books

Philomena by Martin Sixsmith – Book Review

This book left me with mixed feelings; though I found it mostly enjoyable and touching there were two big things that didn’t sit well with me and somewhat soured the reading experience.

One is the blatantly misleading cover and title. I haven’t watched the 2013 film Philomena starring Judi Dench, but I’ve heard enough to expect, as the front cover puts it, “the poignant true story of a mother and the son she had to give away”, or as the back cover puts it, “the touching story of a mother’s fifty-year search for her son”. At first Sixsmith’s book seems to back it up, opening in the 1950s Ireland with the story of Philomena Lee, a young girl who gets pregnant out of wedlock and gets sent to a convent. After giving birth to a baby boy, she is forced to work at the Magdalene laundry to “pay for her sins”, and eventually give up her son for adoption, with no hope of ever contacting him again. A truly tragic story that makes your blood boil.

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Don’t Close Your Eyes by Holly Seddon – Book Review

This psychological thriller left me with a question, can an average book be elevated by a brilliant, shocking last-minute twist that makes you look at the story and characters in a whole different light? Yes… to a degree.

The story centres on two sisters, Robin and Sarah, who despite being fraternal twins are pure chalk and cheese: Robin is wild, rebellious and outspoken, Sarah is a good girl, docile and eager to please. When a shy and sensitive boy called Callum Granger shows up at their school and becomes friends with the girls, none of them can predict the seismic shift that’s about to rock their families and leave Robin in the UK while Sarah moves to the States.

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Quote of the Day

Sunsets are loved because they vanish.

Flowers are loved because they go.

The dogs of the field and the cats of the kitchen are loved because soon they must depart.

These are not the sole reasons, but at the heart of morning welcomes and afternoon laughters is the promise of farewell. In the gray muzzle of an old dog we see goodbye. In the tired face of an old friend we read long journeys beyond returns.

– Ray Bradbury, From the Dust Returned

The History of Bees by Maja Lunde – Book Review

I’ve always been fascinated by what if scenarios in fiction, and the one explored by this Norwegian author is devastatingly simple: what would happen to the human society if the bees went extinct? Spread across almost 250 years and three stories, all involving bees to some degree, Lunde’s book finishes with a tentative note of optimism but not before taking the reader on a dark ride of dashed hopes and bleak prospects for our world.

Other than a cautionary tale, the major thread of the novel is the bond between parents and children, the joy and heartbreak it brings, and the different legacies we leave behind. While Lunde doesn’t experiment with style to the degree of, say, Cloud Atlas, the novel is a mix of historical, modern and speculative fiction, only spelling out the direct connections between the three narratives at the very end.

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All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker – Book Review

This was the first book club reading that, I’m sorry to say, turned out to be a complete dud. I still finished it because the central mystery kept my interest, but it’s not a good sign when you start cringing a couple of pages in.

There is a potentially interesting if harrowing story at the heart of the novel. In a small USA town, a teenage girl called Jenny Kramer is brutally raped at a high school party. Her parents agree to an experimental treatment that erases Jenny’s memory of the event; in theory this should spare her from PTSD and allow her to return to normal life. But Jenny’s trauma finds its way out regardless, and she decides that she wants to recover her memory of the rape. The novel’s narrator, Dr. Forrester, is the psychiatrist who treats Jenny as well as her parents who deal with their own emotional fallout and deep-seated issues. There’s also the question of who committed this horrific crime.

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Sleeping Murder by Agatha Christie – Book Review

I meant to get started on the next book for our club, but instead I got sidetracked re-reading this Agatha Christie mystery, a Miss Marple mystery to be precise. This book has an unusual history in Christie’s oeuvre – during her life it was locked in a vault on her request, to be published posthumously along with Curtain, Hercule Poirot’s last mystery. Unlike Curtain, which wrapped up Poirot’s life and work, there’s no such finality in Sleeping Murder and there are further Miss Marple stories that follow it chronologically, so the foreboding byline on the book cover is pretty misleading. No need for drama, Miss Marple is still alive and kicking at the end.

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Deception Point by Dan Brown – Book Review

I got knocked over by a nasty cold last week, and I had two things to keep away the tedium of recovering in bed: my kitten who was ecstatic to have his human available all day for cuddles, and this book.

Back in 2003 I like many others got swept up in the Da Vinci Code hype, and while it ran out of steam near the end I had to admit it was one of the most insanely addictive mystery thrillers I’ve ever read. Brown’s writing might be clunky and his characters flat and forgettable, but you don’t read his books for graceful prose and deep psychological insights, you read them for the trashy fast-paced plot and twists that make you turn page after page. Does Deception Point deliver on this front? Mostly.

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