Thursday, April 17, 2014

The One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

It is no secret that I am a Jojo Moyes fan. It was when I first picked up Me Before You, a novel that broke my heart in every way possible, that made me adore this master piece of a story. Moyes has a lightness of touch in her writing, as if she writes in nothing but homemade rock buns and knitted jerseys - comfortable and lush.

The One Plus One is the story of a single mother (Jess) trying, or should I say battling, to keep her family afloat. She has a step-son who is being bullied, a mathematical genius for a daughter, a dog and a sleaze-bag husband who has done a runner. She tries her best to keep everyone going, working two jobs as a cleaner by day and a waitress by night, she is constantly washing, cleaning and mothering.

Then we have Ed, a nerdy businessman who stumbled on his fortune 500 company, but would much rather be back in the 'old days' creating than actually being a CEO. When Ed is surrounded in controversy involving a slightly underhanded woman and a seedy affair. 

Moyes creates a perfect set up for these two characters to crash together, because Jess cleans Ed's house, but this isn't where their story begins. When Jess's car breaks down on the way to Tanzie's (her daughter) mathematics Olympiad, one that will gain her entry into a school that Jess cannot afford, on full scholarship, and so arrives Ed, not in the knight in shining armour type of way, but by pure happenstance - who agrees to take Jess and her family to the Olympiad. So begins the journey of this very odd and motley crew, discovering and learning, but with a hint of emotion. Each learning more about each other the closer they get to their destination.

This is where we see Moyes's pure skill, and motherly care for her characters. She gives them the idiosyncrasies, the mood swings, the arbitrary quirks and holds them out for you to lap up.

Now, let the gushing end - I didn't think this was Moyes' best work. Perhaps, I gave too much of myself to Me Before You and with it lost so much more; that is not to say that Moyes lost her touch with this novel, to say the least, she certainly didnt. I still couldn't help feeling irritated, rolling my eyes and 'ugh'-ing about, but perhaps that is the point. I finished the novel, not regretting one bit that it had taken me two days to finish, but I felt like something was missing, perhaps I expected too much and didn't just let Moyes work her magic in her own way. Still one to add to your Moyes collection.

This is a perfect on for the long weekend ahead...

Happy Reading.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Review: The Good Luck of Right Now by Matthew Quick

There are times in a reader's life, or reading-life, that one needs to step out of their comfort zone and take a plunge into something far beyond their likes and dislikes. Not that I took a complete 180 on this novel, but it certainly isn't the first book I would rush out to buy. Who didn't love Bradley Cooper in The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, film adaption? If you didn't, then, well, go back to start and do not collect R200.

Before I carry on, I do need to thank Exclusive Books for supplying me so quickly with a review copy. I am eternally grateful.

Matthew Quick has had two books out by two different publishers at the moment - I love it when something like this happens, because without a doubt these two books, while by the same author, will be polar opposites, but funnily enough not for Matthew. Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock is about an awkward eighteen year old overcoming his sense of weirdness and ultimately committing suicide

Then we meet The Good Luck of Right Now, that follows a similar theme as 38-year-old Bartholomew Neil who has only ever lived with his mother. When she gets sick and dies, he sorts through his grief by writing letters to Richard Gere. Why? Well because one day a general letter about the 'Free Tibet' campaign is received by his mother signed by Richard Gere; a huge fan she keeps this letter in her underwear drawer, and in the midst of her death she begins confusing Richard Gere and Bartholomew. So this is where we begin our adventure with dearest Bart. 

As Quick does so well, a cast of rather kooky characters from a disrobed catholic priest who takes up residence in Bart's house insisting God is soon to reveal his plan; the grief counsellor Wendy who is far more brittle than she likes to think; to the Girlibrarian Bart is dying to ask out, and how can we forget dear Richard Gere.

Told in a voice so honest and sincere you cannot help but to forgive Bartholomew's naivety and completely fall inlove with him. This is one of those books you pick up for a pick-me up. You wont find any astounding literary epiphanies in this novel, nor the speedy gritty pace of plot, what you will find is a rare chuckle at the events splashed on the page, a sparse thought on religion (even if you are atheist) and have the urge to watch Pretty Woman. Oh, what a lovely read.

Happy Reading.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review: Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

From the author who gave us Garden Spells, Sugar Queen, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, and The Peach Keeper, comes her new novel Lost Lake.

Excited is the word I would like to use when I got my hands on this book, Sarah Addison Allen, has held my reading-hand since I first stumbled across Garden Spells; leaving me in complete awe of this extraordinary author. 

Lost Lake is a story of being lost and ultimately finding your way home, through grief, ghosts and food, Allen takes her readers on the most amazing trip. Having taken a break from writing for two years after being diagnosed with breast cancer, Sarah Addison Allen explores what it truly takes to get your life back.

We meet Kate, who has just woken up from a year of grieving.  When Kate's daughter, Devin, a quirky child of whimsical dress sense, finds a hidden postcard address addressed to Kate from her aunt Eby Pimm - Kate and Devin's adventure begins here. Packing the car and venturing off to Lost Lake, a holiday resort where Kate spent a summer when she was young; owned by Eby. When they arrive they find themselves belonging more to the quirky resort than they have ever belonged before. 

In the meantime, Eby has agreed to sell Lost Lake to a shrewd developer, because after a lifetime of happy memories she feels it's time to travel. So she has notified her regulars that this will be the last summer Lost Lake will be open, and so enter the colourful cast of characters so real and vivid they almost kiss you on every page.

Sarah Addison Allen has a remarkable talent for making the reader feel like they are watching an interaction from the dinning room table, and perhaps I am biased, but she truly captures a setting, mingled with secrets, ghosts and a sliver of magic.

"You can't change where you come from, but you can change where you go from here. Just like a book. If you don't like the ending, you make up a new one."  Lost Lake


If you are a fan, you need to add this to your collection.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Review: Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson

I am always amazed at how much time I have for books that retell the hurt and history of World War II. It’s never a novel I pick up willingly, nor do I completely discard them. Finding them a difficult read emotionally, it must be a hulleva feat to write (and pull it off) a book with such hurt and hunger behind its pages. Enter Once We Were Brother's, first self published by the author Ronald H. Balson and then taken on by St. Martin's Press in the US, and already gauging interest in Hollywood - already being optioned for film.

There is a line in this novel (I think it was page 179?) ‘We must never allow the world to forget’ and we shouldn’t, but having read Two Brothers by Ben Elton, a masterpiece of fiction in my opinion. 

It is the story of Otto and Ben that left much to be desired. The story starts off with Elliot Rosenzweig, a much respected civic servant and ultimate hero of Chicago, who is attacked at a fundraiser and accused by Ben Solomon of being Otto Piatek, the Butcher of Zamosc. Ben is convinced that Elliot is hiding more than he lets on, that he is in fact. 

Enter Catherine Lockhart, an astute lawyer with a crippled background of her own. Ben convinces Catherine to take his case pro-bono, costing her her job and status because they are going head to head with the big political name that is Elliot Rosenzweig. As Ben recounts his story to Catherine; a story with more heartache you would ever deem possible, as Ben and Otto – brothers, at first, but when Hitler’s influence starts eroding a peaceful but uneasy Germany, Ben and Otto are forced to take their places in a new world. Otto is German. The Solomon family are forced into the ghetto, all the while watching Otto gain more and more power among the ranks of the German army, his roots a fast and fleeting blink behind him. There are never happy endings in books like this.

Always a tricky one to review and judge, because it was a good story; Balson, who is a practicing attorney, puts up a good fight with a tragic history and a family broken, there is malice, mystery and a heavy load of blood that drips from this plot line; but does he pull it off. Barely.

Balson’s lack of strong dialogue, and irritating love story narrative between Liam, an old high school friend of Catherine's and PI, and Catherine. I couldn't help comparing it to the devastating tale of Ben and his wife, Hannah, which in my opinion, felt more sincere; it was the true moments of the historical retelling by Ben that redeemed him, but slowly. 

It reads clumsily, and you dart to the end like it is a race, but I found no merit in it. Balson has no choice but to give the reader what they knew in the beginning. Perhaps it was supposed to be a giant twist, but for me it wasn't. It didn’t have me walking away in awe and new meaning. I merely finished the book with what I already knew when I opened it.

Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson features on this month’s Exclusive Books Recommends for March.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Friday Folly: The Harry Potter Re-read Challenge

It took a Harry Potter movie marathon last weekend to have me wallowing in the magic that is and was Harry Potter. Now, I won’t call myself a pothead, I will call myself a fan – to the extent of knowing the storylines, the characters, crying at the momentous death scenes J.K set up, and listing my favourites about this series. I won’t go as far as writing an entire thesis on each book like my friend, Steff – who can analyse one character from a mere scene in the movie in comparison to the book; a talent I daresay. 

There is something magical in reading the first words of Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone

‘Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much’

My poor paperback is ragged and waterlogged, as if I had dragged it around with me like an old toy. I probably did. Hoping one day I’d receive my letter to Hogwarts – which never did come. Perhaps it’s a series like this that paved my way into books; magical isn’t it.

So I put forth a challenge: Let’s reread the Harry Potter Series. Not in huge gulps, but in slow easy chews that remind us of how powerful this series really is. I'll post an update every month to see how far I am and how the series has changed in my view now. I do warn you it'll be a slow one...

I started last night, and you can start as soon as you want. Use the hashtag  #PotterReads. I’ll be posting pictures on my instagram. Posting Facebook updates on the IABT FB page. Be sure to catch my Twitter feed.

Happy Potter Reading...

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Review: Dark Whispers by Joanne Macgregor

Now you all know I am a sucker for a thriller. The thriller has to be just right, not too dark to have me roaming the house, an insomniac-zombie, but yet enough to keep me shaking the book in anticipation. 

So when the lovely Joanne Macgregor contacted me to review her new thriller, Dark Whispers, I shuddered at the blurb – because it meant half the horror movies I had avoided would now sweep up over me and leave me wide-eyed with a duvet up to my chin.

The line that gripped me: He leans over and breathes into her ear, “I’m going to do something very special for you now. Cut it all away and make it neat. And when you wake up, you’re going to be just perfect.”

And I was sold.

We meet Megan Wright, a psychologist with an insatiable habit of trying to save things to the point where she cannot seem to make it from her car to her office without picking up a invalid bird – this is the first taste of Megan you get, the saviour of the living (or trying to be) while she has a seemingly tame argument with her mother on the phone.

We also meet Alta Cronje, a patient who is about to drop a bomb in Megan’s life, see Alta was a victim of a butcher doctor... When I say ‘Butcher Doctor’ I merely mean that while under anaesthetic, Alta was sexually mutilated by her gynaecologist – Oh, but you can get this all from the blurb right? Right! What you can’t get from the blurb is the way in which Joanne explores human tragedy. She flicks it out like a dining room table cloth and irons out the creases for you. You face your worst nightmare and Joanne is there to guide you through it, walk you through the haunted mansion, one giddy step at a time, when you know for a fact something will jump out at you – and let me tell you, something always jumps out...

The book surely does live up to this thriller genre with its punchy narrative, an Alfred Hitchcock type plot and a somewhat-flawed protagonist that you can’t help but like. A local thriller at its best, you’ll rip through this one – just as you will put off any doctor’s appointments after.

Have you read it? Tell us what you thought of Dark Whispers?

Friday, February 28, 2014

Review: The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

I innocently stumbled across an Amy Tan novel, The Joy Luck Club, as a young bookseller, an epic for me back then. Handed this long awaited tome, I immediately cleared my schedule and tore into it. Now by ‘tore into it’ I mean merely that while I felt like I was ferociously reading big gulps of the book Amy Tan was politely asking me to slow down; a stern teacher in the great scheme of things, she really sets the pace for you – like it or not.

This gorgeous novel slips so eloquently into Amy Tan’s repertoire of family epics. Spanning almost five decades, we follow the live of Violet Minturn. Young, naive and devilishly spoilt as a child, she grows up running through the courtyards of a very upmarket courtesan house run by her mother, Lucia.

When an old trickster lover turns up promising Lucia to help her find her lost son, Teddy, she quickly sells the courtesan house 'The Hidden Jade Path', and packs up their lives to head to San Francisco, only to discover that Violet’s birth certificate is missing. An astute promise from Lucia’s lover leaves Lucia on a boat to San Francisco and Violet sold as a virgin courtesan.

It’s a sluggish read up till this point, almost had me giving up and admitting defeat. However, the wait was worth it! Tan begins to stretch her legs in the art of torment; she slowly sets free her protagonist, be it with emotions, or the yearning of the heart, or even the simple action of friendship. As the plot begins to move along, you sorely believe Violet truly deserves all she naively wishes for – love as a young courtesan, which seems highly unlikely, but yet Tan makes it so.

A genie for fiction, Tan weaves together fate, love and loss poor Violet is faced with more torment than any other protagonist I have ever encountered. Perhaps this is why I fell so easily in love with her, rooted for her, berated her stupid decisions and rejoiced in her triumphs. Secrets, history, family and a setting so unique, it seems all could helplessly relent to such a mere 600 pages.

Me having fun with the cover...

A slow start is my only cross against this beautiful story, call it impatience or indulgence of word, but once the story digs its heels in Tan shows more than you could have ever thought to have discovered. Amy Tan has the extraordinary talent of sweeping a reader up into a world far from the one in which we habit.

This is one to pick up next, one to keep holding on to with that last sip of tea...

The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan features on this month’s Exclusive Books Recommends for February.
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