Author Archives: happyanddandy

About happyanddandy

40 something living in NW London UK. I work as a Practice Nurse and have a husband, 2 teenagers,1 dog and 2 cats at home. Never without a book or some knitting. Favourite writers are Anne Tyler, Barbara Trapido and Monica Dickens among others. Looking forward to reviewing here.

Train to Trieste by Domnica Radulescu

Blurb from Amazon;

An incandescent love story—a thrilling debut novel—that moves from Romania to America, from the Carpathian Mountains to Chicago, from totalitarianism to freedom, and from passionate infatuation to profound understanding.

In the summer of 1977, seventeen-year-old Mona Manoliu falls in love with Mihai, a mysterious, green-eyed boy who lives in Brasov, the romantic mountain city where she spends her summers. She can think of nothing, and no one, else. But life under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu is difficult. Hunger and paranoia infect everyone; fear, too. And one day, Mona sees Mihai wearing the black leather jacket favored by the secret police. Could he be one of them?

As food shortages worsen, as more and more of her loved ones disappear in “accidents,” Mona comes to understand that she must leave Romania. She escapes in secret—narrowly avoiding the police—through Yugoslavia to Italy, and then to Chicago, a city she calls “fit for my hunger.” But she leaves without saying a final good-bye to Mihai. And though she struggles to bury her longing for the past—she becomes a doctoral student, marries, has children—she finds herself compelled to return to her country, determined to learn the truth about her one great love.

Seductive, suspenseful, intensely evocative, and told in an astonishingly original, poetic voice, Train to Trieste is a force of language and emotion, as acutely observed as it is impossible to put down.

This is a story of young love during the time just before the Romanian revolution and the toppling off Nicolae Ceausescu’s oppressive regime. Our main character and narrator is Mona Manoliu who lives with her parents in Bucharest. Her parents especially her father, resist the political regime in an atmosphere of fear in the community generated by the underhand activities of the secret police. Mona has a passionate affair with Mihai Simionu whom she can never be quite sure is not a member of the secret police. As their living conditions become intolerable Mona is assisted to leave Romania and start a new life in mid west America without telling Mihai. Some twenty years later she returns to her homeland to find out what happened to her first love.

I plodded through this book hoping it would get better for me and it did but only a by a little. It is a very good story and I am somewhat perplexed as to why I did not enjoy it more. I wonder if it was the over use of flowery descriptive writing. Or was it that I didn’t feel anything for Mona? I am still not sure. The ending is abrupt with a somewhat unfinished feel and therefore disappointing. Towards the end of the book Mona finds out that her now deceased father wrote a diary or manuscript during the years of the oppressive Romanian regime and she sets out to discover what happened to it. This new twist in the story then seems to fade away without conclusion.

In summary, I think the most enjoyable thing about the book was finding out about Romania, its culture and people and I could recommend it for that fact alone. I also think the book would make a fantastic film with a strong story set in two continents.

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Obsession by John Conway

Blurb from the back of the book;

The title says it all. Doug Morrell: parcel delivery driver, loner, social inadequate, serial stalker and ultimate fantasist; is a man obsessed  – with himself, fame, reality TV, and Z-list ‘celebrity’ Donna Trayhorn. He also has a point to prove to those who bullied him st school and mocked him at work for being a misfit. Once his first best seller is out, it will be his turn to lord it over them.

Thus Doug takes us on his amazing, often hilarious but disturbing journey in a double pursuit of the fame and adulation he craves – and Donna. But whether he finally acheives his ambitions is anyone’s guess – as reality and fantasy become increasingly hard to separate.

The character of Doug Morrell immediately reminded me of an actor in Please Sir! For those of us old enough to remember, there was a pupil called Frankie Abbott who was portrayed as a mummy’s boy but was an ineffectual lad and fantasist frequently getting out his pair of revolvers to shoot the enemies and making the vocal noisies to go with it. There is also an element of Walter Mitty  here. Morrell is seriously annoying in this book being so self centred and deeply irritating although redeemingly intelligent. He is the man at a party in the kitchen dressed in a brown polo neck with his long hair strands swept across the bald pate whose conversation leaves you so perplexed so that you back away slowly.

The story of Doug is narrated entirely by himself throughout the book. Doug is obsessed with the reality TV programme Voyeur (read Big Brother) and Donna Trayhorn one of it’s early evictees. He eventually goes too far in his pursuit of her and gets himself in hot water with the police. At this point, some of the extent of his delusions are revealed to the reader and I begin to feel a little bit sorry for our man. In reality Doug would have been passed over to some form of mental health service here, however this doesn’t happen in the book. Doug is socially isolated throughout and seemingly happy that way, he continually rebuffs Matt, a fellow van driver who appears to be offering some kind of friendship to him. Doug lives half the time in a fantasy life as a brave hero saving Donna and defeating his enemies. He also has a delightful habit of stealing pens from people and sees it as a form of revenge or punishment, this is quite funny at times.

Ultimately Doug gets what he wishes for and for a while he seems to stop fantasising although he is in a reality TV setting which of course is somewhat unreal. Very clever stuff by the author here. Seemingly he is taken advantage of by his Voyeur management team  but finally he ends up with his one true love and that is all Doug wants.

Initially I did not think I was going to enjoy this book. I thought it was a lad’s read, however I changed my mind completely and I really did like it. It was different, quirky and well put together. It’s well written and the author is obviously a watcher of reality TV like myself and well versed in the nuances of the show!! It’s a book of our time as reality TV viewers.

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Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford

Blurb from Amazon;

In one of the wittiest novels of them all, Nancy Mitford casts a finely gauged net to capture perfectly the foibles and fancies of the English upper class. Set in the privileged world of the county house party and the London season, the story of coldly beautiful Polly Hampton and her aristocratic parents is a comedy of English manners between the wars by one of the most individual, beguiling and creative users of the language.

I received this book from Penguin Books to review as a summer read. I thoroughly enjoyed it to my surprise. The story is set in the 1920-30’s and is narrated by young Fanny who commentates for us on the lives and times of the very rich and wealthy.
Central to the story is Polly the daughter of Lord and Lady Montdore who are main characters in themselves. They dote on their daughter and arrange an amazing social life for her in London and their main home of Hampton.
The book revolves mainly around gossip, how you look, how mainy jewels you can show off and how well you can marry. Sonia Montdore has a vicious tongue and dictates who is in socially and who is out. The lives of the women come across as stultifyingly dull however the gossip is really good and keeps you reading.
Later in the story we are introduced to another main character called Cedric Hampton who is quite divinely camp. He reminded me of Graham Norton. He captivates all those that he meets, is very sociable with a sharp wit. He and Sonia Montdore become inseparable as he replaces Polly in her affections. Excellent little book

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Seesaw by Deborah Moggach

Blurb from the back of the book;

Take an ordinary, well-off family like the Prices. Watch what happens when one Sunday seventeen-year old Hannah disappears without a trace. See how the family rallies when a ransome note demands half a million pounds for Hannah,s safe return.

But it’s when Hannah comes home that the story really begins.

Now observe what happens to a family when they lose their house, their status, all their wealth. Note how they disintegrate under the pressures of guilt and poverty and are forced to confront their true selves.

And wait to hear about Hannah, who has the most shocking surprise in store of all.

I have read Deborah Moggach in the long distant past and watched some of her TV work too so this book caught my eye in the second hand shop. I really enjoyed reading this book made better for me as I am familiar with the location of Stanmore and some of the other places in the book.
The story is about a wealthy and successful family whose eldest daughter is kidnapped and ransomed for money. The personal and financial repercussions are devastating but it is the detailed characters and their responses to their circumstances which hold the readers attention. In a bizzare turn of events by the end of the book I was rooting for Hannah and one of her kidnappers Jon to end up together and live happily ever after! Great writing and a thoroughly good read.

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No Time For Goodbye by Linwood Barclay

Blurb from Amazon;

On the morning she will never forget, suburban teenager Cynthia Archer awakes with a nasty hangover and a feeling she is going to have an even nastier confrontation with her mom and dad. But when she leaves her bedroom, she discovers the house is empty, with no sign of her parents or younger brother Todd. In the blink of an eye, without any explanation, her family has simply disappeared. Twenty-five years later Cynthia is still haunted by unanswered questions. Were her family murdered? If so, why was she spared? And if they’re alive, why did they abandon her in such a cruel way? Now married with a daughter of her own, Cynthia fears that her new family will be taken from her just as her first one was. And so she agrees to take part in a TV documentary revisiting the case, in the hope that somebody somewhere will remember something – or even that her father, mother or brother might finally reach out to her… Then a letter arrives which makes no sense and yet chills Cynthia to the core. And soon she begins to realise that stirring up the past could be the worst mistake she has ever made…

I purchased this novel in response to Book Club Forum  member recommendations. I wasn’t disappointed. I haven’t read a book so rapidly for a long time. From the start this mystery book is pacy but full of detail. You are quickly drawn into liking Cynthia and her family and wondering along with them what on earth happened to her family? The plot is revealed piecemeal and as a reader who continually tries to work out the ending of books, I found myself still baffled even though more than half way through which in turn drove me on to read late into the night to find out what occurred. All in all excellent to read and I would highly recommend this to anyone. Not an intellectual read but an attention grabber with a thoroughly worked on plot leaving no scrappy endings.

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Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris

Blurb from the back of the book;

They spend their days – and too many of their nights – at work. Away from friends and family, they share a stretch of stained carpet with a group of strangers they call colleagues.

There’s Chris Yop, who is clinging to his ergonomic chair; Lynn Mason, the boss, whose breast cancer everyone pretends not to talk about; Carl Garbedian, secretly taking someone else’s medication; Marcia Dwyer, whose hair is stuck in the eighties; and Benny, who’s just – well just Benny. Amidst the boredom, redundancies, water-cooler moments, meetings, flirtations and pure rage, life is happening, to their great surprise, all around them.

Then We Came to the End is about sitting all morning next to someone you cross the road to avoid at lunch. It’s the story of your life, and mine.

Interesting and unusual book written as though you are part of an office crowd, except for a small part in the middle. I recognised the office politics and the range of characters who could be found in any work setting. The book is tinged with stress and sadness and the impact on the individals as lay offs underpin everything. My favourite character is Benny Shassburger who is the master of well told stories and likes an audience. A very well crafted book both humorous and poignantly sad which I thoroughly enjoyed.

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At a Loss for Words – A Post Romatic Novel by Diane Schoemperlen

Blurb from the back of the book;

 

She wasn’t looking for love. As a successful writer with an established career, a comfortable home and a supportive group of friends, her life was full. But then thirty years after he broke her heart the first time, he walked back into her life. Spurred on by the idyll of a first love made good, they reconnect through emails. But, strangely, love has left her with a nasty case of writer’s block. She gathers all her strength to fight against the knowledge that love cannot be sustained on language alone. But truth and fiction can be one and the same in matters of the heart – and the writer always makes sure to get the last word.

At a Loss for Words builds the minutiae of everyday life into a profound understanding of women, men, love and imagination.

This book is a simple story of a writer who is suffering from writer’s block as a consequence of an all encompassing love affair. It is written in a mildly accusatory tone as though the author is talking directly to her lover in the dock of a court trial. A lot of the dialogue begin with the words ‘You said…’ or ‘I said…’ The book takes you through the romantic relationship from the beginning to the end. It is characterised by very few actual meetings and mostly emails. The writer is driven mad by the lack of emotional involvement by her man and it is this that causes her writer’s block.

Initially I was drawn in to this long distance relationship but as the book went on I became mildly irritated by the woman’s intensity in the face of her lover’s disinterest (unless it suited him of course). She bombards him with obsessive email and phone calls about her overpowering love for him and this is where reading the book becomes a little tedious. There are only so many words for emotional heart wringing and they are all used here. I did enjoy the author’s flow of words and the piecemeal revelation of small bites of information and I would definitely look out for more work from Diane Schoemperlen

 

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Second Chance – Jane Green

Blurb from the back cover;

Holly Macintosh is sitting round her kitchen table  with her oldest friends – friends she hasn’t seen since school – now reunited by an unexpected tragedy and catching up on the past twenty years.

On the surface, they are all successful and happy. But scratch a little deeper after that extra glass of wine and it’s not quite so straightforward: Paul and Anna are struggling to have a baby, Saffron the actress is still waiting for that really big break that – at thirty-nine is looking less  and less likely, and Olivia, always the wallflower of the group, is newly single and mourning her lost love.

And what about Holly Mac? Can she and her husband Marcus get their marriage back on track for the sake of the children? Or has someone just come back into her life who will change everything forever?

I really wanted to like this book because I have so enjoyed others by Jane Green. Her books are Chick-Lit genre but usually a good engrossing, entertaining read. Unfortunately I just could not get to like the main characters in Second Chance. There are plenty of them, Holly being the main one but all are covered in some depth. They are all linked by the death of an almost mythically saint like male school friend whom they haven’t seen for twenty years but are all devastated by, especially Holly Mac who was the closest to him. I think this is the crux of the problem for me, that we are supposed to believe that the main characters are so deeply affected by this tragic death. It came across as a bit contrived and implausible. However it is a good ploy to bring them all back together and explore what has happened to them all. It just felt as though I had come across these predictable characters before in other books and I couldn’t identify with them and maybe that is just saying something about me. Maybe I just need to stop reading Chick-Lit for a while.

It’s a great beach read keeping your attention just enough to want to carry on reading to the end. Hopefully better to come from Jane Green.

 

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The Ingenious Edgar Jones by Elizabeth Garner

Blurb from Amazon;

In nineteenth-century Oxford, an extraordinary child is born – Edgar Jones, a porter’s son with a magical talent. Though his father cannot see beyond his academic slowness, his abilities as a metalworker and designer are quickly noticed, and become a source of tension within the family. When Edgar comes to the attention of a maverick professor at work on a museum of the natural sciences, Edgar is at once plucked from obscurity and plunged into the heart of a debate which threatens to tear apart the university. Edgar’s position is a dangerous one – will he be able to control the rebellious spirit that fires his inventiveness, but threatens to ruin him, and to break up his family once and for all?

A delightful read. Almost an elongated fairy tale. It could almost be prefaced by ‘Once upon a time, a long time ago…..’ The author gives us unusually gifted Edgar and his parents living in Oxford. His father is a strict and god fearing man trying to do his best for his son but not succeeding. Edgar, young, impulsive, and misunderstood gets embroiled with the creative use of decorative iron and other inventions. The Oxford University professor who uses his talents for his own ends also ultimately fails Edgar. Edgar is unfailingly resilient however much the odds are stacked against him. The ending is quirky and made me smile. Possibly leaving room for a sequel?
Garner has a flowing, heavily descriptive style. It keeps you engrossed. Delightful escapism in a modern novel and one to be recommended.

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Friday Nights – Joanna Trollope

Blurb from the inside flap;

It’s Eleanor who starts the Friday nights. From her window she sees two young women, with small children, separate, struggling and plainly lonely – and decides to ask them in, and see what happens. What happens is that a group gradually forms, a group of six different and disparate women, who become a circle of friends. They range in age from Jules, who is twenty-two and wants to be a DJ, to Eleanor herself, who is a retired professional and walks with a stick. They include one wife, three mothers, three singletons and five working women. They all of them, variously, value Friday nights. And then one of them meets a man – an enigmatic significant man – and the whole dynamic changes. The bonds that have been so closely forged are tested – and some of them break.

As per usual with Joanna Trollope’s books, they encourage me to read in great big chunks. I immerse myself into the book and don’t come out until it’s all finished in a way that I don’t with other books.
This book is not as good as say ‘Other People’s Children’ but I have enjoyed it nevertheless. There is lots of detail and history of the main characters and a story that ebbs and flows gently just enought to make you want to find out what happens in the end.
The next one should be a corker!

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