Friday, 24 February 2012

The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

The GreatcoatThe Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Set in the 1950s in the years following the end of WW2 this novella is a poignant ghost story.



Newlyweds Isabel and her husband Philip a gp move into their first home together a rather grim little flat with an unfriendly landlady and Isabel struggles to adapt to married life, finding the constraints of the small apartment don't permit her to become the housewife she dreamt about, and her husbands long hours constantly on call out leave her felling isolated and unfulfilled.

Searching through the cupboards for extra blankets to dispel the shivers and chills she feels in bed she finds instead an ex-forces greatcoat, which she finds herself unable to resist cuddling into and nestling beneath in bed despite the strange and vivid dreams which follow.

Her waking hours seem to take on a dreamlike quality and she is startled yet unsurprised when a tap on her window late at nights reveals a young pilot calling her name. His she discovers is Alec and she is drawn to him, in ways she has been unable to bond with her new husband.

But all is not as it seems and her life begins to take on an increasingly surreal quality as past blends with present.

I've only read 2 books by Helen Dunmore before and wasn't impressed with either - as they had an unrelentingly bleak and grim quality to them. This short book has a similar bleakness yet that seems to enhance the ghostly nature of the story, I found it profoundly moving and sad and kept reading it late last night to find out what happened. It left me with a lump in my throat and tears on my pillow.

Not a terrifying horror ghost story but a compellingly eerie tale of loss and betrayal and a desire for redemption which transcends time.

I also feel there is something deliciously concise about a novella that keeps superfluous descriptions at bay and ensures the stark prose keeps to the point and every sentence counts.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

The Autobiography of Mrs Tom Thumb a novel by Melanie Benjamin

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom ThumbThe Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A big book about a small lady. A novel based loosely on facts this is the life story of a tiny woman - Lavinia Warren Bump or Vinnie, just 28" high and perfectly proportioned born to poor farmers in pre civil war America who decides early on in life not to let her lack of height define her but to use it to give her an exciting life which helps her escape the constraints of small town life, see the world and meet many people, although finding true love remains very elusive.

She succeeds by becoming a famous celebrity, marries another famous small person General Tom Thumb and travels the world. She is a feisty believeable character and the author has done well in both imagining the problems faced by adults of such small size, has researched the history of the era immaculately, especially entertainment and celebrity in the mid 1800s. There is a little bit of repetitiveness in parts and I think the book may have benefited from being about 30 pages shorter and thus a little tighter but all in all was a very engaging read.

Tinged with some real sadness I liked Vinnie and loved her courage and her story, even though most of it is imagined as so little was documented about her unusual life. I would recommend the book to anyone who enjoyed The Girls and who likes reading about the history of entertainment in USA.



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Thursday, 16 February 2012

The sisters brothers - Patrick De Witt

The Sisters BrothersThe Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


I must admit a little disappointment that I only feel able to give this book 3 out of 5 - that doesn't mean I hated it - of course not, I liked it, it was an entertaining read, quite a page turner and undoubtedly well written - but it just didn't grab me quite the way I hoped it would.

The Sisters brothers is as far from my usual genre as a book can possibly be but having read rave reviews from several friends whose opinions I value and hearing the presenters on the channel4 TVbookclub waxing lyrical about it I felt intrigued enough to borrow a copy and see if it was as good as the hype. Sadly it wasn't.

The first 100 pages or so had me gripped - the two main characters brothers who work as hired assassins in a Western goldrush setting. The main narrator is the slightly less cruel and vicious Eli and it was with him that I had a bit of a problem - so many readers have praised him and said they adored his character and I just found him annoying, rather boorish and slightly pathetic.

After the great beginning the scenes become more disjointed and the story ceases to flow as well as it does at the start. There are several scenes I just couldn't work out why they were there and what the relevance was - the rather surreal little girl who enjoys administering poison for instance.

The dialogue is good but not oustanding, there are some blackly humorous parts and the storyline is interesting but not amazing.

An OK read that failed to blow me away.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

White lies - Jeremy Bates

White LiesWhite Lies by Jeremy Bates

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A real page turner - one of those fast paced thrillers where you keep thinking "Nooo don't DO that" as the main character makes yet another bad decision you just know is going to impact by making things get worse - and worse.

I chose this from the books available to review at Netgalley and yet again was really pleased with my choice. I read this in just 2 days which is pretty good going for me - it doesn't mean it was a light, inconsequential read - just that I felt the need to keep reading ... just a few more pages .... and ended up reading into the early hours.

OK so about the storyline. It begins with our heroine Katrina driving to a rural village in America to begin a new post as English teacher at the local school. She's ready to begin a new life as she is finally picking up the pieces after a tragedy left her reeling. Her renewed confidence leads her to feel generous enough to stop for a young guy stranded at the rainy roadside but soon begins to regret her decision when she questions his sobriety and his motives. Panicked and keen to get him out of the car she lies about where shes headed for and breathes a sigh of relief as she manages to get him out of her car.

Her horror when she arrives at her new job to find the same guy is one of her new colleagues now bearing a grudge against her and to cover up her little white lie, she tells another and then it becomes almost too difficult to tell the truth and silly white lies become falsehoods that haunt her every move.

Meanwhile she meets another man to whom her reaction and instincts are completely different - she is bowled over by the enigmatic and charismatic Jack and responds to him by falling for him - big time!

But events are beginning to spiral out of control, like ripples in a lake her white lie leads her to become involved in covering up a brutal murder, no longer sure who to trust she must reply on her instincts - instincts we are beginning to realise are no more reliable than her ability to tell the truth.

A cracking good suspense novel, easy and undemanding but a jolly exciting read, to curl up on a cold winters day in front of the fire with.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

A lady cyclist's guide to Kashgar by Suzanne Joinson

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar: A NovelA Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar: A Novel by Suzanne Joinson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


I read this book courtesy of the kind folk at Netgalley and found it an enjoyable read.



Its a dual timeline story which is one of my favourite genres and it manages to be a little different to most the story is told from the perspective of two women seemingly unlinked.

In modern day London Frieda a young career woman whose work has taken her abroad to some unusual places struggling to maintain her relationship with her inconsiderate married lover. Her very unconventional upbringing has left her without strong family ties and a Yemeni refugee she discovers sleeping outside her apartment becomes an unlikely friend who helps her when she makes an unexpected inheritance with some unusual heirlooms.

Meanwhile we are transported back to the 1920s where we travel to Kashgar a remote province of China where 3 young women go under the guise of becoming missionaries. However all is not as straightforward as it seems. Eva the eponymous narrator of this part of the story is more interested in escaping her mundane life in England and seeking adventure, travelling and exploring on her beloved bicycle which she takes with her across continents and her journal becomes a book she longs to have published. Her sister Lizzie has been heavily influenced by her missionary friend Millicent who's zeal seems somewhat misplaced and Eva wonders about her possible ulterior motives.

At the beginning of the book we are witness to a dreadful event - the 3 English women come across a native Chinese girl about to give birth and their desire to help just makes matters worse and leaves them in deep trouble, mistrusted by the locals and with a new born child to care for.

There are a lot of seemingly irrelevancies yet most become apparent by the end and the storyline is pretty complex - loads going on and you'll not be bored. Both the contemporary timeline and the historical narratives are richly detailed and quirky.

In some ways it reminded me of
The Sandalwood Tree and if you enjoyed it I think you'll like this one too. An accomplished and fascinating novel for lovers of dual time fiction and historical fiction.