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Lift the flap book for children 3 yrs and above.

Open the Suitcase - Ruth Wielockx

This is a cute little lift-the-flap book with adorable illustrations. Each of the six characters owns a suitcase containing items pertaining to their professions. The flaps lift to reveal the contents, which can then be searched for on the next page, in the context of their day to day uses.

This provides the perfect opportunity to discuss professions and the items used with young children.

 

My one small niggle with this book is the use of the term 'suitcase'. The tool case is not technically a suitcase, nor is the cello case. In fact the only true suitcase is the little bag that Piggy takes for a sleepover at his Grandparents. I remember when my children entered year 4, being told at a parents' evening, that we should take great care to inform our children correctly. Ever since, I have been particular about doing just that, which is why this generic use of the word suitcase is grating with me.

Apart from that, this is a fabulous little book for children aged 3 and above.

What is a hero?

The Broken Places - Susan Perabo

I decided I needed to open a Kindle app on my phone and add at least one book for occasions when I found myself with nothing to read. I'm not sure how The Broken Places came to be the one book, but it was a fortuitous choice.

I'd never heard of Susan Perabo, but I liked the way she wrote her male characters and her description of the life in the fire service (US).

 

The story is told largely through the eyes of the fireman's son, twelve year old Paul, who idolises his father and waits for the day when he too, can join the fire service, following in the footsteps of both his father and his grandfather.

 

When an old building collapses, trapping Paul's father and the town trouble-maker deep underground, they are both forced towards an unforeseen fate. The repercussions are far-reaching and threaten to shatter Paul's entire family life and his relationship with his father.

 

Ms Perabo writes a fascinating insight into the nature of heroism and its flimsy veneers.

Several of Ms Perabo's books are compilations of short stories but I have managed to acquire a copy of The Fall of Lisa Bellow, which, apart from having a fabulous cover, looks like a gripping read.

 

Theo's side of the story.

Theo - Amanda Prowse

Having enjoyed the first book of this series, Anna, I was looking forward to reading the sequel, Theo, to tie up all the loose ends that were still hanging and understand his side of the relationship. The author has no problem writing equally well from the male point of view and I now feel as if I have the full picture.

In the first book we met Anna and followed her through her sad childhood. About half way through that book she met Theo, who appeared to be her perfect match. Ms Prowse's relationships are never plain sailing, however, and at the end of Anna, we were left wondering what the future might hold. Satisfyingly, Theo, takes us beyond the point at which we were left in the earlier book and completes the story.

I really enjoyed the relationship Theo has with the groundsman, Mr Porter and the way this pans out was one of the highlights of the book for me. In fact there were quite a few interesting relationships in the second book, and I would say I enjoyed it even better than the first in many ways.

Journey into the past.

The Mirror (Northwest Passage #5) - John A. Heldt

This was the second time-travel book I'd listened to by this author, unfortunately from two different series. I preferred The Mirror (Northwest passage 05) to Class of '59 (American Journey 04), mainly because it was less confusing in the early chapters. I also favoured the narrator of The Mirror.

 

Ginny and Katie Smith, nineteen year old twins, have come from a family of time-travellers, and while they never expected to find themselves in another time, they seemed to have some awareness of how things worked and how to go about returning to their own time. However, they were aware that they needed to be very careful not to make significant changes in the past, and not to fall in love and leave heart-break behind them when they left. Whilst they pretty much achieved their first objective, they were far from achieving the second.

 

The era in which they find themselves is 1964, with the rise of The Beatles, the build-up of racial riots and the impending Vietnam disaster. This was also the era in which their great-grandmother lived. Meeting her and her daughter, their grandmother, was one of the highlights of their trip and they were able to fill her in on the fates of some of the people whom she'd loved and lost.

 

The characterisations were good and I loved the different social feel of a time when courtesy was the norm. The dialogue, however, was a bit stilted and I felt for the narrator in tackling an endless stream of 'he said, she said'. 

Although this does work as a standalone, I was sorry I hadn't read the previous books in the series. I struggled with the the ending, which brought together the fates of all the previous characters and was rather confusing. I still plan to go over the last few chapters again to really understand who everyone was and how their roles in the story panned out.

 

I'm a bit surprised that this is not listed as a YA book as it struck me as a coming-of-age novel rather than adult fiction.

 

 

Disappointing.

The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro

I had heard so much about this author and was looking forward to reading one of his books for our book group.

I started with the audiobook version, narrated by Nigel Hawthorne, but found his voice too slow and the book was dragging, so I did something that I never do - I read it rather than listening to it. Even so, it failed to grab me. I really wasn't interested in "what makes a good butler", a question that was churned over and over through the novel. I actually think I'd have enjoyed the book if this hadn't been overplayed to such an extent.

 

Apart from the above discussion, the book covers some quite interesting aspects of the influence of the wealthy on the outcome of WWII and the demise of the large houses with their extended staff, in the aftermath of the war. There is also a burgeoning love affair that is seriously hampered by the complete suppression of emotion.

 

In my attempt to get through this book before the meeting, I actually watched the movie, which was an accurate rendition of the story, and just as frustrating.

So, would I read another book by Ishiguro? Well, maybe, but I would be ready to move on to something else pretty quickly if it didn't grab me fairly early on.

Is this child a killer?

A Child is Torn: Innocence Lost - Dawn Kopman Whidden

This book grabbed me from the very start, when a slight young boy of just ten, was found in his home playing video games, while his parents lay bludgeoned to death upstairs. The question of how, why, and whether, the crime was committed by the boy is the basis of the novel.

 

It was interesting to read a novel about the care system and what happens to a child under such traumatic circumstances. Maybe I'd have liked to have heard more from the young boy, but overall that was a small gripe. My main reason for the 4, rather than 5 stars, was the ending, which didn't entirely convince me, but I will say no more.

 

I enjoyed the interaction between the adult characters, the police and carers, grandparents and teachers, and it was interesting to see how they worked together and how different people held differing suspicions about the case. Some of this group will appear in subsequent books of the series and will no doubt become friends as I continue to follow them.

 

Unfortunately I wasn't a fan of the narrator, she read rather slowly and had a much older voice than was appropriate for the characters she was reading. Although she read clearly, she made little attempt to differentiate between characters, even between male and female.

 

I already have the second book, Faceless, lined up to read, and I'm looking forward to it.

Trouble in Ruritania.

A Looming of Vultures: Volume I (Ruritanian Rogues) (Volume 1) - Richard Storry

This is the third book I've read by Richard Story and narrated by Jake Urry; a formidable duo. The Cryptic Lines still remains my favourite, but I enjoyed this humorous fantasy, set somewhere around the early twentieth century. The setting of Ruritania is fictitious and it's certainly not a book to be taken seriously, more of a 'romp' than a who-done-it.

 

It's quite a short book, at just 220 pages, but that gave me just enough time to get to know the characters, without the humour wearing thin. I'm not the sort of reader who laughs uproariously at a book, but I did find my face cracking a smile from time to time.

 

Covering an assassination plot and an attempt to steal some valuable coins, I'm not sure I'd have read this as a novel and it definitely benefits from being narrated. There is a second book, The Nest of Vipers and as this is also narrated by Jake Urry, I may well give it a try in the future.

Listen to the audio version!

The Power - Naomi Alderman

I was expecting more from this book, considering all the accolades and hype it has earned. I found the first 18% confusing, until I was fortunate enough to come across the audiobook, narrated by Adjoa Andoh and that was a huge improvement. Adjoa's Nigerian, London and Russian accents made such a difference to my enjoyment of the book and may have even raised my star rating from 2 to 3 stars.

 

The premise of the book was strong, that women suddenly developed a skein across their shoulders that generated electrical power and gave them a significant edge over men. The descriptions of this organ twitching and twisting, and the resultant surge of power, were excellent. The characterisations were also strong, boosted by Adjoa's narration.

Some of the violence was a bit lurid for my taste and the use of the 'f' word was offensively excessive. 'f' this, 'f' that, not even any variety of swear word, maybe valid in some cases but totally overused.

The inserts describing museum artifacts were well read in the audio version, by a male narrator, but I couldn't picture the items he was describing and so these parts were frustrating. I was also unsure through most of the book, whether the action was taking place 5,000 years ago, or whether it was in current time - or maybe it happened in current time and was being recorded 5,000 years hence. That may have been a failure on my part, I shall have more idea once my book club discusses it tomorrow.

 

The ending was a bit weird in my opinion, I felt I'd been left hanging a bit.

Maybe I will edit my review after tomorrow's discussion, but I wanted to get my opinions down before others voiced theirs.

Baghdad, city of romance.

The Gardener of Baghdad - Ahmad Ardalan

This book was an interesting balance between the violent Baghdad of today and the genteel place of luxury gardens that it once was.

 

Current day Adnan struggles to run his bookshop amongst bombings, terror and intermittent electricity. His wife is desperate to leave the city, but Adnan is attached to the shop, which he inherited from his father. Although he has reluctantly agreed to leave, he is still nostalgically pottering around, when he comes across an old handwritten memoir hidden on shelves right at the back.

It immediately grabs his attention and he spends several nights ensconced in the shop, reading by candlelight.

 

The manuscript details the story of Ali, a young farmer who branches out into gardening and makes quite a name for himself in 50's Baghdad. Unfortunately he falls in love with a young lady whom he is prohibited from marrying. When the narrative of the sad love story comes to a sudden end, Adnan uses his contacts to try and find out what happened - and he takes us with him; we too are longing to know how the story ends.

 

This book has a beautiful cover, which appealed to me immediately. There is some fairly floral language, but this is not inappropriate when reading a book set in the Middle East. The story is told in an interesting way, using Adnan's bookshop and later his contacts. It is also well read in the audiobook version, by Randal Schaffer.

Ahmad Ardalan has other books set in Iraq and I am hoping that it won't be too long before these are also available as audiobooks.

 

 

 

"Who is my real Daddy"

The Stolen Child - Sanjida Kay

This was an excellent psychological thriller that kept me wanting to know more. I was listening to the audiobook and the narration by Helen Johns was excellent too. It is well paced and convincing, with good dialogue; the only reason I didn't give it 5 stars was that the police didn't seem to do much, nearly all the discoveries that led to the denouement, were made by Zoe Morley, the Mum, which seemed just a little too coincidental.

 

Zoe and Ollie had adopted baby Evie from a drug addicted young mother. And, as sometimes happens in such cases, several years later, they were able to have a child of their own, who they named Ben. They are content with their young family and life is good. Then Zoe discovers that seven-year-old Evie, has been receiving gifts and cards signed 'Your loving Daddy'. He declares his undying love for Evie and promises to come and rescue her from her 'fake parents'. As Evie struggles to come to terms with the fact that she is adopted and her brother, Ben, is not, the thought of having one of her 'real' parents back becomes more and more tantalising.

 

I thought early on that I knew who Evie's father was, but I'm glad to say there were many more surprises and possible culprits along the way and the ending managed to take me by surprise.

Set in Yorkshire, in and around the Ilkley Moors, this novel has a brooding atmosphere and I loved that Zoe uses this to inspire her art.

 

I am looking forward to reading Sanjida Kay's earlier novel, Bone to Bone, which also seems to have been well received.

Recommended, and the audio is good too.

Experience a painting from the inside.

Konrad and the Birthday Painting (Artworld) (Volume 1) - Sandra R Andersson

This was a fun read (listen), with just the right balance of adventure, fantasy and moral. It is listed on Amazon as suitable for age 6 to 18, though I doubt most eighteen year-olds would choose it.

 

Konrad is only 8 years old and keeps getting picked on by Philip and his gang from Grade 5. When he finds himself outside the headmaster's office for being late, a series of events leaves him in possession of a wonderful pair of magic sunglasses. He discovers that these allow him to stare into a painting and manipulate things from afar.

Konrad finds himself on an unexpected adventure as a result of the sunglasses, which also allow him to enter a painting.

The descriptions of life inside a painting were fabulous, complete with brushstrokes and an alternative reality. 

Could these sunglasses allow Konrad to sort out the school bully once and for all?

 

I enjoyed the narrator, Amy Vance, though she could have put a little more excitement in her voice, given that her target audience is children.

 

As yet my grandchildren are too young, but I look forward to sharing this audiobook with them in a few years.

 

Madness in Mexico.

Fling! - Lily Iona Mackenzie

I enjoyed the image of Mexico presented in this audiobook, it was painted as a somewhat ethereal place, with otherworldly customs. Unfortunately, I'm afraid I didn't enjoy much else.

The narrator was extremely irritating, with emphasis on all the wrong words - I'm prepared to think this may be because I speak English English, rather than American English, but I don't usually have a problem with American narrators.

 

The story itself started out well, with Bubbles, a sprightly ninety year-old, receiving a letter informing that her mother's ashes had turned up in Mexico, and could she please collect them. She persuades her daughter, Feather, a sculptor, to take her to Mexico, where Feather was planning a summer retreat with her art.

I just couldn't think of Bubbles as the mother because it seemed too young a name, so I kept mixing her and Feather up, but I was still on board at this stage. It was when Bubbles' mother, grandmother and grandfather suddenly turned up out of the blue that I lost my mojo. From then on I found it a confusing jumble of conversations and erratic behaviour that made little sense. It didn't help that one of these new characters was called Heather, which is easy to confuse with Feather while listening to an audiobook.

 

I can cope with a little magical realism, but sadly, this was just too much for me.

Hmmmm.....

My Italian Bulldozer: A Novel - Alexander McCall Smith

I really enjoyed the first book of the Ladies' Detective Agency, but the second and third didn't have the same impact for me, so I haven't persevered with them. The Professor von Igelfeld series was a huge disappointment, so I wasn't particularly excited when my book group decided they wanted to read an Alexander McCall Smith book because the author was coming for our Lit Fest. It had to be a stand-alone book, and his most recent non-series novel was My Italian Bulldozer. I listened to a sample of the audio version but found the narrator irritating, so I went ahead with the book.

It started out reasonably well, with cookery author, Paul Stewart, heading for Italy to finish his overdue book on Italian cookery. He has a somewhat dubious encounter at the car rental office on arrival in Pisa, that results in him hiring the only remaining vehicle in town, a bulldozer. The story continues on from there, with one crazy situation following on from the previous, in quick succession.

This is definitely a book for fans of farce, which I certainly am not. 
It got pretty much slated by my book group, so at least I was not alone. It was hard to discuss because there really wasn't anything of substance in the story. The most interesting part related to the random positioning of boundaries that decreed whether given a wine was entitled to a prestigious title or not.

Did it make me want to take a trip to Italy? Yes, it was pretty atmospheric.
Will I read any more from this author? Probably not, sadly.

To top it off, Mr McCall Smith got stuck in the snow in UK and didn't make his scheduled session anyway!!

 

Previously read:
The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency (5 stars)
Tears of the Giraffe (3 stars)
Morality for Beautiful Girls (3 stars)

The 21/2 Pillars of Wisdom (1 star)
At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances (1 star)

I cheated!

The Good Mother - Karen Osman
I never cheat!
But I couldn't understand why the three stories didn't seem to be intersecting. By 75% it got to me and I skipped to the end. That satisfied me that it was worth persevering...so if you're feeling tempted to do the same, just stick with it, it's worth it.
I guess it also shows how fixed my expectations are and Karen has broken the mold with this book.

I was originally prompted to read the book because the author was coming to our up-coming Lit Fest, and as she lives locally she kindly agreed to join our discussion. She was one of the winners of the Montegrappa Writing Prize, awarded annually in conjunction with the literature festival. Some pretty big names have started off as a result of this award.

Three women, Catherine, Kate and Alison, are the main characters throughout the book. Each of them has secrets that they keep to themselves. That is about as much as I can say without giving too much away so you'll just have to read it and find out more.

So I'll add a couple of quotes instead:
"As humans we are all capable of killing - all it takes is provocation and the loss of control for just one second and your life is never the same again." (loc 2468)

"She let the apology settle like a snowflake, before it evaporated into the night, lost in the void between them." (loc 2893)

This was enjoyed by our book group and they can be a pretty harsh bunch of readers at times.

Who is the stranger in the house?

A Stranger in the House - Shari Lapena

I enjoyed the audiobook version of this novel and while I'm aware that other reviewers have criticised the weakness of some of the characters, for me, that wasn't a problem and in many ways seemed appropriate. I was particularly impressed with the narrator,‎ Tavia Gilbert, who did an excellent job.

 

Tom and Karen are living a normal life in a suburban town when Tom comes home from work one day to find that she has disappeared, leaving her bag and keys behind and dinner half finished. This is such unusual behaviour for Karen that he is alarmed and calls the police.

It turns out that she was in a seedy part of town and that a murder took place while she was there. Was there a connection between the two? It doesn't help that Karen has lost her memory in the ensuing car accident and has no idea why she visited that part of town at all.

Introducing a third character, Karen's friend Brigid, from over the road, the author weaves a web of intrigue that never allowed me to get bored.

 

I hate to use the word 'twist', it seems to have become so overplayed these days, but there were a good few of them in this novel. 

 

I am looking forward to meeting the author at our upcoming Literary Festival`in March. Now I just need to read the author's first book, The Couple Next Door.

 

 

A real-life Just William.

Billy Brown Tell Your Mother Signed H B - Billy Brown
I've always enjoyed reading memoirs written by 'real' people (as opposed to celebrities) and Billy Brown was a wonderful post-war character with the gift of the gab and a finely honed entrepreneurial streak.

He got his first job at the age of 9, tying bundles of firewood for Big Mike. This opened doors for him and he branched out to selling firewood from the discarded boxes at the market. Eventually his contacts allowed him to source pretty much anything for the right price. He became known around the area for his huge old pram, with which he transported his goods.
His other pastime was scouring the bomb sites from WWII for metals, bric-a-brac and treasure. He even found an old German gun, which he sold for untold riches. 
Unfortunately he was also a bit of a rogue and found himself in trouble on several occasions. I really felt for him when his mother punished him by confiscating some of his hard earned cash.

This is a wonderful reminder of a simpler time, when children roamed the streets for entertainment and neighbours kept an eye out for them. Set in Brixton, it also tells of the relocation of families into the new flats, with running water and heating, and the influx of coloured workers from the Commonwealth to drive the buses and tube trains.

My only criticism arose from the fact that I was listening to the audio version, read by the author - who is now in his seventies. I was aware of a disconnect between the narrative of a young boy and the reading by a much older man.