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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Cavendon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford

The setting brings to mind Downton Abbey in all its glory - the Inghams are very similar and the Swanns have served the family for generations. Their support, confidentiality and the trust that the family has in them goes well beyond the norm. This was the only difference I found from other aristocratic families. The two families are linked very closely and through the generations a strong physical relationship has developed between the two.

The present set up is idyllic. We have a large family of beautiful youngsters and a seemingly strong marriage. Everything is about to blow up with the tragedy of Daphne - the nicest, friendliest of the teenagers who is raped and made pregnant on their own grounds itself. How the story develops from there and alongside the personal story of the two families, the onset of WWI and the carnage, destruction and death that follows is beautifully and emotionally described in this story.

Taking us away from Edwardian England and the beginning of women's emancipation and independence the story will interest all readers of not just general fiction but history as well. This author certainly does not disappoint her readers.

I was thrilled to get this book from St. Martin's Press via Netgalley but was most disappointed when the second book request in the series was turned down. I thought that was totally unfair but then luck smiled on me and I got the second and third book directly from the Marketing Division of St. Martin's Press. Thank you for the books. I am certainly looking ever so much to reading the sequels.

Monday, May 30, 2016

The Vegetarian by Han Kang

The Vegetarian

I was intrigued firstly by this book winning the Man Booker Prize for 2016 but it was mainly the title.  Coming from a country where being vegetarian was quite commonplace it was puzzling how this could be the reason for so much dissension and conflict!

Set in South Korea Yeong-hye is a very average wife and housewife. Nothing out of the ordinary at all. She suddenly starts having violent dreams and decides to stop eating meat. This brings her to an extraordinary physical state of being weak and malnourished and also creates a lot of confusion and conflict within her own family. The story begins from there and leads to a complete breakdown in not just her but the entire family unit.

The conflict is between one of personal choices and what society expects of one and how the two have to be reconciled and the result of what happens when it does not. The unravelling of Yeong- hye told in three parts is disturbing but not unrealistic. For me it was rather a slow read because I wanted to understand what was going on here and in certain sections it was rather difficult for me to do so.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Unreasonable Doubt by Vicki Delany

Walt Desmond was incarcerated for twenty five years for a crime he did not commit. His case was taken up by an organisation which pursues unlawful/unjust/incorrect decisions by the courts and he was one of those lucky ones who did get out, if you can call twenty five years being imprisoned lucky. Walt has just one idea only. To get back to Trafalgar where he lived and find out as to why the cops decided he was the killer in a horrendous crime.

Everyone else in Trafalgar however does not want Walt back. He rekindles ugly memories that people would like conveniently forgotton. They do not remember him as a quiet man who minded his own business, had no previous record of any kind. They only remember him as the person who murdered the pretty Sophia and these feelings are kept at a very high fever pitch by interested parties in the town of Trafalgar.

The police have their hands full trying to keep the peace, protect Walt (though they themselves are puzzled as to why he came back to such an antagonistic environment). The police themselves are being sued for wrongful detention to the tune of five million dollars and further harassment of Walt would ensue that this figure would go up.

Since his wrongful detention, the police have to reopen the case as it then becomes an unsolved crime and this is where the action starts. It is quite obvious that there are several interested parties not wanting the case to be pursued and it is also obvious that the police were involved in a huge cover up/incompetence years ago. Unraveling the issue and dealing with a new series of attempted rapes makes this story a very interesting one.

The detective Molly and the series is a new one for me and one I will definitely be keeping an eye out for.

Told cleverly and in a methodical manner the story unfolded in stages and you knew you were getting somewhere.

The book was sent to me by Netgalley for an unbiased review, courtesy of Poisoned Pen Press.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Faithful by Alice Hoffman

Shelby is your average teenage girl, driving her mother nuts with her behaviour. One tragedy, just one bad judgement call and Shelby's life is changed. Not just hers but the entire family has to live with her changed personality.

Shelby has no self worth, does not want to live, ends up in a psychiatric hospital and there is no hope at all for the future. Her mother however believes that there is some way Shelby can be redeemed and be made alive again.

The story of survival, belief and family love overwhelm in this story. Other than your nearest and dearest no one is ever going to have faith that you will overcome the greatest obstacles and odds that life has put in your way. To come back to living needs enormous amounts of willpower, love and support. You cannot do it alone and Shelby's story is one of survival.

A very emotional read for any mother who has undergone nail biting tension as to where your teenager daughter or son is and what they are upto, this is for you.

Sent to me by Netgalley for an unbiased review courtesy of Simon & Schuster.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Lady of Misrule by Suzannah Dunn

The Lady of Misrule: A Novel

I knew about Lady Jane Grey and the infamous nine day rule. I did not know the background story at all and this story filled in all the gaps.

Elizabeth Tilney accompanied Lady Jane Grey all across London to the Tower. She surprised herself even by volunteering for this job. She did not know what it entailed nor did she seem to care. Elizabeth lived in the moment, did not know anything very much about the world at large and did not seem to care. Her foray into London and accompanying Lady Jane Grey changed her as much as it possibly could.  She thought it was a temporary stay, after some time the Queen would forgive and forget and Lady Jane would go back to wherever she had to go and Elizabeth would go back home to her boring life.

The two could not have been more different - Jane was erudite, self contained and resolute. Elizabeth was the opposite. She could not understand Jane and her studious ways, she could not fathom how someone could be so "alone". Characterization was wonderful in this book.  You could visualise every scene the manner in which Elizabeth and Jane would react to each other with just a word, or with a raised eyebrow!

The story necessarily ended with the summary execution of both Jane and her young husband but the story of Elizabeth is the one that interested me more. I would have liked to know what happened to her afterwards.

Family machinations during the Tudor regime, no love lost between family members and betrayal was commonplace. This is part of this period of history and it is well enacted here.

The book was sent to me by Edelweiss for an unbiased review.

Monday, May 23, 2016

daughters-in-law by Joanna Trollope


Joanna Trollope always always gets it right with the characterization. The family unit in this story is so beautifully portrayed that you can imagine it, right within your own family circle. The gregarious outgoing wife, the quiet, supportive husband giving in to his wife, three boys and now the daughters in law are coming.

So far the first two fitted in. They may not have been happy with lots of things but for the sake of getting along and not upsetting the unit, they just gave in. Enters Charlotte, the spoilt youngest daughter amongst three and who is definitely not going to give in to her mother in law. It is her way and no other way and her husband, poor fellow feels he is being torn apart!

I loved the way the story fell - a favourite daughter in law - though the parents tried to pretend it was not so, the very capable and clever daughter in law and then the spoilt one. The morale was a good one for all parents - we have our children's undivided love only for a very little time!!! then its time to let go and in this case Rachel had a hard time of letting go and allowing herself to think that she was no longer numero uno in her son's lives!!!!

This was a book I picked up in Melbourne library and so glad I did. I haven't read a Joanna Trollope for years and this was one I had not go to. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Picture Perfect by Kate Forster

The story set in fast paced Hollywood has leading actresses, directors, producers all of them. They all have hidden stories that they do not want unearthed. Some of them are rather gory, some so personal that they naturally feel that they would be so hurt in the process and some secrets would hurt others as well. The story told from several points of view gave the reader a very good glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous and also those who aspire to be rich and famous. You have to constantly strive to better, faster and more informed than the next man and that alone sounded exhausting.

Zoe and Maggie are friends from way past in this world where friends, true friends are rare. Now delicately balancing their friendship against the odds of new men in their lives as well as a new film to be directed and parts cast, they have to find a way to keep their friendship on a steady track.

A love story actually a couple of them, together with a secret kept hidden for over twenty years which is going to eventually come out (fortunately it all came together very well!), and the importance of having good friends, kept this an entertaining read.

Sent to me by Netgalley for an unbiased review courtesy of Harlequin (UK) Limited.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

SISI by Allison Pataki

Sisi was a strange Queen for her times. She could not be tied down and despite the Emperor (and his mother) admonishing her there was no way Sisi had time for the Court and Court life. She sought the freedom of the countryside and later on travelling anywhere but to stay beside her husband for whom the Empire was the beginning and end of his world. Sisi and the children were secondary only important if they were of some benefit and in relation to the Empire and its work.

Sisi was dutiful, faithful to a point but she was up against many odds and she had to fight against it all with very few weapons at her disposal. An overwhelmingly powerful mother in law, with her own Court and coterie of officials, her husband staid and good but without a shred of understanding for Sisi, two older children who were taken off her hands and who as grown ups are strangers to her and only the youngest who is an actual daughter to her.

The story of Sisi is alternately sad and joyous, complex and different. It made for a very interesting read, especially since the other characters were also important in their own right and would make for interesting stories on their own!

This book was sent to me by Netgalley for an unbiased review courtesy of Random House Publishing Group.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Exposure by Helen Dunmore

An espionage thriller with the innocent being made to take the fall, and with important men hiding behind the scenes and the amazing lengths a woman will go to protect her family.

A very important file goes missing and Simon Callington is suspected of passing information to the Soviets. Imprisoned immediately, the disgrace extends to Lili his wife who loses her teaching job and the children have to face snide remarks at school. On top of it Lili realises that to keep the mortgage going she will have torent out her home. Taking determined steps, Lily decides to move out to a remote village where she will be not known to anyone and where the children will be free from any pressures.

Lily becomes the pivot of the story and it is her strength and mindfulness that will be the saving grace for not just Simon but for the family.

Characterization was exceptional with a story that held your interest from beginning to end.

Sent to me by Edelweiss for an unbiased review.

I would also like to thank bloggers who sent good wishes for my husband's recovery. He is now back at home (so am I though I do miss the children and grand children). 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Hostile Witness by Rebecca Forster A Josie Bates Thriller

Hostile Witness (Witness Series, #1)

It was a case hitting headlines in California. 16 year old Hannah is indicted for the murder of her step grand father the very highly respected, regarded Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court.  The murder seemed an open and shut case and the odds were stacked heavily against Hannah.

Josie Bates brought in by Hannah's mother for her defence seemed quite alone. The step father was staying away from both Hannah and the publicity as he himself was seeking appointment as the next Chief Justice. He did not want the taint of murder on his hands. Hannah herself seemed a little removed from the whole proceedings and it was puzzling what exactly her views were. Coupled with Hannah's obsessive behaviour things were not looking very bright for Hannah but Josie was not going to give up.

The storyline and plot of this book was a very good one. It is a scenario that has been replicated and one that will always hit headlines, A step daughter behind the murder of family but the impact of the story was not followed through.

I did not figure who actually did it till the very end so I am in the minority here! Most readers seemed to have figured it well before I did.

On a non blogging note, I returned to Sri Lanka unexpectedly as my husband fell ill and was hospitalized. Things seem to go haywire when I am not here and I think my travelling for anything more than a week are done! That puts paid to visiting the children and grandchildren but first things first right now. Cleaning up right now before going into hospital!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

The Restaurant Critic's Wife by Elizabeth LaBan

Lila is in a position that a lot of women are today. It is a first world problem! having a masters degree and an aptitude for crisis management which she has done wonderfully in the past, she and her husband now have two children. She has a work mad husband whose passion as a restaurant critic borders on paranoia and who is insistent that she does not go for work as he feels that it would endanger his own job. It sounded weird but his understanding was that by her being photographed or known he would not be able to maintain his anonymity as a critic and could be then viewed as biased. This also extended to friendships and he was against being overly neighbourly or friendly with anyone in case they were directly or indirectly connected to the restaurant business.

Lila is not happy with the situation but she is willing to go along as she is torn between being a good wife and mother and being a professional woman. Her children are very young and she feels guilty about putting them second to her career. She however feels alive when she is working and she knows that sooner or later she will have to learn to balance the two if she is to feel happier than what she is now.

The story takes us through their ups and downs of a normal restaurant critic's life eating their way through Philadelphia's myriad restaurants, having enormous meals very nicely detailed and making one's mouth water whilst reading!

Lila and Sam's story was a good one which is replicated in a lot of homes. How does one keep the balance going, feel fulfilled and at the same time provide a caring and good home for your children.

The book was sent to me by Netgalley courtesy of Lake Union Publishing for an unbiased review.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Two Dogs & a Suitcase - Clueless in Charente (Sarah Jane's Travel Memoirs)

Two Dogs and a Suitcase: Clueless in Charente

I always envy as well as admire the step that people take, when they decide to move to another country. It seems such an awfully big one in terms of stepping out of one's known territory to the unknown and despite it all looking very beautiful and attractive during a holiday, actually living there is a totally different cup of tea.

This travel memoir includes a renovation of a derelict, almost abandoned house and making it habitable and safe for people and of course the dogs to live in. Moving away from children as well seems to have been a huge step so it also has to be a haven for returning family.

Leaving some dark memories behind in far off Australia, moving to South West France seems an alternative that would suit all. A rather large family means that it should be accessible to all and from the memoir there are a lot of family ties that have been strained and need to get mended

Apart from the travelogue part the family story was also sensitively dealt with.

This was a free download from Amazon.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Lost Cases of Bryant & May - London's Glory by Christopher Fowler

The story is so entertaining but in a very understated may I say British way!

The collection of short mystery/murder stories is eclectic and varied. A woman found with her throat slashed in a snowy field. No footprints, nothing. Like this the other stories follow and wherever the two go murder seems to follow them as well. A bit like Miss Marple.

I enjoyed the slower telling of the story. A bit on the eccentric and quirky side but that makes it different and very likeable!

Sent to me by Netgalley for an unbiased review, courtesy of Random House Publishing Group - Alibi.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee

I've tried to get to Neel Mukherjee's books for some time. I never could find them in Colombo and pounced on this one despite it being quite a chunkster.

The year is 1966 and the setting is an upper middle class Bengali extended family - The Ghosh's. It is quite a large family - three sons married with their respective wives and children and one unmarried daughter now reaching the dreaded age of 26 and no partner in sight, There are many similarities to a Sri Lankan system here but we do not get extended families living together - and if they do it is because of economic reasons not because they have to. Arranged marriages are on the decline and certainly young couples have a definite say on what they want or do not want,

I was however very comfortable with this book. It shows up the Marxist philosophies which have always existed in Calcutta and in the state of Bengal throughout and also indicated  how it crept into such an insular, rich family. That one of them was able to act out this philosophy, make a break and adapt to the philosophy was a rare occasion. The upper middle class seemed to live in their own little world and though they were aware of politics and unrest, these were things which happened elsewhere. As one of the mothers said, the family was the most important part of the whole scene and you did everything and anything to protect the family name and reputation, increase their wealth and add to it so there was something left for the next generation.

This era however sees slight splits coming into the family - there are envies and jealousies of the bitterest kind amongst the sisters in law and they do try to influence their husbands as much as they can, petty unkindness shown to the widowed sister in law and her two children, treating them as outcasts, the vicious mother in law is present throughout and the equally nasty and frustrated sister in law who knows that the all important color of her skin has doomed her to all prospects of any decent marriage and she is destined to remain a spinster despite increased dowry and lowered expectations.

Despite the thread of political unrest and simmering tension, the war that will erupt between the haves and the have nots, the story is a picturesque description of life in a household in Bengal at the time. The gradual erosion of power and presence receding from the middle class to the downtrodden masses is felt coming close and despite this this category of family continue, especially the women blissfully unaware of the changes happening in society. They only accept it when it comes slap bang in their faces but even at that time, they only acknowledge it for the moment and then lapse back into a period of time when their comfort and pleasure were the most important things in life. What unhappiness or misery existed in those around them were not for them to worry about.

Absolutely stunning characterization, very descriptive of the day to day workings of a household the book held me enthralled throughout.

My only grumble was the tiny print!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Getting A Life by Helen Simpson - very short review.

Getting a Life

Told from the perspective of various women the stories are funny, sad, introspective and sometimes quite dark.

The characters were very real and life like. A teenager vowing never to turn into an adult like those around her, a woman buying totally impractical clothes at an exorbitant price at a shop so exclusive that you need a password to get into, a woman with three children taking life one day at a time hoping that she or things around her would change.

A collection of short stories which seemed ideal for me in between various odd jobs around the house!

The Secret by the Lake by Louise Douglas

Julia returns to the tiny village where she lived as a child with her sister Caroline and her parents. Her memories of her childhood are overshadowed by her sister Caroline's behaviour and the said and unsaid perceptions of people in the area towards her family. The Aldridge family hate her guts and do not want her back and others are more restrained, but not overwhelmingly welcoming or friendly.

Julia who turns to Amy in desperation for help  as she seems incapacitated by the death of her beloved husband Alain and particularly wants protection for her daughter Vivianne who is acting stranger and stranger by the day.

Amy who is not willing to be a bystander to what is happening at the cottage literally unlocks a can of worms and we have the spirit world, a conspiracy by three influential people  in the village, present and past child sex abuse and a whole mystery and murder hidden for over thirty years. Unraveling  the story and giving Caroline justice after all these years is Amy's goal and that she finds love whilst doing it is the icing on the cake.

Very good characterization, nice story telling and a story which keeps one on the edge.

Sent to me by Netgalley for an unbiased review, courtesy of Random House UK Transworld Publishers.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Death Comes to Pemberley by P D James

Death Comes to Pemberley

I love P D James's books and am always looking out for those I've missed. Coming across this one in Melbourne's library was a good one for me. I was totally taken aback though when I realised it is a JA variation of our much loved Elizabeth and Darcy with the setting of Pemberley.

Elizabeth and Darcy have settled into their married life very well. After initial hesitations on the part of many Elizabeth has now been accepted as being an extremely suitable wife and mistress of this great estate. Darcy has mellowed and with two sons in the nursery their joy in life seems complete. Their peaceful world is however about to be destroyed by the advent of Lydia and Wickham who embroil the whole family in murder, mystery and mayhem.

Taking us through the murder and the mystery in usual P D James's inimitable style, one marvels how the characters of Elizabeth and Darcy are used in the deduction and solving of a crime which would be comparable to any present day crime.

Marvellously told, beautiful characterization and descriptive in the most effective detail this was a wonderful read.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Serpents in Eden Countryside Crimes - Edited by Martin Edwards. A collection of short stories.

Thirteen short stories all set in the English countryside. Quiet, peaceful, idyllic countryside and the most twisted of crimes.

All very good authors of crime stories and all with a twist in the tale! Very interestingly put together and told.

Sent to me by Netgalley for an unbiased review, courtesy of Poisoned Pen Press.