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?