Posts Tagged With: family

Drawn by Chris Ledbetter

drawn by chris ledbetterTitle: Drawn
Author: Chris Ledbetter
ASIN: B00UGRG8SK
ISBN: 978-1772333763
Publisher: Evernight Teen
First Published: 5 June 2015 (Kindle) / 3 June 2015 (paperback)
No .of pages: 282

Rating: 4/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Caught between the sweltering fall landscape of Wilmington, NC beaches and southern illusions and expectations, all sixteen year-old Cameron Shade thinks about is art. That, and for Farrah Spangled to view him as more than just a friend. Cameron hopes he can win her heart through art. After several warm interactions with Farrah, including painting together at the beach, Cameron discovers just how complex Farrah’s life is. Following a tense run-in with Farrah’s father, she forbids Cameron to speak to her again, but Cameron’s convinced there’s more behind the request. To impress Farrah, Cameron sketches her portrait into a mysterious sketchbook. He nearly jumps from his skin when the sketch moves and communicates with him. Farrah is now in grave danger because the sketch he drew of her sucked her real-life’s soul into the sketchbook. Cameron now has twenty days to extract Farrah. To save her, he must draw himself into the book. If he fails… they both die.

Review:
I don’t read an awful lot of teen fiction, but when I do, I only enjoy it if the premise is original and daring and grabs me from the get-go.

Let’s just say, I enjoyed this book!

Chris Ledbetter has done something few have done, and that is to write a teenaged boy with whom I, as a woman (and once, a teenaged girl) can relate. I felt for Cameron, I felt for him deeply, and was able to sink into his emotions and passion for art quite effortlessly. Farrah wasn’t quite so well, ahem, drawn as Cameron, but as she was not the main character, only the focus for Cameron’s growing affections, this was understandable – she was attractive, but as a reader I knew little about her, which was pitched very well, as Cameron didn’t really know all that much about her beyond the basics and his attraction for her.

The premise for the story was cleverly thought out and written with a light touch that lifted it above the ordinary – a heavier hand would have thrown everything out of balance and crushed the plot entirely. Its an unusual take on a Pygmalian-type of fantasy, where an artist brings his work of art to life, and falls in love with her, only Cameron is already falling for Farrah before he creates her Echo.

There was a tinge of sadness about the tale too – Ledbetter doesn’t shy away from the darker and more upsetting trials of teen and family life, and the complications inherent in relationships, whether familial, platonic, or romantic – and that’s refreshing. Yet, it never becomes maudlin – that lightness of touch and tone keeps things buoyant and ensures the reader doesn’t sink into depression while turning the pages. It’s a fine line, but Ledbetter walks it well.

Even if you don’t read young adult/teen fiction, don’t discount this book – it’s worth the effort and may just change your mind!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

See my interview with the author HERE

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Revenge and Retribution (The Graham Saga #6) by Anna Belfrage

02_Revenge-RetributionTitle: Revenge and Retribution (Graham Saga #6)
Author: Anna Belfrage
ISBN: 978-1781321751
Publisher: Silverwood Books
First Published: 29th June 2014 (Kindle) / 1st Jul 2014 (paperback)

Rating: Like a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heavenLike a Star @ heaven

Synopsis (from Amazon):
‘Revenge & Retribution’ is the sixth book in Anna Belfrage’s time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham.

Life in the Colony of Maryland is no sinecure – as Alex and Matthew Graham well know. But nothing in their previous life has prepared them for the mayhem that is about to be unleashed upon them.

Being labelled a witch is not a good thing in 1684, so it is no wonder Alex Graham is aghast at having such insinuations thrown at her. Even worse, it’s Matthew’s brother-in-law, Simon Melville, who points finger at her.

Not that the ensuing hearing is her main concern, because nowadays Alex’s entire life is tainted by the fear of what Philip Burley will do to them once he gets hold of them. On a sunny May afternoon, Philip finally achieves his aim and over the course of the coming days Alex sees her whole life unravelling, leaving her family permanently maimed.

As if all this wasn’t enough, Alex also has to cope with the loss of one of her sons. Forcibly adopted by the former Susquehannock, Samuel is dragged from Alex’s arms to begin a new life in the wilderness.

How is Alex to survive all this? And will she be able to put her damaged family back together?

Review:
Just when you think Anna Belfrage’s Graham Saga can’t get any better, she releases a sixth title in the series and knocks your socks off all over again!

I came to the series at the fourth book, and was instantly hooked. Ever since then, I’ve been champing at the bit to get at the next book, and the next book, and the next book. This sixth installment definitely satisfied my seemingly insatiable appetite for continuance of this family’s story. The characters we already know and love, as well as those we love to hate, are all here, but as ever, nobody is safe – as with any good author, we live in constant dread of losing one of our favourites, so that my fingernails were continually bitten down to the quick as I turned the pages.

There’s always the risk, with an ongoing series, that things will go a little stale, that readers will become bored with the constant drama thrown at the characters, but that is not the case here – I honestly feel that Belfrage is incapable of disappointing with this series as it just seems to keep on giving in terms of plot, character and writing. The witchcraft accusation, coming at a time when to be found guilty of being a witch was to be put to death, is a natural progression and adds some incredibly tense moments, which, when coupled with everything else that is going on at Graham’s Garden, make for a life that is still fraught with danger from all angles, even in a land of opportunity.

This is an unmissable chapter in the saga which will please the fans no end. It’s rare that I give top marks to a book, but in this case, I couldn’t give it anything less.

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Why French Children Don’t Talk back by Catherine Crawford

why-french-children-don-t-talk-backTitle: Why French Children Don’t Talk Back
Author: Catherine Crawford
ISBN: 978-1848547124
Publisher: John Murray
First Published: OSeptember 2012 (paperback / Kindle)
No .of pages: 256

Rating: 5/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
Catherine Crawford, a mother of two young daughters, is tired of the indulgent brand of parenting so popular in her trendy Brooklyn neighbourhood. All of the negotiating and bargaining has done scant more than to create a generation of little tyrants. After being exposed to the well-behaved, respectful children of her French friends, une lumière went on – French children don’t talk back!

Why French Children Don’t Talk Back is a witty and insightful look at how the French manage to bring up obedient, well-adjusted kids. It occupies a pragmatic place on the book shelf and in life – an anti-Tiger Mother approach to parenting.

Review:
I’ve never been much of a one for parenting books, but as a mother of an increasingly cheeky four-year-old boy (I swear, he was perfect before he went to nursery school!), I found myself intrigued by the title, and being something of a Francophile, I thought in for a cent, in for a Euro, as it were!

I was pleased to discover a very common sense approach presented on the pages! It really is all just straight forward advice on setting boundaries for your children in a way they will understand, while not driving yourself crazy and drinking yourself into oblivion every night after the bedtime battle lasts several hours (fortunately, the bedtime battle is one we’ve never had to fight, as our son has always had a very strict bedtime routine).

As it turns out, our parenting approach is particularly, well, French, I suppose! We already did quite a lot of the things mentioned in the book, such as insisting on proper manners and having good behaviour when we eat out, however I decided to try a little experiment in some other areas and to my surprise, after only a few days, they are already beginning to work! Suddenly our son no longer has an outburst when we tell him that no, he cannot watch a second film in one day or have the television on in the background! In fact, just yesterday he watched The Wizard of Oz then asked to watch Mary Poppins as soon as it was finished, When I replied that he had already watched one film and one was all he was allowed, he shrugged and said, “OK, Mummy. Can we have some music on instead please?” Another rule we’ve suddenly implemented is no sweets except at the weekend. He never got a lot of confectionery to begin with, but we were in the habit of rewarding him with a small piece of chocolate roughly every other day if he’d been even remotely good, in the hopes that this would ensure further good behaviour. Today he asked for some chocolate and I said no. He asked once more and I repeated that there would only be chocolate on the weekends. I was floored when he asked for a banana instead!

I suppose what I’m getting at is that this seems to be one parenting book where the advice actually works! Some parents may find some of the steps difficult to follow (such as entirely ignoring a child throwing a tantrum – the sooner they realise they will not even be looked at, the sooner they stop screaming), but with a little perseverance it should all become second nature and, theoretically, we could all have well behaved little munchkins who don’t show us up in public and do as they are asked without us having to repeat it ad nauseum.

Crawford’s style is easy to read – I really felt like I was chatting with an old friend – and her own trial and error experiments with these techniques on her own two daughters are laid bare, complete with what worked and what she’s still working on with them, but if she is to be believed, her girls are transforming into well behaved, very French kids.

Now all I have to do is get our boy to enjoy his food, complete with vegetables and we’ll be completely Frenchified too!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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Miss Felicity Beadle’s The World of Poo by Terry Pratchett

World of PooTitle: Miss Felicity Beadle’s The World of Poo
Author: Terry Pratchett
ISBN: 978-0857521217
Publisher: Doubleday
First Published: June 2012 (hardback/Kindle/audio)
No .of pages: 128

Rating: 3/5

Synopsis (from Amazon):
From Snuff: ‘Vimes’ prompt arrival got a nod of approval from Sybil, who gingerly handed him a new book to read to Young Sam. Vimes looked at the cover. The title was The World of Poo. When his wife was out of eyeshot he carefully leafed through it. Well, okay, you had to accept that the world had moved on and these days fairy stories were probably not going to be about twinkly little things with wings. As he turned page after page, it dawned on him that whoever had written this book, they certainly knew what would make kids like Young Sam laugh until they were nearly sick. The bit about sailing down the river almost made him smile. But interspersed with the scatology was actually quite interesting stuff about septic tanks and dunnakin divers and gongfermors and how dog muck helped make the very best leather, and other things that you never thought you would need to know, but once heard somehow lodged in your mind.’

Review:
The books that are released to accompany the main Discworld novels are always fun, and this is no exception. This is a delightful little tale of a young boy named Geoffrey who, while visiting his Grand-mama in Ankh-Morpork, develops an interest in all kinds of poo – so much so that he creates a poo museum in the shed – and meets some very interesting people who work with waste of all kinds.

As would  be expected, it’s filled with interesting little footnotes of fascinating facts about faeces, other bodily waste, its uses, and the people who remove it, as well as the industries that flourish because of it.

Adult fans of the Discworld series will chuckle knowingly as they enjoy it, but those who are parents may also find they decide to read it to their young children who must surely appreciate a good story about poo, and will love the little black and white line drawings – just don’t be surprised if you open it one day to find your little darlings have coloured in all the pictures!!

A must-have addition to any Discworld fan’s collection!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite

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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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The Best a Man Can Get by John O’Farrell

Michael Adams loves his wife and his two children very much.  But he also loves his own space, and that’s why he spends a lot of time in his flat which he shares with three other men, where he can be as lazy as he likes, do the odd bit of work, and then go home to his family when he wants to spend time with them.  It’s not that he doesn’t like being with them – it’s just that he finds being a father is so [i]demanding[/i].  Michael thinks that his arrangement allows him the best of both worlds…but his wife Catherine doesn’t know about his other life.  She thinks that when he is away from home, he is working hard earning money to support his family.  It all works fine, until inevitably Catherine finds out what he’s really been doing when he’s not at home…

I loved this book.  Told from Michael’s point of view, it was very believeable and touching – and it was also laugh out loud funny, with a good giggle on almost every page.  The funny moments are mainly due to Michael’s attempts to keep his secret life hidden from his family, and there are many near misses.

Although Michael behaves in a less than admirable way, he is a very likeable character.  He is also very well drawn, as are the other characters including the peripheral ones.  There are many touching moments, especially where Michael examines the reasons why he feels the way he does about fatherhood.

His wife is also a hugely likeable character, and her sense of frustration at her husband’s absences (even when she believes that he is genuinely working) are very well depicted.

The writing flows easily and kept me turning the pages.  It certainly caused me to stay up late on a few nights, because I kept thinking “just a few more pages.”  The story had a surprising twist at the end, which I genuinely did not see coming.

I’ve read – and enjoyed – John O’Farrell’s non-fiction before now, and this was the first time I had read his fiction.  It certainly won’t be the last.  I now intend to seek out all other books by this author!  Highly recommended.

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The Bad Mother’s Handbook by Kate Long

This is the story of three generations of one family.  Charlotte Cooper is 17, about to do her A levels, and suddenly discovers she’s pregnant.  Her mother Karen is furious with her, not least because she had Charlotte at the age of 16, and has always tried to stop her daughter making the same “mistakes” that she did.  But it’s not long before Karen finds something out which makes her question her role in her family and wonder whether there isn’t a better life waiting for her somewhere.  Meanwhile, Karen’s mother, Nancy Hesketh, who lives with them, is slowly succumbing to dementia, which is causing all sorts of chaos.  But when she’s not posting her grandaughter’s homework in the toaster, or hiding letters under the sofa, she reminisces silently about her life.

This is a very enjoyable and undemanding read.  The multiple narrators (Charlotte, Karen and ‘Nan’) ensure that we see events from each point of view – although Nan’s contributions are generally short and relate to the past rather than the present situation.  The main body of the story is told through Karen and Charlotte’s narration.

All of the three main characters are believeable.  The constant locking of horns between Charlotte and her mother will also have many teenagers and parents of teenagers nodding in recognition!  The story is touchingly told, and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments as well.

My only niggle with this book was the ending seemed rushed, almost as if the author had said what she wanted to say and just wanted to end the book quickly, and a few smaller aspects of the story did not seem completely resolved.  But overall, this is a good book – probably aimed more at the female market – and one which I enjoyed a lot more than I expected to.

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The Rice Mother by Rani Manicka

This is the story of Lakshmi, a young Ceylonese girl brought to Malaya in 1930, as the young bride of an older man, and her children and grandchildren.

Lakshmi narrates the first part of the book, where she explains about her childhood and how she is tricked into marriage, but then goes on to have six children.  The baton is then passed between various characters as we witness events from their individual points of view and learn how the tragedy that befell Lakshmi’s family haunted the further generations.  The book ends up in the current day, and as a result the reader is presented with details of the a changing country, and learns how WWII shaped and changed the lives of so many.

To give away much more of the plot would be to start revealing spoilers, but suffice to say that this is an enchanting and moving read.  The narrators all have their own distinct personalities and perceptions of various events and each other.  Some parts were harrowing to read as people struggled with the effects of the war, made wrong decisions and lived with regret.  Lakshmi is the matriarch of this family and her strength, intelligence and determination are clear for all to see.

Malay(si)a is brought to vivid life, and I felt able to really imagine the place with all it’s vibrancy and energy.  Towards the end, the language did become a little bit ‘flowery’ and I felt that the book was perhaps slightly too long, although it packed a lot into it’s pages and certainly never got boring.

This was the debut novel by this author and very impressive it is too.  I will be seeking out further work by Rani Manicka.

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While My Sister Sleeps – Barbara Delinsky

While My Sister Sleeps

 Barbara Delinsky

Harper Collins 2009

Synopsis:

When a woman in her early thirties, oldest of three siblings and a famous successful runner, has a heart attack that leaves her brain-dead and on life support, her family has to make the painful decision of when to pull the plug. Her mother Kathryn is devastated. She cannot accept the truth of Robin’s condition. Molly, Robin’s little sister has grown up in her shadow. But as the family starts to disintegrate she has to become Robin’s voice and in doing so finds her own. Robin’s father lives for his family, and defers to them rather than voicing his own opinion. The book focuses on the definition of ‘brain-dead’ and the religious and moral issues of the right to life.

 Review:

Robin Snow is an Olympic hopeful and potential – she is in the prime of her life, running marathons and races, fully fighting fit when she is suddenly struck down by a heart attack, declared brain dead and on life support.

Her family are understandably devastated – even her younger sister Molly who had growing resentments to being Robin’s training assistant. Her mother Kathryn is losing her firstborn child and cannot bring herself to let her go. Her father is in shock and leaves the decision making to his wife. Her brother Chris has marriage problems and a young daughter, and now has to come to terms with this. On top of all that there is the family run business to keep going, Molly’s threatening eviction, an obsessed journalist ex boyfriend of Robin’s to contend with, Kathryn’s mother’s Alzhiemers disease and a few family secrets that soon come to light.

Although the plot of this book has an inevitable outcome, Delinsky introduces new ‘by-lines’ to make the story more interesting and intriguing – Robin’s true feelings about her mother, her sister and her career discovered through her journals, Molly’s relationship with the man who found Robin collapsed, Chris’ marriage problems and lack of confidence, Kathryn and her husband’s painful family secret, Molly’s relationship with her ailing grandmother, Kathryn’s acceptance of her daughter’s death and subsequent wishes. These keep the storyline going along and make the reader want to continue.

Molly is the main focus of the book, how she lived in the shadow of her famous sister, how she quietly excels at her job, how different she is to her sister and how she competes for her mother’s attention knowing she is not the favourite daughter. Through this family crisis Molly finds her voice, finds out just how much her family do love her, particularly her sister, and learns a lot about herself. She becomes Robins ‘voice’ and helps steer her mother to making the right decisions.

The ending felt quick, a bit left up in the air but maybe that shows how involved I got with the family and the story – a compliment to the writing.

While My Sister Sleeps is an emotional book in which the characters learn more about themselves and their own family – constantly asking who am I, what do I really think…..? It is a story about a family coming to terms with one of the worst things that could ever happen to them and again makes the reader ask their own moral questions about life.

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Dying Unfinished by Maria Espinosa

dying unfinished

Synopsis taken from information given to: http://www.bookclubforum.co.uk

Using her own love-rage relationship with her mom as a catalyst, American Book Award winner Maria Espinosa weaves fact and fiction in her latest highly acclaimed novel Dying Unfinished. A novelist, poet, translator, and teacher, who has been reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, New York Review of Books, and The San Francisco Chronicle, Maria is featured in the Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series. This latest book is the follow-up to her critically acclaimed novel Longing.

“Dying Unfinished is a lyrical novel that takes place over three generations and that reminds us of the arduousness, and even desolation, of love relationships-between husband and wife, spouse and lover, mother and daughter…”–Kirkus Reviews–

Dying Unfinished is about a mother and daughter’s difficult relationship made more so by the mother’s affair with her daughter’s husband. Narrated by both women this tumultuous story coincides with a 70 year period where the world under went massive change.

This story is about Eleanor and her daughter Rosa. Both have problems – Eleanor finds it difficult to communicate and there is a deep sadness in her, and Rosa has mental health problems. The book recalls events in both their lives – flashing from the present to the past. Eleanor remembering her childhood, searching for her identity and happiness, raising three children and trying to love Rosa. Rosa, struggling with her schizophrenia, trying to find her identity and trying to please her mother. The book is narrated by both Eleanor and Rosa, giving an insight into how each is feeling.

I am not sure what to write about this book. I didn’t really enjoy it but wanted to keep reading. There is a lot of sex in this book – Eleanor has many affairs, and is raped – but sex seems to be how she gets enjoyment and how she connects with people. Rosa has tremendous mood swings, also likes sex, has a little girl who helps her find herself and places all the blame for her struggles on Eleanor.

I’m not sure I had a favourite character. I don’t think I liked anyone in the book particularly. There were those I definitely did not like – such as Rosa’s abusive and manipulative husband, nor Aaron, Eleanor’s husband, an artist who seemed very self-involved – life had to revolve around him.

I didn’t feel there was particularly a story – just lots of memories and experiences. And I didn’t feel that anything was really resolved by the end of the book.

Overall, I wasn’t particularly happy reading this book, but was hooked anyway. I have come away unsatisfied.

5/10

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