Big Magic – Elizabeth Gilbert

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Title: Big Magic: Creative living beyond fear
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Publisher:  Riverhead Books
Date of Publication:  22 September 2015
Number of Pages: 288

Rating: 1-star

Summary: Readers of all ages and walks of life have drawn inspiration and empowerment from Elizabeth Gilbert’s books for years. Now this beloved author digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives. Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work,  embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.

Review: Contradictory, condescending, ego driven clap trap. I’m sorry. This book is all the reasons I don’t like self-help books (which this is even though Gilbert claims it’s not).

Big Magic might be just what some people are needing to read. For me it didn’t help and it certainly didn’t make me feel confident in my own creativity. It actually had the opposite effect. Some points;

– I don’t want to feel as though I’m being patronised by someone who keeps calling me “you guys”. I’m not Gilbert’s friend, I’m her reader. I don’t want a relationship with her and I don’t want to be addressed as though she’s some street smart kid talking to the boys.

– The idea that when she embraced another author her idea about the Amazon rainforest deserted her is load of claptrap. What universe is Gilbert living in?

– The self-effacing, faux modest, name dropping was a trope that didn’t work well at any point in the text.

– Conflicting ideas and motivations. Plumbers are necessary but art isn’t. Doesn’t that completely defeat the point of the entire book?

– If you’re going to write what is essentially an autobiography, you need to work really hard to keep the tone right. This book was all about Gilbert. Only about Gilbert and good grief didn’t we know it. Personally, I don’t like autobiographies. They’re dishonest and made up of anecdotes that make the individual look good. Not many are warts and all, to quote Cromwell.

– One reviewer states that the “level of bullshit reached astronomic proportions” and there is just no way to argue this point. It’s 100% true.

– I know I’ll be in the minority for not liking this book and I’m not going to apologise for that. I’m allowed to not like something I’ve read BUT if it does help someone achieve their potential that’s a very good thing.

The Little Paris Bookshop – Nina George

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Title: The Little Paris Bookshop
Author: Nina George
Translator: Simon Pare
Publisher:  Abacus
Date of Publication:  23 April 2015
Number of Pages: 402

Rating: stars

Summary: On a beautifully restored barge on the Seine, Jean Perdu runs a bookshop; or rather a ‘literary apothecary’, for this bookseller possesses a rare gift for sensing which books will soothe the troubled souls of his customers.

The only person he is unable to cure, it seems, is himself. He has nursed a broken heart ever since the night, twenty-one years ago, when the love of his life fled Paris, leaving behind a handwritten letter that he has never dared read. His memories and his love have been gathering dust – until now. The arrival of an enigmatic new neighbour in his eccentric apartment building on Rue Montagnard inspires Jean to unlock his heart, unmoor the floating bookshop and set off for Provence, in search of the past and his beloved.

Review: I cannot stress enough just how freaking fantastic this book is.

Nina George, in translation by the incredible Simon Pare, has written an absolute gem. The Little Paris Bookshop is warm, tender, funny, serious, heart breaking and I could go on. I dearly want to float down the Seine with Monsieur Perdu on the Literary Apothecary.

There were numerous times I highlighted entire passages and single sentences. To share a few;

“Books keep stupidity at bay. And vain hopes. And vain men. They undress you with love, strength and knowledge. It’s love from within. Make your choice: book or…” (Chapter 3)

“’Books were my friends’, said Catherine, and cooled her cheek, which was red from the heat of the cooking, on her wineglass. ‘I think I learned all my feelings from books. In them I loved and laughed and found out more than in my whole non reading life.’” (Chapter 10)

“Homesickness is lovesickness, only worse” (Chapter 14)

“Never listen to fear! Fear makes you stupid.” (Chapter 18)

“The death of our loved ones is merely a threshold between an ending and a new beginning.” (Chapter 44)

There were numerous times I felt my heart was going to explode, such was my emotional investment.

This book is not what the cover suggests.

Never judge.

Going by some of the other reviews on Goodreads, many people fell into the trap of judging a book by its cover and subsequently, they didn’t enjoy themselves. I’m not going to say this is wrong as many a time have I done the same thing. What I try to do is be self-reflexive and engaged with the text. It seems to me that many of the one star reviews wanted something cute and are simply bitter because they didn’t get it. It also makes me sad when the comments to some of the negative reviews are just bitching and whining about how the writer didn’t write what they wanted. I wish I could say there was any change in this recurring them but there isn’t. I’m so annoyed with the negative reviews. The writer writes for themselves, not for someone they will never meet.

This is also a very French, or really German to be correct about the authors nationality, book. There is something about the French / European method of teaching that creates incredibly unique literary voices. I don’t read them as often as I should because they’re not always easy to get in translation and in some cases, haven’t been translated but this is the challenge. If you want cutesy chick lit, there is an overabundance of the stuff. If you want intelligent, well thought out fiction, this is your best choice.

Me, I didn’t want to read anything for a week once I finished.

Thanks, Nina.

 Read Between: 09-10 August 2016

 

Her Name is Rose – Christine Breen

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Title: Her Name is Rose
Author: Christine Breen
Publisher: St Martin’s Press
Date of Publication: 14 April 2015
Number of Pages: 304

Rating: 4-star

Summary: People used to say Iris Bowen was beautiful, what with the wild weave of her red hair, the high cheekbones, and the way she carried herself like a barefoot dancer through the streets of Ranelagh on the outskirts of Dublin city. But that was a lifetime ago.

In a cottage in the west of Ireland, Iris–gardener and mother to an adopted daughter, Rose–is doing her best to carry on after the death of her husband two years before. At the back of her mind is a promise she never intended to keep, until the day she gets a phone call from her doctor.

Meanwhile, nineteen-year-old Rose is a brilliant violinist at the Royal Academy in London, still grieving for her father but relishing her music and life in the city. Excited but nervous, she hums on the way to an important master class, and then suddenly finds herself missing both of her parents when the class ends in disaster.

After the doctor’s call, Iris is haunted by the promise she made to her husband–to find Rose’s birth mother, so that their daughter might still have family if anything happened to Iris. Armed only with a twenty-year-old envelope, Iris impulsively begins a journey into the past that takes her to Boston and back, with unexpected results for herself and for Rose and for both friends and strangers.

Review: I’m lost for words at how perfectly this book came together. The story, the writing, the ending – all made me so happy. This is a love story that goes beyond what the tabloids and soap operas would have us believe. Iris is so strong and so protective of her adoptive daughter. There isn’t much she wouldn’t do. This story, while it’s primarily about her journey after worrying medical results, is also about the connections we have with others in the world. Breen makes you remember how little harm it does to do someone a good turn, without judgement. I still smile at the joy poured into this book.

There were a few chronological problems and a few strange descriptive terms but as this is an advanced reader copy, I’m sure someone spotted them before publication.

If you like Maeve Binchy, Cathy Kelly or Monica McInerney, I think you’ll like Her name is Rose.

Read Between: 08-09 August 2016

 

 

A Sparrow in Terezin – Kristy Cambron

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Title: A Sparrow in Terezin
Author: Kristy Cambron
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Date of Publication: 07 April 2015
Number of Pages: 368

Rating: stars

Summary: Bound together across time, two women will discover a powerful connection through one survivor’s story of hope in the darkest days of a war-torn world.

Present Day: With the grand opening of her new art gallery and a fairy tale wedding just around the corner, Sera James feels like she’s stumbled into a charmed life until a brutal legal battle against fiance William Hanover threatens to destroy their future before it even begins.

Now, after an eleventh-hour wedding ceremony and a callous arrest, William faces a decade in prison for a crime he never committed, and Sera must battle the scathing accusations that threaten her family and any hope for a future with the man she loves.

1942: Kaja Makovsky narrowly escaped Nazi-occupied Prague in 1939 and was forced to leave behind her half-Jewish family. Now a reporter for The Daily Telegraph in England, Kaja discovers the terror has followed her across the Channel in the shadowy form of the London Blitz. When she learns Jews are being exterminated by the thousands on the continent, she has no choice but to return to her mother city, risking her life to smuggle her family to freedom and peace.

Connecting across a century through one little girl, a Holocaust survivor with a foot in each world, these two women will discover a kinship that springs even in the darkest of times. In this tale of hope and survival, Sera and Kaja must cling to the faith that sustains them and fight to protect all they hold dear even if it means placing their own futures on the line

Review: Kristy Cambron is a story teller. You can’t help but love her stories.

I have a rule for reading books supplied via Netgalley and it’s simple. I sort the list by publication date and read the earliest result. For weeks I could see Sparrow moving up the list but never quite becoming the next read. I knew it was going to be worth the wait to hang out with Sera and William again but it didn’t ease the frustration. I knew though that because I was going on annual leave, I would be able to read it uninterrupted.

The first page of Sparrow was read the afternoon I reached Krakow, Poland and all the pieces fell into place. Terezin, or Theresienstadt in German, was another of the Nazi concentration camps and on 7 August I was going to pay my respects at Auschwitz. Suddenly, it all made sense – at least to me, why I would have waited until now to open this book.

Immediately I was lost in the world of Kaja and the Blitz. Immediately I was back with friends, Sera and William.

I can’t really think what to write as a constructive and useful review though. I got so much out of the book and seems too personal to share on the web that I hesitate to write the words.

Are there a few niggles with the overall book? Yes. Are they too numerous to ruin the overall impact? No way! Not even close.

When I reviewed The Butterfly and the Violin I mentioned that the book wouldn’t be for anyone with an aversion to a Christian message and I will re-state that here. BUT if you are looking for a book that speaks of the beauty I like to hope all souls have, then you need to pick Sparrow up, lock your door, ignore the world and read.

For me, A Sparrow in Terezin was a cleansing experience, it gave me hope and it left me with a cathartic period of ugly crying and after only a single day at Auschwitz, it was exactly what was needed.

I said on Instagram that if Kristy was happy to keep writing I was happy to keep reading and I stand by this. I can’t wait to read The Ringmaster’s Wife and The Illusionist’s Apprentice.

Thank you, Kristy. Thanks you, Thomas Nelson. Thanks you, Netgalley.

Read Between: 06-07 August 2016

 

The Ladies of the House – Molly McGrann

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Title: The Ladies of the House
Author: Molly McGrann
Publisher: Picador
Date of Publication: 26 March 2015
Number of Pages: 256

Rating: 4-star

Summary: On a sweltering July day, three people are found dead in a dilapidated house in London’s elegant Primrose Hill. Reading the story in a newspaper as she prepares to leave the country, Marie Gillies has an unshakeable feeling that she is somehow to blame.

How did these three people come to live together, and how did they all die at once? The truth lies in a very different England, in the double life of Marie’s father Arthur, and in the secret world of the ladies of the house . . .
Review: I’m not entirely sure what I read but I enjoyed it.

Yes, there are moments where you think “that’s not nice” or “geez, why am I still reading this” etc but the story is so well told and the writing is really vivid, engaging and clear. I felt as though I could see every detail – from the bedrooms to the biscuit crumbs. Looking over the reviews of other readers, it seems we are split down the middle of liking of loathing. Ladies is one of those books where you need to be in the right emotional / psychological mind set to finish. I know from experience, that if your own circumstances aren’t right, certain books simply act as triggers for more stress (or any other negative adjective) but if you leave them six months, all the original niggles are gone.

This book was a gamble request on Netgalley and it didn’t disappoint.

Read Between: 01-06 August 2016

 

The Museum of Extraordinary Things – Alice Hoffman

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Title: The Museum of Ordinary Things
Author: Alice Hoffman
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Date of Publication: 18 February 2014
Number of Pages: 240

Rating:  2-star

Summary: Mesmerizing and illuminating, Alice Hoffman’s “The Museum of Extraordinary Things” is the story of an electric and impassioned love between two vastly different souls in New York during the volatile first decades of the twentieth century. 

Coralie Sardie is the daughter of the sinister impresario behind The Museum of Extraordinary Things, a Coney Island boardwalk freak show that thrills the masses. An exceptional swimmer, Coralie appears as the Mermaid in her father’s “museum,” alongside performers like the Wolfman, the Butterfly Girl, and a one-hundred-year-old turtle. One night Coralie stumbles upon a striking young man taking pictures of moonlit trees in the woods off the Hudson River. 

The dashing photographer is Eddie Cohen, a Russian immigrant who has run away from his father’s Lower East Side Orthodox community and his job as a tailor’s apprentice. When Eddie photographs the devastation on the streets of New York following the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, he becomes embroiled in the suspicious mystery behind a young woman’s disappearance and ignites the heart of Coralie. 

With its colorful crowds of bootleggers, heiresses, thugs, and idealists, New York itself becomes a riveting character as Hoffman weaves her trademark magic, romance, and masterful storytelling to unite Coralie and Eddie in a sizzling, tender, and moving story of young love in tumultuous times. “The Museum of Extraordinary Things” is Alice Hoffman at her most spellbinding.

Review: The Museum of Ordinary Things read well (eventually) but felt rather contrived. There were sections where you felt smacked in the face by an historical fact, as though Hoffman was hammering home the point of how clever she is. Hoffman is clever, there’s no argument there but I don’t feel I gained anything from having read this.

A few fellow reviews have suggested this book relies too heavily on the success of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and I feel this statement is accurate. Unfortunately for Hoffman, I didn’t really like The Night Circus either so the early comparisons of the two were a hindrance.

With The Museum I didn’t particularly care for the writing or the story. With The Night Circus I liked the story but found the writing to heavy handed. These two complement each other and if you allowed your mind to blend them together, the result is a satisfying story.

There was also the feeling that The Museum wasn’t grounded in a specific location. I know it’s set in New York but my imagination was building an image of London. There was no real delineation of cities for me. I went to write, perhaps it’s because I haven’t visited New York but I didn’t experience this feeling with A Little Life so can only conclude the problem is with the writer, not the reader.

Even the characters were problematic. B the BookAddict writes “A weak-willed female character who has a perverted father with a twisted mind, an unattractive selfish male character set against an cruel backdrop, two story-lines which cross far too late in the novel” and I have to agree with this analysis. It is difficult to say at which point this book developed severe problems and whether it’s Hoffman’s fault or that of an editor. Either way, you won’t miss much if you give this one a pass.

 

The Night Watch – Sarah Waters

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Title: The Night Watch
Author: Sarah Waters
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Date of Publication: 27 September 2006
Number of Pages: 560

Rating: 

Summary: Moving back through the 1940s, through air raids, blacked out streets, illicit liaisons, sexual adventure, to end with its beginning in 1941, The Night Watch is the work of a truly brilliant and compelling storyteller.

This is the story of four Londoners – three women and a young man with a past, drawn with absolute truth and intimacy. Kay, who drove an ambulance during the war and lived life at full throttle, now dresses in mannish clothes and wanders the streets with a restless hunger, searching. Helen, clever, sweet, much-loved, harbours a painful secret. Viv, glamour girl, is stubbornly, even foolishly loyal, to her soldier lover. Duncan, an apparent innocent, has had his own demons to fight during the war. Their lives, and their secrets connect in sometimes startling ways. War leads to strange alliances…

Review: Dull.
Dreary.
One dimensional.
Partially formed characters.
Glad I didn’t read this as my first Waters novel because I wouldn’t go back to another. The Night Watch, compared to Tipping the Velvet or The Little Stranger or even The Paying Guestsis weak and underdeveloped. I felt for a large part of this book, I was reading a soap opera script. It was believable, but in a way, completely false.

The Night Watch is worth reading, it’s just not the best of the Waters bunch.