The Return

As far as lightweight summer reading goes, Victoria Hislop is one of my absolute favourites. She writes in a beautiful, natural way, her stories have a nice flow, and the books are so easy to read. In The Return, the reader is transported to Granada, in Spain, during the Spanish Civil War.

Our modern day protagonist Sonia, trapped in a marriage with a man she doesn’t even recognise anymore is hoping to let her hair down on a trip to Spain with her childhood friend. But a chance meeting with a stranger in a cafe will lead her into the past. Here she will discover the incredible story of the Ramirez family as they live in a war torn Spain, and the remarkable journeys they go on.

Of all the places I have been to in Spain, Granada has always tugged at my heart. The Moorish quarters, the winding streets of the Albycin, the impenetrable majesty of the Alhambra – it is a city with magic. It also has an incredible history as one of the foremost cities of Andalusia and of great importance in medieval times. Hislop manages to lift these scenes of the pages through the stories of the past.

The reader is completely drawn into the tale of the Ramirez children and the story of this family, as it is brought to the brink of extinction by the Civil War. The backdrop is terrific and really shows that democracies that we take for granted in the modern day were one day, bitterly fought for and snatched from the greedy mouths of dictators.

This is a wonderful book and I very much recommend as a summer read if you are looking for one this year.

Just the Plague

Just the Plague by Ludmila Ulitskaya is set in 1930s Russia. Stalin is at the helm. And in a small town, Maier, a microbiologist, is slogging away developing a plague vaccine. Nothing particularly dramatic happens until he is summoned to Moscow to give a progress update to the powers that be. As Maier struggles with what to actually report, things take a darker turn.

A plague like disease suddenly begins to spread, leaked from a lab. Little by little, it transpires that more people are affected. The primary way to contain the disease is to quarantine anyone who catches it, which stops the virus from spreading to others. State machinery kicks in, aggressively tracing contacts of patients displaying symptoms, and taking them into quarantine. To guard against panic, State officials are only giving basic information to those being rounded up.

For the citizens’ greater good, the State puts controls in place. But do people really want their State officials to turn up at their door at any hour, demanding that they drop everything immediately and accompany them? What are the limits of personal freedom vs the boundary of the State? Where do we draw the line? These and other themes, in this novella, far ahead of its times and uniquely prescient, is Ulitskaya’s masterpiece written in the 1980s. Must read.

The Salt Path … a review

It gives me a lot of pleasure reading books about travel while we are in lockdown. My family is the third generation of travellers, and we have been much deprived during Covid. This part-memoir, part-travel-guide book is about a couple’s immense misfortune, that leads to the loss of their entire lives’ savings, including their home.

Then Moth, the husband, is diagnosed with a terminal illness. Ray, his wife and the author, then pack their rucksacks and set off to walk the south-west coast of England. This of course, is the famous part that juts out into the Atlantic as Land’s end. They walk from Minehead to Poole, whilst camping wild. The description of the natural world is beautiful. Raynor Winn may have lost everything in life, but has a beautiful gift of words. Page after page is filled with the vastness and immenseness of the coast brought to life. As their homelessness endures, we also see the attitudes of everyday people as well.

But as they walk, will they figure out what’s next? With two children at University, their home gone, and a debilitating disease that makes Moth weaker each day, is there any point in their future at all? These questions are answered against the backdrop of cliffs that form the southern boundary of our island in the ocean. A beautiful read.

Ladies Coupé … a review

I spent Christmas last year at my friend’s. M is an author herself, works in publishing and is one of the most prolific readers I know. So staying over at hers means picking something unusual off the copious bookshelves and coming back with a read or five. This time, I picked up Ladies Coupé by Anita Nair. I never got round to reviewing it at the time, so here goes.

This book follows a life-affirming journey of the protagonist – a young Indian woman named Akhila. She works in income tax, is 45 and single, and has just bought herself a one-way ticket to Kanyakumari. While she is trying to escape her stifling Tam-Brahm (slang for Tamil Brahmin – usually denotes a small-minded, conservative culture) life, she is also travelling towards something. On the train, she is sharing a coupé with five other women.

The reader is looking into a fishbowl in which these characters interact. Each woman has her own story and the narrative takes turn in acquainting us with each. Different themes are explored – physical love, the need (or not) for a man, happiness, and the expectations of society from a woman, amongst others,

I read this book over 3-4 days and it completely consumed me. It is deeper than it looks from the blurb, and explores many nuances of hidden emotion. What will we learn, and will we find any answers? Whilst the reader is drawn to Akhila, there is a remote-ness about her which is unsettling. This is a fine novel, and a great example of women’s literature from the subcontinent.

A personal note here: over the last few weeks of lockdown, a number of friends have casually mentioned this blog. I always think of it as rather personal (always have) and I’m flattered that you indulge me so… thank you.

The Accidental Further Adventures of the Hundred-Year-Old Man … a review

Two coffins gets mixed up. At a 12 year old Swedish girl’s funeral arrives a black coffin with red Swastikas and yellow fire flames. And a neo-Nazi goon who is mourning his Nazi brother receives a blue coffin with white clouds and little bunnies along the side. The Nazi is pissed. I must admit, this book made me snort so many times that beverages kept going the wrong way and choking me! And that’s exactly what I expected from this sequel.

Like its predecessor,  this book is a fantastic work of modern humour. A number of heads of state feature – including the US, Russia, Germany and North Korea. Our 101 year old protagonist and his good-for-nothing pal take them on a ride – but all is well in the end of course, as the 400 kilos of nuclear uranium is where it is the safest. I will admit, I was hoping both Nicola Sturgeon and Jacinda Ardern would also have cameo appearances – so here’s hoping for yet another book from Jonasson!

This book is a very easy read, it is effortless although long. If like me, you need a light read during this seemingly endless lockdown, then I highly recommend this book. Its light-hearted approach to modern day politics is exactly what we all need to lighten up and laugh a little. Or a lot! Enjoy, and stay safe x

7 Days 7 Books

I was ‘nominated’ to do the 7 days 7 books challenge on Facebook by a reader friend. And this is the sort of thing I like, because it forces me to revisit books and my feelings for them. I thought I’ll do books set in ‘unusual locations.’ I’ve been trying to read fiction from regions less known about for the last few years. And so here were my 7

7 days 7 books

I tried to pick books from far flung regions – ones that those in my circle may not have come across. Unfortunately, I didn’t do anything compelling from Africa or Middle East (or even Australia/NZ) but I had to pick 7. I also wanted to include female authors so that helped me hone this down as well.

In no particular order, these were Jamilia, The Hungry Tide, A Dream in Polar Fog, Zlata’s Diary, Island on the Edge, Papillon, The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society.

What books would you have picked? Feel free to recommend some that I may not have read!

The Sunrise … a review

I picked this book up at a local book swap. It was set in Europe, seemed a good sized travel read, and it’s summer – so if those two boxes are ticked I’m set. What took me by surprise is how moving, beautiful and tangible Victoria Hislop’s writing is.

The book is set in Cyprus in the 1970s. Now, I will admit, before I read this book I knew nothing about Cyprus. But that was just as well, because the backdrop is the social, political and economic climate of the country in the 70s and 80s. In the heart of the action are the couple that owns the fancy hotel on the beach in Famagusta ‘The Sunrise’ and their business manager of sorts. As riots and rivalry break out between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots, we read on as families are torn apart, entire cities razed to dust and love crumbles. If you haven’t read anything by Hislop yet, I highly recommend it. And if you have been or are planning to go to Cyprus, then this should be on your must-read list.

The only thing I will say is, this isn’t a light read. It has substance, it is not your typical ‘I can zone out while reading this…’ type of book. So with that word of caution, I will leave you. Have you read anything else by Hislop? Recommendations?

I See You … a review

I got this book on my Kindle as I had an offer code to use. So it cost me very little money, I liked the blurb and started reading. The plot very quickly sucked me in. If you’re  a fan of recent books like Gone Girl, Girl on the Train, Sharp Objects etc – you will really enjoy this book.

The premise is simple. The protagonist, on her way home one day on the London Underground, thinks she sees her own blurry photo with a singular website that looks like an adult website in the Classifieds section. She is a woman in her mid-40s, with two kids and lives with them and her partner in a suburban block. All very normal. She becomes more and more anxious as every day it is a different woman, until one day, she sees on the news that one of them is dead. What is happening?

The book is very well-written. So much so, that I was on the Underground a couple of weeks after and felt uneasy thinking about the probability of the crime described. It is very hard to guess who the criminal is, and the plot is sufficiently tight to allow no person to be beyond suspicion. Obviously, there is a broody police officer with their own demons, as always.

Overall, really good travel/summer holiday read.

Twenty Four Shadows … a review

A very long time ago (over ten years now), I read ‘Tell Me Your Dreams’ by Sidney Sheldon. It is based on DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder) previously also known as MPD (Multiple Personality Disorder). At the time, it blew my mind. It is still a book I recommend to folks. Since Tanya’s marketeer got in touch about her latest work, I have been engrossed in her latest novel based on DID.

Like her previous novels, Leave of Absence and My Life in a Nutshell, Peterson takes up a cause of sorts and through fiction, brings it to life in both an educated and poignant way. While Sheldon is a writer writing about mental illness, Peterson is a mental illness counsellor writing about it. It makes a difference. Instead of a fast paced thriller with strange twists and turns, in Twenty Four Shadows we see the simple and tight-knit world of Isaac Bittman fall to pieces slowly as he comes to terms with his illness. There is no excitement, just the terrible reality of friends and loved ones learning to deal with what is most peoples’ unthinkable. They watch Isaac slip away, change, become angry, sad, upset, and violent and remain helpless.

With every mental illness patient also comes their carer, the person, or people, whose lives are ruined in hanging on with the people they care about, and whose illnesses become their own. The story of Isaac’s wife Reese is also beautifully brought out as she struggles with her own needs and wants along with those of their child Dominic’s. The family’s dynamics are brought to life in a masterful way. And we feel as though we are part family as we get on the long and painful road to recovery with the Bittmans.

Peterson writes a well-spun tale, one that brings out the vulnerability of the patients, the perseverance of their carers, and the reactions of society. Having suffered from PTSD herself and spent time in therapy, she has been on both sides of the table, a certified counselor. It shows. I would recommend it as a great book to pick up if you are interested in the themes of DID, parenting, or inspirational reads.

Girl on the Train … a review

A while ago, I came across a list that had names of books people who liked ‘Gone Girl’ might enjoy. I really enjoyed that book so this blurb caught my eye. I then picked it up at the airport in the summer this year at 4 am when I had a 4 hour wait, perfect. It was only when I saw the cover that I realised that the movie was about to come out this year as well.

Now, this book was really good to kill those four hrs and some time on the flight as well. It is fast paced, suitably written, and the plot is quite tight. I was, however, slightly disappointed at the end. Not because I had guessed anything by the way, but just the way the entire sequence of events unfolded. If you have seen the movie, you know the plot already, but I will not give away spoilers here.

My favourite part of the story line was the way the unreliable narrator theme was handles. It has been a while since I read a book which really made me uncomfortable as I just couldn’t trust what the narrator (in this case, the protagonist) was telling me. So definitely worth a read, also a pretty good movie, faithful to the book too, so also recommended.