Books

Golden Deeds by Catherine Chidgey

Golden Deeds by Catherine Chidgey

At the end of May, we went to New Zealand to visit some friends.  Our friend took us to visit their best independent bookstores, probably because my husband forced him.  We visited a store called The Piggery, and I discovered a section of New Zealand authors, so I decided to pick one up so I could check New Zealand of my list, and Golden Deeds was the one that captured my attention.

The blurbs on the back about the author all seemed very positive (as they usually are) but when I came home, the reviews on Goodreads weren’t that great.  But no turning back.  This is one of those stories that tells several stories that somehow connect up. Patrick Mercer, an Englishman, leaves his wife one day, and at some point is involved in an accident and is a coma.  Collette, a university student in New Zealand, receives letters with updates on his condition, but doesn’t know who he is.  Another family are living with their grief after their teenage daughter went missing and was never found again.  Everyone is on some sort of journey.

I love a book that tells several stories that connect together in some unexpected way. I enjoyed journeying with these characters. But then it ends.  I was disappointed, because I was hoping the mystery of the missing daughter would be solved. We were on the brink of discovery.  No satisfaction at all.  Some people prefer endings like that, but I’m not a fan. For that reason, I wouldn’t recommend this novel.  However it was kind of cool to read a book set in a similar area to where I had just visited.  It does help the imagery come to life in your mind.

Do you have any recommendations for authors from New Zealand?

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Books

A Meal in Winter

A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli.  Translated by Sam Taylor.

Some people may dismiss Twitter as a platform for people to reveal what they are having for lunch, but someone once shared with me about how much you can learn from someone by their meals.  Are they skipping lunch? Did they have something prepared? Do they pick up something easy but unhealthy? Are they eating alone or with friends? We can learn a lot from a simple meal.

This novella is a bit like that; it’s a meal that shares so much more with the readers.  Hubert Mingarelli is a French author who wrote this book about German Nazi soldiers in Poland.  The plot is limited.  The soldiers sneak out to catch Jews to avoid having to shoot the previous captives.  If they succeed, they can also get out of it the following day.  A meal is prepared from limited ingredients in the harsh cold of winter and shared between the soldiers, their prisoner, a random person passing by and his dog.

I was a bit reluctant to read a book set in this era. It has been done so many times before, and a number of other books I’ve been gifted for this challenge are set in the same era.  However, this book is something else. The word I used to describe how I felt when I finished reading it was ‘suffocated’.  Like all my air had been taken away and I was left breathless. There is a power in these words that punches you right in the guts.

It’s a short book and a simple concept but there is so much hidden in these pages.  I recommend checking it out.

Books

The People of Forever are Not Afraid

The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu tells the story of three Israeli women as they finish high school, complete their compulsory enlistment in the Israeli Defence Force, and their life afterwards.  The chapters alternate in their point of view of the different girl, sometimes not revealing just which narrator until several pages into the chapter. Some parts of their story are similar to other young women; stories of boys and romantic relationships, making new friends while maintaining old friendships, and starting new jobs.  However this is against a back drop of military service; learning and training others who to shoot, managing checkpoints, guarding borders.  Sometimes it feels so mundane, but then it’s not. The book is marked with glimpses of tragedy and its everlasting impact.

When I started my Around the World Challenge, this is exactly the sort of book I wanted to read. Something that reveals something new to me.  I was aware of the mandatory conscription in Israel but beyond that, hadn’t thought much about it.  This book gives some perspective as to what that is like.  Each character shares a small part of their own story, piecing together to create a bigger picture, highlighting that each role, no matter how small it may be perceived, has its importance in large military operations.

This book also shows the lives of these young women after they leave the military and start new chapters of their lives.  They carry their scars into their new lives which impacts on the new relationships they form.  It makes me wonder how this impacts on the country, with whole generations of their people having these intense experiences.  Does it make it better to have everyone have to experience this, or is it just leaving everyone that little bit traumatised?

Shani Boianjiu has been well recognised for this novel. She was the first Israeli to be longlisted for UK’s Women’s Prize for Fiction.  The book was selected as one of the ten best fiction titles of 2012 by the Wall Street Journal. The book has been released and critically acclaimed in many countries. Shani is reportedly working on her next novel now, so I look forward to seeing what she releases next.

Books

All Dogs are Blue

All Dogs are Blue, written by Rodrigo de Souza Leão, and translated by Zoe Perry and Stefan Tobler.

This is the first real book I read as part of my challenge. In the beginning of the year, I had read books I received for Christmas, so was able to check off some of the easier countries from my list: Australia, United Kingdom, United States of America.

After I finished Ken Follet’s epic story, Edge of Eternity, and still had an afternoon free in front of me, I went looking on our own bookshelves for something else to read. I picked up All Dogs are Blue by Brazilian author, Rodrigo de Souza Leão.  It appeared to be a short book, which is probably what I needed after the previous book of 1098 pages.  But in its own way, this book is exhausting.

I didn’t know much about this book beyond what was on the back cover. It includes an introduction from another author, Deborah Levy, which helped set the scene for me a lot.  There are things that happen later in the book that made more sense with the context that Deborah had created. 

 I have been to Brazil, but done the usual touristy things. Copacabana beach, Christ the redeemer, all that stuff.  None of this features in the book.  This book explore mental illness, which perhaps could be universal.  Treatment and conditions probably vary in different countries, but this book is about a man lost in his psychosis.

This story is confusing and erratic, probably similar to living with psychosis. This semi-autobiographical story shares the author’s experiences of living with schizophrenia. Some sentences are so powerful and then spiral into a more confusing place. There is an underlying feeling of heartbreak.

I was grateful for the endnotes.  There were a number of references to things specifically Brazilian that I definitely would have missed on my own.  Different phrases, local festivals, references to local poets and songs.  The translators did a great job in helping us understand these things.

I feel that perhaps I am not intelligent enough to fully comprehend the importance of this work. I am glad I read it though and I might re-read it again in the future. I think one could probably discover more in the text on re-reading it. 

 This book has been adapted for the theatre, which would be interesting to check out.

Leão also wrote nine other books and was the co-founder of the electronic poetry magazine Zunái.  He rarely left his home, but used social media to stay connected with the world and was able to connect with other Brazilian writers.  He died in a psychiatric care facility shortly after this book was released, with his other works being published since then. You can learn more about Leão at http://www.andotherstories.org/author/rodrigo-de-souza-leao/

Books

Book Review: After the Armistice Ball by Catriona McPherson

ImageAre negative book reviews ok?

The Duffy Family claim their diamonds have been stolen while visiting the Esslemont’s for the Armistice Ball. Mrs. Esslemont asks Dandy Gilver to use her skills of snooping and gossiping to investigate this further. It is Scotland in 1923 and it seems a world vastly different to my own. I think a good book can make you feel included in these unfamiliar places, but for most of the book, I felt like a foreign observer.

I never really enjoyed the protagonist Dandy Gilver. My husband will frequently remind me that you don’t need to like the characters to enjoy a book, and while I partly agree, my distaste towards Dandy definitely impacted on my enjoyment of this book. The reason I picked up this book is because I love the concept of the ladies of the 1920s solving crimes. I thoroughly enjoy Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries on TV, though I’ve yet to read the books myself. Maybe my expectations were just too high. The only character I truly enjoyed was Dandy’s Lady’s maid who was so full of sass and pretentiousness, that I wish she featured more in this story.

Throughout the book, I always felt like I knew what was going to happen before the characters themselves. I would be expecting some sort of twist, because surely it can’t be that obvious, but pages later, Dandy and friends come to the realization that I had already had. The only time when something didn’t seem obvious was in the final chapter. I can’t even say what it is without some major spoiler alerts. But they make this discovery during the investigation and someone asks about the person connected to it, and Dandy just says “Isn’t it obvious?” and then the person she is with realizes as well. But I’ve never worked that out. If anyone has read it, please tell me the answer? Did I miss something during the book when I got bored and started skimming? By the end of the book, I don’t care who stole the diamonds, but I do want to know the answer to this question. I have tried google, and I haven’t found a confirmed answer.

I have read in some reviews that this series gets better as it goes along. Maybe the author needed some time to find her feet as she developed the characters, but I don’t feel the need to be part of this world again and will be giving the rest of the series a miss.

This book is the Mystery part of my LIterary Exploration Book Challenge.

Originally posted at LIterary Exploration.

You can buy this book at Amazon, or Book Depository

Books

Book Review: The Flavours of Love by Dorothy Koomson

The Flavours of Love by Dorothy Koomsen I came across this book at the bookshop while looking for Christmas presents for my husband. He was with me at the time and saw my reaction when I read the synopsis on the back. Cooking and murder and secrets! So much that interested me. The Flavours of Love tells the story of Saffron Mackleroy and her family after the murder of her husband 18 months earlier. The killer of her husband has started sending letters to Saffron to make her aware that she is being watched. And on top of all that, she has all the usual family drama to deal with. Her teenage daughter has some very confronting issues to deal with, the younger son is withdrawing from life, her husband’s aunt has been asked to leave her nursing home. This story is more than just about trying to solve a murder; it’s about how to survive life.

Dorothy Koomson’s writing was very compelling. I was mesmerized from the first chapter and at the end of the night, I had to force myself to put the book down to get some sleep, as I knew I wouldn’t ever find a place I would willingly stop. It was so great to get to Friday night and know I could stay up as late as I wanted and power through the last half of the book. It was after 4am when I got to bed, knowing the family was safe again after Joel’s killer had been caught.

This book could have easily just focused on the murder aspect, but it incorporated so many other things. It gave me so much to reflect upon about my own relationships and how I might cope in a similar circumstance but I hope I never have to find out. Losing the love of your life would be devastating, but then you have to send the kids back to school, return to work, keep paying bills. Life goes on and doesn’t slow down when tragedy strikes. And there are all those little things, the little neuroses that your spouse would be able to talk you through, and to suddenly lose that voice of reason and do things you might not have done in the past. So many little things that we take for granted in the normality of our lives.

I loved learning about the love that Saffron and Joel shared with little flashback scenes to their life together, while they were dating and married. There is so much magic in this book amongst all the tragedy and drama that is revealed between the pages. I wasn’t really sure of the genre to class this book as when I started it, but wanted to include it in my Literary Exploration Challenge. I eventually settled on Thriller, because I certainly felt thrilled all the way through it as all the secrets were unraveled.

I don’t think I’d ever heard of Dorothy Koomson before, but she is now firmly planted on my radar and I will be hunting down her other books to read.

Originally posted at Literary Exploration. Buy: Amazon, Book Depository,  (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Books

The Literary Exploration Reading Challenge

I didn’t read very many books last year. I think I read something amazing at the beginning of the year, and I became reluctant to leave that world behind and enter a new one, so it was a while in between books. And then the ones I did read, didn’t end up inspiring me to keep on reading.
This year I have a goal to make more of an effort to read, so I am participating in the Literary Exploration Reading Challenge. This is an initiative over at my husband’s blog, that also happens in his GoodReads Book Club. This will be the second year it will be running. The idea is that you read books from different genres as a way to open yourself up to new reading experiences. People who participated last year seemed to enjoy it, so this year I will also be trying it out.
I will start off at the Easy Challenge and see how I go. If I finish that early enough, I might try to upgrade to one of the more difficult ones. Sometimes it is difficult to think what belongs in which genre, but that’s probably part of the adventure. So far, I’m doing ok, and I have nearly finished my third book and started my fourth book over the weekend. Not a bad effort for January. I hope I can keep it up.
As a result, I suspect there will be a few book reviews in the future. Some get posted over at Literary Exploration as guest reviews, which I hope to cross-post here. Hopefully, you will enjoy reading them.