Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises– Fredrik Backman

Contemporary Fiction

I ‘read’ this book in audio format, chosen because I find my normal fayre of crime fiction bizarrely too hard to listen to, and decided a total change of scene might work better for me, I was right.
I’m not however quite sure how to review it but need to illustrate what an impact Elsa, and her Grandmother had on me as I trudged home from work over a number of weeks. Elsa starts by giving us a few pointers about her Grandmother:

“Granny and Elsa used to watch the evening news together. Now and then Elsa would ask Granny why grown-ups were always doing such idiotic things to each other. Granny usually answered that it was because grown-ups were generally people, and people are generally shits. Elsa countered that grown-ups were also responsible for a lot of good things in between all the idiocy – space exploration, the UN, vaccines and cheese slicers, for instance. Granny then said the real trick of life was that almost no one is entirely a shit and almost no one is entirely not a shit. The hard part of life is keeping as much on the ‘not-a-shit’ side as one can.”

Granny is also a little bit mad. One of the early stories we hear is of her throwing turds at a policeman after breaking into a zoo, firing paintballs from her balcony at one of the most enduring characters of all Britt-Marie and driving a car called Audi, all with Elsa in tow of course. Granny and Elsa live in separate apartments in one building and although the main story is about this wonderful pair; Elsa a super bright child who is ‘different’ and Granny who we discover is similarly different and we have a whole host of other characters whose stories we discover along the way. Child characters always worry me a little and Elsa at ‘nearly eight’ is no different. Fortunately she was an engaging child, full of Marvel super-heros, Harry Potter and a stickler for using Wikipedia a useful device for knowing stuff that no normal nearly eight year old would know and of course as she is absolutely integral to the storyline it was helpful that she was ‘different’ a normal child could never have coped with the pressure!

This might sound like a bit of a ‘twee’ tale, and on a level it is. There is the magic of childhood with an overarching fairy tale world invented by Elsa’s Granny, Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas where everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal. But Fredrik Backman has a way of making this absolutely story for adults. In a style seen again in his far darker tale, Beartown, there are insightful words that cover the range of every situation and emotion.

“Death’s greatest power is not that it can make people die, but that it can make people want to stop living.”

Because sadly, and especially because she is Elsa’s only friend, Granny dies and leaves Elsa with a number of letters to be delivered, all of which apologise to the recipient for something. It is while undertaking this task that the other resident’s stories are revealed. Some with happier outcomes, some less so and those stories also reveal more about Granny than all the stories and madcap activities she carried out in Elsa’s presence. As the book goes on it becomes clear who some of the characters in Miamas really are and in turn gives an explanation as to why they are the way they are. Along the way we see war, we see natural disasters in the form of a tsunami, we see bullying and betrayal and we also see that life goes on. Life and death are seen up close and personal through the prism of a those who have witnessed both.

This is a delightful story which was beautifully narrated by Joan Walker who manages to keep her voice steady as some of the more emotional moments and the combination of an unusual story, expertly translated by Herman Koch gave me much pleasure and company while I clocked up my steps!

“She shouldn’t take any notice of what those muppets think, says Granny. Because all the best people are different – look at superheroes.”

I couldn’t help feeling the world would be a much better place if every child had a ‘Granny’ in their corner to guide them.

First Published UK: 4 June 2015
No of Pages: 353
Listening Time: 11 Hours 2 Minutes
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The War of the Wives – Tamar Cohen

Contemporary Fiction 4*s
Contemporary Fiction

The book starts with all the required elements of a farce but whilst it is hugely entertaining, the author’s keen eye gives us something a little more complex than humour.

When Selina Busfield is woken in the middle of the night she is as much confused as worried. All that rapidly changes when the policeman outside asks to come in and when he makes his way into her beautiful London house he delivers the news that her husband Simon has been found dead in the Thames. Selina is mystified as to how this could possibly be; as far as she knew he was due home the next day from working in Dubai.

On the day of the funeral Selina is still trying to piece together the sequence of events with her three children but what she didn’t expect was to meet another Mrs Busfield. Mrs Lottie Busfield who has been married to Simon for 17 years is in attendance complete with her teenage daughter!

If a bigamous marriage, a dead husband and devastated children weren’t enough, this is a book chock-a-block with shocks which Tamar Cohen bounces through the pages with aplomb. With Simon dead and buried the two women examine how they could possibly not have known about each other. They also reflect on their differences. Lottie is the opposite to Selina, being far more of a free-spirit, and skint to boot. As the inevitable legal matters arise following Simon’s death the pair need to reach some sort of dialogue.

This story really does rattle along at a fair old pace helped along by a hand-off of narratives between Selina and Lottie as they take stock of their lives. Each part of the book is named after the five stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance and our characters are made to work through these stages in exceptionally unusual circumstances. This author never fails to amaze me, because this is a perceptive book about loss that will resonate with many readers although hopefully not so many will have found themselves in quite such a predicament as this lot. Because Selina and Lottie, whilst being the main protagonists have their own relationships to maintain, principally with their children who are grieving their perhaps not so dearly departed father now unpleasant truths have come to light.

Incredibly the author has managed to squeeze some action in between the fabulous character studies and the complex emotional journey that Simon’s death has caused the two families; there is danger hiding around the corner, one that means precaution and action is required to keep both families safe!

Very few books can pack so many contradictory emotions into one book without it feeling as if it is a novel that doesn’t know what it is supposed to be, somehow the author avoided any such doubt in a book that had me gasping in sympathy at one moment while sniggering at some sharp humour the next. Quite simply the writing is incredibly perceptive yet sprinkled with humorous observations about life, love and loss.

I have followed Tammy as she is now known, from the Mistress’s Revenge through to her latest dark novel If She Was Bad but somehow I had missed this, her second book despite the fact that I kept reminding myself to read it. I’m so glad I did, if you haven’t sampled this author’s work, you really should.

Other Books by Tamar (aka Tammy Cohen)

The Mistress’s Revenge
Someone Else’s Wedding
The Broken
Dying for Christmas
First One Missing
When She Was Bad

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

Remember Me This Way – Sabine Durrant

Psychological Thriller 5*'s
Psychological Thriller

Sometimes you know a book is for you from the very first page and for me, this was one of those books.

Valentine’s Day 2012 was the date of Zach Hopkins accident; tragically his car turned into a fire-ball after hitting a tree. It takes Lizzie a whole year before she is strong enough to visit the site of his death and his cottage in Cornwall. Reaching the tree which he’d hit with a bunch of flowers she notices another offering to Zach from Xenia, someone she has never heard of.

… and so the story begins. Told in the years running up to his death by Zach and in the present day by Lizzie, his widow. After finding the flowers Lizzie realises there was a lot about Zach that she didn’t know and when she starts her own investigations she realises there were far more gaps than she could have imagined. To make matters worse Lizzie is sure someone is following her and. Lizzie’s sister Peggy believes that this is because she is grieving, the problem was that Lizzie hadn’t been entirely honest with anyone before Zach’s death.

Sabine Durrant has created a truly terrifying character in Zach and Lizzie’s revelations about what life was like with her husband are all the more chilling because of the matter of fact way they are relayed. Zach’s own assessment of his relationship with Lizzie is even more disturbing. With Zach’s narrative echoing Lizzies many chapters later is an excellent device that allows the reader to see two sides of the same story without it appearing repetitive.

I rarely mention the ending of a book in my review because I don’t want to spoil the book for others but I’m going to break my own rules here by saying: the ending wasn’t what I expected but it wasn’t a disappointment either. That doesn’t give anything away as along the way there were enough twists and turns to make my head spin and I am notoriously bad at predictions!

The other characters we meet during this tale are well defined although Zach’s student Onnie is ‘off the wall’ not unreasonably so and Lizzie’s relationship with her mother, who has Alzheimer’s validated Lizzie’s view of herself and her sister Peggy.

A brilliant read, which if anything is even better than Sabine Durrant’s debut novel Under Her Skin

I’d like to thank the publisher’s Hodder & Stoughton for allowing me to read this fantastic book for this unbiased, though glowing, review ahead of publication of today 17 July 2014.

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

Rubbernecker – Belinda Bauer

Crime Fiction 5*'s
Crime Fiction

Urban Dictionary
Person who cranes, stains or otherwise awkwardly turns their head and stares while passing the scene of something interesting (usually morbid in nature).
This is usually seen and performed while driving past the scene of an accident, or any other incident where there are police, firemen or ambulances with lots of flashing lights.

Belinda Bauer manages to write books that get right under your skin, in this case literally, when Patrick Fort enrols on an anatomy course and along with three fellow students is faced with a cadaver. The object of the exercise is to determine the cause of death of ‘number 19’. Patrick has no interest in becoming a doctor, he wants to know what happens when people die. His interest and obsession with the subject ties into the death of his father when he was a young child and the fact that he suffers with Asperger’s Syndrome. When Patrick’s assertion of the cause of death of ‘number 19’ turns out to be at odds with the official certification he is determined to prove that he is right!

This book is not just about Patrick’s quest though. There are scenes set on a hospital high-dependency neurological ward where those either in a coma or recovering from one are nursed disinterestedly by the staff there. Tracey in particular took the job so that she could have a rest away from patients who talked, and read her book series! Tracey sets her sights on Mr Deal with plenty of opportunity to appear kind and caring when he visits his silent wife daily.

My précis of this story doesn’t do justice to the narrative that the author weaves around the silent happenings on the ward or Patrick’s original take on the world around him. Patrick’s mother is at home wishing him a ‘normal’ life but with no real optimism that he will find his way in the world and when he finds himself at odds with his lecturers she is powerless to help him.

This is one of those books that is full of a cast of unpleasant examples of the human race, which would sometimes put me off a book, but the writing is so compelling as Belinda Bauer manages to sprinkle the text with some fantastic dark observations about life, the characters and the world in general changing the tone from horrid to fascinating. I couldn’t stop reading this book and all the time I wondered how all the strands would be pulled together; of course Belinda Bauer managed this with an elegant bow.

I was delighted to receive a free copy from Random House UK, Transworld Publishers of this book in return for an honest review

Other Books by Belinda Bauer

Finders Keepers

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

The Making of Us – Lisa Jewell

Women's Fiction 5*'s
Women’s Fiction

Realising that Lisa Jewell’s latest book ‘The House We Grew Up In’ is due to be published next month I decided to read one that I had missed out on.

Lisa Jewell’s books are great for light easy reading but with this book she manages to do so by dealing with serious issues; in this case sperm donors and the offspring they produce. Lisa Jewell always demonstrates the art of good storytelling, the sort of writer that makes you care about the characters she writes about with a solid underpinning of a good plot.

I like the story being told from different viewpoints and as the reader we meet all the important characters early on. Lydia, Dean and Robyn all have different experiences of family life, their own tragedies and unsure of where they really began. All these characters are realistically portrayed as are the others in the book.

Lisa manages to analyse family dynamics and loss in an easily accessible way making this a fantastic read.

Lisa Jewell Novels
• The house we Grew up In (2013)
• Before I Met You (2012)
• The Making Of Us (2011
• After The Party (2010)
• The Truth About Melody Browne (2009)
• 31 Dream Street (2007)
• Vince and Joy (2005
• A Friend of the Family (2004)
• One Hit Wonder (2001)
• Thirtynothing (2000)
• Ralph’s Party (1999)

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Devil’s Music – Jane Rusbridge

Women's Fiction 3*'s
Women’s Fiction

A family in 1950’s Britain who have a daughter, Elaine, who is classed as mentally deficient. Andy the elder brother remembers a tragic accident on a seaside holiday and soon afterwards his mother disappears. The book is narrated by Andy as a child in the first person and also by himself 30 years later as an adult the mother’s voice is narrated in the second person. Although I can see the reason why Jane Rusbridge chose this medium to tell her story I found it difficult to truly engage with her emotionally despite the tale she was telling being a tragic one.

I really enjoyed Andy’s childhood narration, his fascination with knots and his deep relationship with his `Grampy’ were both authentic and touching and his childhood fears were understandable given his father’s irascibility. I also loved the front pages with illustrations of the knots that Andy learnt to tie at his grandfather’s knee which went hand in hand with his childhood obsession with Houdini.

I didn’t like Andy’s adult voice though; he has become a wanderer leaving his younger sister to shoulder the burden of his father’s death without his support. For me he became an unsympathetic character.

The author raised the stakes with her ending which I thought extremely fitting that certain conclusions are left to the reader to imagine