Author Archives: JudyB

Love All by Elizabeth Jane Howard

Synopsis (taken from back of book):  The late 1960’s.  For Persephone Plover, the daughter of distant and constantly absent parents, the innocent, isolated days of her childhood are long past.  Now she must deal with the emotions of an adult world.

Meanwhile in Melton, in the West Country, Jack Curtis – a self made millionaire – has employed Persephone’s aunt, Florence, to deal with the gardens of the once beautiful local manor house, which he has acquired and renovated at vast expense.  He also has plans to start an arts festival – as a means to avoid the loneliness of the recently divorced.

Also in Melton are the Musgrove siblings, Thomas and Mary – whose parents originally owned and lived in Melton House – still trying to cope with the tragic emotional consequences of the death of Thomas’s wife, Celia . . . as is Francis, Celia’s brother, who has come to live with them and thereby, perhaps, to find his way through life.

Review:  On the whole I enjoyed this book but found that there were so many characters introduced in individual chapters that it became difficult to follow who was who.  However those characters that did stand out enough to be easily remembered provoked interest and empathy and certainly kept me reading on.  It’s a story that twists and turns and hints at one outcome before hinting at another, while also touching on many family and personal issues.

LibraryThing rating:  3½

Other books read by this writer:  None but may look out for others.

Review by JudyB

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Hitler and Mars Bars by Dianne Ascroft

This is the story of a young German boy who becomes part of Operation Shamrock which helped German children after the Second World War by moving them to foster families in other parts of Europe.  In Erich’s case he is moved to Ireland.  We follow his experiences from his life in Germany during the latter stages of the War and the consequent journey taken to Ireland.  Unable initially to communicate in English we are shown his sense of isolation, his longing to be returned to his mother and his adjustment to his new way of life.  Written from Erich’s point of view we are able to understand the difficulties he faces but can also share the good times.

I always enjoy a novel which teaches me something new and certainly until I read about this book I was unaware of Operation Shamrock – through other books like Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and The Book Thief we are able to gain the German perspective of issues relating to the Second War World – and it is refreshing to exposed to the ‘other side of the coin’.

This is a good and interesting read.

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Open-handed by Chris Binchy

Synopsis:  Five characters, one place – Dublin.  In a city all seem detached and part of their own worlds – three of the characters have had different starting points having arrived from eastern Europe.  Yet as the story unfolds connections are revealed.

Review:  I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this novel mainly because it was set ‘in a web of politics, property, sex and violence’ (taken from blurb on back cover) and because intially the characters were difficult to identify.  The narrative gave a sense of detachment and so initially there seemed to be little to hold my interest.  As I read on however I found myself caught up in their personal stories, found that I had characters I was particularly rooting for and by the end had found it a very satisfying read.  I would question whether it would make a good reading group choice.  However as a personal read it quietly draws you in.

LibraryThing rating:

Other books read by this writer: No, would possibly look out for others though.

Review by JudyB

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Corner Shop by Roopi Farooki

Synopsis:  There are only two tragedies in life. One is not getting your heart’s desire – and the other? Getting it. Fourteen-year-old Lucky Khalil is passionate about three things: football, Star Wars and Portia, the girl who works in his grandfather’s corner shop. In that order. While Lucky pursues his girl and his dreams of one day scoring for England, his mother Delphine, the woman who seems to have everything, fantasizes about rediscovering the freedom of her youth. But rekindling a relationship with her father-in-law Zaki is only going to end in disaster …And, as they move closer to their dreams, do they risk losing sight of what’s really important?

Review:  I loved this book it was a warm and wonderful read.  I enjoyed the differing viewpoints of the story of Lucky, Delphine and Zaki and the way the narrative moved between the past and the present to increase our understanding of the characters and also our empathy towards them.  It was a story about a boy growing up but also about adults learning about life too; this is particularly true of Zaki’s story.  I enjoyed Lucky’s story the most and he was the character I thought about most whenever I put the book down.  I shall be looking out for Roopa Farooki’s other novel Bitter Sweets on the strength of this excellent read.

LibraryThing rating: 4/5

Other books read by this writer:  None but I will look out for Bitter Sweets.

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La Bete Humaine by Emile Zola

“Did possessing and killing amount to thye same thing deep within the dark recesses of the human beast?”

Synopsis: La Bete Humaine (1890), the seventeenth novel in the Rougon-Macquart series, is one of Zola’s most violent and explicit works. On one level a tale of murder, passion and possession, it is also a compassionate study of individuals derailed by atavistic forces beyond their control. Zola powerfully evokes life at the end of the Second Empire in France, where society seemed to be hurtling into the future like the new locomotives and railways it was building. He constantly reminds us that under the veneer of technological progress there remains, always, the beast within.

Review: This is now one of my favourite novels of the Rougon-Macquart series. I found Zola’s use of imagery evocative and atmospheric – I would liken his visual style to that of Thomas Hardy’s. Zola has created some very strong and unforgetable scenes that recreate the era in which the railway network was expanding in France. ‘La Bete Humaine’ is very dark and shocking and the plot provides a compelling read.

LibraryThing rating (out of 5): 4.5

Other books I’ve read by this author:

The Dream 3
The Earth 3.5
The Masterpiece 4
Au Bonheur Des Dames 4
For a Night of Love 4
Pot Luck 4
Nana 2.5
L’Assommoir 5
Therese Raquin 5
Germinal 5

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The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Synopsis:  Nine year old Bruno knows nothing of the Final Solution and the Holocaust. He is oblivious to the appalling cruelties being inflicted on the people of Europe by his country. All he knows is that he has been moved from a comfortable home in Berlin to a house in a desolate area where there is nothing to do and no-one to play with. Until he meets Shmuel, a boy who lives a strange parallel existence on the other side of the adjoining wire fence and who, like the other people there, wears a uniform of striped pyjamas. Bruno’s friendship with Shmuel will take him from innocence to revelation. And in exploring what he is unwittingly a part of, he will inevitably become subsumed by the terrible process. (taken from Amazon).

Review:  A quick but mindlingering read. 

Although a children’s story it works well as an adult read.  The perspective of the main character Bruno is from his 9 year old eyes and for adults this contains irony and depth of meaning to his observations.  The fact that we can see the end coming does not detract from the book as the main point is that Bruno in his naivity does not and this makes it more horrific.  There is so much that he does not understand that through his observations the adult reader does understand – I love the way it works on those two levels while his words for ‘Fuhrer’ and ‘Auschwitz’ are pertinant mistakes.

LibraryThing rating:  4/5

Other books I’ve read by this writer:  None

Review by JudyB

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The Standing Pool by Adam Thorpe

Synopsis:  Two Cambridge academics, the historians Nick and Sarah Mallinson, take a sabbatical with their three small and lively girls in a remote Languedoc farmhouse. But the farmhouse has its own histories, rather more fraught than those the Mallinsons are used to dealing with on the page. Nick once wrote that ‘History is more about amnesia than memory.’ But what if that amnesia is a saving grace – disturbed at one’s peril, like the murk of a standing pool? As the illusion of Eden retreats, the couple feel the vulnerability of being among strangers, and being strangers themselves – even in their own place, and even to their own children.Sarah frets about the danger of the swimming pool and the nightly visits of the wild boar, while Nick is more concerned by the guns of the local hunters. Meanwhile, however, there is Jean-Luc, the gardener, living alone with his invalid mother in the village, whose private world involves hammering nails into a doll, collecting arcane rubbish, and spying on Sarah’s naked dips in the pool. What should the Mallinsons make of him? Writing, as always, with linguistic elan, an alert ear for dialogue, and huge imaginative flair, Adam Thorpe deftly interweaves social comedy with narrative suspense, returning us – brilliantly and inexorably – to the dark and terrifying mysteries that feed at the heart of this thrilling novel.

Review:  Throughout this story there is a sense of menace that left me wondering how and where it was all going to end  At times the writer lost me particularly in some of the ‘academic exchanges’ but what I enjoyed was the way the really ‘nice’ Mallinson family were juxtaposed with the creepy handyman Jean Luc – it is this contrast, with the suggestion of something horrible about to happen, that kept me reading.  I spent the whole of the book wondering exactly how dark things would become and it is only at the end that this is answered.  On the whole a good read but at times I got bored with Nick Mallinson and the Mallinson children were unbelieveably precocious.

LibaryThing rating:  3½/5

Other books read by this writer:  None, but have twice attempted Ulverton (I got bogged down at the same point) I will give it a third try sometime.

Review by JudyB

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Worldwide Adventures in Love by Louise Wener

Synopsis:

“Edith’s house interested us from the beginning”

Mysterious and inviting, Jessie and Margaret are drawn to their reclusive

neighbour’s house. It offers an escape from the dreary summer of 1977 and

their fragile family life, into a world they can only dream about. When the house

suddenly burns down at the same time as their mother moves out to live with

her new boyfriend, and their father develops an unhealthy crush on a woman in

their street, life seems bleak for the girls.
 
Escaping the claustrophobia of family life isn’t easy, until the story of an

eccentric and beautiful female explorer from the 1930s unfolds in a series of

letters. In these letters she tells stories of far-flung places, secrets, doomed love

and adventure.  Her determination to live life to the full, risking everything cares

about, holds untold consequences for all of them.

Review:

A wonderful, wonderful book

This is the tale of a teenage girl growing up in the 70’s who is dealing with all

that that brings plus the break up of her parent’s marriage.  It is a brilliant and

perceptive portrayal of family life and also the difficulties of growing up. 

Alongside this is the story – told through letters – of a young female explorer in

the 1930’s.  At times the two lives parallel each other.  I love the way the two

stories are woven together – Louise Wener’s writing flows from one story to the

other.  I was totally engrossed and consumed by this book and consequently it

was a quick, yet thought provoking read.

LibraryThing rating: 4 ½ / 5

Other books I’ve read written by this writer:  None but will be reading more.

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What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn

Synopsis:
A lost little girl with her notebook and toy monkey appears on the CCTV screens of the Green Oaks shopping centre, evoking memories of junior detective, Kate Meaney, missing for 20 years. Kurt, a security guard with a sleep disorder and Lisa, a disenchanted deputy manager at Your Music, follow her through the centre’s endless corridors – welcome relief from the behaviour of customers, colleagues and the Green Oaks mystery shopper. But as this after-hours friendship grows in intensity, it brings new loss and new longing to light.

Review:
Sad, bleak yet compelling – a must read!

I loved this book and was completely drawn to it yet at the same time it is a sad and bleak book about consumerist Britain. It is a compelling and perceptive read, and the element of mystery within it keeps the reader reading to the end. Catherine O’Flynn is an astute writer who has created very real characters that are easy to identify with – her observations of 21st century society are acute and at times made me laugh out loud while at other times feel a sense of loss and sadness. Her language style is to the point and the differing perspectives create a picture of the many different worlds connected by the shopping centre. There are a number of main characters in this but each one seems so isolated and although there is very little emotion in her writing it serves to create warmth and empathy towards them – I wanted to know their fate – and it’s certainly a good example of less is more. A wonderful read although the image of ‘the gluesniffers’ will remain with me for a long time afterwards.

LibraryThing rating: 5/5

Other books written by this writer:
What Was Lost is a debut novel – I look forward to reading future books.

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The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris

 

Synopsis: 

Seeking refuge and anonymity in the cobbled streets of Montmartre, Yanne and her daughters, Rosette and Annie, live peacefully, if not happily, above their little chocolate shop. Nothing unusual marks them out; no red sachets hang by the door. The wind has stopped – at least for a while. Then into their lives blows Zozie de l’Alba, the lady with the lollipop shoes, and everything begins to change….
But this new friendship is not what it seems. Ruthless, devious and seductive, Zozie de l’Alba has plans of her own – plans that will shake their world to pieces. And with everything she loves at stake, Yanne must face a difficult choice; to flee, as she has done so many times before, or to confront her most dangerous enemy…..Herself. (taken from lovereading website)

Review:

Strangely addictive

This took me a while to get into but once hooked I was swept into a timeless and magical world in which references to 21st century technologies and socio-political issues feel like an intrusion and yet at the same time keep the story grounded and compelling. Joanne Harris writes with poignancy about the human condition but this is related within the almost fantasy setting of the chocolate shop in which the imagery is so evocative that all senses are affected – particularly the sense of taste – I defy anyone reading this book not to reach for a truffle or hot chocolate. The world outside contains cold psychological truths and the chocolate shop with it’s wonderful scents and colours becomes a refuge from this. As customers are drawn to the Chocolatierie I am constantly drawn to this wonderful, mouth-watering story.

Days after reading it I can still taste it!

4/5

Other books I’ve read by same writer:

Sleep Pale Sister 3.5 /5

I will be looking out for other books by Joanne Harris

 

Review by JudyB

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