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Monday, November 30, 2015

The Sea Keeper's Daughters by Lisa Wingate

I very seldom get my hands on a book of American history so when I do I am very interested.

Roosevelt WPA and the writings was something new to me. It is a good idea to get all that unwritten history and folklore down into the written form. After some time the old stories, the fables will die out and none of the present generation will have a clue as to the significance of most things in the past.

Set in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, a story which is of survival and the tenacious fight back of a single woman Whitney to save her business from political thuggery and a competitor who wants to see her drown. Added to that is the history and writings of a bye gone era of Alice and Tom and their tragic end. The chronicles that are stored are finally unearthed and history is finally written and preserved.

Lots of historical detail and descriptive of the region the book also epitomizes the fight by a gutsy woman determined not to let go, despite over riding odds.

The book was sent to me by Netgalley courtesy of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. 

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train

Another book which came to me unexpectedly and I must be the last blogger to have read it. I also have read mixed reviews on this one so came to it with an open mind!

I loved it!

Rachel is on a train - something she does everyday - a routine of going to work and returning in the evening except that for the last three months Rachel has lost her job, is on a downward spiral of drink, despair and loneliness. She cannot move on after her divorce, refuses to see that her ex Tom has married, had a baby girl and definitely forgotton about her. She is in a pit where she cant get out and drink is the only thing - just one gin and tonic which she sips even on the train is the only way she feels she can think clearly.

One knows that Rachel's end is going to be disastrous. There is a an over riding sense of disaster in the air all along the pages. Though her journeys and her thoughts are not coherent, you know she is going to get into a huge mess and how she is going to extricate herself from that is the problem.

Her ex husband Tom and his wife Anna and baby are one part of the triangle, Megan their neighbour and Rachel forms the other two sides.  Rachel follows their lives avidly, a stalker and frighteningly so first from the train watching their lives unravel on a daily basis and drawing her own conclusions as to what is happening and then actually getting physically involved in their lives.

The story goes parallel in three different lines - Rachel, Anna and Tom, Megan and Scott and then it all comes together when the links are well established.

Beautifully put together, a real psychological thriller I would say and kept one on edge throughout. There were no down moments for me at all.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

The Nightingale

I have been lucky to get some epic reads from a friend. I would never got to this one and the next without her.

The story which starts with an old lady being taken to a retirement home. She is almost at the end of her life, in remission right now and then we go back into flashback mode. And what a past it is. We go back to wartime France, to hardship and the resistance to survival and trying to protect your young in the face of huge obstacles. What people had to undergo is unimaginable.

My own country went through a civil war of thirty years but the massacre here in Europe was so immense and you were dealing with evil of the most profound kind. The fact that evil did not triumph fully though it certainly took its toll on millions is due to work done by people like the Nightingale and to so many unspoken of others who toiled quietly and anonymously to save souls.

This was a story that you couldn't put down. It was a love story of two people in the face of odds that were insurmountable, it is historical fiction at its best. Not fiction totally but absolute facts of what did happen in Europe at the time and it dealt best of all with just ordinary folk in an ordinary town, all trying to just live but unable to do so because of the blight that was Hitler.

The ending was a quiet one, I do not know whether you could call it neat and nice but it suited the book.

Just so appreciative that I got a chance to read this one. 

Monday, November 23, 2015

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies

As usual this author keeps you on the edge throughout. You do know this is not going to have a tame ending. You know the unexpected will happen. The most unlikely person is going to get murdered or win the prize or something and so you keep going, hoping to unravel something more.
You feel sad when it ends as you do not want it to.

Three women - very different. Madeline the rebel, the one who wants to fight for a cause (constantly). Can get a little wearying but that is her. Celeste slightly removed from it all. Almost like in a catatonic state, a bit far out. Wealthy, not flaunting it, beautiful not flaunting that either. Jane an almost plain Jane emphasising her plainness, her mediocre life, her single life in comparison to all the other people around - familied people.

The setting of a kindergarten school must be the most unlikely place for high drama but we have it in spades. Mothers who think they are corporate raiders amongst the five year olds, their supporters who hang on their every word. and teachers who have to cope with  neurotic parents and still run the school, ex husbands and their wives who live in the same town and send their kid to the same Kindergarten add to the mix. All culminating in an exciting Trivia Night with a theme of Hepburn and Elvis and the entire story builds up to a climax of this night.

An exciting book with the morale of how we tell a lie and then lie again to cover up the original lie, the scheming that happens when one lies and the endless cycle continues.

I'd love to see what else is in the works with this author. So happy that I got to this book (at last!)

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Scent of Secrets by Jane Thynne

Germany 1933 is not the best place for most people to be. For Clara Vine an actress half British, half German with a secret Jewish ancestry it is certainly not a healthy place to be in. She is in for the long haul, working secretly with British allies obtaining information which will be useful for them in their assault against Hitler.  Having Chamberlain as their Prime Minister who plays down the role of an aggressive Germany does not help the situation either.

Clara is close to the top hierarchy in German politics, even being invited to the Fuehrer's residence. A high honor indeed. She also is close to Eva Braun his mistress and her aim is to try to obtain the secret workings of the Fuehrer's mind. So much has been written of this period in history - but this book gives us an insight into the power and influence that the wives of the top echelon had and they really not only had it, but they also flaunted it and made sure that everyone else knew about it.

Mixing historical fact with fiction the story proceeds with pre war Germany and the gradual escalation of violence, the Aryanisation of Germany and the utter chaos that followed.

A book that was a very good read as it combined so much of actual fact with the story of Clara and her survival.

Sent to me by Netgalley courtesy of Ballantine Books.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

Image result for the golden son by shilpi somaya gowda

This is a book I loved  - it included characters which I think must be representing old India. A traditional farming family with a hierarchy clearly demarcated on who must do what. The cracks appear when the eldest decides on a career in medicine and ends up leaving his village home for Chicago to follow an internship and a subsequent full time medical career. His childhood friend Leena is also now grown up, and despite them being very close as children, they have grown apart as they grew up.

Anil leaves for the States and Leena is given in marriage to a man who ill treats her, and whose family treat her like a dog. Leena feels that for the sake of her parents she must accept what fate has doled out for her and stays in the situation until a totally unacceptable situation forces her to flee.
Anil in the meanwhile has tried to find his feet in America, but finds the whole situation very confusing. When a mistake that caused the death of a patient in his care, a love affair that goes wrong, and the death of his father Anil has to try to decide what is best for him and his family. Trying to balance the responsibilities of eldest son and arbiter of disputes of his clan is not really Anil's scene but he is forced into this situation and he has to make the best of it.

The story of Anil and Leena and how they try to survive their individual traumas is the story. The idea of not thinking of oneself only but how everything should be done for the betterment and what is best for the family is not an idea that could be understood by all, as it means personal sacrifice for the benefit of the whole.

I liked the way this author balances the old with the new, and especially how new immigrants have to learn so much of what is totally new to them. The subject of immigrants is very close to me as family are all immigrants and I think of them all the time whilst reading a book such as this.

Friday, November 13, 2015

A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell Mystery, #1)

The year is 1837 and we have a lady chasing butterflies (a serious hobby this) and a man stuffing animals (also a serious occupation). Despite the strict guidelines for women's behaviour, Veronica Speedwell is anything but conservative! We have a fun read, very unusual for the times and two characters who are out of the ordinary.

Starting from a little unknown village, Veronica is literally taken out of her house by people who have been on the look out and guarding her unknown to her throughout her life. She is now in great danger of being killed just for being who she is. Without spoilers difficult to review, but needless to say the addition of the Royal Family was so good that it made for a tale that was so unbelievable, it had to be true!

Fast paced, descriptive and with nice characterization another winner from Ms. Raybourn.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Cleaner of Chatres by Salley Vickers

The Cleaner of Chartres

The cathedral city of Chartres was an absolutely beautiful setting for Agnes Morel and her story. Agnes was so much part of the cathedral and the people of Chartres and the book was so descriptive of the town and the cathedral that I felt that I was physically very much there.

Agnes is a simple soul. Misunderstood by some and understood perfectly by others especially those who were kindred spirits - kind, self effacing, very giving and straightforward.  Brought up by nuns in a convent, without much affection, she is raped and gives birth to a baby at 15, who is then taken away from her. The trauma of this affects her life and the story goes on from there.

The power of the story also lies in how innocuous gossip, and vicious gossip and embroidering of a story can destroy people so easily. Agnes's life is threatened by one such character who for an inexplicable reason  just dislikes Agnes as she resembles someone with whom her husband had a dalliance. From this woman, the cycle begins and how near Agnes comes to being destroyed.

Characterization of all the people in this story was very beautifully done. The descriptiveness was fabulous.

A gift to me from a friend, this is one author I will be looking out for.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie

This was one of those unput downable books! I was annoyed that other work got in the way of reading this one.

Martha is the eldest daughter of Thomas Jefferson. She takes over the household on the death of her mother, and literally is the First Lady from then on. The influence of her father on her life is immense and Jefferson comes across as being selfish and self serving when he controls Martha's life to the exclusion of everything else. Of course it was at a time, when daughters obeyed parents without question and Martha was no different. She believed implicitly that her father acted in her best interests and though her heart told her otherwise at various stages of her life she acted according to her father's plan.

Going from America to Paris and then back to America again we follow the chequered lives of both Jefferson and his daughter. He trying to reconcile his moral beliefs with his actual way of life - slavery being the biggest question. His daughter trying to balance her life as wife and mother and at the same time serve her father in the best way possible, finally to the detriment of her marriage.

The book was a complicated read but it was not mere dry history. On the contrary it dealt with human relationships of many kinds, and the fine line between professional and personal lives and how they overlap, contrast and sometimes completely oppose each other.

Characterization of each person was vividly done, and I did so like the domestic details of life in both America and Paris at the time.

Beautifully written this was a book sent to me by Edelweiss.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Last Will of Moira Leahy by Therese Walsh

The Last Will of Moira Leahy

The book is complicated but holds your interest throughout. Told in the first person by Maeve and is in present times. The part that is told in the second person is by Maeve's twin Moira and from the period 1995 to 2000.  When one realizes that Maeve lost her twin at an early age, one also then understands the family complications, and the very tense situation that exists between the mother, the father and Maeve.

Maeve comes across as being a much older woman. I initially thought she was in her late 30s because she behaves likes one! Her relationship with Noel was a fragile one and she was more than anything else frightened to confront her feelings for him and act on it. Noel was an integral part of the story and comes into play when Maeve discovers a childhood relic and pursues a seemingly random chase across Europe following anonymous notes on the mysterious abilities of a keris knife.

Moira and Maeve were twins with their own language, a sense of what each was doing, their feelings were something that they could steadily block so that the other twin could not read her. Their childhood was idyllic till they both fell in love with the same boy and then the blocking became worse as one closed the other off, which led to a deterioration in their very life.

The stories of Moira and Maeve were one part of the story and the discovery of the keris and the pursuit of the keris and in the midst of it all, the maturing of the relationship between Noel and Maeve was the other.

Put together the stories of sisterly love, mystery/paranormal, magic, Eastern mystery and all overlaid with romantic love made for a very good story though one tended to get side tracked at various times as one story overtook the other in importance.

This was a book which was a free download from Amazon! I was really lucky to get this one. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

The Paris Key by Juliet Blackwell

The Paris Key

I like stories set in two time lines, two characters, two cities. This ticked all the boxes. Alternately the story of Angela (mother) and Genevieve (daughter) set in America and Paris and in two distinct time frames made for a evocative, emotional, beautiful story.

On the death of her mother and uncle, Genevieve returns to Paris to try to organise her life, her thoughts and her future. With an interest in the art of locksmiths and a natural talent for it, she takes over her late uncle's shop in the heart of Paris and tries to sort out what she needs to do next. Her marriage to Jason is obviously over, and she is very unsettled as to why her mother behaved the way she did. She knows there are secrets but with her father dead and her brother oblivious to the more emotional parts of her parents lives, she knows she has to try to ferret out what she feels was some hidden mystery and begin to be at peace with herself. What she unravels is something much bigger than she would have imagined and several unexplained mysteries in her life become much clearer.

With several characters who were stories in themselves (Phillipe for one), the Paris setting, the detailed descriptiveness of Paris would influence anyone to make a beeline for this city! and the alternating stories told in alternating time frames all put together make for a book you cannot put down.

Thank you Edelweiss for sending me this book.