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Leaving Time
Leaving Time
by Jodi Picoult
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £4.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars once again, a brilliant read, 14 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Leaving Time (Hardcover)
From and ARC kindly provided by Allen&Unwin and TheReadingRoom
Leaving Time is the twenty-first novel by popular American author, Jodi Picoult. Alice Metcalf is a scientist whose field of study is grief in elephants. Alice has been missing for ten years. Her thirteen-year-old daughter, Jenna is determined she will find her mother: after all, Alice would never have voluntarily left Jenna, of that she is certain. Her grandmother is reluctant to discuss it and her dad, Thomas Metcalf is now in a catatonic state in a mental institution. Jenna has done her research into what happened at the New England Elephant Sanctuary, which was set up by her dad, on the night her mother went missing. She has used the internet exhaustively and pored over her mother’s journals. She has saved her babysitting money and uses it to engage a psychic, Serenity Jones, once famous but now disgraced: Serenity is within her budget. She also tracks down Virgil Stanhope, an ex-cop turned PI who was called to the Sanctuary on the night in question. Neither of them, however, is initially willing to help, but before long, guilt, intrigue and a bit of paranormal persuasion ensure their involvement. Serenity warns Jenna that she may not like what she discovers. Of the possible reasons that she has not returned there is the ultimate one: that Alice has died.
As usual, Picoult employs several different narrators to tell the tale. Her characters are well-rounded and appealing: Jenna is a smart, sassy and tenacious teen; Alice is much more human and flawed than the picture Jenna first paints of her; Serenity is a fiery character who once had a genuine psychic gift; Virgil, an alcoholic PI whose conscience won’t let up. Their dialogue is quick and clever: the banter between Serenity and Virgil is delightfully funny, as is the interaction between Serenity and her computer tech. It is impossible not to chuckle and readers will often find themselves laughing out loud, but Picoult also gives the reader many thoughtful moments and a few to cause a lump in the throat. The plot is original; the intrigue makes this a novel that is difficult to put down; and Picoult includes a perfect twist that even the most astute readers are unlikely to see coming.
It is quite apparent that, once again, Picoult has done extensive research, and not just on elephants: this novel explores grief (both elephant and human), the nature of memory, psychics and paranormal phenomena, and the bond between a mother and child; it also touches on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, dreams, bipolar disorder, and missing persons. This wealth of information is conveyed in easy-to-assimilate form that will, none-the-less keep the reader thinking. The comparison between psychic and detective skills is an interesting one, and thanks to the internet, instructions for folding an origami elephant are easy to find (http://www.origami-instructions.com/o...). While it is not necessary to read the two short stories (Where There’s Smoke and Larger Than Life) that are prequel to this novel, readers who do so will be glad of the extra information they provide. Prospective readers may wonder if Picoult can continue to maintain her usual high standard: with Leaving Time, they can rest assured. This is, once again, a brilliant read.


The Miniaturist
The Miniaturist
by Jessie Burton
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.49

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a brilliant read, 14 Nov. 2014
This review is from: The Miniaturist (Hardcover)
The Miniaturist is the first novel by British author, Jessie Burton. Amsterdam in the late 1680s is a prosperous place for merchants of the VOC (Dutch East India Company). When eighteen-year-old Petronella Oortman, newly married to wealthy merchant, Johannes Brandt, arrives at his luxurious home on the Herengracht, she is nervous but expectant: surely her life can only get better now that she has left Assendelft.

But Johannes is absent, and his sister Marin is less than welcoming. When her husband finally returns, things do not go as Nella had expected. He does, however, bring her a remarkable gift: a replica of their home in miniature. She engages the services of a miniaturist to craft items to furnish this amazing creation, but is disturbed by the accuracy of certain extra pieces, pieces she did not order.

As Nella becomes familiar with the household, it is soon apparent that neither people nor circumstances are what they first seem, and that the life she had expected, and perhaps even hoped, for is unlikely to be the one she will have. Before long, she discovers the shocking truth about her marriage, learns disturbing facts about her husband’s business dealings, surprising truths about other household members and about the elusive but seemingly prescient miniaturist.

Nella begins to realise that while there is abundant prosperity, there is very little tolerance in this Amsterdam “Where the pendulum swings from God to a guilder”. Within three months, this young innocent country girl has to draw on reserves she was unaware she had, along the way witnessing a drowning, a stabbing and a sexual act, attending a funeral, seeing a man condemned to death, bribing a prison guard, and handling the sale of a valuable commodity.

As she weaves a fictional world around real life characters, Burton also provides the reader with a wealth of information about late seventeenth century Amsterdam. Her extensive research is apparent in every paragraph. How interesting to imagine a time when sugar was rare enough to be a valuable commodity, and to actually view Nella’s cabinet house in the Rijksmuseum.

Burton also treats the reader to some marvellously evocative descriptive prose: “A spray of red pimples covers the second man’s forehead. He’s little more than a boy. God has been malicious with his paintbrush” and “The threads of Nella’s imagination begin to spool, embroidering conversations, patches of which it stitches loosely together” and “There is water everywhere she looks, lagoons as still as glass, patched with murk like a foxed mirror when the weak sun moves behind cloud” are just a few examples. This amazing debut novel is a brilliant read. 4.5 stars


The Handsome Man's De Luxe Café (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency)
The Handsome Man's De Luxe Café (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency)
by Alexander McCall Smith
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £12.99

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Another excellent dose of Precious Ramotswe and co., 11 Nov. 2014
“There was also enough light, Mma Ramotswe reflected, to see that the world was not always a place of pain and loss, but a place where our simple human affairs – those matters that for all their pettiness still sometimes confounded us – were not insoluble, were not without the possibility of resolution.”

The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café is the fifteenth book in the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Scottish author, Alexander McCall Smith. Precious Ramotswe and Grace Makutsi are faced with a puzzling case: Mr Senagupta, proprietor of Senagupta Office Supplies, and his sister, Miss Rose, want the Ladies to discover the identity of a woman who has arrived at their house with no idea of who she is, or where she’s from. But Mma Ramostwe suspects there is more to this case than just amnesia.

Grace is about to embark on a new challenge. Already a wife to Phuti Radiphuti, and mother to Itumelang Clovis Radiphuti, and a partner in the Detective Agency, she now has a lease on the shop that is to become the Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café. But while Grace extends, Mr J.L.B. Matekoni has to downsize, and Charlie, still without any qualifications, becomes the unfortunate casualty.

This instalment sees the tiny white van getting dented (twice!), Mma Ramotswe selling cattle for a good cause; Mma Potokwani solving two tricky problems, Mma Makutsi failing to follow the advice of her shoes, Violet Sepotho living up to her nasty reputation, Mma Ramotswe reminded of her first marriage, Charlie embarking on a seemingly unlikely career, Mma Makutsi helping to advance the career of a smart young girl and the formation of an unexpected partnership.

As always, McCall Smith includes plenty of gentle philosophy as his characters muse on waiting-room magazines, what men dream, Prince Charles, female intuition and Pilates. Plans are thought about: “The trouble with plans was that they tended to be expressions of hope…for most people the plan merely said what they would like to happen rather than what they would actually do”, as are dreams: “no matter how unhappy or fraught our waking world may be, we are sent dreams in which we can do the things our heart really wants us to do”

The late Obed Ramotswe’s wisdom about disputes is remembered: “When you don’t talk about something, then something will talk about itself for you” and Mma Ramotswe thinks about behaviour: “You cannot judge somebody of eighteen by the standards of somebody of thirty, even less by the standards of somebody who was forty”. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni pontificates on progress: “I am not modern, and there are many people who are not modern. We want to stay exactly where we are, because there is nothing wrong with that place” and thinks about traffic: “How much worse was it in other countries not too far away where people drove as if they were being pursued by a swarm of bees”

There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments (the Café menu is a case in point), as well as thought-provoking situations, heart-warming reactions and a satisfying conclusion. Another excellent dose of Precious Ramotswe and co.


Little Lies
Little Lies
by Liane Moriarty
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.49

5.0 out of 5 stars a brilliant read., 6 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Little Lies (Hardcover)
“The Blonde Bobs rule the school. If you want to be on the P&C you have to have a blonde bob…..They’re like Mum Prefects, they feel very strongly about their roles as school mums. It’s like their religion. They’re fundamentalist mothers”

Big Little Lies is the sixth novel by Australian author, Liane Moriarty. The Pirriwee Peninsula on Sydney’s Northern Beaches is home to a diverse range of people, many of whom have children at the Pirriwee Public School and so are present at the Annual Trivia Night Fundraiser. But this year, one of those parents ends up dead. This one, intriguing fact is presented in the first chapter, after which the narrative jumps back six months to trace the sequence of events that led to the tragedy.

Moriarty uses three narrators, each of whom has children starting in Kindergarten: Madeline, confident, outgoing and never averse to voicing her outrage at the smallest injustice; Jane, a single mum with a dark secret in her past; and Celeste, rich and beautiful, and married to a seemingly perfect man. Other perspectives are presented in the form of quotes (some quite perceptive, some decidedly frivolous) recorded after the event by a journalist, from parents and teachers present on the night.

Moriarty gives the reader an original plot with a twist that only the most astute reader will predict. The setting is commonplace and easily recognisable and Moriarty captures the feel of the school situation perfectly. The dialogue is familiar from any café or school playground and the characters are real and flawed; none is wholly good or completely evil. Several characters will surprise at the climax, and the reader may even feel some sympathy for the abuser. Readers are likely to find themselves hoping none of the narrators is the Trivia Night victim.

Moriarty touches on some topical themes as well as some age-old topics: domestic violence; body image; the dangers of a one-night-stand; bullying; victim mentality; erotic asphyxiation; infidelity; and bizarre internet auctions. She manages to include a lost plush toy, a Kindy Mothers race, head lice (of course!), a petition, a twisted ankle, a French nanny, little bullies and big bullies, an ex-husband, a gorgeous barista, a profusion of Elvises and Audrey Hepburns and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.

Moriarty gives her characters both wise words and amusing observations: “Then, as she hit her late thirties, her body said: OK, you don’t believe in PMT? I’ll show you PMT. Get a load of this, bitch” and “Ex-husbands should live in different suburbs. They should send their children to different schools. There should be legislation …..”. Also “She looked straight ahead at the briskly working windshield wipers. The windscreen was just like never-ending cycles of her mind. Confusion. Clear. Confusion. Clear. Confusion. Clear.” and “Jane saw that Madeline’s feelings about Jane’s baking were similar to Jane’s feelings about Madeline’s accessories: confused admiration for an exotic sort of behaviour”

Fans of The Husband’s Secret will not be disappointed with Big Little Lies. Readers who can ignore the misspelling of peninsula throughout the text will agree that this is, once again, a brilliant read.


A Faraway Smell of Lemon
A Faraway Smell of Lemon
Price: £0.98

4.0 out of 5 stars A sweet story, 3 Nov. 2014
“We had once what we can never have again. So why, then, do we behave as if everything we have connected with, everything we have blessed with our loving, should be ours for keeps? It is enough to have tiptoed to that space beyond the skin, beyond our nerve endings, and to have glimpsed things that beforehand we only half knew”
A Faraway Smell of Lemons is a Christmas Short Story by actress, radio playwright and author, Rachel Joyce. It may be Christmas, but Binny’s life has fallen apart: the faulty shower, the broken glass pane in the front door, the smashed crockery on the kitchen floor, the unbought Christmas cards, food and gifts; it’s all Oliver’s fault. What sort of Christmas Binny’s children, Coco and Luke are going to get this year is anyone’s guess. Binny has just a few hours to fix it, and a staggering lack of enthusiasm for the task. Trying to avoid another school mother in the High Street, she slips into a shop that sells nothing Binny has ever wanted, but she somehow finds exactly what she needs. A sweet story that may well bring a tear to the eye. 4.5 stars


Serena
Serena
by Ron Rash
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars a brilliant novel, 3 Nov. 2014
This review is from: Serena (Paperback)
“…the work bell rang. The men left so quickly their cast-down forks and spoons seemed to retain a slight vibration, like pond water rippling after a splash”

Serena is the fourth novel by American author, Ron Rash. The mountains of North Carolina in the early 1930s were the scene of competing land grabs: timber getters like George Pemberton who were determined to make their fortunes clear-felling the slopes; miners like Harris who stripped the denuded land of its minerals; and the government, funded by wealthy patrons like Rockerfeller and Vanderbilt, committed to creating National Parks. Logging in this remote wilderness presented many hazards but the Depression ensured that labour was cheap and plentiful.

It is against this background that Rash sets the story of Serena, newly wed to Pemberton and intent on proving herself equal to any worker in this dangerous place. From the first she shows herself to be extremely capable, but also single-minded, calculating, fiercely possessive and completely ruthless. When she perceives a threat to her business or her marriage, she acts without hesitation, fear or favour. The story is told from three perspectives: George Pemberton, thoroughly enthralled by Serena; sixteen-year-old Rachel Harmon, mother of a son to Pemberton; and foreman Snipes, gauging the mood of his crew of sawyers and offering perceptive comments on their suspicions & superstitions.

Rash gives the reader an original plot, a story that ticks along steadily, eliciting occasional gasps at Serena’s despicable actions, until it builds to a gripping climax. His characters are multi-faceted; he includes many interesting historical facts and his love of the North Carolina landscape and the mountain dwellers is apparent in the wonderful descriptive prose: “The land’s angle became more severe, the light waning, streaked as if cut with scissors and braided to the ridge piece by piece” and “… the land increasingly mountainous, less inhabited, the occasional slant of pasture like green felt woven to a rougher fabric” are two examples.

Rash gives his young mother some insightful observations: “…what made losing someone you loved bearable was not remembering but forgetting. Forgetting the small things first, the smell of soap her mother had bathed with…the sound of her mother’s voice….the color of her hair……everything you forgot made that person less alive inside you until you could finally endure it” and “It struck her how eating was a comfort during a hard time because it reminded you that there had been other days, good days, when you’d eaten the same thing. Reminded you there were good days in life, when precious little else did”

Rash has once again produced a brilliant novel, and his fans will not be disappointed. It will be interesting to see what Hollywood does with this riveting tale.


The Christmas Basket
The Christmas Basket
by Debbie Macomber
Edition: Hardcover

3.0 out of 5 stars Macomber has done better, 1 Nov. 2014
This review is from: The Christmas Basket (Hardcover)
The Christmas Basket is a Christmas-themed novel by popular American author, Debbie Macomber. After ten years of avoiding Rose, her Oregon home town, Noelle McDowell is back for Christmas. She is hoping to evade any encounters with Thomas Sutton: her humiliation when he jilted her still smarts. But fate has other ideas and Noelle keeps running into Thom. After some strong words, they finally discover what really happened ten years ago. But the feud between their mothers, over a misunderstanding and an unfortunate theft, threatens to stand in the way of true love. This is a cute little tale with a bit of romance and a long-running squabble between friends. The reconciliation scene during the ice storm is the funniest part, but Macomber has done better. 3.5 stars


The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy
The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy
by Rachel Joyce
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £6.00

5.0 out of 5 stars A delightful read, 1 Nov. 2014
“If only memory were a library with everything stored where it should be. If only you could walk to the desk and say to the assistant, I’d like to return the painful memories about … and take out some happier ones, please”

The Lovesong of Miss Queenie Hennessy is the third novel by actress, radio playwright and author, Rachel Joyce, and is a companion volume to her first novel, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Queenie Hennessy is dying. When she hears that Harold Fry is walking from Devon to Berwick-upon-Tweed to save her, that all she has to do is wait, she is transported back twenty years to Kingsbridge, to the brewery, to her relationship with Harold Fry. Her guilt about the events of that time has haunted her ever since, but a volunteer nun at St Bernadine’s Hospice convinces her to write to Harold Fry, to confess the truth, finally, before she dies.

As Queenie fills her notebook, the events that led to her departure from Kingsbridge are revealed: some things, readers of Harold Fry will have suspected; others, they will have wondered about; and some will come as a complete surprise. Interspersed with her confessions are descriptions of Queenie’s Sea Garden and bits of everyday life in a hospice, some of which are hilarious (nutritional protein shakes that taste like wet cardboard, diversional therapy ideas, knitted syringe-driver covers), others, like the inevitable deaths, sad.

Joyce gives the reader a cast of quirky characters: naïve nuns (and some very wise ones); a cranky Scot; a foul-mouthed woman who loves hats and entering competitions; a one-armed man constantly in receipt of parcels and an inexperienced counselor. She gives Queenie many words of wisdom: “We write ourselves certain parts and then keep playing them as if we have no choice”; “I found out what was right only by getting it wrong”; “Sometimes people judge their happiness by the price they have to pay for it. The more they’ve spent, the happier they think they will be” and “…sometimes you cannot clear the past completely. You must live alongside your sorrow” are a few examples.

Joyce has, of course, ensured that the events of this novel dovetail perfectly with Harold Fry, and while Queenie Hennessy can be read independently of the earlier book, readers will find that the experience is much enhanced by reading Harold Fry first. Once again, the illustrations by Andrew Davidson are truly charming. Fans of Harold Fry will not be disappointed: if anything, Queenie Hennessy surpasses that book with its characters and also some lovely descriptive prose: “I have noticed the rain clouds drawing over the earth like a slate tablecloth and the wind beating at the black sea and tossing the gulls up and down like twists of white paper” and “The small leaves on the tree outside my window have stretched into green hands”. A delightful read.


Home
Home
by Marilynne Robinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.19

4.0 out of 5 stars a stirring read, 29 Oct. 2014
This review is from: Home (Paperback)
“You must forgive in order to understand. Until you forgive, you defend yourself against the possibility of understanding”

Home is the second book in the Gilead series by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Marilynne Robinson, and is set in Gilead, Iowa at the same time as the first book. This book focusses on Reverend Robert Boughton (closest friend of Reverend John Ames), and his family. Thirty-eight-year-old Glory Boughton, with a failed engagement behind her, returns to Gilead to look after her ailing father, Robert. A letter arrives, and Glory worries about the effect it will have on her father: “…the note might really be from Jack, but upsetting somehow, written from a ward for the chronically vexatious, the terminally remiss”.

Eventually, her disreputable brother Jack, an unemployed alcoholic, returns home after twenty years of virtual silence. Her father is pleased to see this favoured child again, one who went from “a restless, distant, difficult boy” to what Jack himself admits: “….nothing but trouble…….I create a kind of displacement around myself as I pass through the world, which can fairly be called trouble”. Jack is not the only one with secrets in his past, and he and Glory form a bond. His reconnection with his godfather and namesake, Reverend John Ames does not proceed smoothly.

They think back on their youth in the family home: “Experience had taught them that truth has sharp edges and hard corners, and could be seriously at odds with kindness” and “…lying in that family meant only that the liar would appreciate discretion…..as a matter of courtesy they treated one another’s deceptions like truth, which was a different thing from deceiving, or being deceived”. Glory is less than pleased to be in Gilead and dreads the thought of spending the rest of her days there: “To have [the past] overrun its bounds this way and become present and possibly future, too – they all knew this was a thing to be regretted”

Robinson treats the reader to some marvellous descriptive prose: “Their father said if they could see as God can, in geological time, they would see it leap out of the ground and turn in the sun and spread it arms and bask in the joys of being an oak tree in Iowa”. She touches on the question of racial prejudice and also includes some hints about the life Lila led before Gilead, a subject expanded on in the third book in this series. While this novel is somewhat slow in places, it is a stirring read and the final pages will move many readers to tears. 4.5 stars


No Title Available

3.0 out of 5 stars an enjoyable romance, 29 Oct. 2014
White Picket Fences is the third book in the Shelter Valley Stories series by American author, Tara Taylor Quinn. When Will Parsons volunteers his sister Randi to supervise college student pet therapy visits to Aged Care Facilities, she isn’t happy. Firstly, she really doesn’t like dogs; secondly, she doesn’t believe the therapy does anything worthwhile; and thirdly, the veterinarian she has to work with, Zack Foster is just too sexy. But her strategy to get out of this chore backfires, so she has to endure the regular visits.
Zack is still smarting from losing his wife to another woman, so even if he is attracted to Randi Parsons, he has no plans to act on it. But the best laid plans, as they say, occasionally fail. This is an enjoyable romance that expands on characters introduced in earlier books of the series as well as hinting at the fourth book. It is not essential to have read earlier books, but it does help with character backstories. This installment is a little slow, but has a sweet ending. 3.5 stars


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