Love is Blind – William Boyd

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TITLE: LOVE IS BLIND

AUTHOR: WILLIAM BOYD

PUBLISHER: VIKING

ISBN: 978-0241295939

NO SPOILERS

 

Whilst always being aware of William Boyd and thinking I knew what type of writer he is, Love is Blind is the first novel of his which I have read. I had assumed (I have no idea why) he was similar to Graham Greene, a contemporary author writing intelligently, with insight and comment. I was not too far off the mark although for me Boyd does not match up, but who does? However, I did like this book…very much.

Set at the turn of the twentieth century, Love is Blind is the story of Brodie Moncur, an unassuming, dependable, loyal piano tuner/repairer/customizer whose skills take him on an improbable yet wholly believable journey. He falls for Lika, head over heels, utterly consumed by his love for her. I found her manipulative and self-serving but love is blind indeed.

Having expected Mr Greene (why?) it took me a couple of chapters to pick up on the rhythm of Boyd’s writing but once I did it flowed at just the right pace. It is not a page turner but I was willing the plot to go my way and was eager to reach each conclusion, of which there are many before the final end.

Written in thethird person, there is a great deal of detail, none of which is superfluous, all of which is fascinating. Boyd’s characterisation is well observed and non-judgemental, allowing the characters to judge each other and the reader to do likewise. It is very much a comment on the human condition, good and bad, love, loyalty, greed, envy, revenge, desire…it’s all there!

I would happily read more of Boyd’s novels, although there may always be other authors higher up my “To Be Read” list and there are so many books and so little time…

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

The Water Cure

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TITLE: THE WATER CURE

AUTHOR:  SOPHIE MACKINTOSH

PUBLISHER: PENGUIN

ISBN: 978-0-24198301-0

NO SPOILERS

 

The Water Cure is the debut novel of Sophie Mackintosh and has, at the time of my writing, been long listed for the 2018 Man Booker Prize, and deservedly so.

It is the story of…I don’t know. A sect? Refuge? Retreat? Cult? Fantasy? A failed utopia in a supposedly dystopian world? All of the above and then some…I think. I do not know what genre fits it…mystery mixed with philosophy perhaps. It is definitely the story of three sisters raised in isolation from the toxic outside world with rituals to protect, cleanse and heal. Anymore detail and I will spoil it for you.

Told in the voices of Grace, Lia and Sky (a device I especially love), it is written in the present tense, which I find always heightens the reader’s awareness of a character’s emotions and creates a sense of urgency. It also makes the reader feel involved.

This is not a quick “beach book” though I did read it quickly as I did not want to be away from it. The prose is beautiful, atmospheric with not a single word wasted. It is highly evocative; I held my breath at times to be silent.  Light, ethereal, ghostly yet oh, so dark and menacing. Beautiful yet violent. Calm yet seething.  Ms Mackintosh’s writing will hold you spellbound and leave you bereft, hopeful, defeated…just as the sisters felt. She is a skilled wordsmith indeed.

A small aside…after reading the book and then re-reading the publisher’s blurb I wondered if they had read the same book!

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

Don’t You Cry

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TITLE: DON’T YOU CRY

AUTHOR:  CASS GREEN

PUBLISHER: HARPER COLLINS

ISBN: 978-0-00-828721-4

NO SPOILERS

 

This book is not one I would usually choose to read, not being my preferred genre and the cover not appealing to me. However, I often want something quick, entertaining and not too taxing…a beach or plane book, the thread of which will not be lost when I summon the poolside waiter or flight attendant! Don’t You Cry by Cass Green certainly fits the bill and I did enjoy it.

The action begins early and the pace never slows. The Who, What and Why questions are there from the start and little by little the answers and back stories of Angel and Lucas are revealed.

Cass Green is no literary wordsmith, there are no passages to savour, no beautifully crafted phrases but the simply told plot moves at a good pace with plenty, and I mean PLENTY, of twists which kept me reading.

It is written in the present tense which I find always increases suspense and heightens emotions. Each very short chapter is written from a single point of view; I like this, especially as the main character Nina’s chapters are written in the first person. Strangely though, the break between chapters felt very much like breaks for advertisements on television…perhaps this has been written with that in mind or perhaps as an audio book?

Talking of television, something which annoyed me was that every character referred to it as “telly”. It’s a minor irritation, I know, but it seems wrong, as if it had been missed by the editor. Surely some of us use the full word or say TV? Likewise the sudden shifting of location in one scene.  In some parts the book reads like a not quite final draft.

All that said, I read this book in a day, not because I could not put it down, but because it is easy to read and yes, I did want to know the outcome.

If crime/thriller is your genre, then Don’t You Cry will give you a very good, no frills, fast moving tale but may not satisfy your literary cravings.

 

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

The Forgotten Guide to Happiness

 

37488835_267433683861123_7165325250228387840_nTHE FORGOTTEN GUIDE TO HAPPINESS – SOPHIE JENKINS

PUBLISHER: AVON/HARPER COLLINS    ISBN: 978-0-00-828180-9

NO SPOILERS

More than a book about a book but written as if writing a book. Trust me, that will make sense when you read this delightful, easy, entertaining book. It is predictable but nicely so. It is full of gentle humour and laughs at itself in a charming way. It is not literary nor “wordy” but is perfect for filling a few hours on a train or the beach, being easy to put down (for a loo/sandwich/selfie break) and pick up again without losing the thread. I would not seek out this author but I would be happy to find her books under my Christmas tree while someone else clears up the kitchen. And people, be more like Nancy, wear whatever hat you like!

 

My late father suffered with dementia so this book rang some loud bells. It does not explore the dark side of dementia but I thought the gentle humour was the perfect approach. Dementia is now a part of so many lives we have to learn to see the person who remains, not the person who has gone.

How Hard Can it Be?

39196672_453778388461750_6125263473136893952_nHOW HARD CAN IT BE – Allison Pearson

PUBLISHER: HARPER COLLINS    ISBN: 978-0-00-815055-6

NO SPOILERS

 

This is a very short review as for the first time ever, I am unable to find anything good in this book. Usually, even if a book is not to my taste it is still worthy of a fair review…but not this one!

I have never disliked a protagonist as much as I dislike Kate Reddy, a lady in crisis as she approaches fifty. There is no humour in this book, only a selfish. oblivious, self-pitying, mean whinger.

Ladies, at the age of 57 I can dance till dawn, 30 year olds flirt with me, I am not invisible and life has never been better, so let me assure you, in spite of what Ms Reddy says, hitting the five-o is wonderful.

Last Letter from Istanbul

IMG_6085LAST LETTER FROM INSTANBUL – Lucy Foley

PUBLISHER: HARPER COLLINS    ISBN:978-0-00-816907-7

NO SPOILERS

Last night over dinner, I found myself retelling small incidents and observations from this book to my husband, so clearly, in spite of my initial reservations and prejudged dislike, Last Letter from Istanbul has made an impression on me.

During the first world war, Istanbul is occupied by allied forces.  Nur, an Ottoman woman, has taken into her care an orphaned Armenian boy and when he becomes dangerously ill she takes him to the military hospital. The hospital is in her former family home, where George, an English doctor treats him for malaria.  And of course, as with all good tales they reluctantly fall in love…but their people are enemies.

That is enough plot outline as any more will become a spoiler but there is plenty in the back stories of the characters to provide more insight and interest.  It is a tale of gradual respect which grows to become a love that cannot be,  but is not a soppy romance.  It touches a little on the horrors of war and the damage caused to people and the reasons why the love affair is impossible.

The author’s writing style takes a little getting used to. A large amount of very short chapters, each from a specific character’s perspective, skipping back and forth in time and place.  A vast amount of incredibly short sentences, some only four or five words long and the most prolific use of the colon I have ever come across!  At times it reads like a play, with stage direction and the setting of scenes but once you overlook the awkward, erratic punctuation there are moments of absolute beauty and the use of the present tense is, as always, very evocative. Pomegranate sales will soar!

Why Lucy Foley chose this setting, this city in particular, I do not know. The book displays no personal affection nor knowledge of the city and its depiction lacks intimacy.  As a reader, I did not feel I was there and I did not feel any sense of shared experience.  I would have liked more journalistic detail about the culture and more about how the occupation impacted on the citizens on a personal level and the country as a whole; I like to learn as I read and this book did not tell me anything I did not already know…but then that would be a whole different book.  There is just enough here to make sense of the plot, and if that is all you seek, then this book will please and possibly delight you. There are a couple of “Heart in mouth”, “Hold your breath” and  “Quick, quick turn the page…” moments.

One big problem for me is the cover and the prejudice it elicited in me.  I would never normally pick up a book with such a jacket picture and had already decided I would not enjoy it and I think this clouded my opinion for the first half; I believe I looked for reasons to dislike it.  I did think, in these days of marketing genius, that we really can judge a book by its cover. I was wrong.

Whilst it is not a book I would have chosen for myself, I am glad to have read it. I love The Boy and the man he becomes in spite of or because of the situation. It is not the last letter which remains me but his last act.

A Grand Old Time

30710191_1657322387688059_6642599765773123584_oA GRAND OLD TIME – Judy Leigh

PUBLISHER:AVON/HARPER COLLINS    ISBN: 978-0-00-826919-7

NO SPOILERS

Since losing her husband, Jim, seventy-five year old Evie Gallagher has lived at Sheldon Lodge, a care home for the elderly. After a routine, excruciating visit from her son and his wife, she walks out, re-invents herself and rediscovers her joy for living, but then, because the tag line on the cover suggests this is “Brilliantly funny, emotional and uplifting!” you wouldn’t expect anything else, would you? So, whilst this is not my preferred genre, I was hoping for some humour, if not the laugh out loud type then at least a little chortle or two, perhaps some dry wit and, of course, a happy ending.

After a handful of chapters it occurred to me that this book is written in the style of a short story which one might read in a magazine in the dentist’s waiting room, something quick and easy, not too deep, just a little character insight and no author observation. It is simply a chronologically written story in the “then it was now” style. After a couple more chapters I read the blurb about the author, Judy Leigh, and discovered she has indeed written several stories for magazines and this is her first novel. So, as an easy going, not too taxing, extended magazine story to pack for a holiday, this will please many. You can pick it up and put it down between sips of something cool by the pool and never lose the thread. The chapters are short which always helps when needing a break to attract the waiter! (I also learnt she is a fellow vegan and will be looking up her vegan blog online.)

As much as possible, I try, always, to look at things from all points of view. Just because something is not to my taste, does not mean it’s not good and others will not love it. Wagner sets my teeth on edge but I do marvel at his skill and I know people who cannot get through the day without hearing his work. But for me, Judy Leigh is no Wagner and a grand old time I did not have.

I could never put together enough sentences to produce a novel which is why I don’t write and I admire anyone who has the patience to do so. But I do read so I feel I have some qualification in expressing an opinion and this book is just not for me. I found it dull and predictable, without enough humour or style to compensate. At the beginning of each chapter I knew exactly where it was leading. I can honestly say there was not a single surprise in the entire book. The improbability of the story (somehow it doesn’t seem complex enough to be a plot) was too ridiculous for me…not so much the getting from the start to the finish, but the “lucky that happened” moments on the way.

For some, as a feel good distraction it could work and if you do like this genre, don’t dismiss it. For me, I kept thinking I was wasting valuable reading time but as I say, not my preferred genre and it has not converted me.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

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ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE – Gail Honeyman

PUBLISHER: HARPER COLLINS    ISBN: 978-0-00-817214-5

NO SPOILERS

Eleanor Oliphant is not just completely fine…Eleanor Oliphant is completely absorbing.

A dependable office worker, reliable and mostly inconspicuous, Eleanor spends her evenings and weekends sticking to a strict diet of pasta and vodka, reading, listening to the radio…and taking a weekly telephone call from Mummy. And, of course, there is a dark secret and she is far from fine. But there is so much more to this book.

Eleanor is markedly lacking in social skills, taking everything at its literal meaning, which made me wonder why the rest of us tend not to and how much simpler life would be if we did. It is, after all, others who disrupt and complicate her routine. But through a burgeoning friendship at work and a misguided love she begins to acquire an understanding of and liking for human interaction. She approaches social occasions as projects to be researched, learnt and successfully accomplished, discovering as she does so that some aspects are actually enjoyable…try not to smile next time you hear The Village People. She slowly realises that there could be more to life than accounts payable, even for Eleanor, no matter what Mummy says and her acceptance that change is possible and empathy not beyond her, leads to…well, no spoilers here!

I generally like quite “high brow” reading, something which requires a good deal of thought but now and then I like an easier read, although I am usually put off because often, an easy read is too easy and too simply written. This is neither but nevertheless this is a brilliant, easy read.

Throughout the book the voice and language are Eleanor’s, the perception is Eleanor’s. All are a little quirky, pedantic and painfully precise, displaying a naïveté which I found charming and an awkwardness which is awkward only to others. The correctness of phrase, Eleanor’s own words, does not hamper the flow of reading, but presents her as the somewhat reserved, inhibited, faltering woman that she is when out of her familiar and regimented comfort zone. I liked the style but then I liked Eleanor, very much.

There are quite a few laugh out loud moments and many moments of gentle, often dark (though not to Eleanor) humour and many, many moments of pathos.

This book requires some thought and involvement and belief so will satisfy those who like to think as they read. It’s not soppy, it’s not florid and it’s not predictable. It is funny, it is moving and it will perhaps make you see others differently, especially those who don’t fit in so readily. Everybody has a story, we all have something not visible at first glance and we are all moulded by something which has gone before…but moulds can be broken.

This is Gail Honeyman’s first novel and for me, what makes it so great is not the plot, which frankly is nothing new, but her creation of Eleanor, who is so believable that I am convinced she is the real author. Whilst I look forward to the next book, it is really Eleanor’s voice I look forward to hearing again, such was my fascination with this unfortunate, likeable soul and such is my hope of once again sharing a cheese scone with her.

Into Thin Air

INTO THIN AIR – Jon Krakauer

I was sent this as a gift and after two recommendations I was expecting a “Boys’ Own” high action adventure (not my type of thing but I had promised to read it) but that’s not what it is at all. It wasn’t a riveting read from the disaster point of view but a well detailed account of the whole “Everest for paying guests” package, which was the original brief.

I was shocked at the poor health of many of the climbers and the lack of preparation. I thought to attempt a climb to the summit, even a guided, assisted climb, top health would be compulsory. I can’t help thinking lives were lost because people who were not fit to climb were on the mountain. And there were several small errors of judgement which led to big failures. (This all reminds me of Scott’s errors.) I’m no climbing expert but neither were many of the climbers…what on earth were they doing there?

I like the author’s style…not literary (not what I want for this kind of account) and not dumbed down (not what I want on any account!). Not a book I would normally pick up but it was a welcome easy change, much needed during the bad chemo days.

The Worst Journey in the World

THE WORST JOURNEY IN THE WORLD – Apsley Cherry-Garrard

So far I have read only Cherry-Garrard’s introduction to this but, oh my! I guess like many people I really only had a vague knowledge of Scott’s fatal South Pole trek, I had no idea about the disasters which befell the other parties on various scientific, natural history and depot laying journeys during the 1911  expedition. I know I’m going to enjoy reading this and look forward to posting more about it.

I am enjoying this though not finding as much time to read it as I would like. What would be useful is one map showing everything. I often lose track of who’s gone where and who’s left at which hut or camp and it takes looking at more than one map in more than one place in the book to get it straight in my head.

Mr Cherry-Garrard has now set off for Cape Crozier and the Emperor penguins. It still seems to me that no-one, not the men, the dogs nor the ponies were ever going to be fit enough to make it to the South Pole and back; and the supplies were woefully lacking and they all knew it. I get the impression Scott, knowing Amundsen was heading for the Pole was going for it no matter what. I may be doing him an injustice so I shall read a couple more people’s accounts then Ranulph Feinnes’ book, which praises Scott, then still be undecided…