A Long Petal of the Sea by Isabel Allende

From Spain during the Civil War to Chile, then exile in Venezuela and back to Chile, this beautiful novel covers a period of history that most of us no nothing about. It follows the lives of Victor Dalmau and his wife Roser from youth to old age. It’s a sweeping epic of a novel with a host of likeable and not so likeable fictional characters. The politicians such as Franco, Salvador Allende and Pinochet are all real, as is the poet Pablo Neruda. Having loved The House of the Spirits I looked forward to a touch of magical realism (my favourite genre), but there was none. I would have given it five stars but for two reasons. Firstly (as others have pointed out) it reads at times like a history lesson and secondly it’s a bit like a joke without a punchline. There are no surprises or twists and turns as in the books I usually read. It is linear going from point A to point B in chronological order. The writing is beautiful and the story engaging but for me it doesn’t follow the introduction, conflict, crescendo, resolution, happy-ever-after-ending of the type of stories I am used to. It kind of meanders from one place and time to another until everyone is old or dead, just with a lot of drama and bloodshed along the way. It is probably why I never read non-fiction.
However, don’t let that put you off. It’s a beautiful story and well worth reading.

The Mother I Could Have Been by Kerry Fisher

I wish to thank NetGalley for allowing me to read an advanced copy of this book.
This isn’t my usual genre but I thought I would give it a go. To start with I didn’t like Vicky at all. She is so hard done by and finds it easier to walk away than actually have a conversation with the people in her life she thinks are criticising her. In fact she got on my nerves so much that I put the book away for a week and started another one. Finally I came back to it and once Caro and her family were introduced I read into the night finishing it before work this morning. I cried throughout much of the second half because it was so real. Haven’t we all fallen out with family members though most of us haven’t walked away from our mothers or toddlers. Or had a row with someone to find they had died before we could put things right. That’s why I never go to sleep on an argument. At least Vicky found out that the problems were mostly to do with her self-esteem or lack of it but to say anymore would give away too much. As for India! Boy what a bitch. And her husband Andy. A snivelling, controlling little s*&t.
This was such a great read. So heart-wrenching. Loved it.

The Only Child by Mi-ae Seo

Oh boy this could have been so good. The premise of the story is an excellent one and once I managed to understand what was going on (which took a while) it became really gripping. The story that is – because the writing (and I guess it gets lost in translation) is clunky and immature. From my experience of creative writing (I studied it for my OU degree) which is all about show not tell, someone needs a bit of tuition. It’s tell tell tell and so much repetition. There are only so many times you can ask someone if they want a glass of water (no-one seems to drink anything else which I am sure is very admirable from a health point of view but not very believable) or maybe the excessive heat is supposed to add to the tension. It doesn’t. And we get that the child is pale with large eyes and puppy fat cheeks but we don’t need to be told over and over. The main character Seonkyeong is supposed to be a criminal psychologist, but her understanding of her step-daughter, who is a cross between Carrie and Damien from the Omen, is pitiable and even her time with the serial killer shows little expertise. She is, as my later Father-in-law would have said, as dim as a TOC-H lamp, whatever that is. Her husband, a doctor, is also pretty dim and unlikable with it.

But in spite of its flaws I loved it. It certainly pays homage to other books of its genre like The Silence of the Lambs. It even references it. And it would make a great film. It just needs some careful editing, preferably with a sledgehammer.

Many thanks to Netgalley for the ARC. I did enjoy it!

The Memory Wood by Sam Lloyd

A very strange and different book about kidnapping and abduction with so many twists which I mostly didn’t see coming, though there were a few that were more obvious. Elissa is a 13 year old chess champion who is abducted while attending a tournament with her mother, She only pops to the car for a second when she is brutally grabbed and bundled into a white van and taken away. Having been drugged she next wakes up manacled in the basement of a derelict cottage. Elijah is the twelve year old boy who lives in the cottage close by to The Memory Wood and befriends her though he doesn’t help her escape as he wants to keep her there. Then we have the female detective who leads the case. All we really know about her is that she desperately wants a child of her own but keeps having miscarriages. This makes her particularly keen to find Elissa though I’m not really sure why it’s relevant – wouldn’t we all be desperate to find a missing child?
I loved this book and read it in three sittings. I would have given it five stars for its total originality other than some of the ‘other’ characters could have been fleshed out a bit more, especially the detective.
Thanks to Netgalley for letting me read this brilliant book. I know when I’ve read something this good – I need a gap before starting something new.

The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman

This is just so good. Alice Hoffman is still probably my favourite author of all time. The story is set during the the second world war and follows the lives of three young women – Lea, Ettie and Marianne and the two brothers Julien and Victor. There is also another main character in the form of Ava – a golem (from Jewish folklore) – created from earth and clay by Ettie (daughter of a rabbi) at the behest of Lea’s mother Hanni. Knowing that as Jews they would soon be taken by the Nazis and sent to a death camp, Hanni asks Ettie if her father would create a golem to protect 12 year old Lea. Ettie knows her father will not do it but says she can do it herself in spite of being a woman. So Ava is created. Lea escapes to Paris (from Berlin) with Ava and stays with Julien and Victor’s family. Marianne is their housekeeper but Victor is secretly in love with her though she is not Jewish and is five years older than him. And so their lives become entwined forever. Some of what they have to endure, carry out and be party to is heartbreaking, yet the strength of the human spirit is also uplifting. For some people – those who do not like magical realism or anything supernatural – this may not be for them. But for me Ava is the star of the show and her transformation is wonderful. I totally forgot that she a a mythical creature from folklore. Just accept it and see the beauty in the story.

Relatively Strange by Marilyn Messik

I really love this book. I love the way it is written from Stella’s point of view with her dry and often irreverent humour – there were many times when I laughed out loud. Stella has powers unlike anyone else she knows. She can fly, she can move things with her mind and she can read other people’s thoughts. Sometimes this can be helpful, sometimes it can be a shock to know what others really think of her and sometimes she can just pry and be a nuisance. She can cause havoc and be the instigator of hilarious and disastrous consequences at parties and she can also be dangerous if she isn’t careful with her powers. As Stella herself says in the opening line: “I was five when I discovered I could fly, sixteen when I killed a man. Both events were unsettling in their own way.”

Then part way through she meets a group of people with similar powers who call on her to help them in a dangerous situation. This part I was not so keen on and wondered if the book was actually YA. However, I was still fascinated and kept reading. The last part of the book is different again and I think is probably leading up to the next in the series, which I shall definitely look out for.

Because Stella is a child and teen in the 60s and 70s (and Jewish to boot) I could identify with so much of the background to her family life and the period itself. The prose is so well written and frequently hilarious while at other times dark and scary. A wonderful read. Many thanks to Netgalley for providing a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

Last Request by Liz Mistry

I enjoyed reading this book though it’s not really my genre. There are a lot of plot threads which was sometimes confusing but thankfully they all tie up neatly in the end. However I did have my reservations. I found some of the characters to be real stereotypes and not very original. I tried to like Nikki but I still couldn’t by the end. The Yorkshire accents and all the owts and summats are annoying when written in conversations (fine when spoken on TV). Certain things I found rather far fetched but to say what would give it away. Let’s just keep it at oink. I was disappointed with the outcome of one of the threads but again I can’t say any more. On the other hand it would make a great TV series and I would watch it. I love this kind of thing on TV but not in book form.

Many thanks to The Pigeonhole for letting me read this, the other Pigeons and especially to Liz for her involvement and her insights.

PS I know some fellow readers didn’t like the gruesome revelations by the serial killer but personally I thought they were the best bit!!