The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant — a novel to share with all generations

CoverImage The Boston Girl by Anita DiamantThe Boston Girl is the story of a Jewish girl, born in 1900 to immigrant parents. It takes the form of an 85-year old grandmother — Addie Baum — talking to her 22-year old granddaughter, Ava. Structured in short chapters, The Boston Girl is an easy and comforting read that nevertheless touches on some significant themes and covers a period of tremendous political and social upheaval in the USA and around the world.

Amongst other experiences, Addie’s life span covers two world wars, changing attitudes to religion and race and the emergence of women’s rights. She sees these events not as a politician or from a position of power or influence but rather from the perspective of an ordinary woman living an ordinary life — working to earn her living adapting to the changes around her — always positive, always learning — working to maintain family relationships, sustain friendships and ultimately to build an independent life.

At its heart, The Boston Girl is a novel of family and friendship — rich in emotion and empathy and it is perhaps Addie’s intensely personal experiences that will hold the greatest resonance for most readers — whether that’s the youthful experience of falling for the flattery of a handsome but predatory young man, class and cultural sensitivities, friendship, the responsibilities and support of family — particularly siblings, the joy of finding love and happiness.

While not without troubles — and she has some serious troubles to contend with — Addie is a positive and optimistic character — likeable, wise, non-judgmental like the best of grandmothers. In telling the past, she is not sentimental nor does she seek to return to former days but instead she shares what she has learned always adapting, always looking to the future.

I enjoyed The Boston Girl enormously — for its subject matter, for its geographical setting, for the era 1900-1985 that it spans — most of all for the empathy and insights of its heroine, Addie Baum. A book to share with women of all ages.

[The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant is published by Scribner — a division of Simon & Schuster. Disclosure: An Advance Review Copy was made available by the publisher via Edelweiss for the purpose of this review]

See also The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.

Swamp Bones – a straight-to-digital short story by Kathy Reichs

Cover image Swamp Bones by Kathy ReichsThe best-selling author Kathy Reichs has no shortage of fans yet somehow until now, despite enjoying forensic science in novels, I had never got round to reading her.  So when I got the opportunity to review her exclusive straight- to- digital short story, Swamp Bones, I was excited and curious to see what I would find.

Swamp Bones recounts what happens when Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist, goes on holiday to the Florida Everglades National Park and unexpectedly finds herself in the middle of an investigation when human bones turn up in the stomach a Burmese Python.

I learned plenty about snakes and not a little about human bones in this entertaining short story.

Published by random House in September 2014 Swamp Bones also contains the first chapter of Kathy Reich’s new novel Bones Never Lie.

[Disclosure: An Advance Review Copy was provided by the publisher via Netgalley].

Fiction For Autumn/Winter 2014

Cover Image Before I Go To Sleep by SJ WatersThere are so many good books around this year, it’s hard to keep pace. Here are a few of the selections I’ve made for my autumn / winter reading list.

SJ Watson’s debut novel Before I Go To Sleep is a thriller soon to hit screens in a movie starring Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman. It’s the story of woman with amnesia who wakes up each day not knowing where she is or who she can trust — including whether she can trust her husband, Ben. Usually it’s a good idea to read the book before you see the movie, so Before I Go To Sleep takes the number one spot on my To Be Read (TBR) list for September.

Ian McEwan now has more than 20 published books under his belt. Atonement (2001) and On Chesil Beach (2007) are probably my favourites. Of his more recent fiction, neither Solar (2010) nor Sweet Tooth (2012) held much appeal for me but the earlier works have stayed fresh in my mind and so The Children Act will certainly get a look.

While we await the final part of the trilogy that began with Wolf Hall and continued with Bring Up The Bodies, Hilary Mantel provides us with a collection of contemporary short stories in The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher.

Cover Image Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary MantelSet in post-war London in 1922, The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters tells the story of the Wrays — a mother and daughter — forced by economic necessity to take in paying guests with life changing consequences. Waters has a strong reputation and the blurb for this one promises tenderness, tension and a compelling story.

The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer — a novel about grief and mental illness written by a mental health nurse and published earlier this year to good reviews.

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith aka JK Rowling is the second detective Corcmoran Strike crime novel — the first being The Cuckoo’s Calling.

Two Irish writers make it on to this list: The Temporary Gentleman by Sebastian Barry was published earlier this year and promises a haunting, sad read as Irish man Jack McNulty whose existence coincided with the founding of the Irish state and two world wars looks back on his life and loves. In October 2014, Colm Toibin’s new novel Nora Webster comes out. It’s the story of a 40-year old widow coming to terms with grief and finding independence and is set in County Wexford in the 1960s — a place and period Toibin has written about before.

I’ll be posting reviews here as I go and in the meantime, if you’re reading any of the above I’d love to hear from you!


Coelho’s Parable on Adultery

Cover Image“Sometimes you have to lose yourself to discover who you are”  The subtitle of Paulo Coelho’s novel, cuts to the chase and summarises in a sentence the life lesson contained in Adultery.

Brazilian author Paulo Coelho has developed a huge following since his novel, The Alchemist, became an international bestseller. A couple of years ago, I was invited to review Manuscript Found in Accra — a contemplative series of stories in which the citizens of Jerusalem in 1099 explore a series of questions relating to love, jealousy and fear and in the process uncover wisdom and lessons for life. It was my first experience of Coelho and gave me an insight into what makes his work so appealing to many people.

Paulo is a beautiful writer who presents thoughtful and wise insights about life and living that serve as a form of consolation for the soul. Manuscript Found in Accra, in particular, is a book to keep and seek out in times of stress and trouble.

Coelho’s latest novel, Adultery, is a parable where plot — and to some extent character — take second place to the moral of the tale. It’s the story of a bored and slightly depressed journalist, Linda, with a perfect husband and children who lives a privileged life in Switzerland yet is bored and dissatisfied. The plot begins is based around what happens when Linda  comes across a former boyfriend  and embarks on an affair.

Linda is not a particularly sympathetic character yet she has characteristics that many readers will recognise either in themselves or in others. She seeks meaning by questioning her own thinking, by reading and by talking to friends. She knows that she has a good and loving husband, yet she longs for something more. She even consults a ‘shaman’ or wise man in her quest for meaning yet, ironically, it is her husband who ultimately shows her that by allowing herself to fully lose control she can begin to find herself and unlock emotional healing from within.

Adultery by Paulo Coelho is published by Random House. [Disclosure: An Advance Reader’s Copy (ARC) was made available via Netgalley for the purpose of this review.]

See also Manuscript Found in Accra by Paulo Coelho.

Chain of Events — fast-paced thriller by Swedish author Fredrik T Olsson

Cover ImageSwedish fiction is particularly popular at the moment and for anyone who enjoys a good Swedish thriller, Fredrik T Olsson is a new name to add to your list. Olsson’s debut novel, Chain of Events is published by Little Brown in the UK.

The plot of Chain of Events goes something like this: Journalist Christina Sandberg’s ex-husband disappears from hospital while being treated for a suicide attempt. A cryptologist with expertise in military code breaking, William Sandberg has special skills that a top secret international organisation urgently requires. But who is behind the organisation and why are they so intent on withholding the contextual information that might help William crack the code? And how is William Sandberg’s experience linked to the killing of a homeless man in a fake ambulance in Berlin?

Meanwhile, Janine Haynes a student specialising in Sumerian symbols has also disappeared. She, too has skills and knowledge that are valuable to the organisation.

Time is short and it becomes clear that William and Janine are working on a code that could have drastic consequences for humanity.

The tension never lets up as the stakes get higher and higher in this fast-paced thriller. Chain of Events is an exciting and entertaining read and an impressive debut novel for Swedish screenwriter Fredrik T Olsson.

Chain of Events by Fredrik T Olsson is published by Little, Brown Book Group UK. ISBN: 9780751556853. [Disclosure: An Advance Readers Copy was made available free of charge via Netgalley for the purpose of this review]

We Were Liars — a young adult title with wide appeal

Cover Image Usually young adult fiction wouldn’t cross my radar however I stumbled upon E Lockhart’s haunting mystery We Were Liars in Time magazine’s Best Books of 2014 so far and because I love books set off the coast of Massachusetts, I decided to give it a go.

We Were Liars is a coming of age story about a group of wealthy children who holiday each year on their grandfather’s private island where they enjoy idyllic long summer days in beautiful houses close to the water.

The story is narrated by a troubled teenage heroine — Cadence Sinclair — whose memory was damaged during a trauma endured on a previous summer holiday in an incident that no one is willing to talk about.

Like all families, however, the Sinclairs have their secrets and jealousies albeit concealed behind an apparently perfect facade. There’s tension among the children’s mothers who are manipulated by their powerful and wealthy father and Lockhart underlines the age-old nature and universality of such tensions in a series of references to similar themes in folklore.

Place and atmosphere — mystery and myth — lies and truth — are more important than character in this short novel which runs to just 240 pages. The Kindle edition of We Were Liars was a steal at $1.68 when I purchased it a couple of days ago. I loved E Lockhart’s writing and while the story may fade over time, hers is a name that will remain on my radar from now on.