Friday, May 28, 2010

The Piano Tuner - Daniel Mason

This book has been on my TBR pile for a such a long time and I am so glad I finally picked up The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason and read it.

In late October, 1886, specialist piano tuner Edgar Drake receives an unusual request from the British War Office. He is asked to leave his quiet life and his wife in London and accept a mission which will lead him through the jungles of Burma to tune a rare Erard grand piano. The piano belongs to Surgeon-Major Anthony Carroll, an enigmatic British officer, whose success in making peace in the war-torn Shan States is legendary, but, whose unorthodox methods have begun to attract suspicion.

Edgar, the soft spoken lover of music and piano's heads off across Europe, the Red Sea, India and Burma until he finally reaches the Shan States. En route he meets some fascinating characters and during his journey he reads the letters written by the Doctor to the War Office and becomes intrigued by the surgeon before he meets him. He starts to wonder if his life will ever be the same again after this journey which becomes an epic adventure, not least of all when he meets Doctor Carroll in person and sets to work on the piano. As well as falling in love with the country, the piano and the people Edgar also meets a beautiful woman who is mysterious and like no other woman he knows, Khin Myo. His enchantment with Khin Myo makes him hesitate when it is time for him to return to London, after his work is done. He has become forever changed.

This was such a well written book, I felt as if I was with Edgar all the way through his journey, which in many ways only really began when he reached Burma. The descriptions of the Burmese countryside, the breathtaking views and the larger than life characters were masterfully done. I read it in only two sittings and couldn't put it down. Nothing, however, prepared me for the ending which I hadn't expected at all.

The Piano Tuner is the tale of a simple, gentle man who loves his work and who is flattered when considered by the War Office to be the necessary expert required to make this journey to fix the rare Erard piano. He sees the world with a poets vision and is enchanted by all the new and exotic things he encounters along the way. I liked Edgar instantly and didn't want the story to end.

Have you read The Piano Tuner? What did you think of it?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Shadow of the Wind is set in post war Barcelona and tells the tale of Daniel Sempere and his widowed father who owns a bookshop in the city.

It opens in 1945 with ten year old Daniel waking from a nightmare in which he has forgotten what his mother's face looks like. In order to cheer Daniel up, his father takes him for the first time to a secret place only a select few people know of, "The Cemetery of Forgotten Books" which is hidden in the back streets of the city and houses thousands and thousands of rare books which are thought to have been lost or are out of print. The Cemetery is managed by a caretaker who looks after all the works there and when new initiates are brought to the place for the first time they have to follow strict rules. They must choose one book and be it's custodian for life, keeping it safe and making sure it does not get damaged or destroyed. Daniel is drawn to The Shadow of the Wind by Julian Carax and is so enthralled by it when he reads it, that he sets off in search of other works by Carax. What he discovers over the next few years is not only that Carax's works are rare indeed but that a person called Lain Colbert is buying up all the Carax books he can find and burning them. Daniel eventually does find another of Carax's books in which he discovers that the name Lain Colbert is also that of the character of the devil in this book.

By the time Daniel is sixteen, word is out in the literary community that he is in possession of what is believed to be the only existing copy of The Shadow of the Wind. Lain Colbert hears about this and seeks him out. Colbert cuts a terrifying figure not least of all because he has no eyelids or lips having been very badly disfigured in a fire. Daniel will not part with the book in spite being offered large sums of money for it from connoisseurs and now by Colbert himself. When this does not work Colbert resorts to threats which Daniel brushes off although he is terrified.

What follows is a journey of discovery into the life of Julian Carax. As Daniel meets with old friends and acquaintances of Carax he begins to find unprecedented parallels between Julian's life and his own. It is said by many who knew the young Carax that Daniel resembles him closely and staggering connections between the two begin to unfold, although they have no family or business ties. It becomes vital that Daniel finds out the truth about Carax not least of all to save his own life. Whilst this is happening the backdrop of the story depicts post war and pre war Barcelona and Barcelona under the rule of Franco which provides a testimony to some of the horrors of that time all of which blend seemlessly into the story.

The moment I picked this book up I was enthralled and I was also in floods of tears by page six! It didn't take long for me to realise that I would be trying to get through this book in one sitting but at the same time would not want it to end. Daniel, his father, his friend Tomas, the irrepressible Fermin Romero de Torres (the once street tramp rescued by Daniel and given a job in the book shop by his father), Julian Carax and Miguel Moliner are all adorable characters, I wanted to invite them to dinner and chat with them immediately! (What lively discussions we could have had!) Male characters dominate the book and are definitely the main source of interest and amusement. Female characters play the roles of temptresses, objects of devotion and pitiful doormats devoted to scoundrels, but, I liked them all, possibly with the exception of Clara who I thought was heartless, spoilt and unworthy of the devotion showed to her. There were a couple of moments that really shocked me which I hadn't seen coming but that may have been because I was reading so fast. I will definitely read The Shadow of the Wind again, next time though with more consideration and less speed. I wolfed it down so fast this time I am sure I missed lots of things a steadier read would uncover.

If you haven't read it already, go and get a copy right is probably the best book I have read this year.

Have you read it yet?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Coming up...The Piano Tuner and The Shadow of the Wind

I have been away for a little while working on a project which left me with no time to read, knit or blog. So, I am catching up on the reading and will be reviewing The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason and The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. My son said that I read too many girlie books so I thought I would put that right and I'm so glad I did.....Watch this space.....K

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Angelology (The Review).........

I really don't know where to begin with this review as there is so much I want to say but I don't want to put out any, I'll just give a high level overview for now.

Angelology is a discipline of theology which focuses entirely on the study of Angels. There are groups of researchers throughout the world today called Angelologists and because I realised this fact from the beginning, the characters and story set out in Angelology by Danielle Trussoni became immediately more plausible and compelling to me.

As the story begins it becomes apparent that the contest between good and evil is waged not in the heavens but here on Earth between warring factions of biblical scholars, Angelologists and heavenly beings hiding in plain sight at the top of society in the most wealthy and powerful families across the world. These are a race of beings born from the union between a group of angels called The Watchers and their human mothers. The Watchers became fallen angels and were cast down into the earth to suffer for eternity for their transgressions with humans. The prodigy they leave behind, however, are known as the Niphilim and they survive to this day.

The central character in the tale is Sister Evangeline, a young nun living at St. Rose Convent in Hudson River Valley, New York City. As assistant to the librarian, during the course of her work, she stumbles across a mislaid correspondence between philanthropist Abigail Rockefeller and the convent's abbess of the time, Sister Innocenta. This letter has Evangeline intrigued as it alludes to an astonishing discovery in the mountains of Bulgaria in 1943. Simultaneously, the book introduces Percival Grigori, a critically ill member of the Niphilim and son and heir of the Grigori fortune. The Grigori family and others of their kind, have engaged in warfare for generations with the Society of Angelologists, a group that included Evangeline's parents, her grandmother, Gabriella and Sister Celestine who is now an old and sick nun also living at the Convent of St Rose. Evangeline realises that what she has been told of her past is not entirely the whole story and slowly she uncovers her heritage as an Angelologist.

This discovery draws her and Grigori into conflict over control of a powerful artifact, the lyre of the mythical Orpheus. It was said that the Angel Gabriel, so saddened by his command to commit The Watchers to their eternal prison in the earth, threw the lyre into the cave after his brothers to give them the comfort of heavenly music. He realised his mistake in an instant but it was done and the lyre was cast down, giving who ever found it a power equal to God. These are the stakes that Evangeline and Grigori are playing for.

I loved every minute of the battle and found myself staying awake late at night and getting up really early in the morning until I had finished the book......It was, for me, the most enjoyable read I have had in a long time.

There were a couple of things which really annoyed me though. Firstly, Danielle Trussoni takes, what seemed to me, an unnecessary amount of time to describe cars in the story......these descriptions have no bearing on the telling of the tale, that I can see and their inclusion made me ponder whether they had been written on days when the author wanted to complete a 1,000 words for that day. The other thing, which is really the fault of the editors, is that there are two big mistakes in the plot; one relates to the length of time Sr Celestine has been at St Rose Convent (the story says over 70 years when it should have said over 50 years) and the other comes towards the end of the story when the Angelologists set off in pairs; one of the pairings is named incorrectly half way through the telling of their situation (the story says Evangeline and Verlaine when it should have said Evangeline and Bruno). Small things, I know, which say more about me as a reader than they do about the author. It is clear to me, however, that from the outset Danielle Trussoni paid great attention to detail in the writing and she obviously did an amazing amount of research to bring the story into being, so, I felt these trivial things were careless mistakes in an otherwise well written book and should never have escaped the edits.

Having said all of that, it was an amazing book and I couldn't put it down. The storyline has all the ingredients of becomming one of the best, most popular books of the year and having looked over the author's website, it is clear that she has plans to make a series and turn Angelology into epic tale. The film rights to this story have been sold to Columbia and the sequel is currently in the making.

Good luck to her and I cannot wait for the next book to be published.

I'd love to discuss the ending of the book but will not write about it here so if you want to discuss it, then drop me an email.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Angelology (The Cover)..........

Just look at the cover of this book!

I will be reviewing Angelology by Danielle Trussoni very soon as I haven't finished reading it yet, but, am enthralled and can't put it down.

Just thought I would share this lovely image with you all.

Have you read Angelology yet?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Isabel Wolff Fest! The Making of Minty Malone, Out of the Blue and Forget Me Not

I've just been on an Isabel Wolff binge and read three of her books in a row. I often do this if I find a new (to me) author and like the first of their books that I read. It happened with Peter Mayle when I discovered his love affair with Provence and also with Bill Bryson when I set out with him on his journey round England - of course, I had to find the rest of their work because I enjoyed the first one so much. Paulo Coelho's another and Annie Caufield, Alexander McCall Smith and Helen Fielding are in the too.......I could go on!

So it was with Isabel Wolff. The first of her books I picked up was one of her later ones which just happened to be sitting on the shelf during one of my surreptitious visits to the local second hand book store. I'm not supposed to go in there! I made a deal with myself that I wouldn't buy any more books until my TBR pile was at least half the size it was on New Years Day, but, I just can't help myself! It is almost impossible for me to walk past the shop door without dropping in for a little look. I have even taken to walking a different route on my shopping days or waiting until the shop is closed to head back home, just so I am not tempted. Don't think I am mad when I say this, but, it is as if the books just call out to me, I really think they do and I can count on one hand the amount of times I have come out of that shop without at least one book in my mitts!!

Anyway, I digress,.........Isabel Wolff's, Forget Me Not was written in 2007 and is the story of Anna Temple who gives up a successful career in the City to start her own garden design company after she reevaluates her life following the shock of her mother's sudden death. At the very beginning of her new venture she meets and falls for a gorgeous guy, Xan, who is very dedicated to his own career. When Anna discovers she is pregnant Xan bolts through the stable door and life for Anna is forever changed, especially once her lovely daughter, Milly, arrives on the scene. All kinds of family secrets begin to come to the fore as Anna struggles to balance her new business, being a single parent and managing the grief of her mothers sudden death.

The next book I read was The Making of Minty Malone. Written by Isabel Wolff in 1999, this is the story of Minty Malone who is really a very nice person, hates conflict and finds it hard to say no to her domineering boyfriend and pushy work colleagues who constantly take advantage of her good nature. When she is jilted at the alter on her wedding day in front of 280 guests, Minty is in shock and is persuaded to go on her what was to be honeymoon with her bridesmaid instead. That fateful trip to Paris is the beginning of what is to become an epic year long journey of discovery which takes Minty on the road to find herself.

The third book I read during this Wolff fest was Out of the Blue, which was published in 2001 and is the follow on book from Minty Malone. Faith and Peter Smith have been married for 15 years. In their early thirties, they married very young and unlike most of their friends of a similar age who are just starting out having a family or just newly married, Faith and Peter have two lovely teenage children. During a surprise anniversary dinner celebration which Faith has arranged for Peter, her long time best friend of 25 years, Lily, makes a suggestive comment about Peter which sets Faith's alarm bells ringing about his fidelity. Faith's doubts set her and Peter off on a bumpy road which takes alarming twists and turns.

As you can see, I read these books out of chronological order and I soon found that it rather matters where you start to read Isabel Wolff's work as she weaves a number of common peripheral characters into all of her stories. Although her books appear not to be a series, there is a continuity to them that adds to the interest. These characters are in the background mostly, but, they do add colour to the landscape of the main story. As I started with one of her most recent books and then flipped back to only her second, I realised quickly what she had done and was surprised to find one particular character there at the beginning of her work. I liked that, it was interesting to see how she brought the background story into the fore.
There were lots of things I liked about her work and even if the outcome of the stories are fairly predictable, she does tell a good tale. The characters she draws do become likable, but, there was one thing I found really annoying; in each book she quotes words from common prayers or lyrics from a famous song several times and interweaves lines from these with the main characters thoughts....I ended up not reading the lines of the prayer or lyrics at all and just skipping straight through the narrative. For some reason this really aggravated me! Such a small thing, however, in what was a good reading experience, overall.

It became clear to me that Isabel Wolff's later work was much more thought provoking and tackled more serious issues than her earlier works did. The earlier books are definitely more frivolous and chick-litty. I found both Minty and Faith a little annoying at first and a couple of times I wanted to tell them to shut up, but, they did become likable nevertheless and grew on me as their story progressed. Anna was much more believable and I liked her instantly. It may be a while before I read any more of Isabel Wolff's work, but, her latest book, A Vintage Affair is definitely the one I would go for next.

Do you end up reading all of an authors work once you discover you like them?

Have you read any Isabel Wolff's work?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Truth About Melody Browne

Since I have been blogging my reading experience has broadened and become a much more colourful and varied journey. Perhaps I should allude to my life as "pre - and post - blogging" not least of all because I have read books I would never have picked up before, especially as I began to find fellow bloggers with similar taste to mine and started to follow their recommendations. It was by doing this that I became a fan of Lisa Jewell.

The lovely Dot's at Dot Scribbles writes some great reviews. It was because of Dot's enthusiasm for Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, that I read her work for the first time. I became so enthralled that I had to read all I could find of du Maurier's and became a huge fan. The same happened with Lisa Jewell. Following the success of finding and loving all things du Maurier, when I read Dot's comments about Lisa Jewell I began to look out for her books, too. The first one I found was Vince & Joy, which I really enjoyed and I fast became a Jewell fan reading 31 Dream Street next. Imagine then how happy I was to find The Truth About Melody Browne when I was on my last trip to the local second hand book store. I rushed home clutching the book tightly, hardly able to wait to open the cover - (my guilty truth is that I would have started to read it on my walk home had I not had so many shopping bags to carry!). I rushed like mad to put the shopping away and cook dinner and when all was done, I dashed upstairs and opened the first page. I didn't stop reading until the last page was turned, by which time it was 3.30 a.m.

I loved every word of it and although it has a fairly simple storyline, it does bring up many thought provoking questions about the attitude of society towards people with unusual lifestyles, the social service system in England, moral dilemma's relating to telling the whole truth to children, parenting methods, ownership of one's personal identity and dealing with depression - "the black dog".

Melody Browne lost everything she owned when her house burned down when she was nine years old. She also lost all memory of her life before the fire. At fifteen she became pregnant and her parents' disapproval forced her to leave home and bring up her baby alone. We meet Melody in her early thirties, living in a council flat in Covent Garden with her son who is about to turn 18. Melody has not seen her parents since the day she walked out, but, in spite of this, she is happy enough with her life until a chance meeting changes everything and sends her on an unusual journey to find out who she really is.

One day on her way home from work, she jumps onto a bus as it starts to rain and sits next to a good looking stranger. They hit it off from the start and before the journey ends the stranger asks for her mobile number. This leads Melody on her first date in years and they go to see a hypnotist show where she is selected from the audience and called up onto the stage. She is instructed to become a child of 5 years old with a runny nose and a serious wind problem. The audience think it is hilarious as she runs around the stage making lots of loud noises but it stops being quite so funny when she passes out as the hypnotists clicks his fingers to bring her round from the regression.

After her head clears a bit and she regains consciousness she feels totally different than she felt before and in the days that follow she starts to have flashes of memories from what she can only assume must be her early childhood. Small fragments of unrelated images come into her mind at first; eating ice cream, a crash helmet, images of rooms, a big house by the seaside and a mews house in London, names of people she knows nothing about but who she feels mean something to her. Melody wonders if she is losing her mind but slowly she starts to piece together her early life and when she gets the first confirmation of names and places she has recalled, she realises that she is not who she thinks she is and her past is not as she believed it to be.

This is such a lovely book. There were moments when I read on through tears and others when I smiled at the dialogue. I couldn't put it down and didn't want it to end. When I had finished reading I thought of all the questions the story raised and I know Melody and her journey of discovery will stay in my mind for a long time to come.

Having read The Truth About Melody Browne now only confirms for me that Lisa Jewell is a great writer with an easy to read style and wonderfully drawn, believable characters, who become so likable you want to cheer them on or hold them close during their times of despair and sadness. I can't wait to read more of her work.

Have you read any Lisa Jewell books?

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Secret Life of Bees

Set in the American South in 1964, a year of increasing racial unrest, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd is a powerful story of the ability of love to transform our lives, and the story pays great tribute to the feminine and the strength of sisterhood. The issues of loss, betrayal, and the scarcity of love, and the healing of those wounds are demonstrated powerfully when a group of women come together to mother each other and themselves, and to create a sanctuary of comradeship, and family.

Lily Owens is a fourteen year old girl living on an isolated South Carolina peach farm with a neglectful and harsh father. To make matters worse, her father, T. Ray, tells Lily that she accidentally killed her mother, Deborah, who died when Lily was four years old amidst mysterious circumstances. Lily has vague recollections of this time but cannot distinguish between what she really remembers and what her father has convinced her is true. What she does know is that she misses her mother dearly and longs for her mothers love.

Lily is raised by Rosaleen, who is a proud and outspoken African-American nanny. When Rosaleen attempts to exercise her newly won right to vote in the 1964 elections, she is attacked by the three worst racists in town and is thrown into jail on charges of assault. Lily, determined to save the badly wounded Rosaleen from a terrible fate and finally escape her own father, attempts free Rosaleen from jail. It works and the two set out across South Carolina in search of a new life.

Lily has only one thing to guide her on her journey, a picture which belonged to her mother and is one of the precious few possessions she has of hers. The cryptic picture is of a black Virgin Mary and has the words "Tiburon, South Carolina" written on the back of it. This becomes Lily and Rosaleen's destination. When they arrive in the small town of Tiburon, Lily sees the same Black Madonna adorning several bottles of honey jars at a diner. She and Rosaleen go to find the woman who makes it, August Boatwright, who lives with her sisters: May, who is still very traumatized about the death of her twin sister April and there is also June, who is an ardent feminist.

The three women take Lily and Rosaleen under their wing and although June has reservations at first about living with a white runaway girl under their roof, what develops between them all is a story of self discovery, coming of age, love, sisterhood, forgiveness and mothers lost and found.

This book was in my Top 3 favourites of 2009. I loved the way the characters were drawn and descriptions of the heat and blistering South Carolina summer landscapes were so convincing I could almost smell the peaches on Lily's home farm and hear the bees chatting to each other in their hives. I was very pleased to hear that there had been a film made of this book so, of course, I had to find it. It did not disappoint either, which is unusual for a film of a great book, in my experience. The film cast was excellent though with Dakota Fanning, Queen Latifah, Alicia Keys, Sophie Okenedo and Jennifer Hudson.

If you can't find the book, do look out for the film, it really is a wonderfully inspiring story and made me want to immediately set up a sisterhood of my own!!
Has a story ever made inspired you to do something you perhaps wouldn't have otherwise done?

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters

I know I've been missing for a while but I'm back and have lots of reviews to share with you.

As soon as I opened one of my Christmas presents and realised it was a book voucher, I dug out my 2009 wish list and planned a trip to the book store. I decided that whatever was available there during my visit, if it appeared on my list it could come home with me. So I brought home four lovely lovely books which I consumed in no time at all.

The first one I read was The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters. I had read so many reviews of this book and was excited to find it, especially as I had not read anything by Sarah Waters before.

The story is set in 1947 Britain when the war is over and the country is still struggling to recover from the aftermath of it. This is also a time before the National Health Service and National Trust have been set up to assist with health care and rebuilding. In the story we meet a country doctor, Dr Faraday and the Ayres family who live in a once magnificent country house, Hundreds Hall. The doctor's mother at one time had been a housemaid there and he remembers the house during it's days of splendor. The first time we encounter Hundreds Hall it is many years earlier. We meet the doctor as a young child during a garden party there and he looks back on the scene fondly. Then we switch to 1947 and Dr Faraday is called back to the house for the first time since his childhood to attend to a sick maid who has taken ill. He is taken aback at the poor condition of this once splendid house. He meets the Ayres family after attending to the maid and from this moment on the lives of Dr. Faraday and the Ayres family become very closely woven indeed.
Sarah Waters is a talented storyteller and she draws the characters very clearly. With her great observations of life in post war Britain, she sets the backdrop to the tale, perfectly. She comments effortlessly on the crumbling class system and the devastation of war, all the time carefully unfolding her characters. I loved reading this book. I enjoyed the suspense and intrigue and taking a glimpse into what it must have been like to struggle through a time of terrible dereliction and uncertainty. I couldn't put it down once I had started it and even found myself sitting up late into the night to finish it.
However, there was one huge spoiler for me and it was that I guessed at the ending :( Not because it was so obvious from the story, it wasn't, but, because I had read a review beforehand which pointed to it, although I didn't realise that until I was reading the that is why I haven't told you much of the story, I would hate to spoil the end for anyone. Having said that, I still enjoyed The Little Stranger, not least of all because of Sarah Waters talent as a storyteller. I would absolutely recommend it.

Have you read The Little Stranger or anything else by Sarah Waters?

Have you ever guessed the ending to a story?