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Weeping Under This Same Moon
Jana Laiz

Small-town church life.

Abide with Me - Elizabeth Strout

I initially started this book eighteen months ago, for a book group. I didn't manage to finish it before the discussion and then other books came along and it got forgotten. It was incredibly hard to pick it up again recently, only half read, but the summer is always a time for me to finish incomplete books, so I read other reviews and the notes in my Kindle to remind myself of the details that I had forgotten.

I can see now why I had ground to a halt, because I wasn't really grabbed by this book - it was centred around a small-town parson and his family, and in my opinion, contained too much philosophy and biblical references.

 

Tyler is totally dedicated to the church, but his choice of Lauren as a wife was probably not ideal for the enclosed small-town life. She did not become involved in community activities and always felt everyone was judging her. Coming from a wealthy family, she tended to overspend and put a lot of pressure on the family finances. They had two children, Katherine and Jeannie, and life chugged along acceptably until she was suddenly diagnosed with cancer. 

The second part of the book deals with Tyler's reaction to the loss of his beloved wife, his struggle to deal with his grief and the effect of her death on their oldest child, Katherine, who became mute and developed behavioural problems. 

 

The novel was well written but there was a bit of a cast of thousands, I almost felt like Tyler, trying to put faces to all his parishioners. But my main problem was the theologising, sometimes leaving me feeling as if had attended one of his sermons.

I would recommend this book for church-goers and lovers of Christian fiction.

Romance, intrigue and sorcery.

Apollo's Raven - Linnea Tanner

One of the great things about receiving free audiobooks for review is that I get to sample genres out of my comfort zone. Although I am a fan of historical fiction, I have never read anything set in Roman times.
Apollo's Raven is fascinating, not just from the point of view of the belief systems of those times - curses, wolf spirits and sorceresses, but also for its insight into the way negotiations took place - with a hostage left in the enemy camp to ensure a serious attempt at peace.

Amren, King of Britannia, needs to broker peace with the invading Roman legions. While he is off negotiating with their ambassadors, Marcellus, son of one of their number, stays behind as 'guest' to the Celts, while one of Amren's daughters effectively becomes hostage to the Romans at their camp 100 miles away.
Unfortunately, there is an instant spark between Catrin, Amren's youngest daughter, and Marcellus. This is fueled by her father's instructions to act as host to him, all the while extracting valuable information about the enemy. It is a relationship with no hope of a future, as both parties are pawns in their parent's power struggle and an alliance forged by marriage is too good a bargaining tool. As negotiations break down and the danger level rises, so too, does the attraction between Catrin and Marcellus.

The book was well narrated by Kristin James, although I found it a bit too breathless in the exciting parts. There were also phrases in italics at the beginning of each chapter, which I wasn't even aware of until I saw them mentioned in another review. Apart from that she was clear and easy to understand.
Although I learnt a fair bit from this novel and it was obviously well researched, I didn't find it calling to me and although I see many other reviewers gave it 5 stars, I felt 3 stars was more representative for me.
For readers of Fantasy and lovers of Romans in history, this would be an excellent read, the first in a series in which Catrin and Marcellus may (or may not) manage to make a future together. It would also appeal to those who like strong female characters.

Return to Eritrea.

My Fathers' Daughter: A Story of Family and Belonging - Hannah Pool

Around the time I visited Eritrea I read two books - one about an Eritrean refugee making the treacherous journey out of Eritrea and the other about Hannah Pool, a British journalist who was born in a remote village in Eritrea and adopted from an orphanage, leaving a family she had never met. They complimented each other and both, in their own ways, educated me on this country that I knew so little about.

 

Hannah's mother had died giving birth to her, and her father, who already had a large family, put her into an orphanage for care. The couple who adopted her were told that her parents were dead and she was adopted into Norway and then UK, as the coloured daughter of white parents. For many years she had no idea that she had any family other than her adopted one, until, at the age of 19 she received a letter from her brother, informing her that her father was still alive. She was dumb-struck, all these years she had believed that she had no living relatives and here were a brother and father in one.
However, she didn't want to hurt her adoptive father and wasn't sure of her own feelings, so it was another 10 years until she followed up on the letter. It turned out that she had a cousin visiting London and so her first move was to meet up with him. From him she learned that she had many sisters and brothers and that her father was still living.
At the age of 29 she finally found the courage to make the journey to the land of her birth and meet her large family.

 

The trip involved a number if issues, primarily the fact that she could only communicate directly with family members who spoke English; she had only a few words in her native tongue. She also found it very strange to find that after being so obviously black amongst so many whites in her adopted country, she now melded with the huge crowd of Eritreans when she arrived at the airport - only to discover that there were things about her that they could detect and thus label her as an 'incomer', and put her into another sub-set of the population.

 

Her original plan to meet with her family in the capital, Asmara, developed into a wish to see them in their home villages and see the home where she was born. This journey into the hinterlands was my favourite part of the book, a fascinating travelogue. What she found there was eye-opening and made her think again about her wish that she had been allowed to stay with her birth family.

 

This was a fascinating story, told with raw emotion. My only issue with it was that Hannah spent a bit too long on some of the emotional issues - shall I leave this room, no, I'll just stay here, but I must go......(not a literal quote), until the repetition became irritating. Otherwise, an excellent view into adoption into a different coloured family and the reunion with family that she had long believed dead.

 

Also read:
Paradise Denied by Zekarias Kebraeb (5stars)

Romance, intrigue and sorcery.

Apollo's Raven - Linnea Tanner

One of the great things about receiving free audiobooks for review is that I get to sample genres out of my comfort zone. Although I am a fan of historical fiction, I have never read anything set in Roman times.
Apollo's Raven is fascinating, not just from the point of view of the belief systems of those times - curses, wolf spirits and sorceresses, but also for its insight into the way negotiations took place - with a hostage left in the enemy camp to ensure a serious attempt at peace.

Amren, King of Britannia, needs to broker peace with the invading Roman legions. While he is off negotiating with their ambassadors, Marcellus, son of one of their number, stays behind as 'guest' to the Celts, while one of Amren's daughters effectively becomes hostage to the Romans at their camp 100 miles away.
Unfortunately, there is an instant spark between Catrin, Amren's youngest daughter, and Marcellus. This is fueled by her father's instructions to act as host to him, all the while extracting valuable information about the enemy. It is a relationship with no hope of a future, as both parties are pawns in their parent's power struggle and an alliance forged by marriage is too good a bargaining tool. As negotiations break down and the danger level rises, so too, does the attraction between Catrin and Marcellus.

The book was well narrated by Kristin James, although I found it a bit too breathless in the exciting parts. There were also phrases in italics at the beginning of each chapter, which I wasn't even aware of until I saw them mentioned in another review. Apart from that she was clear and easy to understand.
Although I learnt a fair bit from this novel and it was obviously well researched, I didn't find it calling to me and although I see many other reviewers gave it 5 stars, I felt 3 stars was more representative for me.
For readers of Fantasy and lovers of Romans in history, this would be an excellent read, the first in a series in which Catrin and Marcellus may (or may not) manage to make a future together. It would also appeal to those who like strong female chaaracters.

Get your cocoa, dim the lights, and settle down in front of the fire......

Dark on the Mountain - Henry Mitchell

This was an interesting collection of twelve short stories that reminded me of a series that was on TV in my childhood - Tales of the Unexpected - every story had a twist in its tail. Admittedly, most of these twists were a bit dark and a lot of characters met a sorry end, but I could just imagine them being told around a campfire on a dark night, they would be perfect.

My audio version was narrated by Wayne Paige, who had a slow, sultry voice that I took a bit of getting used to, but once I'd settled into it, the voice suited the stories well. My one issue was knowing where one tale ended and the next began - so I downloaded the free sample of the e book, just to get my head around the set-up. After that I had no problem and was able to pick up the breaks.

The script on the cover of the book has a bit of an Indie feel and would normally have put me off, which just goes to show that you can't judge a book by its cover.
If you enjoy short stories, this is well worth picking up.

Thanks to Audiobook Boom, through whom I was given this free review copy audiobook in return for an unbiased review.

Road trip to Scotland.

The One Plus One - Jojo Moyes

This was my fifth novel by Jojo Moyes, sixth if you count novellas. I love her writing. Unfortunately I read this back in 2014 and I thought I'd just wait until I'd met her at our Literary Festival before writing my review. Then I started the review and the computer crashed - there's nothing more likely to squash a piece of writing than having to begin it all over again! So now, three years later, I shall go back to the notes I wrote in my Kindle and finally get my review written.

 

I have to admit that my lasting memory of this book is a long journey with a huge huffy dog in the car: ugh! But there's a lot more to the story than that.

Tanzie is a maths whizz, her single mother, Jess, would like her to go to a school that would nurture her skills, not the local comprehensive where she would be bullied for being different. Tanzie is awarded a maths scholarship but Jess is already doing two jobs and just doesn't have the money to pay the extras and make it happen. Their only chance is for Tanzie to win a maths Olympiad, offering a £5000 prize - unfortunately, it's in Scotland.

 

One of Jess's jobs is cleaning for computer guru, Ed. He's been rich and built an empire but since he sold his business he finds he has time on his hands - why not take time out to drive up to Scotland? Finally, there's Nicky, Tanzie's goth step-brother, son of Jess's ex-husband from a previous relationship. I have to admit I rather liked his character, kohl around his eyes, tight black jeans and constantly playing games on his hand-held device.

 

And so the journey begins, crammed in a car with a huge (huffy) dog, with problems galore along the way.

Not my favourite of Jojo Moyes's books, but certainly worth a read - especially if you love dogs.

 

Also read by Jojo Moyes:
Me Before You (5*)
The Girl You Left Behind (5*)
The Last Letter from Your Lover (novella) (4*)
The Last Letter from Your Lover (3.5*)

The excitement of the race!

Race Car Drivers and What They Do - Liesbet Slegers

On Amazon this book is recommended for toddlers, but it seems too advanced in my opinion. The illustrations are suitable, but the text is not. However, a five-year-old who is heavily into cars will definitely enjoy this, as it contains a lot of information about training to be a race car driver. It includes the flags that are waved during the race, the job of the mechanics in the pit and the effort required before a race to learn the course and be fully prepared. It even mentions eating well and being physically fit, definitely something to aspire to.

A slow burner.

A Gentleman in Moscow: A Novel - Amor Towles

On GoodReads this book gets 19,307 five star ratings and 10,728 four star, but I didn't enjoy it - is there something wrong with me?? I listened to the audio version and I didn't think I had a problem with the narrator, but I was really not gripped and had to force myself to pick it up each time. After all that, I missed my book group discussion - but I know it was popular with them too.

 

Count Alexander Rostov is confined to house arrest by a Bolshevik tribunal because he comes from the wrong side of the tracks. As his home is The Grand Metropol Hotel, this is where he must stay, indefinitely. His room is reduced in size but he is able to roam the hotel freely and mix with the guests and staff, so it could have been considerably worse.

 

And this was where he remained for decades, as people passed through the hotel, old acquaintances and new friends. He eventually got involved in the running of the hotel

itself and even found himself adopting a young girl whose mother he had once known.

 

This was very much a slow burner and an era that I have been meaning to read more of, but sadly, I remained uninspired.

Is it better to know for sure or to live with hope?

Swimming Lessons - Claire Fuller

How could I not enjoy a book that is set in a house with books piled up against all the walls, on the sofa and spread over all flat surfaces? But the interesting thing about all these books is that they have been collected, not for the book itself, but for the "marginalia", the writings and doodles that previous owners have added, or maybe a letter or other insert, left by a past reader.

OK, I admit, I hate books to be written in or pages turned down, yet this idea of "marginalia" does appeal to me.

 

So, when Ingrid decides to write her story in letters to her husband, it is totally in keeping that she will hide these letters inside various books around the house, always appropriately chosen for the theme of the given letter. Will he ever find them, or even realise that they are there?


She tells of her meeting with her college professor, their courtship and eventual marriage; how she felt and what she discovered over the years. In the end she leaves/disappears, her two daughters and Gil, her husband are left questioning her fate. Is it better to know or to live with hope?

 

The characterisations are excellent, we really get to know Ingrid, the two sisters, Flora and Nan, their father, his friend Jonathan and Flora's boyfriend, Richard - although we don't necessarily like them all. There's a lot going on behind the scenes, and it's the gradual reveal that is the essence of this book.

 

Gil is now old but still lives in the isolated beach house of Flora and Nan's childhood. When the story begins he is sure he has glimpsed his missing wife through a window and he sets out after her, falling and injuring himself. When he is hospitalised it brings the girls back to their childhood home to care for him. Did he see his wife that day?

Another great Look-and-Find book.

Little Detectives At School: A LOOK and FIND Book - Baretti

Having enjoyed Little Detectives at Home with my granddaughter, this will be the obvious book to move on to when she's found all the hidden items in the home. As yet she's a long way from school age so I think of this as the second book, even though they will both be released on the same day.

 

As before, there are six images, this time, each one illustrates a room in a school. In each of these rooms there are numerous characters and objects and the idea is to find each of eight items, illustrated and named along the bottom of the page.

 

We meet the same characters as in the previous book and again I found some of them a little too stylised. Particularly the "snowman'' who I assume must be a duck. Despite this small criticism, these books are a great alternative to traditional stories and I can see them being a useful distraction in waiting rooms or busy places, where children need to be kept busy.

And when we have found all the items on each of the pages there is a list of additional things we can search for at the back - telling the time on the clock that appears on every page and counting items of different colours etc.

Age 3 - 5 years.

Beautiful book.

Beauty and the Beast - An Leysen

There must be hundreds of versions of this classic, but this retelling by An Leysen is beautifully balanced and stunningly illustrated and is definitely a book I would love to have on my shelf to share with my grandchildren. Sadly, this was a NetGalley review copy so my grandchildren can only view it electronically.

I liked that the beast was not too scary and not going to give young children nightmares.
This is a moral tale - don't judge people by their appearance - and given the success of recent books like Wonder by R.J. Palacio, it is a timely release.

Looking on Amazon, I see there are already three other fairy tales in this series, Baba Yaga, Pinochio's Dream and The Nutcracker, all with similar art work, beautifully created by the author. I would definitely consider buying these books; the illustrations also make a big difference to my own pleasure when reading to children.
Age 5 years +.

Beautiful book.

Beauty and the Beast - An Leysen

There must be hundreds of versions of this classic, but this retelling by An Leysen is beautifully balanced and stunningly illustrated and is definitely a book I would love to have on my shelf to share with my grandchildren. Sadly, this was a NetGalley review copy so my grandchildren can only view it electronically.

 

I liked that the beast was not too scary and not going to give young children nightmares. This is a moral tale - don't judge people by their appearance - and given the success of recent books like Wonder by R.J. Palacio, it is a timely release. 

 

Looking on Amazon, I see there are already three other fairy tales in this series, Baba Yaga, Pinochio's Dream and The Nutcracker, all with similar art work, beautifully created by the author. I would definitely consider buying these books; the illustrations make a big difference to my own pleasure when reading to children.

Age 5 years +.

Recommended board book.

Little Detectives At Home: A LOOK and FIND Book - Baretti

This is a cute book, a bit like Where's Wally for much younger children. There are six images, each one illustrating a room in a house. In each of these rooms there are numerous characters and objects and the idea is to find each of eight items, illustrated along the bottom of the page.

 

The recommended age for this book is 3 to 5 years but I tried it out with my eldest grandchild who is almost 2. We only attempted one page but she was fascinated by all the animal characters and on a second viewing is starting to get the hang of searching for the items. She was thrilled with herself for being able to name ''eggs''.

 

My only criticism is that some of the animal characters are actually quite difficult to identify, the dog looks very much like a bear and there's one that seems to be a snowman, though I must have got that wrong, maybe a duck?

 

I can see this being a book that we fall back on regularly when we find ourselves in waiting rooms or busy places where she needs to be kept busy. And when we have found all the items on each of the pages there is a list of additional things we can search for at the back - telling the time on the clock that appears on every page and counting items of different colours etc....and when all of that is done, there is a second book - Little Detectives at School, to move on to.

 

 

 

Disappointing.

All of a Sudden - R.P. Wolff

This was an interesting premise for a story, three people awaken on top of their graves on the same day, and although they had all died on the same date, their deaths had been several years apart and their graves were in the same city but not on the same site.

 

First they have to convince themselves that they are alive, but that the year has drastically changed; then they must convince other people that they are who they claim to be and adjust to their new circumstances.

In their previous existences, Frank had been the millionaire owner of a pizza company, Beverley was the coloured maid for a wealthy family and Madison had been just fourteen years old when a fire burned down her house and killed herself and her family.

 

So, an interesting idea for a novel, but sadly, this book was poorly edited and the same words and phrases were repeated...and repeated. The dialogue was weak and the narrator was struggling, particularly with the male voices.

I had agreed to review the audio version for Audiobook Boom and so I managed to complete it, but I'm afraid I would not read this author again, nor recommend it to others.

 

 

Beautiful illustrations.

Why Blue? - Josh Tuiniga

I just love the artwork in this children's book and the idea of using it to answer one of the many questions that young children ask on a day-to-day basis - why is the sky blue?

 

I remember being told when my children first started school that we should make every effort to get the facts correct when our children asked us questions. Probably the only thing that I remember from that meeting, around twenty-five years ago.

So that could be the reason why I have problems with the answers this little girl receives - " "Because," said the baker, I had leftover blueberries from this morning's pancakes!" " or the musician, who replies - " "Cause I'm playin' the BLUES, little gal!" "

The correct answer is given by her brother but belittled by turning it into a ramble that goes over her head.

 

Towards the end she sees that the sky has turned red and purple and orange - another fabulous illustration. And by bedtime it was black, with stars.

So I'm left with a very mixed response to this book - illustrations 5*, content 2*.

Icelandic adventure.

Volcano Island - William Graham, William Graham, Mary Allwright

William Graham is a keen travel blogger and it's great that he shares his experiences with young readers in his children's literature. This book is set in Iceland and I discovered to my surprise, that it was the first book I'd read about that country.

 

Rolf and Frieda are both ten; Rolf is a slightly alienated American boy and Frieda is an Icelandic girl, struggling through the recent death of her mother. Their parents are friends and arrange for Rolf to spend some of his summer vacation in Iceland. In spite of initial reservations, the two children find they have a lot in common and Frieda enjoys showing him around and sharing some of the local folklore.

 

The book was an interesting combination of travelogue and local myths, with a bit of an adventure thrown in. Sadly, most youngsters seem to want to read fantasy these days, but for a child looking for something a bit different, this would be an excellent choice.

 

I was listening to the audiobook version, well narrated by Mary Allwright, and obtained through Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.

Recommended age 5 to 10 years.