Archive > March 2013

Melting the Snow on Hester Street

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Melting the Snow on Hester Street , Daisy Waugh, book reviewIt’s 1929 and movie director Max Beecham and his actress wife Eleanor hobnob with Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, John Barrymore, Gloria Swanson and more. To them, Max and Eleanor are the happiest, most loving couple in Hollywood. But the Beechams are excellent actors. They haven’t been happy since they left their old lives behind in New York, together with their tiny daughter, Isha. While Max seems to have given up, Eleanor is still determined to find her, or at least find out what happened to her. This sets the backdrop for Daisy Waugh’s latest novel, Melting the Snow on Hester Street.


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A Fabulous Liar

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A Fabulous Liar, Susann Pásztor, book reviewOn the eve of what would have been his 100th birthday, the three surviving children, and one grandchild, of Joschi Molnar meet up in the town of Weimar, not far from the site of the notorious Buchenwald concentration camp. They meet to celebrate the life of a man that none of them really knew except for what they’d heard from stories; the thing is, nobody tells quite the same story.

The story begins, however, with an attempted suicide in a cheap railway hotel as Joschi is discovered unconscious by the owner who’d entered the room because Joschi had only paid for two hours, not knowing it would take longer than that to die.


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The Guest List

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The Guest List, Melissa Hill, book reviewI am a massive fan of the Irish writer, Melissa Hill, and always await her new books with the anticipation of a fantastic read. Her latest book, The Guest List is a fabulous and absorbing tale about the stress of getting married especially when families start to interfere. Although weddings are supposed to bring people together, there’s little chance of that when faced with petulant parents and stroppy sisters. Will the ‘happy couple’ ever be able to please their feuding families and have the wedding that they want?

A wedding should be one of the happiest days of your life. That is what Cara and Shane are hoping for when they announce their engagement; that is until all their family and friends start telling them where they should get married and who they should invite.


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Peaches for Monsieur le Curé

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Peaches for Monsieur le Curé, Joanne Harris, book reviewPeaches for Monsieur le Curé is the third in Joanne Harris’s series of novels featuring Vianne Rocher. It resumes Vianne’s story four years after readers left her and her partner Roux and her two daughters, Anouk and Rosette, living on a houseboat on the Seine in Paris (in ‘The Lollipop Shoes’) and eight years after she and Anouk left the village of Lansquenet-sur-Tannes.

Having thought she’d never go back there, a letter from a (now dead) friend calls her back to Lansquenet. Someone is in trouble, the letter says, and needs Vianne’s help; that person would never ask for help himself. Leaving Roux behind, Vianne and the girls return to the village where Vianne had her pretty little chocolate shop; while outwardly nothing appears to have changed, there is something unsettling that Vianne can’t put her finger on.


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Five Quarters of the Orange

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Five Quarters of the Orange,  Joanne Harris, book reviewThis is the story of Framboise – no, not a bottle of raspberry liqueur (thank heavens), but rather the woman by that name from a farm on the river Loire in the French village of Les Laveuses. This is partially the story of Framboise’s troubled childhood with her brother (named Casis), sister (Reine-Claude) and especially her unwell and widowed mother (who was, of course, an amazing cook) during the years of WWII and Nazi occupied France. It is also the story of her no less troubling old age – accounted from the time she returns to the village in her ‘retirement’, in order to open a creperie. She tries to avoid the past from painfully being dredged up by using a different name. However, we all know that mysteries and provincial villages never mix – especially when delicious food is being served by a curious stranger (who doesn’t seem terribly strange) and her secrets are bound to be sniffed out to be inhaled deeply by the local folk, much like the pungent release of the scent from an orange that has just had a thumb pressed into is juicy flesh.


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The Scent of Death

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The Scent of Death, Andrew Taylor, book reviewAndrew Taylor is a writer known for producing a small number of high quality books that straddle the historical/crime divide, and The Scent of Death is no different. Having previously read and rather enjoyed his best-known novel The American Boy, I was eager to get stuck in to his new offering, a 470 page hardback novel: reassuringly weighty, handsomely covered and embellished with accurate colour period maps inside (this I find a good sign; if a historical novel has proper maps in it, it is generally an indicator that the research has been done thoroughly). Thoroughly turned out to be the right word – what followed when I began reading was a book rich in period atmosphere and sense of place.

On a blisteringly hot day in August 1778, a ship from England successfully evades the French blockade of New York and slips into harbour.


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Chocolat

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Chocolat, Joanne Harris, book reviewWhen Vianne Rocher, her daughter Anouk (with Pantoufle – an imaginary rabbit) breeze into the small, religious, French town of Lansquenet-sous-Tannes with the intention of opening a chocolate shop during the holy time of Lent, you just know that there’s going to be some problems. Since Vianne is a single mother, you can imagine that the least of her problems might be her tempting confections on the town’s citizens, who are trying to deny their weak bodies. You see, Vianne believes in magic – not just the magic of delicious foods, but also in the magic of life itself, and that isn’t going to go down well with the pious mayor of the town, Reynaud, whose championing of Christianity is the village’s moral cornerstone. This is the story of Joanne Harris’ most famous book, Chocolat, which led to a major motion picture.


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Not Only The Things That Have Happened

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Not Only The Things That Have Happened, Mridula Koshy, book reviewHer short story collection, If It Is Sweet, set a kind of expectation flowing. Textured use of language, layered nuances, much unsaid. Mridula Koshy established herself as a miniaturist. One always has apprehensions about short story writers venturing into novel ground because novels are really very different things – harder to juggle with not much room for leaving things unsaid. Many short story writers have tried valiantly and failed to make much of a mark as novelists.

Koshy’s debut novel is ambitious in form and sticks to themes which she is familiar with. Life in America for a child with roots in South India, relations between parents and children and the griefs that plague teenage girls growing up with a void inside.


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The Love Child

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The Love Child,  Amanda Brookfield, book reviewAmanda Brookfield’s latest book, The Love Child, tells the story of estranged parents Dougie and Janine. There were many reasons why they separated and the only reason that they now have any contact with each other is because of both wanting to do the best they can for their daughter, Stevie. Things change though and Janine’s new partner wants her to go and live with him in Sweden where he is taking up a new job. This means that sixteen year old Stevie will need to live with Dougie full time. This is an ideal solution although heart wrenching for Janine having to let her daughter go. However, when one of Dougie’s friends takes advantage of Stevie and leaves her with a very real possibility of being pregnant, Janine feels a long way away from her daughter. Unexpectedly, she feels a long way away from Dougie too.


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In Falling Snow

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In Falling Snow, Mary-Rose MacColl, book reviewIris is old and frail. Her body and her mind challenge her every day. She’s increasingly forgetful, she can’t remember the names of the grandchildren or things around her and her heart is a cause of concern for her doctors. Her life is ebbing away and she fills her days with little things – caring for an orphaned possum, chatting to the postman, and watching out for the visits from her long dead brother who keeps appearing before her as a young boy. The possum should be ample clue that Iris lives in Australia.

Grace is Iris’s granddaughter but she was brought up by her grandmother after her mother died in childbirth. Grace is a successful woman – an obstetrician or a gynaecologist, I’ll admit I’m not sure about the difference – but she’s got a lot on her plate.


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Blackberry Wine

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Blackberry Wine, Joanne Harris, book reviewJay Mackintosh is a writer whose first hit novel “Jackapple Joe” was based on a man he met as a boy in the late 70s in an ex-mining town in England called Pog Hill. It’s now 1999, however, and he hasn’t written anything serious since – only junk novels under an assumed name. Suddenly, inspiration catches him and he impulsively buys a house in some no-where town in France, determined to get back his muse.

My first impressions of this book were immediately mixed. The first chapter is actually told from the point of view of a bottle of wine – a Fleurie, 1962 to be precise, and one might assume that the book was supposed to be totally from this viewpoint.


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A Tale for the Time Being

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A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth L. Ozeki, book reviewWe’ve all read books where the first thing we’ve wanted to do when we finished reading the last page was to start over again from the beginning. Ruth Ozeki’s latest novel A Tale for the Time Being is certainly one of those books; but it also isn’t one of those books. The reason for this is, while it is almost certain you will be enchanted by this novel, you might get the feeling that a second reading could change the way you were initially affected by the story. This is partially because you won’t be the same person you were when you first started reading. It may also be because the story itself will be different – either for you, or that the story itself will change. This might not make a whole lot of sense – at least not until you’ve read this book!

The back cover of this book says “within the pages of this book lies the diary of a girl called Nao. Riding the waves of a tsunami, it is making its way across the ocean. It will change the life of the person who finds it. It might just change yours, too.”


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