Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Mount TBR 2017

The Conversations We Never Had – Jeffrey H. Konis

Historical Fiction
3*s

I instantly got the feeling that Jeffrey Konis has written this beautiful book with a sense of guilt and regret. The pages are full of the stories he imagines his Grandmother’s younger sister, Grandma “Ola” would have told him if only he’d asked the questions, alongside this are a few too many descriptions of the hard work he was doing to establish himself at law school as justification for not doing so.

The first section describes Jeffrey moving into the brownstone house with Olga when she was an elderly lady, to help him out with accommodation while he studied and for him to provide company to the woman who had taken on his father following the end of the war when he was alone in the world. Olga took the young boy from the farm where he was found in Poland to America after surviving the Holocaust. It took me a while to become comfortable with the mix of fact and fiction in this book. This was mainly because it is presented as a story as told in parts by an elderly lady, complete with breaks where her memory fails or the details are simply too hard to express, when of course we know that these painful conversations never happened. However, there is a large element of truth regarding the ‘big picture’ which is sadly all too common to many Jewish families following the Holocaust.

Once the first section is over and Grandma Ola is describing what happened during the war, the trip by railway to a concentration camp being one of those that was only too realistic, then the details flowed off the page less self-consciously. The author delves back into Olga’s past from a childhood through to the early days when the Jews were viewed by suspicion by their neighbours right through to herref move to America and the fresh start with her husband and Jeffrey’s father.

The author also uses the book to explore the meaning of being a Jew in the modern world, including the exploration of whether marrying someone out of the faith is really feasible, for both parties, even should the woman choose to convert. This isn’t an author that doubts his faith, but rather is questioning what it means in terms of values that are shared in the community and that they are woven into the thread of the person from the earliest of days.

With its interview style the Jeffrey Konis adopts a somewhat more formal style than you would imagine family members would usually converse in although the author works hard to minimise this with descriptions of cookies served up each time he sat down with his imaginary notebook to listen to Olga’s stories.

I found that the part devoted to the war years easily the most powerful section of the entire book and perhaps because his questions became sparser allowing the imagined dialogue of Olga to proceed without interruption, the most readable section of the book.

An interesting book presented in a novel way that gets down and personal with a generation of people whose lives were changed forever.

This book is the ninth in my Mount TBR 2017 Challenge having been purchased in September 2016 to qualify.
mount-tbr-2017

 

 

First Published UK: 2016
Publisher: Outskirts Press
No of Pages:  208
Genre: Historical Fiction
Amazon UK
Amazon US

 

Posted in Books I have read

Caitlin Davies, Hunter Davies and Margaret Forster – what a family of writers!

This morning I reviewed Family Likeness by Caitlin Davies; I was especially pleased to be chosen to read a copy in return for an honest review as in my opinion she is an excellent writer and daughter of two authors who I hold in high esteem.

Margaret Forster wrote what is probably my favourite book of all time – ‘Shadow Baby’ which shares the theme of abandoned children with ‘Family Likeness’

Shadow BabyShadow Baby by Margaret Forster

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of my favourite books of all times and one of the few that I re-read for sheer pleasure from time to time

The story is about two girls adopted 100 years apart, the reasons why they were adopted and how they and their mothers reacted to adoption.

During the book we get to know the girls and their mothers through their own narratives. This is an emotional story and I often think of the real Evie’s that lived in the shadows because of the time and circumstance of their birth. I recommend reading Hidden Lives: A Family Memoir which includes the Margret Forster’s family history, including that of her Grandmother who wouldn’t speak of her early life at all. I am sure this wonderful book is the author’s way of revealing some of what may have led to those secrets.

You can’t do better than this for a dual time tale with a hefty dollop of social history included.

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While Hunter Davies was our family companion with his Flossie Teacake adventures which kept us amused during long car journeys when my children were small. These books were entertaining enough for this weary parent to stomach many a repeat on the old tape cassette player and dear old Flossie is remembered fondly in our house more than 15 years on.

Earlier this year Margaret Forster published another fantastic book

The Unknown Bridesmaid

and I would also recommend

Isa and MayIsa and May by Margaret Forster

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I put off buying this as although [[ASIN:0140258361 Shadow Baby]] is my favourite book of all time, the last couple of Margaret Forster’s books didn’t hit the same mark as far as I’m concerned.

This book although really plays to the authors exceptional skill in writing about family relationships both those that work and those that don’t. The characters were all likeable, especially both Grandmother’s who though totally different had both contributed and been involved in Isamays life. I love the way the different relationships including the natural frustrations that occur in family life are described.

Isamays dissertation on other Grandmothers nicely interjects the main story and as it is a dissertation does so in a natural and readable way.

I will read this again I’m sure and have another excuse to remember my Grandmother who helped shape my life

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and the book that I believe lead to Shadow Baby which is a fascinating look at social history, particularly that of women

Hidden Lives: A Family MemoirHidden Lives: A Family Memoir by Margaret Forster

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This personal biography by Margaret Forster is a fascinating exploration of how lives of women have changed over a period of 100 plus years starting in the 1870’s.

Margaret Ann was the author’s grandmother, orphaned at the age of 2, her early life is a mystery. Margaret Ann simply doesn’t give any details away of her early life, all that her family knew was from 1893 onwards. Why was Margaret Ann so keen to conceal her early life? We also meet Lilian, Margaret’s mother a working class woman living in Carlisle, the author depicts a woman who yearns for the better things in life. There are moving scenes where the family try to locate a cafe on holiday which will meet Lilian’s expectations. The interaction of each of the characters is moving and honest. Lilian wonders at Margaret’s life as a wife and mother, the difference domestic appliances made to a housewife’s day etc.

This book clearly presents social history in an interesting and personal way but it also reminds us of the changes to woman’s role in society as a whole. It is a book that makes you think about women’s expectations, in many ways I found Lilian’s story the hardest to read as she clearly wanted more from her life was born just a little too early!

The research for this book clearly led into the novel Shadow Baby which is my favourite book of all time, I would recommend both these for anyone interested in the life of a working class woman.

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

Family Likeness – Caitlin Davies

Contemporary Fiction 5*'s
Contemporary Fiction
5*’s

This is a book which has all the ingredients mixed together to tell a great story. In the 1950’s Muriel is taken to a home by her mother. Muriel is of mixed race and just four years old. Through Muriel’s narration we follow her through her time in the home through to adulthood and the birth of her daughter Rosie. Rosie also narrates part of the book. She is angry on behalf of her mother, she wants her mother to have been wanted, not to have been brought up in ‘care’ and when Rosie wants something she goes and gets it.

Rosie has been a teacher at a cross-road in life. She gets herself employed as a nanny to a busy businessman who is travelling abroad leaving Rosie in charge of Ella and Bobby. Here we see another side to Rosie, the side that cares about the poor young girl who has no mother, the girl who doesn’t get on with her teacher and the girl who is angry and resentful that her family is no longer complete. Rosie takes the children to Kenwood where both Ella and Rosie share an interest in Dido Elizabeth Belle, the illegitimate daughter of a Navy Captain and a West Indian woman. Here is another mixed race child whose life was dictated by her colour. Rosie wants her mother to read her files, to know where she came from but doesn’t appreciate that Muriel doesn’t share that same need.

This is an interesting look at families of all shapes and sizes and although this is underpinned by the issue of colour there is far more to this story, this story applies to all families. If you like well written books, with characters who matter after you have turned the last page, try this, a definite five star read.

Family Likeness
The Ghost of Lily Painter

Historical Fiction 5*'s
Historical Fiction
5*’s
Posted in Book Review, Books I have read, Five Star Reads

The House We Grew Up In – Lisa Jewell

Perfect Storytelling 5 *
Women’s Fiction
5*

I switched on my kindle with eager anticipation to read the latest offering from Lisa Jewell; there is a very special feeling when you just know from reading the very first words that what lies ahead is 400 pages of pure enjoyment.

The book tells the story of the Bird family who lived in a beautiful house in a Cotswold village. The family comprised a mother Lorelei, a father Colin and four children; two girls followed by twin boys, and on Easter Sunday they had an Easter Egg Hunt in the garden. In 1981 the eldest daughter Megan is 10 and along with her cousins celebrates one such idyllic day but as the reader already knows that in April 2011 Megan has turned up at the beautiful house with her eldest daughter who declares `This is the worst house I have ever seen’

The reader finds out what happened in the intervening years with flashbacks to Easter’s between 1981 and 2011, as well as being privy to Lorelei’s emails to her friend which started in November 2010. In short a great deal happens to change everyone; there are many issues covered including bereavement, mental illness, suicide, adultery as well as the big one, relationships. All are sensitively handled, cleverly illustrating the different ways the characters deal with events both at the time and how they feel about them years later. All these events meant that the book was a real page turner where I found myself wondering what else could happen to the lovely family I first read about.

I think the reason why I love Lisa Jewell’s books so much is her characters, always real and just like real people my opinion and allegiance can change as you find out more about them. This has to be my favourite of all time, something I believe I stated after reading her last book, Before I Met You! I would suggest this to anyone who loves a good story. This is the type of story which leaves you bereft that it is finished

Other Books by Lisa Jewell
Before I Met You (19 Jul 2012)
The Making of Us (12 May 2011)
After the Party (15 Dec 2010)
The Truth About Melody Browne (15 Dec 2010)
31 Dream Street (3 Apr 2008)
Vince and Joy: The Love Story of a Lifetime (4 Aug 2005)
A Friend of the Family (4 Aug 2005)
One-hit Wonder (25 Apr 2003)
Thirtynothing (7 Sep 2000)
Ralph’s Party (6 May 1999)

The Making of Us

Before I Met You

Posted in Book Review, Books I have read

The Safest Place – Suzanne Bugler

Contemporary Fiction 4*'s
Contemporary Fiction
4*’s

Suzanne Bugler’s books all concentrate on family relationships, her descriptions so good that each time I read one of her books it feels like I am peeking through the windows on someone else’s life.

In the safest Place starts with Jane persuading her husband to live their dream, this couple’s dream is to live in the country. Once Jane decides that she wants to move and once broached she quickly escalates her wishes to a full blown campaign to make the move happen. The couples two children, a quiet son Sam and a younger daughter Ella are promised an idyllic life but the dream soon becomes a little troubled as reality encroaches.

I don’t read Suzanne Bugler’s books for an action packed read, her books are far more about observing people and their relationships, however I was surprised that it took quite so long for the event to happen that is to change everything for all of them. The relationships are well observed, mother to teenage son, the envy Jane hopes to inspire to her London friends to that she feels towards her new friend in the country .the sadness of a marriage under strain and the way Jane feels like a teenage daughter when conversing with her own parents are all perfectly drawn.

Suzanne Bugler is an expert on mothers of all types as illustrated in her previous two books This Perfect World and The Child Inside

The Child InsideThe Child Inside by Suzanne Bugler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is another great book from Suzanne Bugler. Unlike Laura in This Perfect World Rachel, the protagonist of The Child Inside, isn’t one of the yummy mummy’s. Rachel has spent her life on the periphery of everyone else’s life wanting to be part of the group but instead had the role of the observer in life.

Giving birth to a still-born daughter ten years previously caused Rachel to draw her husband Andrew and son Jono close to her. Poor Jono has been Rachel and Andrew’s shield against the world and the centre of theirs. Suzanne Bugler’s descriptions of the cloying and suffocating result are so realistic it is almost painful and as a reader we observe Jono struggling with growing up and fighting against his parents. Rachel is then drawn back to the past and the death of a friend of a friend who died aged sixteen, following her mother and trying to involve herself in her life. As Rachel’s interest in the past increases her marriage disintegrates further. Rachel can’t let go of the past but thinks she has found a way to live her life….

As in This Perfect World the author’s words bring the scene’s to life. Her observations on how cruel, selfish and unkind the human race can be are captured perfectly creating dark and compelling stories. I can’t wait for the next one!

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or for Suzanne Bugler’s debut A Perfect World

This Perfect WorldThis Perfect World by Suzanne Bugler

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a thought-provoking read!

This book is well written and very engaging.

Despite not liking the protaganist Laura at the start of the book it was a compelling read. The stories of life in the playground were uncomfortably realistic as were those of the “school mums.” I am sure we all know or have known people like these.

The book is really about the consequences of our actions, Laura has to atone for her actions as a child and in the process quesitons her current life.

This is not an easy book to read but I was engrossed and wanted to find out why Laura’s parents were so keen for the girls to be friends.

Looking forward to the next book by Suzanne Bugler

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If you enjoy Suzanne Bugler’s books you may also enjoy books by Heather Gudenkauf

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

The Unknown Bridesmaid – Margaret Forster

Contemporary Fiction 5*'s
Contemporary Fiction
5*’s

I’m a big fan of Margaret Forster; she manages to write eloquently on a number of different subjects, this means that some topics will be more of interest than others. In The Unknown Bridesmaid the story revolves around a child psychologist, Julia which I found immensely readable.

The story is written from Julia’s perspective both in the present day revolving around her caseload of troubled young girls and her past; starting from the time she was asked to be a bridesmaid for her cousin Iris. Margaret Forster has a particular skill in depicting family relationships, not the sugar coated ones but the real life misunderstandings and difficulties that beset most families at one time or another. Julia spent the run up to the wedding terrified that this opportunity was going to be snatched away from her due to her mother’s anxiety. As Julia grows she spends more time with Iris and soon a terrible event changes the course of her life forever.

This book has themes of childhood memories, jealousy and guilt running through its pages. There are some wonderful characters although not necessarily likable ones.

This is an absorbing tale, well written with a real understanding of how a child processes information and memories. The only criticism I have is that the girls in Julia’s caseload seemed to be solved in a very simplistic manner, I presume this was to illustrate that all the girls needed was the wisdom of Julia’s advice but I found it a little bit too dismissive. Despite this it was well worth a read and a good example of how well Margaret Forster writes and her immense skill at handling difficult subjects.