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Jenny Lloyd author of Leap the Wild Water (Wales)

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The Hundred Secret Senses
The Hundred Secret Senses
Price: £2.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Deeply moving and inspiring., 16 Oct 2014
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Amy Tan is a genius at opening the door to the grief of disappointments, betrayals, and seemingly unbreachable ruptures created by generational and cultural differences. She leads you right to the edge of the divide without letting you see that is where she is taking you so that suddenly, you see the gulf stretched out between her characters and you despair for them. You feel their pain as they struggle to understand and to love one another across the divide of differences between them, knowing that it is only through love and understanding that they will find a way to build the necessary bridges.

Tan’s familiar themes are here but while the divides she often writes about are between Chinese mothers and their American born daughters, here the breach is between two half-sisters thrown together by fate and circumstance.

Six-year-old Olivia never asked for a sister but it is her father’s dying wish that Olivia’s mother bring to America his daughter from a previous marriage, who he abandoned in China. To Olivia’s dismay, the sister who arrives from China is not the shy, waif-like, young girl that Olivia imagined; Kwan is a stoutly built, young woman with a full-on, in-your-face personality. Worse, Olivia has to share her room with her and Kwan keeps her awake at night, telling stories from the past and telling Olivia about the dead people who Kwan sees and speaks with. Kwan has ying-eyes, a rare gift which means she can see and speak to people who have died.
Kwan swears Olivia to secrecy but Olivia betrays her secret. Kwan is sent away for a while, to be treated for madness (society is just as guilty of the inability to understand and respect the beliefs of different cultures). The guilt Olivia feels on discovering that Kwan was subjected to electric shock treatments while away only serves to fuel Olivia’s resentment at having this sister she never asked for thrust on her.
Consequently, even when she grows up, Olivia does not come to appreciate Kwan for who she is; the most loveable, loving, unique, and generous sister any could wish to have.

There is a scene in the book which demonstrates the great skill of Amy Tan’s writing- the ability to portray oceans of meaning in a gesture. This one scene reveals the essence of Olivia’s relationship with Kwan; it takes place on Kwan’s fiftieth birthday. Olivia ‘forgets’ until the last moment, guaranteeing she will turn up late and without a suitable gift. She roots around in the bottoms of drawers and lands upon a cheap soap dish she’d bought years ago and never used. Thus, she lets Kwan know that no thought or love went into the gift. She manages to wholly reject Kwan’s importance in her life while telling herself it was no more than forgetfulness on her part. The gesture epitomises Olivia’s attitude towards Kwan.

The significance of Kwan’s importance in Olivia’s life becomes more apparent as the story unfolds. Olivia has to cross continents (on a trip to China with Kwan) before she understands who Kwan really is and how deeply their fates are linked.
In this novel, Amy Tan not only succeeds in bridging the divide between cultures but also the spiritual and physical world. It may be a bridge too far for some but I found it utterly convincing, deeply moving and inspiring.

Dark Water: Part Two of Wild Water
Dark Water: Part Two of Wild Water
Price: £1.83

5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant sequel by a master-storyteller., 16 Oct 2014
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Secrets from the past, untold truths, are about to catch up with Jack Redman in the form of nutter, Simon Banks, who wants to help himself to a large slice of Jack’s life. Simon doesn’t need to do much to get it – he just has to spill the beans. He’s relying on his old lover, Patsy, who will do pretty much anything for money, to help him do it.

You know how it is when the most important decisions (the one’s that might, just might, mess up your life if you get them wrong) thrust themselves upon you and demand to be answered when too much else is already happening in your life and you can’t deal with this, too? So, you follow the choice that tugs at your emotional heart strings, even though alarm bells are ringing in your head; you barely hear your own voice of reason above the clatter and clutter of your life and, anyway, you don’t have the time or energy to think straight.
This is what happens to Jack and the choice he makes is to let bygones be bygones and go along with his ex- wife’s plea to move herself and their children into Jack’s cottage, just down the road from Jack’s love nest with Anna.

Everyone but Anna thinks the devious and manipulative Patsy has reformed and is finally acting in her children’s best interest. Anna is the voice in the wilderness, ignored and increasingly marginalised. Jack is torn between his two great loves – Anna, and his kids from his marriage to Patsy. He has to do what is right for his kids but it seems that Anna is unwilling to compromise. As the strain on their relationship takes its toll, Simon Banks is watching and waiting to destroy all that Jack holds dear.

Jan Ruth is a master story-teller. Her characters and their predicaments are so human and so real that you are immediately immersed in their lives; feeling their pain, their joy, and sharing in their laughter, their fears and insecurities. I was rooting for Anna in this one, clasping my forehead with my hand and thinking, oh no, Jack, you IDIOT! Read it, you will see what I mean!

Wild Water
Wild Water
Price: £1.86

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Totally loved it - in my top ten favourite books of this year., 8 Oct 2014
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This review is from: Wild Water (Kindle Edition)
Obviously, I was drawn by the title and that this novel was partly set in my beloved Wales, so there was the hook of these similarities. All similarities end there. This is right up to date, a contemporary romance which is so much more than the genre implies. It was totally engrossing, and yes, I couldn’t put it down. I have the shadows under my eyes to prove it.

To say this novel exceeded any expectations is an understatement. I was hooked from beginning to end, so emotionally involved with the characters that I fell in love with Jack Redman and hoped his horrible, ruthless wife, Patsy, would die, or at least find a thread of moral fibre in herself and see the misery she was inflicting on their children. Yes, I know, it is ridiculous to feel so strongly about characters. It’s just a story! I admonished myself, every time I felt my anger rise as Patsy descended further down the road of destruction.

It is the mark of a rare and talented writer to be able to create characters so real that you root for them, cry with them, fall in love with them or hate them, laugh out loud on one page ( I loved the humour running through this book), only to be moved to tears on the next. The author’s portrayal of the characters was truly masterful.

This story was all the more heart-wrenching for being firmly rooted in reality. What happens to Jack happens to many others, far too often. I know, because it happened to someone dear to me and twenty-five years on, he is still picking up the pieces. The ruthless and heartless Patsys of this world have a great deal of heartbreak to answer for.

The story; Jack Redman, funny, loveable, successful and wealthy estate agent, can feel the ground shifting from beneath his feet every time his wife looks at him with contempt or finds another reason to criticise him. He doesn’t know how, he doesn’t know why, but he knows something has gone badly wrong and all his attempts to put things right cannot halt the slide. As Jack’s life goes into meltdown and he risks losing everything and everyone important to him, the strain takes its toll, and Anna, his first love, is the only person keeping him sane. But she’d have to be mad to have anything to do with him again, after all these years, when he’d dropped her to marry Patsy, wouldn’t she? Besides, she is seriously involved with somebody else.

Great characters, great plot, page-turning suspense and all very well written. As I got near to the end of the book, I found myself torn between the compulsion to keep reading while not wanting it to end. Imagine my delight when I turned the last page and discovered there is a sequel - Dark Water! I’ve bought it already – that says it all, really. Wild Water has bagged a place on my top-ten-favourite-books-list for this year. Dark Water, here I come!

Price: £1.90

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wise, deep and thought provoking., 25 Sep 2014
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This is the second novel I have bought by the author Peter Davey. In my review of Fraud, I described it as absolutely brilliant, and this novella is, too.
Genevieve’s love-life has been a series of disasters, and the latest relationship is turning out to be no exception. Her long-time, happily married, best friend Laura is always there to pick up the pieces. Genevieve, still trying and failing to find her perfect love is considered ‘one of the family’, always welcome, and Laura will always be there for her …. until Genevieve becomes involved with Laura’s brother. As Laura’s marriage and friendship begin to fall apart, she no longer knows who to believe or who to trust and discovers there is never only one side to a story, and that she has to take her own share of responsibility for the reasons she has been betrayed.
Set in Paris and Southern France, this absorbing and thought-provoking novel is a perceptive exploration of the nature and constancy of the love and friendship of the title; the difficult choices inherent in conflicting loyalties; the consequent losses when we hurt others, whether meaning to or not; and the mountains of forgiveness we must sometimes climb for love and friendship to survive. This novella has all this and more. It is wise, perceptive and profound, and it will leave you pondering your own relationships long after you have turned the last page.
If you like your novels wise, deep and thought-provoking, read Peter Davey.

Waldek, The Boy who Defied the Nazis (Thriller)
Waldek, The Boy who Defied the Nazis (Thriller)
Price: £3.08

5.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinary true-life story and a must-read, 14 Sep 2014
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This is one of the most extraordinary, true-life stories I have read.

Waldek began his life as a seemingly ordinary boy in a normal family, but the life Waldek lives is anything but ordinary. Waldek’s story begins in Poland, the land of his birth, before it is devastated by the destruction wrought by the Nazis. At the age of fourteen, enraged to see his country being ruled by the Nazis, Waldek joins the Polish resistance. He and his young comrades are caught and captured and Waldek ends up spending the rest of the war being shunted from one concentration camp to another, including Auschwitz.

Waldek suffers torture and near starvation, and is a witness to the horrors of the holocaust. He sees so much atrocity that, eventually, it ceases to affect him. (We can only feel so much pain before the brain shuts off our feelings in order that we will survive it. This is why so many survivors of trauma are unable to fully recall their experiences and only do so in ‘flashbacks’ or nightmares. The memories are buried so that we can survive them.)
When the war is over and Waldek is freed, he knows that he must forget or he will not be able to go on living because he will be consumed by hatred and the need for revenge. He makes a conscious decision not to think about the things he has seen and experienced.

When he found himself living in a Poland ruled by a communism he could not abide, he made his escape into Germany and from there to a new life in Peru. In any ordinary life, the story would end here with a happy new beginning after all that trauma. Not so for Waldek. I don’t want to spoil this story by saying any more about the series of events which happen to Waldek throughout his life. All I will say is that I found deeply moving and inspiring, his courage to keep on picking himself up; his tenacity and determination to survive all that life throws at him; and enormous compassion for the moral choices he had to make which meant compromising his deeply held convictions.

Waldek’s life was irrevocably harmed by so many, most especially the Nazis (and long after the war ended), but the unflinching spirit of the man survived.

On the surface this is the story of one man’s life-long quest to live in peace; free from the ravages that wars wreak on the lives of those who live through them. At its heart is a profound exposition of the terrible dilemmas some are faced with when the only choices are between two evils. A must-read.

The Light Of A Bright Sun (Hayward Book 1)
The Light Of A Bright Sun (Hayward Book 1)
Price: £3.22

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This book is a literary masterpiece., 2 Sep 2014
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Thurman P Banks Jr is an author who embodies the title of his own novel in being the light of a bright sun in a dark world. In this, his second novel, Banks is unflinching and courageous in illuminating the worst things human beings are capable of doing to each other. Banks pulls no punches. Early in the novel we are witness to the brutal rape of a young boy who is traumatised and scarred by his experience. Within days of the worst of all things happening, his father seemingly abandons him and his mother, unable to cope with what has happened.

Before you start thinking, like Thomas’s father, that this story is too much to cope with, let me tell you this is no cheap drama heaping violence upon violence. No, this book is a literary masterpiece which is not only beautifully written but is jam-packed with philosophical wisdom which took my breath away, page after page.

Thomas is the hero of this story, though he is not the narrator; the mysterious identity of the narrator is revealed at the end of the story. The course of Thomas’s life is changed forever on the day he is raped at just eight years old. As a young man he is still plagued by nightmares which are flashbacks to that terrifying ordeal. After his father walks out on Thomas and his mother, his mother takes up with Willy, a poor paternal substitute. Thomas may have grown up full of anger and bitterness but his mum has a baby daughter who is Thomas’s salvation. His baby sister is called Maybelline and is born with Down’s syndrome. Thomas calls her Maybe. Thomas adores her, becomes her best friend and protector, and tries to shield her from the worst of people’s prejudice against her disability.

As Thomas grows older, he becomes restless, wanting something more than his dead-end job in a dead-end town, living with a step-father he despises. But how can he leave Maybe who so depends on his love and friendship?

I’m not going to say any more about the story, except to say that what goes on to happen to Maybe, and Thomas, is utterly shocking. You will have to read the book, which I earnestly hope you will, to know what happens next.

When I read the author’s first novel, Beyond John Dann, I was reminded a little of John Irving. (My claim to fame – I was the first to review Beyond John Dann on Amazon UK!) Reading his second novel, I felt a rush of excitement for Banks because in this novel he firmly establishes his author’s voice and it is beautiful, strong and resonant, like the ringing out of bells.

There is so much every reader can take from this novel. It is wise, transformational, philosophical, richly symbolic and powerful. The message is clear; vengeance destroys the best of us but forgiveness sets us free.

The world needs literary writers like Thurman P Banks Jr; writers who have the courage to take us into the darkness while offering us a light of bright sun to light a hopeful path to a better world.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves
Price: £3.08

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Unforgettable., 26 Aug 2014
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This book should carry a warning; that any sentient being will find it a harrowing reading experience. By sentient being, I mean people who are capable of feeling empathy and compassion for all animals, not just their own kind.
The novel bounces around in time, beginning in the middle of the narrator’s story, when Rosemary is looking back and hints at a family with hidden tragedies; experiences so damaging that her brother has been absent for many years, her mother has suffered a complete breakdown, her father has turned to drink, but nobody ever, ever talks about Rosemary’s sister, Fern, who has been missing since Rosemary was five years old. When you get to the gobsmacking surprise which annihilates all the assumptions you’ve so far made, you realise why the story had to begin where it did. Your whole attitude towards Fern’s relationship with Rosemary may have been different if you’d known who she was straight off.
I apologise if this all sounds mysterious and confusing but it’s difficult to say too much about this story without giving away the surprise on which will hinge so many of your perceptions as the reader.
Once the surprise is revealed and you’ve gotten over the shock, you get to learn more and more about this family and the devastating heartbreak it has caused Fern to suffer. Not one of them set out to be deliberately cruel; all that is done is done out of love and utter ignorance of their ability to meet Fern’s needs long term.
Threaded through Rosemary’s family story and the difficulties she encounters growing up as someone who others regard as something of a freak, are some factual accounts which had me, as an animal lover, weeping and gnashing my teeth and wishing to join the ALF. Not that I have ever been ignorant of the mass and inexcusable suffering inflicted on animals in laboratories all over the world – they have always grieved me – but reading this book made me feel that grief on a deeper level than I ever have before. I felt impotent outrage that kept me awake at night and haunted me by day.
Eventually, the filtered truth of what has happened is revealed in all its terrible, awful, guilt-ridden cruelty – a shocking and brutal cruelty made all the more heart-rending because it was inevitable; inevitable from the moment Rosemary’s father thought to further his career, and science, by making her and Fern the subjects of an experiment. When it all goes horribly wrong, Fern is sent away, never to return to her family.
Wherever human beings have placed their own needs and profit over the wellbeing of others, there are catastrophic results; not only for the family in this novel but for every species on our planet. The gut-wrenching guilt this family has to live with is a guilt we all share in so utterly failing, as a species, to bring a halt to all cruelty, neglect and exploitation of other species who have as much right as us to live free on this planet.
This novel will inform you in ways that no factual account ever could because it makes you feel exactly how it is to be the one whose needs and feelings are deemed inferior and less important than those of humankind. Fern’s experience will break your heart and challenges the ways in which we think about our place in this world in relation to other species. It’s an uncomfortable and heart-rending read which, given the subject matter, is exactly as it should be. Highly recommended.

Fat Chance
Fat Chance
Price: £1.90

5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful, entertaining,rumbustious, comedy-murder-mystery, jam-packed with hilarious one-liners., 9 Aug 2014
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This review is from: Fat Chance (Kindle Edition)
If you’ve been following my reviews, you will have picked up on the fact by now that I am a Malla Duncan fan. I’m one of those reader who likes to play safe, so once I’ve found a good writer I really like, I tend to read everything they’ve written, confident that I won’t be disappointed. Once again, Malla Duncan has come up trumps.
As a writer, this book has left me full of admiration for Malla Duncan’s writing talent. I bookmarked countless pages, wanting to read again a line or paragraph which made me laugh out loud.
Fat Chance is a beautifully written mystery- suspense with thrills and spills combined with a clever plot that will keep you hooked from the first page to the last. The characters were wonderful, especially amateur sleuth, Marsha, who is larger-than-life in every sense, trampling and hurtling her voluptuous way into danger in her quest to track down the serial killer who appears to have a preference for ridding the Amalfi coast of fat women.
Fat Chance is a delightful, hilarious, rumbustious, comedy-murder-mystery, jam-packed with hilarious one-liners,and along with all Malla Duncan’s books, a must-read.

Split at the Root: A Memoir of Love and Lost Identity
Split at the Root: A Memoir of Love and Lost Identity
Price: £2.45

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An extraordinary, shocking and disturbing true story., 28 July 2014
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An extraordinary, shocking and disturbing true story that left me gasping with outrage at times, Split at the Root is the story about a woman who was removed from her Black birth mother and brought up by a White, German-speaking family in Guatemala, and her subsequent identity crisis in middle-age.

Catana grows up in a privileged world where she is treated like a little princess and wants for nothing; a world which is alien and far from the realities of the everyday lives of her Black birth-parents. Undoubtedly, it is a life she would never have had if she had stayed in the village of her birth. But for all the privileges Catana experiences, she is robbed of something which cannot be bought and can never be replaced.

Catana grows up to be a renowned model and actress who fears and despises people of her own colour; through her search for the truth of her upbringing, we discover the reasons why.

‘How dared they?’ was the question I frequently asked of Catana’s parents, that they should be so arrogant as to suppose that their wealth and status meant they could take this little baby, change the name her birth mother had given her, call her their ‘Morhle’ ( little Moor), and bring her up as if she was their possession. They fawn over her, dote on her, provide for her every want and whim, while teaching her to utterly reject not only her own people but her own mother.

My heart broke for Catana’s birth mother who repeatedly made the arduous, hours long journey to Guatemala city to see her little daughter only to be met with the glare of hatred in her daughter’s eyes. While this terrible rejection may not have been openly encouraged by the adoptive family, there was certainly no evidence of it being discouraged.

I confess I began to dislike this spoiled young child who behaved so dreadfully towards her real mother until I thought about how it is that little children are so easily and thoroughly influenced by those who they depend on for their survival, and so make unwitting subjects of indoctrination for those who wish to influence them for their own ends. We’ve all seen children torn apart by divorcing parents; having choices forced upon them whether they are happy about it or not.

Did Catana meet her real mother and embrace her in later life? Did she forgive the German couple who so thoroughly made her despise the colour of her own skin and reject her birth family? (I don’t think I could.) You will have to read this extraordinary story to find out.
Real life is certainly often stranger than fiction.

Watery Ways
Watery Ways
Price: £2.47

5.0 out of 5 stars Uplifting, educational and inspirational., 28 July 2014
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This review is from: Watery Ways (Kindle Edition)
I bought this book because I’ve always been intrigued and attracted by alternative lifestyles. I also chose to buy it because, last winter, one of my favourite walks was along an unused section of the Montgomery canal – it left me wondering what it would be like to live on the water, meandering along, through tranquil and beautiful scenery. I confess it left me with a hankering for a narrow-boat until my dog fell in the canal and came near to drowning, reminding me that with my non-existent swimming skills perhaps life on the water was not for me.

Instead, I bought this book, to experience second-hand what might have been, if only.

The author is one of life’s mould-breakers; she has lived on a smallholding in England, and lived on a farm in South Africa before moving to Rotterdam to live on a barge in the Oude Haven. All these inspirational life-experiences have been recorded in her books; How to Breed Geese, Sheep and English Eccentrics, African Ways, Watery Ways, and Harbour Ways. She has also written an award winning novel for children, The Skipper’s child.

Watery Ways documents the author’s journey from living as a tenant on an old barge in the Oude Haven, Rotterdam, to buying a barge of her own. Along the way, she learns many lessons (some the hard way), finds good friends and romance. We share in her triumphs and failures, joy and tears, acts of courage and fears.

Watery Ways is uplifting, educational and inspirational. If you seriously intend a life on canals, this is a must-read book. If you have no intention of doing so, this is a fascinating read, anyway. Either way, be warned! It may leave you with a longing to break free from convention and follow in Mrs Poore’s watery ways.

I was sorry to come to the end of this stage in the author’s adventures and am excited at the prospect of the sequel, Harbour Ways, to see how she copes with restoring and living in her very own barge.

Watery Ways is a worthy finalist in the 2014, memoir category, and it has my vote.

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