#Book Review: Indelible by Adelia Saunders

IndelibleI was fascinated by the premise of this debut novel, where a young Lithuanian woman named Magdalena is trying to escape an unusual gift/curse. She can see words written on people’s skin – banal details or profound warnings – and she moves to a country where she can’t speak the language to get some respite from the onslaught of information. As she slowly learns English, she stops wearing her glasses in an attempt to avoid the words on faces and resorts to stumbling around short-sightedly rather than seeing clearly.

I expected the novel to follow Magdalena exclusively, but her story is mixed with two others – Neil, a history student who has Magdalena’s name written under his eye; and his father Richard, who is haunted by a memory of his mother visiting him as a child, even though all the biographers of the now famous writer and beauty say she abandoned him as a baby refusing to ever look at him. The linkages between their lives are developed as the book progresses.

I’ll be honest, I never much cared for Richard, and his passages dragged the novel down for me. Even though he had a better storyline than Neil, he was such a needy drip that I couldn’t warm to him or care about the ‘mystery’ of his mother. I would have liked to have spent more time with Magdalena; her beautiful tragic friend Lena; her mother and her grandmother and left the boys out of it. There is some great writing here, but there is also a lot of meandering and loose ends. It is worth reading, but I can’t say that I was wholly satisfied. That said – the premise was intriguing, the parts I enjoyed were excellent, poignant and haunting. I will be keeping an eye on what this author produces next.

Indelible is published by Bloomsbury. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

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#Book Review: The Gingerbread House – Kate Beaufoy

the_gingerbread_house_1I read this little gem months ago and am shamefully only getting to writing the review now. This is a deceptively simple tale of teenage Katia, unable to help her family as her recently unemployed mother moves in with her aged grandmother as her carer to save money. We see the family through Katia’s eyes – how desperately her mother missed her father during the week; how cruel the toll of dementia is on an individual and their loved ones; and slowly as the book evolves we uncover another tragedy that sheds light on why a profound sadness is just below the surface in every interaction.

The Gingerbread House is gentle yet gripping – I had to find out what was going to happen, even though much of the book is a skilful capturing of moments and character development rather than driving plot. Little details are softly devastating “On the table next to her is a large-print book, a glasses case and a magnifier. Granny doesn’t read anymore, but she likes to pretend she can. She wears a wrist watch so that she can tell the time, but because she can’t decipher the numerals the time for Granny is always day or dark night or the dusky in-between”. Katia is a beautifully drawn character, and I loved getting to know her. This is a bittersweet, but ultimately life-affirming story, and I highly recommend it.

The Gingerbread House is published by Black & White publishing. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

 

A History of Running Away – Paula McGrath

41DUL6765KL._SY346_Three women: Jasmine, running away from her drunken mother in rural Ireland in the early 1980s; Ali, an American teenager whose mother has just died tragically, and an unnamed doctor in Dublin, torn between her career and her commitment to care for her elderly mother.  I’m not sure whether it’s a pattern becoming entrenched in writing generally, or just a fluke occurrence in many of the books I have read recently, but here we have another narrative following three different characters until it is revealed how their lives intersect. This book falls into this category, but while we might sometimes have preferences across three equal stories in this book it feels as though the author has a favourite child, and only Jasmine’s story is given sufficient room to breathe.

Jasmine’s story is rollicking, with tense and gritty scenes in London and Dublin, although there are shades of Million Dollar Baby in the boxing mentoring storyline that develops, and a coach who is a tad too pure and wise to ring true. The central female characters are the best written, but among the various people who cross their paths Aidan (a truly horrible, uniquely Catholic sanctimonious git) is particularly well drawn.  The scenes relating to the horror that is the mother and child homes that are a shame on Ireland’s history are also deftly evoked. While there are elements of this book I liked, it felt very uneven – much like an actual braid, if one of the three strands is thicker it all starts to fall apart.

A History of Running Away is published by John Murray. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Fierce Kingdom – Gin Phillips

FIERCE-KINGDOM-DEMY-HB-REVISEI look forward to a time when the plot of this book seems insane and far-fetched, but that’s not the world we live in. I read this book in the shadow of an American mass shooting; and I write this review in the shadow of another. Always bigger, always worse, ever more common, ever more normalised – never once decried as terrorism by a nation who have covered themselves in true weapons of mass destruction. If I hear one more person with a platform to influence gun control sending “thoughts and prayers” to victims I think I’m going to lose my mind. But I digress.

Lincoln is a good little boy who loves the zoo. He’s four, so he doesn’t like the dinosaur attraction quite so much as when he was only three – he wants to hear about real animals, and figure out how everything works, and play with his superhero ‘guys’. His mother Joan always knew she would do anything to protect him… but never in her worst nightmares imagined she would have to protect him from something like this. As they make their way towards the exit of the closing zoo, shots begin to rain down into the crowd. Those who survive to flee back into the zoo begin to be hunted down one by one.

Fierce Kingdom is almost unbearably tense in places, and while the ending did seem rushed it was almost a relief that it was. My heart. I don’t have any children, but due to the skilful drawing of Joan and Lincoln’s relationship it reminded me of Room, as I wondered ‘what would I do?’. As a lone adult looking at the timeline of the book (set over a couple of hours) it seems like lunacy to risk being found to go looking for food, but as a mother trying to avoid explaining to her hungry child that he needs to stay perfectly silent or he will be another statistic murdered by lunatics it makes sense.

For a book set in a zoo there isn’t a lot about animals, but the setting couldn’t be more perfect. Innocent creatures, trapped behind bars, unable to be free and live their lives, being observed, feeling ever exposed and threatened. Unspeakable creatures, roaming free, who should be behind bars but will never be, picking off those they perceive to be weaker. I’d recommend Fierce Kingdom as a fast-paced topical thriller to anyone with an interest in the genre.

Fierce Kingdom is published by Random House. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Book Review: The Break – Marian Keyes

20767869_1939520436324407_7739785559456958976_nI was insanely excited to get an advance copy of Marian Keyes’ new novel The Break but as it arrived as I was packing to head off on honeymoon I thought it might be safest if I saved reading it until I got home! You see this book is about the difficulties of sustaining a long-term relationship, and what happens to a woman in her forties when her husband decides to take a break from their lives together.

Amy is working in PR, in a job simultaneously glamourous and not glamourous at all, and living a mostly contented life in Dundrum until her father-in-law dies and her husband declares he is ‘taking a break’ and vanishes to South East Asia for six months. A break isn’t always a break up… but a lot can happen in 6 months, and Amy is getting a lot of advice from opinionated family, friends and frenemies alike as the gossip ghouls sweep into her life “Never ask for whom the ‘U OK Hun’ tolls – it tolls for thee”. I’m not saying a word about the plot because I’m not a massive killjoy – suffice it to say that if her husband is on a break, you better believe Amy is too.

Ultimately, this is a story about what it means to stay in love rather than fall in love- and whether the enduring marriages of our parents generation are possible in our bonkers world. Marian’s signature warmth and humour suffuses The Break, turning what could have been a bleak navel gazing examination of the trials of blended families; affairs; bereavement; caring responsibilities; and unwanted pregnancy into a life-affirming feel-good read filled with wit and compassion. I would strongly recommend it for Amy’s parents alone (“BRING ME MY STICK! I’M GOING OUT TO LOOK FOR MY WIFE!”) and they are only minor characters. I devoured it over a weekend as I slumped in bed like a Victorian woman in need of some smelling salts, traumatised by the end of my holiday and my impending return to work – and even in my tragic self-pity I was reduced to snorts of laughter several times. It’s been a long wait for new Marian Keyes fiction – but it was worth it.

The Break is published by Michael Joseph (Penguin) and will be available in good bookstores from September 7th. I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.