Suncatcher – Romesh Gunesekera

suncatcher

TITLE: SUNCATCHER

AUTHOR:  ROMESH GUNESEKERA

PUBLISHER: BLOOMSBURY

ISBN-10: 1526610418

ISBN-13: 978-1526610416

PUBLICATION DATE: 28.11.19

 

NO SPOILERS

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION:

  1. Ceylon is on the brink of change. But Kairo is at a loose end. School is closed, the government is in disarray, the press is under threat and the religious right are flexing their muscles. Kairo’s hard-working mother blows off steam at her cha-cha-cha classes; his Trotskyite father grumbles over the state of the nation between his secret flutters on horseraces in faraway England. All Kairo wants to do is hide in his room and flick over second-hand westerns and superhero comics, or escape on his bicycle and daydream.

Then he meets the magnetic teenage Jay, and his whole world is turned inside out.

A budding naturalist and a born rebel, Jay keeps fish and traps birds for an aviary he is building in the garden of his grand home. The adults in Jay’s life have no say in what he does or where he goes: he holds his beautiful, fragile mother in contempt, and his wealthy father seems fuelled by anger. But his Uncle Elvin, suave and worldly, is his encourager. As Jay guides him from the realm of make believe into one of hunting-guns and fast cars and introduces him to a girl – Niromi – Kairo begins to understand the price of privilege and embarks on a journey of devastating consequence.

This is the first book written by Romesh Gunesekera which I have read and I am pretty certain I will be reading more, if not all.

I enjoy books set in a different culture from my own so the blurb for this appealed to me, although coming of age novels are usually “not my thing”…but this book is very much my thing.

“One day you’re just playing in the sand, and then suddenly everything looks so different”

In 1964 Ceylon, a time of great change for the country and its people, Kairo meets Jay, an older boy who he sees a worldly, bold, all he hopes to become. He sees a way of living very different from his own, some aspects of which he is in awe, some which he finds disturbing.

Written in the first person from Kairo’s perspective, it is not full of tedious teenage angst and bewilderment but without sentimentality, Gunesekera gently and relentlessly tells the story (and what a wonderful story teller he is!) of Kairo’s transformation over six months from boy to young man; his near infatuation with Jay, the small jealousies, perceived betrayals, excitements, growing awareness all develop through utterly believable events.

The characters are very clear, very individual and while Gunesekera describes them a little, their actions and words, they way they are treated by others, tell us all and more we need to know about them. The author’s/Kairo’s style is easy to read but not simple; there is beautiful prose in places and quick fire dialogue in others. There is not one superfluous word, and every word is precisely the right word. Can you tell I rather like this chap? If literary contemporary fiction, intelligent yet relaxed writing is what you seek, then seek no further.

A recurring observation is how the past reaches far into the future. “The future feeds on the past”…something perhaps we all should bear in mind.

Thank you to NetGalley and Bloomsbury for the Advanced Reader Copy of the book, which I have voluntarily reviewed.

The Stray Cats of Homs – Eva Nour

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TITLE: THE STRAY CATS OF HOMS

AUTHOR:  EVA NOUR

PUBLISHER: DOUBLE 9RANDOM HOUSE0

ISBN-10: 0857526758

ISBN-13: 978-0857526755

PUBLICATION DATE: 21.1.20

NO SPOILERS

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION:

Sami’s childhood is much like any other – an innocent blend of family and school, of friends and relations and pets (including stray cats and dogs, and the turtle he keeps on the roof).

But growing up in one of the largest cities in Syria, with his country at war with itself, means that nothing is really normal. And Sami’s hopes for a better future are ripped away when he is conscripted into the military and forced to train as a map maker.

Sami may be shielded from the worst horrors of the war, but it will still be impossible to avoid his own nightmare…

Inspired by extraordinary true events, The Stray Cats of Homs is the story of a young man who will do anything to keep the dream of home alive, even in the face of unimaginable devastation. Tender, wild and unbearably raw, it is a novel which will stay with you forever.

This book, based on true experience and gives a very factual account of life during the siege of Homs and the harrowing experiences of Sami and his family and friends. It’s powerful stuff but it told me nothing I don’t already know; perhaps I am unusual in that but I had hoped this would give me a more personal account, something a little more human.

Nour is a journalist and to me this book reads like a newspaper feature. There are moments of beautiful writing which cause a pause for reflection but I found the style too impersonal…until the final two chapters. It is then we are told more of the emotional toll with some philosophical musings. I think I gleaned more from these two chapters than all the rest of the book.

Nour says she drew inspiration from Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner) but I’m afraid I saw no evidence of this.

Now, having said all this, some of you will love it. Some of you will appreciate the no nonsense style.

What I must say is for the last few nights I have hardly slept because of my dog has been unwell and  this book has reminded me that really, a few night’s poor sleep is nothing…

Thank you to NetGalley and Doubleday for the Advanced Reader Copy of the book, which I have voluntarily reviewed.

Plant-Based Meal Prep

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TITLE: VEGAN YACK ATTACK’S PLANT-BASED MEAL PREP

AUTHOR:  JACKIE SOBON

PUBLISHER: FAIR WINDS PRESS

ISBN-10: 1592339077

ISBN-13: 978-152339075

PUBLICATION DATE: 7.1.20

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION:

If you’ve always loved the idea of meal prepping, but never felt ready to begin, you’ve come to the right place. Vegan Yack Attack’s Plant-Based Meal Prep takes the guesswork out of meal planning and sets you up with simple, make-ahead recipes that keep your fridge full and yourschedule free.

As I pondered the concept of this cookery book, I realised that should I want or need to fill my refrigerator with five day’s worth of what are effectively ready meals, albeit healthy, nutritious and frankly, delicious, I would have no idea how to go about it. Now, I’m a confident and competent cook but fifteen meals is a lot of cooking in one day! So this is where Vegan Yack Attack’s Plant-Based Meal Prep comes in handy. Also, there is more to this book than the prepping menus.

The first couple of chapters follow the usual recipe book formula, one selling the benefits, one listing store cupboard essentials, another listing basic equipment. I like these chapters as they make me feel a little smug when I can tick off most of the items.

From then on, Sobon presents a selection of weekly menus, categorised by ease, number of ingredients, time, free froms etc. There is a shopping list and prepping guidelines. Each week’s menu features breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks and full details on how to prep all of them in one session. You will end up with five identical breakfasts, five identical lunches and five identical dinners but I guess this is the only option if the whole convenience thing is to work.

However, there are mix and match menus and also stand alone recipes and having followed  a plant-based diet for over forty years, I can honestly say that some of these are absolutely scrumptious. Of course, there is no need to cook enough for five, so I reduced the quantities just to try some, although the Smoky Sweet Potato Soup is so good it’s worth making enough for ten!

I love the photographs and I understand that Sobon is an accomplished food photographer. I wonder if she could make my soup look as good as hers…

Thank you to NetGalley and Fine Wind Press for the Advanced Reader Copy of the book, which I have voluntarily reviewed.

Meatless Monday…

Meatless

TITLE: THE MEATLESS MONDAY FAMILY COOKBOOK

AUTHOR:  JENN SEBESTYEN

PUBLISHER: FAIR WINDS PRESS

ISBN-10: 1592339050

ISBN-13: 978-152339051

PUBLICATION DATE: 9.11.19

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION:

The Meatless Monday Family Cookbook features more than 100 delicious, plant-based, kid-approved recipes perfect for busy weeknights, or whenever you feel like trying out a meat-free meal. From filling Lentil Bolognese with Spaghetti to Tex-Mex Stuffed Peppers and Smoky BBQ Burgers, these meals will satisfy even the pickiest of palates. And most can be made in 30 minutes or less!

Chapters cover all types of meals, from Bountiful Bowls (perfect for lunch or dinner), to One-Pot Wonders, to everyone’s favorite—Breakfast for Dinner. You’ll also find great tips for getting the kids involved … which has a funny way of making them enjoy the meal even more.

I have followed a plant-based diet for over forty years so am always interested when a new book is published which may encourage and help others to do the same.

Meatless Mondays begins with the usual introductions about the benefits, essential store cupboard ingredients and utensils. These are the chapters which tend to make me feel a little chuffed as I tick of the items I have. But then there is a section on how to involve children, how to get them to change eating habits and it’s all good advice, well put.

As this book is aimed at those switching to plant-based, the recipes themselves are basic and simple to prepare and are indeed ideal starter meals. I would, though, have liked a handful of more adventurous dishes. Not every recipe has a photograph which I think is a shame.

Overall, a good starting place for plant-based eating, which will be a hit with those who follow Sebestyn’s blog but I’m not sure will catch the eye of many. Of course, I could be totally wrong…

Thank you to NetGalley and Fine Wind Press for the Advanced Reader Copy of the book, which I have voluntarily reviewed.

A Thousand Moons – Sebastian Barry

thousandMoons

TITLE: A THOUSAND MOONS

AUTHOR: SEBASTIAN BARRY

PUBLISHER: VIKING (FABER)

ISBN-10: 0735223106

IBN-13: 978-0735223103

PUBLICATION DATE: 21.4.20
NO SPOILERS

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION:

Even when you come out of bloodshed and disaster in the end you have got to learn to live. Winona is a young Lakota orphan adopted by former soldiers Thomas McNulty and John Cole. Living with Thomas and John on the farm they work in 1870s Tennessee, she is educated and loved, forging a life for herself beyond the violence and dispossession of her past. But the fragile harmony of her unlikely family unit, in the aftermath of the Civil War, is so on threatened by a further traumatic event, one which Winona struggles to confront, let alone understand. Told in Sebastian Barry’s gorgeous, lyrical prose, A Thousand Moons is a powerful, moving study of one woman’s journey, of her determination to write her own future, and of the enduring human capacity for love.

Once again, an author I have not read before but I am aware Sebastian Barry has won awards and is the current Laureate for Irish Fiction, so my expectations were high. Now, I know awards are subjective and one person’s winning author can be another person’s “avoid at all costs” author so I began reading The Thousand Moons with an open mind.

“What does it mean when another people judge you to be worth so little you were only to be killed?”

This is a tale set in the aftermath of the American civil war and exposes the everyday prejudice and injustice which was commonplace in the life of Winona, whose people, the Lakota, have been massacred during the war. Her understanding and stoic acceptance of the way Native Americans and freed slaves are treated makes her seem a timid, compliant girl, but her response to a violent incident shows her to be determined, steadfast and afraid of nothing.  Perhaps if we have little to lose, losing the little we have holds no fear.

This is a beautiful book narrated by Winona. Through her words A Thousand Moons tells how love for another human being and more importantly, being loved, can empower and save.

“That I had souls that loved me and hearts that watched over me was a truth self-evident to hold.”

It is a story told with pathos and humanity set in a time of great inhumanity. Barry’s writing is moving, using Winona’s unorthodox style of speaking and choice of words to great effect. It is poetic, lyrical, at times brutal though never coarse, but always with a sense of honesty and openness. The language and descriptions portray a personal connection to all things around her; the trees, the animals, the people, a knife, a rifle…

The wisdom in this book is everything. I loved it, every word of it.

 

“What makes a criminal of a man is just one thing. Choosing, choosing, to do the wrong thing. See the right thing, but choose the wrong.” Something to bear in mind always.

I shall be reading more of Mr Barry.

Thank you to NetGalley and Viking for the Advanced Reader Copy of the book, which I have voluntarily reviewed.

 

Overdrawn – N J Crosskey

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TITLE: OVERDRAWN

AUTHOR: N J CROSSKEY

PUBLISHER: LEGEND PRESS

ISBN: 9781789550214

 

NO SPOILERS

Publisher’s description:

Henry Morris is watching his wife slip away from him. In an ageist society, where euthanasia is encouraged as a patriotic act, dementia is no longer tolerated.

Kaitlyn, a young waitress, is desperate for the funds to keep her brother’s life support machine switched on.

 When a chance encounter brings the two together, they embark on an unconventional business arrangement that will force them to confront their prejudices, as well as their deepest, darkest secrets.

I enjoy dystopian fiction and from the description of Overdrawn I expected a mildly dystopian novel. As I began to read, I realised this dystopia was not going to be mild yet the book never really gets there; it is alluded to but not expanded on, which for me, was a disappointment. However, disappointment in a story can often be overlooked if there is skill in the telling.

Now, normally if I do not enjoy a book, I can at least appreciate it and I am aware there are many others who will love it. I understand an author has given much of their time and honed their craft for the benefit of their readers and I respect this. But I am sorry to have to say I cannot find anything to appreciate in this book. The language is very simple, which, of course, is not always a bad thing but in this case, for me, it needed to be morecomplex to compensate for the tediously predictable plot. The insertion of backstories and explanations was awkward and clunky. The thoughts of characters, their personal wranglings and realisations were clumsy. Descriptions often felt like afterthoughts added to reach a word count. There is also some very uncomfortable grammar.

I felt Crosskey could have made more of the new society, the new rules and the wider impact. This book focuses on a very small group, really just two characters, their situations, their clumsily written thoughts and the slow dawning of their realities; painfully slow. The circumstances of the story could be the basis for a wonderful book but this story could have been set in any era or society and it feels like a waste of a good idea.

Having said all that, I am not sure who the intended audience is. The language and style are suited to young teen (though some of the subject matter may not be) so perhaps that audience it is not me…actually, it is definitely not me!

Thank you to NetGalley and Legend Press for the Advanced Reader Copy of the book, which I have voluntarily reviewed.

 

The Binding – Bridget Collins

TheBinding

TITLE: THE BINDING

AUTHOR: BRIDGET COLLINS

PUBLISHER: THE BOROUGH PRESS

ISBN: 978-0008272111

 
NO SPOILERS

The description of this book appealed to me and the cover struck me as beautiful so I was pleased to beable to review it. However, after some time I marked it as Will Not Give Feedback but then realised my given reasons for this were valid as the basis of a brief review; so here it is!

The Binding completely failed to hold my interest but I knew others were enjoying it so I persevered. Now, reading should be a joy, whether entertaining or informing, engaging or disturbing and to me, this was simply irritating and reluctantly I decided, I should abandon it. It is rare for me not to finish a book intended for review and unheard of not to write that review and now I have made amends.

I can only say it proved to be a genre and style which I do not enjoy, though I am sure others will find it spellbinding. And how lovely that we all have different tastes and preferences; if we didn’t, how would we find new favourites?

Thank you to NetGalley and Harper Collins for the Advanced Reader Copy of the book, which I have voluntarily reviewed.

 

The Man Who Saw Everything – Deborah Levy

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TITLE: THE MAN WHO SAW EVERYTHING

AUTHOR: DEBORAH LEVY

PUBLISHER: HAMISH HAMILTON

ISBN: 978-0241268025

Selected for the Booker Prize 2019 Long List at time of review.

NO SPOILERS

“It’s like this, Saul Adler:” is a beautiful though slightly vain historian who travels to East Germany just before the fall of the Berlin Wall for research purposes, maybe…

Narrated by Saul, within the first few pages there are incongruities, anachronisms and impossible insights which do raise suspicions and certainly pique one’s curiosity. He is clearly going to be an unreliable narrator but why? There is some depiction of life in GDR, which I had thought was going to be the point of the book, but I was not disappointed to find it was merely the setting, albeit an important one.

The story is presented in two parts, 28 years apart, with the latter giving the explanation, (more or less, but which?) for Saul’s unreliability, although with still enough lack of confirmation to make this a very thought provoking read.

Levy’s/Saul’s style is gentle, full of pathos, rhythmic and lulling. It is an easy, quick read which means reading it twice is not a chore and in my opinion, highly recommended. I found the second reading absolutely fascinating once I had the knowledge of the first reading. With that knowledge, the small, seemingly insignificant observations become proof of Levy’s skill. No fireworks, no action but a perfect example of how the sympathies of the reader change when we have more of the picture, when we are able to see everything.

One thing though; vegans do not eat honey…just saying!

Thank you to NetGalley and Hamish Hamilton for the Advanced Reader Copy of the book, which I have voluntarily reviewed.

 

Target: Alex Cross – James Patterson

target

TITLE: TARGET: ALEX CROSS

AUTHOR:  JAMES PATTERSON

PUBLISHER: CENTURY

ISBN: 978-1780895178

 

Target: Alex Cross tells of a series of co-ordinated, daring assassinations which lead to unprecedented political events in America. Alex Cross is part of the team trying to identify and stop those who are responsible. Unfortunately, I did not care who was behind the assassinations and I wasn’t bothered who was next on the list.

I know James Patterson is a very popular author and I know Alex Cross is a very popular character, both on paper and in film, so I was happy and eager to read this; apparently it is the 26th Alex Cross novel, so it must be good. But I’m sorry Century, this just did not grab me in any way though I don’t doubt others will be gripped.

The writing is not wordy nor crafted but the story is told in a simple “this, then this, then that and then this” way, which I know some readers love. However, it is not trashy, nor is it poorly written but for me, it felt like a list of events and even seeing Morgan Freeman in my mind’s eye didn’t help.

There was a side plot which seemed to be leading somewhere slowly but when it did conclude it was irrelevant and disappointing. There was an interesting character introduced who then left and of whom no more was heard. I’m not sure why she appeared, unless it helped with the word count but I would not have thought such a prolific author would need to do this; perhaps she’ll reappear in a later novel.

But, but, but…this is only my opinion, albeit an honest one. The genre is not one I lean towards but I know many of you do and many of you will probably wonder how I did not love it. We all have different tastes which allows many divers authors a readership and bookstores full of books for everyone.

I think the fault with Target is simply that it is not my preferred genre and it did not convert me.

Thank you to NetGalley and Century for the Advanced Reader Copy of the book, which I have voluntarily reviewed.

 

Eggshells – Catriona Lally

Eggshells

TITLE: EGGSHELLS

AUTHOR:  CATRIONA LALLY

PUBLISHER: HARPER COLLINS

ISBN: 978-0008324407

NO SPOILERS

 

In 2018 Eggshells by Catriona Lally won The Rooney Prize; a prize for Irish writers under the age of 40, writing in Irish or English. I’m not familiar with the prize and have no idea of the shortlist but Eggshells would get my vote regardless.

Socially inept Vivian, who has an almost estranged sister also named Vivian (yep!), lives in the house of her late aunt. Her parents are both dead but not missed. She spends her days trying to do as little harm as possible and trying to be like other people. But she is not like other people; she is a changeling and frequently searches for the portal which will take her back to fairy land. Yet this is not a frivolous fairy tale and she, of course, not a changeling.

Who Vivian is, is someone who sees the world differently from the accepted norm and her observations and insight will make you see things from a different perspective, too; sometimes, a better perspective. She is obsessed with lists (butterfly names, plants, old cities, favourite food, conversation topics) and the visual aspect of speech. If her name is shortened, she prefers to “hear” VIV or viv, because it is symmetrical. Such quirks certainly made me think about words as more than a means of communication but an entity in their own right.

Vivian’s attempt at a dinner party, her attempts at conversation, her frequent bus journeys, befriending mice and one particular taxi ride had me questioning how we perceive those who do not conform and had me laughing, often out loud.

Eggshells is a quick, very entertaining and fairly easy read but it is also a complex comment on how difficult life can be for some and the ways they find to cope.  It is funny, it is sad, it is rather brilliant.

And why doesn’t Penelope rhyme with antelope?

Thank you to NetGalley and Harper Collins for the Advanced Reader Copy of the book, which I have voluntarily reviewed.