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Mrs. S. Payne (UK)

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The Joy Luck Club
The Joy Luck Club
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars A strong and interesting read, 10 Mar. 2017
This review is from: The Joy Luck Club (Kindle Edition)
I have had this book on my Kindle for a long time and for whatever reason, I had never got round to reading it but when I found myself away for the weekend with no TV signal, internet or phone connection (!) I decided to randomly pick a book on my Kindle and I got The Joy Luck Club. Needless to say, I started and finished it in the same day.

The story is set in 1949 where four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, meet weekly to play mahjong and tell stories of what they left behind in China. They call themselves the Joy Luck Club. We follow them and their four daughters, who struggle to come to terms with their Chinese American identity as they navigate their history and present relationships. Each chapter is told from one woman's perspective so you get a strong sense of the gap that exists between the mothers who have left China to make a life in the strange new world of America and their daughters who alternately embrace and deny their Chinese heritage.

The book is beautifully written and the individual personalities of all eight women come through very strongly. The (sometimes horrifying) tales of the mothers' lives in China are sensitively combined with the perceptions of the daughters and this makes for a really interesting read. There are some fascinating insights into the Chinese culture, beliefs and history and also the battle the daughters undergo, trying to be both American and Chinese.
My only negative about the book was that my Kindle edition did not have the character's name at the beginning of each chapter (and I think it was supposed to) which meant that I had no idea who I was reading about. This didn’t stop me from enjoying the book, it just left me confused when I was trying to relate that mothers and daughters together.

Overall, this was a really enjoyable book and I look forward to reading more of Amy Tan’s books.

Apple Tree Yard
Apple Tree Yard
by Louise Doughty
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

4.0 out of 5 stars Uncomfortable but gripping, 10 Mar. 2017
This review is from: Apple Tree Yard (Paperback)
I had heard of this book a while ago and once I saw that there was going to be a BBC drama adaptation, I started reading it before I would watch the TV series.

The book starts in a courtroom with our female narrator, Yvonne, in the dock, although we don’t yet know her crime. We go back in time with Yvonne to learn how she has ended up there. Yvonne is 52, married, has two children and is a successful geneticist, living a seemingly ordinary life. We follow Yvonne as she makes some bad choices and embarks in an impulsive affair with a married man that she meets during a normal working day.

Things soon spiral out of control and take a dark and complicated turn for the worse when Yvonne is sexually assaulted by a colleague of hers and is consequently harassed by him. If she reports the attack to the police, she risks the chance of her affair being exposed to both her family and to the wider world but she cannot let this man continue to harass her. Far various reasons, confiding in her husband and the legal system is not an option, so Yvonne confides in the mysterious man that she has been having an affair with...but the results are catastrophic.

As I said, we learn this story directly from Yvonne herself and this creates an immediate feeling of intimacy, we are thrown completely into her world and we hear her innermost thoughts. She treats the whole situation with honesty and self-criticism which immediately endeared me to her. We don’t find out Yvonne’s name or any other character’s names until quite far into the book and when she does start to use people’s names, I felt like things were really starting to unravel for her.

The style of writing was easy to follow and I immediately felt connected with all of the characters. I found this to be a clever and thought provoking book that examines the position of women in society with regards to marriage, men, the legal system and the workplace. There was just a slight drag of the story in the middle for me but it wasn’t enough to put me off. I would recommend this book but you should be prepared for some uncomfortable but gripping reading.

The Good People
The Good People
Price: £8.54

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Another good read by Hannah Kent, 7 Mar. 2017
This review is from: The Good People (Kindle Edition)
I enjoyed Hannah Kent’s first book ‘Burial Rites’, so I was excited to read her second as soon as I could. I purchased ‘The Good People’ as soon as it was released, popped it on my Kindle and then promptly forgot about it (I do this very often). It wasn’t until I purchased tickets to hear Hannah Kent talk at an Arts Festival where I live, that I remembered that I hadn’t actually read her second book so I jumped on it straight away and I wasn’t disappointed.

‘The Good People’ is set in County Kerry in 1825 in Ireland. The main character is Nóra Lehay and we join Nora just as she learns of the death of her husband Martin. We understand that Nora and Marin lost their daughter Johanna earlier in the year and as a result of that, they now care for their four year-old grandson Micheál. Michael apparently developed normally for the first two years of his life, but is now severely mentally and physically handicapped. In a highly superstitious community, there are whispers that he is a changeling, a fairy child, who has taken the place of the real Michael.

Unable to access medical help, in desperation Nora seeks out the help of the local wisewoman, Nance Roche. Nance has been known to cure locals ills with herbs and white magic and is said to communicate with the spirits, or the "Good People" as they are referred to.

This is clearly an impeccably researched and very atmospheric book, inspired by a real event in Ireland in 1826. Hearing Hannah kent talk about it in person made it clearer to me the amount of research she had done and how involved she felt in the story. I think that this feeling is transferred to the reader whilst reading the book. The characters are all individual and interesting and the presentation of the simple lifestyle was easy to imagine with the lyrical writing and the occasional Gaelic phrase to add some authenticity.

The superstitions that seemed so quaint and bordering on ridiculous at the opening of the book soon take a darker turn and was fascinated to learn how much the local people amend their lifestyles around these beliefs. My only slight criticism of the book was that the middle part seems to drag slightly, there seemed to be a bit in the middle where nothing really happened and I started to get slightly bored but the pace soon picked up again. I didn’t particularly enjoy the final scenes in the courtroom but I understand that they needed to happen. I found myself interested in the outcome but not that bothered by the process to get there.

I would recommend this book to anyone that likes to read about these times and superstitions, the characters are well defined and the story flows well. I will be reading Hannah Kent’s next book too.

The Muse
The Muse
Price: £3.66

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Better than her first but not amazing., 20 Feb. 2017
This review is from: The Muse (Kindle Edition)
I enjoyed Jessie Burton’s previous book ‘The Miniaturist’ but I didn’t love it. Therefore, I was keen to read ‘The Muse’ but slightly apprehensive about. I am attending an event later this month where Jessie Burton will be talking about ‘The Muse’, so I was keen to read this before I hear her talk.

The story is told from the perspective of two women, Olive in Spain in the 1930s and Odelle in London in the 1960s. Olive is a painter from a privileged background whereas Odelle is a writer who has moved to London from Trinidad in search of a better life. Despite coming from very different backgrounds, both women face similar obstacles when it comes to being taken seriously in life and work.

Odelle is working in an art gallery in London where a mysterious and rare painting is brought into the gallery and Odelle’s Manager, Quick, has a strange reaction to it. This prompts Odelle to investigate the painting. We then learn about the origins of the painting with Olive in Spain. We learn about Olive, her life and her family and the two stories eventually reach a crossing point.

I enjoyed this book more than Burton’s previous book but I still didn’t love it. The characters were likable but a bit hard to believe and maybe not very well developed. We understand that Odelle is having new experiences after moving to London from Trinidad but the feeling of naiveté isn’t quite captured, although, unlike other reviewers, I don’t think that the choice of a West Indian immigrant narrator is detrimental to the story overall. It’s hard to believe that Odelle is a budding writer as we experience almost nothing of the struggles she would have faced to launch herself during that time.
Olive was an interesting character, she was a victim of her time with overbearing parents but when she has a chance to change her life, she doesn’t take it which was frustrating but essential to the overall plot of the book.

I found the character of Quick really strange. I didn’t feel a connection with her and I didn’t really understand what she was about. Her behaviour was really odd (even given her history) and I found her an unbelievable character that I found myself not caring about.

Overall, I did enjoy this story but it wasn’t amazing. It seemed to feel slightly rushed and was lacking some detail checking.

Nineteen Eighty-Four (Penguin Modern Classics)
Nineteen Eighty-Four (Penguin Modern Classics)
Price: £4.99

4.0 out of 5 stars This was a fascinating and scary read., 20 Feb. 2017
I have had this book on my Kindle for a long time but never got round to reading it. It was bought to my attention again after Donald Trump won the US election and everyone was talking about how Nineteen Eighty-Four was coming true(!). This reminded me that I was yet to read it, so I started it as soon as I finished my previous book.

The basic story is familiar to many but to summerise: Nineteen Eighty-Four is a post-modern classic story, detailing what the world may look like in 1984, 40 years after the book was written. The UK is part of Oceania and is ruled by ‘Big Brother’. Big Brother has total control of all the media, and therefore controls all the information reaching the populace. The people are divided into 3 Parties; the ruling Inner Party, the middle class Outer Party and the under-educated Proles. All have total loyalty to Big Brother but hints of rebellion, even in people's thoughts, are viciously crushed and executions are commonplace.

Against this background, we learn that Winston Smith begins to have doubts and wants to engage in a love affair (as opposed to the passionless, state-sanctioned marriage) and have the ability to question Big Brother. Smith's attempts at subversion bring him face to face with the workings of the party, and a brutal introduction to the realities of life in Oceania.

Overall, I enjoyed the read and the characters. The whole situation is very scary and there are some very graphic scenes of violence. I felt that the book lacked some momentum in the middle but did pick up again towards the end. The writing style is easy to follow and Smith is a character that is easy to like, understand and sympathise with.

There are few writers that have introduced so many new phrases to the English language and I had no idea that two TV programmes (`Big Brother' and `Room 101') both take both their names and concepts from the pages of Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is clear that this book is compelling, written before it’s time, contains a powerful message and possible prediction of the future.

The Essex Serpent: The number one bestseller and British Book Awards Book of the Year
The Essex Serpent: The number one bestseller and British Book Awards Book of the Year
Price: £2.88

19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not really for me....nothing really seems to happen, 21 Jan. 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I started reading this book after hearing many good things about it and it was rated 5 stars by a book blogger that I like, so, although it’s not my usual choice of fiction, I gave it a go.

The story seems to be set around 1892 (although no date is actually given) and the main character is Cora Seaborne who we meet after the death of her bullying husband. Cora lives with her son who seems to be somewhere on the Autism scale and her female companion. We soon see that the doctor that treated Cora’s husband, a brilliant and capable surgeon, is in love with Cora and we start to see how their relationship works just as Cora decides to go to Colchester to take in some air and look for dinosaur bones. Cora soon learns of the legendary ‘Essex Serpent’ (which sounds similar to the Loch Ness Monster) and sets out to try and see the creature. We follow her as she makes friends with various characters in Colchester including a vicar and his family in a parish near the water.

Like many other reviewers, I agree that the writing style of this book is beautiful, the words and sentences flow like a historical piece of writing and the characters are interesting and presented well with a good level of detail. I found most of the female characters a bit meek and weak but I suppose that is true of the roles of females during that period.

My issue with the book is really only the storyline - nothing happens. It took me until nearly 50% into the book to really begin to enjoy it and I was ultimately left disappointed as the ending was weak with no real conclusion. It’s really a strange feeling to think back over a book you have just read or try and describe the storyline to someone else and realise that nothing really happened.

Although I can appreciate the language and writing style, that just wasn't enough for me to really enjoy the book. I’m sad to say that I was actually really pleased to have finished it and be able to move onto something else.

What Alice Knew: The addictive domestic thriller with a heart-stopping final twist
What Alice Knew: The addictive domestic thriller with a heart-stopping final twist
Price: £0.99

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A good idea but really poorly executed, 9 Jan. 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This book came to my attention through a Bookbub email and once I read some of the excellent reviews, I purchased it.

The main character in the story is Alice. Alice has a perfect life, a job she enjoys, happy kids and a loving husband, Ed. One night, Alice receives a suspicious phone call and, after Ed doesn’t come home, she starts to investigate what might have happened to him.

Alice paints portraits for a living and looks into people very deeply, which makes her very confusing to follow as a character. Ed is completely different, he is an Obstetrician and very laid back and calm. Both characters are highly respected within their professions.

The book is told in the first person view by Alice and it’s quite hard to review without revealing any spoilers but essentially, you find out quite early in the story 'What Alice Knew' and then the story progresses with how Alice and Ed have to deal with their knowledge.

I found the first third of the book very good. The pace was fast and learning about the characters involved was interesting, but nearly half-way through the book, I felt that things started to change. I found that Alice became a very hard person to like and I also struggled to believe the situations that she found herself in.


Alice’s old friend was weird and I still don’t know how she managed to have a bit of evidence about Ed that the police apparently never had or thought of. The policeman out of the 70’s was a strange addition to the story and what he was wearing and how he acted was described in such detail that I thought it would be highly relevant to the storyline - turns out it wasn’t relevant at all. Alice’s children were never really mentioned during the story but became a key reason for Alice’s final decision, which seemed a bit strange to me and the side storyline with Alice’s mother felt constructed and perfectly timed to this crisis that Alice was having and I found the timing in particular really difficult to believe.

I could go on with more things that disappointed me but I won’t. I don’t know how this book has been rated so highly as it seemed average to me at best. I liked the idea behind the story and the fact that Alice was willing to lie for her husband but by the time I got to the end of the book, I had grown despondent and any other event that happened just seemed to be way too contrived.

Plague Year (the Plague Year trilogy Book 1)
Plague Year (the Plague Year trilogy Book 1)
Price: £2.10

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Not that great really, I was left disappointed, 6 Jan. 2017
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
I got this book for free when it was on offer on Amazon, I liked the sound of the storyline so I popped it on my Kindle and I started reading it on a flight.

We learn that there has been a technology plague outbreak which has resulted in most of the world's population being dead. The released nanobots are capable of reproducing inside all hot-blooded animals, consuming the host from within, inside of a few hours. The nanobots are unable to function below 70% of atmospheric pressure so the only survivors are those that managed to escape to altitudes about around 10,000 feet above sea level.

We follow two small groups of survivors as we learn that one group are living on a mountain in Colorado and are rapidly running out of food and the second group of people are astronauts aboard the International Space Station, including a nanotechnology expert who is trying to find a way to destroy the nanobots on Earth.

I usually love post-apocalyptic stories but for some reason, this one really didn’t grab me. I struggled to emphasise or relate with any of the characters and I found it difficult to get interested in their individual plots. I found the characters flat and really quite uninteresting. I felt that the middle section of the book was really slow and the ending was abrupt and (I guess) left open for the next one.

I did enjoy the idea of the nano technology and the little difference that, rather than some ‘special people’ being immune from the effects, it was only ‘normal’ people that got up high enough, but that really wasn’t enough to keep me engaged in the story. It was not as good as some other books of this genre I have read and I was left disappointed.

The Client
The Client
by John Grisham
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One of his better books., 30 Dec. 2016
This review is from: The Client (Paperback)
I have read a few John Grisham books now and when I saw this one in a bargain bin at a local book shop, I grabbed it up. I had heard of the book but had not seen the film, so I didn’t know what the storyline was or what to expect.

The main character in the book is Mark, a mature 11-year old boy. Mark and his younger brother are in the woods and they see a man trying to kill himself by running a hose from the car exhaust pipe into the car. Mark tries to stop the suicide and ends up in the car with the man listening to crucial confidential information about a murder investigation. Mark learns too much information and before long, has the FBI and the Mafia after him for the information that they are convinced that he knows. We then meet Reggie, a 50-something year old lawyer and she helps Mark and his family get out of the mess.

I enjoyed the storyline and characters in the book, it managed to keep my attention throughout and although the ending was predictable, it was still good. There were parts of the book that could have been a bit shorter but overall, it was a good read and one of the better John Grisham books I have read. I am keen to watch the film now also.

Watership Down (A Puffin Book)
Watership Down (A Puffin Book)
by David Parkins
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.24

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good story for children and adults, 19 Dec. 2016
I spotted Watership Down in a bookcase at a winery I was visiting and there was a sign that said to take a book and enjoy it, so I grabbed it. I have seen the animated film but it was a long time ago and I remember being upset during the film but I didn’t remember the details. I am a big believer in reading the book before watching the film, so I was keen to at least read the book in this instance.

As this book is now a very famous classic, I believe that most people will be familiar with the storyline but here’s a brief synopsis:

The book follows the drama of a group of young rabbits after they decide to move from their existing warren to a new warren of their own making. The main characters are Hazel, a yearling, and his brother, Fiver and although they are brothers we are quick to see that the pair are very different. Fiver is smaller and much more nervous than Hazel but he does seem to have a mysterious gift and not long after the book opens, he foresees the destruction of their home warren so the brothers decide to leave the warren and a number of the other rabbits join them. Although they have little idea of where they're going, Fiver knows what they should be looking for and have an excellent leader in Hazel and we follow them on their journey to find a new home.

There are some fantastic characters in this book like Bigwig (an all-action fighting rabbit), General Woundwort (a baddie), Kehaar (a humorous and foul-mouthed seagull) and many more. The story is very engaging and is very well told and I found myself learning a lot about the way a rabbit society is structured, including the role of a Chief Rabbit and his Owsla.

I found this a really enjoyable read and I wouldn't be so quick to put it down as a children’s book. There are some areas of real tension and drama in the story and it can be a bit of an emotional rollercoaster. They only part of the story I didn’t enjoy so much was the tellings of the old rabbit folk stories. These were nice but not really important for the main story.

I enjoy books where I learn, especially about animals, and this book reminded me of The Bees, which was another great story with a whole load of knowledge and research on bees. Overall, I enjoyed this book and I think I might need to re-watch the film now.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 28, 2016 12:32 AM GMT

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