Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Thursday, 29 January 2015

A review from pre-blog days - Notes from an Exhibition - Patrick Gale

I'm sharing a book review I wrote before I started my book blog and which originally appeared elsewhere. My 'before the blog' review posts are inspired by Karen at My Reading Corner and Janet at fromfirstpagetolast.

Notes from an Exhibition by Patrick Gale 

(originally read and reviewed in 2008, I purchased my copy of this novel)


When troubled artist Rachel Kelly dies painting obsessively in her attic studio in Penzance, her saintly husband and adult children have more than the usual mess to clear up. She leaves behind an extraordinary and acclaimed body of work - but she also leaves a legacy of secrets and emotional damage that will take months to unravel.

This is the first Patrick Gale novel I have read, but I am interested to read more after finishing this one. The central character, known as Rachel Kelly for the most part, is, we quickly come to learn, a talented artist, but she is troubled throughout her life with periods of mania and depression.

At first I was not sure if I was very keen on the way the chapters move suddenly and unpredictably in time backwards and forwards between the characters, but I think as the novel progresses, this pattern becomes more comfortable and even adds to the enjoyment once the reader has come to terms with it.

A painting or item by or relating to Rachel is depicted with exhibition style background/information notes to introduce each chapter, and is linked either physically or as a theme with the chapter it proceeds, a clever idea which gives a kind of clean break for each chapter to begin at a different point in time, and focussing on a different character in particular.

Patrick Gale delivers very believable and interesting characters in this novel. I loved to read about the events in the lives of the various children, and of those of Rachel and her husband Antony, who is a calming, patient influence on them all, with his strong grounding in the Quaker faith. This itself was fascinating and made me go on beyond this novel to look into what it means to be a Quaker, purely because of how Gale has written about it here. 

He also deals with the illness Rachel suffers from and the impact it has on her, and her children and the others around her in her wider circle, with great insight and sensitivity. It is moving indeed to see how this might affect children and how they think about it and about her.

The plot weaves together very cleverly indeed, and there are some moments that caused me to gasp or think, ah I see, that's what happened regarding such and such, as it all comes together. I would actually enjoy re-reading this novel as I think the nature of the book means it would enable a better and deeper understanding of the twists and turns and the characters to go through it again.

A recommended read.

Monday, 26 January 2015

It's Monday! What are you reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Finished reading...

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

This novel has been on my to be read pile for quite a bit and is one of the books that I set myself the challenge of finally reading this year. I have to say I thought it was a very good read, and there was a lot about it that I loved. I found myself marking up quite a few sentences/passages to return to and spend longer thinking about. It's nice and timely that the film adaptation happens to be on tv here in the next couple of days and I haven't seen it before so I think I'll watch that and see how it compares. 

Currently reading... 

The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

I mentioned this one last week, and I have almost finished reading it, I hope to finish it tonight, I have about 50 or 60 pages left, and it has been a brilliant read, I am so involved with the characters and am both eagerly anticipating the ending and yet somewhat dreading it too - that feeling of not wanting a great book to end! As I mentioned last week, this book was a lovely gift to me from a very kind and thoughtful book loving friend last year.

Precious Thing by Colette McBeth

I've only just started this one, looking forward to getting stuck into it more tomorrow once I've finished The Golem and the Djinni.

What I'm going to read next...

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling

I am reading through the HP series, I read the first three at the end of last year and so next  up is book four.

What are you reading? 

I hope you have a great week of wonderful reading, and thank you for visiting.

Monday, 19 January 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

I haven't taken part so far this year, so I've included in my 'recently read' books the ones I've read over the past couple of weeks. I'll try and write up some longer reviews or thoughts on some of these if I can soon.

Recently read:

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

I found this a quite magical, wonderful read. I felt immersed in the world created in the novel and the characters were really memorable. One to treasure, it took me away from my troubles and I really enjoyed reading it. I'd heard so much about this novel and I think maybe I worried if I'd love it or not myself, and I'm so glad I've read it now. The cover has to be one of the most beautiful around, too. 


Chess by Stefan Zweig (translated by Anthea Bell)

This was a superb little read, another that I ought to have read ages ago that has been languishing on my tbr pile, it's only a short work of about eighty pages, and I thought it was a fascinating tale, brilliantly told. I loved The Post Office Girl by Stefan Zweig - link to my review, as well as a couple of other works by him (Journey into the Past and Fear - reviews linked); this one is equally impressive. It was also great to read something in translation after not having done so for a while. 

The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie 

I've been aiming to try and read some Agatha Christie novels for a while, at least the idea has been in my mind to get round to it, and I've finally made a start, with this, the first of her Poirot novels. It was a really good read and I look forward to reading more soon.

Reading now:

The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

This was a lovely gift to me from a very kind and thoughtful book loving friend last year (who also gave me Chess, above) and I am so glad to be reading it now, I am about a quarter of the way through so far, it's quite a long one, and it is captivating and magical, I will savour reading more of it this coming week. 

Plumdog by Emma Chichester Clark

This is a graphic novel I bought at the weekend, it is beautifully illustrated and is an absolutely wonderful thing for dog lovers, just a delight to read and to look at!

Reading next:

I'm not certain what I will read next, I want to try and read this one very soon though as it has been on my tbr pile too long, so it may well be my next book.

Precious Thing by Colette McBeth

Did you read any of these/do they grab your interest?
What are you reading? 

I hope you have a great week of wonderful reading!

Monday, 5 January 2015

Tackling the TBR pile

Happy New Year! So. I am really committed to tackling my ridiculous number of books 'to be read' this year. I plan to spend time reading those books that have been sitting ever so patiently on my shelves waiting and hoping to be read. I'm consciously devoting reading time to pleasurably choosing and reading these books, many owned for years, many that I longed to read and then have left languishing. I'm not ruling out reading any new books; I envisage that I'll read one here and there too. Anyway, let's see how it goes, but that's the plan. I've also been looking through my books to be read and passing on any that I don't think I want to read anymore to charity. 

I noticed a couple of challenges that I thought could help with my tbr pile

Take Control of your TBR Pile is hosted by Kimberley at Caffeinated Book Reviewer, and it focusses on March 2015, but I am starting my TBR tackling right now. Still, I think it'll give me a bit of added encouragement as the year goes on. 

The Chunkster Challenge hosted by Vasilly at 1330V is for tackling books over 450 pages long, fiction or non-fiction. Find out more about the challenge here.  This one particularly appeals to me because I think I read fairly slowly and I tend to put off reading big thick novels, even when I've been really looking forward to them, because I am wary about how long they will take me to read. Yet I know that I will love many of them once I get started - this happened with several books I read in 2014, such as American Wife, Fingersmith, Gillespie and I, and 11.22.63. 

I already have a few in mind for this challenge, and indeed as I write this I have even already finished one of them, hooray!

The Secret Keeper - Kate Morton - I have now read this one.
The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair - Joel Dicker
I Am Pilgrim - Terry Hayes
The Distant Hours - Kate Morton
The Golem and the Djinni - Helene Wecker
Disgrace - Jussi Adler-Olsen

Are you planning to really tackle your TBR this year? Do you have any tips for not being distracted too much by brand new books? Are you doing any challenges? Are there other TBR challenges you'd recommend?

If so good luck, and either way, happy reading! 

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

My favourite reads in 2014

After some reflection, these are my favourite reads in 2014. 
If I wrote a review of the book, I've added a link to that review. Unfortunately I didn't manage to write a review of many of them. They were all five star reads for me on goodreads, all books that really stood out for me, that I thoroughly enjoyed, was moved by, gripped by, and I would certainly recommend them. 
Have you read any of these? Will you be adding any to your wishlist?

Happy New Year!

All Quiet on the Western Front - Erich Maria Remarque

All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr

The Engagements - J. Courtney Sullivan

My review

Still Missing - Beth Gutcheon

The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith

Black Swan Green - David Mitchell

The Easter Parade - Richard Yates

11.22.63 - Stephen King

The Mesmerist - Barbara Ewing

Gillespie and I - Jane Harris

American Wife - Curtis Sittenfeld

84 Charing Cross Road - Helene Hanff

Perfect - Rachel Joyce

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Season's Greetings

A seasonal, and book-themed, photo from our recent visit to the brilliant 'Making of Harry Potter' studio tour, where it was all decked out for Christmas with the theme 'Hogwarts in the Snow'Apologies for the lack of updates for the past few weeks. I hope to be back a bit more in the New Year, and I'll try and put together an end of year summary/best reads pick.

Wishing all readers of the blog good health and plenty of happiness over the coming holidays, and always. 

Thank you for visiting,


Monday, 17 November 2014

The Separation - Dinah Jefferies

Synopsis from goodreads:

What happens when a mother and her daughters are separated, and who do they become when they believe it might be forever? 

Malaya 1955. It’s the eve of the Cartwright family’s departure from Malaya. Eleven-year-old Emma can’t understand why they’re leaving without their mother, or why her taciturn father is refusing to answer her questions.

Returning from a visit to a friend sick with polio, Emma’s mother, Lydia, arrives home to an empty house ─ there’s no sign of her husband Alec, her daughters, or even the servants. The telephone line is dead. Acting on information from Alec’s boss, Lydia embarks on a dangerous journey across civil-war-torn Malaya to find her family.
The Separation is a heart-wrenching page-turner, set in 1950s Malaya and post-war England.​ 


I found this debut novel by Dinah Jefferies an emotional, atmospheric and gripping read. I was engrossed in the story from the very start. I found myself drawn deeply into the story and grew to care very much about the lives of Lydia Cartwright and her eldest daughter Emma in particular. These are the two main characters whose stories we follow throughout the novel, supported by a well drawn and diverse cast of other family, friends and accomplices in Malaya and in England.

The setting in Malaya (now Malaysia) is vividly conjured by Dinah Jefferies; the sights, the colours, the creatures, the jungle and the dangers that lurked thereabouts, the people depicted in evocative prose that provides an authentic background to Lydia's journey. It is not a place or time I knew much about and I felt transported there to the time of the Malayan Emergency and plunged back into history as I read. I read at the end that the author had spent some of her childhood in Malaya and I think her experience and sense of the place comes through vividly to the reader through her evocative writing. In addition to this there is the murky sense of wrongdoing lingering, which the characters have to uncover for themselves but much of which the reader is party to, making for a heartbreaking read at times.

I could feel the pain Emma felt at being separated from her mother, and I was so sad and angry about the things Lydia heard and was told about her daughters Emma and Fleur. Lydia was distraught and heart broken, her life had been pulled from under her, so that at the worst point;

'She felt herself slipping far away beneath the surface of life, where nothing could reach her, where there was no love, no pain, and there was no point in hoping.'

I loved how Emma found escape and solace in her creative writing;

'Sometimes I felt the world was too unfair, so when things got really bad I wrote stories. I loved the way you could make up anything you wanted.'

It was powerful stuff for me as a reader, to know what each of them was going through, and I was desperately willing things to come right, for the truth to be revealed. The structure was one I liked; chapters with Emma narrating in the first person, and then Lydia's experiences told of in the third person, and both voices held my attention, though I admit to warming most of all to Emma. My favourite passage from the book is one of Emma's thoughts; 

'...I imagined a fine line that wound halfway round the world. It was the invisible thread that stretched from west to east and back again; one end was attached to my mother's heart and the other to mine. And, I knew, whatever might happen, that thread would never be broken.'

Those words really struck me and felt so heartfelt and moving, they conveyed to me how strong the emotional attachment was between Lydia and Emma, that it could not and would not be broken despite them not being together physically. 

I don't want to slip into giving any spoilers as to how the tale unfolds; I would say that I liked in particular the characters Emma and Lydia and the very strong bond between them, and I admired Veronica on how she conducted herself. Lydia showed courage and kindness in caring for the young child Maz whose mother has abandoned him we are told. One character's deceitful behaviour was to me unbearably, terribly cruel and I could not wait for the moment when this might finally be exposed. There are various intriguing strands to the story, beginning right at the prologue, which made me wonder and which are brought together and resolved by the end of the novel in a successful way.

I found this an absorbing story that took me to a destination unfamiliar to me, opened my eyes to another place and time in our history, and it is a beautifully written story with plenty of tension and depth. A very good read throughout with a heart wrenching last hundred pages or so; I felt emotional towards the end as the last few stages of the story were played out. I had been deeply drawn into Emma's and Lydia's worlds and still think about them after closing the book. A gorgeous book cover too. Many thanks to the author for kindly sending me a copy of her novel to read and give an honest review