The Hoarder written by Jess Kidd

hoarder

Title: The Hoarder
Author: Jess Kidd
Publisher: Canongate Books Ltd.
Date of Publication: 01 February 2018
Number of Pages: 352

Rating: 5 stars

Summary: Maud Drennan is a dedicated caregiver whose sunny disposition masks a deep sadness. A tragic childhood event left her haunted, in the company of a cast of prattling saints who pop in and out of her life like tourists. Other than visiting her agoraphobic neighbour, Maud keeps to herself, finding solace in her work and in her humble existence–until she meets Mr. Flood.

Cathal Flood is a menace by all accounts. The lone occupant of a Gothic mansion crawling with feral cats, he has been waging war against his son’s attempts to put him into an old-age home and sent his last caretaker running for the madhouse. But Maud is this impossible man’s last chance: if she can help him get the house in order, he just might be able to stay. So the unlikely pair begin to cooperate, bonding over their shared love of Irish folktales and mutual dislike of Mr. Flood’s overbearing son.

Still, shadows are growing in the cluttered corners of the mansion, hinting at buried family secrets, and reminding Maud that she doesn’t really know this man at all. When the forgotten case of a missing schoolgirl comes to light, she starts poking around, and a full-steam search for answers begins.

Packed with eccentric charms, twisted comedy, and a whole lot of heart, The Hoarder is a mesmerizing tale that examines the space between sin and sainthood, reminding us that often the most meaningful forgiveness that we can offer is to ourselves.

Review: The Hoarder sucks you into the narrative with the first sentence.

I will sometimes read the first few sentences of a new book just before I go to bed (dangerous I know) and most time I’m able to go, yep, this is going to be good, or no, think I’ll pass and put the book down. This time, I nearly made another cup of tea so that I could curl up on the couch and get started.

There’s a magic that flows out of The Hoarder. It swirls around you. You’re convinced what you’re reading must be based in fact and not coming from the brain of someone far smarter that you can ever hope to be. This is also helped by the believability of the characters; the strangeness of the house that Maud is sent to help clear; the mixed meanings of life and the metaphors that lead us into problems.

The use of Saints is also an intriguing inclusion. I did develop a soft spot for Saint Dymphna and Saint Valentine.

I loved every page of this book and I’m grateful to Netgalley and Jess Kidd for granting me an advanced reader copy.

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2018 Book Awards

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Best NovelA Year of Marvellous Ways by Sarah Winman
Best Male Character – Aaron Falk in The Dry by Jane Harper
Best Female Character – Frankie Shaw in The Turning Point by Freya North
Best Non FictionCommon Ground by Rob Cowen
Best TranslationThe Bird Tribunal by Agnes Ravatn
Most SurprisingLincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
Most BeautifulThe Ballroom by Anna Hope
Most OverratedThe Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
Bad Taste In Your MouthThe Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel
Wooden SpoonPrinter’s Devil Court by Susan Hill

 

 

 

Belated Book Awards – 2017

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Best NovelSugar Money by Jane Harris
Best Male Character – John Grant in Master of Shadows by Neil Oliver
Best Female Character – Isabella, Lady Trent in A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan
Best Non FictionYoung Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore
Best TranslationHex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt
Most SurprisingThe Mare by Mary Gaitskill
Best Fantasy – Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Most OverratedDenial by Deborah E. Lipstadt
Bad Taste In Your MouthSummer Secrets by Jane Green
Wooden SpoonThe Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis

 

 

This Census-Taker written by China Miéville

Title: This Census-Taker

Author: China Miéville

Publisher: Pan Macmillan, Picador

Date of Publication: 25 February 2016

Number of Pages: 210

Rating: 2 stars

Summary: After witnessing a profoundly traumatic event, a boy is left alone in a remote house on a hilltop with his increasingly deranged parent. When a stranger knocks on his door, the boy senses that his days of isolation are over—but by what authority does this man keep the meticulous records he carries? Is he the boy’s friend? His enemy? Or something altogether other?

Title: The Secret Dead

Author: S.J. Parris

Publisher:

Date of Publication: 12 September 2013

Number of Pages: 52

Rating: 4 stars

Summary: Naples, 1566. During a sweltering summer, eighteen-year-old Giordano Bruno takes his final vows at San Domenico Maggiore and is admitted to the Dominican Order – despite doubts over his tendency to ask difficult questions. Assisting in the infirmary, Bruno witnesses an illicit autopsy performed on the body of a young woman. Her corpse reveals a dark secret, and Bruno suspects that hers may not have been an accidental death. His investigation leads him to a powerful figure who wants to keep the truth buried – and Bruno is forced to make a choice between his future in the Order, and justice for an innocent victim and her grieving family…

Review: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS

This is a tale of two books. Two novella. One, a complete story, the other, a vague, rambling and incomplete work.

The premise of Miéville’s story is interesting but the stranger that arrives only does so in the last few pages. At random moments there are cryptic mentions of men who live by the water and that the father’s wife came from a similar region. Nothing is ever confirmed or denied. People randomly come and go and there seems to be no point to any of it.

Overall, there are too many ideas for a novella and none of the threads are tied up neatly.

Is the boy, the storyteller, a man telling us his past or is he still a boy and the reader is a viewer as events unfold?

Where does the story take place? Is it a modern country but one of poverty and class warfare or is it another world entirely?

Why is the strange disappearance of the mother not investigated?

Why is the father allowed to continue his life without seeming to face any censure?

Why does no one think it strange he  makes keys out of random junk?

Why is there a group of kids running around, again, ignored by the adu,its of the town?

Why does the stranger appear, seemingly at random, investigate a deep pit and then convince him to with him to God knows where?

Did anyone else read this as a half thought out commentary on society, misogyny, domestic abuse and kidnapping?

Compare this to Parris’s novella and it’s painfully obvious just how under prepared Miéville’s work is. In The Secret Dead the reader is presented with a neat and precise, start, middle and end. The story, all 52 pages of it is perfectly crafted. It gives the reader a complete story. All the threads are tied up and the only question the reader is left with is, when can I start reading the rest of the series.

I know Miéville didn’t set out to write a bad book as that’s never the intention of a writer but This Census-Taker is a flawed piece of work that simply doesn’t work. I couldn’t recommend it to anyone.

[Review] A Year of Marvellous Ways written by Sarah Winman

sarah winman

Rating: 5 stars

There’s something philosophical about this book. The philosophical idea starts early in the plot and by the middle becomes clearer, until, in the end, you realise it’s about the life in your years that makes your legacy important. I understand that sounds cheesy and glib but let me share my observations.

I like that Marvellous knows when something or someone is coming.
I love that she doesn’t allow doubt to creep into her mind.
I adore that she tells her stories quietly, that they unravel gently and reveal a life lived in such an extraordinary way, she truly lives up to her name.  

Winman spins her tale in such a way that there are multiple beginnings and multiple endings. The chapters, in some ways, mimic life. There are births, there are deaths, there are arguments and wars and all of them build us up into the people we become. You know the story is flowing in a linear way, as years are want to do but it’s the intangible memories and feelings that float through the narrative that really make the connection.

The imagery, too, is incredible. Open to the page where you left off and instantly, you’re embraced back into a reality that is also otherworldly. Marvellous is the daughter or a mermaid, orange starfish deliver messages from her third love, rumour can be caught and turned away before it’s heard; as can doubt.  Hatred doesn’t need much watering or care.

A year of Marvellous Ways is such a beautiful story. Her care of Drake, her care of Peace, the care that Peace provides to Drake and Marvellous. There’s so much heart in this tale. I want to ramble on and on but it won’t help you understand what you haven’t read. All I can say is my heart is full, the ending, that isn’t an ending is beautiful and perfect and I wish there had been more for Winman to tell of this story.

Goodreads Summary: Marvellous Ways is eighty-nine years old and has lived alone in a remote Cornish creek for nearly all her life. Lately, she’s taken to spending her days sitting on a mooring stone by the river with a telescope. She’s waiting for something – she’s not sure what, but she’ll know it when she sees it.

Drake is a young soldier left reeling by the Second World War. When his promise to fulfil a dying man’s last wish sees him wash up in Marvellous’ creek, broken in body and spirit, the old woman comes to his aid.

Title: A Year of Marvellous Ways
Author: Sarah Winman
Publisher: Headline – Tinder Press
Date of Publication: 31 December 2015
Number of Pages: 336

The Child Garden written by Catriona McPherson

Title: The Child Garden

Author: Catriona McPherson

Publisher: Constable (an imprint of Little Brown Group)

Date of Publication: 2015

Number of Pages: 292

 

Rating: 5 stars

 

Summary: Eden was its name. “An alternative school for happy children.” But it closed in disgrace after a student’s suicide. Now it’s a care home, its grounds neglected and overgrown. Gloria Harkness is its only neighbor, staying close to her son who lives there in the home, lighting up her life and breaking her heart each day.

When a childhood friend turns up at her door, Gloria doesn’t hesitate before asking him in. He claims a girl from Eden is stalking him and has goaded him into meeting her at the site of the suicide. Only then, the dead begin to speak—it was murder, they say.

Gloria is in over her head before she can help it. Her loneliness, her loyalty, and her all-consuming love for her son lead her into the heart of a dark secret that threatens everything she lives for.

 

Review: Knickerbocker Gloria, as she was known to her primary school friends is a strange woman but also oddly familiar. I understood her joy at living alone in an old and crumbling house; I understood why she lived with two cats and an elderly dog; I understood her loyalty to her son. I might not have a son but if you’ve got family you love, you know what I’m saying.

Gloria is also very straightlaced and predictable. Perhaps this is why she wanted some adventure. She certainly got it.

The Child Garden is, at moments, completely believable and at others, a real stretch. The fine line McPherson walks is very well managed and while there are characters and scenarios that shouldn’t work, there isn’t a moment where you’re jolted from the narrative wondering what the hell just happened.

This is my second novel by McPherson and it won’t be my last. There’s something about her story telling that just connects with me. The stories haven’t been hard work to follow or difficult to read but its unrelenting and you never really get a chance to settle into one narrative idea. The hard thing for me now Will be deciding which book to find next. I guess I’ll let just have to see what the library has.

The Ballroom written by Anna Hope

Title: The Ballroom

Author: Anna Hope

Publisher: Random House US, Transworld Publishers

Date of Publication: 11 February 2016

Number of Pages: 320

Rating: 5 stars

Disclaimer: Copy provided free by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

Summary: Where love is your only escape ….

1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors, where men and women are kept apart by high walls and barred windows, there is a ballroom vast and beautiful. For one bright evening every week they come together and dance. When John and Ella meet It is a dance that will change two lives forever.

Review: What a gem this book is. It’s wrong to call this story simplistic as it’s far from it, however there’s a charm that takes you by surprise – even in the moments of sadness. Told from the point of view of three characters, each narrated with unique and clear voices, Hope leads us through the trauma, the desperation and the anticipation of freedom that swells from the page.

The moments of brutality that brush against the moments of beauty are astonishing. From start to finish, the words flow over you, surround you and leave you feeling somewhat claustrophobic. Exactly how you might imagine a life inside these walls to feel.

I found myself wanting more but also feeling glad it was finished- especially with that epilogue! Definitely worth taking the time to read.