The Other Mrs Walker by Mary Paulson-Ellis

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Title: The Other Mrs Walker
Author:
 Mary Paulson-Ellis
Publisher:  Picador
Date of Publication:  23 March 2017
Number of Pages: 448
Read between: 18-24 August 2017

Rating:  2-star

I don’t know what to make of The Other Mrs Walker.  Yes, it was interesting and quirky but it lacked substance and solidity. There was a lot to be read as believable but it just wasn’t believable. Now I know there are services in the UK that are dedicated to tracing the nearest blood relative of someone who has passed away and that local councils have a role in this but Margaret Penny, just walking into the job seems a bit unreasonable and farfetched. Even if she is the daughter of a friend who knows someone who needs someone to find the relatives of a dead woman.

I’m genuinely, completely baffled by this book. Yes, it was engaging enough for me to finish but nothing happens. It’s all a little ho hum. It’s both fascinating and boring at the same time. I feel a little cross having spent a couple of hours reading it to be left hanging in such an unsatisfactory way. It’s not even as though a second one could follow because this story line was too unique.

The Other Mrs Walker is just a book that I didn’t like particularly much but felt I had to finish because there was just the smallest chance something interesting might happen. I think part of the problem is how unlikely the setup is and how the odds are so greatly against it ever actually happening, you can’t really suspend your disbelief. I’m not the only person to have found that either.

It’s not a bad book but would I recommend you taking the time to find a copy and read it? No. There’s better choices.

Summary: Somehow, she’d always known that she would end like this. In a small square room, in a small square flat. In a small square box, perhaps. Cardboard, with a sticker on the outside. And a name…

An old lady dies alone and unheeded in a cold Edinburgh flat, on a snowy Christmas night. A faded emerald dress hangs in her wardrobe; a spilt glass of whisky pools on the carpet. A few days later a middle-aged woman arrives back to the city of her birth, her future uncertain, her past in tatters. But what Margaret Penny cannot yet know is that in investigating the death of one friendless old lady, her own life will become enriched beyond measure.

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The Waking that Kills by Stephen Gregory

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Title:
The Waking that Kills
Author: Stephen Gregory
Publisher:  Solaris
Date of Publication:  7 November 2013
Number of Pages: 223
Read between: 11 – 16 August 2017

Rating:  stars

Review: Stephen Gregory is fast becoming one of my favourite horror writers. He’s not as prolific or as wordy as King but when it comes to the suspense, the tension, the creep, Gregory is a genius. There is a slow burn to his writing that makes you itchy. You know something is going to happen, you know it’s going to happen soon but you keep turning the pages with no release from the grip of the words.

Christopher Beale, home to deal with the aftermath of his father’s stroke, takes up a teaching position with Juliet Lundy and her son Lawrence. The mother and son, in the heat of summer, are not what you expect and for me, it is Lawrence who I found myself wary of. I’m reluctant to go into much detail with this book because it would be so easy to give too much away. Even the title changes the way you read and approach and finish the book. Each detail is so cleverly thought out that to remove anything would ruin the feeling.

One co-reader writes that Christopher has no agency and this lack of being an agent doesn’t drive the story forward. For me, I felt the same thing but I think this works to the stories advantage. Why? Because if we had a protagonist who was trying to be a teacher in the traditional sense, or a border in a strange house, in the traditional sense, we would have a very different story with a very different outcome and this book would not achieve even half of what it does with Christopher being so passive. The whole time I was reading this book I could feel Christopher’s mind-numbing stupor coming through the pages. It was hot. No one, bar his father, knew where he was. He was drinking incredible amounts of gin and I have the impression that because he knew he couldn’t change anything, he decided not to bother.

The Waking that Kills has a very real and true feeling to it. While it is farfetched, there are moments where the story could have been pulled from the headlines.

If you’re a fan of horror and suspense, this is one for you.

Summary: A dark novel of Possession. The ghosts that haunt us are not always strangers. Lawrence Lundy’s military-pilot father is missing, and the boy is doing everything he can to keep his presence alive in the family home. Into this strange house comes Christopher Beale, a man just returned to the country who becomes drawn in to the apparent madness of the Lawrence and his mother.

A long, hot summer’s dream. A suffocating nightmare. Shattered by a violent awakening! When his elderly father suffers a stroke, Christopher Beale returns to England. He has no home, no other family. Adrift, he answers an advert for a live-in tutor for a teenage boy. The boy is Lawrence Lundy, who possesses the spirit of his father, a military pilot; missing, presumed dead. Unable to accept that his father is gone, Lawrence keeps his presence alive, in the big old house, in the overgrown garden. His mother, Juliet Lundy, a fey, scatty widow living on her nerves, keeps the boy at home, away from other children, away from the world. And in the suffocating heat of a long summer, she too is infected by the madness of her son. Christopher Beale becomes entangled in the strange household… enmeshed in the oddness of the boy and his fragile mother. Only by forcing the boy to release the spirit of his father can there be any escape from the haunting.

 

The Dog Master: A novel of the first dog by W. Bruce Cameron

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Title: The Dog Master: A novel of the first dog
Author:
 W Bruce Cameron
Publisher:  Forge Books
Date of Publication:  04 August 2015
Number of Pages: 416
Read between: 07-08 August 2017

Rating:  3-star

Summary: Thirty thousand years ago, ice was storming the planet. Among the species forced out of the trees and onto the steppes by the advancing cold was modern man, who was both predator and prey.

No stranger to the experiences that make us human–a mother’s love and a father’s betrayal, tribal war and increasing famine, political intrigue and forbidden love, joy and hope and devastating loss–our ancestors competed for scant resources in a brutal landscape.

Mankind stood on the cold brink of extinction…but they had a unique advantage over other species, a new technology–domesticated wolves.

Only a set of extraordinary circumstances could have transformed one of these fierce creatures into a hunting companion, a bodyguard, a soldier, and a friend. The Dog Master by W. Bruce Cameron is an evocative glimpse of prehistory, an emotional coming-of-age saga, a thrilling tale of survival against all odds, and the exciting, imaginative story of the first dog.

Review: You know those books you postpone reading because part of you knows you’ll dislike it but part of you feels obliged because it was a Netgalley ARC? This is one of those. To clarify though – I didn’t like it but I didn’t not like it either. Indifferent is probably the best word. I don’t feel as though my life has been changed for having spent a day reading it but I was on holidays so I didn’t lose anything either. The only note I made was, “not what I expected – kind of repetitive but I can’t not finish”.

Looking back, The Dog Master is over simplified in terms of the historical aspect. There was a kind of stasis that didn’t sit well for me. In trying to portray hardships faced by the different kin / ethnic groups, it ended up feeling sanitised and clean. A lot of the problems had no resolution and there was no attempt at correlating the tensions between the different groups.

There was a lot of othering as well – we start with the Kindred and automatically, from this name, we’re supposed to understand that these are the good guys but with an internal bad guy. Then there’s the Wolfen who, as the name suggests, follow the wolf and throughout the text are, supposedly, no better than animals and these two groups all try to evade the Cohort, because they just kill and rape everything that moves. It was all a bit melodramatic.

As you’re reading this review, you’re probably thinking, yes, humans but what about the first dog. Well this is where the tenuous link between the title and the content comes into play. A female wolf is attacked by a lion and subsequently births her pups in a cave. She’s found by Mal who looks after them and ultimately, keeps the female pup with him until she’s tame and loyal. It’s how most animals are tamed or broken. There’s nothing new here. As for it being “the first time”, well, it’s all just a bit easy.

Would I recommend this book to other readers? Yes. Do I think it’s worth the time of reading it when there’s so much else out there? Eh. Maybe. Would I call The Dog Master an epic or a masterpiece as some of my reading brethren have? No.

Between Sisters written by Cathy Kelly

Between Sisters

Title: Between Sisters
Author: Cathy Kelly
Publisher:  Orion Publishing Ltd.
Date of Publication:  08 October 2015
Number of Pages: 368

Rating: 3-star

Summary: Cassie has spent her married life doing everything right – making sure her children have the perfect life, being a devoted wife to her husband and a dutiful daughter-in-law to his mother, even when her patience has been tested. Although it has left her so exhausted that ‘wine o’clock’ comes a little earlier each afternoon. But she wouldn’t change a thing, she’s certain, until temptation comes her way…

Her sister Coco runs a vintage dress shop and sure, she’s shied away from commitment over the years. It’s just that Coco believes men complicate things more than necessary, and she’s got enough to contend with looking after her business and her staff, who seem to rely on her more and more for relationship advice. But who is she to give advice, when her own life is so simple?

Watching over them is grandmother Pearl, tucked away in her little house in Delaney Square with her chickens, busy with her poker club and a secret lover. But something is keeping her awake at night. Was she right to do what she did all those years ago? Surely, if she were right, she wouldn’t be thinking about it so often now…?

And then there’s Elsa, the polished face of daytime TV, who’s battled demons of her own in the past and come out on top. Now Elsa faces one final battle – but this one will require more bravery than anything that’s come before.
Review: This is the review where I contradict myself about not being a fan of chick-lit and only ever wanting to read it on Kindle when I have it to review because, Between Sisters, I really quite enjoyed.

I felt so many similarities between myself and Cassie and even with Coco at different times. There were also a lot of similarities between my sister and I. Admittedly, there were a few moments where the happenings were a little contrived (the perfect boyfriend and the break up over nothing) and even, to a degree, the easy coming together of individuals.

Between Sisters is a nice read for anyone wanting to escape life for a little while. It’s easy to read, and ultimately, it’s a non-offensive bit of fluff.

 

The Mare written by Mary Gaitskill

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Title: The Mare
Author: Mary Gaitskill
Publisher:  Serpent’s Tail
Date of Publication:  20 April 2017
Number of Pages: 439

Rating: 4-star

Summary: Ginger is in her forties and a recovering alcoholic when she meets and marries Paul. When it becomes clear it’s too late for her to have a baby of her own, she tries to persuade him to consider adoption, but he already has a child from a previous marriage and is ten years older than her, so doesn’t share her longing to be a parent at any cost. As a compromise, they sign up to an organisation that sends poor inner-city kids to stay with country families for a few weeks in the summer, and so one hot July day eleven year old Velveteen Vargas, a Dominican girl from one of Brooklyn’s toughest neighbourhoods, arrives in their lives, and Ginger is instantly besotted.

Bemused by her gentle middle-aged hosts, but deeply intuitive in the way of clever children, Velvet quickly senses the longing behind Ginger’s rapturous attention. While Velvet returns her affection, she finds the intensity of it bewildering. Velvet’s own passions are more excited by the stables nearby, where she discovers she has a natural talent for riding and a deep affinity with the damaged horses cared for there. But when Ginger begins to entertain fantasies of adopting her, things start to get complicated for everyone involved.

This is a heartbreakingly honest and profoundly moving portrait of the nearly unbridgeable gaps between people, and the way we long for fairytale endings despite knowing that they don’t exist.

Review: There are so many reasons why this book shouldn’t work in the format that Gaitskill has written it. Each chapter continues the preceding chapter but is told by a different character in a completely different voice. The first chapters are primarily told by the two main characters but as the book progresses, extra voices are included. Instead of becoming a confusing riot of information, Gaitskill keeps the story flowing and the prose is so concise, there’s almost no moment where the reader is left behind. I know I’ve read books in the past where the story is told by two characters and it has been a mess. I have to confess, this is what I thought was going to happen with this book and it was wonderful to be proved wrong. It’s a testament to the skill of Gaitskill that she created this work.

The tone of the book is well measured and believable. There’s no moment where it becomes over sentimental or preachy. The emotional violence is well handled and the damage of each character is natural without being overwrought. I liked the manipulative Velvet and the way she created her relationship with Ginger. I liked that Ginger had awkward relationships with her mother and sister. Unlike some readers who state there was prejudice in Gaitskill’s writing, I didn’t find that. The author was almost completely absent from the book. It’s rare when you find a book that is written specifically for and by the characters. There was no Mary Sue element – no desire to prove how clever Gaitskill is compared to others. The story is so strong that it is a self-sufficient narrative and doesn’t need interpretation.

With all of that said, it’s not a book I would feel comfortable recommending to everyone. Adventurous readers, yes. My Mum? Maybe not. Regardless, if you decide to read The Mare you’re going to have an experience that you probably weren’t expecting.

 

Summer Secrets written by Jane Green

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Title: Summer Secrets
Author: Jane Green
Publisher:  St Martin’s Press
Date of Publication:  23 June 2015
Number of Pages: 368

Rating: 1 Star

Summary: June, 1998: At twenty seven, Catherine Coombs, also known as Cat, is struggling. She lives in London, works as a journalist, and parties hard. Her lunchtimes consist of several glasses of wine at the bar downstairs in the office, her evenings much the same, swigging the free booze and eating the free food at a different launch or party every night. When she discovers the identity of the father she never knew she had, it sends her into a spiral. She makes mistakes that cost her the budding friendship of the only women who have ever welcomed her. And nothing is ever the same after that.

June, 2014: Cat has finally come to the end of herself. She no longer drinks. She wants to make amends to those she has hurt. Her quest takes her to Nantucket, to the gorgeous summer community where the women she once called family still live. Despite her sins, will they welcome her again? What Cat doesn’t realize is that these women, her real father’s daughters, have secrets of their own. As the past collides with the present, Cat must confront the darkest things in her own life and uncover the depths of someone’s need for revenge.

Review: Part of the tag-line for this book is “Jane Green delivers her second blockbuster novel of 2015,” and I can’t help but wonder if maybe she shouldn’t slow down and concentrate on producing quality over quantity.

It’s hard to review a book where there is very little content to work with and even less in the way of original ideas that weren’t glaringly obvious even before the half-hearted set up. Overall, Summer Secrets is the worst kind of chick-lit. The pedestrian, the predictable and the embarrassing. On top of this, I even skipped ahead three chapters and picked up the “story” without any problem. Cat, the protagonist isn’t terribly likeable and the outcome of the relationship with her sister seems so farfetched, I have difficulty believing anyone believes it.

Thankfully, because I was given an advanced copy (yes, I know, I’m very far behind) from Netgalley, I could at least read on Kindle and not cringe every time I pulled it out of my bag.

I will be saying no thanks to future books by Green. Life’s too short for this kind of dreck.

 

Chapter 4 from “A Confession” by Leo Tolstoy

Sometimes you read something that is challenging, painful and profound and you just have to share it. Take five minutes to engage with this chapter and maybe realise that we’ve all been in this position at some time.

IV.
My life came to a standstill. I could breathe, eat, drink, and sleep, and I could not help doing these things; but there was no life, for there were no wishes the fulfillment of which I could consider reasonable. If I desired anything, I knew in advance that whether I satisfied my desire or not, nothing would come of it. Had a fairy come and offered to fulfill my desires I should not have know what to ask. If in moments of intoxication I felt something which, though not a wish, was a habit left by former wishes, in sober moments I knew this to be a delusion and that there was really nothing to wish for. I could not even wish to know the truth, for I guessed of what it consisted. The truth was that life is meaningless. I had as it were lived, lived, and walked, walked, till I had come to a precipice and saw clearly that there was nothing ahead of me but destruction. It was impossible to stop, impossible to go back, and impossible to close my eyes or avoid seeing that there was nothing ahead but suffering and real death – complete annihilation.

It had come to this, that I, a healthy, fortunate man, felt I could no longer live: some irresistible power impelled me to rid myself one way or other of life. I cannot say I *wished* to kill myself. The power which drew me away from life was stronger, fuller, and more widespread than any mere wish. It was a force similar to the former striving to live, only in a contrary direction. All my strength drew me away from life. The thought of self-destruction now came to me as naturally as thoughts of how to improve my life had come formerly. and it was seductive that I had to be cunning with myself lest I should carry it out too hastily. I did not wish to hurry, because I wanted to use all efforts to disentangle the matter. “If I cannot unravel matters, there will always be time.” and it was then that I, a man favoured by fortune, hid a cord from myself lest I should hang myself from the crosspiece of the partition in my room where I undressed alone every evening, and I ceased to go out shooting with a gun lest I should be tempted by so easy a way of ending my life. I did not myself know what I wanted: I feared life, desired to escape from it, yet still hoped something of it.

And all this befell me at a time when all around me I had what is considered complete good fortune. I was not yet fifty; I had a good wife who lived me and whom I loved, good children, and a large estate which without much effort on my part improved and increased. I was respected by my relations and acquaintances more than at any previous time. I was praised by others and without much self- deception could consider that my name was famous. And far from being insane or mentally diseased, I enjoyed on the contrary a strength of mind and body such as I have seldom met with among men of my kind; physically I could keep up with the peasants at mowing, and mentally I could work for eight and ten hours at a stretch without experiencing any 3 ill results from such exertion. And in this situation I came to this – that I could not live, and, fearing death, had to employ cunning with myself to avoid taking my own life.

My mental condition presented itself to me in this way: my life is a stupid and spiteful joke someone has played on me. Though I did not acknowledge a “someone” who created me, yet such a presentation – that someone had played an evil and stupid joke on my by placing me in the world – was the form of expression that suggested itself most naturally to me.

Involuntarily it appeared to me that there, somewhere, was someone who amused himself by watching how I lived for thirty or forty years: learning, developing, maturing in body and mind, and how, having with matured mental powers reached the summit of life from which it all lay before me, I stood on that summit – like an arch-fool – seeing clearly that there is nothing in life, and that there has been and will be nothing. And *he* was amused. …

But whether that “someone” laughing at me existed or not, I was none the better off. I could give no reasonable meaning to any single action or to my whole life. I was only surprised that I could have avoided understanding this from the very beginning – it has been so long known to all. Today or tomorrow sickness and death will come (they had come already) to those I love or to me; nothing will remain but stench and worms. Sooner or later my affairs, whatever they may be, will be forgotten, and I shall not exist. Then why go on making any effort? … How can man fail to see this? And how go on living? That is what is surprising! One can only live while one is intoxicated with life; as soon as one is sober it is impossible not to see that it is all a mere fraud and a stupid fraud! That is precisely what it is: there is nothing either amusing or witty about it, it is simply cruel and stupid.

There is an Eastern fable, told long ago, of a traveller overtaken on a plain by an enraged beast. Escaping from the beast he gets into a dry well, but sees at the bottom of the well a dragon that has opened its jaws to swallow him. And the unfortunate man, not daring to climb out lest he should be destroyed by the enraged beast, and not daring to leap to the bottom of the well lest he should be eaten by the dragon, seizes s twig growing in a crack in the well and clings to it. His hands are growing weaker and he feels he will soon have to resign himself to the destruction that awaits him above or below, but still he clings on. Then he sees that two mice, a black one and a white one, go regularly round and round the stem of the twig to which he is clinging and gnaw at it. And soon the twig itself will snap and he will fall into the dragon’s jaws. The traveller sees this and knows that he will inevitably perish; but while still hanging he looks around, sees some drops of honey on the leaves of the twig, reaches them with his tongue and licks them.

So I too clung to the twig of life, knowing that the dragon of death was inevitably awaiting me, ready to tear me to pieces; and I could not understand why I had fallen into such torment. I tried to lick the honey which formerly consoled me, but the honey no longer gave me pleasure, and the white and black mice of day and night gnawed at the branch by which I hung. I saw the dragon clearly and the honey no longer tasted sweet. I only saw the unescapable dragon and the mice, and I could not tear my gaze from them. and this is not a fable but the real unanswerable truth intelligible to all.

The deception of the joys of life which formerly allayed my terror of the dragon now no longer deceived me. No matter how often I may be told, “You cannot understand the meaning of life so 4 do not think about it, but live,” I can no longer do it: I have already done it too long. I cannot now help seeing day and night going round and bringing me to death. That is all I see, for that alone is true. All else is false.

The two drops of honey which diverted my eyes from the cruel truth longer than the rest: my love of family, and of writing – art as I called it – were no longer sweet to me.

“Family”…said I to myself. But my family – wife and children – are also human. They are placed just as I am: they must either live in a lie or see the terrible truth. Why should they live? Why should I love them, guard them, bring them up, or watch them? That they may come to the despair that I feel, or else be stupid? Loving them, I cannot hide the truth from them: each step in knowledge leads them to the truth. And the truth is death.

“Art, poetry?”…Under the influence of success and the praise of men, I had long assured myself that this was a thing one could do though death was drawing near – death which destroys all things, including my work and its remembrance; but soon I saw that that too was a fraud. It was plain to me that art is an adornment of life, an allurement to life. But life had lost its attraction for me, so how could I attract others? As long as I was not living my own life but was borne on the waves of some other life – as long as I believed that life had a meaning, though one I could not express – the reflection of life in poetry and art of all kinds afforded me pleasure: it was pleasant to look at life in the mirror of art. But when I began to seek the meaning of life and felt the necessity of living my own life, that mirror became for me unnecessary, superfluous, ridiculous, or painful. I could no longer soothe myself with what I now saw in the mirror, namely, that my position was stupid and desperate. It was all very well to enjoy the sight when in the depth of my soul I believed that my life had a meaning. Then the play of lights – comic, tragic, touching, beautiful, and terrible – in life amused me. No sweetness of honey could be sweet to me when I saw the dragon and saw the mice gnawing away my support. 

Nor was that all. Had I simply understood that life had no meaning I could have borne it quietly, knowing that that was my lot. But I could not satisfy myself with that. Had I been like a man living in a wood from which he knows there is no exit, I could have lived; but I was like one lost in a wood who, horrified at having lost his way, rushes about wishing to find the road. He knows that each step he takes confuses him more and more, but still he cannot help rushing about.

It was indeed terrible. And to rid myself of the terror I wished to kill myself. I experienced terror at what awaited me – knew that that terror was even worse than the position I was in, but still I could not patiently await the end. However convincing the argument might be that in any case some vessel in my heart would give way, or something would burst and all would be over, I could not patiently await that end. The horror of darkness was too great, and I wished to free myself from it as quickly as possible by noose or bullet. that was the feeling which drew me most strongly towards suicide.

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