Throwback Thursday: Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renée 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 week I have chosen:

 

Image result for water for elephants bookWater for Elephants by Sara Gruen:

This book is a real gem: a rare gem that thrills and shocks simultaneously. This is a beautifully written, well researched, off-beat love story about a young man called Jacob who (having been suddenly orphaned at the age of 22 while at university and in the age of the depression in America) finds himself, quite unexpectedly, working for a circus. Here we are treated to a feast of colourful (many rather unsavoury) characters (with dwarves, bearded ladies and a whole host of animals).  This book is just spectacular – the way that I was immersed into circus life was astounding, I really felt the atmosphere, the sounds, the smells; I was there in the big top, there on the train in the dead of night, there at the raucous after-show parties – Gruen did a fantastic job of setting the scene.

Animals are one of my biggest passions (along with books and travel) and therefore any book containing animals is usually a hit with me. Water for Elephants is not only a love story between Jacob and Marlena (a married woman whom he loves from afar) but also between Jacob and his animals, imparticular an elephant named Rosie whom I also fell in love with.
The story flits between Jacob as an old man in a nursing home (where a circus comes to town which brings back all his memories) and Jacob in the 1930’s during his circus years. This is a wonderfully written, engrossing, captivating novel and I felt lost when I had finished it; I truly had withdrawal symptoms. After now having seen the film, I want to immerse myself in this wonderfully vibrant and chaotic world that is The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. If you think you won’t like a book set in a circus, think again; there’s so much more to it and I promise you won’t be disappointed.

Verdict:

An absolute joy! A book that made me laugh, cry, and everything in between. I cannot recommend highly enough.

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Review: The Pool House by Tasmina Perry

Image result for the pool house tasmina perryWhat I thought:

I have long been aware of the name Tasmina Perry as an author but never been tempted to even venture as far as the first page in any of her books, simply deciding that they weren’t for me. What then drove me to select this on a whim? I have no idea but I am SO glad I did – I loved it!

Mysteries are my favourite genre so when The Pool House started with a murder I was hooked anyway but add a luxurious Hamptons Beach House and I was instantly transported to the glamorous world of young, rich socialites who will do anything to rise to the top. Being everything that I normally despise about society, these self-serving, ruthless individuals, when blended together with sunshine and New York night life, make a heady cocktail of shenanigans that fizz off the pages.

Jem and her husband Dan have moved to NYC from London to live the dream and Dan to pursue his career in publishing. When they are invited to house-share a beach house in the Hamptons with three other couples every weekend in the summer, they jump at the chance. Not quite able to believe their luck, they settle into their new lifestyle quickly and all is well until Jem discovers that the couple who had the room last year didn’t have quite so much luck when Alice was found dead in the swimming pool. With the group reluctant to discuss what happened last summer, Jem – with the help of neighbour and famous thriller writer, Michael Kearney – sets out to uncover what really happened that night, but it seems she may be meddling where she’s not wanted…

Verdict:

This book was so good! I was so engrossed in the story that I could have actually been there and what’s more, I’ve discovered that a lifestyle that would actually be my idea of hell is actually damn good fun to read about. I loved it so much that I’ve gone on to download three more of Perry’s books.

Fun, pacy and with oodles of glamour and also incredibly well written, I am now a firm fan. Highly recommended!

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NB/ I requested a copy of this book on Amazon Vine in return for an honest review. The Pool House by Tasmina Perry is published in the UK in September 2017 by Headline. 

Throwback Thursday: Dog Boy by Eva Hurnung

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renée 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 week I have chosen one that I read in 2010 and still plays on my mind even now:

9270148Dog Boy by Eva Hornung:

As soon as I saw this book sitting on a shelf in Waterstones years ago I made a bee line straight for it. I am such a huge animal lover and I am a sucker for books with animals on the cover, in the title or narrated by them. Wolf Totem, Animal Farm, Black Beauty and Life of Pi all feature in my list of favourite books of all time.

Dog Boy is narrated by Ramochka, a four-year-old boy who lives with his mother and his latest “uncle” in a high-rise apartment block in Moscow. After several days of his mum not returning, seeing Uncle moving out all the furniture, and being left to fend for himself in freezing conditions and with no food, he finally ventures outside. Cold and hungry, Ramochka follows a large sandy coloured dog back to her lair. The dog becomes the only source of food, warmth and comfort that Ramochka has available to him and he begins to see the dog as his Mamochka. The puppies that Mamochka is already nursing become his siblings and they accept him into their fold immediately and unquestioningly. The two older siblings, however, take more convincing but eventually, Ramochka becomes a permanent and invaluable member of their little family, all living together in the basement of a derelict church in the harshest of conditions. The longer the new family is together, the more Ramochka begins to forget his old life, and before long he is eating rats and other fresh kills that any one of the pack manages to bring home.

What I loved about this book was the real love and strength of the bond between human and animal. It was amazing to see how the pack of stray dogs view the world, through the eyes of a small boy. The story is alternately shocking, pitiful, heartbreaking, tender, joyful and fascinating. I fell in love, smiled, cried and hoped. To live with this group of animals for a few days was a privilege and one I won’t forget easily.

Verdict:

A highly recommended read. It will lift you up and tear you down but it is truly a wonderful, captivating, must-read.

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Throwback Thursday: Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan

throwbackthursday

Throwback Thursday is a meme created by Renée 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 week I have chosen Bonjour Tristesse which I read back in 2009.

9780141198750Bonjour Tristesee by Francoise Sagan

This book was written by an 18 year old which, when you consider the richness of the narrative and the emotions involved, I find quite astounding. Or maybe I’ve just got too old and have forgotten how complex emotions are when you’re teetering on the brink of adulthood. Either way, I thought it was brilliantly done.

Bonjour Tristesse (Hello Sadness) is a tale of one tragic summer through the eyes of a seventeen year old girl. Spoilt and extrovert, Cecile is used to living the high life with her 40 year old Dad whom she goes out drinking and gambling with as if she were his contemporary. They head off from Paris to a villa in the south of France for 2 months one summer (taking along Elsa, her fathers current girlfriend) and spend the first few weeks doing little else other than sunbathing and swimming in the sea. Then Anne arrives (Cecile’s dead mothers best friend) who is sensible, intelligent and calm (everything Cecile and her father are not). Cecile loves Anne, but having been used to doing exactly as she pleases, she is not pleased when Anne treats her as the child she is and makes her study for her exams. Cecile is adamant that she doesn’t need exams – she is already leading the life she wants (living in luxury and partying none stop). Shortly after, Anne and Cecile’s father announce that they are getting married and here Cecile hatches a plan to stop the wedding at all costs (fearing for the lifestyle she loves with her father and knowing that it will all change). She involves Elsa, the spurned girlfriend, and Cyril, the boy from the next villa whom she has been sleeping with, to help her plot the undoing of the engagement. Everything seems to be going according to plan, and then it all goes horribly wrong…

I loved it. I don’t know if it is because Sagan was the same age as Cecile herself or that she was an incredibly perceptive young lady, but she really captures the fine balance of not being sure whether you’re an adult or a child. Interestingly, although Anne appears to treat her as the latter and her father as a contemporary, Cecile herself says that she feels like their pet kitten (something to be cooed at and petted).

Verdict:

I instantly fell in love with this book. I have since read a few more of Sagan’s books and been similarly blown away by how perceptive of humans and what makes us human she is. An extremely talented writer.

 

Have you read any of Sagan’s books? Any others you would recommend?

Throwback Thursday: Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris

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.

This week I have picked a book by one of my favourite authors – Joanne Harris. I have loved all her books and in fact, Five Quarters of the Orange is in my top 20 books of all time.

Gentlemen and Players was Harris’ first book set in the crime genre and it gets a massive thumbs up!

 

51EsKeqqRpLWhat I thought

What a great book; especially the end where I did NOT see any of those twists coming. It’s the sort of book that makes you want to turn to the beginning again to see where you might have picked up clues or see what you missed.

I am a HUGE Joanne Harris fan, my favourites of hers being the “foodie” books and I must admit to being a tad skeptical when I picked this up thinking that maybe she wouldn’t do thriller novels quite as well. I was wrong – this lady is no one-trick-pony. From the first page, you know that there are a murder or two which sets the reader up for the unfolding story ahead. The story is set in a public boys school that is centuries old and has a mighty reputation to uphold and is narrated by two people, in turn, to keep us guessing. The old school teacher, Mr. Straitley, adds some real comic moments too which add warmth to the book. However, whatever you think you know about this book, think again. By three-quarters of the way through I guarantee that you will flick back wondering when you could possibly have missed the signs (not once but twice).

Verdict

I highly recommend this book; I had great fun reading it. If you have only read the “foodie” books, then this will be a really great surprise. This author can write!

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Throwback Thursday: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

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.

This week’s pick is North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

northWhat I thought:

This book has it all: class conflict, politics, religion, women’s rights and passion! It makes you think, it makes you reflect on what was and it makes you ponder how we got from there to where we are now. We smile with them, we cry with them.

North and South (originally called Margaret Hale, after the principal character, until Charles Dickens made Gaskell change it) starts with a little rose-covered cottage in the countryside in the south of England where Margaret Hale lives with her Pastor Father, her mother, and their servants. Margaret loves the outdoors; she loves to sketch nature and spends a carefree and idyllic youth milling around the land and helping neighbours with various acts of charity. Towards the end of Margaret’s teens, her father announces that he has abandoned the church and because of this the whole family is uprooted to Milton-Northern (apparently based on Gaskell’s hometown of Manchester) to start again.

Milton is an industrial town in the north of England and not only is the landscape the polar opposite of Margaret’s hometown of Helstone, with factories, smoke, noise, and pollution, but also the townsfolk are quite different from those she is used to. I found this very interesting, and this is why I think Dickens was absolutely right to make Gaskell change the title: there is still a divide even today between the north and the south in England, although not on the same scale as back in the Victorian era, no doubt. I am from the north of England (Yorkshire) and northerners, even today, have a reputation for speaking their mind and being somewhat brash. We are also known for being friendly and open, whereas southerners are thought of as being unfriendly (even rude) and looking down their noses at northerners. These are all stereotypes, you understand, but there is no smoke without fire, as they say.

The story centres around the town of Milton and, in my opinion, the actual town is the protagonist, rather than Margaret Hale. Margaret is the voice of the book and it is through her eyes that we see this new world that she inhabits; we see her eyes open to the poverty and suffering of her townsfolk, the difference between those who have and those who have not, but it is Milton who is the largest character.

Margaret quickly befriends a local man, Nicholas Higgins, who is a mill worker and struggling to bring up his two daughters, Betsy and Mary, after his wife’s death. Bessy is gravely ill from “fluff” which Margaret discovers is a result of working in one of the factories and she is appalled by the conditions that this family and others around the Higgins’ have to live in. She takes it out on John Thornton, a self-made businessman and mill owner and who is also a pupil of her father (he is studying literature with him) and when the workers start to revolt and strike against the mill-owners she believes that Mr. Thornton has done wrong by his workers. Mr. Thornton is a proud man, and although he is in love with Margaret, he knows that he will never be good enough for her and he is aware of Margaret’s dislike and contempt for him and his ways but he cannot help falling passionately in love with her. When the riots occur at the factory Margaret shields him with her own body when they start to throw things at him and afterwards he confesses his love for Margaret which horrifies her as she has acted upon charity and would have done the same for anyone.

The move to Milton and change of scenery and circumstances affect the whole family very badly, especially Margaret’s mother, Mrs. Hale, whose health is continuously failing her. Margaret, knowing that her mother doesn’t have long left to live, gets in touch with her brother Frederic (who is a family secret as Frederic is a  former officer of the Navy and is in hiding and wanted for having been the ringleader of a mutiny). His return would cost him his life, but  Margaret takes the risk for her mother’s sake and writes him a letter begging him to return as soon as possible. Frederic arrives and spends some time with his beloved family, but has to leave almost immediately as he is terrified of being discovered. Mr. Thornton sees him & his sister saying their goodbyes at the station and takes them for lovers. That is the first time that Margaret realizes she cares about the possible loss of his good opinion of her and fears that she is now falling in love with him just at the time when she believes that he is falling out of love with her.

Another sad and unforeseen event takes Margaret back to London to stay with her cousin Edith and her family, but she doesn’t relalise that Mr. Thornton is going through a financial crisis that is about to change his world too. Now you need to read it yourself to find out what happens!

Verdict:

I believe this book to be vitally important to understanding how far we have come today in such a short period of time; after all it was only written 160 years ago. But more than that, for me, it is also a fantastic psychological study of human nature and behaviour and shows us how little that changes over the years: we still have strikes, rebellion, politics change very little, people still love and despair and are proud and passionate – that doesn’t change.

For anyone who loves Victorian novels, social commentary, history in the making and love stories – this is for you!

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Has anyone else read this book? What did you think?

 

Review: The Hourglass by Tracy Rees

51vjrbn217LWhat I thought:

I bought this book on a whim because I saw that it was set in Tenby. I had spent Christmas week in a cottage in Pembrokeshire last year and visited (and fallen in love with) the coastal town of Tenby. This book turned out to be exactly what I needed this week too: I had an urge to be swept to another place and to enjoy the company of characters I cared about (the kind you think about even when you’re not reading the book). It was both those things and more.

Set in a dual timeframe, The Hourglass follows Chloe in 1950 and Nora in 2014. Chloe is a teenager from a tiny Welsh village who, for 3 weeks every summer, goes to Tenby to stay with her cousins and where she runs free, swims in the sea and picnics on the beach with her best friend Llew who lives in the town. It’s a magical time for Chloe and I could feel her excitement and joy at being there. Fast forward to 2014, Nora is on the cusp of her 40th birthday and coming to the realisation that she is in a relationship that’s going nowhere and in a job that has burned her out. She is questioning her whole life and after suddenly jacking her job in one day, finds herself drawn to the Welsh town of Tenby where she once visited as a child while staying with her Grandparents. Booking a week there in a hotel, Nora finds that she can suddenly breathe again: she wakes at leisure, takes long walks along the coast and reads books that aren’t business related. She feels so drawn to Tenby that she decides to stay on and rents a house overlooking the beach with a new friend.

I lived in the pages of this book for 4 days and even began to read slower because I didn’t want it to end. I was invested in the characters and I missed them when I wasn’t reading. The town of Tenby was the perfect setting for this book and I completely understood Nora and her desire to flee from the rat-race (who doesn’t have that dream every now and then?), to be still, to live in the moment. And I just loved Tenby in the 1950’s as Chloe is growing up. In both eras, Tracy Rees has managed to capture the allure and magic of this small coastal village with its pastel-coloured houses along the seafront and it’s sand dunes. It has made me want to go back there again and soon.

Verdict:

The perfect escapist read. Evocative and heartwarming, The Hourglass has secrets, drama and nostalgia. Honestly, one of my favourite books of the year so far. I loved every minute of this book and have already downloaded the authors other two books onto my Kindle.

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