Friday, 19 January 2018

The Mountain by Luca D'Andrea (Translated by Howard Curtis)

Jeremiah Salinger blames himself.

The crash was his fault. He was the only survivor. Now only his daughter Clara can put a smile on his face. The depression and the nightmares are closing in.

But when he takes Clara to the Bletterbach - a canyon in the Dolomites rich in fossil remains - he overhears by chance a conversation that gives his life renewed focus. In 1985 three students were murdered there, their bodies savaged, limbs severed and strewn by a killer who was never found.

Salinger, a New Yorker, is far from home, and these Italian mountains, where his wife was born, harbour a close-knit, tight-lipped community whose mistrust of outsiders can turn ugly. All the same, solving this mystery might be the only thing that can keep him sane.

To be honest, when I began reading this I thought this book was not going to be for me. There was something about it I did not like but couldn't quite put my finger on and because I could not be specific about it I decided to read a bit further. So, I gave it a few more pages and then a few more and so on until I realised I was completely hooked and I was in the midst of a great story. 


This book is atmospherically rich. The descriptions of the snowy terrain are almost tangible and the snow covered mountains become a character in their own right.

The majority of the characters are flawed in some way (aren't we all) but Salinger gains much reader sympathy due to his self-awareness. The only character who did not work for me was his daughter, Clara. Whilst, she is described as a precocious child she just did not feel childlike to me. Rather she reads more as a small adult and I had difficulty engaging with her character. However, the relationship between Salinger and his wife and his father-in-law were well developed.

What I mostly took away from this book is that Mr D'Andrea has excellent storytelling skills and the book appears to have been well translated from the Italian by Howard Curtis. Mr Curtis won an award for his translation of In the Sea There are Crocodiles in 2010.

This book will appeal to readers who like mysteries and thrillers alongside human interest. It is appropriately paced and well plotted. An enjoyable novel that I recommend.

ISBN: 978 0857056900

Publisher: MacLehose Press


About the Author:

Luca D'Andrea lives with his family in Bolzano, Italy, where he was born in 1979. The Mountain, also known as Beneath the Mountain is his first thriller and is published in thirty countries.




Thursday, 11 January 2018

Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

Mildred Lathbury is one of those 'excellent women' who is often taken for granted. She is a godsend, 'capable of dealing with most of the stock situations of life - birth, marriage, death, the successful jumble sales, the garden fete spoiled by bad weather'.

As such, she often gets herself embroiled in other people's lives - especially those of her glamorous new neighbours, the Napiers, whose marriage seems to be on the rocks. One cannot take sides in these matters, though it is tricky, especially as Mildred, teetering on the edge of spinsterhood, has a soft spot for dashing young Rockingham Napier. This is Barbara Pym's world at its funniest and most touching.

I have been aware of Barbara Pym as an author for some time but have never got around to sampling her work. So, when I recently read The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler (click here for my review) he made mention of Barbara Pym as having fallen out of fashion, although she made something of a resurgence during the 1970's. However, reading his book gave me a little nudge to try one of her books which I already had on my shelf.

First published in 1952 this humorous book which is set in the Pimlico area of London is wonderful to read and provides the reader with a slice of English social history and a people gone by. It has a quintessentially English feel and I loved every word.


As a twenty-first century reader the blatant sexism is a little hard to swallow. The book would have been preceded by early feminism and the idea that a woman just over thirty is relegated to the life of lonely spinster who can only be an 'excellent woman' is ridiculous to our modern western eyes. However, as a piece of writing of it's time the author has written a wonderful comedy of manners and class that is just irresistible. I laughed many times whilst reading this book and if it is typical of Barbara Pym's writing then I want to read everything else she has written.

I also have to mention the edition that I read which has a very sound introduction by A.N. Wilson. I found my copy of this in a second-hand bookshop in Hungerford, Wiltshire a few months ago and it is such a beautiful edition that I want to share just a couple of photos with you. It is published by the Folio Society so comes in a lovely brown slip case. However, it is the cover and illustrations within by Debra McFarlane that are so exquisitely detailed that they enhanced my reading of this book and brought it to life. I have included an extract from the first page of this book so that you will get a little flavour of the joy of reading this fine novel.

I highly recommend this novel and feel it is one that I may well read again. I am very inclined towards trying some of her other works too. Have you read anything by Barbara Pym and if so what do you recommend that I should read next?

ISBN:  978 1844084517

Publisher:  Virago

FIRST PAGE 

Chapter One

"Ah, you ladies!" Always on the spot when there's something happening!" The voice belonged to Mr Mallett, one of our churchwardens, and its roguish tone made me start guiltily, almost as if I had no right to be discovered outside my own front door.
   "New people moving in? The presence of a furniture van would seem to suggest it, " he went on pompously. "I expect you know all about it."
   "Well, yes, one usually does," I said feeling rather annoyed at his presumption. "It is rather difficult not to know such things."
   I suppose an unmarried woman just over thirty, who lives alone and has no apparent ties, must expect to find herself involved or interested in other people's business, and if she is also a clergyman's daughter then one one might really say that there is no hope for her.
   "Well, well, tempus fugit" as the poet says," called out Mr Mallett as he hurried on.
   I had to agree that it did, but I dawdled long enough to see the furniture men set down a couple of chairs on the pavement, and as I walked up the stairs to my flat I heard the footsteps, of a person in the empty rooms below me, pacing about on the bare boards, deciding where each piece should go.
   Mrs Napier, I thought, for I had noticed a letter addressed to somebody of that name, marked 'To Await Arrival'. But now that she had materialsed I felt, perversely, that I did not want to see her, so I hurried into my own rooms and began tidying out my kitchen.
   I met her for the first time by the dustbins, later that afternoon. The dustbins were in the basement and everybody in the house shared them. There were offices on the ground floor and above them the two flats, not properly self-contained and without every convenience. "I have to share a bathroom," I had so often murmured, almost with shame, as if I personally had been found unworthy of a bathroom of my own.
   I bent low over the bin and scrabbled a few tea leaves and potato peelings out of the bottom of my bucket. I was embarrassed that we should meet like this. I had meant to ask Mrs Napier to coffee one evening. It was to have been a gracious, civilised occasion, with my best coffee cups and biscuits on little silver dishes. And now here I was standing awkwardly in my oldest clothes, carrying a bucket and a waste-paper.



About the author:

After studying English at St Hilda's College, Oxford, she served in the Women's Royal Naval Service during World War II. 

The turning point for Pym came with a famous article in the Times Literary Supplement in which two prominent names, Lord David Cecil and Philip Larkin, nominated her as the most underrated writer of the century. Pym and Larkin had kept up a private correspondence over a period of many years. Her comeback novel, Quartet in Autumn, was nominated for the Booker Prize. Another novel, The Sweet Dove Died, previously rejected by many publishers, was subsequently published to critical acclaim, and several of her previously unpublished novels were published after her death.

Pym worked at the International African Institute in London for some years, and played a large part in the editing of its scholarly journal, Africa, hence the frequency with which anthropologists crop up in her novels. She never married, despite several close relationships with men, notably Henry Harvey, a fellow Oxford student, and the future politician, Julian Amery. After her retirement, she moved into Barn Cottage at Finstock in Oxfordshire with her younger sister, Hilary, who continued to live there until her death in February 2005. A blue plaque was placed on the cottage in 2006. The sisters played an active role in the social life of the village.

Several strong themes link the works in the Pym "canon", which are more notable for their style and characterisation than for their plots. A superficial reading gives the impression that they are sketches of village or suburban life, with excessive significance being attached to social activities connected with the Anglican church (in particular its Anglo-Catholic incarnation). However, the dialogue is often deeply ironic, and a tragic undercurrent runs through some of the later novels, especially Quartet in Autumn and The Sweet Dove Died.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Costa Book Awards 2017

I was very excited to see the Costa Book Award Winners last night when they were announced. Congratulations to the authors and publishers who's books were chosen.

Have you read any of these books? I would love to hear your thoughts.

FIRST NOVEL AWARD 2017

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything. One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life. Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely anything is better than...fine?

This book is sitting on my shelf waiting to be read. Keep an eye out for my review soon.


NOVEL AWARD WINNER 2017

Midwinter in the early years of this century. A teenage girl on holiday has gone missing in the hills at the heart of England. The villagers are called up to join the search, fanning out across the moors as the police set up roadblocks and a crowd of news reporters descends on their usually quiet home. Meanwhile, there is work that must still be done: cows milked, fences repaired, stone cut, pints poured, beds made, sermons written, a pantomime rehearsed. The search for the missing girl goes on, but so does everyday life. As it must. As the seasons unfold, there are those who leave the village and those who are pulled back; those who come together or break apart. There are births and deaths; secrets kept and exposed; livelihoods made and lost; small kindnesses and unanticipated betrayals.

I am a big fan of Jon McGregor and was fortunate enough to meet him some years ago. I have read this book but did not have an opportunity to write a review of it at the time. I really enjoyed it and I highly recommend this one.

BIOGRAPHY AWARD WINNER 2017

As Rebecca Stott’s father lay dying, he begged her to help him write the memoir he'd been struggling with for years. He wanted to tell the story of their family who for generations had all been members of a fundamentalist Christian sect. Yet each time he reached a certain point, he became tangled in a thicket of painful memories and couldn't go on. The Exclusive Brethren were a closed community who believed the world is ruled by Satan: non-Brethren books were banned, women were made to wear headscarves and those who disobeyed the rules were punished. Rebecca’s father, like her grandfather, had been an influential Brethren Minister: he preached in the ‘Iron Room’ of their meeting houses and made choices that would eventually come to haunt him. Rebecca was born into the Brethren, yet as an intelligent, enquiring child she was always asking dangerous questions. She would discover that her father had been asking them too, and that the fault line between faith and doubt had almost engulfed him.

I have this book on order and cannot wait to read it.

POETRY AWARD WINNER 2017

To be alive is to be inside the wave, always travelling until it breaks and is gone. These poems are concerned with the borderline between the living and the dead – the underworld and the human living world – and the exquisitely intense being of both. They possess a spare, eloquent lyricism as they explore the bliss and anguish of the voyage. 







CHILDREN'S BOOK AWARD WINNER 2017

After crashing hundreds of miles from civilisation in the Amazon rainforest, Fred, Con, Lila and Max are utterly alone and in grave danger. They have no food, no water and no chance of being rescued. But they are alive and they have hope. As they negotiate the wild jungle they begin to find signs that something - someone - has been there before them. Could there possibly be a way out after all? 

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

The Well Travelled Reader


Happy New Year to all my lovely friends and followers. I hope that 2018 brings you much happiness.

I don't know about all of you but I do not get the opportunity to travel overseas very often. Having said that, I did have a couple of wonderful trips last year to Guernsey and Belgium and I am planning on a little holiday in Italy later this year. However, this is the exception rather than the rule and are not typical of me. I have travelled to several places within the UK and we can boast some truly delightful towns, cities, seaside resorts and countryside which, in my opinion, are beyond compare.

However, I have come to realise that my reading is a whole different affair. Indeed, I have travelled the world, time and space through my reading.

So, for 2018, I have decided to keep a note of all the different countries that I visit via the books that I read. As I do not plan what I will read very far in advance, as what I read is largely determined by my mood at the time, I am very excited to see where my reading will take me this year. I am embarking on a literary magical mystery tour and I sincerely hope that you will join me on my travels and experience the far flung places that my reading will lead me.

Are there any books that are set near the place you live or were born? I would love to hear your recommendations.

Monday, 1 January 2018

The Devil's Claw by Lara Dearman

Following a traumatic incident in London, Jennifer Dorey has returned to her childhood home in Guernsey, taking a job as a reporter at the local newspaper.
After the discovery of a drowned woman on a beach, she uncovers a pattern of similar deaths that have taken place over the past fifty years.
Together with DCI Michael Gilbert, an officer on the verge of retirement, they follow a dark trail of island myths and folklore to 'Fritz', the illegitimate son of a Nazi soldier. His work, painstakingly executed, has so far gone undetected.
But with his identity about to be uncovered, the killer now has Jennifer in his sights.
Set in Guernsey this novel is rich in atmosphere. I was fortunate enough to visit Guernsey earlier this year which really enhanced my reading of this novel. However, even without this experience the descriptions of the island are sufficiently portrayed to allow the reader to 'feel' as though they were there.
This was a real page turner and had me completely hooked. The chapters alternate between, Jenny, the journalist and Michael, the Detective Chief Inspector, who is heading up the case. These are also interspersed with the voice of the killer and which turns this book into a compelling whodunnit complete with all the twists and turns that a good crime novel should contain.
This powerful debut novel has a cinematic quality and I would not be at all surprised if the filming rights are snapped up for this. It is well worth a read for those who enjoy a tight paced thriller.

ISBN: 978 1409170280

Publisher: Trapeze

About the Author:

Lara Dearman grew up on Guernsey before moving to the UK to study. She pursued a career in the city before taking time out to be with her young family. After her husband's job took the family to Singapore for three years, they returned to London where she studied for an MA in Creative Writing at St Mary's university. She graduated with a distinction in 2016. Lara now lives in New York with her husband and three children and is intending to write full time. Lara plans to spend plenty of time in the UK each year.

Friday, 29 December 2017

Top Ten Books of 2017

I have read some truly fantastic books this year and it has been extremely difficult to whittle it down to my ten favourites. In no particular order here they are:


The Good People by Hannah Kent

Based on true events in nineteenth century Ireland, Hannah Kent's startling novel tells the story of three women, drawn together to rescue a child from a superstitious community. 

Nora, bereft after the death of her husband, finds herself alone and caring for her grandson Micheál, who can neither speak nor walk. A handmaid, Mary, arrives to help Nóra just as rumours begin to spread that Micheál is a changeling child who is bringing bad luck to the valley. Determined to banish evil, Nora and Mary enlist the help of Nance, an elderly wanderer who understands the magic of the old ways.


The Wicked Boy: The Mystery of a Victorian Child Murderer by Kate Summerscale

An infamous murder in Victorian London.

On 8th July 1895, thirteen-year-old Robert Coombes and his younger brother Nattie set out from their East London home to watch a cricket match. Over the next ten days they spent extragantly, visiting the theatre and eating out. The boys told neighbours their father had gone to sea, and their mother to visit family in Liverpool. But when a strange smell began to emanate from the house, the police were called. What they found threw the press into a frenzy - and the boys into a highly publicised trial.

Click here for my review of this book


The Orphan's Tale by Pam Jenoff

In Nazi-occupied Holland, seventeen year old Noa saves a baby from a train bound for the concentration camps, fleeing with him into the snowy wilderness.

Passing through the woods is a German circus - a troupe of waifs and strays, led by the infamous Herr Neuroff. They agree to help Noa and the baby - on one condition.

To earn her keep, Noa must master the flying trapeze - under the tutorage of mysterious aerialist, Astrid. Soaring high above the crowds, Noa and Astrid must learn to trust one another - or plummet. But, as war closes in, Noa will earn that loyalty can be the most dangerous trait.

Based on real events, The Orphan's Tale is a spectacular story of love, sacrifice and courage.


Click here for my full review of The Orphan's Tale

A Horse Walks into a Bar by David Grossman

A comedy club in a small Israeli town. An audience has come expecting an evening of amusement. Instead they see a comedian falling apart on stage; an act of disintegration, a man crumbling, as a matter of choice, before their eyes. Dovaleh G, a veteran stand-up comic  - charming, erratic, repellent - exposes a wound he has been living with for years; a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between two  people who were dearest to him.

Flaying alive both himself and the people watching him, Dov provokes revulsion and empathy from an audience that doesn't know whether to laugh or cry - and all this in the presence of a former childhood friend who is trying to understand why he's been summoned to this performance.


Click here for my review of A Horse Walks into a Bar

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

twin siblings in the wake of their mother's death, she resumes a dream long deferred - studying in America. But she can't stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London. Or their brother, Parvaiz, who's disappeared in pursuit of his own dream - to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters' lives. Handsome and privileged, he inhabits a London worlds away from  theirs. As the son of a powerful British Muslim politician, Eamonn has his own birthright to live up to - or defy. The fates of these two families are inextricably, devastatingly entwined in this searing novel that asks: what sacrifices will we make in the name of love?


Click here for my review of Home Fire

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

There are things even love can't do ...If the burden is too much and stays too long, even love bends, cracks, comes close to breaking and sometimes does break. But even when it's in a thousand pieces around your feet, that doesn't mean it's no longer love ...' Yejide is hoping for a miracle, for a child. It is all her husband wants, all her mother-in-law wants, and she has tried everything - arduous pilgrimages, medical consultations, appeals to God. But when her relatives insist upon a new wife, it is too much for Yejide to bear. It will lead to jealousy, betrayal and despair. Unravelling against the social and political turbulence of 1980s Nigeria, Stay With Me sings with the voices, colours, joys and fears of its surroundings. Ayobami Adebayo weaves a devastating story of the fragility of married love, the undoing of family, the wretchedness of grief, and the all-consuming bonds of motherhood. It is a tale about our desperate attempts to save ourselves and those we love from heartbreak

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce

Recently retired, sweet, emotionally numb Harold Fry is jolted out of his passivity by a letter from Queenie Hennessy, an old friend, who he hasn't heard from in twenty years. She has written to say she is in a hospice and wanted to say goodbye. Leaving his tense, bitter wife, Maureen, to her chores, Harold intends a quick walk to the corner mailbox to post his reply but instead, inspired by a chance encounter, he becomes convinced he must deliver his message in person to Queenie—who is 600 miles away—because as long as he keeps walking, Harold believes that Queenie will not die. 

So without hiking boots, rain gear, map or cell phone, one of the most endearing characters in current fiction begins his unlikely pilgrimage across the English countryside. Along the way, strangers stir up memories—flashbacks, often painful, from when his marriage was filled with promise and then not, of his inadequacy as a father, and of his shortcomings as a husband. 

Ironically, his wife Maureen, shocked by her husband's sudden absence, begins to long for his presence. Is it possible for Harold and Maureen to bridge the distance between them? And will Queenie be alive to see Harold arrive at her door?


His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

The year is 1869. A brutal triple murder in a remote community in the Scottish Highlands leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae.

A memoir written by the accused makes it clear that he is guilty, but it falls to the country's finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence.

Was he mad? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the gallows.

Graeme Macrae Burnet tells an irresistible and original story about the provisional nature of truth, even when the facts seem clear. His Bloody Project is a mesmerising literary thriller set in an unforgiving landscape where the exercise of power is arbitrary.


Click here for my review of His Bloody Project

The Blue Between Sky and Water by Susan Abulhawa

It is 1947, and Beit Daras, a rural Palestinian village, is home to the Baraka family - oldest daughter Nazmiyeh, brother Mamdouh, dreamy Mariam and their widowed mother. When Israeli forces descend, sending the village up in flames, the family must take the long road to Gaza, in a walk that will test them to their limit.

Sixty years later, in America, Mamdouh's granddaughter, Nur falls in love with a doctor. Following him to Gaza, she meets Alwan, who will help Nur discover the ties of kinship that transcend distance - and even death.

Told with a raw humanity, this book is a lyrical, devastatingly beautiful story of a family's relocation, separation, survival  and love.


Click here for my review of The Blue Between Sky and Water

The Dead Man by Nora Gold

The Dead Man is a compelling novel about a woman who is obsessed.

Eve, a composer of sacred music and a music therapist, is well aware of the saying, "Physician, heal thyself," but she just can't seem to do this. For some unknown reason, she -- a sensible, intelligent professional -- can't recover from a brief relationship she had five years ago with a world-famous music critic named Jake. This obsession with Jake is a mystery to Eve's friends, and also to her.

In an attempt to solve this mystery, she "returns to the scene of the crime", Israel, where Jake still lives, and where they first fell in love. There she revisits all their old haunts and struggles to complete the song cycle she started composing five years ago about Jake but hasn't been able to finish. Gradually the dark mystery behind their complex relationship begins to unravel.

Eve discovers the forgotten childhood memories, losses, and desires that are encapsulated in her connection to Jake. And then, inspired by all the music she hears around her (including the singing of birds, the crying of babies, and the honking of cars), she succeeds in finally completing her song cycle and setting her obsession to rest.


Click here for my review of The Dead Man

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler

Absence doesn't make the heart grow fonder. It makes people think you're dead. 

So begins Christopher Fowler's foray into the back catalogues and backstories of 99 authors who, once hugely popular, have all but disappeared from shelves.

We are fondly introduced to each potential rediscovery: from lost Victorian voices to the twentieth century writers who could well become the next John Williams, Hans Fallada or Lionel Davidson. Whether male or female, flash-in-the-pan or prolific, mega-seller or prize-winner - no author, it seems, can ever be fully immune from the fate of being forgotten.

These 99 journeys are punctuated by 12 short essays about faded once-favourites: including the now-vanished novels Walt Disney brought to the screen, the contemporary rivals of Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie who did not stand the test of time, and the women who introduced psychological suspense many decades before it conquered the world.

This is a book about books and their authors. It is for book lovers, and is written by one who could not be a more enthusiastic, enlightening and entertaining guide.

This book contains a multitude of authors who have fallen out of fashion. Some of them I previously knew of such as Margery Allingham, Virginia Andrews (I loved her Flowers in the Attic series when they were first released in the late 1970's) and Georgette Heyer. However, the majority of authors I had no knowledge of and I do not know whether to be joyful or unhappy that there are so many recommended books written by authors I knew nothing of and now want to read them as well as the huge list of books already on my 'to read' list.

This is a marvellous book to dip in and out of and it will appeal to anyone who is interested in books and reading which I guess is most of you lovely people who read my blog. 

Happy reading to you all!

ISBN: 978 1786487759

Publisher: Riverrun

About the Author:

Christopher Fowler is an English novelist living in London, his books contain elements of black comedy, anxiety and social satire. As well as novels, he writes short stories, scripts, press articles and reviews.

He lives in King's Cross, on the Battlebridge Basin, and chooses London as the backdrop of many of his stories because any one of the events in its two thousand year history can provide inspiration

In 1998 he was the recipient of the BFS Best Short Story Of The Year, for 'Wageslaves'. Then, in 2004, 'The Water Room' was nominated for the CWA People's Choice Award, 'Full Dark House' won the BFS August Derleth Novel of The Year Award 2004 and 'American Waitress' won the BFS Best Short Story Of The Year 2004. The novella 'Breathe' won BFS Best Novella 2005.