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!!

Happy Family by James Ellis

I absolutely loved this book. It’s quirky and original with some brilliant characters – all of whom are either eccentric, sad or totally bonkers. I admit that the gaming side was tiresome, at times silly – salamanders?? – and often unnecessary, but other than that it’s one of my favourite books that I have read with the Pigeonhole. Tom, artist and inventor of the computer game Happy Family, has never quite got over his mother’s death and goes to Spain to become a recluse. What’s the point in living, he muses, if you are just destined to die. Germaine, an art critic, has had a terrible childhood (I wish I knew more about it). Alta appears from nowhere with her dog Badger and moves in with Tom to take care of him even though she is 17 and he is in his 40s. Germaine has known Tom for ages and wants to write a book about him. Tom’s agent has been sacked by him but wants Germaine to go to Spain and ‘save’ him from himself. At times whimsical and introspective, towards the end it often drifts into farce as the batty new characters chase each other around the hotel and the mountains. You will either love it or hate, but for me it was an unforgettable foray into the surreal and absurd.
Many thanks to The Pigeonhole and the other Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.

Baby by Annaleese Jochems

I don’t really know where to start with Baby. It won some literary prize and in years to come will no doubt be regarded as a cult modern classic. That’s the only reason I’m giving it 3 stars instead of 2 in case I am missing something. It’s a book about two (one young and one slightly less young), self absorbed and stupid people. And there’s the rub. Had one of the protagonists been an intelligent, vicious and evil psychopath, there might have been either a fitting comeuppance or a redemption. But Cynthia in particular is too stupid for either. She is obsessed with gym instructor Anaheera – beautiful but also pretty dumb – so after a series of rather silly encounters they run away with Cynthia’s dog Snot-Head ‘in tow’ and buy a boat named Baby. Who the hell calls a dog Snot-Head?? SPOILER ALERT – then because Anaheera isn’t keen on the dog Cynthia leaves it somewhere for someone else to find. By now I loathe her even more. In fact I was so worried about the dog (hopefully rescued and renamed) that I nearly stopped reading. But the dog is never mentioned again except Cynthia occasionally saying she misses him. Then go back and find the dog you imbecile!! The two women live together on the boat eating beans and biscuits (I’m a Celebrity anyone?) until someone dies (not Cynthia unfortunately) and a man named Gordon arrives on the scene who has sex with Anaheera. Cynthia is mad with jealousy and so it goes on. The book is liberally peppered with bodily functions, which are not even remotely interesting and Cynthia does everything to draw attention back to herself. I’m not making this sound very good am I? If this is a reflection of young people today then God help us all. People die and no-one cares. Maybe that’s why we never hear about the dog again. Because no-one cares.
And as for the reviewer who says it’s ‘hilarious’. Show me one funny paragraph. Or even one sentence….
Many thanks to the Pigeonhole for giving me the opportunity to read Baby along with the other Pigeons.

So Lucky by Dawn O’Porter

When I started this book I thought – this is not for me. My favourite programme when I was in my thirties was Thirtysomething – instant identification with what was going on. Now I’m in my sixties I thought I would not empathise with these twentysomething and thirtysomethings especially in a generation who probably see things very differently. How wrong I was. They are everyone who has had self-doubts, hang-ups and damaging or destructive relationships, be it with their parents or partners, whether that was in the 60s, 70s, 80s or now. I got so cross when Michael was horrible to Beth. I wanted to scream at him. I cried for Ruby and her relationship with her mother even though (from personal experience) I would have pursued a different route at the end. And I loved little Bonnie. The only negatives for me (apart from the name Risky – I hate that sort of thing) were that I cringed at some of the sexual references (I’ve never been able to discuss these things openly with girlfriends) and certain things that others found hilarious but I didn’t. In fact some of the humour was probably lost on me, but the pathos, the sadness, the joy of finding themselves had me in tears for most of the last few chapters. Shame the men were all such twats.
Many thanks to The Pigeonhole for giving me the opportunity to read this along with my fellow Pigeons in advance of publication.

The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys

I had no idea this is YA and still don’t really know why – other than the main characters are all late teens/early twenties. I loved this book. In fact I loved it so much that I am struggling to read anything else now. The story is so real (of course much of it is based on fact apart from the individual stories). How little do we know about life in Spain under Franco. And yes I cried at the end. I cried for Miguel and Paco Lobo as much as for Ana and Daniel and Julia and especially for Puri. I know some people think it was sentimental and schmaltzy, but I thought it was moving and beautifully written.
Many thanks to The Pigeonhole and my fellow Pigeons for making this such an enjoyable read.