Wednesday, 9 November 2016

From My Shelf - Book Review: Mr Rosenblum's List - Natasha Solomons

Synopsis - Jack Rosenblum is 5'3.5" of sheer tenacity.  He's writing a list so he can become a Very English Gentleman.

It's 1952 and despite his best efforts, his bid to blend in is fraught with unexpected hurdles - including his wife.  Sadie doesn't want to forget where they came from or the family they've lost.  And she shows no interest in getting a purple rinse.

Join Jack as he leads a reluctant Sadie deep into the heart of the English countryside.  Here, in a land of woolly pigs, bluebells and jitterbug cider, they embark on an impossible task.... (Quoted from the back cover)

Review - This story was just what I needed.  A light book which was funny and kept you reading.  The story is based on the author's own grandparents arrival in Britain and being given a copy of the 'Helpful Guidance' for refugees entering the UK.

Jack wanted to blend in and become British in his adopted homeland.  I get that totally, we all want to fit in and it must have been as difficult back then during/after the war as it is for refugees today.  I wanted him to succeed as an Englishman but I felt sorry for Sadie who got almost forgotten in Jack's obsession with his list.  As a woman left to manage the home in this strange and alien country and having to learn a new language it must have been hard.  She didn't have the same opportunities as Jack who had to be entrepreneurial and build a business to make money so that they could live.  Sadie baked and when she didn't bake she tended her patch of garden.  I loved the cakes that Sadie baked and the very vague recipe for Baumtorte at the back of the book.

The book focuses on their lives in Dorset where Jack's obsession really takes hold with great cost.  I am not going to spoil it for you but you realise it his tenacity and perhaps his Jewishness that makes him succeed in gaining acceptance.  3*

Published by Hodder & Stoughton
ISBN: 978-0-340-99566-2

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Quick Post to Say I'm Still Here

Just a quick post to say that I am still around.  A little busy these days with work and new routines and less time than ever to read.  I am enjoying my current read and squeezing in reading time during lunch breaks.  Hopefully I will get to post a review in due course.

In the meantime I hope you are all well and enjoying your reading and reviewing!


Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Window on the Weekend - Llangwm Litfest

View of Edwards Pill, Llangwm

What, who, when?  Do I hear you cry?  I would not be surprised as it is the first year that Llangwm has held such an event.

A little about the picturesque village of Llangwm, a small village with a big voice.  Llangwm is a former fishing village which nestles on the bank of the tidal River Cleddau.  The village has a population of approximately 800, a mix of residents who have lived in the village all their lives and 'blow ins' who have added to the talent in the community.  I mentioned that the village has a big voice and it does in the shape of its choir, Village Voices which has helped put Llangwm on the map performing not just locally but in St David's Cathedral and later this year will be performing in Cardiff.  The choir attracts talent from outside the village as well as within.  This literary festival has made a huge contribution to Llangwm's fame in not just attracting friends and relatives of those involved in the event and holiday makers but also reaching out bringing in celebrities and authors from afar.

Llangwm Litfest is the brainchild of Michael Pugh who recently came to reside in the village.  Michael, a financial lawyer in Moscow for several years made a very special journey back to the UK by completing part of it on horseback.  I am not going to divulge anymore.  Michael has a book due to be published shortly but in the meantime you can read about his journey on his blog and he can be heard in an interview with BBC Wales broadcaster Jamie Owen here around 40 minutes into the show.  

The festival was held for three days over the weekend with most events being held in the Village Hall.  Some events were held in the Rugby Club a short walk back into the heart of the village.  The Valero Marquee was put up next to the village hall and housed the box office, book signing, book sales, catering, a bar, children's events and one or two stands.  It was not just about books as many local artists opened up their studios which gave festival goers a chance to stretch their legs and explore the village viewing some wonderful work.  There was also an art display housing works from many of the village artists in one of the churches where they served bacon rolls, teas, coffees and a lovely selection of cakes.

I was very lucky to have had some small involvement in the event being one of the many volunteers stewarding talks along with my other half who also donned high viz waistcoat for his stint as car parking attendant.  The event was opened by one of the patrons and Michael Pugh commencing with awards to young local writers who entered a competition in varying classes (age and Welsh language) and the standard was high.

Who were the presenters?  Well, the most famous celebrity was Griff Rhys Jones who gave a talk on Saturday about his book published in 2014 Insufficiently Welsh.  The village also has its own writers in Liz Whitelaw who has recently finished writing a children's book and is hoping to be published soon and Pam Hunt who has already published two books Miss Daisy's Diaries (2012), Miss Daisy Conquers Britain (2015) and is planning a third book.

Here is everything you need to know about the event.  I stewarded Jo Mazelis talk on Friday evening, having read her book Significance two years ago I was interested to hear her speak.  Jo also hosted a workshop the following day titled Ways into Writing.  I was interested in this workshop but as I am not currently putting pen to paper in a creative sense I felt that it would not be of benefit at this time.  The second presenter I stewarded was Rachel Mann who talked about her self published novel The Book Soul.  Rachel an English and Drama teacher is a big supporter of libraries and encourages young people to read rather than spend all their time in the digital world.  Her own online presence is limited but she can be found on Amazon and Goodreads.  Rachel had also hosted a creative writing workshop titled Roald Dahl Reconstructed for younger writers on the opening day.

The Litfest has finished for 2016 but the village are eagerly looking forward to next year's event.  It was a truly magnificent weekend for a vibrant community.  I feel very blessed to live in such a beautiful county surrounded by coast on three sides, where the nearest beach is only 30 minutes away and most trips to the sea take an hour or less.  I am not a resident of Llangwm but live close enough to enjoy some of the things it offers.

Upcoming literary events in the county:
Penfro Book Festival
Book Fair at Tenby Arts Festival 

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Book Review: Cold - John Sweeney

Synopsis -  In the feeble light of a London winter, Joe Tiplady walks his dog in the snow.  He is not alone.  Two men are tracking him, as is a woman with wolf eyes.  Soon Joe will find himself caught in a storm of violence and retribution that he does not yet understand.

Around the world, a chain of events is in motion that will make Joe a priceless target.  A retired Soviet general hunts for his missing daughter after a series of brutal murders.  A ruthless assassin loses something so precious he will do anything to get it back.  And in the mountains of Utah, a brilliant ex-CIA chief wrestles with his religion.

In the shadow of them all lies Zoba, a strongman ruler of Russia and puppet-master of the world's darkest operatives.  Can Joe save himself from this dangerous web of power and revenge?  Where can he run when there's nowhere left to hide?  (Quoted from the back cover)

Review - I accepted this book as an ARC for review.  This was a gripping, action packed thriller which kept me on my toes.  I found it a little slow to get into but I think that was because each character introduced was given a chapter to themselves.  I know that a lot of books are written in this form but I found that I had to think or re-visit to re-acquaint myself with the characters, particularly when only managing to read a few pages a day.  Because I had accepted the book for review it made me persevere and once I found out who was who and got the gist of their connections it all fell into place.  Mr Sweeney certainly packs a lot into the novel and draws on many of his experiences as a reporter to do so.  I found the book dark and barbaric in places but I am not surprised if these examples are close to reality, after all we (the general public) don't really know what goes on in the hidden world of espionage.  Joe Tiplady, the protagonist is a likeable character and true hero, he has depth and I am sure he will be drawn out even more in future instalments.  There was of course the 'love interest' which would certainly add to the appeal of the book for development into screenplay or film at a later date.  I look forward to reading more in this series.  4*

  • ISBN-13: 978-1503934221
  • Published by Thomas & Mercer (1st July 2016)

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Supporting the Library - Speedy Book Review: Notwithstanding - Louis de Bernieres

Synopsis - Welcome to the village of Notwithstanding, where a lady dresses in plus fours and shoots squirrels, a retired general gives up wearing clothes altogether, a spiritualist lives in a cottage with the ghost of her husband, and people think it quite natural to confide in a spider that lives in a potting shed. (Quoted from the back cover)

Review - Louis de Bernieres' short stories are new to me, I have read a couple of his novels but these are quite different.  The author has based the stories on memories of growing up in a Surrey village.  Although Notwithstanding is fictional you will no doubt recognise place names such as: Godalming and Guildford.  Each story is about a different character but you will recognise someone you have already come across as they pop up in another chapter.  Lighthearted, funny and easy to read at bedtime or take on holiday.  The stories were written some time ago dating from 1996 up to 2004 and individually featured in magazines, newspapers and broadcast on Radio 4.  3*

ISBN 978-0-099-54202-5
Published by Vintage 2010

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Supporting the Library - Book Review: The Road to Rangoon - Lucy Cruikshanks

SynopsisIn 1980s Burma, the British ambassador’s son goes missing.

Discovering himself in the north of the country, Michael Atwood is in imminent danger, trapped between sides fighting a bitter civil war and with no way back to Rangoon. His best hope of salvation is to trust Thuza, a ruby smuggler who offers to help him escape.

Beautiful and deeply scarred, Thuza has spent her entire life in a frontier town between rebel and government forces, never choosing a side but trying to make a living from both. For Thuza, the ambassador’s son is her ticket out of poverty. For Than, an ambitious military officer, exploiting those caught in the war offers an opportunity for promotion and distinction.

But as all three learn to their cost, in this enigmatic and savage country, everyone has a price. (Taken from Goodreads)

Review - My knowledge of Burmese history isn't great so I found this book quite interesting learning about this country.  The Tatmadaw basically have the run of the land and the rebels fight to oppose them.  Amongst them is the British Embassy who appear to be doing little.  A tale of corruption, deceit, oppression and hardship the reader is on the side of Thuza whose start in life hasn't been easy.  On betraying her parents and brother she is raped and tortured by the Tatmadaw. She is taken in by a monk who nurses her until she is well enough to return to her home where she cares for her grandmother.  Left pretty much to her own devices she makes a living by smuggling precious jewels.  She regularly checks in with the monk who leads her to believe that her parents are alive in jail.   Alongside, Thuza's story we meet Michael, the son of the Ambassador who frequents a local joint where all sorts meet.  Michael's good friend is injured when a bomb goes off at this place.  He finally finds his friend is alive in hospital and decides to get out of the city, journeying with the owner of the bar.  The journey doesn't lead him quite where he intended and his path crosses with Thuza's.  What I did like about this story was that when these two met we weren't fobbed off with the all to easy 'happy ever after'.  Both parties don't trust easily and have their own agendas.  Where does Thuza's journey take her, if at all?  Does Michael go home or back to his father?  Who betrays who?  Full of intrigue and suspense.   3*

Published by Heron Books
ISBN: 13 978-1782063476

Sunday, 8 May 2016

From My Shelf - Book Review: The Detour - Gerbrand Bakker

Synopsis - A Dutch woman rents a remote farm in rural Wales.  She says her name is Emilie.  She is a lecturer doing some research, and sets about making the farmhouse more homely.  When she arrives there are ten geese living in the garden but one by one they disappear.  Perhaps it is the work of a local fox.

She has fled from an unbearable situation having recently confessed to an affair.  In Amsterdam, her stunned husband forms a strange partnership with a detective who agrees to help him trace her.  They board the ferry to Hull on Christmas Eve.

Back on the farm, a young man out walking with his dog injures himself and stays the night, then ends up staying longer.  Yet something is deeply wrong.  Does he know what he is getting himself into?  And what will happen when her husband and the police arrive? (Quoted from the fly leaf).

Review -  Gerbrand Bakker is a Dutch author and his earlier book The Twin was winner of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.  The Detour has been translated from Dutch language by David Colmer.

It is important to remember the book was written by a Dutch author to make some sense.  There is one discrepancy or difference in that in 2012 there is no way a doctor would be smoking or allow a patient to smoke in his surgery in Wales. The no smoking in public places ban was well in place here.  I can forgive the author that one after all, it is fiction and anything is possible.

I enjoyed this story, it is slow, gentle and the pace suits the book.  Why has the woman fled all the way to Wales with her book and pictures of a famous American poet?  As the story unfolds we discover more about the woman and perhaps why she leaves Amsterdam for some far away, remote place.  From a bustling city to a lone farm amongst fields, a mountain and a car ride to the nearest villages and towns.  What of her husband?  What is he feeling?  Is he angry? What kind of a man is he?  I am not sure that I did get a rounded picture of him, other than wondering if he is possessive, and at the same time not really there in the marriage but too self absorbed with his running.  As for the policeman, what is his motive in helping the husband find his wife?  There are gaps here and I am not quite sure why.  Does the author want the reader to make up their minds about these characters?  What about the boy?  What is his agenda?  We learn that he hasn't just come across the farm in the manner that he tells Emilie. But why? Is it because of childhood memories or is their a darker element? So many questions and partially unanswered.  Generally, I like a proper ending where it is all clear or there is an obvious hook for a sequel. This book just leaves it up to the reader to decide who or what or if?  As far as The Detour is concerned that is okay with me.  3*

ISBN 978-1-846-55639-5
Published by Harvill Secker 2012

Sunday, 1 May 2016

From My Shelf - Book Review: Darcy and Fitzwilliam - Karen V Wasylowski

Synopsis - Fitzwilliam Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam couldn't be more different, and that goes for the way each one woos and pursues the woman of his dreams.  Darcy is quiet and reserved, careful and dutiful, and his qualms and hesitations are going to torpedo his courtship of Elizabeth.  His affable and vivacious cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam is a military hero whose devil-may-care personality hides the torments within, until he finds himself in a passionate, whirlwind affair with a beautiful widow who won't hear of his honourable intentions.

Cousins, best friends, and sparring partners, Darcy and Fitzwilliam have always been there for each other.  So it's no surprise when the only one who can help Darcy fix his botched marriage proposals is Fitzwilliam, and the only one who can pull Fitzwilliam out of an increasingly dangerous entanglement is Darcy...  (Quoted from the cover).

Review - I won this book in a give away a while back and must apologise to Karen Wasylowski for only just getting around to reading and reviewing her book.

You don't need any prompting with a title such as Darcy and Fitzwilliam where this story comes from and leads.  I love Jane Austen so I was intrigued to read Austen fan fiction.  We love Mr Darcy and naturally want to know more about his marriage to Miss Elizabeth Bennet but Colonel Fitzwilliam is lesser known so the author has more to play with in terms of character.

I enjoyed the book and it started out staying quite true to Jane Austen both in terms of writing and keeping to the period.  However, as the story progressed the language developed into more present day and some Americanisms dropped in.  I wasn't sure if this was intentional or not.  The story stayed pretty true to the period but again one or two things popped up that made me question if that would be done or said at that time.  For me the second part of the book was best as the author could play around with Fitzwilliam without really offending anyone. Darcy had to be kept in rein but we were given a reasonable account of how his story could have progressed.  If you like Jane Austen and Mr Darcy then I can recommend this fan fiction being worth a read.  3*

ISBN 13-978-1-4022-4594-7
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks, Inc. 2011

Monday, 14 March 2016

From My Shelf - Book Review: The Invention of Everything Else - Samantha Hunt

Synopsis - Louisa is an imaginative and curious chambermaid who, while cleaning rooms at the New Yorker Hotel, stumbles across a man living permanently in room 3327, which he has transformed into a scientific laboratory.  Through their shared interest in the pigeons that nest in the hotel, Louisa discovers that the mysterious guest is Nikola Tesla, one of the most brilliant - and most neglected - inventors of the twentieth century. (Quoted from the cover)

Review -  I am starting another new feature here titled 'From My Shelf''.  I currently have little time to review and therefore am not accepting requests at present, so I thought that I would try and post a review of books from my TBR to keep my hand in practise.

Here is the story of Nikola Tesla merging fact with fiction.  I had to check up on some of the facts as I knew little about Tesla other than giving us alternating current making our electricity safer. Samantha Hunt weaves an imaginative tale in giving us a young lady Louisa who is a chambermaid at the hotel where Tesla has a room.  We get some insight into Tesla's history from when he arrives in the US from Serbia to working with Edison  and others and on to his final years in New York.  Tesla is portrayed as a character who has or likes little social interaction with people but 'talks' to the pigeons who rest on his balcony.  One pigeon in particular 'talks' back and we see parallels here to Tesla himself.  Louisa is on a journey seemingly an ordinary chambermaid, but once she meets Tesla her life is turned around when she stumbles upon one of his inventions.  I enjoyed the storytelling and there are some wonderful, quirky characters particularly Azor. I would have liked to have seen more of Arthur who mysteriously reappears in Louisa's life.  3*

ISBN 978-0-099-52400-7
Published by Vintage Books 2009

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Supporting the Library - Book Review: I Can't Begin to Tell You by Elizabeth Buchan

Synopsis - Denmark 1940. War has come and everyone must choose a side.  For British-born Kay Eberstern, living on her husband Bror's country estate, the Nazi invasion and occupation of her adopted country is a time of terrible uncertainty and inner conflict.

With Bror desperate to preserve the legacy of his family home, even if it means co-existing with the enemy, Kay knows she cannot do the same.  Lured by British Intelligence into a covert world of sabotage, her betrayal of Bror is complete as she puts her family in danger.

Tasked with protecting an enigmatic SOE agent, a man who cannot even tell her his name, Kay learns the art of subterfuge.  From this moment on, she must risk everything for the sake of this stranger -  a stranger who becomes entangled in her world in ways she never expected.

Caught on opposing sides of a war that has ripped apart a continent, will Kay and Bror ever find their way back to one another? (Quoted from the fly leaf.)

Review - Before I get down to the review I wish to alert you to a NEW FEATURE on the blog 'Supporting the Library'.  As some of you may know I moved to a new area before Christmas and as soon as everything opened up again in the New Year I paid a visit to the county library and signed up.  I took this opportunity to check out their shelves and pulled this title which I am ashamed to say has taken me nearly six weeks to read.  I have hardly had time to read with getting both ourselves settled into a new place and the house sorted and liveable.

My thoughts.  A great story.  I chose this book because it was partly set in Denmark, a country that I love.  Kay, an English lady is married to Bror, a Dane. They live on a country estate on Zealand and have invaluable help both inside and outside the house. Their two children are older and live in Copenhagen.  Set in the time of WWII and the Danish resistance is fighting to bring down the Germans who are invading their small country.  With the help of Britain and their coding experts these brave Danes do what they can to defeat their enemy.  Kay becomes involved causing turmoil and distrust within her family relationships.

We are given a glimpse into life in Britain for the women who tirelessly worked on the messages being sent from the agents in Europe.  Ruby, a very bright young lady whose talent is recognised becomes a key player in recognising discrepancies in the agents skeds.  However, she has to fight the male bureaucracy to become heard.  Fortunately, there is one man who does listen.

This is fiction interwoven with fact and it makes for a great story which I loved from beginning to end.  Betrayal, love, it has it all.  4*

ISBN 978-0-718-17891-8
Published by Michael Joseph (an imprint of Penguin Books) 2014

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