Throwback Thursday: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell

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Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

This weeks choice is taken from my 2010 review.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell

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What I thought:

I completely fell in love with this book in the one sitting it took me to read it (because I just couldn’t put it down).

This is the story 2 young girls, Kitty and Esme, growing up in the 20’s and 30’s in first colonial India and then in Edinburgh when their parents move back home. They are sisters who share everything and love each other very much yet one is the dutiful, polite, home-maker type and the other is the slightly rebellious younger sister who wants to stay on at school rather than marry a nice boy. After a series of events (which include trying on her Mothers clothes of all things!) and a shocking incident that happens to her, Esme (the younger sister) is sent to a lunatic asylum and disowned by her own family and where she remains for the next 61 years.

In between this story told by Esme and also Kitty (whom now has Alzheimer’s) we also flit between the past and the present with Kitty’s Granddaughter, Iris, who also narrates her story. The way O’Farrell has woven the 3 women’s voices so intricately together to reveal only parts of the story at a time is just amazing and also serves to keep you turning those pages well into the night. The story is so beautifully told and the twists and surprises mean that you can’t possibly put it down even for a minute.

Verdict:

I don’t really know what I expected of this book, but I certainly wasn’t prepared to be so blown away by it.  I really do highly recommend this book and hope you enjoy as much as I did.

Update to original review:

Being a massive advocate and fund-raiser for mental health issues, this story is even more shocking to me now. The reasons that people were locked up in asylums in years gone by is horrifying. Thank god that things are changing for the better now (and still need to change radically). I could do (and might do) a whole post on its own about this at some point so watch this space…

Review: The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

gustavWhat I thought:

I am still trying to collect my thoughts on this book. I don’t actually give star ratings on my blog, as I have often found that after reflecting on a book for a few days (even weeks or months) my view changes (some become books that I have forgotten so easily, and others that I didn’t initially think were utterly fantastic can refuse to let me go and I find myself thinking about them long after the last page was turned). So, now to my point: while reading this book, I could easily have awarded anywhere between 2.5 and 5 stars depending on which point in the book I was at. A quandary indeed.

The Gustav Sonata is set in Switzerland and spans 60 years, starting in the years after WW2. Split into 3 parts (like a sonata) it follows first two young boys, Gustav and Anton (one Christian, one Jewish), and their blossoming friendship, then going back 10 years the book takes on Gustav’s parents relationship and we discover the reasons for Gustav’s mother’s aloofness towards her son, and finally, we are taken a long way forward in time to when the boys are grown up.

Gustav’s story is one of loneliness and longing. A dead father and a distant mother, with whom he spends his life trying to make love him, and his need to please everyone around him, usually for nothing in return, is incredibly sad. I had a profound sense of Gustav’s isolation and yearning for acceptance. I particularly liked the second part, however, which focused on Gustav’s parents and his father’s part in saving Jews, which his mother Emilie blames his death on. This gave me more of an insight into Switzerland’s part (or non-part) in the war, and one I would like to know a lot more about. As a country, it may not have been involved, but its people still lived in fear of being dragged into it and its repercussions have reverberated since.

I’m not sure how I would sum this book up if I’m honest. There were themes of war, friendship, love, mental health, homosexuality, extra-marital affairs, loneliness and hope. It was harrowing but never sentimental.  It was, ultimately I believe, a story of the issues of identity and its consequences.

Verdict:

I loved this book and was moved by it, and yet there were parts that left me strangely cold. The boys, as adults, seemed hardly to have matured at all which is a shame and in terms of character development, I didn’t feel there really was any. Or perhaps that was the point? The blurb talks about the book being about friendship but I found it very one-sided, and never really felt the friendship in maybe the way I was intended to. That said, I would still highly recommend this book: Rose Tremain is a fantastic writer.

Have you read this book? What did you think?

 

The Orenda Roadshow came to Leeds

Authors come to Yorkshire!

In December last year, I resurrected my 7-year-old book blog after a couple of years hiatus. Within weeks of me re-joining the Twitter community of book lovers, I became very aware of a new-to-me publisher. That publisher was Orenda. The first thing I noticed was the buzz and excitement around the books and authors represented by Orenda, and of the energy and passion of its owner, Karen Sullivan. The way she engaged with her followers seemed really genuine and I couldn’t help but be drawn into it.

There was a big buzz around a new title, Rupture by Ragnar Jónasson, at the time and after downloading the first 3 titles in the series on my Kindle, and having fallen in love with the first one Snowblind, I (cheekily) asked Karen if I could have a copy of Rupture. What arrived in the post was a parcel with 4 of her titles in. Since then I have become a stalwart Orenda fan! Out of the ones I have so far read, there is not just not a bad one among them, they are all utterly fantastic!

When I found out that Karen would be bringing 8 of her authors to Leeds as part of the Orenda Roadshow, I jumped at the chance to go.

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Orenda Roadshow

When I met Karen, she was just as I’d imagined: friendly, fun and fabulous! And what a great evening! Out of the eight authors there, I had already read 3 of the books (and the others I now have – they are sitting patiently on my shelf waiting to be picked up really soon).

Meet the authors

Lousie Beech

Hull author and fellow Yorkshire Lass Louise wrote the utterly fantastic The Mountain in My Shoe (my review is here).

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Louise signed my copy of her book with a pair of boobs which is still making me laugh! (apparently she is well known for this…)

Michael J Malone

Michael is author of several novels, including his latest A Suitable Lie, which I am intending to read really soon, especially as another blogger in the audience said that it contains one of the best villains she has ever read about! Praise indeed.

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Kati Hiekkapelto

Kati is apparently the Queen of Finnish Noir. Her latest book, The Exiled, is the third in a series (that you can read as stand-alones)  and this sounds like a really gripping read. Kati is very cool too – definitely Noir Queen looking!

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Antti Tuomainen

The other Finnish author of the panel and the King of Finnish Noir, Antti was the class clown who made me laugh. A lot. Very funny and slightly mischievous and author of a great sounding book, The Mine, which I am looking forward to getting to soon too.

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Matt Wesolowski

British author of debut novel Six Stories, which I finished last week and is SO good! I can’t wait to share my review of this book and as I am part of the blog tour on 17th March I will also be asking Matt some questions so please do pop back then.

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Johana Gustawsson

New girl on the block (I thank you…) is French author Johana who, according to Karen has the face of an angel and the mind of a sicko. This book is as yet unpublished in the UK (coming May) but I have already heard some noise about it on Twitter and when Johana read (and sang!) from her book Block 46, I knew I have to have a copy of this book. Soon!

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Matt Johnson

Ex-Cop and ex-Soldier, Matt, told us about how he started writing to help him with PTSD, and it was a really inspiring story. His second book, Deadly Game, is just out very soon and sounds like a really gripping read.

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Thomas Enger

Norwegian Thomas is author of the much-talked-about recently released book Cursed. I read this a few weeks ago but haven’t got round to reviewing it yet (I know, so naughty) but it is a really great, action-packed book and well worth a read.

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It was a really great evening and I was so chuffed to meet so many of the Orenda authors and it has really made me excited to read more of the titles from the Orenda catalogue.

Here are the books the authors read from and if you want to find out more about them then please take a look at the Orenda website and support one of the best publishers out there at the moment (in my humble opinion).

Throwback Thursday: Villette by Charlotte Bronte

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

My choice for this week is:

Villette by Charlotte Brontë

villetteI am a huge fan of all the Brontë sisters and Jane Eyre is actually one of my favourite books of all time. However, I wanted to share one of her lesser known books instead – Villette. Funnily enough when I first picked it up, I reached page 100 and put it down for a while but something kept pulling me back and it ended up being in my Top 20 ever books.

This review is taken from my original review in 2009

What I thought:

Reader, I heart Ms. Brontë! Reading Villette was like reading a huge epic that I was so immersed in that I walked in Lucy Snowe’s shoes, I felt what she felt. How many authors can do that to you?

Lucy Snowe is difficult to get to know at first. In fact, she is difficult to like. This is deliberate; she tells you about other people, what they think, what they feel, but precious little about herself, of whom she appears fiercely private. Only as the story unfolds does she start to let you in – I remember being surprised when she showed such tender, gentle thoughts and actions towards the sick daughter of her employer; that, I believe, was the first glimpse of emotion from Lucy and it really endeared me to her. Lucy Snowe’s name was not an accident – Brontë toyed with Lucy Frost for a while before settling on Snowe. She also allows us to see her as others do: “Crabbed and crusty” said Ginevra, a pupil at the school, and “unfeeling thing that I was” written to her in a letter. The point is, she isn’t unfeeling at all. She is lonely and trying to make her way in an unfamiliar world. Lucy’s past is only hinted at but it appears to have been an unhappy one.

Brontë’s prose is gorgeous, Villette is such a richly embroidered account of a young woman trying to make a life for herself in a foreign country and fighting for independence and friendship. This book isn’t a romance in the same way that Jane Eyre is. I wasn’t sure for a long time who the leading man would be (in fact he doesn’t even appear until the second half of the book). And it isn’t love at first sight, we watch it grow.

I absolutely adored this book and it is now a firm favourtie of mine.  I finally closed the book in a daze. I don’t want to give anything away, but I was not expecting what happened at the end at all. That came completely out of the blue for me.

Go ahead, indulge and enjoy!

Have you read any books by the Brontë’s? Which ones are your favourites?

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Review: A Secret Garden by Katie Fforde

a-secretWhat I thought:

Katie Fforde always comes up trumps. I was first introduced to her books about 10 years ago when I was looking for something heart-warming and escapist and started with Practically Perfect (which included a rescued greyhound called Caroline – and I am a sucker for books with animals in them) and I instantly fell in love with the way the book took me somewhere else entirely. I have since read almost all (with just one or two left for when they might desperately be needed).

A Secret Garden has all the ingredients of Katie Fforde’s books that I love. An unlucky-in-love protagonist (or two) and a dashing, brooding Mr Darcy type. I have to admit, though, that the men in A Secret Garden were not as aloof as most of the male characters start out being; they were nowhere near as grumpy or oblivious to the attentions of the women around them which I found a tad disappointing.

Lorna is a gardener and Philly is a plantswoman and they work in the grounds of a beautiful manor house in the Cotswolds, where both of them come to work on a project that puts them in the path of potential new suitors. There is the supporting cast of quirky characters too, that I have come to expect from Katie Fforde, this time in the form of Philly’s Grandpa and Lady of the house, Anthea who inject some real humour into the book. And what I really love about these books is that everyone seems so frightfully posh (but down to earth so relatable).

Verdict:

Katie Fforde’s books, for me, are like curling up by the fire with a mug of hot chocolate. It’s so easy to slip between the pages to that familiar world of sweet, but not sugary, funny and romantic. A Secret Garden is a real joy to read.

Blogger Recognition Award

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Although not a newbie into the book blogging world (The Book Whisperer actually kicked off in 2009), I am a relatively new returner after a couple of years hiatus (more later) so I am chuffed and delighted to be nominated for this award by Renée IT’S BOOK TALK, especially as she is one of my favourite recently discovered blogs.

Rules of this award

Thank the blogger who nominated you and provide a link to their blog
Write a post to show your award
Give a brief story of how your blog started
Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers
Select 15 other bloggers you want to give this award to
Comment on each blog and let them know you have nominated them and provide a link to the post you have created

How I got started

The Book Whisperer started back in December of 2009 after a suggestion from a friend on a group I was a member of on Goodreads. I didn’t actually know that book blogging was a “thing” back then but I quickly discovered a whole world of like-minded people who shared my passion for all things bookish. My blog readership grew quickly and I made lots of friends both online and also in person after meeting up a few times. In about 2014 I had a major book slump and as a result I stopped blogging for quite a while (not deliberately but I just stopped posting apart from the odd review for Netgalley). At the end of last year I decided to resurrect The Book Whisperer and have fallen in love with it all over again. It’s good to be back 🙂

Advice

This is supposed to be two pieces of advice but speaking from personal experience, while it’s amazing to be part of such a great group of like-minded people, it’s also easy to get carried away and do too much and then burn out, so I have included a few more tips.  Try to remember:

  • This isn’t your job (although if someone wants to pay me to do this full-time, I’m listening… 😉 ).
  • Don’t feel pressured to read every book you’re sent (you can’t)
  • Don’t feel obliged to do book tours (you don’t have to do them all – personally speaking, I only do the ones where I have already read the book and loved it or it is a publisher or author I know and respect)
  • I know how much fun it is to get so many gorgeous shiny, new books sent from publishers but read some of your own choices too (back catalogue books by one of your favourtie authors, something you’ve ordered from Amazon or picked up in a bookshop on a whim)
  • Remember why you started blogging in the first place. Keep it fun and if it starts to feel like a chore, either take a break or change what you’re doing to please you.

15 Fantastic blogs

I have included blogs I love from the first time I blogged (some of whom I have met in person) and blogs I have recently discovered where I not only enjoy reading their posts but they have also really welcomed me into the fold, either by liking and commenting on my posts or engaging with me on Twitter. A fabulous bunch of people in no particular order:

She Reads Novels – Helen

Beyond Eden Rock – Jane

Reading Matters – Kim

Savidge Reads – Simon

Annabookbel – Annabel

Dees Rad Reads and Reviews – Dee

My Chestnut Reading Tree – Jo

The Quiet Knitter – Kate

The Misstery – Annie

Rather Too Fond of Books – Hayley

Fiction Fan – Fiction Fan

The Last Word Book Reviews – John

Cleopatra Loves Books – Cleo

Damp Pebbles Book Blog – Emma

Random Things Through my Letterbox – Anne

Have a little look at their blogs and enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throwback Thursday: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

throwbackthursday

Thursday is a meme created by Renee at It’s Book Talk to share old favourite books rather than just the new shiny ones. This is a great idea to bring back to life some much-loved books. Please feel free to join in.

My choice for this week is:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

the-roadTaken from my review in 2010:

I read this book in a day – I just found it impossible to put down. Although it’s bleak I found it to be written in a gentle, almost dream-like way which I loved.

The story is of a man and his son (whose names we never learn) who are travelling south during the harsh, post-apocalyptic winter. They set off along the road with their cart and all their worldly belongings in it. We never find out the reason that the road and the fields and whole cities are burnt and abandoned; we are left the imagine for ourselves if it is due to war, asteroid etc.

I have read many reviews, since reading this book, that seem obsessed with knowing what happened to bring them to where they were. For me, that reason didn’t feel important – whatever had happened was years ago and clearly they had got past the “why?” etc and were just focused on survival. The book was like a snapshot in time which is why we never really find out anything other than what is going on right then.

The relationship between the man and boy is beautiful and so tender. It’s one of the most touching and important relationships I can remember reading about. The backdrop that McCarthy managed to pain in my mind was bleak and burnt and gray. Imagine having to survive through that? Not just life as you know it gone forever but how on earth would any survivor (and there are some whom the man and boy meet on the way – all struggling too) even begin to set up a new community? There were no animals left, no crops. Where would you even start? Would there even be a point?

Have you read this book? Did you enjoy it? I have heard mixed reviews on this book but I still think about it all these years later. That’s the sign of a powerful book.

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