Wednesday, 24 August 2016

After the Last Dance by Sarra Manning

Two women. Two love affairs. One unforgettable story. 

Kings Cross station, 1943. Rose arrives in London hoping to swap the drudgery of wartime for romance, glamour and jiving with GIs at Rainbow Corner, the famous dance hall in Piccadilly Circus. As the bombs fall, Rose loses her heart to a pilot but will lose so much more before the war has done its worst. 

Las Vegas, present day. A beautiful woman in a wedding dress walks into a seedy bar and asks the first man she sees to marry her. When Leo slips the ring onto Jane's finger, he has no idea that his new wife will stop at nothing to get what she wants. So when Jane meets Rose, now a formidable older lady, there's no love lost between them. But with time running out, can Rose and Jane come together to make peace with the tragic secrets that have always haunted their lives? After the Last Dance is an extraordinary story of two women, separated by time but connected by fate, that will make you believe in the redemptive power of unexpected love.

This is the first of Sarra Manning's novels that I have read and it was very enjoyable.

Written with a dual narrative it follows the present day story of Jane, alongside the wartime escapades of Rose, with a crossover as the book progresses. Both characters were excellently drawn and I was engaged with both narratives equally.

There are many novels out there set during World War Two but this had a slightly different perspective as through the character of Rose we see some of the experiences of the GI's in wartime London. The descriptions of Rainbow Corner are very evocative and I was drawn into the atmosphere the author created.

Jane's narrative is equally engaging. She is certainly not the innocent that Rose is portrayed as but her character is equally compelling. Whereas Rose was easy to like from the beginning, the character of Jane was not instantly likable but as the author gradually develops her character she becomes much more engaging and I found I liked her character very much.

I think this book is well worth a read. Combining the past and the present with some romance thrown in this novel will appeal to many readers.

ISBN:  978 0751561159

Publisher: Sphere

About the Author:

Sarra Manning is a teen queen extraordinaire. She spent five years working on the now sadly defunct J17, first as a writer and then as Entertainment Editor. She then joined the launch team of teen fashion bible Ellegirl, which she later went on to edit and has consulted on a wide range of youth titles including Bliss, The Face and More. 

Sarra is now editor of What To Wear magazine. She's also been a regular contributor to ELLE, The Guardian, ES Magazine, Seventeen, Details and Heat and wrote the Shop Bitch column for Time Out. Sarra lives in North London with her dog Miss Betsy.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

The Bradley's see the world as a place where miracles are possible, and where nothing is more important than family. This is their story.
It is the story of Ian Bradley—husband, father, maths teacher, and Mormon bishop—and his unshakable belief that everything will turn out all right if he can only endure to the end, like the pioneers did. It is the story of his wife, Claire, her lonely wait for a sign from God, and her desperate need for life to pause while she comes to terms with tragedy.
And it is the story of their children: sixteen-year-old Zippy, experiencing the throes of first love; cynical fourteen-year-old Al, who would rather play football than read the Book of Mormon; and seven-year-old Jacob, whose faith is bigger than a mustard seed—probably bigger than a toffee candy, he thinks—and which he’s planning to use to mend his broken family with a miracle.
Intensely moving, unexpectedly funny, and deeply observed, A Song for Issy Bradley explores the outer reaches of doubt and faith, and of a family trying to figure out how to carry on when the innermost workings of their world have broken apart.

I would challenge anyone to read this book and not  to be deeply moved by it. It is a heart searing evocation of the grief felt by a family whilst trying to maintain an equilibrium with their faith.

I knew very little about the Mormon church prior to reading this book and it was very informative. It came as no surprise to me to learn that the author grew up in a Mormon  family as she writes with real insight and it shows that she has first hand knowledge.

Every character in this novel is expertly drawn and easy to engage with.  I went through a tumult of emotions with them experiencing the grief felt in its individual way by all of them. I felt moments of frustration and anger with Ian's character, pain for Claire's and my heart bled for little Jacob and his brother and sister. I think an author who can create such feelings in her reader is very skilled and as a debut novelist is one to watch out for.

This is a fantastic read written with insight and intelligence. I do not think I am being preemptive by saying that I will be surprised if this book does not make into into my Top Ten reads of 2016 as it will need to be quite some book to knock this one down the list. Do let me know what you think of this book and whether you enjoyed it as much as I did.

ISBN:  978-0099591870

Publisher: Windmill Books

About the Author: 

Carys Bray was brought up in a devout Mormon family. In her early thirties she left the church and replaced religion with writing. She was awarded the Scott prize for her d├ębut short story collection Sweet Home. A Song for Issy Bradley is her first novel. She lives in Southport with her husband and four children.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Can Anybody Help Me? by Sinead Crowley

It was crazy really, she had never met the woman, had no idea of her real name but she thought of her as a friend. Or, at least, the closest thing she had to a friend in Dublin.

Struggling with a new baby, Yvonne turns to netmammy, an online forum for mothers, for support. Drawn into a world of new friends, she spends increasing amounts of time online and volunteers more and more information about herself.

When one of her new friends goes offline, Yvonne thinks something is wrong, but dismisses her fears. After all, does she really know this woman?

But when the body of a young woman with striking similarities to Yvonne’s missing friend is found, Yvonne realises that they’re all in terrifying danger. Can she persuade Sergeant Claire Boyle, herself about to go on maternity leave, to take her fears seriously?

This is a book about living in the modern world. I think the vast majority of us talk to people who we have met online and this book explores just how well we really know these people and considers whether we should volunteer so much information about ourselves.

The characters in this book are well rounded and believable. I particularly liked Sergeant Claire Boyle who I found to be a very realistic character.  The author was clearly setting her up for future novels of which I will be very happy to read.

The prose is interspersed with extracts from the Netmammy online forum all of which are vital to the plot so it is worth paying close attention when reading these postings.

This book kept me guessing throughout and the ending came  as a real surprise to me.

All in all, a really good read and I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Are You Watching Me?

About the Author:

Can Anybody Help Me? was an Irish bestseller and shortlisted for Crime Book of the Year at the BGE Irish Book Awards in 2014. Her second thriller, which also features Sergeant Claire Boyle was published in 2015.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi

Idyllic but remote, the Greek island of Thiminos seems untouched by the modern world. So when the battered body of a young woman is discovered at the foot of a cliff, the local police--governed more by archaic rules of honor than by the law--are quick to close the case, dismissing her death as an accident.

Then a stranger arrives, uninvited, from Athens, announcing his intention to investigate further. Hermes's methods of investigation are unorthodox, and his message to the islanders is plain--tell the truth or face the consequences. But Hermes brings his own mystery into the web of dark secrets and lies. Who has sent him to Thiminos, and on whose authority is he acting? 

Rich in images of Greece's beautiful islands and evoking a life unknown to most outsiders, this compelling novel leads the reader into a world where the myths of the past are not forgotten, and forbidden passion still has dangerous consequences.

Don't you just love it when you read the first book in a series and find that you really liked it? That is exactly what happened to me with this lovely book by Anne Zouroudi.

The descriptions of the fictional Greek island are wonderful and it is easy to get sucked into the beautiful atmosphere of this book.

I also really liked the character of Hermes Diaktoros (although he is consistently referred to as the Fat Man throughout the book) with his white shoes which he is constantly cleaning. He is an enigmatic character who appears to have materialised from thin air to investigate the apparent suicide of a young woman. The mystery surrounding Hermes continues throughout the book and really adds something.

There were many twists and turns as this book ambled along and as most of the characters appeared to have something to hide I was kept guessing right until the end.

I enjoyed this book very much and already have the next book in the series on my shelf and I am looking forward to getting to know Hermes Diaktoros better.

About the Author:  

Anne Zouroudi was born in England and has lived in the Greek islands. Her attachment to Greece remains strong and the country is the inspiration for much of her writing. She now lives in the Derbyshire Peak District with her son. She is the author of four other Mysteries of the Greek Detective: The Taint of Midas, The Doctor of Thessaly, The Lady of Sorrows and The Whispers of Nemesis.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Night Road by Kristin Hannah

People on the island still talk about what happened in the summer of 2004. They sit on their bar stools and in porch swings and spout opinions, half-truths, making judgements that aren't theirs to make. They think a few columns in a newspaper give them the facts they need but the facts are hardly what matter.

Lexi and Mia are inseparable from the moment they start high school. Different in so many ways - Lexi is an orphan and lives with her aunt on a trailer park, while Mia is a golden girl blessed with a loving family and a beautiful home. Yet they recognise something in each other which sets them apart from the crowd and Mia comes to rely heavily on Lexi's steadfast friendship. Something which, at first, worries Mia's mother, Jude.

Mia's beloved and incredibly good-looking twin brother Zach finds life much less complicated than his sister. Jude thught she'd never have to worry about her son, that he would always sail through life easily achieving whatever he, and his family, wanted and expected - but then he fell in love.

The summer they graduated is a time they will always remember and one they could never forget. It is a summer of love, best friends, shared confidences and promises. Then one moment changes them all forever. As hearts are broken, loyalties challenged and hopes dashed the time has come to leave childhood behind and learn to face their future.

I recently read The Nightingale by this very talented author which I thought was a fantastic read so I came to this book with very high expectations. To be honest, I found the beginning of the book very predictable but then an event happens in the plot which had me gripped to the very end.

What I think really sets Ms Hannah apart is the way in which she focuses her story line almost completely around the characters. Through dialogue and narrative she fleshes them out to the point that, as a reader, I almost felt I knew these characters and was emotionally caught up in their lives.

It is a sad story which deals with privilege and deprivation, the consequences of love in all it's forms and the huge part that forgiveness of ourselves and others has upon us.

I didn't enjoy this as much as I did The Nightingale, but it was worth reading not only by adults but I think mature teenagers would also get alot from this book.

ISBN:  978 0330534970

Publisher: Pan Macmillan

About the Author:

Kristin Hannah is the New York Times bestselling author of twenty-one novels, including the blockbuster Firefly Lane, Night Road and Home Front. She is a former lawyer turned writer and is the mother of one son. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and Hawaii with her husband.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee

Calcutta, 1967. Unnoticed by his family, Supratik has become dangerously involved in extremist political activism. Compelled by an idealistic desire to change his life and the world around him, all he leaves behind before disappearing is a note.

The ageing patriarch and matriarch of his family, the Ghoshes, preside over their large household, unaware that beneath the barely ruffled surface of their lives the sands are shifting. More than poisonous rivalries among sisters-in-law, destructive secrets and the implosion of the  family business, this is a family unravelling as the society around it fractures. For this is a moment of turbulence, of inevitable and unstoppable change, the chasm between the generations and between those who have and those who have not, has never been wider.

I found this to be a weighty read - both in size and depth.

I was very grateful for the family tree which is included at the beginning of this book as I think I would have been quite confused by all the different characters, of which there are plenty. This enhanced my appreciation of the minutiae of the lives of the people in this household and whilst I cannot claim to have really liked any of them I did at least understand how they had become the people they were.

I like books which are set in India but I found very little in terms of the rich atmosphere which could have been a real asset to this book. I wanted to be able to drink up the sounds and smells of India but I found this sadly lacking.

However, this has been very intelligently written and the author has a clear understanding of the socio political factors of the time.

What I loved about this book was the way Mr Mukherjee's prose flows on the page. It is beautifully written with a poeticism I could lose myself in. I would read his other novel for that reason alone as this book has been well crafted and is simply lovely to read.

ISBN: 978-0099554486

Publisher: Vintage

About the Author:

Neel Mukherjee was born in Calcutta and now lives in London.. His award winning first novel A Life Apart, was published in 2010. The Lives of Others is his second novel.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Forever Yours by Daniel Glattauer

Judith, in her mid-thirties and single, meets Hannes when he steps on her foot in a crowded supermarket. Before long he turns up in the exclusive little lighting boutique that Judith runs with the help of her assistant Bianca.
Hannes is an architect - single and in the prime of life. Not only is he every mother-in-law's dream, but Judith's friends are also bowled over by him. At first Judith revels in being put on a pedestal by this determined man who seems to have eyes only for her. But as time goes by, she finds his constant displays of affection increasingly wearying and his intensive attention becomes oppressive and overwhelming.
In the end she feels cornered, controlled and stifled. All her attempts to get him out of her life fail. He seems to follow her all the way into her dreams, and when she wakes up he's already waiting on her doorstep to pamper her afresh.

I quite liked this book. It has a real eeriness about it and challenged what I was thinking throughout.

The prose is written with a crispness which I think added to the book. The language needed no embroidering or poeticism. In fact, it would have detracted from the intensity of the characters. Both Judith and Hannes are well drawn out characters and I really enjoyed the way the author shifted the emphasis from one character to the other.

However, one criticism I have of this book is that there are times that the dialogue reads like a script rather than a novel and I felt this detracted from the flow of the dialogue.

I found this an enjoyable book. It is never going to make it into my top ten for the year but I keep thinking about it and mulling the plot over in my mind so maybe that speaks for itself. It is worth a read and I would love to hear your thoughts on this book if you read it.

ISBN: 978-0857052490

Publisher: MacLehose Press

About the Author:

Daniel Glattauer (born 1960) is an Austrian writer and journalist. He was born in Vienna, where he still lives and works. He is a regular columnist for Der Standard. He is best known for his novel Love Virtually and its sequel Every Seventh Wave. His literary work were translated in more than 35 languages and have been sold over 1 million times.