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?

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