The World Before Us by Aislinn Hunter

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At 15, Jane was babysitting when her charge, 5 year old Lily went missing on a day out.  At 34, Jane finds herself forced to confront her past when Lily’s father, William, is booked to make a speech at the museum she is working at as an archivist.

Already stressed because the museum is closing and she has no job to go to when it does, Jane is on a knife edge by the day of William’s speech.  She imagines it in her minds eye, seeing herself coming across the shell of a man.  One who, like her, has been unable to let go of that fateful day.  One who thinks of Lily and wonders what happened to her almost constantly.  What she comes across instead is a man who has moved on, who has a new daughter and a beautiful wife.  And a man who doesn’t recognise her when they come face to face.

The realisation that he has moved on in a way she hasn’t been able to sends Jane into a tailspin.  Unsure what to do, she flees the museum, running to the only place she really thinks about, the grounds of Inglewood and the former Whitmore Asylum where Lily disappeared and where Jane had focused her dissertation.

It was whilst writing her dissertation that she came across and became obsessed with the disappearance of another young girl 100 years before.  N___ had gone missing after a walk in the woods with some inpatients and seems to have been removed from the records.  Jane becomes determined to find out why and the connection the disappearance might have to the nearby Inglewood stately home.

All of this feels quite complicated to explain and it felt the same to read, especially as it was written in both third and first person plural through the mixed voices of ghosts who have attached themselves to Jane (and were former residents of Inglewood and Whitmore). The back and forth between the two voices didn’t seem to have much of a rhythm and it took me a while to figure out just who was speaking and why the ghosts were there.

The why was to fill in the gaps from Jane’s research but I never really got used to the style of writing throughout the book and would have much preferred Aislinn Hunter to choose one voice or the other.  I felt it was too distracting and took away from Jane and what was happening to her, which was actually quite interesting.  This is because this book, despite the blurb focusing on the missing girls was actually about Jane finding herself.

It took a while for me to realise this as well and I wonder if the author was sure what she wanted to achieve because the focus seemed to keep shifting.  Sometimes it felt like a mystery, sometimes a ghost story, sometimes a journey of discovery.  I just wanted one of these (I’m not sure I would have minded which as I think Aislinn Hunter has a way with words and there are some great descriptive passages).  In the end, I didn’t feel like I got anything and was left feeling disappointed and maybe a little cheated.  Meaning that, sadly and despite high hopes when I started, this isn’t one for me. Sorry!

Emma

This book was a review copy received in return for a fair and honest review.  All thoughts are my own. 

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

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Maud has dementia, meaning she doesn’t always know where or when she is, what she is doing, has just done or is supposed to do. Her life is full of her carers and daughter telling her things she can’t remember, what not to eat, where not to go, what not to buy and who not to call. There are a lot of nots and they all seem to result in Maud being mainly at home, on her own.

To try and help her, she has notes stuck to walls, doors, shelves, reminders of how to take care of herself. Notes lie in stacks on the table and fill her pockets and handbag. They don’t seem to do much to help. They might, if she could remember when she had written them and if they were still relevant.

One note she knows is still relevant, is the one that tells her her best friend, Elizabeth, is missing. Elizabeth is the only person who makes her feel normal, despite her illness. Maud hasn’t seen her in a long time, although she isn’t sure how long, and is convinced Elizabeth’s no good son is most likely responsible. A fact confirmed when she finds Elizabeth’s house is empty. A house she can’t stop going back to.

The problem is no one believes her, worse they don’t listen to her when she tries to tell them. Instead, they brush her off or humour her, depending on who “they” are – her daughter, her carer, the son, the police. Maud refuses to let go of Elizabeth though, determined to discover the truth. It’s hard, though, when she doesn’t know when she last saw her best friend and only remembers she is missing or what she’s done about it when she finds a note. This means she does a lot of the same things, like visiting the police station to file a report, again and again.

Whilst Maud’s grasp of the present is fleeting, her past seems to be becoming clearer and clearer, especially memories of her sister Sukie who, like Elizabeth, went missing not long after the end of the war. She was never found but, now, Maud starts to unravel what might have happened to her.

Emma Healey does a great job of moving between past and present and of creating the two worlds Maud inhabits, the clarity of her youth and the muddle of her old age. For me, this mix of the then and the now, make Maud a really rounded character. I felt I got to know her a little better with each chapter and care for her more with each page.

I thought Emma Healey presented Maud and how her illness affected her and her family sympathetically without over sentimentalising. I liked, for example, that her daughter was caring but that she was obviously stressed by being the primary carer and sometimes snapped and that we got a glimpse of how frustrated Maud felt. I can’t imagine what it must be like to have dementia or be a carer but I do think I got a window into that world.

As well as good characters, I found the book to be well written and compelling and an excellent debut. It wasn’t the most difficult mystery to solve, there weren’t the red herrings and twists you would find in crime fiction, but I don’t think it was meant to be. For me, this was more about the people, and family, and loss and it didn’t take a step wrong. Really, really liked it and a recommended read.

Emma

What I'm Reading This Week: 30th March, 2015

Morning all and welcome to another Monday. I’m quite looking forward to this one as it’s half term so I’m off work and, if the weather man is right, we might get to see some sunshine. What we’ll be up to I’m not sure but it will involve tidying my house after I decided it was a good idea to host a birthday party for my little girl this weekend – at home. It was a lot of fun but I have a small house and, after 10 kids descended, it still looks like a whirlwind went through it!

When, I’m not tidying I hope to read…

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I have been waiting for this to be available at the library for what seems like forever after reading some great reviews. Of course, nearly every time I have high hopes for a book, I end up disappointed but hopefully not this time!

One snowy night Arthur Leander, a famous actor, has a heart attack onstage during a production of King Lear. Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, is in the audience and leaps to his aid. A child actress named Kirsten Raymonde watches in horror as Jeevan performs CPR, pumping Arthur’s chest as the curtain drops, but Arthur is dead. That same night, as Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as cars clog the highways, gunshots ring out, and life disintegrates around them.

Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony. Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten’s arm is a line from Star Trek: “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who dares to leave. 

The Detectives Secret by Lesley Thomson. This is the third in a series of novels and I’ve enjoyed the other two so fingers crossed here. Also, after taking a bit of a break from crime fiction, I’m looking forward to a bit of murder and mayhem again.

October 1987: as a hurricane sweeps through Britain, a man’s body slowly rots, locked inside an old water tower in west London. He carries no identification and fits no missing persons’ description. His corpse is never claimed.

October 2013: the month of the great storm of St Jude. A man dies beneath a late night Piccadilly line train. His brother insists he was murdered, but Jack, a train driver, is sure it was suicide.


Jack and Stella uncover the secrets of the case – but Jack is carrying a secret of his own…

If there is time, I am also planning on revisiting a couple of books including The Wasp Factory and Swallows and Amazons but we’ll see. What are you reading?

Emma X

p.s. As usual I’m linking in with Sheila at Book Journey for “It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?”

The Bees by Laline Paul

Title: The Bees

Author: Laline Paul

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Fantasy

Source: Purchased

Rating: Liked it (3 out of 5)

This month, the theme for my book club was “judging a book by it’s cover”. The idea was to pick a book just because you liked the look of it. No deep thinking, examing the blurb on the back, or checking reviews.

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The Bees was hard to miss. The cover is bright yellow (a colour I love) and the book took up a whole shelf on the bookcase facing the door of the book shop. A closer look (at the front, not the back because I wasn’t allowed) included a quote by Margaret Atwood, my favourite author.   I was sold.  Purchase made, I got to read the back cover and was intrigued and excited to read.

 

Flora 717 is a sanitation worker, a member of the lowest caste in her orchard hive where work and sacrifice are the highest virtues and worship of the beloved Queen the only religion. But Flora is not like other bees. With circumstances threatening the hive’s survival, her curiosity is regarded as a dangerous flaw but her courage and strength are an asset. She is allowed to feed the newborns in the royal nursery and then to become a forager, flying alone and free to collect pollen. She also finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers mysteries about the hive that are both profound and ominous. But when Flora breaks the most sacred law of all—daring to challenge the Queen’s fertility—enemies abound, from the fearsome fertility police who enforce the strict social hierarchy to the high priestesses jealously wedded to power. Her deepest instincts to serve and sacrifice are now overshadowed by an even deeper desire, a fierce maternal love that will bring her into conflict with her conscience, her heart, her society—and lead her to unthinkable deeds.

I blame it on the fact that I haven’t had much sleep recently but despite the title and the description, I still didn’t quite get that Flora was a bee and this was the story of the hive.  For some reason I thought I was going to be reading about a dystopian future where society was organised along a hive-like set of rules.  I’m glad I was wrong because the actual concept is much more interesting, and different from anything I’ve read before.

The problem was that, in order to move the plot along, and show how complex, controlling and hierarchical life in the hive is, Flora had to take on any number of roles and break any number of rules to living in such a society that I just couldn’t quite believe.  Born as a Sanitation Worker, she is selected by the highest kin of Sage to work in the nursery and feed the Queen’s babies. To do this, she needs to produce flow, something bees of her birth shouldn’t be able to do. Then, she becomes a Forager because she understands the dance of another bee, again something she shouldn’t be able to do. And so it goes.

It also goes on a little too long, which was my second problem with the book. I think it could have done with being 50 pages shorter. Instead the tension that was being built up dissipated and where I should have been urging Flora on and biting my nails hoping she survives, I was wondering when it would all be over. Certain a things, such as her closing off her antenna were repeated in detail when a sentence would do.

That said, I did enjoy the book and thought it was a good debut with a great original idea. The beginning really drew me in and Flora was an interesting, strong, female character who stepped outside her traditional role, giving the book a strong feminist message I couldn’t help but cheer her on for. I also learnt a lot about bees. Every time I came across something that made me think “really?” I was on Google looking it up. My new found knowledge was an interesting “side effect” and I now quite fancy taking a bee keeping course.

I have recommended and passed on the book and, for me, it was a solid 3 out of 5.  Have you read it? What did you think?

Emma

 

Big Brother by Lionel Shriver

Title: Big Brother
Author: Lionel Shriver
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Source: Purchased
Rating: Liked it a Lot (4 out of 5)

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When Pandora hears from her brother Edison’s friend that he (Edison) isn’t doing too well and could do with a helping hand, her first thought is to send Edison a plane ticket along with an offer of a place to stay (his problem, he tells her, is he is between apartments whilst waiting for some money to come in).  Her second thought is how she will tell her husband, Fletcher, because Edison’s last visit four years previously hadn’t gone well.  A jazz musician and free spirit, Edison has a tendency to rub people up the wrong way.

It doesn’t help that Pandora and Fletcher’s marriage isn’t in the best place. Pandora has accidentally turned a hobby into a successful business; Fletcher has failed to do the same. He is struggling and reliant on Pandora to pay the bills. Unable to control this part of his life, he attempts to control others, including how and what his family eats and how he looks, going on long bike rides and exercising regularly.

Food is important to Fletcher but as fuel, not as something to be enjoyed. He cooks all his family meals and makes sure they are healthy and nutritious if not tasty, seemingly unaware this is driving a wedge between him and his wife. It is a wedge that grows when Edison arrives. He is no longer the slim, sexy, jazz musician they last saw. Instead he is clinically obese, unable to even sit on their furniture because it is too small. Pandora is shocked, Fletcher repulsed. Edison is oblivious, taking over the kitchen and cooking up big batches of pasta instead of the usual brown rice and broccoli.

His weight is the elephant in the room. No one says anything, asks how, when, why it happened. In fact, they enable him, eating with him and Pandora, too, starts to pile on the pounds.  Knowing she has to do something and, desperate to save her brother’s life, Pandora offers him a lifeline. They will move into an apartment, the two of them, and lose the weight. Edison accepts. The question is whether he can change because, just like Fletcher, food is important to Edison, a way to control his life when other things aren’t going his way.  And nothing else, it seems, is going his way.

On a wider scale, Big Brother, is about society’s relationship with food and how many of us seem to have lost our way, eating too much food that isn’t good for us and getting bigger and unhealthier. And how we seem to have our heads in the sand.  It is this that makes this book (at times) an uncomfortable read. I’m not overweight but I did recognise some of my own bad eating habits in Pandora and Edison and did have a few of those “there for the grace of God go I” moments.

That Lionel Shriver has written a book that makes me uncomfortable isn’t a surprise (I still haven’t gotten over We Need To Talk About Kevin), and I did put off reading this until I was in the mood because I knew it would make me think but it just makes it a better book for me.  The story is compelling, especially knowing it is based on her own relationship with her brother, and I couldn’t put it down once I started. Lionel Shriver has a dry wit and manages to get a message across without beating you over the head or talking down to the reader. I appreciate it isn’t to everyone’s taste but it is mine and, despite the subject matter, I really loved this book. Highly recommended!

Emma

What I'm Reading This Week: 23rd March, 2015

Hi all and welcome to Monday. Why does this day of the week always come around way too quick? It doesn’t help I don’t think that my weekend was insanely busy – although with the sun shining this did include getting out and doing work in the garden, so it wasn’t all bad. I also got some time to read and finished both books from last week’s post, which is something I haven’t been able to say for a while.  

That includes from a few weeks ago when I started The Bone Clocks, which I’ve still to finish.  This was an audiobook and I found I wasn’t in the car enough to listen consistently. It’s the only place I find the quiet to listen to audiobooks. I ended up giving up, which was a shame because I was enjoying it. I’ve decided instead to try reading the actual book. Here’s a reminder of what it is about…

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One summer’s day in 1984, teenage runaway Holly Sykes encounters a strange woman who offers a small kindness in exchange for ‘asylum’. Decades will pass before Holly understands what sort of asylum the woman was seeking… The Bone Clocks follows Holly’s life: not so far out of the ordinary, yet punctuated by flashes of precognition, visits from people who emerge from thin air and brief lapses in the laws of reality.

I’m also going to read Frog Music this week by Emma Donohugue.

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Summer of 1876: San Francisco is in the fierce grip of a record-breaking heat wave and a smallpox epidemic. Through the window of a railroad saloon, a young woman named Jenny Bonnet is shot dead. The survivor, her friend Blanche Beunon, is a French burlesque dancer. Over the next three days, she will risk everything to bring Jenny’s murderer to justice–if he doesn’t track her down first. The story Blanche struggles to piece together is one of free-love bohemians, desperate paupers, and arrogant millionaires; of jealous men, icy women, and damaged children. It’s the secret life of Jenny herself, a notorious character who breaks the law every morning by getting dressed: a charmer as slippery as the frogs she hunts.

And that’s that for this week. As usual I’m linking in with Sheila at Book Journey for “It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?”. Emma x

Kiss River by Diane Chamberlain 

Title: Kiss River
Author: Diane Chamberlain
Genre: General Fiction, Romance
Source: Library
Rating: Liked it (3 out of 5)

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Set 10 years after the events of Keeper of the Light, Kiss River is the second of a trilogy of books by Diane Chamberlain that follows lives, losses, and loves of the residents of Kiss River, a small town in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

The first novel focused on Alec, Paul, and Olivia and how they dealt with the sudden death of Alec’s wife Annie. This time round it is Annie and Alec’s children – Clay and Lacey – who are front and centre. Plus Gina, a beautiful amateur lighthouse historian, who appears on Clay and Lacey’s doorstep – and also appears to know very little, if anything, about lighthouses.

That’s because Gina’s interest in the lighthouse (or what is left of it – it was party destroyed in a hurricane at the end of Keeper of the Light) is much more personal. Fuelled by secrets revealed in the diary of the former lighthouse keeper, Gina is determined to raise the lighthouse’s lens – lost for a decade – no matter what. It is the reason she has come to Kiss River and the only reason she stays, at least until she starts to get to know Clay.

Clay and Lacey, meanwhile, have secrets of their own, demons they aren’t doing too well fighting. Clay is struggling to cope with the death of his wife, Lacey with secrets revealed about her mother ten years previously. She is it seems, doomed to repeat the past, until Gina arrives and provides her and Clay with a catalyst for change.

All of this leads to a book high on emotion, most of it built on secrets and lies that are bound to come out eventually, and – as with Keeper of the Light – I was drawn along. I wanted to know the truth and what happened next. This time though, I was a little disappointed when the truths were revealed, mainly Gina’s. It took the focus away from what I think Diane Chamberlain does really well – looking at human behaviour, the how and why we do things and also the fact that everyone has a chance to fix mistakes. It just felt too big and too complicated. I like simple and this wasn’t. As a result, it didn’t sit well with me and I was left liking the book not loving it.

Emma x

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

Title: Our Endless Numbered Days
Author: Claire Fuller
Genre: General Fiction
Source: Review Copy
Rating: Liked it (3 out of 5)

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In 1976, when Peggy was 8 years old, her father James took her to a remote cottage in Germany. He was a survivalist. The world, he told her, had ended and they were the last two people on earth.

The cottage is run down, hemmed in by rivers and forests, and the pair live alone, barely making it through the first winter but finally figuring how to survive. Their world is small and their lives routine but for the most part, Peggy seems initially content. Her father, though, is not and his behaviour becomes increasingly erratic until it eventually puts them both at risk. Peggy might not have survived if it hadn’t been for meeting a stranger in the woods.

In 1985, aged 17, Peggy is back home and struggling to come to grips with the world she thought had been destroyed and live with the mother she thought had died and the brother she never knew she had.

The story of then and now alternate, providing suspense as I wondered how Peggy ended up back at home and just what happened to her father. This is the debut novel of Claire Fuller and I think she did a good job at this, although the twist at the end I did see coming. She also did a good job developing the characters, especially how James slowly lost the plot.

Where I struggled a little was I felt the last third was rushed. The build up to the running away was great and the time in cottage, how Peggy and James managed to survive, really drew me in. I could picture the harshness of their first winter and the beauty of the summer, of how it felt to live with nature. Then, suddenly, Ute (her mother) was sharing bombshells and the book was over. I wanted more and so was left feeling a little cheated. Still, an enjoyable read and really good debut.

Emma

Note: I received a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest reviews. All opinions are my own.

What I'm Reading This Week: 23rd February, 2015

Happy Monday all! I cannot believe how quickly last week went by. It was a great week off but so full of day trips, coffee and cake that I read hardly anything at all. In total, I finished one book last week, Our Endless Numbered Days – review to follow, but given everything else I crammed in and the quality time I got to spend with my husband and daughter, I don’t feel bad at all. It does mean, though, I still have Brick Lane on the stocks and, as it’s from the library, I need to crack on with it before it’s due back.

I’m also planning to read The Room by Jonas Karlsson.

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Bjorn is a compulsive, exacting bureaucrat who discovers a secret room at the government office where he works–a secret room that no one else in his office will acknowledge. When Bjorn is in his room, what his coworkers see is him standing by the wall and staring off into space looking dazed, relaxed, and decidedly creepy. Bjorn’s bizarre behavior eventually leads his coworkers to try to have him fired, but Bjorn will turn the tables on them with help from his secret room.

This is a review copy through Blogging for Books and the description caught my eye. It will be, I think, one of those that I will either love or hate and I’m hoping it’s the former.

For my listening pleasure (or at least I hope pleasure) will be The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell. I say hope because I have mixed feelings about this book given how much I have heard already. Still I feel like I need to try it.

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One summer’s day in 1984, teenage runaway Holly Sykes encounters a strange woman who offers a small kindness in exchange for ‘asylum’. Decades will pass before Holly understands what sort of asylum the woman was seeking… The Bone Clocks follows Holly’s life: not so far out of the ordinary, yet punctuated by flashes of precognition, visits from people who emerge from thin air and brief lapses in the laws of reality.

And that’s all folks…other than a plan to start reviewing books as soon as I read them starting now. I have so many read on the list, if I don’t get going, I will never get caught up. Happy reading!

Emma

Once again, I’m linking in with Sheila at Book Journey, who has a weekly linky post, It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? Click on the link to find out what Sheila and other book bloggers are reading.

Stone Mattress: Nine Tales by Margaret Atwood

Title: Stone Mattress
Author: Margaret Atwood
Genre: General Fiction, Short Stories
Source: Library
Rating: Loved it (5 out of 5)

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Stone Mattress is a collection of nine short stories, or tales as Margaret Atwood prefers to call them. The first three, Alphinland, Revenat, and Dark Lady are linked, telling the tales of a girlfriend, a boyfriend and his mistress (though as they take place in bohemian Toronto in the ’60’s lovers is maybe a better description of their relationships). Now, it is many years later. They are all a lot older, a lot greyer, and all still living with the impact of one man’s infidelity.

The rest of the tales cover freaks of nature (Lucus Naturae), murder (The Freeze Dried Groom), misunderstandings (The Dead Hand Loves You), revenge (Stone Mattress), and the rage of youth and ineffectualness of age (Torching the Dusties). This is probably all too simple a rounding up as each tales has plenty of layers and complexity and many touch on anger, resentment, sexuality – and sexual violence.

My favourite tale was I Dream of Zenia with the Bright Red Teeth because it revisits characters from one of my favourite Margaret Atwood novels, The Robber Bride. This time, Zenia might actually be doing the right thing and reading this tale felt like spending time with old (if slightly dysfunctional) friends. The tale is one of three that have been previously published- the rest, I believe, are new.

In her acknowledgments, Margaret Atwood says she has chosen to call these tales to remove them “from the realm of the mundane” and “evoke the world of the folk tale, the wonder tale, and long ago teller tales”. This idea fits perfectly with what I read because each story is outside the ordinary, sometimes fantasy, and a little bit twisted. All are pure Atwood – and so right up my street. Already a fan of the author, this book cemented that. Loved it!

Emma x