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Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog Snow (St. John Strafford 1) by John Banville (@FaberBooks). Classic mystery but not as we know it

Hi all:

Before I forget, Happy New Year. This year I’m sure we’re all happy to see the end of the year that leaves us. Let’s hope the next one is better (come on, this time is not that difficult, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed).

And now, to the review.

Snow by John Banville

Snow (St. John Strafford 1) by John Banville

‘Superb.’ The Times
‘Outstanding.’ Irish Independent
‘Exquisite.’ Daily Mail

A CrimeReads Most Anticipated Book of 2020

‘The body is in the library,’ Colonel Osborne said. ‘Come this way.’

Following the discovery of the corpse of a highly respected parish priest at Ballyglass House – the Co. Wexford family seat of the aristocratic, secretive Osborne family – Detective Inspector St John Strafford is called in from Dublin to investigate.

Strafford faces obstruction from all angles, but carries on determinedly in his pursuit of the murderer. However, as the snow continues to fall over this ever-expanding mystery, the people of Ballyglass are equally determined to keep their secrets.

‘The sinister and unnerving Snow has all the trimmings of a classic country house mystery – body in the library, closed circle of suspects, foul weather – all elevated by Banville’s immaculate, penetrating prose.’ Peter Swanson

https://www.amazon.com/Snow-John-Banville-ebook/dp/B083VRN8LK/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Snow-John-Banville-ebook/dp/B083VRN8LK/

https://www.amazon.es/Snow-John-Banville-ebook/dp/B083VRN8LK/

About the author:

Banville was born in Wexford, Ireland. His father worked in a garage and died when Banville was in his early thirties; his mother was a housewife. He is the youngest of three siblings; his older brother Vincent is also a novelist and has written under the name Vincent Lawrence as well as his own. His sister Vonnie Banville-Evans has written both a children’s novel and a reminiscence of growing up in Wexford.

Educated at a Christian Brothers’ school and at St Peter’s College in Wexford. Despite having intended to be a painter and an architect he did not attend university. Banville has described this as “A great mistake. I should have gone. I regret not taking that four years of getting drunk and falling in love. But I wanted to get away from my family. I wanted to be free.” After school he worked as a clerk at Aer Lingus which allowed him to travel at deeply-discounted rates. He took advantage of this to travel in Greece and Italy. He lived in the United States during 1968 and 1969. On his return to Ireland he became a sub-editor at the Irish Press, rising eventually to the position of chief sub-editor. His first book, Long Lankin, was published in 1970.

After the Irish Press collapsed in 1995, he became a sub-editor at the Irish Times. He was appointed literary editor in 1998. The Irish Times, too, suffered severe financial problems, and Banville was offered the choice of taking a redundancy package or working as a features department sub-editor. He left. Banville has been a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books since 1990. In 1984, he was elected to Aosdána, but resigned in 2001, so that some other artist might be allowed to receive the cnuas.

Banville also writes under the pen name Benjamin Black. His first novel under this pen name was Christine Falls, which was followed by The Silver Swan in 2007. Banville has two adult sons with his wife, the American textile artist Janet Dunham. They met during his visit to San Francisco in 1968 where she was a student at the University of California, Berkeley. Dunham described him during the writing process as being like “a murderer who’s just come back from a particularly bloody killing”. Banville has two daughters from his relationship with Patricia Quinn, former head of the Arts Council of Ireland.

Banville has a strong interest in vivisection and animal rights, and is often featured in Irish media speaking out against vivisection in Irish university research.

https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/91.John_Banville

My review:

Thanks to Faber & Faber and to NetGalley for providing me an ARC copy of this novel, which I freely chose to review.

John Banville is a well-known, well-respected, and multiple award winner author (his awards include the Booker Prize, the Franz Kafka Prize, and the Prince of Asturias Award for Literature, among others), and although he is perhaps better known for his literary fiction (he also writes short stories, scripts and adapts plays), he has also written several crime fiction novels under the pen name of Benjamin Black. I read one of his novels years back (probably The Sea) and although I can’t remember much about it, what stayed with me was how beautiful his writing was. So, I was intrigued when I saw that he’d published the first book in a crime series, this time using his own name. And let me assure you that his writing is as beautiful as I remembered, even if the subject does not always correspond to the beauty vested upon it.

Funnily enough, this is a strange but unsuitably suitable Christmas read, as the story takes place around the festive season, but there is no Christmas cheer or spirit behind the happenings described in the book at all. I don’t want to talk about the plot in too much detail, to avoid spoilers and because I feel that the actual plot is somewhat incidental to what makes the book so interesting, but, in short, a Catholic priest is found dead in the library of a big aristocratic manor, in County Wexford, Ireland, in the late 1950s. The circumstances of his death are quite gruesome (despite the attempts at keeping the decorum the Church and most authorities involved make), and there are plenty of added complications. The Osborne family —the owners of the house— are Protestants, as is the detective inspector sent to investigate the murder, Strafford (from an aristocratic family as well), and, as you’d expect, they all hide secrets (or most of them): money is a problem; the first wife of Colonel Osborne died from a fall (down the same stairs the priest used before his death); Osborne’s new wife was a friend of the first wife, suffers from insomnia, is heavily medicated and is a less-than-reliable witness (she was the first person to find the body); the daughter of the family has been expelled from school but hasn’t told anybody and her behaviour is daring beyond her years; the son of the family is eager to abandon Medicine and seems to have some questionable friendships; there is a stable boy with a troubled past… As you might suspect from the title, there is plenty of snow that makes the search all the more complicated; nobody has seen or heard anything; the priest was supposed to be very popular but other than his sister nobody seems to be really sorry to see him go; Osborne’s brother-in-law has been banned from the house but was in the area at the time of the murder; there is a doctor who also hangs around the house and whose prescribing sounds suspect; the people in the village seem superficially friendly but are not very helpful, and the local police… Well, you probably catch my drift.

There is much in the novel that will remind classical mystery readers of the genre (yes, even the characters in the novel remark on the fact that the body is found in the library of a grand house), and there are plenty of homages/jokes/winks to other famous mysteries and characters, down to people always mispronouncing Strafford surname, asking him why he decided to become a detective (but he is not Poirot by any stretch of the imagination)… And Strafford is fully aware of the fact that he does not fit into the mould or the expectations, both as a detective and as a man of the upper-class, as he does not drink alcohol, he doesn’t smoke, he’s chosen a less-than-glamorous or reputable profession, and he is not particularly intuitive, brilliant, or self-assured. He does suffer from imposter-syndrome and often feels as if he was playing a part in a play (and at times as if everybody else was as well). In some ways, the novel challenges the stereotypes of that kind of book, while staying pretty close to the form and some of its conventions. At times it feels as if the central character had walked into the wrong book, but as we read, we come to realise that other things are out-of-kilter as well. It is an eerie reading experience, and an unsettling one, in a good way.

When I said that the plot was rather incidental to the interest I felt for the book, that is because although there is a mystery, most people reading the novel now (and in the future) will probably suspect what is behind the crime from very early on, although that might not have been evident to somebody like Strafford at the time. Although the exact details are not straightforward and there is a later development that adds an interesting dimension to the actual ending, I think this is an occasion when the readers are likely to be ahead of the investigator and end up observing his thought processes and the whole community rather than looking for clues about the case. Other themes abound like: the strained relationships (at times) between Protestants and Catholics and the expectations and prejudices of both sides (Strafford’s conversation with the Archbishop is priceless); family relationships; changes in circumstances for old aristocratic/landed families; the power and control of the Catholic Church over the media and civil authorities; the secrets of the Church; the nature of gossip and rumour in small villages; recent Irish history, and above all, the character of Strafford, who can be in turn naïve and insightful, highly intelligent and blind, sophisticated and socially inadequate, sharp and useless at judging people, and whose self-knowledge is, at times, sorely lacking. The book deals in pretty dark subjects as well (that I won’t mention to avoid spoilers, but you might already suspect from my comments), while at the same time being witty and having some truly humorous moments (pretty dark at times).

I have talked about the main character and have mentioned some of the others. There is also Sergeant Jenkins (his description is priceless as you can see if you read on), a more standard fit into the genre, who investigates with Strafford although nobody can remember his name, and I’ve mentioned some of the other characters before, although there are also villagers, local police, and some that we only hear about but never get to meet. None of the other characters are as well-drawn or as distinctive as Strafford, and many would not stand out in a classic mystery novel, although with some twists and a dark undertone. I’ve read some reviews that complained of the female characters, and although it is true that they appear unrealistic, conventional, and two-dimensional, the rest of the male characters don’t fare much better either. I think it is partly to do with Strafford and his shortcomings (after all, we see things through his eyes), and in the few instances when we get a different perspective, things aren’t as simple as they appear to him. In some of the cases, later events and information cast doubts on what we thought we knew.

The story is told, mostly, in a linear fashion, in the third person, as we follow Strafford while he investigates. Although we get inside of his head and the action is described from his point of view most of the time, there are moments when an omniscient observer offers us a glimpse of Strafford from outside, as it were. There are also two fragments from a different point of view, clearly separated from the rest of the text: one following a female character (I’m keeping my peace here), narrated in the third person, and another one in the first person, from the victim’s perspective, set a few years before his death, and although it is pretty tough to read, it also rings psychologically true.

The style is not the straightforward easy-to-read language we’re used to in mysteries. This is Banville, and it is a joy. It does not follow any of the dictates of avoiding unnecessary words, keeping to the action, keeping it simple, pushing the action forward… And, as an English teacher, I kept thinking it would be a great book for advanced students (proficient students) looking to learn less common vocabulary and precise and unique words (that, of course, would fit a well-educated and refined man such as Strafford). If anybody tried to put the book through Grammarly, I suspect it would break at the percentage of unusual words. Although I’m not sure this is a book for the standard mystery lover, I’m convinced those who love and study language and its intricacies will enjoy it. A few tasters from the book (although remember, mine is an ARC copy and there might be some changes in the final edition):

The last thing he saw, or seemed to see, was a faint flare of light that yellowed the darkness briefly.

The first thing everyone noticed about Sergeant Jenkins was the flatness of his head. It looked as if the top of it had been sliced clean off, like the big end of a boiled egg. How, people wondered, was there room for a brain of any size at all in such a shallow space?

…her skin was pinkly pale, the colour of skimmed milk into which had been mixed a single drop of blood. Her face was like that of a Madonna by one of the lesser Old Masters, with dark eyes and a long sharp nose with a little bump at the tip.

To a microbe, he mused, each tiny burst of fire would seem a vast conflagration, like a storm on the face of the sun. He thought again of the snowy fields outside, smooth and glistening, and over them the sky of stars burning in icy brightness. Other worlds, impossibly distant. How strange a thing it was to be here, animate and conscious, on this ball of mud an brine as it whirled through illimitable depths of space.

As usual, I also recommend checking a sample or the look inside feature if you have doubts about how well the style would suit your reading taste.

The ending will be unlikely to surprise readers of mystery novels or most readers, but, as I’ve said, I don’t think that’s the point of the story. And there is a coda at the very end, that although not exactly surprising, I found quite satisfying.

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I would, but not to readers looking for a standard murder mystery that conforms to the usual norms, or people looking for a cozy and gentle story. If you enjoy novels that challenge the conventions, enjoy beautiful use of language, don’t mind dark subjects, and are interested in recent historical fiction set in Ireland, check it out. I am curious to see where Banville goes with book 2 in the series.

Thanks to the publisher and the author for the novel, thanks to all of you for reading, and share if you fancy, like, comment… And please, be safe!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog SEASON OF SECOND CHANCES by Aimee Alexander (@aimeealexbooks) A feel-good, heart-warming, and moving read #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you another book I’ve reviewed for Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team and loved it.

Season of Second Chances by Aimee Alexander

Season of Second Chances by Aimee Alexander

When leaving is just the beginning… The long-awaited novel of family, love and learning to be kind to yourself by award-winning, bestselling Irish author, Aimee Alexander.

Grace Sullivan flees Dublin with her two teenage children, returning to the sleepy West Cork village where she grew up. No one in Killrowan knows what Grace is running from – or that she’s even running. She’d like to keep it that way.

Taking over from her father, Des, as the village doctor offers a very real chance for Grace to begin again. But will she and the children adapt to life in a small rural community? Can she live up to the doctor her father was? And will she find the inner strength to face the past when it comes calling?

Season of Second Chances is Grace’s story. It’s also the story of a community that chooses the title “Young Doctor Sullivan” for her before she even arrives. It’s the story of Des, who served the villagers all his life and now feels a failure for developing Parkinson’s disease. And it’s the story of struggling teens, an intimidating receptionist, a handsome American novelist escaping his past, and a dog called Benji who needs a fresh start of his own.

Season of Second Chances is a heart-warming story of friendship, love and finding the inner strength to face a future that may bring back the past.

Perfect for fans of Call The Midwife, Virgin River, Doc Martin, The Durrells and All Creatures Great and Small. The villagers of Killrowan will steal into your heart and make you want to stay with them forever.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B086M7K4WX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B086M7K4WX/

https://www.amazon.es/dp/B086M7K4WX/

Author Aimee Alexander

About the author:

Aimee Alexander is the pen name of the award-winning, #1 Amazon best-selling, Irish author Denise Deegan. She writes contemporary family dramas about ordinary people who become extraordinary in crisis. Her novels have been published by Penguin Random House, Hachette and Lake Union Publishing.

Aimee lives in Dublin with her family where she regularly dreams of sunshine, a life without cooking and her novels being made into movies. She has a Masters in Public Relations and has been a college lecturer, nurse, china restorer, pharmaceutical sales rep, public relations executive and entrepreneur.

Join Aimee’s Newsletter to Receive:
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To sign up, copy and paste this link into your browser’s address bar: http://eepurl.com/-II1X

Visit Aimee’s website on: http://www.aimeealexanderbooks.com

My review:

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are looking for reviews, check here), and I freely chose to review an ARC copy of this novel.

This is another great find by Rosie and although I wasn’t familiar with the author (who also publishes under her real name, Denise Deegan), I’m convinced this won’t be the last time I read one of her books.

The description of the book does a good job of highlighting the main aspects of the plot: we have Grace, a woman escaping a difficult and dangerous marriage, with her teenage children, Jack and Holly, hopeful that returning back to the village where she grew up will offer them all a second chance. There awaits her father, Des, who is going through a major change in his life (he’s a recently retired family doctor suffering from early stages of Parkinson’s disease) and doesn’t know the ins and outs of Grace’s decision. Moving from Dublin to a small and sleepy village comes as a shock to Grace’s children, and she finds it difficult to confront the gossip and the expectations of having to step into her father’s shoes. But, this novel about second chances builds up slowly and we see that although not everything is ideal and there are misunderstandings and difficulties to be ironed out, Killrowan, the place and its community, is a place worth sticking with.

The novel touches on a variety of themes: abusive marriages and family relationships (and how difficult it is to walk out); starting over in a different place, picking up friendships and relationships, and rebuilding one’s life; the struggles of dealing with a chronic and debilitating illness; how much one’s self-identity can be enmeshed with our profession and our job; the differences between a big city and a small village; being a family doctor in a rural/village location; how teenagers feel when they have to move and be uprooted from school, friends…; the role animals play in helping us fit in a place and feel rooted; small community life, with hits highs and lows; and even a hint of possible romance(s). There are funny moments, plenty of heart-warming episodes, some scary and nasty shocks as well, some sad and touching stories, and even medical emergencies and action scenes thrown in. In her acknowledgements, the author highlights the process of her creation and her research and having read the novel, I can confirm that it has paid off. She manages to weave all the topics into a novel that brings the characters and the village to life, and I was delighted to read that she is thinking about a sequel. I’d love to go back to Killrowan and revisit the places and the characters that have also become my friends.

Alexander creates multi-dimensional characters easy to relate with. Grace doubts herself and is forever questioning her actions and doubting other people’s motive. Her self-confidence has suffered after years of being undermined and abused by her husband, and she feels guilty for uprooting her family, while at the same time experiencing the thrill of freedom. The novel is written in deep third person and allows us to see the action from different points of view. Grace’s point of view dominates the book, although we also see what her father, Des —another fantastic character who treads carefully and whose life suddenly regains a meaning when his daughter and grandchildren come to live with him— thinks and does, how both of Grace’s children, Jack and Holly, feel, faced with a completely different environment (Jack was the popular sporty type, while Holly had a hard time fitting in and had no friends other than her dog). We meet some fantastic characters in the community, like the scary (at least at first) receptionist at the doctor’s surgery; the butcher’s wife (a gossip with a big heart); Grace’s old pals, Alan (with some secrets of his own) and Ivonne; Benji, a wonderful dog that adopts the family; a handsome American writer; the wife of a local magnate (who reminds Grace of herself); Des’s old love; the local policeman; Grace’s partner at the doctor’s surgery and some of her patients, although not everybody is nice, don’t worry. We also get brief snippets of the events from some of the other character’s perspectives, not only the Sullivans, and that gives us access to privileged information at times. Although the different characters’ points of view aren’t separated by chapters, they are clearly differentiated, and I experienced no confusion while reading, quite the opposite. I enjoyed the opportunity to share in the bigger picture.

The writing style is fluid and flows well, without rushing us through the events, allowing us time to reflect upon events, enjoy the wonderful settings (the sea, the beach, the island, the pub…) and become acquainted with the location, the emotions, and the characters. The author knows well the area, and although Killrowan doesn’t exist (or, at least I couldn’t find it), it feels real (and some of the comments and attitudes Grace and her family experience reminded me of similar events I had witnessed in a small village I used to visit when I was younger) and it leaps from the pages. I confess to enjoying the style of the writing and feeling emotionally engaged with the story (I’d recommend having tissues handy). I’ve selected a couple of quotes to share, but as usual, readers might want to check a sample of the book to see if it suits their taste before purchasing it.

Here Grace is thinking about the family dog and how his death gave her the strength to finally leave her husband.

Benji was more than a dog. He was family. And her defender. Tiny little ball of fur rushing to the rescue. Or trying. Tiny little ball of fur that brought so much comfort to all three of them, Holly especially. Benji knew when they needed love and he gave it in spades.

Here Des is thinking about retirement.

What fool started the tradition of watches as retirement presents? Any thinking person would know that the last thing a man would want is to count all the time he now has on his hands.

Holly had just told her brother that their mother wanted to start over, and Grace realises her daughter is right.

Minutes ago, it had been to escape Simon, shake him off. But escaping Simon is still all about Simon. Grace sees that now. What she must do is start over. Because that is about Grace.

The ending is more than satisfying as well. Yes, not everything is settled and sorted in the end, but this is a book about new beginnings, and we leave the Sullivans and Killrowan to carry on merrily, getting to know each other and discovering what new changes and challenges life will bring. As I mentioned above, the author hints at a possible sequel, and I hope it comes to be.

This is a novel full of heart, friendship, a strong sense of community, and also heartache and personal growth. It is inspiring and comforting in these times when we have been obliged to live pretty enclosed lives. I agree with the TV series mentioned in the description (Call the Midwife one of my favourites), and I’m sure fans of any of those will enjoy this novel, which fits perfectly in the feel-good category, although that does not mean it hides from the most unsavoury aspects of life. There are menacing and dark moments, none too explicit, and I’d recommend it to anybody who enjoys stories with a heart, fond of Ireland and stories with an Irish background, and those who want a gentle read full of wonderful characters and a memorable community we’d all be happy to join.

Thanks to Rosie and all her team for their support, thanks to the author for her wonderful novel, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, and keep reading, smiling, and always stay safe!

 

 

 

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog GROWN UPS by Marian Keyes (@PenguinUKBooks) Complex family relationships and serious issues for devoted Keyes’s fans

Hi all:

Today I bring you a book by a famous author I hadn’t read yet.

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

PRE-ORDER THE BRAND-NEW BOOK FROM MARIAN KEYES, THE INTERNATIONALLY BESTSELLING AUTHOR OF THE BREAK

PICKED AS ONE TO WATCH IN 2020 BY THE TIMES, DAILY MAIL, EVENING STANDARD, THE i, STYLIST, COSMOPOLITAN, GRAZIA AND MORE

‘Magnificently messy lives, brilliantly untangled. Funny, tender and completely absorbing!’ GRAHAM NORTON


They’re a glamorous family, the Caseys.

Johnny Casey, his two brothers Ed and Liam, their beautiful, talented wives and all their kids spend a lot of time together – birthday parties, anniversary celebrations, weekends away. And they’re a happy family. Johnny’s wife, Jessie – who has the most money – insists on it.

Under the surface, though, conditions are murkier. While some people clash, other people like each other far too much . . .

Everything stays under control until Ed’s wife Cara, gets concussion and can’t keep her thoughts to herself. One careless remark at Johnny’s birthday party, with the entire family present, starts Cara spilling out all their secrets.

In the subsequent unravelling, every one of the adults finds themselves wondering if it’s time – finally – to grow up?


‘Superb. Warm-hearted, wise and highly entertaining’ OBSERVER

‘I loved every word. I will be missing those gorgeous vibrant characters for many weeks to come’ LIANE MORIARTY, bestselling author of Big Little Lies

‘Messy, tangled complex humans who reminded me that few of us ever really sort our lives out at all’ JOJO MOYES, bestselling author of Me Before You

‘Her best yet. Charming, funny and poignant, but also profound, heartbreaking’ NINA STIBBE, bestselling author of Reasons to be Cheerful

‘Sensitive, funny, wonderful, immensely touching’ NIGELLA LAWSON

‘It’s SUCH a treat. I felt like I was reading the cleverest cream cake of words’ CAITLIN MORAN

‘A novel that is warm and witty but never afraid to tackle the big stuff’ ELIZABETH DAY, bestselling author of HOW TO FAIL

‘Tender, hilarious, important, with characters who feel as real as your own family by the time you’re done’ BETH O’LEARY, bestselling author of The Flatshare

‘Funny & thoughtful and such brilliantly drawn characters that I am genuinely bereft my time with them is over’ HANNAH BECKERMAN, bestselling author of If Only I Could Tell You

‘She’s only gone and done it again! Brilliant as ever’ JANE FALLON, bestselling author of Tell Me A Secret

https://www.amazon.com/Grown-Ups-Marian-Keyes-ebook/dp/B07QCTWJCK/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Grown-Ups-Marian-Keyes-ebook/dp/B07QCTWJCK/

https://www.amazon.es/Grown-Ups-Marian-Keyes-ebook/dp/B07QCTWJCK/

Author Marian Keyes
Author Marian Keyes

About the author:

Marian Keyes’ international bestselling novels include Rachel’s Holiday, Last Chance Saloon, Sushi for Beginners, Angels, The Other Side of the Story, Anybody Out There, This Charming Man and The Woman Who Stole My Life. Three collections of her journalism, Under the Duvet, Further Under the Duvet and Making It Up as I Go Along, are also available from Penguin. Marian lives in Dublin with her husband.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Marian-Keyes/e/B000APV464?

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Penguin UK-Michael Joseph for providing me an ARC copy of this novel that I freely chose to review.

Marian Keyes is a very well-known and popular Irish author, but this is the first novel of hers I read and therefore I can’t compare it to her previous novels. Based on reviews, some readers feel that it is less tight and less funny than some of her other books, but not everybody agrees. I’ll leave it to her fans to make their own minds up.

This novel is the story of a family, well, or of the families of three Irish brothers, John, Ed and Liam Casey, their wives and children. It is a family saga of sorts, although it does not cover several generations of the same family. I must confess that when I read the description I thought this would be the story of what happened when Cara, due to her concussion, started spilling the beans about everything and everybody, and how that would evolve. But Keyes uses that point in the story as the introduction to the characters, and then goes back in time, to a few months earlier, so we learn the reasons behind some of the secrets she reveals, and we also learn a lot about the characters. A lot. This is a very long book, and at first, the timeline can seem confusing because of the initial scene, but once we go back in time, the novel progresses in a chronological order (not perfect, because often the characters will remember their past, how the couples met, or details of their previous lives, and those will be interspersed with the actual events), up to the point where it catches up with the birthday celebration dinner for Johnny (quite late in the book), and then moves forward until the end of the novel. We learn about each couple and each individual (at least the adults, not so much the children), although we learn more about the women than about the men: we learn about Jessie’s role in organising family events, inviting everybody and keeping the family together; we read about Cara, who is eminently practical and loves hotels but lacks in confidence in other areas and suffers from a very unhealthy relationship with food (that develops into a full-blown bulimia); we read about Nell, the newcomer to the family, an unconventional theatre designer whom everybody loves despite (or perhaps because) of her unique style; and about the brothers:  Johnny, who married the widow of his best friend and is at times overwhelmed by his wife’s need to control and organise and by the legacy of her previous marriage; Ed, who is the kindest and more supportive of the three; and Liam, who seems attractive, light and fun to begin with but things aren’t always as they seem. Ferdia, Jessie’s son from her first marriage, is a young man who changes enormously through the novel. Oh, and he is a hunk, as we are reminded quite often.

As you can imagine from the description, the book delves into secrets, family relationships (these three families are very enmeshed and that explains some of the bizarre happenings), the nature of love, trust, confidence, self-worth, how relationships change over the years, there is an important subplot about body image and bulimia (very well done, in my opinion), parenting…  There are also funny/dreadful murder-mystery parties, luxury hotels, alternative festivals, romance (with some age difference)… This is not a page-turner in the sense of a plot moved by action and suspense. It is more like a soap opera where the lives of the characters ebb and flow, with some peaks of excitement, triumphs, and disappointments.

I have mentioned the main characters, although there are many others, including the younger children, friends, work colleagues, staff at the different places where they spend time, collaborators, and although some of the secondary characters are quite memorable, and I didn’t dislike the main characters either (apart from one, but no spoilers), I can’t say I connected with any of them in particular. I liked Nell, Cara (her struggle with bulimia is one of the most realistic and best-written parts of the book for me), and Ed, but I didn’t feel personally invested in their stories, although I kept reading, and it’s a long book, so that is saying something.

The story is narrated in the third person from the alternating point of view of the main characters, especially the females, but we also get snippets of what the men think at times. The change in point of view can take place sometimes within the same chapter (several of the characters can meet at an event, for example, and the point of view will then follow someone else), but I didn’t find it confusing, as they are all very different, and we quickly learn to tell them apart.

Keyes’s writing flows well, and she can easily pass from describing an interior to making readers share in the state of mind and distress of one of her characters, and although she touches on serious subjects, her writing is not overdramatic or heavy. There are some light scenes, but the book is far from funny overall, although there are moments where the wit of the writer shines through (as I said, some of her habitual readers complained about the novel not being as funny as some of her previous ones, and I wouldn’t recommend it if you’re looking for a laugh-out-loud read). I very much enjoyed the Irish expressions and some of the dialogue sparkled, showing the talent and range of the author. As a little taster, here I leave you with a snippet of a conversation between Jessie and an analyst who is helping her decide how to move her business forward. He is “slightly” creepy.

‘…And the thing is, the thing, Karl that I have just remembered—‘

‘Yeah?’

‘Is that I have a very sexy, non-repulsive husband.’

‘Forty minutes ago you could “never forgive him”.’

‘Time is a great healer.’

The passage is witty but it also illustrates how contradictory we can all be, and there is plenty of that in the novel.

Everything is resolved in the end, and although I think some situations dragged a bit, overall I enjoyed the ending and it fulfilled my expectations.

In sum, this is a book I’d recommend to readers who love stories about big families, especially set in Ireland, who aren’t looking for a lot of laughs, or for diverse characters, and who don’t mind spending a long time with a book. I did wonder if this book wouldn’t have worked better as a collection, with individual volumes being dedicated to each one of the families (I think that at least some of the books, for example, the one dedicated to Cara and Ed, would have been stronger), and a tighter edit might also have turned it into a more manageable book for the general public, but I have no doubt that Marian Keyes can write compelling characters, and I’ll check some more of her work in the future. Ah, there are some very mild sex scenes (at least very mild for me, and I don’t like erotica), in case somebody is looking for a totally clean book.

 

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog SEVEN LETTERS by J. P. Monninger (@StMartinsPress). A lyrical and romantic story set in a magical Ireland #sevenletters #bookblogtour

Hi all:

I’m very pleased to join in the book blog tour for an author I’d never read before, but I can tell you he writes beautifully!

Seven Letters by J.P. Monninger
Seven Letters by J.P. Monninger

The first letter brings her to Ireland. The next six are a test of true love…

 

SEVEN LETTERS A Novel By J.P. Monninger

From the author of The Map That Leads to You comes another sweeping, romantic novel about love, family, and what it means to build a home together, SEVEN LETTERS. 

The Blasket Islands are the heart of Ireland – once populated with some of the most famous Irish writers, they are now abandoned, filled with nothing but wind and silence. Kate Moreton, a PhD student at Dartmouth, is in Ireland to research the history of the Blaskets, not to fall in love. She has a degree to finish and a life back in New Hampshire that she is reluctant to leave.

But fall in love she does, with both the wild, windswept landscape and with Ozzie, an Irish-American fisherman with a troubled past who shares her deep, aching love for the land. Together, they begin to build a life on the rocky Irish coast. But when tragedy strikes, leading Kate on a desperate search through Europe, the limits of their love and faith in each other will be tested.

 

I noticed that the description on Amazon.com is quite different, and in fact, I think it tells too much of the story, but I thought I’d warn you, as you might find a different summary depending on where you access it.

Praise for J.P. Monninger and SEVEN LETTERS

“Monninger enchants with this lyrically written romantic love letter to Ireland and its people. Readers who appreciate love stories set against dramatic backdrops will find much to love.”

Publishers Weekly 

“A sweeping love story with intriguing characters and a well-described ending.”

—–Booklist

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Seven-Letters-J-P-Monninger-ebook/dp/B07PBMH6ND/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Seven-Letters-J-P-Monninger-ebook/dp/B07PBMH6ND/

https://www.amazon.es/Seven-Letters-J-P-Monninger-ebook/dp/B07PBMH6ND/

 

About the Author

J.P. MONNINGER, author of The Map That Leads to You, is an award-winning writer in New England and Professor of English at Plymouth State University.

 

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Griffin for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review. Because I read an early copy of the story, some of the details mentioned might not fully correspond to the final published version of the book.

I had never read any of the author’s work before, but the description of the setting, the protagonist and her reasons for visiting Ireland drew me in. I had read about the Blasket Islands in a previous book and become fascinated by what I came across, and, personally, I would love to have the opportunity to be a scholar researching the topic, in Ireland. The novel offered me the chance to vicariously live that experience through the main character, and I did enjoy it enormously. The beautiful writing, interspersed with Irish sayings, stories, and references to books were pure delight.

I am not a big reader of romance, and perhaps for that reason, the aspects of the novel that I most enjoyed were not the truly romantic ones, that I found a bit over the top. Kate, the protagonist, has a strong Irish (and Blasket Islands) connection, and she seems more than ready to fall in love —and under the spell— of Ireland, and the islands in particular. I did love the setting of the story, the description of her life at the university, her research, the people she meets there, and I would have loved to know more about some of the secondary characters (the Bicycle  Society members, for example, Gran, Seamus, Daijeet, Dr Kaufman, and even Milly although we learn more about her later). Also, and I suspect I might be in the minority here, I would have loved to have had more details of Kate’s research, for example, samples of the stories she reads and of the book she writes (she is studying women’s accounts of the life in the Blasket Islands before they were abandoned and the few inhabitants left there had to move out), although I know there are accounts published and available, but her work process, and her description of how she felt as she engaged in it resonated with me (yes, I have a PhD and re-experiencing that period was a huge bonus for me).

Of course, Kate’s experience in Ireland would not be complete without a romance, and we meet the man in question very early on, and no, readers don’t need to be avid romance consumers to spot him and know where things are headed. As I said, not being a habitual romance reader, I wasn’t too convinced by that side of things. I never felt we got to know Ozzie well, but that is reasonable in the context of the story, as Kate seems to falls in love/lust with an idea or an image in her head, more than with the real man, and neither one of them give each other much chance to know what they are getting into and who with. Because we see the story from Kate’s perspective, we are expected to see him through rose-tinted glasses, at least initially, although things (and him) don’t fit neatly into the romanticized image she has in her head. (Oh, there are sex scenes as well, but they are not explicit and are overly romantic and totally unrealistic, but hey, as I don’t like sex scenes, I was pleased they were not many and didn’t mind they were unrealistic). Theirs is the perfect embodiment of a whirlwind romance. As we all know, the course of true love never did run smooth, and there are separations, trials, and many obstacles in the way, some that go well beyond what most people would expect from a typical novel in this genre, and deal in some very serious issues (like the Mediterranean refugee crisis), so although this is a romantic novel, it is not a light and cheery read (although yes, there is the mandatory happy ending that I won’t spoil for you).

The structure and the way the story is told is quite original, as it revolves around letters, the seven letters of the title, some formal and official, some personal, and they help create the backbone of the novel, written in the first person, from Kate’s perspective. In fact, although the novel is classed as a romance (and I’ve mentioned some of the more conventional romantic aspects of the story), for me it seemed to fit better into the Bildungsroman or coming-of-age story (although the character is perhaps a bit older than most of these kinds of characters tend to be), and it is written as if it were a memoir, where the letters serve as anchors, points around which the protagonist organizes her memories of the events, because although the story is told chronologically, it is not linear and there are jumps in time, during which life has gone on and settled, but the narration is only retrieved when something of some significance to Kate’s journey and to her relationship with Ozzie takes place. (There are scenes that showed potential, for example, an archeological trip Kate gets involved in, but it ends up becoming only a setting for an encounter with Ozzie, and we are given no details as to what else might have happened during the trip). Although she is not the typical innocent-abroad of many XIX and early XX century novels, she does not know herself, her trip abroad changes things and she goes back to the USA a changed woman, although there are many more things that she must learn, not only about herself but also about others, before the end of the book. Her process of discovery felt realistic, and I empathized with her struggle between her idea of what her life should be like, what her heart wants, and her attempts to reconcile the two, if possible.  Oh, there is also a prologue including a lovely Irish story about a man falling in love with a fairy woman, although, to me, in this case Kate plays the part of the man —who cannot settle in the magical land and misses home— and Ozzie that of the fairy woman.

I agree with comments that say perhaps the story would have gained in depth and become more realistic if some part of it had been told from Ozzie’s point of view, but, considering Ozzie’s backstory, that would have been a completely different book, and one that would have taken the focus away from the romantic angle.

In sum, this is a story I enjoyed, and I don’t hesitate in recommending it to romance readers, in particular to lovers of Ireland and anything Irish. There are many elements that make the story worthy of reading even for those who are not big on romance, especially the setting, the beautiful language, and the protagonist, who although flawed and contradictory, loves books, scholarship, her friends, Ireland and has a wonderful zest for life. The descriptions, not only of Ireland, but also of New Hampshire, Italy, and other settings, take readers on a lyrical journey, and I was sorry it came to an end. Oh, and there’s a wonderful dog too.

As you know, I usually recommend readers to check a sample of the book to see if the style of writing is a good fit, but in this case, the publishers have been kind enough to send me the beginning of the book, that I share with you:

PROLOGUE

The Irish tell a story of a man who fell in love with a fairy woman and went with her to live on an island lost to time and trouble.
They lived in a thatched cottage overlooking the sea with nothing but donkeys and gulls and white chickens to keep them company. They lived in the dream of all lovers, apart from the world, entire to themselves, their bed an island to be rediscovered each night. In all seasons, they slept near a large round window and the ocean wind found them and played gently with their hair and carried the scent of open water to their nostrils. Each night he tucked himself around her and she, in turn, moved closer into his arms, and the seals sang and their songs fell to the bottom of the sea where the shells held their voices and relinquished them only in violent storms.
One day the man went away, mortal as he was; he could not resist his longing to see the loved ones he had left behind. She warned him that he would grow old the moment his foot touched the soil of the Irish mainland, so he begged her for one of the donkeys to ride back to his home for a single glance at what he had left behind. Though she knew the risk, she loved him too much to deny his wish, and so he left on a quiet night, his promise to come back to her cutting her ears with salt and bitterness. She watched him depart on a land bridge that arced to the mainland and then turned back to her cottage, knowing his fate, knowing that love must always have its own island. She raised up the fog from the ocean and she extinguished all light from the island and the chickens went mute and the donkeys brayed into the chimney smoke and the gulls called out her anguish.
After many days of travel, and through no fault of his own, he touched ground and became an old man in one breath. Even as age claimed him upon the instant of his foot striking the soil, he called to her to save him, but she could not help him any longer. In the seasons afterward, on certain full moon nights, she permitted the island to rise from the mist and to appear to him, or to any broken-hearted lover, the boil of the sea stilled for an unbearable glimpse of what had been lost so thoughtlessly. To his great age he lived for the moments when he might hear her voice rising above the sea, the call of their bed and their nights and their love, the call of his heart, the call of the gulls that held all the pain of the world. He answered on each occasion that he was here, waiting, his heart true and never wavering, his days filled with regret for breaking their spell and leaving the island. He asked her to forgive him the restlessness, which is the curse of men and the blood they cannot still, but whether she did or not, he could not say.

1

I had misgivings: it was a tourist bus. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I had booked passage on a tourist bus. It wasn’t even a
good kind of tourist bus, if there is such a thing. It was a massive, absurd mountain of a machine, blue and white, with a front grill the size of a baseball backstop. When the tour director—a competent, harried woman named Rosie—pointed me toward it with the corner of her clipboard, I tried to imagine there was some mistake. The idea that the place I had studied for years, the Blas- ket Islands off Ireland’s southwest coast, could be approached by such a vehicle, seemed sacrilegious. The fierce Irish women in my dissertation would not have known what to say about a bus with televisions, tinted windows, air-conditioning, bathrooms, and a soundtrack playing a loop of sentimental Irish music featuring “Galway Bay” and “Danny Boy.” Especially “Danny Boy.” It was like driving through the Louvre on a motor scooter. It didn’t even seem possible that the bus could fit the small, twisty roads of Dingle.
I took a deep breath and climbed aboard. My backpack whacked against the door.
Immediately I experienced that bus moment. Anyone who has ever taken a bus has experienced it. You step up and look around and you are searching for seats, but most of them are taken, and the bus is somewhat dimmer than the outside light, and the seatbacks cover almost everything except the eyes and foreheads of the seated passengers. Most of them try to avoid your eyes because they don’t want you sitting next to them, but they are aware, also, that there are only so many seats, so if they are going to surrender the place next to them they would prefer it be to someone who looks at least marginally sane. Meanwhile, I tried to see over the seatbacks to vacant places, also assessing who might be a decent, more or less silent traveling companion, while also determining who seemed too eager to have me beside her or him. I wanted to avoid that person at all costs.
That bus moment.
I also felt exhausted. I was exhausted from the Boston–Limerick flight, tired in the way only airports and plane air can make you feel. Like old, stale bread. Like bread left out to dry itself into turkey stuffing.
I felt, too, a little like crying.
Not now, I told myself. Then I started forward.
The passengers were old. My best friend, Milly, would have said that it wasn’t a polite thing to say or think, but I couldn’t help it. With only their heads extending above the seatbacks, they looked like a field of dandelion puffs. They smiled and made small talk with one another, clearly happy to be on vacation, and often they looked up and nodded to me. I could have been their granddaughter and that was okay with them. They liked “Danny Boy.” They liked coming to Ireland; many of them had relatives here, I was certain. This was a homecoming of sorts, and I couldn’t be crabby about that, so I braced myself going down the aisle, my eyes doing the bus scan, which meant looking without staring, hoping without wishing.
Halfway down the bus, I came to an empty seat. Two empty seats. It didn’t seem possible. I stopped and tried not to swing around and hit anyone with my backpack. Rosie hadn’t boarded the bus; I could see the driver standing outside, a cup of coffee in one hand, a cigarette in the other. Two empty seats? It felt like a trap. It felt too good to be true.
“Back here, dear,” an older man called to me. “There’s a spot here. That seat is reserved. I don’t think you can sit there. At least no one has.”
I considered trying my luck, plunking down and waiting for whatever might happen. Then again, that could land me in an even more horrible situation. The older gentleman who called to me looked sane and reasonably groomed. I could do worse. I smiled and hoisted my backpack and clunked down the aisle, hammering both sides until people raised their hands to fend me away.
“Here, I’ll just store this above us,” said the old man who had offered me a seat. He had the bin open above our spot. He shoved a mushroom-colored raincoat inside it. He smiled at me. He had a moustache as wide as a Band-Aid across his top lip.
I inched my way down the aisle until I stood beside him. “Gerry,” he said, holding out his hand. “What luck for me.
I get to sit next to a beautiful, red-haired colleen. What’s your name?”
“Kate,” I said.
“That’s a good Irish name. Are you Irish?” “American, but yes. Irish ancestry.”
“So am I. I believe everyone on the bus has some connection to the old sod. I’d put money on it.”
He won a point for the first mention of the old sod that I had heard since landing in Ireland four hours before.
He helped me swing my bag up into the bin. Then I remembered I needed my books and I had to swing the backpack down again. As I dug through the bag, Gerry beside me, I felt the miles of traveling clinging to me. How strange to wake up in Boston and end up on a bus going to Dingle, the most beautiful peninsula in the world.

Thanks to NetGalley, St. Martin’s Griffin and the author for this opportunity, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and always keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog WHEN ALL IS SAID by Anne Griffin (@AnneGriffin_) A gorgeous and deeply touching book #WhenAllIsSaid

Dear all:

I love this book, and I hope you will too.

When All Is Said by Anne Griffin
When All Is Said by Anne Griffin

When All is Said by Anne Griffin.

Five toasts. Five people. One lifetime.

‘A hugely enjoyable, engrossing novel, a genuine page-turner.’ Donal Ryan

‘An extraordinary novel, a poetic writer, and a story that moved me to tears.’ John Boyne

‘I’m here to remember – all that I have been and all that I will never be again.’

At the bar of a grand hotel in a small Irish town sits 84-year-old Maurice Hannigan. He’s alone, as usual -though tonight is anything but. Pull up a stool and charge your glass, because Maurice is finally ready to tell his story.

Over the course of this evening, he will raise five toasts to the five people who have meant the most to him. Through these stories – of unspoken joy and regret, a secret tragedy kept hidden, a fierce love that never found its voice – the life of one man will be powerfully and poignantly laid bare.

Heart-breaking and heart-warming all at once, the voice of Maurice Hannigan will stay with you long after all is said.

‘This is how you tell a story’ Cecelia Ahern

‘Beautifully written, unhurried and thoughtful, and a character you love from the off’ Kit de Waal

When All Is Said catches a world in a moment. Maurice Hannigan is a wonderful invention, whose bitter-sweet meditations will stay long in the reader’s mind. Anne Griffin has fashioned a rare jewel’ John Banville

‘Masterful storytelling’ Graham Norton

https://www.amazon.com/When-All-Said-Anne-Griffin-ebook/dp/B07C72YBSX/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/When-All-Said-Anne-Griffin-ebook/dp/B07C72YBSX/

Editorial Reviews

Review

“There’s something special here.” ―John Boyne, New York Times bestselling author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

“This is how you tell a story.” –Cecelia Ahern, New York Times bestselling author of PS, I Love You

“When All Is Said catches a world in a moment. Maurice Hannigan is a wonderful invention, whose bitter-sweet meditations will stay long in the reader’s mind. Anne Griffin has fashioned a rare jewel.” ―John Banville, New York Times bestselling author of Time Pieces and Man Booker Prize award-winning author of The Sea 

“In the twilight of his long and eventful life, Irishman Maurice Hannigan still possesses the deep and mellow voice that his grandmother once told him ‘could melt icebergsa voice that debut author Anne Griffin renders with wit, verve, and endearing irascibility. When All Is Said captures the texture of a night catching up with an old friendthe pleasures and comforts, the stories and surprisesone that you never want to end, and all the more bittersweet because you know, of course, that it must.” ―Kathleen Rooney, bestselling author of Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk

“Anne Griffin’s debut novel is a must read. Beautifully observed, masterful story telling – stunning!” ―Graham Norton, award-winning author

When All Is Said is lovely. I’m a sucker for structure and the conception of this novel, told around five toasts is just wonderful, it gives you that sense of a whole life, of someone accounting for themselves and their decisions, it takes a firm grip and draws us in. It is beautifully written, unhurried and thoughtful, a lonely man truthfully wrought and a character you love from the off, in spite of his flaws or maybe because of them.” ―Kit de Waal, bestselling author of My Name is Leon

“Maurice Hannigan is one of those rare and unforgettable characters whose lives we enter, inhabit for a time all too brief, and emerge from deeply changed. Anne Griffin is a writer with a bright, bright future.” ―National Book Award finalist Janet Peery

“A deceptively powerful tale. Beneath the surface of seemingly simple lives lie stunning stories of love, heartbreak, humor, hope, tragedy, regret, and―most of all―humanity.” ―Viola Shipman, international bestselling author of The Summer Cottage and The Charm Bracelet

“When All Is Said is a hugely enjoyable, engrossing novel, a genuine page-turner. Maurice is a fabulous character, wonderfully flawed and completely engaging; his voice is familiar and real, full of sadness and regret and defiance, and unexpected tenderness.” ―Donal Ryan, award-winning author of The Spinning Heart

“It is difficult to believe that When All Is Said is a first novel, as Anne Griffin displays such an assured hand at locating and maintaining the voice of our lead character, Maurice Hannigan. An old widower, Hannigan picks a night at the local pub and toasts the five people who influenced his life in the most important ways, and, in the process, gives an oral first person history of his own life―both the truthful and the delusional. With an impeccable eye, Anne Griffin picks out details from seemingly-unimportant moments in a life that become so much more in her capable hands. Each toast brings a new facet of Hannigan’s life into focus, sometimes shining a light on things he would rather keep buried deep within himself, and the result is quite lovely. I truly felt as if I were in a country pub, sitting with the county raconteur, and I enjoyed his company immensely!” ―Bill Carl, Wellesley Books

“The Irish prequel of A Man Called Ove” ―Susan Taylor, Book House of Stuyvesant Plaza

“Griffin’s portrait of an Irish octogenarian provides a stage for…the course of one memorable night.”Kirkus

Author Anne Griffin
Author Anne Griffin

About the author:

Anne Griffin is an Irish novelist living in Ireland. Anne was awarded the John McGahern Award for Literature, recognising previous and current works. Amongst others, she has been shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Award and the Sunday Business Post Short Story Award.

Anne’s debut novel ‘When All Is Said’ will be published by Sceptre in the UK and Ireland on 24th January, 2019 and by Thomas Dunne Books in the US and Canada on the 5th March, 2019. It will also be published by Rowohlt Verlag in Germany, Delcourt in France, by Harper Collins Holland in the Netherlands, by Wydawnictwo Czarna in Poland, and by Tyto Alba in Lithuania.

https://www.amazon.com/Anne-Griffin/e/B07FWTQQQV

annegriffinwriter.com

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Sceptre for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is a beautiful novel. Its structure is simple and so is the plot. Written in the first person, this is the story of a man, Maurice Hannigan, a widower, who has come to a decision about what to do with the rest of his life. Having made that decision, it has come the time to explain why he has decided what he has. The novel is structured around his conversation with his son, Kevin, who lives in the USA and is not there in person; therefore it becomes a monologue, with an intended audience of one. We, the readers, act as his son’s stand-ins. Maurice, as we soon learn, has never been the talking kind, so this is a bit of a departure for him, probably because of the time of his life and because he is not eye-to-eye with the person he is addressing.

Maurice has booked the best room in the hotel and is drinking five toasts to the people who have had the most impact in his life. In the process of talking about them and their influence, we get to hear about his life and what made him who he is. He chooses carefully his drinks, measures his words, and also the mementos he has kept. He drinks ale and also his preferred drink, whisky, and shares photographs, a pipe, a coin, and plenty of memories. He toasts to his brother, who died of TB when he was very young, always protected him and was his role model; to the daughter who never was and has always remained present for him; to his wife’s sister, who spent most of her life in psychiatric hospitals, took to him from the first and played an important role in solving an interesting mystery; to his son, who always had different dreams but tried hard to keep in touch; and to his wife, the one and only, the person he cannot live without.

Through his toasts we learn a lot about Maurice, his world, and the changes in Ireland through the years: when he was young life was harsh for farmers, the owners of the big house could behave as if they owned the people around them, school was hard for those who could not learn at the normal rhythm, and a family feud could last for years. Ireland moves with the times, and we hear about his change of circumstances, but he finds it difficult to let go of his wish for revenge and his resentments, of his low self-confidence because he never did well with books (later on in life he realises he suffers from dyslexia), and especially, of his grief and bereavement. He has suffered many losses through life, and he has many regrets, although he has also done some good things, intentionally or not.

Maurice feels real and very familiar, and I think most readers will be reminded of somebody they know. He is not the most sympathetic character at first sight, although he has gone through a lot, and some of his decisions are harsh and mean-spirited. During the book we get to understand what has made him as he is and it is difficult not to feel touched by his narrative, even if we don’t have much in common with him. There are plenty of family secrets revealed, and he learns to let go of the hatred he held for most of his life. The author writes beautifully, and without using complex language manages to convey true feeling and emotions. She gives her character a recognisable and true voice, dry and sharp, with touches of black humour and always understated, even when talking about those dearest to him. There is a beautiful love story at the heart of this novel, and it is very difficult not to feel moved by it. As for the ending… I won’t discuss it in detail, but I don’t think it will come as a surprise to most readers, although what might be surprising is how we feel about it by then.

Although the author is well-known, this is her first novel, and it is a thing of beauty, poetic and sincere. Here I share some examples of her writing:

It’s an awful thing, to witness your mother cry. You cannot cure nor mend nor stick a plaster on.

Forty-nine years ago, I met Molly, and only for fifteen minutes. But she has lived in this dilapidated heart of mine ever since.

I watched her skin survive the years, softly, folding upon itself. I touched it often, still hopelessly loving every bit of her, every line that claimed her, every new mark that stamped its permanency.

Loneliness, that fecker again, wreaking havoc on us mortals. It’s worse than any disease, gnawing away at our bones as we sleep, plaguing our minds when awake.

These past two years have been rotten. I’ve felt the ache of her going in my very bones. Every morning, every hour of every day I’ve dragged her loss around with me. The worst thing has been the fear that I’ll wake one morning and she’ll be gone from my memory forever, and that, son, that, I just can’t do.

This is a gorgeous book that touches on important subjects and deep feelings without going over the top and being sugary sweet. It is not a page turner plot-wise, and there isn’t much action (other than in some of the memories), so it will not suit readers who are looking for a fast plot. But anybody who loves a character-driven novel, enjoys savouring the quality and poetry of good writing and is looking for new authors will have a field day. I am going to follow Anne Griffin’s career with interest, and I expect to hear great things from her.

Thanks to NetGalley, to the publisher and to the author for this fabulous book, thanks to all of you for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click, review and keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews Tuesday Book Blog

#TuesdayBookBlog TALES FROM THE IRISH GARDEN by Sally Cronin (@sgc58) (@DonataEZawadzka). #fairytales A magical book for readers young at heart.

Hi all:

Today I bring you a review for a book written by an author who is a great favourite with many of us, Sally Cronin. She has a fabulous blog where she shares her knowledge of all things and also features writers, musicians, illustrators… She is always cooking up new schemes to help readers find independent books, and if you’re a reader, a writer, or anybody, you have to check her blog.

She has featured most of my books, if not all, and has kindly included me in many of her campaigns and blog parties. I was also privileged to translate the first book in this collection into Spanish. If you know anybody who might enjoy the Spanish version, you can read all about it here.

And after so much blah, blah, here is my review. I thank Sally for allowing me to feature one of the wonderful illustrations by Donata Zawadzka as well.

Tales From the Irish Garden by Sally Cronin  (Author), Donata Zawadzka (Illustrator)
Tales From the Irish Garden by Sally Cronin (Author), Donata Zawadzka (Illustrator)

Tales From the Irish Garden by Sally Cronin  (Author), Donata Zawadzka (Illustrator)

The queen of Magia and her court have fled their sun-filled Spanish homeland and the palace beneath the magnolia tree.

Arriving on the backs of geese and swans, they seek sanctuary in the magic garden of The Storyteller who welcomes them to the Emerald Island, a place where rain is almost a daily feature.

Grateful for their safe haven and the generosity of their host, the queen and her courtiers embrace their new surroundings with delight.
As the seasons change throughout the year, they come into contact with many of the human and animal inhabitants of the garden and the surrounding forest, all of whom have a story to tell.

This is a magical fairy story infused with fantasy and romance, as well as opportunities for mischief in the company of goblins, witches and Lerpersians.

Links:

https://www.amazon.com/Tales-Irish-Garden-Sally-Cronin-ebook/dp/B07HMXTFKG/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tales-Irish-Garden-Sally-Cronin-ebook/dp/B07HMXTFKG/

Author Sally Cronin
Author Sally Cronin

About the author:

I have been a storyteller most of my life (my mother called them fibs!). Poetry, song lyrics and short stories were left behind when work and life intruded, but that all changed in 1996. My first book Size Matters was a health and weight loss book based on my own experiences of losing 70kilo. I have written another ten books since then on health and also fiction including three collections of short stories. I am an indie author and proud to be one. My greatest pleasure comes from those readers who enjoy my take on health, characters and twisted endings… and of course come back for more.

REVIEWS are so very important for an author and I am very grateful for the feedback that my books receive. If you have purchased or been gifted one of my books I would love to hear what you think about it.

As a writer I know how important it is to have help in marketing books.. as important as my own promotion is, I believe it is important to support others. I offer a number of FREE promotional opportunities on my blog and linked to my social media. If you are an author who would like to be promoted to a new audience of dedicated readers, please contact me via my blog. All it will cost you is a few minutes of your time. Look forward to hearing from you.

My blog is https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com

And for more information on my books listed here at Amazon please visit
https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/my-books/

My review:

I received an ARC copy of this book from the publisher, and I freely decided to review it.

I have followed the author’s blog Smorgasbord Invitation for quite a while. She is an expert on many topics, including health, media, publishing, and she is a great supporter of other writers and artists. She has also published a large number of books, non-fiction and fiction, and she has shared many of her short stories in her blog. I read and reviewed her book Tales from the Garden a while back (you can check my review here) and had been looking forward to this book since I heard about it.

While the original book contained pictures from the author and her relatives’ gardens, for this book she counts with the collaboration of talented illustrator Donata Zawadzka, who provides a black and white ink illustration for each one of the stories/chapters of this enchanting book. The style of the illustrations suits this wonderful realm perfectly, and the images helped bring the stories to life more fully.

Jeremy the baby donkey, illustration by Donata Zawadzka
Jeremy the baby donkey, illustration by Donata Zawadzka

The book follows on from the stories of the fairy realm of Magia. Queen Filigree and her subjects have to leave their garden in Spain due to a new property development. Although some of her stone guardians cannot follow to the new location, in Ireland, we get to meet some fantastic new characters, like the Storyteller, a man with his own magic, who helps our friends in need. We have a prince charming for the queen, magical dressmakers; we also learn more about how the palace works, from the royal pigeons and their carer, to the magical spiders, Queen Bee and her subjects, and the frogs who also help with pest control and building work. Some of our old acquaintances are up to no good, and we also learn more about the queen’s daughters (pretty but not always wise).

The stories follow the seasons of the year, and we have many occasions to join in their celebrations, with new musicians and banquets, and we can enjoy stories set in particular times of the year, from local fairs to Halloween. I cannot choose a favourite because I enjoyed them all, from the piglet races to the touching story of the Storytellers’ daughter.

The style of writing is accessible, fluid and suitable to all ages. These fairy-tales contain gorgeous descriptions of places, costumes, foods, and also characters that go beyond the standard cardboard cut-outs we have come to expect. We have witches suffering from age-related aches and pains, princesses who care for each other but can get into serious trouble, fairy queens concerned about their age, foxes that refuse to kill other animals, jealous bulls… Only some human beings are allowed into the magical realm, and I felt privileged to be one of them.

Another magical book from this author, suitable for anybody who is a child at heart and needs a little inspiration to recover the sense of wonder. Queen Filigree has a magical fountain, and we have Sally Cronin’s books to ensure our imagination keeps us forever young. Highly recommended to everybody.

Thanks to Sally for her book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, review, and keep smiling!

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#TuesdayBookBlog TEARAGH’T by Craig Newnes (@TheRealPressPub). #Historicalfiction with a difference. One story, two narrators, two styles, and many questions. #RBRT

Hi all:

I bring you a very special book today. Published by The Real Press. You can check them up here.

Tearagh't by Craig Newnes
Tearagh’t by Craig Newnes

Tearagh’t by Craig Newnes

After the remains of the Armada hobbled back to Spain, an extraordinary document – part diary, part love letter – is discovered on a remote island off the coast of Ireland. When it is translated, it reveals – not treachery nor evidence of Spanish military ambition – but something about the human condition. Because love, loss, laughter and the madness of war are all in Tearagh’t.

This is an evocative and passionate novel, like no other in its ability to take you into another age. The author has developed a whole new language, which brings the experience of being on a ship in the Armada alive, as it battles its way down the English Channel, interspersed by some strange, incognito runs ashore. The diary is complicated by the Jewish origins of the narrator and his conversation in his head with his lover back home in sixteenth-century Spain. But the lover, as it turns out, is also thinking about him – and she sounds remarkably modern…

Will Isidore and his great love ever be reunited? Can that kind of passion ever be kept apart? Yet there is Isidore in his remote island prison – how is anything else possible? Then fate takes a peculiar hand…

“Falling in love isn’t in your control. It’s a wonderfully accurate phrase, isn’t it? You fall, with amazing luck, you both fall into it. It’s like a bottomless, heavenly well. You both tumble, then plunge. Down and down. Holding hands … but luck never holds you. One day, one of you hits the side of the well. The other keeps falling, always hurting – knowing your souls are no longer bound, no longer one in this life. That somewhere, far above you, lies the broken body that can only be touched now in dreams.”

“Sexy, gripping, brilliant…” Abigail Bray

https://www.amazon.com/Tearaght-Craig-Newnes-ebook/dp/B076GSQWG3/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tearaght-Craig-Newnes-ebook/dp/B076GSQWG3/

Author and critical psychologist Craig Newnes
Author and critical psychologist Craig Newnes

About the author:

Craig Newnes is an author, editor, musician, dad and gardener. He has six children and spends his time between the UK and France. Until retiring after a near-fatal road accident he was a Consulting Critical Psychologist and Director of Psychological Therapies for Shropshire’s Mental Health (NHS) Trust. He has published numerous book chapters and academic articles and is editor of The Journal of Critical Psychology, Counselling and Psychotherapy. His books include Clinical Psychology: A critical examination from PCCS Books and the edited volumes: Making and Breaking Children’s Lives; Spirituality and Psychotherapy; This is Madness: A critical look at psychiatry and the future of mental health services; This is Madness Too: A further critical look at mental health services. His latest books are Children in Society: Politics, policies and interventions. (PCCS Books: 2015), Inscription, Diagnosis and Deception in the Mental Health Industry: How Psy governs us all. (Palgrave Macmillan: 2016) and an edited collection, Teaching Critical Psychology: International perspectives (Routledge: 2017). A book on the Malaysian Emergency, the novel Paris and a Critical A-Z of ECT are due in 2018.

Tracks from his band Sandghosts are available from Amazon.

Like all of us, he lives in a constant whirl of today and yesterday and sometimes he stops for a moment to write it down.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Craig-Newnes/e/B00J6XHFAK/

The author explains this novel’s writing process in this article (although I did not read it until after writing the review, so you might want to save it:

“On Writing Tearagh’t” A Guest Post By Craig Newnes

My review:

This is a puzzling book. On the one hand, there is the story it tells, that is fascinating but not complex to explain and summarise. The book is divided into three parts, and tells the story of two lovers, living in XVI century Spain, both conversos (Jews who converted to Catholicism, although, at least in their case and that of their families, they remain Jews, only they practice their religion in secret, to avoid the Inquisition and the risk of being expelled from the country). The man, Isidore, enlisted in the Spanish Armada, to see the world, although he was never convinced of the logic of that war. The first part consists of a partial diary of his adventures, both at sea and later in Tearaght (an Irish island, the westernmost of the Blasket Islands), that was recovered by a sailor and translated into English, a peculiar English (that I understand the author acknowledges is his own creation and a reimagining of how the Old English mixed with the original Spanish might have sounded like). The second part is the story of his lover, Beatriz, pregnant when he leaves, and her life back in Spain, constantly wondering where he might be and waiting for his news. In contrast, her story is told in modern English, and is very modern indeed, with plenty of detail of what her life is like, her lifestyle (including going out with female friends, drinking, talking about sex a lot, and thinking about it, later having a baby boy, and being pressurised into a possibly advantageous marriage), and a third part, much shorter, again written by the woman, who must make a decision when she discovers her lover’s diary. Will she go after him and try to find him? Or will she marry a rich man to make sure their son is safe and has the best possible start in life? This brief part is written in a similar style to the first.

Isidore’s story is heart-wrenching. It is a story of adventures, male friendship (international, as there are men from everywhere aboard the ships, and they even meet friendly English men later, and also men from all walks of life such as sailors, soldiers, writers (Lope de Vega makes an appearance, Cervantes is mentioned more than once, and later on Kid and, of course, Shakespeare). Rather than a factual and aggrandising story (HIStory), there is much discussion about emotions, confidences, feelings, and much self-doubt. Although there are funny moments interspersed in the narrative (mostly because it does not follow a chronological order), there are, mostly, terrible times. Death, disaster, and sadness abound, and it seems that all that keeps him alive is his hope to see his beloved again. There are incredibly sad and touching moments in this part of the book, and although, as I said, the language is mock-Ole-English, once we get used to it (saying it out loud in your head helps), it is easy to follow, even taking into account that it is not in the right order and we jump backwards and forward in time. And, although he does refer to his lover often, the style and the discourse seems to be in keeping with what readers would expect of a well-researched historical novel set at that time. However, the style is more intimate and personal, and more emotional, than what we would expect in a male narrative of the period.

I think most readers will wonder why the woman’s story is written in such a different way, as the change feels like a jolt, and at first I wondered if it was set in a different historical period, but as we read on it is evident it is the account of Isidore’s lover, Beatriz.  A common thread of both stories is the need of the protagonists to write. While for the man, although he questions his merits, it is more acceptable (and they even call him a writer), the woman describes how, sometimes, her need to write makes her stop what she is doing, her chores, to write, even if it is only about her chores. She does not have great adventures to write about, indeed. Does that mean she should not write? Both stories also talk about camaraderie, in the case of the men between those defending a mission and a vision, even if they don’t believe in it. The women talk about women’s things. Men, childbirth, marriage, romance, sex… A women’s sphere, especially at the time, was more personal and intimate (although, of course, Elizabeth I was the Queen of England, so there were some, very few, women in high places). The modern style Beatriz’s story is written in and the fact that it contains topics we find difficult to imagine writing about at the time, especially when the writer is a woman, seem designed to challenge our prejudices. Are old-style writing (more in keeping with what we imagine a historically accurate discourse would be like, even when we know it is, at least in part, invented) and a male protagonist immediately given more authority than a narrative of the period written in a modern style by a female protagonist? (The subjects discussed and the openness of the talk about sex between the women gave me pause. I am aware that personal letters, and in this case, a diary written for her lover, can be much more open and direct than we would expect of the period, although I wondered more about some of the other topics, like the fact that single mothers seem fully accepted and she is not short on offers of marriage, even after having had a child out of wedlock). She describes her process of analysis, the way she decides to study her thoughts and feelings, and indeed her lovers, and also mentions that other women do the same, therefore challenging gender expectations (women are supposed to be romantic and not be open or matter-of-fact about love or sex). We also have the writer becoming the reader later on when she gets hold of her lover’s diary. The third part, although penned by Beatriz, is written in the same language as the first. Is this a way of connecting with him, of communicating her official decision, of gaining authority? Knowing the field of study and work of the author (Critical Psychology) one can’t help but wonder. (And, perhaps overanalysing things, as I am Spanish I could not help but think that some of the expressions she uses and discusses in detail, like “falling in love”, that she feels is very apt, would not work in Spanish. Could that mean she is writing it in English, or rewriting it later? Does she indeed go looking for him, even after the ending? Or is it another way the author uses to remind us it is a story and to make us pay attention to the process of reading?)

A book that contains a fascinating story (with a fascinating historical background and some fabulous characters, both real and imagined) written in an even more fascinating narrating style(s). Although the first part, once one gets used to the language, will grip most readers, quite a few might struggle to see how the two parts fit together (even if the characters do). A novel for those who want to try new reading experiences and check non-conventional types of writing. A word of warning, there is plenty of explicit violence, swear words, and discussions of sexual matters. An author and publisher well-worth keeping an eye on.

Thanks to the publisher and to Rosie’s Book Review Team for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I gladly chose to review. (Authors, if you are interested in getting your books reviewed, check here).

Rather than try and offer you a sample of the writing, you can check it here:

Thanks to the publisher, the author, and Rosie for this book, thanks to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and REVIEW!

[amazon_link asins=’1138288349,1906254591,189805925X,1250047129,B00QCG47ZA,0299142345,0801890357,0982065779′ template=’ProductCarousel’ store=’wwwauthortran-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’2d1bfe1f-010a-11e8-9ae4-a3dfb3d06419′]

Categories
Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview DAYS WITHOUT END by Sebastian Barry (@FaberBooks) A Western, a Civil War novel, and a love story whose narrator you won’t forget. #historicalfiction #Iamreading

Hi all:

Those of you who follow my blog will know I had been trying to catch up on some of the books that had made initially the long-list and later the short-list of the Man-Booker Prize. Now we have a winner, George Saunder’s Lincoln in the Bardo. It is not one of the novels I read but it sounds very interesting. Congratulations to the author.

I realised that I had missed one of the books in the long-list that didn’t make it into the short-list, and as it had very good reviews, and for completion’s sake, I decided to read it. And yes, I loved it.

Days without End by Sebastian Barry
Days without End by Sebastian Barry

Days without End by Sebastian Barry

Winner of the 2016 Costa Book of the Year
Winner of the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2017
Winner of the Independent Bookshop Week Book Award 2017
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017

‘Pitch perfect, the outstanding novel of the Year.’ Observer

After signing up for the US army in the 1850s, aged barely seventeen, Thomas McNulty and his brother-in-arms, John Cole, fight in the Indian Wars and the Civil War. Having both fled terrible hardships, their days are now vivid and filled with wonder, despite the horrors they both see and are complicit in. Then when a young Indian girl crosses their path, the possibility of lasting happiness seems within reach, if only they can survive.

 

https://www.amazon.com/Days-Without-End-Sebastian-Barry-ebook/dp/B01FWPGBE6/

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Days-Without-End-Sebastian-Barry-ebook/dp/B01FWPGBE6/

Editorial Reviews

Review

“A haunting archeology of youth . . . Barry introduces a narrator who speaks with an intoxicating blend of wit and wide-eyed awe, his unsettlingly lovely prose unspooling with an immigrant’s peculiar lilt and a proud boy’s humor. But in this country’s adolescence he also finds our essential human paradox, our heartbreak: that love and fear are equally ineradicable.”—Katy Simpson Smith, The New York Times Book Review

Days Without End is suffused with joy and good spirit . . . Through Barry, the frontiersman has a poet’s sense of language . . . If you underlined every sentence in Days Without End that has a rustic beauty to it, you’d end up with a mighty stripy book.”—Sarah Begley, Time

“Mr. Barry’s frontier saga is a vertiginous pile-up of inhumanity and stolen love: gore-soaked and romantic, murderous and musical . . . The rough-hewn yet hypnotic voice that Mr. Barry has fashioned carries the novel from the staccato chaos of battle to wistful hymns to youth . . . an absorbing story that sets the horrors of history against the consolations of hearth and home.” —Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal

“Alternately brutal and folksy . . . Barry’s prose can take brilliant turns without sounding implausible coming out of Thomas’s mouth. A mordant vein of comedy runs through the book . . . the ‘wilderness of furious death’ his characters inhabit has a gut-punching credibility.”
—Michael Upchurch, The Washington Post

“A true leftfield wonder: Days Without End is a violent, superbly lyrical western offering a sweeping vision of America in the making, the most fascinating line-by-line first person narration I’ve come across in years.”—Kazuo Ishiguro, Booker Prize winning author of The Remains of the Day and The Buried Giant

“Sebastian Barry had me in no uncertain terms from the first sentence and never let up. And he writes like there’s no tomorrow—like there are days without end. He navigates the terrain as a master of fictional conventions and sweeps us along in a big picaresque arc that is just the right vessel for his thematic necessities.” —David Guterson, author of Snow Falling on Cedars

“Powerful and unsettling, an important look at one of history’s most regrettable chapters.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune

“A tour de force of style and atmosphere . . . Evocative of Cormac McCarthy and Charles Portis, Days Without End is a timeless work of historical fiction.”—Booklist (Starred Review)

“A lively, richly detailed story . . . A pleasure for fans of Barry and his McNulty stories.” –Kirkus Reviews (Starred Review)

Incredible . . . poetic . . . Remarkable . . . A gorgeous book about love and guilt, and duty to family.”—Book Riot’s “All The Books!”

Days Without End is a work of staggering openness; its startlingly beautiful sentences are so capacious that they are hard to leave behind, its narrative so propulsive that you must move on. In its pages, Barry conjures a world in miniature, inward, quiet, sacred; and a world of spaces and borders so distant they can barely be imagined. Taken as a whole, his McNulty adventure is experimental, self-renewing, breathtakingly exciting. It is probably not ended yet.”—Alex Clark, Guardian

“A crowning achievement.”—Justine Jordan, The Guardian

“Barry writes with a gloomy gloriousness: everyone that crosses his pages is in mortal danger, but there’s an elegant beauty even in the most fraught moments.”—Library Journal

“Thomas’s first-person narration sings with wonder at the beauty of the world and their place in it . . . Sebastian Barry balances gruesome depictions of massacres, near-starvation and Civil War battles with poetic phrasing and exclamations of joy at the wonders of nature and the gift of life . . . painful and beautiful novel.”—Shelf Awareness

“A lyrical, violent, touching book that is a war story, and a surprising love story. . . Barry, the Irish author, presents his tale in language that recalls great American writers, from Walt Whitman to Stephen Crane to Cormac McCarthy . . . Barry’s lyrical prose is full of fire and tenderness, violence and compassion, providing a sweeping and intimate vision of America’s conquest and its continuing search for identity.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch

“An absorbing novel… By making all of his characters rounded, full-blooded human beings, [Barry] has accomplished that thing – inclusion, I think we call it now – that art, particularly fiction, does best…The writing is unflaggingly vital; sentence after sentence fragment leaps out with surprises.”—The Bay Area Reporter

“Some novels sing from the first line, with every word carrying the score to a searing climax, and Days Without End is such a book. It has the majestic inevitability of the best fiction, at once historical but also contemporary in its concerns … Days Without End is pitch-perfect, the outstanding novel of the year so far.”—Observer

“For its exhilarating use of language alone, Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End stood out among the year’s novels. Epic in conception but comparatively brief in its extent, this brutal, beautiful book also features the year’s most beguiling narrator … A great American novel which happens to have been written by an Irishman.”—The Times Literary Supplement

“The novel comes close to being a modern masterpiece. Written in a style that is as delicate and economical as a spider’s web, it builds to a climax that is as brutally effective as a punch to the gut.”—The Times (UK)

“Remarkable … Life-affirming in the truest and best ways.”—Stephanie Cross, Daily Mail

“Epic, lyrical and constantly surprising … a rich and satisfying novel.”—Jeff Robson, Independent

“A beautiful, savage, tender, searing work of art. Sentence after perfect sentence it grips and does not let go.”—Donal Ryan, author of The Spinning Heart, winner of the Guardian first book award

Author Sebastian Barry
Author Sebastian Barry

About the author:

Sebastian Barry was born in Dublin in 1955. His plays include Boss Grady’s Boys (1988), The Steward of Christendom (1995), Our Lady of Sligo (1998) and The Pride of Parnell Street (2007). His novels include The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty (1998), Annie Dunne (2002), A Long Long Way (2005) and The Secret Scripture (2008). He has won, among other awards, the Irish-America Fund Literary Award, the Christopher Ewart-Biggs Prize, the London Critics Circle Award and the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Prize. A Long Long Way, which was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Dublin International Impac Prize, was the Dublin: One City One Book choice for 2007. The Secret Scripture won the Costa Book of the Year Award, the Irish Book Awards for Best Novel and the Independent Booksellers Prize. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award, Christopher Ewart-Biggs award and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. He lives in Wicklow with his wife and three children.

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sebastian-Barry/e/B001HD0UCC/

My review:

Those of you who follow my blog will know I had been trying to catch up on some of the books that had made initially the long-list and later the short-list of the Man-Booker Prize. Now we have a winner, George Saunder’s Lincoln in the Bardo. It is not one of the novels I read but it sounds very interesting. Congratulations to the author.

I realised that I had missed one of the books in the long-list that didn’t make it into the short-list, and as it had very good reviews, and for completion’s sake, I decided to read it. And yes, I loved it.

I had not read any books by Sebastian Barry before, and when I read some of the reviews of this book I realised that the author has been chronicling, in some of his novels, the story of two Irish families. One of the protagonists of this story, and its narrator, Thomas McNulty, is a descendant of one of these families. Rest assured that you don’t need to have read Barry’s other novels to enjoy this one (I didn’t find out about this until I had finished reading it) but now that I know I confess I’d like to see how they all relate to each other.

Thomas is a young boy who ends up in America fleeing the Irish famine and we follow him through his many adventures. Very early on he meets a slightly older boy, John Cole, and they are inseparable throughout the story, or almost. In XIX century America they live through many experiences: they take to the stage dressed as girls to entertain miners (who have no women around); when they are old enough they join the army and fight in the Indian Wars. They later go back to the stage, this time with Thomas playing the girl (a part he enjoys), John her suitor and an Indian girl they’ve adopted, Winona, as their side act. As times get harder, they go back to the army, this time fighting for the North in the Civil War. And… it goes on.

The book is narrated in the first person by Thomas, who has a very peculiar voice, full of expressions appropriate to the historical era, some Irish terms, colloquialisms, witty and humorous saying, poetic passages and amateur philosophical reflexions. In some ways it reminded me of novels narrated by tricksters or other adventurers (I’ve seen people mention Huckleberry Finn, although the characters and the plot are quite different and so is the language used), but although Thomas is somebody determined to survive and easy-going, he never wishes anybody harm and seems warm and kind-hearted, even if he sometimes ends up doing things he lives to regret. I know some readers don’t enjoy first-person narrations. Whilst it can put you right inside the skin of the character, it also makes it more difficult to get to know other characters and if you don’t like the way a character talks, well, that’s it. Although I really enjoyed Thomas and the use of language, I know it won’t be for everybody, so I recommend checking it out first. Some reviews say that he is too articulate, but although we don’t know all the details of the character’s background, he is clearly literate and corresponds and talks to people from all walks of life through the book (poets, actors, priests, the major and his wife). And he is clearly clever, quick, and a good observer.

Although the story is set in America in mid-XIX century and recounts a number of historical events, these are told from a very special perspective (this is not History with a capital H, but rather an account of what somebody who had to live through and endure situations he had no saying on felt about the events), and this is not a book I would recommend to readers looking for a historical treatise. Yes, Thomas and John Cole love each other and have a relationship through the whole book and Thomas wears a dress often. There is little made of this and Thomas is better at talking about events and other people than at discussing his own feelings (and that, perhaps, makes the snippets he offers us all the more touching). Although perhaps the historical accuracy of some parts of the story (mostly about the characters’ relationship) stretches the imagination, the descriptions of the battles of the Indian Wars and the Civil War, and especially the way those involved in them felt, are powerful and evocative, horrible and heart-wrenching. There are no true heroes or villains, just people who play their parts as cogs in machines they don’t understand. (There are funny moments like when quite a racist character discovers that he’s fighting in the pro-abolition side. His reason for fighting is because the major he’d fought under in the Indian Wars asked him to. He never thought to ask what the war was about). Thomas reflects at times upon the similarities between what is happening there and what had happened in Ireland and does not miss the irony of the situation.

I had problems choosing some quotations from the book as I’d highlighted quite a lot of it, but here go:

If you had all your limbs they took you. If you were a one-eyed boy they might take you too even so. The only pay worse than the worst pay in America was army pay.

We were two wood-shavings of humanity in a rough world.

The bottom was always falling out of something in America far as I could see.

Every little thing she says has grammar in it, she sounds like a bishop.

Things just go on. Lot of life is just like that. I look back over fifty years of life and wonder where the years went. I guess they went like that, without me noticing much. A man’s memory might have only a hundred clear days in it and he has lived thousands. Can’t do much about that.

There’s no soldier don’t have a queer little spot in his wretched heart for his enemy, that’s just a fact. Maybe only on account of him being alive in the same place and at the same time and we are all just customers of the same three-card trickster. Well, who knows the truth of it all.

He is as dapper as a mackerel.

How we going to count all the souls to be lost in this war?

Men so sick they are dying of death. Strong men to start that are hard to kill.

Killing hurts the heart and soils the soul.

I loved the story and the characters and I hope to read more novels by Barry in the future. I recommend it to readers who enjoy historical fiction and westerns, with a big pinch of salt, those who love narrators with a distinctive voice, and fans of Barry. From now on I count myself among them.

Thanks to Faber and Faber and to NetGalley for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Thanks for reading and remember to like, share, comment, click and REVIEW!

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Categories
Book reviews New books

#Bookreviews THE ART OF EXILE. A VAGABOND LIFE by John Freely (@ibtauris) An Extraordinary Life Dedicated to Knowledge, Travel and Writing

Hi all:

As you know on Fridays I share new books and writers (today more than usual, but it’s a busy month). John Freely is not a new writer, far from it, but this is the first book I read by him and I expect now that I’ve discovered him, it won’t be the last one. In case you want to check a bit about him, you can check in Wikipedia or all his books (so far) in Amazon.

The Art of Exile. A Vagabond Life by Dr John Freely
The Art of Exile. A Vagabond Life by Dr John Freely

The Art of Exile. A Vagabond Life. By John Freely

As you set out for Ithaka Hope your road is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery… ‘ Constantine P. Cavafy. By the time he was six, John Freely had crossed the Atlantic four times. His childhood was spent on the mean streets of 1930s Brooklyn, where he scavenged for junk to sell and borrowed money for books; his first love being Homer’s Odyssey. He was 15 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and 17 when he enlisted in the US Navy and embarked on the first great adventure of his life: joining a clandestine unit that helped the Kuomintang fight the Japanese. He served for two years, 96 days in combat and a total of 344 days overseas, which sparked a lifelong passion for travel. Returning home after the war, Freely fell in love with a beautiful girl who sang the blues. His own Penelope. Together they signed a blood pact to spend their life travelling the world. This unforgettable memoir takes the reader from the streets of New York to the corridors of provincial campus life; from World War II in the Pacific to the shores of the Bosphorus and from Ancient Troy to the isles of Dionysus and Ariadne. It is the story of a remarkable odyssey that has spanned nine decades, several continents and one great love. And still the odyssey continues, “as I ponder the meaning of an Ithaka and of exile as an art that takes a lifetime to master.”

Description

John Freely is a renowned travel writer and, as the first to popularise the history of Turkey and the Ottoman Empire for a general audience, he is one of our last great globe-trotting storytellers. After returning home from WW2 aged just 19, he fell in love with a beautiful girl who sang the blues. His own Penelope. Together they signed a blood pact to spend their life travelling the world.

This unforgettable memoir takes the reader from the streets of New York to the corridors of provincial campus life; from World War II in the Pacific to the shores of the Bosphorus and from Ancient Troy to the isles of Dionysus and Ariadne. It is the story of a remarkable odyssey that has spanned nine decades, several continents and one great love.

Advance Praise

“Imagine Zorba the Greek as a wandering Irishman from Brooklyn and you have the beginnings of John Freely. His odyssey has been a wild ride across continents, a microcosm of modern history. Freely is a born storyteller and an expert on everything from mysticism to physics to the back streets of Athens, Istanbul and Venice. The only danger of reading this book is envy for such a dazzling life.” – Stephen Kinzer

“John Freely provides a wonderful portrait of Istanbul and Athens in their bohemian heyday” – Philip Mansel
My review

Thanks to Net Galley and to I.B.Tauris for offering me a copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

I wish (like many of us) I was more of a traveller, but when I received an e-mail about this book, a memoir of sorts of John Freely, I was interested for many reasons. Although I hadn’t read his books, I’m always interested in books about writers (professional deformation, I guess). He’s written extensively about travelling, and as I said before I have a long list of places I’d love to visit, among them many Dr Freely has written about (and I’m always happy to be inspired and encouraged to take up more travel). And the title of the book, ‘the art of exile’ appealed to me because I’ve lived away from my own country for many years and I always feel an affinity for those in similar circumstances, even when their lives and mine couldn’t be more different.

John Freely has written many travel books, although as I understand from his own and others’ descriptions, they are not your standard travel book, but rather investigations and reflections about culture, architecture, literature, music, and he has researched extensively the topics of Istanbul, Greece, Physics, classical history, literature… He is a true polymath, a born lecturer and teacher, and knowledge pours out of every page.

Freely structures the book as an autobiography, and I found the story of his upbringing very touching, as it reflected that of many emigrants from Ireland (but not exclusively) who sailed away searching for a better life elsewhere. History has a way of changing settings and actors but it does indeed repeat itself, as we can see in the continued story of both emigrants and refugees that carries on to the present.

The author doesn’t dwell too much on the difficult circumstances of his childhood and family, lack of money, working as a child and living hand-to-mouth. That was how things were at the time and he was expected to live with it and did the best he could. He went to war when he was only 17 after dropping out of high school, and that was the beginning of a life of travelling. Even in those circumstances he loved books and reading (he had studied with fascination a book about the wonders of the world his grandfather had brought back to Ireland from the Crimean War as a young boy) and he educated himself by reading a catalogue of recommended lectures a military priest gave him whilst traveling to China. Mr Freely is a connector and communicator who made (and I’m sure still makes) friends everywhere he went and was lucky to get and take good advice. He decided to follow some such advice and took advantage of the GI bill; he studied Physics and he did well, as he reflects upon, with surprise, a few times throughout his life. His love for knowledge and his thirst for travelling combined into a lifelong journey and he found a more than willing partner in his wife, Toots.

Although he does not talk in detail about such things as feelings, it’s not difficult to read between the lines and sometimes he says more when he doesn’t elaborate on topics that when he does (his muted comments about his son’s difficulties are an example). His vignettes of early married life and his love for his wife come through loud and clear.

Once the couple move to Istanbul and Dr Freely starts his international teaching career the book becomes a catalogue of trips, not in detail but mostly as itineraries, interspersed with references to his career moves and to his published books. There are brief moments of lyrical descriptions that hint at wonders to be had in the full books, and he ponders upon those moments when they were the only western travellers in some of the locations and they could feel history at its fullest. He quotes the classics and is happy to share the experiences and moments he lived with his friends and collaborators, always giving credit where credit is due. He talks with warmth and affection of the institutions he’s worked in and is always grateful and happy to mention others’ achievements. I could not follow all the itineraries in detail and didn’t always know who everybody was, although it didn’t seem that important. I’m convinced the book would be a great read for those familiar with his work or interested in it that would be able to provide the background and fit all the pieces of the puzzle in, but it would also work well as an introduction to the topic of his books and his life.

There are moments that will feel familiar, easy to connect with and will touch everybody, like his visits to Ireland, back to the old family home, the autobiographical details of life in Ireland and old New York when he was a young man, and the latter part of the book, when his wife becomes ill and dies and he has to carry on the journey alone (not a spoiler as it’s not that kind of story).

I thought I’d share some of his comments towards the end of the book, which I must admit had me in tears (as by then I’d become another exile and vagabond with them). He is talking here about writing this book:

When the book on Homer was finished I began working in earnest on the story of our own odyssey, The Art of Exile, particularly after I looked at a photograph of Toots taken on her 80th birthday, when the sight of her wearing a Byzantine tiara reminded me once again that she was in fact my queen, though I’d had no kingdom to offer her, just a lifelong journey.

Now I have become my own Homer, composing the story of a life perpetually on the move, always an exile…

I’m not sure this is a book for everybody, as it’s full of brief descriptions, names, quotes, dates, and travels, although some parts of it would be enjoyed by most people. Personally, I’d love to go for a walk through Istanbul, Naxos, or anywhere with Dr Freely as a guide, telling me all he knows about the many places he’s visited, and with classical references thrown in too. As I don’t think that’s likely to happen, this book provides a good substitute, and has encouraged me to look into his other books.

And here, I share Dr Feely’s quote of the Odyssey that is perfect for the book.

As you set out for Ithaka

Hope your road is a long one,

full of adventure, full of discovery…

May there be many summer mornings,

when, with what pleasure, what joy,

you enter harbours you’re seeing for the

first time… But don’t hurry the journey,

at all,

Better if it lasts for many years.

So you’re old when you reach the island

… Ithaka gave you the marvellous

journey.

Without her you wouldn’t have set out.

Link:

The book is currently available in hardback copy here (I’m sure it will be published in other formats soon):

https://www.amazon.com/Art-Exile-Vagabond-Life/dp/1784534986/

I read an e-version of the book so I cannot comment on the possible differences between the versions, although being familiar with I. B. Tauris and their work I’m sure it won’t disappoint.

Thanks to I.B. Tauris and John Freely for sharing this journey with us, thanks to you all for reading and please, like, share, comment and CLICK!

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#Freebook tour. Lucky Charms by Louisa Bacio (@Louisabacio) 18th of March last day. Hurry!

Hi all:
As you know on Fridays I usually bring you new books, and today I saw the chance of bringing you a new book (although the story had already been published), free (but only until the 18th inclusive, so hurry), and really appropriate to celebrate St. Patrick’s day. Because who doesn’t need a lucky charm and a bit of the luck of the Irish? Have a very green and lucky day!

lucky-charms_web

Lucky Charms

After Cornelius’s family is jinxed, he suffers from the unluck of the Irish. Forced to spend every St. Patrick’s Day with green hair—and more—Cornelius must convince Jenna of his love when she’s unable to remember him.
Out for a good time and some green beer, Jenna sustains disbelief of not-so-little green leprechauns when she discovers Cornelius’s really big curse.
** Story originally appeared in Lucky Stars Boxset

Lucky Charms

Available via Amazon. http://authl.it/4vz
About the Author:
A Southern California native, Louisa Bacio can’t imagine living far away from the ocean. The multi-published author of erotic romance enjoys writing within all realms – from short stories to full-length novels.
Bacio shares her household with a supportive husband, two daughters growing “too fast,” and a multitude pet craziness: Two dogs, five fish tanks, an aviary, hamsters, rabbits, guinea pigs and hermit crabs. In her other life, she teaches college classes in English, journalism and popular culture.
Contact Details:
Website http://www.louisabacio.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/louisabacio
https://www.facebook.com/Louisabacioauthor/
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/louisabacio
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