Our Man in Havana

Our man in havana

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene

A friend of mine plonked a pile of books onto his dining room table as we were leaving his house as his “book recommendation”.  I then transferred this vertical stake into a horizontal on my book case as soon as we got home and didn’t think much more about them. Flash forward a few weeks and I was a little dry on the book front so picked the first one from this recommended list.

The only other Graham Greene I have read was The End of the Affair, which is one of the most beautiful reads I have experienced, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that this GG was in fact an superbly written black comedy.

It follows a British expat (Mr Wormold) in Havana who has a failing business,  a passively demanding teenage daughter and a few old time friends who are a little questionable in post war times.  He is recruited by MI6 to provide them with some valuable inside information on communist Cuba, which he accepts in order to make a bit of extra cash to fulfil his daughter’s needs….. the only problem being that Mr. Wormold’s mundane life doesn’t know any secrets that he could report back to MI6, so his imagination becomes the source.

It is hilarious! There were a few instances in which I laughed out loud. An episode I am particularly fond of is Mr Wormold’s appearance at a large house of a character he seemingly made up where he witnesses a domestic argument…but not between husband and wife as first believed. He then becomes the centre of the argument….all whilst barely saying a word.

A great book, 5 stars for sure! However, I feel that this book is a fabulous book hiding within a boring one. I started reading it without much hope and it took me a few chapters to really read between the lines and appreciate the style of writing, it is an unassuming comedy.

 

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The Whistler

 

The Whistler by John Grisham

It has been a while since a new John Grisham was published, though it hasn’t been too long since I last read one (I finished The Innocent man just a few weeks ago).  I was eagerly anticipating this read and when it started off jargony and slightly hard to follow I persevered as it is not unusual for a JG book to throw a big bucket load of context at the reader in the first quarter of the book. However, this one took until the final third to really get going….having said that, there was one giant plot twist towards the beginning.

The story is of a whistle blower (Dur) submitting information about a dodgy judge working with an Indian reservation casino. The back story involves crime and murder and the actual story involves crime and murder.

I love JG, I have read far too many of his novels to simply be a casual fan of his, but this one I feel let me down.  It had a sense of rushness about it, and was a little on the placid side. I guess it just failed to really get my heart racing like to many of his others. It has 4 stars as I did read it, and wanted to and to be honest the 4th star was achieved simply because its JG.

I did like that the protagonist was a female, but I felt she was a bit too overly strong and lone wolf style in that she lived alone, was unmarried and loved her life that way. Why can’t a strong female character have a family, or a boyfriend or even be a single mum and still be rocking at her job? Why does she have to be female but own so many typically male traits? I wasn’t impressed.

If someone was to ask me what JG book they would recommend, this wouldn’t be in the top 5…..maybe not even the top 10. But having said that, I am grateful there is a new book to even review.

Return of the Mac

So I have been otherwise pre-occupied this past year, I cant’t believe it has been over a year since I last posted.

But, I have a back log of books to review and a new MacBook, so please stay tuned.

……..I need to get back into the swing of writing.

Harry Potter life lessons

Brooklyn

Brooklyn

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín

Originally published: April 29, 2009 (my birthday)

I was at a train station, serious delays in every direction and I would not be leaving anytime soon. To top off my bad luck, my kindle had run out of battery. It was time to purchase a real, paper book.

I perused the bestsellers in WHSmiths and found Brooklyn. I had seen the film advertised and as always I prefer to read the book before watching the motion picture. The blurb on the back wasn’t exactly captivating, but it had won the Costa novel award in 2009 and had been short and long listed for a few other awards since. It seemed like an easy read that would help me pass the time.

It is set in 1950’s Ireland and is the story of a young girl, Ellis,  who has grown up in a small rural town with her mum and sister (and a few brothers who have since moved away). She has no real prospects until an Irish priest from Brooklyn offers to sponsor her in New York where she will be able to live, work and study for a better future.

She travels to New York by ship, and has a bumpy ride. She finds a lodging with some other similar minded women, a job in a department store, an evening course and eventually love. But, as with all soppy stories there is also another man, this one all the way back in Ireland.

It is basically the story of Ellis growing up and having to choose between two boys. I would say it is half interesting and a very tame read. There was one dramatic plot twist which I didn’t see coming and actually upset me a little. But I soon go over it and realized I was back in the monotony of this read. This book is exactly the reason why I tend to avoid the WHSmiths bestsellers.

If you want an easy holiday read about young love, dances and courting then please…be my guest!

3 star

Hausfrau

Hausfrau

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

Recommended by Stylist magazine and hailed as the modern day Madam Bovary.  As the title (‘House Wife’ in German) suggests it is the story of bored house wife Anna, her meetings with a psychiatrist and the lovers she has taken to pass the time.  I probably should mention that it highlights her lack of parenting skills and her complete disregard for the feelings of those around her.  The story jumps back and forth between the past and present with interludes of shrink conversations.  Each element to the story seems unimportant, yet together I suppose it built upon her mental state.

I found this book tedious,  I guessed her fate from the outset, because it was the only way she was going to be released from her constant narcissistic drivel.  None of her woes made any sense, the book contradicted itself so much.  She proclaimed to have no one around her and yet right there was a loving family.  Perhaps that example is too obvious but I can assure you Anna makes many mistakes.

Now, I understand that all this could very well be deliberate, showcasing the writer’s talent in aligning and developing her writing according to the mental state of the protagonist. But I turned to my husband at some points and said “I simply can’t read this anymore”…I did but that isnt the point.

 

3 star

After all this time? “Always”

  

I don’t always read books….

  

The Horse Whisperer

horsewhisperer

The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans

I have just finished watching the film. After finishing the book I wanted to see it brought to life, but I am filled with regret. Why do I continue to sabotage my wonderful book experiences with the film adaptation?

I was so enthralled by the book, it was centred around my most favourite of animals and successfully captured the grace and intelligence of these magnificent creatures. The humans worked well too, with action, love  and more emotion than my watery eyes could bear.

It is the story of a young girl who was involved in a collision with a truck whilst she is out riding with her friend one early winter morning. Both her and her horse are left with physical and mental scars, needing the help of  a horse whisperer and his ranch to heal them both.

It is wonderfully written, and I finished it in no time at all, the fastest I have read a book in a long time.  Perhaps because I read it as a physical paperback.  The author is a apparently a film producer of sorts and this was his first written work. I think he clearly has a gift, I particularly enjoyed the way each chapter, although remaining in the third person, was from a different characters’ perspective.

The film though, save your pennies.

5 star

Far from the Madding Crowd

Far from the madding crowd

Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

I love Thomas Hardy. I always thoroughly enjoy his books, knowing full well that my mind will easily produce a beautiful image thanks to his skill at elongating even the tiniest of details.  I revel in the depths of each character, enjoy looking at the landscapes he creates so expertly and his social conventions are insightful. I wish more modern authors would allow themselves to be influenced by late 19th Century writers…

Not my first time reading Far From the Madding Crowd, and it is by no means my favourite Hardy novel but I love his heroine characters. I read Bathsheba as strong and confident (whereas I am sure that my Husband would take her as fickle with a lack of life skills), she creates such a dynamic twist to the plot, almost as if Hardy struggles to keep up with her choices. The story is set in a rural town, with Bathesheba as the new owner of a farm after her Uncle died and left it to her. The story follows the relationship between her and her 3 very differing suitors; the first is simple but steadfast Gabriel Oak. The second a wealthy William Boldwood who owns the farm adjacent and finally there is the lustful Sergeant Troy. 

Bathesheba is a real woman, who has enough determination in life to run her farm, but simultaneously enough love in her heart to be wooed by a strapping young soldier. She makes mistakes and retributions. She is gossiped about yet highly respected. She has the brains to ensure the success of the farm and it’s workers yet she has the faith in God to see her through turbulent times.  I would like to think that she is one of the earliest fiesty characters in literature.

Like the first time I read Far from the Madding Crowd, I loved it.  I have a couple of favourite quotes; the first is Oak’s proclamation of love very early in the book;

“And at home by the fire, whenever you look up there I shall be— and whenever I look up, there will be you.
-Gabriel Oak”

I particularly like this as later on in the book, when Bathsheba is in turmoil she glances into Oak’s house to see him sitting by the fire, suggesting that his simple and constant love remains as steadfast and true as the day he revealed it.

The below quote I think is very poignant,

“It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs.”
 Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd

 

5 star

Shakespearean Insults

 

I Love this, I keep discovering new insults!chartwell_shakespearean_NEW_large_016be32b-1836-497e-991c-5514ef085ef0

Atonement

 

Atonement

Published: 2001

Author: Ian McEwan

This book has been on my radar since the film release in 2007, but I never felt an overwhelming urge to read it so although I had it on my kindle it wasn’t until I bought the hard copy a few weeks ago that I decided now would be as good a time as any.

For those of you living under a rock, the story goes that a young girl commits a crime that allegedly has disastrous consequences for her sister and their long term family friend; it sees lovers torn apart and a family in turmoil. The film trailer and even the book synopsis created this illusion that I was about to read something terrible, awful. This young girl unwittingly commits a crime and the whole world turns upside down because of it. The problem I had with this book is that the crime wasn’t drastic enough for me; the lives after the said crime were not substantially decimated.

Setting the scene for this lie was the most interesting part of the book; it was most of the book in fact! Everything after just seemed to fall out of the authors mouth like word vomit. I didn’t think enough emphasis went on any character so how a reader can feel that lives have been turned upside down is beyond me. Example, the elder sister stops speaking to her family (apologies for a reveal), but how did this impact her or the family? It doesn’t say.

It might seem that I am being harsh and I suppose I have my own high expectations to contend with, I did enjoy the book. Maybe it is because I like period literature, or maybe it is because I have a black heart and wanted to read about the ruining of lives!

On that note, there was one poignant scene in the book, set on the beaches of Dunkirk in WWII after the retreat had been ordered; it saw a fight ensue between army soldiers and a weak member of the RAF. This spat tore at my heart strings, and I thought McEwan successfully captured the absolute carnage of human mentality and body on those beaches over 70 years ago.

 Although my review has the pretence of snubbing the literary efforts of McEwan, I would recommend the book.  I would always recommend the book over a film.  The setting of the scene was beautifully done, and the descriptiveness of the war efforts were also very good.

 

4 star

26 Reasons Why You Need To Read More

A great Buzz feed article, asking attendees of the Book Expo America to write down reasons why you need to read more. One of my favourites is:

“Because books tell the stories of people we don’t know, places we haven’t been, and worlds we can only imagine.”

Read the article: http://www.buzzfeed.com/jarrylee/reasons-to-read-more#.fh3AbQwqxo

Sycamore Row

Sycamore_Row_by_John-Grisham

Sycamore Row

Published: October 22, 2013, paperback July 2014

Author: John Grisham

A few months before reading this I read The Confession for the second time within less than 12 months. I never re-read books (unless it is Harry Potter).  So when I discovered Grisham had a new book out I was stomach butterfly excited!

I downloaded Sycamore Row as soon as I could and completely devoured the book like a lioness who has gone without zebra for weeks.  The book followed Jake Brigance, a solicitor introduced in an earlier book ‘A Time to Kill’.  I haven’t yet read A Time to Kill, however I happened upon the film one evening and was emotionally gripped, one of the best films I ever seen due to a dramatic storyline and a brilliant acting.

Back to Sycamore Row, it follows the aftermath of the death of a wealthy cancer stricken Southern man, Seth Hubbard,  leaving his estate to his black house cleaner and naming Jake Brigance as the estate’s solicitor.   Big sparks fly as Seth’s children and Grand children contest the decision made in his last, hand written Will claiming he was under duress or that he was too poorly to be in his right mind.

What is so superb about this story, is the way that Grisham can have you gripped to every word on the page as you eagerly urge the characters to discover just a thread of information.  A truely captivating read that once again draws on the racial segregation of Southern America.

I think the ending is the best part, you must read it!

5 star

Always,” said Snape.

“Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears.
“After all this time?”
“Always,” said Snape.”
J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter, #7))

 

It seems to me that the good lord in his infinate wisdom gave us three things to make life bearable- hope, jokes, and dogs. But the greatest of these was dogs.

It seems to me that the good lord in his infinate wisdom gave us three things to make life bearable- hope, jokes, and dogs. But the greatest of these was dogs.
Robyn Davidson, Tracks: A Woman’s Solo Trek Across 1700 Miles of Australian Outback

 

I continue to remain in complete awe of Robyn Davidson.  She is such an inspiration, in act and words.

Book binge

My local book store had a one day extravaganza, all books €1! So I found a few on my to read list! …plus I had a lovely slice of homemade cake! Day well spent.  

It’s important that we leave each other and the comfort of it, and circle away

It’s important that we leave each other and the comfort of it, and circle away, even though it’s hard sometimes, so that we can come back and swap information about what we’ve learnt even if what we do changes us
― Robyn Davidson, Tracks

Bite: the most gripping thriller you will ever read

Bite

 

Bite: the most gripping thriller you will ever read by Nick Louth

…Yeah right!!!

I read this a while ago, and every time I reflect on the story I roll my eyes. I hope whoever came up with the strap line “the most gripping thriller you will ever read” received a decent pay cheque because unfortunately…it worked.  The book doesn’t need to be fantastic if you have convinced people to make the initial purchase.

This book is about a missing scientist, her short term boyfriend caught up in the hunt and a whole lot of medical terminology with the added extra of a countdown to the release of a deadly weapon that has the potential to kill millions. It is all very rushed, with chases and amazing feats of survival. The boyfriend goes from zero to hero overnight and relies on some rather tedious friendship ties to help him….not to mention some healing powers to rival Superman.

However, I will give the book some credit, where credit is due, and that is because of the flashbacks to Africa and a guerilla terrorist group. I thought that bit was interesting. Mainly because it opened my eyes to some atrocities that swept through the continent.

Not worth my review time to be honest….best for holiday reads I think. Then don’t bother bringing the book home with you.

3 star

 

Daughter

Daughter

Daughter by Jane Shemilt

It has taken me a while to type thoughts to blog. This is a hard hitting book and I think to provide a review half heartedly would somehow dishonor the story.  Plus, when a book leaves a lingering feeling of emptiness, how can one find the words to put into a review?

The book is centred around a missing girl and the subsequent deteriation of her whole family. It infuses past and present narrative to create a seamless flow of thoughts and memories, all from the mothers perspective.  When I bought this book, I didn’t realise the strength of the story I was about to unfold, it opens the door to an otherwise locked life, that of a parent with a missing child.  The way in which each character intereacts with each other is chilling, shocking, yet so real.

I could never have guessed the ending, but the way in which I got there was predictable. But not in a negative way. It was more Shemilt luring out my understanding of grief. We all know, have all seen tears on the TV news, in films and we all think we know what goes through peoples’ minds.  But to read it in such a raw and obvious way makes you realise that you know nothing. That you pray to God this will never happen to you.

In terms of the pace of the story, it is slow.  But you don’t need it to go any faster as the perfectly dovetails that of the trauma, fast in the beginning, slow and agonising in the middle, then normal and reluctant towards the end.

This book has a 3.6 on Goodreads. I think the problem lies in the fact that there isn’t a whole lot of action, just memories and anguish. People also don’t recognise the book as belonging to a typical genre, something Shemilt exaplins so well:

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

Psychological suspense, (thriller/drama) is the nearest that I can get to placing the book, not a very  meaningful label  as so many books within this capacious scope are completely different from each other. My background is medical, I’m an ex- GP, my husband is a neurosurgeon. It was helpful to use this known world to create the back drop to both books, and some issues from that world become important. In Daughter: the dangers of labelling, of short cuts, doctors playing God.  But Daughter isn’t a medical drama; it’s a story about a missing girl and the themes of grief, loss, harmful secrets, betrayal and fear do resonate with others in this genre.

An extract from her website.

I am giving this book 5 stars because I think it is brilliantly written, it demonstrates a real talent from Shemilt and I can’t believe this is only her debut.

5 star