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.

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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

her-name-is-rose-christine-breen

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

a-sparrow-in-terezin-kristy-cambron

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

the-ladies-of-the-house-molly-mcgrann

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

 

Slade House – David Mitchell

slade-house-david-mitchell

Title: Slade House
Author: David Mitchell
Publisher: Sceptre
Date of Publication: 28 June 2016
Number of Pages: 240

Rating:   3-star

Summary: Down the road from a working-class British pub, along the brick wall of a narrow alley, if the conditions are exactly right, you’ll find the entrance to Slade House. A stranger will greet you by name and invite you inside. At first, you won’t want to leave. Later, you’ll find that you can’t. Every nine years, the house’s residents — an odd brother and sister — extend a unique invitation to someone who’s different or lonely: a precocious teenager, a recently divorced policeman, a shy college student. But what really goes on inside Slade House? For those who find out, it’s already too late…

Review: I was apprehensive about picking up Slade House by David Mitchell, up given my ambiguous reaction to The Bone Clocks that preceded it. I did enjoy this more than Bone Clocks (but part of me doesn’t think this wouldn’t be hard). In a way, I think Mitchell would have been better served by breaking down Bone Clocks into portions like this. The flow was dramatically improved in Slade House and the build up and resolution was far more rewarding. Who knows, maybe I’ll read more Mitchell now.