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Friday, 27 November 2015

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

(Book received from, and reviewed for,      

Family Saga set in Baltimore                 My rating:  4 out of 5

4 generations of the Whitshanks have all been model citizens of their local communities, respected and admired by all.  Except, of course, for Denny Whitshank.  However is everyone quite as they seem?

A considerable part of the action of this novel is based in the family home; it is as if the world outside scarcely exists.  Abby and her husband Red bring up their children, enjoy their  grandchildren and make a welcome home for family and acquaintances in need.   However family get-togethers gradually begin to reveal undercurrents and secrets, and why after decades of beach holidays next to the same family have they never spoken to them?

The book moves seamlessly from the 1920s to 2012, not always in chronological order, gradually exploring why things are as they are, and the family history and relationships.  As Abby talks about the "circularity" of family life, so the various Whitshank roles over time become clearer, and it is evident that first impressions are not always correct. 

The house is an important part of the story - almost a character in itself.   The author takes the reader through the building of the house, including some very witty anecdotes, how Red's father came to own it, and how it changes over time in parallel with the occupiers and the events going on in their lives.  As the house is lived in by the different generations, so wonderful descriptions of the goings on within emerge and so the characters of the home owners are drawn.  As with the house, one wonders how much of the external facade of the occupants is just for show, and how much is at their real heart?

There are some interesting underlying themes, such as what makes a family - relationships, arguments ... certainly a lot more than just blood ties.   Does one every fully understand one's own role in a family unit?   Are some secrets best kept forever?

The characters, although not particularly likeable, are very real - and most readers will know people like them - perhaps that is what makes this book very readable. 

At the back of the book are a list of questions for discussion - beware these questions contain storyline spoilers! 

For lovers of this genre, this book is a winner.  As the story builds, new perspectives are added as the time shifts reveal hitherto unknown details.   By the final few chapters the storyline is moving very fast, with revelations undoing previously held assumptions about the characters.  This is a book that many may like to re-read, as what is revealed by the end of the book changes the reader's perspective of characters' actions earlier in the book. 

Suitable for all the family, this is a book that can be read and enjoyed just for itself, or provide much material for thought and discussion.  Either way its sure to be another success for Anne Tyler, and has already been on the Sunday Times bestseller list.  

Monday, 16 November 2015

The Birds by Tarjei Vesaas

 (I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)

Published by Archipelago Books
Beautiful and Thought Provoking    My rating  5 out of 5

Mattis and his sister Hege live together on the edge of a lake, eking out a living from Hege's knitting.  Mattis, whom the locals refer to as "Simple Simon" worries that his sister will leave him, whilst being extraordinarily aware of the beauty of birds.

Narrated from Mattis' perspective, with all his confusions and worries, Mattis tries to understand others but finds it very difficult.  He is also frustrated that others don't seem to follow his line of thinking, or understand about the really important things. 

One day he rows a man across the lake and back to his home, and everything changes.

A moving tale of how others think differently, and how Mattis by trying to conform to expected behaviours only causes more confusion and difficulties - as well as some joyous successes in life.  

Beautifully translated, this book takes the reader straight to the shores of the lake where they, like Mattis, might like to sit and think a while on the messages in this poignant novel.  

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Fallout by Sadie Jones

(Book received from, and review written for,  

The 1970's Revisited                      My rating:  3 out of 5

A novel based in the theatre world of London, with nostalgia, parties and all the confusions, failures and successes of just starting out.

Luke has been brought up in a family with problems.  Nina has also been brought up in a non-conventional family setting.  It seems they are destined to be together; their paths first crossing in 1961, when they are both very young, and then again eleven years later.    

In 1972 Luke leaves his predictable and unfulfilling future in his home town, and moves to London to follow his dreams.  He lives in a flat with Paul and Paul's girlfriend, and joins the world of theatre as a playwright (with a second job of a dustman).  He changes his name, puts his past behind him - for the most part - and starts again.  Meanwhile Nina has also moved to London with her (very) part time actress mother and Luke and Nina's paths are about to cross again. 

Wonderful reminiscences of the 1970's are included in this novel - the power cuts, the winding steps leading upstairs on a bus, kaftans, chicken kiev etc. etc. etc.  Life in London, living in a flat, constant parties, making mistakes, falling in love and finding yourself are all covered in this engrossing book, where following your dreams are more important than doing a "proper" job and earning enough to impress your family.

The life of small theatres is presented wonderfully, describing the glamour and thrill of the performances, plus the background rewrites, the rehearsals in shabby rooms and funding problems.    I shall never watch a play in quite the same way again! 

There were times when the emotions in the novel leapt out and caught me, plus there were times when Luke just needed to sit down work out how much of his life was real, and how much was just an act.  But perhaps a lot of that is what life in 1970's London was all about, and certainly the atmosphere of London at that time is portrayed extremely well.

Throughout it all there is Nina, sometimes in the background, sometimes to the fore - always a presence for better or worse.   

In the 400 pages of this book the only chapter headings are the years.  As over 300 pages are set in 1972 I found the lack of chapters made the book quite  irritating to read, and really distracted from the storyline.  There are some lines drawn between paragraphs, but I spent quite a bit of time wondering where would be a good time to pause, and then, later, trying to find my place again.   The first third of the book I found absorbing, but then there was perhaps a little too much about theatre life (for me) and the storyline rather dragged for a while.  After that, thought the storyline picked up,  I failed to get fully involved again. 

An interesting novel  for those interested in London life in the 1970s and the realities of working in the theatre. 

Monday, 2 November 2015

Pegasus Down by Philip Donlay

 (I received the Kindle version of this book, free of charge, from Netgalley in return for an honest independent review.)

Non-Stop Action All the Way                        My rating:  4 out of 5

Lauren's top secret CIA mission goes wrong, and she is trapped in enemy territory.  Her husband, Donovan, is in a race to rescue her - but racing against him are other parties who will stop at nothing to find her first.

This is a non-stop action movie in a book.  It starts with "The flash of the explosion lit up the night sky".  Near the end there is "a muffled boom that sent glowing hot debris tumbling away from the helicopter".  Imbetween are water, land and sky chases across Europe, with plenty of excitement and heart stopping moments. 

This is the 6th book in the Donovan Nash Thriller series, and the first one I have read.  It stands alone well, but I found the non-stop action detracted from the storyline behind the characters, which is why I gave it a personal 4 out of 5 rating.   Anyone who likes "all action" thrillers will love this, and I am sure feel it deserves a 5 out of 5.  I shall certainly be queuing up at the cinema if it is made into a film!