Tuesday, 26 May 2015

The Shore

The Shore by Sara Taylor
Published by William Heinemann
19th March 2015
Hardback Edition

The Shore. A collection of small islands sticking out from the coast of Virginia into the Atlantic Ocean that has been home to generations of fierce and resilient women. Sanctuary to some but nightmare to others, it’s a place they’ve inhabited, fled, and returned to for hundreds of years. From a brave girl’s determination to protect her younger sister as methamphetamine ravages their family, to a lesson in summoning storm clouds to help end a drought, these women struggle against domestic violence, savage wilderness, and the corrosive effects of poverty and addiction to secure a sense of well-being for themselves and for those they love.
Their interconnecting stories form a deeply affecting legacy of two island families, illuminating the small miracles and miseries of a community of outsiders, and the bonds of blood and fate that connect them all.
Dreamlike and yet impossibly real, profound and playful, The Shore is a richly unique, breathtakingly ambitious and accomplished debut novel by a young writer of astonishing gifts.

The Shore was one of the longlisted books for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction in 2015 and having read it, it is easy to see why.  A group of islands in America are home to women of all ages, from all backgrounds, all colours and creeds.  They have one thing in common, the need to be together, away from the mainstream ways of society and those who live there.

In some ways, The Shore is like a collection of short stories, each involving different characters, in varying scenarios and situations.  It is only as you read on that these stories, and women, become intertwined with each other as the islands call out to them.

This is certainly a powerful book, which at times left me feeling somewhere between very cross and increasingly empty.  It's not a happy book in any sense, but a dramatic and moving one, as you experience and witness what these women go through in their lives.  My favourite character was the herbalist Medora; I loved her feistiness.  The Shore is a book that will remain with me because of its powerful nature.  I recommend others to read it, and share the lives of these women as I too have done.


Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Friday, 22 May 2015

The Museum of Things Left Behind

The Museum of Things Left Behind by Seni Glaister
Published by Harper Collins
Paperback Edition
21st May 2015


Vallerosa is every tourist’s dream – a tiny, picturesque country surrounded by lush valleys and verdant mountains; a place sheltered from modern life and the rampant march of capitalism. But in isolation, the locals have grown cranky, unfulfilled and disaffected. In the Presidential Palace hostile Americans, wise to the country’s financial potential, are circling like sharks …

Can the town be fixed? Can the local bar owners be reconciled? Can an unlikely visitor be the agent of change and rejuvenation this broken idyll is crying out for?

Full of wisdom, humour and light, The Museum of Things Left Behind is a heart-warming fable for our times that asks us to consider what we have lost and what we have gained in modern life. A book about bureaucracy, religion and the people that really get things done, it is above all else a hymn to the inconstancy of time and the pivotal importance of a good cup of tea.

This is the fourth book in our Curtis Brown Book Group reading list, and it's author is the CEO of The Book People,  she clearly knows how to sell books, but does she know anything about writing them?  I have to admit, that from the start I wasn't hooked by this book, but twitter comments about how others in the group were enjoying it persuaded me to continue, and actually now I've finished reading it, I'm glad that I did persist with it.

Vallerosa is an Italian village that is stuck somewhere in the middle of the last century.  There are ancient feuds within the villagers that show no sign of healing, and the powers that be no longer know where to turn.  It is the arrival of whom the President believes to be the Duke of Edinburgh that finally gets the village to look at its actions and reactions with the eyes of an outsider and to try to make good all that is wrong.

I don't want to spoil the plot here, especially with the arrival of the member of the Royal family, but there were some genuinely funny laugh-out-loud moments with this book.  It's also a feel good read where by the end, things are pulled together, and a happy ever after emotion is present.  I did love the way that Seni Glaister portrayed the fictional world of Vallerosa - reading this on a warm day, you could almost imagine yourself there. 

Should you come across this in the bookshop or library, pick it up and give it a go.  You might be surprised, like I was, and find youself quite enjoying reading about this quirky place!

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Monday, 18 May 2015

Crooked Heart

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans
Published by Doubleday
6th November 2014
Hardback Edition

When Noel Bostock – aged ten, no family - is evacuated from London to escape the Blitz, he ends up living in St Albans with Vera Sedge - thirty-six and drowning in debts and dependents. Always desperate for money, she’s unscrupulous about how she gets it.

Noel’s mourning his godmother, Mattie, a former suffragette. Brought up to share her disdain for authority and eclectic approach to education, he has little in common with other children and even less with Vee, who hurtles impulsively from one self-made crisis to the next. The war’s thrown up new opportunities for making money but what Vee needs (and what she’s never had) is a cool head and the ability to make a plan.

On her own, she’s a disaster. With Noel, she’s a team.

Together they cook up an idea. Criss-crossing the bombed suburbs of London, Vee starts to make a profit and Noel begins to regain his interest in life.

But there are plenty of other people making money out of the war and some of them are dangerous. Noel may have been moved to safety, but he isn’t actually safe at all…

I've had this sitting on my kindle waiting to be read for ages, when finally, last week, I decided that the time had come to give it a go.  Set during the Second World War, Crooked Heart tells of a precocious ten year old boy, Noel, who on the death of his godmother, is evacuated to St Albans.  Always ready for a little bit of something extra, he is taken in by Vera Sedge, who is anything but a motherly soul looking to help out an evacuated child. 

In a manner similar to that of Goodnight Mister Tom, Vera and Noel are thrown together in more ways than one, particularly when Vera decides that Noel can help her earn that little bit extra, in manners that aren't exactly above board.  Unfortunately, the war brings out the best in some people, and the worst in others, and Noel is about to find that out.  Was moving to St Albans really the safest thing for him to do?

Crooked Heart is a war-time book that highlights the plight of those living their lives in England.  There are some very dramatic scenes involving bombing that are truly believable and heart-wrenching.  Lissa Evans was long-listed for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction 2015 for this book and once you've read it, you can see why.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Friday, 15 May 2015

Girl at War

Girl at War by Sara Novic
Published by Little, Brown
12th May 2015
Hardback Edition

Growing up in Zagreb in the summer of 1991, 10-year-old Ana Juric is a carefree tomboy; she runs the streets with her best friend, Luka, helps take care of her baby sister, Rahela, and idolizes her father. But when civil war breaks out across Yugoslavia, football games and school lessons are supplanted by sniper fire and air raid drills.

The brutal ethnic cleansing of Croats and Bosnians tragically changes Ana's life, and she is lost to a world of genocide and child soldiers; a daring escape plan to America becomes her only chance for survival. Ten years later she returns to Croatia, a young woman struggling to belong to either country, forced to confront the trauma of her past and rediscover the place that was once her home.

Reading Girl at War reminded me in part of A Brighter Fear by Kerry Drewery.  Ana is growing up in Zagreb, carefree and happy as any 10 year old should be.  Then civil war tears the country apart and Ana witnesses things no child should ever see.  Her sister Rahela has already been sent to America and Ana flees the country she knows and loves to join her on the other side of the world.

Growing up as an American is a different lifestyle for Ana and her sister.  Their friends know nothing of their background, or past experiences, but for Ana, she is at heart a Yugoslavian.  As she discloses who she really is to her boyfriend, it occurs to Ana that she can never truly come to terms with what occurred unless she returns home.

The country that she remembers is not the one she left behind but thankfully, Luka, her best friend, still remains.  With him by her side, she travels around the country reliving those key moments and trying to find some sense in the things that happened, and for a way to end the nightmares that disrupt her sleep.

Girl at War is an easy read and I did enjoy it, though some parts are indeed harrowing.  For those of us in the west, it is easy to gloss over these events but these are stories that need to be told.  Sara Novic is probably a name to watch out for.


Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The Sussex Downs Murder

The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude
Published by British Library Crime Classics/Poisoned Pen Press
27th April 2014
Paperback Edition

'Already it looked as if the police were up against a carefully planned and cleverly executed murder, and, what was more, a murder without a corpse!'

Two brothers, John and William Rother, live together at Chalklands Farm in the beautiful Sussex Downs. Their peaceful rural life is shattered when John Rother disappears and his abandoned car is found. Has he been kidnapped? Or is his disappearance more sinister - connected, perhaps, to his growing rather too friendly with his brother's wife?

Superintendent Meredith is called to investigate - and begins to suspect the worst when human bones are discovered on Chalklands farmland. His patient, careful detective method begins slowly to untangle the clues as suspicion shifts from one character to the next.

This classic detective novel from the 1930s is now republished for the first time, with an introduction by the award-winning crime writer Martin Edwards.

The British Library Crime Classics aim to reprint and publish those classic crime novels that have been lost through the passing of time.  The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude is a great example of this genre, similar to that of my all-time favourite Agatha Christie.

John Roper's car is found abandoned off a country lane on the Sussex Downs, and he is missing - but where can he be and why would he just disappear?  His brother William is none the wiser, and Superintendent Meredith is brought in to investigate this mystery.  As he digs deeper into John Roper's life, he is soon aware that his relationship with his sister-in-law seems to be rather too friendly, and it's not long before human bones are discovered in the area.

One clue leads to another and soon Superintendent Meredith and his team have a number of suspects, but still no body as such.  What did happen to John Roper, and why?  Superintendent Meredith is a great detective, he is wry and amusing and ultimately good at his job, but as with most fictional detectives, he does things in his own peculiar way.  This is a perfect Sunday afternoon armchair read for lovers of classic crime fiction.  I wasn't disappointed.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x

Friday, 1 May 2015

The Little Paris Bookshop

The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
Published by Abacus
23rd April 2015
Hardback Edition

On a beautifully restored barge on the Seine, Jean Perdu runs a bookshop; or rather a 'literary apothecary', for this bookseller possesses a rare gift for sensing which books will soothe the troubled souls of his customers.

The only person he is unable to cure, it seems, is himself. He has nursed a broken heart ever since the night, twenty-one years ago, when the love of his life fled Paris, leaving behind a handwritten letter that he has never dared read. His memories and his love have been gathering dust - until now. The arrival of an enigmatic new neighbour in his eccentric apartment building on Rue Montagnard inspires Jean to unlock his heart, unmoor the floating bookshop and set off for Provence, in search of the past and his beloved.

Having recently read The Bookshop That Floated Away it was then odd to find myself reading a very similar tome but of a fictional nature.  The Little Paris Bookshop is a literary apothecary (bookshop) set on a barge on the banks of the river Seine in Paris.  Jean Perdu is the owner, and the books that he sells to you might not be the books that you go to purchase, for he has a gift that means he can sense which titles you need in your life.

Unfortunately this is not something that can be applied to his own situation.  He lost the love of his life decades ago and has never been able to let her go.  All he has left is an unopened letter from her.  A spark between himself and the new neighbour upstairs causes him to rethink his past and face the demons that have been stopping his heart from mending.

Along with two other travellers, each carrying their own baggage, this unlikely trio set sail along the Seine hoping to find what their souls are ultimately searching for.   Jean Perdu is a loveable character and the barge bookshop is one that I would love to visit, if it actually existed.  The Little Paris Bookshop is an enjoyable read.

Happy Reading

Miss Chapter x