Monday, 10 February 2020

The Visible World. Book review

Book Review
The Visible World by Mark Slouka

This book, written in two quite distinct parts, documents a child’s immigrant life in New York in the first section, and imagines his mother’s wartime life in the second.

 I particularly enjoyed the childhood memoir in which there were memorable descriptive passages.
‘She had calves as big and smooth as bowling pins, and she always sat on the sofa with her legs to one side as if glued at the knees, and smelled sweet and sad, like a dusty pastry.’
‘He had a square block of a head silvered by stubble and ears like miniature lettuces’.

The author has a masterly way with words and a melodic style.

The second part I found more problematic. A son writing about his mother’s sexual encounters did not sit easy with me, though I fully understand his need to try to find the cause of her deep unhappiness with life. Despite these misgivings, my interest was held to the end.

I think the most fascinating aspect of this book is the description of the life and experiences of the Czech refugees in New York in the late 1940’s. The author skillfully draws us into his childhood. We find ourselves in a somewhat alien environment which is of course normality for the child.


Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Book Review. The Ninth Life of Louis Drax

Book Review

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax

by Liz Jensen

This is a strange and intriguing book which explores the paranormal and toxic relationships. Set in France, the story revolves around an extraordinary child who appears to be extremely accident prone. At first, the reader believes that his mother is in a high state of anxiety due to the constant struggle of trying to keep her child safe. Little Louis is impulsive and angry, a misfit in society, unlikeable and unsettling. 

‘I’m not most kids, I’m Louis Drax. Stuff happens to me that shouldn’t happen, like going on a picnic where you drown.’

The opening of the book is compelling and shocking. The reader is hooked from the very first sentences.

This is a mystery, a dark crime novel and a supernatural story. 

The characters are well delineated. The setting in France is believable, though I was uncertain of the era. At times it felt like it was set in the1950’s but the medical science suggested later.

I did not like the characters much, but they intrigued me and the story was gripping.

I would advise readers to approach this book with caution if you have an accident-prone child.

A film has been made of this novel in 2016 which I cannot comment on as I have not seen it.


Sunday, 13 October 2019

Book Review The Missing Sister

Book Review

The Missing Sister by Dinah Jefferies

This is the story of Belle Hatton who travelled to Rangoon in the 1930s to work as a nightclub singer. She was born and lived the first years of her life in this city, and was drawn to go back to revisit a childhood she barely remembered. After her father’s death, she discovered papers relating to a missing child. To her horror and consternation, Belle realised that the child was her younger sister, who she had known nothing about. She determines to discover the truth.

The author’s descriptive narrative leads the reader through the colourful and exciting times of colonial Burma. The authenticity of the place and the complexity of society in those times before the Second World War are enthralling.   The heroine, a feisty young woman, pursues her investigation into the missing child, teaming up with an American journalist with whom she becomes romantically involved. The mystery leads her into dangerous situations and proceeds at a pace which captivates the reader up until the surprising and satisfying ending.

This book paints a vivid picture of a society that is long gone and weaves a romantic and thrilling element through it. The story is somewhat contrived but that does not take away from the readability and flow of the narrative. It is a book that provides a great escape from urban normality, researched in impeccable detail, grounding the reader into a world of glamour and intrigue.

This is the first book by Dinah Jeffries that I have read and I would certainly be interested in delving into her other novels. She will join the list of authors whose works I would be happy to take away on holiday. This is a book to relax with and enjoy and be transported back to a different lifestyle and era. I have no hesitation in recommending it. 

Friday, 27 September 2019

Book Review Awakening

Book review

Awakening by David Munro

This book is the third in a series of time-traveling novels. The concept of a magical mirror that can transport a person to another time zone is almost familiar and definitely not unique. It provides a reliable physical point of contact between the different time eras.

Much of the story is related through conversation. Descriptive passages are short and the social context of the era in question is identified by discussion between characters about music, news, and football, for example. At times, this device appears stilted and the conversation does not flow authentically.

The plot meanders somewhat and the characterization is superficial.  The synopsis suggests an interesting storyline, but the novel fails to deliver its potential to the reader. There are shifts in tense and repetitive passages. Many of the characters appear to have a cough and when in an emotional situation develop raspy voices. There is much pondering throughout the book and clumsy sentence construction.

Sadly, I found many instances of grammatical and contextual errors that should have been picked up in the editing process.

For example;

‘She took position in front of a board, which encompassed her body.’

‘This vibrant individual has a stylish red top and tight black trousers, therefore, pleasing on the eye.’

‘I spotted and empty chair, where a woman wearing a nurse’s uniform underneath a jacket sat.’

‘A door banged to and fro, therefore, I hadn’t secured it’.

‘Her blond hair in a ponytail added to a pleasant appearance.’

‘Where to begin the story still ponders, however, I’ve gone for an ideal location’.

David Munro spoke eloquently about his book in a talk I attended. I looked forward to reading it and have been greatly disappointed. During his talk, he mentioned that he watched films and seldom read books. It is clear from his writing that he is greatly influenced by screen drama and unfortunately his lack of literary awareness impacts negatively on his novel.

I am sorry to say that I cannot recommend this. 

#bookreview  #amwriting  #amreading

Book Review The Last 10 Seconds

The Last 10 Seconds. Simon Kernick

This is a fast paced read. Description is kept to a minimum and action prioritised. At first I found the alternating viewpoints of the two main characters a bit stilted, but reading on, it worked better as the story unfolded.

Sean Egan is an undercover cop who launches into situations with a complete lack of consideration for his own safety . He fails to keep his boss up to speed and suffers numerous assaults from which he remarkably recovers.

Tina Boyd is a Detective Inspector with a reputation for doggedly pursuing crime and getting results. She has survived a number of shooting incidents and struggles with a dependency on alcohol.

As the plot develops with numerous twists and turns, the two main characters cross paths, and many hardened criminals bite the dust. A rapist and murderer is brought to justice and a high profile corrupt  politician comes to a sticky end.

This is a great read for a tedious journey but unlikely to make the pile of books to be read a second time.


#bookreview  #amreading  #amwriting

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Dreams for inspiration?

                                                                      photo by Marcelo Moreira

It is often said that the stuff of dreams fuels the imagination. For some, the fantastical quality of dreams can be a powerful stimulus to writing. Those early morning thoughts are often little pearls to treasure, and a notebook by the bed is a must to scribble them down before they are lost in the rush of normal daytime activity. 

What about my dreams? It would be quite a challenge to convert my sleeping experiences into good narrative. For example, one morning I woke feeling exhausted having spent what seemed like the whole night searching in a huge building complex for a working shower, getting more and more angry as every one I found was non functioning. No, we didn't have a plumbing problem at home, and I had definitely showered that morning, so it remains a mystery why my consciousness insisted on this long, fruitless search.

This morning I woke with the image of a young hare in a field, sitting surrounded by buttercups. A red squirrel in a tree close by was chattering a  warning to the little hare as a giant red cabbage came careering down the hill towards the buttercup patch.  Powerful imagery for a children's story perhaps?

The notebook is on the bedside table, with a pen, waiting for those inspirational ideas. Perhaps the story of the hare will continue tonight and I will find out where the giant cabbage came from.

#dreams  #creativewriting  #amwriting

Monday, 9 September 2019

Book Review. Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Book Review. Eleanor  Oliphant is Completely Fine


In my opinion, this is a modern day fairy story focussing on loneliness in a young city dweller. Eleanor, the main character, is an intriguing and engaging young woman who has, against the odds, found a place in society, albeit with limited horizons. She is undoubtedly on the autistic spectrum with obsessive-compulsive features and suffers from social isolation as a result. She is seriously damaged by a disastrous childhood and lacks an ability to fully understand affection. Her conversation is overly formal, with disarming directness.

The story unfolds by introducing minor changes to her well-ordered lifestyle which begin to tip the balance. A crush on a local musician ends traumatically when  Eleanor realises that it was all pure fantasy on her part and plummets her into an acute state of despair. To her astonishment, her work colleague, Raymond, cares enough about her to save her from her suicidal situation. Referral to a counsellor allows her to unravel the facts about her damaged childhood. The story ends hopefully with Eleanor finally accepting emotions and embracing friendship for the first time. We wonder whether she has had the courage to try ' the seductive power of sausage rolls' in her blossoming relationship with Raymond.

It is somewhat unbelievable that Eleanor's autistic characteristics, addressed through counselling, have resolved so significantly in such a short time. Barring this and some other unrealistic expectations, the story is a delight and poses some interesting questions about how people who blatantly don't fit in can be helped to lead happy and successful lives in the organised society of today.

This is a heart-warming story that dilutes the more serious aspects of the story with elements of humour. I would thoroughly recommend it.