Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Image of You – Adele Parks

Contemporary Fiction
4*s

It’s always good to read Adele Parks books when you want to escape life and The Image of You was no different.

It all starts with Anna joining a dating website to find the man of her dreams. This romantic and lovely woman in her early thirties has come to accept that she will never find him if she waits for their eyes to meet across a crowded room. Anna has recently moved to London and as you’d expect she’s had her heart-broken but she’s also across the Atlantic from her family, her parents and her twin sister Zoe. The girl’s names designed to bookend the alphabet also have entirely different personalities. Zoe isn’t sweet and romantic, she’s a woman who parties hard, is flirty and unpredictable. Zoe is however on hand to make sure that Anna’s profile is designed to meet someone suitable, not someone who will hurt her.

Anna meets Nick, a high-flying banker who joined the site to worm his way into places other than a girl’s heart. Nick isn’t looking for love, he’s looking for fun. But he meets up with Anna and finds that sometimes a wholesome woman is better than his normal type.

So far so simple. Girl meets boy. Boy likes girl but only time will tell whether he is going to be the womanising cheat that Anna is keen to avoid. And then Zoe visits London and we find out what she makes of the relationship.
This was a compulsive read and so even though I guessed which direction the story was going in, I was still doubting myself until all was revealed. The twin’s characters whilst overtly stereotypical at the outset became more nuanced the further through the book you read so although Anna was way too sweet and perfect for my taste and Zoe far too wild, there was a proper back-story to explain their extremes. I think it is impossible for someone who isn’t an identical twin to be fascinated by this closest of all the genetic relationships, after all they are closer to each other in this respect than they are to their parents, or children if they have them. This alone makes the story a great premise and as it progresses this relationship is the one at the heart.

I also enjoyed the realistic portrayal of internet dating. The different aims of the people who use it in this consumer society is demonstrated in the early scenes which doesn’t forget the assumptions made by others about those who choose this method to find a partner.

Ultimately this is a book about relationships, not just romantic but between siblings, parents and workmates. Nick’s scenes with his mates and his colleagues all had an authenticity about them which are often rare in women’s fiction.

The Image of You kept me turning the pages, of course to find out how it all ends, that’s a given, but the author kept me interested in these people who I maybe would avoid in ‘real life’ but who fascinated with throughout the book.

I am very grateful to the publishers Headline Review who provided me with a copy of The Image of You ahead of the publication date for the paperback of today, 22 February 2018. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.

First Published UK: 22 February 2018
Publisher: Headline Review
No of Pages: 480
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

 

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The Heart’s Invisible Furies – John Boyne

Contemporary Fiction
5*s

I’m going to start this review with a serious confession – I requested this book by accident, without even having read the blurb so when it appeared on my shelf I was let’s say ambivalent at best about reading – thank goodness I didn’t realise how long it was (592 pages) before I put it on the spreadsheet that must be obeyed! Well this was the best mistake (and there are a few to choose from) in 2017!

For all that it’s hard to explain just why I loved it so much without giving away any more than the synopsis, so please bear with me while I alternately gush and mush this review.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies is the story of Cyril Avery’s life, from before he was born in 1945 until old age creeps in 2008 and a bonus piece beyond. Yes, I know that sounds like a saga, and it is, but not like any saga I have ever read. What it does have in common with that now unfashionable style is the depth of character that is gained by the sheer length of time covered, but John Boyne has decided that we will only catch up with our protagonist every seven years which means that the first time we meet him, he is a school boy living with his parents Charles and Maude in Ireland. But do not think that a seven-year old boy has nothing worth hearing, the scene is being set with an event that Cyril will carry forward with him and this characterises the beauty of the book; it might be a long book but nothing said ever feels like a filler, each part has either a meaning or its importance will become apparent later on.

I was drawn into the story right from the start with one of the most memorable openings I’ve read in a long while and although I didn’t have any preconceptions (that’s what happens if you choose a book with no more knowledge than the most famous book for children which the author had written) the style was far funnier than those absent preconceptions had anticipated.

But for all they never fought. Maude’s way of dealing with Charles was to treat him like an ottoman, of no use to anyone but worth having around.

That’s not to say this book is one big hoot, it definitely isn’t, to read it is to ride the highs and the lows of Cyril’s life with him as this shy, solitary schoolboy grows into a teenager and then to a man where he becomes a civil servant and beyond where he ventures out of Ireland.

The work itself was incredibly boring and my colleagues a little irritating, the engines of their days fuelled by personal and political gossip.

Sitting next to the vacuous and highly unfocused Miss Ambrosia

She generally had at least five men on the go, everyone from barmen to dancehall entrepreneurs, showjumpers to pretenders to the Russian throne, and had no shame in juggling them like some nymphomaniacal circus act.

The everyday scenes have imprinted themselves on my mind and I was soon willing things to work out for Cyril, because here we have a man who every time things seem to be working out, life has an uncanny knack of knocking him off his stride.
Of course just like in real life, some characters only appear for one of the seven year sections alongside Cyril, whilst some appear then fade into the background before reappearing, and some, sadly are with us for a few sections before disappearing completely. What never happens is that you are bored of any of the rich array of men and women who walk alongside Cyril.

And yet for all that this is a book which has something important to say, most obviously about Ireland and the position the church held, and the way they treated women and other sections of society, but along with the markers to show the passing of time, none of this is driven home in an unnecessarily heavy-handed way.

To bring this rambling and frankly unstructured review to a close, I will just say that I adored this book. I was deeply annoyed that I read it in the run up to Christmas, a time when it was necessary to put the book aside and engage with the three-dimensional people and do endless chores, all the time longing to get back to Cyril Avery and his tragedies and triumphs, the heart-breaking moments which are underpinned with its almost playful look at the absurdities of life.

I’d like to say a huge thank you to the publishers for providing me with a copy of The Heart’s Invisible Furies, allowing me to laugh and yes, sob, with Cyril Avery, this review is my thank you to them and of course the accomplished John Boyne. I just have to say if you read this book, and it is at a bargain price on kindle at this very moment, then do read the afterword by the author which is touching and heartfelt and explains where the inspiration for this book came from.

First Published UK: 17 February 2017
Publisher: Transworld
No of Pages: 592
Genre: Contemporary Fiction 
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in #20 Books of Summer 2016

3 Poisoners, 2 Doctors and a Nursery Maid – My #20booksofsummer Roundup

20 Books of Summer 2016

Cathy at Cathy 746 has a yearly challenge to read twenty books over the summer months starting on 1 June 2015 and finishing on 5 September 2016.

I’ll start by saying I didn’t finish all 20 books this year due to bad planning, a wedding and far too much work, but looking at the positives, I read some fantastic books and made some much-needed room on my bookshelf! The count of physical books on my shelf reducing from 94 to a mere 83 books.

Cathy’s rules are flexible but I challenged myself to read 20 books that I already owned as physical books before the challenge started – no review copies were included.

Did I stick to the rules? Well nearly the only exception was Did She Kill Him? by Kate Colquhoun which was a birthday present delivered in July! So that was just being polite, wasn’t it?

Of the 15 books I did read and review, I had just one DNF, with the Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton, with me concluding that this author’s style isn’t for me, 5 were non-fiction books – I only read 8 non-fiction books in the whole of 2015 but my interest in poisoners this year has definitely fuelled a surge this year.

The 3 suspected poisoners I read about this summer were:

Dr Adams who appeared in Jane Robins’s book The Curious Habits of Dr Adams. Dr Adams was arrested in 1956 under suspicion of killing a number of his patients in return for cars & money but his alleged crimes started many years previously. A fascinating five star read.

Gail Bell’s book The Poison Principle the subject matter was her paternal grandfather who was suspected of poisoning his two young sons in 1927. Gail Bell’s book took in real-life infamous poisoners and those in literature; who can forget the wicked witch and her poisoned apple in Snow White? in a wide-ranging and interesting read.

Florence Maybrick is one of the alleged poisoners that features frequently in lists of those women who poison – a real worry for Victorian society when a few fly-papers legally bought could see the demise of unwanted husbands and relatives. Kate Colquhoun’s book Did She Kill Him? was an immensely readable book which covered the entirety of Florence Maybrick’s life and was another five star read.

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My greatest achievement was finishing the entire 640 pages of Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain which is the author’s memoir of the First World War as a VAD and beyond. This was more of a mixed bag with some of the book incredibly interesting and sadly, parts which my lack of knowledge rendered a bit of a slog. I actually started this read in mid-July and finally turned the last page at the end of September, proving once again that reading more than one book at a time just doesn’t work for me!

Noel Streatfeild’s book about life as an Edwardian Nanny, Tea by the Nursery Fire, was a bit of a mixed-bag, my conclusion being that this favourite children’s author had passed her best by the time she wrote this in 1976.

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I had 2 books on my list that were a catch-up of series that I love – Sophie Hannah’s The Narrow Bed didn’t disappoint at all with an off-the-wall mystery with a literary base and gained five stars from me. Meanwhile Camilla Läckberg’s Swedish series featuring Patrik Hedström and Erica Falck often links past crimes with the present and Buried Angels was a superb mystery whose roots spread back to the beginning of the twentieth century.

Another series which I love and have read was written by the talented Reginald Hill and features Dalziel and Pascoe and Pictures of Perfection was book 13 in this series. Once again this author proved what a brilliant writer he was. An absorbing, clever and well-plotted read originally written in the early 1990s looking at a way of life that was dying out.

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I also took in two older books by authors that I’ve discovered more recently;

L.P. Hartley’s The Shrimp and the Anemone is a dark look at two siblings in the inter-war period, frail Eustace and his bossy elder sister Hilda – this is the first in a trilogy and based on this read the following two will appear here before too long.

Beryl Bainbridge is slightly more contemporary and An Awfully Big Adventure is set in 1950s Liverpool with theatre life under the microscope of this sharp author. Another author who I will be reading more from in the near future this book also being awarded five stars.

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And it wouldn’t be a summer list without one book entry from Agatha Christie and this year I chose The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. The second doctor on my list narrates this novel about his patient who has been stabbed in the back. I concur that this is one of the best of Christie’s novels.

I stayed in the past with Sarah Water’s The Little Stranger which could be read as a ghost story, unless you are me, as I’m not a fan of ghosts in books (or anywhere else for that matter), who couldn’t resist this fantastic author’s work and read it at a slightly different level!

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With the contemporary fiction on my list taking in the strange tale of two sets of twins in the aptly named The Twins by Saskia Sarginson, a couple recovering from the loss of their son set in Italy in Other People’s Secrets by Louise Candlish and a psychological thriller that is quite frankly still haunting me with You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, all in all it was a varied summer reading wise.

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My aim is to keep the page devoted to 20 Books of Summer updated with the last 4 reads ready to beat this challenge in 2017 if Cathy is good enough to hold it again.

Top Read of 20 Books of Summer 2016

The question is how do you choose the best read when the subjects are as wide-ranging as the style of writing employed – the answer is it’s tough but in the end exceptionally easy based on the impact this book made – forever now linked to a pool in Crete where I sat and became absorbed by village life in Enscombe in Yorkshire.

The Top Read of 20 Books of Summer 2016 is Pictures of Perfection by Reginald Hill!

 

Pictures of perfection.jxr