-reading several paragraphs in order to make sense of the sentences, which led to me giving up and skimming such paragraphs. I did have to force myself to carry on to the end, and I am glad I did as I had been struggling to find any links between the characters, which of course did become apparent towards the end of the story. 

I do wish the author well with her book, and I'm sure it will do very well, and will be loved by plenty of people, who won't have any trouble in understanding and connecting with it. I sadly didn't particularly enjoy it.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

Book Review - The Silk Merchant's Daughter by Dinah Jefferies

Dinah Jefferies' stunning new novel is a gripping, unforgettable tale of a woman torn between two worlds...
1952, French Indochina. Since her mother's death, eighteen-year-old half-French, half-Vietnamese Nicole has been living in the shadow of her beautiful older sister, Sylvie. When Sylvie is handed control of the family silk business, Nicole is given an abandoned silk shop in the Vietnamese quarter of Hanoi. But the area is teeming with militant rebels who want to end French rule, by any means possible. For the first time, Nicole is awakened to the corruption of colonial rule - and her own family's involvement shocks her to the core...
Tran, a notorious Vietnamese insurgent, seems to offer the perfect escape from her troubles, while Mark, a charming American trader, is the man she's always dreamed of. But who can she trust in this world where no one is what they seem?
 The Silk Merchant's Daughter is a captivating tale of dark secrets, sisterly rivalry and love against the odds, enchantingly set in colonial era Vietnam.

I received this beautiful novel through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Poor Nicole is lost; all her life she has struggled to be more French like her father and her elegant sister, Sylvie, but she inherited more of her Vietnamese mother's looks. Nicole's mother died in childbirth, and she has always felt that her father and Sylvie blamed her. Sibling rivalry is a main theme, with Nicole constantly finding herself questioning Sylvie's motives. Sylvie is manipulative and I disliked her intensely at times. It is hard to find sympathy for her or her father, although reasons towards the end of the story do go some way to explain their behaviour.

Nicole lives in a city fraught with danger, caught up in the war between the French and the Vietnamese. She is torn in her identity, forced to choose to be either French or Vietnamese, her life dependant on her decision. And she is torn between two men – TrĂ¢'n, who helps her discover her Vietnamese roots; and Mark, the handsome American who is more than the silk trader he professes to be. When she makes a choice, her life is changed beyond all recognition. But is it the right choice? 

From the outset, Dinah Jefferies sets the exotic scenes in this story by describing scent and aroma, which she does throughout the book to great effect. She uses scent to evoke memories, both good and bad in Nicole. The pages are also filled with beautiful visual descriptions, which I've found can slow other books down, but somehow Dinah balances the pace perfectly with natural dialogue, building tension through the story as I was immersed in Nicole's story. 

The story is full of self discovery, trauma, deception, and the horrors of war, but also of love. The descriptions of the beautiful countryside contrast with the corruption and atrocities within. Nicole's circumstances force her to grow strong in mind, spirit and body. 

Like The Tea Planter's Wife, Jefferies' previous novel, The Silk Merchant's Daughter is an enthralling, beautifully written story, published on 25th February 2016.

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

January Blues - what do you mean it's half-way through February?

Spring is coming. Apparently.

January, for me, is a terrible month. It is full of anniversaries of the loss of beloved people from my life. It's cold, dark, and sunny days are few and far between. And I am usually battling the pounds, losing them from the wrong places - i.e. my bank account and not my body.

My poor husband's birthday is in the middle of January. I feel sorry for people like him. Nobody really likes January, do they? Everyone's poor after spending so much money over Christmas, everyone wants to lose weight, everyone's wants to do a Dry January (not in this house they don't!). The poor January birthday people get a raw deal.

Of course I did try to put on a brave face, and I think I managed it, mostly.

But then it was back to misery. Not only did we lose David Bowie and Alan Rickman but then the real kicker came - Terry Wogan. I'm not going to go on effusing about these amazing people who have been there throughout my life. Suffice to say, my grief levels have escalated.

Then there are beloved people around me, who are fighting with 'proper' illnesses. Cancer. All I have is a particularly bad bout of depression (and Type II Diabetes - which really is my own fault cos I am overweight; and high blood pressure - ditto; and plantar fasciitis - ditto... you get my drift). But my problems are not life-threatening. There's always someone worse off blah blah blah. I don't want to use the sadness of their situations to fuel my wallowing further. 

Depression is like quicksand. It sucks you in. You can fight to get out, but you get more stuck. 

Depression is like a heavy blanket. Unable to throw it off, you pull it tighter round yourself.

I know there are things I could do, should do, to help myself.

'Get out more. Have some fresh air'. Have you seen the fucking weather lately? Fuck off, I would rather stay indoors.

'Exercise', they say. 'It releases endorphins that make you feel better'. I'm sure it does, if only I could be arsed. But I am too tired. Too broke. My feet hurt. I'm too fat to run. I haven't got time (there will always be an excuse).

I am tired.


We are over half way through February.  It is time to come out of hibernation. Time to kick my own butt (which is, you have to admit, quite hard to do without falling over).

But I'm going to do it. Instead of being bogged down with grief, worries about money (or lack of it), and fears about things I can do nothing about, I am going to get my arse in gear and join the land of the living. I have a book to write, after all. And I need to promote this blog.

Just bear with me. It's still cold out there.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Book Review - Fractured by Clar Ni Chonghaile

Peter Maguire has been kidnapped in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. He does not know where he is or what is going to happen to him. The journalist is filled with fear and, as the days go by, this dread of the unknown is shot through with remorse for the mistakes of his past. Peter’s mother Nina comes to Somalia to wait for her son’s release. His plight forces her to relive another trauma—the fatal shooting in Liberia of Shaun Ridge, a young photographer she once loved, and Peter’s real father. Abdi, a Somali teenager working with Peter’s captors strikes a tenuous friendship with the prisoner based on a shared feeling of captivity. He decides to help Peter escape. Together they set off into the barren vastness of a land filled with danger. Three people must journey into one of the world’s most dangerous places, the human mind, to answer the question: are we ever truly free?