Author Archives: ruth72

About ruth72

I read. A lot.

Micka by Frances Kay

Micka is a 10 year old boy, who has a hard life to say the least.  His mother can’t be bothered with looking after him, and takes no interest in his education, his father is nowhere to be seen, and at least one of his two older brothers is frequently in prison and physically abuses Micka when he’s at home.

He soon becomes friends with Laurie, a new boy at his school.  Laurie may come from a better background, but his parents are splitting up, and while his mother behaves irrationally, his father is emotionally distant.

Laurie has a vivid imagination, and dreams of cruelty and magic, and as Micka is pulled into his world, the lines between fact and fiction become blurred until both boys find themselves on a seemingly inevitable course towards a horrifying conclusion…

This book was amazingly well written.  It is narrated by Micka and Laurie in turn; in the proof copy I read, each narrator is distinguished by a different font.  However, the difference between the language which the two boys used also distinguished them from each other.

It is certainly a disturbing book to read, which was expected as the book was apparently informed by the Mary Bell and Jamie Bulger cases.  Before we even get to the troubling ending of the story, there are descriptions of physical abuse in the home and cruelty to animals.  However, one of the hardest parts to stomach was the reasoning behind the boys’ actions.

I thought the characterisation of the two boys was excellent.  Micka seemed like an innocent child stranded in a violent world, whereas Laurie was by far the colder and more calculating of the two.

Overall, this is a quick read, but certainly one that will linger in the memory.  Highly recommended – but perhaps not for readers of a nervous disposition.

 

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The One I Love by Anna McPartlin

Jane Moore and Alexandra Walsh were best friends, but then Jane got pregnant when she was 17 and as her world became consumed by looking after her child, they drifted apart.

Seventeen years later, Jane learns that Alexandra has suddenly gone missing.  She teams up with her Alexandra’s heartbroken husband Tom, her own sister Elle, and their new friend Leslie in order to try and find her old friend.  Along the way, each of them learns their own lessons about life, love and family…

I enjoyed this book.  I do think that the cover and title give the impression that it might be a light and fluffy ‘chicklit’ read, and while it’s true that this is an easy read definitely aimed at the female market, the subjects of loss, grief and love run through the heart of the story.  Within the first few pages, the reader was introduced to several characters in different time periods, and I did wonder if things might get a bit confusing, but they didn’t at all, and the story then continued in chronological order.

All of the characters are well drawn, as are more peripheral characters such as Jane’s son Kurt, her mother Rose, and Kurt’s father Dominic.  My favourite character was definitely Leslie – a brittle woman who had deliberately isolated herself from others, but found herself letting people into her life.

Jane was by far the most level headed of all characters, although she had her own demons to deal with.  I found it difficult to initially warm to Elle, as she seemed selfish and brazen, but her particular story did develop well.

The story is told in the third person and we see events from the points of view of Jane, Elle, Leslie and Tom in turn.  Although they are brought together by the search for Alexandra, the book focuses on the twists and turns happening in their own lives.

This is very readable, and while it’s not the kind of book I would pick up every day, I did enjoy it.  Recommended to fans of chicklit and women’s fiction.

 

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A Tiny Bit Marvellous by Dawn French

Meet the Battles: Mo, the mother is fast approaching 50 and feels grey inside and out.  The sparkle has gone out of her life and out of herself, and even though she’s a trained child psychologist, she doesn’t seem to understand her own children.

Dora is nearly 18, and is struggling to juggle her friends, her boyfriend woes, her dreams of becoming a pop star and her addiction to Facebook.

Peter is 16 and insists on being called Oscar, after his hero Oscar Wilde.  He is very intelligent, if perhaps slightly delusional and is about to develop a crush on a most unsuitable candidate.

Even the poor dog Poo has landed in a sticky situation – pregnant by an unknown suitor!

The story is narrated by these three characters, who also make references to their husband/father who’s always in the background trying to hold everything together.

The family are all living in their own worlds, and they’re lurching slowly from one crisis to the next one, and at some point things are going to collide…

Earlier this year I read Dawn French’s autobiograph of sorts (‘Dear Fatty’), which I enjoyed but found difficult to initially get into.  I had no such difficulties with this book, which captured my attention from the beginning.  It’s alternated in turn by Mo, Dora and Peter/Oscar, and the three voices are very distinct.  However, I did think that Dora’s character in particular was very much a stereotype (although this did not stop me warming to her as the story progressed).

The book is essentially a comedy, and while it did not make me laugh out loud, it certainly made me giggle and smile a lot.  However, in amongst the comedy, there were some touching moments.  Oscar, who seems so self-obssessed for much of the story, proves that he can be caring and thoughtful.  And it’s not long before the combative and stroppy Dora is soon revealed to be lacking in self confidence and uncertain about her future.  However, I did find some of her segments slightly jarring (because she like, overused like the word ‘like’ constantly), due to the exaggerated teenage language.

The husband, who for the most part is only known to the reader through the words of his family easily comes across as the most sympathetic member of the family, closely followed by Mo’s mother Pamela, who is also only known to the reader through the words of the family.

My favourite parts were those narrated by the fabulously intelligent Oscar, who has clear delusions of grandeur.  While it would have been easy to dismiss him as ego-centric and self absorbed, he showed moments of genuine tenderness and thoughtfulness.  He loves to talk in the style of Oscar Wilde, and his observations and remarks were often acidly funny.

Overall, while some parts of the book were slightly cliched and predictable, there was plenty to enjoy in this book, and I would recommend it.

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War On The Margins by Libby Cone

This rather lovely book, which weaves fact and fiction, tells the story of the inhabitants of Jersey during World War II, and in particular, the Jewish people living on the island.

As people are forced to register as Jewish and find themselves subjected to all the hatred of the Nazi regime, some people try to flee for their life, many go into hiding (often in the cellars of non-Jewish friends, who risk their own lives by helping them).  Many are deported, and many perish.

The book tells the story of many of the inhabitants, but focuses mainly on Marlene Zimmer, a young girl with a Jewish father, who tries to outrun the authorities.  She is taken in by two of the other main characters, Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore (the aliases of Lucille Schwob and Suzanne Malherbe, step-sisters and lovers.  The three women aid the Resistance, picking up scraps of news on their forbidden wirelesses, passing information to other citizens, and encouraging German soldiers to desert.  Also featuring prominently in the story is Peter, a Polish Jew who finds himself transported from one prison to another.

The official documents in this novel are real, as are the love letters which Suzanne and Lucille write to each other.  This mixture of real life and fiction underlines the horrors of war in Jersey.  The book is told in clean and direct language, but it is very evocative and I found myself feeling very moved.  Some of the measures taken against Jews were difficult to imagine – not being able to have or profit from their own businesses, not being able to go into shops or theatres, and only being allowed to go shopping between 3pm – 4pm.  (Sadly, we know only too well that these were nowhere near the worst atrocities visited upon them.)

As well as the main characters, the stories of more peripheral characters are also told, which made for a fuller picture of life in Jersey as a whole, rather than just a handful of residents.

Overall, this is a book I would highly recommend.  Eloquent writing and a subject that lingers in the mind make this an excellent telling of an important story.

 

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The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

22nd June 1941.  This is the date that life for Tatiana Metanova, a young girl living in Leningrad, will change forever.  First, it is the day that Hitler invades Russia, and second, it is the day that Tatiana meets Alexander Belov, a soldier in the Red Army.  There is an instant and very strong attraction between Tatiana and Alexander, but circumstances conspire to keep them apart.  She quickly finds out that Alexander is the new boyfriend of her sister Dasha, and has to choose between her own happiness and that of her beloved sister.  Meanwhile, as the war continues, the living conditions in Leningrad become dreadful, and Tatiana sees people dying all around her, from starvation, illness and bombing.

And still, she and Alexander cannot let go of each other emotionally.  Will they ever find a way to be together – and will either of them survive the war?

Paullina Simons is one of my very favourite authors, seemingly always able to create books which I can’t put down, filled with very realistic and believable characters.  I felt the same way about this book, although I felt it was very different in style to such books of hers as Tully and The Girl In Times Square.

Tatiana was a great heroine.  Although the book is told in the third person, I think that we got to see things predominantly from her point of view, and therefore she was probably the easiest character to sympathise with.  She was feisty but vulnerable, and showed remarkable reserves of strength and courage.

I felt more ambivalent towards Alexander and at times actually disliked him.  Although he and Tatiana had this incredible love, he sometimes treated her less than gallantly, and came across as a spoilt young man.  However, his basic decency also came through and made me root for him.

The most fascinating and interesting part of the book for me was the description of war torn Leningrad.  To read about the tiny rations people had to live on – just a tiny amount of bread often mixed with sawdust or cardboard to pad it out – was harrowing, and it was all too believable.  Electricity was lost, and there was no clean water.  People would attack each other for their meagre rations, or someone would be blown apart from a bomb while waiting in line for their food.  The depictions of such conditions were vivid and distressing, yet utterly compelling.

The book was not perfect – at times it did lapse into slushy, sugary dialogue and I thought I had accidentally stumbled upon a Mills and Boon novel, and there was much handwringing and agonising between the main two characters.  But despite this, it won me round.  I found the book hard to put down, and was genuinely interested to see how the story wound up.

It is the first book in a trilogy, and I will certainly be reading the following two books.  It’s not my favourite book by this author, but certainly one that I’m glad I read.  Recommended.

 

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American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

The main character (and the narrator) of this book is Alice Lindgren, who is loosely based on Laura Bush, wife of former President George W. Bush.  When Alice is growing up in Riley, Wisconsin, with her loving parents and unconventional grandmother, she never imagines that she will end up married to the future President.

When she meets Charlie Blackwell – a man who seems politically, idealogically and socially poles apart from her – they do indeed fall in love and their enduring marriage has both blissfully happy times and desperately sad times.  When Charlie eventually becomes President, she realises that when she disagrees with his policies, she may have to compromise her own beliefs to be seen as loyal to her husband; or she may have to publicly appear to betray her husband, and she is not sure which is worse.

I approached this book with some trepidation, as I was not sure I would enjoy it.  However, I found it to be a gripping read.  The narration by Alice is clean and quiet – she comes across as a thoroughly decent woman, if not always somebody who it would be easy to warm to (especially in the earlier parts of the book), who is conflicted between following her own beliefs, and her loyalty and love for her husband.  Her life is overshadowed by an early tragedy – when she was 17, she was involved in car crash which killed a classmate and the event casts a shadow over her future life and happiness.

Charlie Blackwell – clearly based on George Bush – is portrayed as loud, gregarious, charismatic and a man who gets where he is more due to the talents of others, than any talents or skills of his own.  I was left with the impression of a rather vacuous man, who probably would have been happier in his role as part owner of a baseball team, than he could be in the White House – and a man who ended up in a position which was far beyond his capabilities (in another reflection of real life).

Although the last part of the book deals with Blackwell’s presidency – and just like in real life, the terrorist attacks of 2001 are mentioned, and the resulting war that many Americans believed to be immoral and/or illegal, as well as the controversy surrounding the votes in Florida that led many to question the legitimacy of his presidency – the main bulk of the book focuses more on the marriage, with it’s various highs and lows.

The two main characters are incredibly well drawn and brought to life, and are utterly believable (possibly because they are based on real people, although it should be underlined that many of the events in the book are fictitious).  The differences between Alice and Charlie are clear, but so is the love between them, and it is possible to see why she loves him (although I personally have never been a fan of George Bush).

The writing flows beautifully and I really felt able to lose myself in the story.  I was sorry to reach the end of the book, and will definitely seek out more work by this author.

Highly recommended.

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Can’t Wait To Get To Heaven by Fannie Flagg

Elderly but very spritely Elner Shimfissle is trying to pick some figs when she disturbs a wasps nest and takes a nasty fall.  She is taken to hosital in critical condition, but suddenly finds herself enjoying the adventure of a lifetime, seeing all sorts of wonderful sights and meeting all kinds of amazing people.  Meantime, her family and friends in the small community where she lives in Elmwood Springs, Missouri, reflect on the influence that Elner has had on them, and how she has touched all of their lives. 

This is the first Fannie Flagg book I’ve ever read, and I did really enjoy it.  It is populated with quirky and slightly eccentric characters, not least Elner herself, but it paints a picture of a loving and close community who all pull together when one of their own needs them.  There was a lot of subtle humour in the book, which made me giggle, rather than obvious jokes.  It also made me think about the difference that one person can make in the lives of others, without even properly realising it.

All of the characters are well drawn, and as the book progresses, I did feel that I got to know them all very well, and for the most part they were easy to like.  Elner was a wonderful main character – despite the fact that she is very elderly, she has refused to give up on life, and is definitely young at heart, getting up to all sorts of antics which cause great concern for her over anxious niece Norma.

I can imagine that for some people, this book might be a bit too ‘twee’ and cosy, and it’s not the kind of book I would want to read all the time.  But for curling up with on a lazy afternoon when you want a feel-good read, it’s just about perfect.  I would mention that there were a couple of editing mistakes – one character refers to something about which it is earlier stated that she knows nothing, and a couple of times a character will hear a snippet of news and then pass it immediately to another character, but embellished with facts which they weren’t originally made aware of.  However, this did not detract from the enjoyment of the book. 

Overall, a very enjoyable read, and it definitely made me want to read more by this author.

Elderly but very spritely Elner Shimfissle is trying to pick some figs when she disturbs a wasps nest and takes a nasty fall.  She is taken to hosital in critical condition, but suddenly finds herself enjoying the adventure of a lifetime, seeing all sorts of wonderful sights and meeting all kinds of amazing people.  Meantime, her family and friends in the small community where she lives in Elmwood Springs, Missouri, reflect on the influence that Elner has had on them, and how she has touched all of their lives. 

This is the first Fannie Flagg book I’ve ever read, and I did really enjoy it.  It is populated with quirky and slightly eccentric characters, not least Elner herself, but it paints a picture of a loving and close community who all pull together when one of their own needs them.  There was a lot of subtle humour in the book, which made me giggle, rather than obvious jokes.  It also made me think about the difference that one person can make in the lives of others, without even properly realising it.

All of the characters are well drawn, and as the book progresses, I did feel that I got to know them all very well, and for the most part they were easy to like.  Elner was a wonderful main character – despite the fact that she is very elderly, she has refused to give up on life, and is definitely young at heart, getting up to all sorts of antics which cause great concern for her over anxious niece Norma.

I can imagine that for some people, this book might be a bit too ‘twee’ and cosy, and it’s not the kind of book I would want to read all the time.  But for curling up with on a lazy afternoon when you want a feel-good read, it’s just about perfect.  I would mention that there were a couple of editing mistakes – one character refers to something about which it is earlier stated that she knows nothing, and a couple of times a character will hear a snippet of news and then pass it immediately to another character, but embellished with facts which they weren’t originally made aware of.  However, this did not detract from the enjoyment of the book. 

Overall, a very enjoyable read, and it definitely made me want to read more by this author.

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A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

I’m not really sure how to write this review…this is an absolutely wonderful book, and I really want to try and do it justice.

Set in Mumbai in the 1970s when India has been declared in a State of Emergency by the Prime Minister Indira Ghandi, it tells the story of four people who are brought together, and the effect that the relationships between them have on their lives.  Dina Dalal is a widow, fiercely independent and determined to support herself, rather than rely on her brother’s financial help, or get remarried.

Ishvar and Omprakash (Om) are tailors from a low caste, who seek work in Mumbai and find themselves working for Dina.

Maneck is a young man, brought up in a loving family in the mountains, who comes to the city to attend college and needs a room to rent.

All of them are from very different backgrounds, but are thrown together as they try to make lives for themselves during what is a very difficult period in India.

The first half of the book centres on the histories of the characters and tells how they came to find themselves in their respective situations.  The second half concentrates more on the bond between the four of them, and the trials that they face as individuals and as a group.

There is also much in the book about life in India at the time, and how difficult it was for so many citizens.

I adored this book.  Each character was so beautifully drawn that I felt that I really knew them, and I certainly came to care very much about them.  The descriptions of some of the horrors that took place were gut wrenching and very distressing to read about – all the more so, because I was aware that such things really did happen.  It certainly made me realise how lucky I am to have the freedoms and privileges that most of the time we all take for granted.  This is a tale of a population which has been failed by it’s government – and when the rulers of a land can’t abide by their own rules, how can anyone else be expected to?  I could only read with trepidation as some of the characters seemed to be drawn along a road that could only lead to heartache.

There are a number of other characters who are relatively minor, but all of whom were fleshed out and were entirely believable.

The writing was beautiful – so eloquent, but also very accessible.  The location and time were really brought to life.

At no point did I get bored – I just wanted to read on and learn more about the lives of these fascinating people, and the ending when it came, took my breath away.

This is a wonderfully written, warm and absorbing read – very highly recommended indeed.  (Don’t be put off by the length – you may well wish it was even longer!)

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After You by Julie Buxbaum

When Ellie Lerner hears that her lifelong friend Lucy has been murdered, she leaves her husband and job in America behind, to fly to London and look after Lucy’s 8 year old daughter, Sophie, who witnessed the murder.  Sophie has stopped speaking to anybody, and her father Greg is falling apart.  As Ellie learns more about Lucy’s life and the secrets she kept, she realises that she did not know her friend as well as she thought she did.  And Ellie also has to face the fact that her own marriage is in trouble – she and her husband Phillip have been steadily growing apart since Ellie suffered a miscarriage two years earlier.

This is a very readable book.  The writing flows beautifully and keeps the story moving along at a decent pace.  All of the characters were well drawn and entirely believable, especially that of Sophie, a bright and sparky 8 year old who finds herself thrust into an unimaginable nightmare.  Ellie demonstrates the healing power of reading, in encouraging Sophie to read Ellie’s own favourite book, The Secret Garden, with her.  While the story of The Secret Garden itself is not explored in any great depth, the effect that it had on Sophie is explored, and I particularly enjoyed these parts.

The book is narrated by Ellie, and she is a likeable main character, although at times I did feel like shaking her in frustration, especially when she seemed to be dallying over what she should do about certain situations, when (to the reader at least), it appeared to be perfectly obvious!  However, her flaws only made her all the more easy to believe and invest in.

There were a number of subplots, including those of Ellie’s brother and her parents.  While these were not relevant to the main thread of the story, they were enjoyable – I particularly warmed to Ellie’s mother – and did not make the story feel cluttered.  Ironically the one character I did not particularly like was that of Lucy.  Although only spoken of in past tense, she came across as selfish and very self-centred.

Overall however, this was a very enjoyable read, which beautifully captured different stages of grief, love, pain and redemption.  I would particularly recommend it to fans of Jodi Picoult or Diane Chamberlain, and will certainly be looking out for more books by Julie Buxbaum.

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Bone by Bone by Bone by Tony Johnston

This novel is told through the eyes of David Church, a young boy (the novel covers four years, from when he is 9 to when he is 13), living in Tennessee in the 1950s.  David makes friends with a boy called Malcolm – but David is white and Malcolm is black, and it is a dangerous place and time for a white boy and a black boy to be friends. David’s father tells him that if Malcolm ever sets foot inside their house, he will shoot him.  His father expects David to obey him, but David finds himself questioning his father’s beliefs, and the events that he sees going on around him.

Set in a Southern state in the 1950s, and narrated by a child, comparisons with To Kill a Mockingbird are inevitable.  I personally don’t believe that this book is as good as TKAM (which is one of my all time favourite books) – but it is certainly a good read, aimed at younger readers.  Hopefully it would open up the subject for discussion.

As it is narrated by a child, a certain naivety is to be expected, and certain events are therefore somewhat simplified.  However, the book very ably portrays David’s distaste (and later disgust) with his father’s views.  The writing flows easily and the story moves on at a rapid pace, and I felt that the author did a good job of getting into the mindset of a young boy.

I did feel that Malcolm was not really explored as a person, although he is one of the main characters.  I would also like to have seen more of David’s Uncle Lucas, who does not share the father’s racist views; Lucas was one of the better fleshed out characters, despite being on the periphery of the story.  The one character who was most fully rounded was probably that of Franklin Church – David’s father.

The Ku Klux Klan also appear in the book, and indeed a couple of the scenes filled me with a genuine sense of unease.  There are a couple of genuinely upsetting parts of the story, which might be worth bearing in mind for younger readers.  Overall though, I would certainly recommend this book – as mentioned earlier, it’s aimed at young adults, but I think it’s a worthwhile read for adults of all ages.

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