Monthly Archives: April 2012

Angel of Brooklyn by Janette Jenkins

DATE FINISHED: April 27th, 2012

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Beatrice is raised in small-town America by her distant father, an amateur taxidermist, alongside her brother’s dreams of becoming a preacher. When this life comes to an abrupt end, Beatrice finds herself on Coney Island – at first selling postcards, but later playing a starring role, as the Angel of Brooklyn. Lancashire lad , Jonathan, whisks her away from the ‘glamour’ of the boardwalk, and Beatrice switches the hustle & bustle of small-time entertainment for the gossip of a tiny village without even a picture-house. Beatrice adapts to her new life in Anglezarke, but as all the young men sign up to serve their country, tensions rise amongst those left in the village.

THOUGHTS:   I did not immediately warm to this book. Read more of this post

Oyster by Janette Turner Hospital

DATE FINISHED: April 26th, 2012

RATED: **** (4.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Outer Maroo is a town on the edge of nowhere, not found on any map.  Outer Maroo is suspicious of strangers, and holds a secret beneath its suffocating, rainless sky. One stranger, Oyster, one day found his way beyond the town’s defences, and Oyster’s Reef brought even more strangers into the fold. But the secrets grew, too, and eventually the strangers grew fewer again.

THOUGHTS:   Despite the vast openness of the Australian outback, Oyster projects an intense claustrophobia. Read more of this post

stepping into a story

“I know only too well the extent to which maps are magic systems.  I know all about the hocus-pocus of precision instruments and of time.  To put this another way, stepping into a story or constructing a map are much the same thing; and both are like tossing a stone at a window: the cobwebby lines fan out from the point of impact in all directions at once. “

from Oyster by Janette Turner Hospital

Was by Geoff Ryman

DATE FINISHED: April 23rd, 2012

RATED: ****

SYNOPSIS:  Orphaned Dorothy Gael is raised by her Aunt and Uncle in a bleak Kansas farmhouse of the 1870s.  Her unhappy life is filled with thankless chores, society visits with Aunty Em, the long trek to school, and the unwanted attentions of Uncle Henry.  Only substitute teacher Frank offers any hope of salvation, through the power of imagination.  Interwoven with Dorothy’s story is that of young Frances Gumm, later to become Judy Garland immortalising Dorothy in glorious technicolour, as well as that of a young man called Jonathan who becomes obsessed with Dorothy as his own life slips away.

THOUGHTS:   This novel is at its strongest when focusing on the past, the land of Was.   Read more of this post

The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson

DATE FINISHED: April 20th, 2012

RATED: **** (4.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Annie and Buster – also known as Child A and Child B – have been a part of their parents’ conceptual/performance art projects throughout their childhoods.  As they try to carve out their own identities as adults, they begin to realise just how much their lives and personalities have been affected by their unusual upbringing.  Each for their own reasons, the younger Fangs return home, but just as they are beginning to try to make sense of things, their parents disappear.  Is it a horrific murder, as suspected by the police; or is it just another work of art?  As Child A and Child B attempt to flush their parents out of hiding, are they facilitating some greater scheme, or are there bigger issues to contend with?

THOUGHTS:   Where does art end and life begin when the medium of your artwork is not a pen or paintbrush, but human experience?   Read more of this post

The Manual of Darkness by Enrique de Heriz

DATE FINISHED: April 9th, 2012

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Victor Losa spends his life living up to his mentor’s accidentally overheard prediction that one day he will be “one hell of a magician”. When he quite suddenly loses his eyesight upon winning a lifetime achievement award Victor must learn to live a much different life than he has known. Victor’s journey is interwoven with the stories of various fictional and historical magicians, followed by the intervention of two very real women.

THOUGHTS:   A game of two halves, the first half of The Manual of Darkness describes the defining moments of Victor’s childhood and beyond: the death of his father, his training and learning curve as a magician, and the history of the magician’s trade via his mentor and substitute father-figure, Galvan. Read more of this post

Small Island by Andrea Levy

DATE FINISHED: April 6th, 2012

RATED: ****

SYNOPSIS:  Hortense and Gilbert are a mismatched couple who each have their own reasons for agreeing to marry in haste so that they might leave their small island of Jamaica behind and settle in ‘the mother country’ (another small island). Queenie is their landlady, who met Gilbert during the war, and is one of the few people in London willing to take in ‘coloured’ lodgers (much to the chagrin of her neighbours). Queenie’s own husband is missing, but that seems to be the least of her concerns…

THOUGHTS:   This is the story of four people who have little in common – except perhaps high hopes and disappointment. Read more of this post

The Flying Man by Roopa Farooki

DATE FINISHED: April 2nd, 2012

RATED: ****

SYNOPSIS:  Maqil, Miguel, Mehmet, Mike, slips through life from name to name, wife to wife, border to border, decade to decade, relying on his easy charm and quick wit to see him through the short con and the long, to provide the edge and entertainment he craves. But suddenly he is old, and what does he have to show for it? And who will miss him, once he’s gone?

THOUGHTS:   I was expecting to read about the exploits of a glib, smooth-talking conman, but instead Farooki revealed the other side of the man – Read more of this post

A March Retrospective

A summary of the books I read in March, with links to reviews:

A Mysterious Affair of Style by Gilbert Adair – 3/5
Nowhere near as entertaining or cleverly conceived/wrought as the previous book in the series, The Act of Roger Murgatroyd. Disappointing.  (My mum enjoyed it, though!)

Ella Minnow Pea by Matt Dunn – 4/5
A clever & enjoyable fable set on an island where an overzealous council bans more and more letters from daily usage as a historic monument begins to decay. If you enjoy word puzzles, this is a really fun read, but more importantly, it’s a good story, too!

BOOK OF THE MONTH:
War Crimes for the Home by Liz Jensen – 4/5

In this sharply witty tale, Gloria looks back on life with her sister during the war, and discovers why certain memories are more reluctant to re-surface than others. I was relieved that the ‘twist’ (evident that it would be coming from early on in the story) was slightly different than I had imagined.  I like the fact that Jensen explores different styles in her writing, this being quite different to The Ninth Life of Louis Drax (equally enjoyed, and in retrospect does have some overlap of theme despite the dramatic difference in characters), My Dirty Little Book of Stolen Time (a vivid historical romp, but with a schmaltzy ending), Egg Dancing (reminded me very much of Fay Weldon – actually, War Crimes could be said to have echoes of Weldon, also) and The Rapture (not as good as I had hoped).

The Girl from the Chartreuse by Pierre Peju – 3.5/5
An accident involving a bookseller’s van knocking down a young child whose mother has not collected her from school provides the framework for this introspective and philosophical novel about two drifting souls searching for either meaning or escape.  Very French, very existential, quietly intriguing but lacking engagement on an emotional level.

Something Beginning With by Sarah Salway – 3.5/5
An encyclopedic look at Verity Bell’s life, naive and touching; very cleverly constructed.

The American Boy by Andrew Taylor – unrated
Read up to about the halfway point & was neither hating nor loving it, but realised I had no great desire to continue reading it.  So I stopped.