A Long Petal of the Sea – Isabel Allende

longpetal

TITLE: A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA

AUTHOR:  ISABEL ALLENDE

TRANSLATORS: NICK CAISTER & AMANDA HOPKINSON

PUBLISHER: BLOOMSBURY

ISBN-10: 1526615908

ISBN-13: 978-1526615909

PUBLICATION DATE: 21.1.20

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION:

“That September 2, 1939, the day of the Spanish exiles’ splendid arrival in Chile, the Second World War broke out in Europe.”

Victor Dalmau is a young doctor when he is caught up in the Spanish Civil War, a tragedy that leaves his life – and the fate of his country – forever changed. Together with his sister-in-law, the pianist Roser Bruguera, he is forced out of his beloved Barcelona and into exile.

When opportunity to seek refuge in Chile arises, they take it, boarding a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda to the promised ‘long petal of sea and wine and snow’ over the seas. There, they find themselves enmeshed in a rich web of characters who come together in love and tragedy over the course of four generations, destined to witness the battle between freedom and repression as it plays out across the world.

A masterful work of historical fiction about hope, exile and belonging, A Long Petal of the Sea is Isabel Allende at the height of her powers.”

NO SPOILERS

I am aware of Isabel Allende’s success and popularity but this is the first of her books which I have read. The publisher’s blurb appealed to me as I do enjoy reading about real events from the perspective of those who are not the instigators. The story told here is a formidable tale but for me the telling was dull.

As I read A Long Petal of the Sea, I remarked to my husband that it felt like a text book or a newspaper feature. I half seriously suggested Allende must have been a journalist…Google confirmed this.

The book is full of facts, crammed with facts, overflowing with facts about the Spanish Civil  war, the turmoil in Chile and the second world war. Allende’s research is vast and thorough and to me, it seemed this took precedence over the human story. It is written clearly, easy to understand but in my opinion, lacks warmth and involvement. One thing, though, it reinforces how lucky I am to live in a time and place where I have never had to suffer as the exiles and refugees did, even though “otherism” is as rife now as it ever was.

In the acknowledgements, Allende writes: “This book wrote itself, as if it has been dictated to me.” Yes, it reads as if it has been dictated! Whilst I did not enjoy the style, nor really the story, I know there are readers who will love this.

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

 

Hashim & Family – Shahnaz Ahsan

hashim

TITLE: HASHIM AND FAMILY

AUTHOR:  SHAHNAZ AHSAN

PUBLISHER: JOHN MURRAY PRESS

ISBN-10: 147366523X

ISBN-13: 978-1473665231

PUBLICATION DATE: 2.4.20

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION:

It is New Year’s Eve, 1960. Hashim has left behind his homeland and his bride, Munira, to seek his fortune in England. His cousin and only friend, Rofikul, introduces Hashim to life in Manchester – including Rofikul’s girlfriend, Helen. When Munira arrives, the group must learn what it is to be a family.

Over the next twenty years, they make their way in the new country – putting down roots and building a home. But when war breaks out in East Pakistan, the struggle for liberation and the emergence of Bangladesh raises questions about identity, belonging and loyalty.

Hashim & Family is a story of family ties, of migration and of a connection to home, and is the debut of an extraordinary new talent.”

NO SPOILERS

Hashim and Family is not an in-depth, insightful study of the difficulties encountered by immigrants when beginning a new life somewhere unknown – the casual and organised racism, the fear of getting it wrong, of making a mark but being inconspicuous. It is simply the tale of Hashim, who came to Britain in 1961, and the following twenty years. The difficulties faced are written about, as they were, and sadly still are, a part of everyday life, but we are given little insight into the feelings of those involved and I found there to be little empathy for the characters. But this is not “that” book and is by no means the poorer for it.

It is not wordy or crafted but is a quick, easy and enjoyable read. A concise family saga with ups and downs, tears and laughter.

As the daughter of a white English mother and an Asian/Caribbean father, who came this country a few years before this story begins, I was looking forward to reading Ahsan’s debut novel. I did feel, however, that the tales told seemed detached, as if told by a friend of a friend of a friend. Perhaps I am too close to the subject matter to be objective.

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

The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle

lavelle

TITLE: THE INTOXICATING MR LAVELLE

AUTHOR:  NEIL BLACKMORE

PUBLISHER: RANDOM HOUSE/CORNERSTONE

ISBN-13: 978-1786332028

PUBLICATION DATE: 30.4.20

 

 

PUBLISHER’S DESCRIPTION:

‘Your brother takes me for a barbarian, Mr Bowen. But I assure you, I’m quite well trained.’

When Benjamin and Edgar Bowen embark on a Grand Tour of Europe, they are ready to meet People of Quality. They have trunks full of powdered silver wigs and matching suits, a hunger to experience the architectural wonders of Ancient Rome and an ability to quote Voltaire (at length). They will make connections and establish themselves in high society, just as their mother has planned.

But it soon becomes apparent that their outfits are not quite the right shade of grey, their smiles are too ready, their appreciation of the arts ridiculous. Class, they learn, is not something that can be studied.

Benjamin’s true education begins when he meets Horace Lavelle. Beautiful, charismatic, seductive, Lavelle delights in skewering the pretensions and prejudices of their milieu. He consumes Benjamin’s every thought.

Love can transform a person. Can it save them?

NO SPOILERS

“Social conformity is a fever that men are only too eager to catch, no matter if it kills them.”

Blimey! Where do I begin? What a beautifully written book, Blackmore’s use of language is exquisite and very fitting for the era in which this novel is set. It is not florid (I dislike florid), but effortlessly crafted.

About a third of the way in, I had to put this book aside for a few weeks; not because I disliked it or struggled with it but life intervened. Yet I have to confess I thought of it frequently; like Benjamin, the intoxicating Mr Lavelle was ever on my mind.

I was drawn in instantly; within a few pages I knew all I needed to know about the brothers without a clunky, incongruous back story. All the characters are presented in only as much detail as is necessary, so some more than others; this keeps the pace moving and the interest piqued.

This is not historical fiction, this is social observation; it could be set in any time and still be relevant. Historic fact is included only when needed for enhancement or ridicule. Readers expecting a journal of a Grand Tour will be disappointed; readers hoping for a well crafted, wordy, at times poetic novel will not be.

Some readers will find this book offensive…and there’s the irony. It is prejudice, bigotry and intolerance which are the protagonist (antagonists, really) of this tale. That is where all fault lies; not with Lavelle, not Benjamin, not with his mother but with those who will not accept people as they are. Sadly, little changes in this world.

This is not a spoiler but if a little more was left to the imagination then this beautifully written book and its important message could reach a wider audience. That this may cause some to not read it is my only criticism.

“What possessed you?” I asked him eventually.
“I despise hypocrites more than any other…”
“I thought you despised everyone equally…”

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

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

stray

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

yack

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.