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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Costa Book Awards 2016

Essex Serpent Sarah Perry

The short list has just been released and the most pleasing paragraph, I’ve copied below;

The fourth contender and only new face on the best novel list is Sarah Perry, for The Essex Serpent. Adored by critics and readers alike and a surprise omission from the Booker longlist, Perry’s novel follows an adventurous widow who investigates whether the folktale serpent has come to life and is haunting the Blackwater estuary. Perry, who is currently working on her third book, said she’d celebrate with a sherry. “To have a panel of judges consider it one of the four best novels of the year is so extraordinary,” she said. “I think it will give me greater courage and confidence to carry on writing. I wish I had rigid self-belief regardless of outside influence, but when someone enjoys my book, I go: ‘Oh, I’ll do another one then!’” (The Guardian)

And my reaction at learning of Sarah’s nomination?

excited

                                                             Congratulations, Sarah!

Original Review

Contrary

contrary
adjective

1. Perversely inclined to disagree or to do the opposite of what is expected or desired

Bob Dylan recently won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature but this is “a man who hasn’t written any literature,” (Stanley, 2016). Stanley goes on to ask “why popularise a prize which isn’t elected but chosen by the knowledgeable on the basis of achievement?”

In asking this question, Stanley negates the knowledge of everybody involved in the decision and promotes himself as a better decision maker. Stanley then goes on to insult the vast majority of his readers by stating, “Ah, but this is where we are in cultural terms. Distinction is gone; discrimination is a dirty word. Egality is in. Emotion is in. Nothing matters unless it sells. But anyone celebrating the death of quality – anyone imagining that the elimination of elitism leads inexorably to justice – should be very wary of what they wish for. A culture that gives Bob Dylan a literature prize is a culture that nominates Donald Trump for president. It is a culture uninterested in qualifications and concerned only with satisfying raw emotional need. There is pandering on the Left and pandering on the Right. It becomes very hard to engage on the basis of reason because reason is discriminatory. It requires thought and effort not only to use it but to understand it. Much, much easier to go with your gut. It’s not a huge leap from saying “Dylan because I like him” to “Trump because I feel like him.” It’s all lowbrow.

To imply, as Stanley does, that Dylan receiving an award is the equal of nominating Donald Trump for president, should be an affront to anyone who values their logical faculties. These two men (well, one man and an un-categorized species of pond life) are at polar ends of the sphere and to suggest they are in any way similar, does Dylan an enormous disservice. It also suggests Stanley is disengaged.

“…discrimination is a dirty word.”

– Try telling that to Black Lives Matter campaigners.
– Try telling that to someone considered to old for a job.
– Try telling that to the pregnant woman whom, while on maternity leave has her job changed and cannot return to paid employment.
– Try telling that to an individual transitioning.
– Try telling that to someone of any ethnic group.
– Try telling that to someone from a religious community – constantly depicted as villans.

Discrimination is only a dirty word for those who refuse to engage with life. For people who prefer think everything is rosy and functions only in the way they visualise. I’m a 30 something, childless, white woman and in a lot of the debates, invisible.

“Egality is in.” Stanley might like to think this is happening but you don’t need to go far to see that this is incredibly far from true. One example, which instantly springs to mind is the UK Bedroom Tax. Second is the struggle for people on minimum wage to be paid at a higher hourly rate. Third is the exorbitant rental and property rates in London.Forth is the treatment of NHS junior doctors. I could go on and there are so many more examples I haven’t mentioned or even thought of at this moment.

“Emotion is in.” I will concede this as truth.

I am emotional.

– I’m emotional because I see people being treated unfairly by governments.
– I’m emotional because I see children being killed in Syria.
– I’m emotional because instead of acting humanely towards refugees, there are people who would rather see them drown in the Mediterranean and treated like vermin. Yes. I’m looking at you, Katie Hopkins.
– I’m emotional because life is so increasingly media saturated that there is hardly an occurrence you don’t know about seconds after it happens.

Companies like Twitter might be bringing people together over common interests but it is also driving people apart. Facebook isn’t exempt from this. Anonymous keyboard warriors writing nasty comments about rape and murder simply because they can. I think this should make people emotional.

A culture that gives Bob Dylan a literature prize is a culture that nominates Donald Trump for president, is a non-sequitur – it conflates two very separate arguments and proposes them as equal. They’re really, really not.

Take a moment and think about whether you can even imagine these two men in the same room. I can but I can’t see it as a festive or comfortable occasion.

A line likeIdiot wind, blowing every time you move your teeth is a perfect summation of Trump.

Consider;

I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
And just for that one moment
I could be you
Yes, I wish that for just one time
You could stand inside my shoes
You’d know what a drag it is
To see you.

Firstly, Trump could never be so elegant. Second, Dylan’s words show a man who is engaged with his world. He is clearly watching everything going on around him.

So no, Mr Stanley, I don’t think this is “lowbrow”. I think this an elegant, pacifist reaction to all the shit dumped on the average person who simply wants to live a good life without the constant interference of mean minded individuals who want to line their pockets with money. Dylan might not fit the model of literature but he does let his work speak for itself.

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 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.