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Tearjerker

Days of Wonder - Keith Stuart

I've just finished this, with tears running down my face. Of the two, I probably marginally preferred A Boy made of Blocks, but this was a close second. It just took me a little longer to get into.

 

Hannah has known from very young that she had a faulty heart, she never planned for a future and took every day as it came. Her father, Tom, deals with the problem as only someone with a theatrical background and a job at a theatre, can. He puts on elaborate productions for her birthday and makes her whole life mystical. He was just a super-fantastic dad! Her mother had left to pursue her own interests when Hannah was just three years old, so the folk at the theatre became her family.

 

When we meet her she is a teenager, just beginning to find boys attractive and starting to pull at the apron strings. But also, her heart problem is starting to become more serious. She wants her Dad to go out and start dating again, she's worried he will be all alone if she dies. He has some pretty cheesy relationships but there's plenty to laugh about too.

 

There are some fabulous characters, some as flamboyant as you would expect at a theatre and some just normal people for whom the theatre is an escape.

An excellent story with an ending that could have gone either way and I liked that I never knew which way.

Recommended.

Cosy mystery.

Tastes Like Murder - Catherine Bruns

This was an entertaining, light-weight listen, for lovers of cosy mysteries. I enjoyed the narration by Karen Rose Richter, who managed managed male and female voices equally well.

 

Sally Muccio (Sal) has returned to her home town to open up a cookie shop with her best friend Josie Sullivan. She has left behind a loser of a husband and is ready to make a new start. Unfortunately her ex-husband's lover is set on making problems for Sal, ultimately falling dead on her doorstep. Sal feels compelled to find out why Amanda died, before her business collapses under suspicion that her cookies were responsible.

 

There are some real quirky characters in here. Sal's family are nuts; her mother thinks she's still a teenager and dresses appropriately, and her father is obsessed by death, funerals and coffins. An elderly neighbour is constantly rude, for no apparent reason. Thank goodness for the wise old grandmother who holds them all together.

To add interest, two sexy men are chasing Sal, an ex boyfriend, and a dashing policeman, who will she go out to dinner with?

 

A fun listen, got the ironing done with a smile on my face :)

Life under occupation.

Dancing Arabs - Sayed Kashua, Miriam Shlesinger

I wasn't quite sure where this book was going, it kind of lacked direction. What it did give though, was a feel for the divided life of an Arab citizen living in lands that once belonged to his Grandparents' generation, yet were now under Israeli rule.

 

The unnamed narrator gets a lucky break as a youngster, when his school grades mark him out for special education in a Jewish boarding school. Yet this is not without its inherent problems. He learns to imitate the Jews in language, behaviour, appearance and habits and he is actually insulted when he is recognised as an Arab. This pretense takes its toll though, and he does not become the builder of the first Arab atom bomb, as his parents expect. I cannot help but wonder if he might have done better by remaining in his home school, amongst his own. How much of his downfall is due to the stresses of trying to become someone that he is not.

 

What came across clearly, was the position of the Arabs as second class citizens, even third or fourth class citizens. How this impacted on their lives and aspirations. Even having the blue card that allowed them to work within Israeli borders, their options were limited.

 

It's quite a depressing book, but profound in its message and well worth reading for an understanding of the situation that we hear biased reports of from the media.

One of my favourite reads of 2018.

The Man I Think I Know - Mike Gayle

I had previously read a couple of Mike Gayle books (Dinner for Two and The To-Do-List) and considered them to be Chick-Lit, but written by a man - Guy-Lit. The Man I Think I Know was in another class entirely, one of my favourite books of 2018. It still contained Mike's trade-mark humour, but this was also full of empathy and emotion, and still remains with me even though I read it nearly six months ago.

 

The two main characters had been to private school together, yet both were in some way disabled. James DeWitt was from a wealthy family, while Danny Allen was from the wrong side of the tracks, but circumstances have a way of producing outcomes that no-one would have expected and they are thrown together in a fascinating, endearing twosome, that had me turning the pages enthusiastically.

 

I don't think I want to say too much more because this is a book that should unravel before your eyes and it would be a shame to spoil the pleasure with too much information. So I will just say that I hope you get the chance to pick up this book, and if so, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Brainwashing.

Home Fire: A Novel - Kamila Shamsie

Well, I could have done without this being a contemporary reselling of Antigone, as I'm really not a fan of rehashing the old fables in modern form. Still, I was pretty much able to ignore the comparisons and take the story at face value - a tragic tale of fundamentalism and its disastrous effects on a family.

 

I read this because the author was attending our local Lit Fest, and I'm glad I did. It depicted the struggles of an immigrant family that, to all intents and purposes, had become British, yet their beliefs and values undermined their every move and influenced their beliefs.

 

The eldest member of the family, Isma, has been caring for her younger siblings since their mother died. Now that they are older, Isma finally has the opportunity to do something for herself; to accept an invitation to carry out research in America under a much respected mentor. However, she still worries about her younger sister, Aneeka, and Aneeka's twin brother, Parvais. Aneeka can be reckless and foolish, while Parvais has been missing, believed to be attempting to follow in his father's fanatical footsteps.

When Isma meets Eamon, son of the local MP, and sends him to her family with a package to post, she opens up a can of worms that has no lid.

The fall-out from this event is cataclysmic, as the characters spiral downwards into their own black holes, Isma tries desperately to hold the family together.

 

Definitely a powerful read, a book of our times.

 

Also read, by the same author: Burnt Shadows (5*)

 

Behind the scenes of a war.

The Baghdad Clock - Shahad Al Rawi

After a slow start, this became an interesting and revealing narrative about the effects of two Gulf wars and the attached sanctions, on the Iraqi civilian population. Narrated from the point of view of a young girl who grows up in a disintegrating Baghdad, it becomes clear just how insidious the sanctions were, effectively causing more destruction than the missiles.

 

The voice of the un-named narrator begins as that of a child, which initially had me concerned that this was going to be the writing style for the whole book. Thankfully, the narrator matures and with it her narrative voice. She introduces us to some of the characters of the village, the wacky, the sad and the ever hopeful. I will never forget the watch-marks bitten on the wrists of children by Uncle Shawkat, or his loyal pet dog, Biryad.

As the young girl and her friend Nadia grow into teenagers, they share their loves and loses, until the inevitable time when the black Chevrolet comes to the door and spirits them away with their families to a safer haven, one that will never truly be Home.

 

It's a raw commentary on the other side of war, the one that we didn't see from TV reports and newspapers. This is a book that should be widely read and now that it has been awarded the Edinburgh Book Festival's First Book Award, this will begin to happen.

 

Shahad Al Rawi spent her childhood in Baghdad, reaching secondary school before moving with her parents to Syria. I'm glad to say she then moved to Dubai, where I am looking forward to hearing her speak at our Literary Festival in March.

Book 1 of an ongoing series.

Dead Simple - Peter James

Although I listened to this as an abridged version, it had been well cut and was excellently narrated by William Gaminara, so I was barely aware that it was not the full book. I've never read anything by Peter James before, although I had heard him speak at a literary festival.

The plot itself was well suited to audio, as there was nothing too demanding or complex to concentrate on and I was happy having it playing in the background while I worked in the house.

 

I wonder whether the 'Simple' of the title might be considered politically incorrect these days, being as it refers to a young man of low intelligence, who finds a walkie talkie, yet fails to comprehend its importance; to him it is just a toy. In reality it holds the clue to the whereabouts of Michael Harrison, who has disappeared while out celebrating his stag night. Mark, his business partner and best man, seems to know more than he is letting on, while the fiance, Ashley Harper, is distraught, with the wedding just a few days away.

 

Detective Superintendent Grace leads the investigation. He is a likable enough detective, if a bit ineffective at times. His use of a medium towards the end did seem a bit of a cop-out. The fact that his wife had disappeared 10 years ago, though, was a good cliff-hanger for the future of the series.

 

I am vaguely familiar with Brighton and my Grandmother used to live in Hove, which added interest and I would certainly give the second book a try, preferably in audio format again.

The origins of Islam.

Mother of the Believers - Kamran Pasha

This was pretty much compulsory reading, considering that I live in the Middle East, and it was a book that has been on my shelves for quite a while. However, although it was interesting, it certainly wasn't un-putdownable - checking back I see that it has taken me over 2 months to read. It's quite a big book and I was moving house, but even so, that's a looong time.

 

The central character is Mohammed's first wife, Aisha, and the book goes beyond Mohammed's death to the caliphs who ruled after his passing, but during Aisha's lifetime. There is debate about how old Aisha was at the time of her marriage and it was the author's choice to take the youngest age, at just nine years old. I found, however, that her thoughts and conversation seemed more suited to an older person and this caused me some conflict in the earlier chapters.

Mohammed (pbuh), was an interesting character, more of a warrior than I had realised, but also a man of peace, with amazing negotiating skills. He held together a warring mix of tribes, against all odds, and gave generously of all he had, to the poor.

 

It is a shame that religions become warped to people's own ends. Islam teaches generosity and love, not the fanaticism that we see today. The early believers would turn in their graves if they could see what has happened since.

 

This was a book group read and I was fortunate to have some Muslim friends in my book group, who explained some of the narrative and put it into context within today's world.

I do think this is a book worth reading and although it took me a while, I don't regret the time spent. I am now much better informed about the origins of the Islamic faith and the history behind it.

A bit formulaic.

Judge & Jury - James Patterson, Andrew Gross

A friend kindly gave me her collection of audio CDs and so I promptly trundled my car down to the auto repair shop to get my CD player fixed. The first CD I chose had such low volume that I couldn't hear it in the car, but I'm glad to say my second choice was more successful. Most of the books were abridged, but this one was a complete novel, well narrated by Joe Mantegna, and although not earth shattering, it kept me entertained through several hours of driving.

 

The two main characters are Nick Pellisante, the detective responsible for bringing in mafia boss, Dominic Covello, and Andie, a member of the jury chosen to try him. Nick is an FBI agent who has been on Covello's heels for a large part of his career. Andie is a single mother and part-time actress, who really doesn't want to be on the jury at all.

Their paths cross at various times during the case, but their joint desire to see Covello brought to justice results in a satisfying denouement.

 

Initially this looked like being a court case-based fiction, but I'm glad to say that it broadened out into something a bit more interesting. My main problem with it was the structure of "build-up, emergency, solution", which seemed to be on repeat throughout the book. It got a bit irritating and predictable after a while.

 

I'd only read one Patterson book before, 1st To Die, but this felt similarly formulaic and I won't be rushing back to read another.

Numbers and song titles...

Brass in Pocket - Stephen Puleston

Having enjoyed Stephen Puleston's prequel, The Devil's Kitchen, I was looking forward to following Inspector Drake and his assistant, Ceren Waits, as they embark on a full length investigation. I was not disappointed at all, and Richard Elfyn again added a dimension, with the narration and his lovable Welsh accent. Some of these place names would have been massacred in my head, had I tried to read them.

 

The book starts with us in the murderer's shoes, as he stalks two police officers through the Welsh countryside and into the mountains. Drake is soon alerted to the murders of the two officers, and he and Ceren rush to the scene to find that they have been murdered by a crossbow, and traffic cones have been left in the shape of a number four. When a politician is murdered soon after, the suggestion is made that the number four is a prediction of the number of intended murders. Drake and Ceren are now under pressure to solve the crime before the target is reached.

As well as the numbers, the killer complicates the investigation by sending song lyrics after each murder. Surely this is a clue, but what does it signify?

 

An enjoyable listen that kept my interest. Atmospheric, with description of the Welsh countryside, but a little annoying when Drake's OCD is referred to repeatedly and his constant need to play Sudoku puzzles to calm his nerves, becomes irritating. Thankfully I don't have to live with him!

 

 

I've given up!

Milkman - Anna Burns
I should know by now that a book that wins the Man Booker prize is going to do nothing for me. With the exception of White Tiger, I have never enjoyed a Man Booker prize winner and Milkman was no exception. I was listening to an excellent reading by Bríd Brennan, complete with genuine Irish accent, but even this could not make up for the unnecessary verbosity of this book. Huge credit to the narrator for making it to the end, I abandoned ship at 23%.

Just as an example, here is a typical paragraph:
"Considering alone his avowals of devotion towards women, his mission of idolatry, his supreme glorification and deification and view that on earth in women was the life of things, the breadth of things, the cyclicality, essential nature, higher aspect, the best, most archetypal and utmost mystery of everything." 

And this was then followed by an endless discourse about whether or not the sky was actually blue?

There was much scope to provide an understanding of life as a young girl during the time of the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland. The way women were treated, the boys' names that were or weren't acceptable, who was 'in' and who was 'beyond the pail', This book kind of suffuses this into the reader by osmosis, but by the same token, it was becoming more and more irritating and I do my reading for enjoyment; I was not enjoying the style of this book at all.

My first abandoned book this year :(

I've given up!

Milkman - Anna Burns
I should know by now that a book that wins the Man Booker prize is going to do nothing for me. With the exception of White Tiger, I have never enjoyed a Man Booker prize winner and Milkman was no exception. I was listening to an excellent reading by Bríd Brennan, complete with genuine Irish accent, but even this could not make up for the unnecessary verbosity of this book. Huge credit to the narrator for making it to the end, I abandoned ship at 23%.

Just as an example, here is a typical paragraph:
"Considering alone his avowals of devotion towards women, his mission of idolatry, his supreme glorification and deification and view that on earth in women was the life of things, the breadth of things, the cyclicality, essential nature, higher aspect, the best, most archetypal and utmost mystery of everything." 

And this was then followed by an endless discourse about whether or not the sky was actually blue?

There was much scope to provide an understanding of life as a young girl during the time of the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland. The way women were treated, the boys' names that were or weren't acceptable, who was 'in' and who was 'beyond the pail', This book kind of suffuses this into the reader by osmosis, but by the same token, it was becoming more and more irritating and I do my reading for enjoyment; I was not enjoying the style of this book at all.

My first abandoned book this year :(

I've given up!

Milkman - Anna Burns

I should know by now that a book that wins the Man Booker prize is going to do nothing for me. With the exception of White Tiger, I have never enjoyed a Man Booker prize winner and Milkman was no exception. I was listening to an excellent reading by Bríd Brennan, complete with genuine Irish accent, but even this could not make up for the unnecessary verbosity of this book. Huge credit to the narrator for making it to the end, I abandoned ship at 23%.

 

Just as an example, here is a typical paragraph:

"Considering alone his avowals of devotion towards women, his mission of idolatry, his supreme glorification and deification and view that on earth in women was the life of things, the breadth of things, the cyclicality, essential nature, higher aspect, the best, most archetypal and utmost mystery of everything." 

 

And this was then followed by an endless discourse about whether or not the sky was actually blue?

 

There was much scope to provide an understanding of life as a young girl during the time of the 'Troubles' in Northern Ireland. The way women were treated, the boys' names that were or weren't acceptable, who was 'in' and who was 'beyond the pail', This book kind of suffuses this into the reader by osmosis, but by the same token, it was becoming more and more irritating and I do my reading for enjoyment; I was not enjoying the style of this book at all.

 

My first abandoned book this year :(

A rollicking romp.

Lost & Found (A Daisy Dunlop Mystery Book 2) - JL Simpson

This was fun! Certainly not the most in-depth book I've ever read, but an enjoyable romp with entertaining characters and brilliantly narrated by Diana Croft.

 

Daisy Dunlop is a nutty private investigator, along the lines of Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum. She has teamed up with her husband's best mate, Solomon, to work on a case that involves a missing poodle. Suffice to say she is petrified by dogs.

The interaction between Daisy and Solomon forms a large part of the book, they are not involved with one another; Daisy is madly in love with her husband Paul, but they seem to manage to get into rather a lot of compromising situations.

 

Other characters are less detailed and some of those involved with the crime became rather a cast of thousands for me. The crime itself trundles along at a steady pace but then we suddenly get an overload of information which was rather confusing on audio as it's so difficult to rewind when driving etc. This aside, I enjoyed the narrative and the excellent narration and would certainly consider listening to the first book. Hopefully the third book will also be available on audio at a later date.

Warning: don't read the book blurb, it gives too much away.

My Not So Perfect Life - Sophie Kinsella

This was an unusual choice for our book group because it was more chick-lit than we usually read. It was picked because it covered the subject of social media and advertising, which is hugely topical right now.

 

Katie Brenner has finally nabbed her perfect job - at the very bottom of the advertising ladder. The salary is so low that she has to rent a room with no wardrobe space and stores her belongings in a hammock hanging over her bed. She has a long, stressful commute and spends her day doing repetitive tasks. Her Instagram page, however, paints a very different picture - drinks with friends and a trendy lifestyle in London.

 

Sophie Kinsella is guaranteed to take any situation and draw out the funny side of it, and this was no exception. I'm not a great fan of Chick-Lit as a genre, but if it's amusing, then all is forgiven. Ms Kinsella is one of a very few authors who can make me smile while reading and I did highlight quite a few passages.

 

I do think that the book blurb gives away far too much of the story and I'm glad I hadn't read it beforehand, or there would have been no surprises. Although it was somewhat predictable and didn't really provide much in-depth discussion, it was generally enjoyed by my book group as a light summer read. The big exception to this, however, were those involved in advertising, who categorically refused to accept the ending as in any way feasible.

 

My ratings:
Remember Me 4*
Shopaholic Ties the Knot 3.5*
Shopaholic and Baby 4*

Welcome back Brad!

Keeping Hope Alive - Dawn Kopman Whidden

Three bodies are discovered in the woods, two recent and one half a century old. The question is; who are they and how did they come to be there? Is there a connection between them?
Plus, of course, the traumatic opening chapter, with a girl trapped, bound and naked in the dark. The book's title hints as to who she might be, but we don't know for sure until later in the narrative.

I was happy to spend a few more hours in the company of Jean Whitley, Marty Keal, and Marty's fiance, Hope. It was also lovely to reconnect with Brad, the young boy who we met in the first book of the series. For the last four years he's been living in a correctional facility and his case has finally come before the court, requesting that he be released into the hands of his grandparents. Brad was a powerful character in the first book, but we'd heard little of him in the interim.

The resolution of the mystery cleverly combines all the characters into a complicated plot that I would never have guessed at. I had to listen to the explanation of the murders' motives a couple of times to really grasp it. I think this was complicated by the fact that people were sometimes referred to by first names and sometimes by surnames, a real challenge for my poor brain.

This is currently the last book in the series, though hopefully there will be more in the future. I found this to be the most violent of the four, probably because the target is a character who we have got to know and love through the preceding volumes. Again the narrator Amy Deuchler, does an excellent job; I forgot she was there at all.

I'm now looking forward to more episodes in the not too distant future. Marty and Hope have yet to get married and Gracie isn't going to stand by and wait too long for that to happen :)