Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Poppy Factory by Liz Trenow

eBook: 118 KB 402 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Avon 2014
Source: Amazon Kindle
First Sentence: An uneasy silence fell as the plane lurched bumpily around a spiral holding pattern above Heathrow.

My Opinion: Captivating.

As this is the third novel written by this author that I have read and enjoyed in the last three years, I feel I should call myself a fan, certainly I will be looking out for new titles in the future. All three titles are full of poignancy and emotion, they also feel very realistic as Liz Trenow's attention to the historical details is meticulous. The Poppy Factory is just as captivating and well researched

The two female protagonists Jess and Rose, come from such different worlds, a hundred years apart but some things never change as Jess, a veteran of the conflict in Afghanistan discovers when she reads the diaries her great grandmother Rose wrote during the First World War. For both these young women the horrors of war had tragic repercussions, shell shocked and wondering if she will ever be able to cope with 'normal' life again Jess finds solace in the diaries where Rose had poured out her heart all those years ago. 

It is fitting that this novel was released last year, 2014, in the hundredth anniversary year of World War I. A story of the life of the women left behind and the struggles they have to overcome, when their men go to war. Recommended reading for anyone that wants to learn more about the lives not just of our ancestors during World War I but of those that have fought in recent conflicts. 

The following links will take you to my reviews of Liz Trenow's previous novels.

The Last Telegram     The Forgotten Seamstress

Author Profile

 Liz Trenow's family have been silk weavers for nearly three hundred years and she was born and brought up in a house next to the family silk mill. Her father and later her brother, went to work each day at the mill, silk therefore played a large part in her early life, though at the time she did not really appreciate this fact.
As a student she did a range of holiday jobs in the mill but, like Lily in The Last Telegram, the business held no real romance for her. What she really wanted was to become a journalist so, after a few years teaching skiing in Canada, she became one. Working in news and features for local and regional newspapers, as a news journalist for local radio and regional television, also at BBC Broadcasting House and Television Centre, before leaving to work in PR which had much more family-friendly working hours!  After fifteen years working she then started to write full time. She lives in Essex with her sculptor husband, and has two grown-up daughters.
The silk company has a long and distinguished history which had never been recorded, so I started to research it with the intention of writing a book, but work, marriage and family took precedence in my life and the research languished in a file. As her parents reached their eighties, she realised there might not be much time left, so started recording conversations with them, individually and together, about their extraordinary lives. During one of these conversations, her father mentioned that during the Second World War what kept the mill going were contracts to weave silk for parachutes, surgical dressings (silk has amazing antiseptic properties) and electrical insulation (plastic had not been invented). He also told me how tricky it had been getting the porosity of the fabric just right for parachutes. It was after learning these facts that the idea for a novel was born, but it was only after retiring from full-time work and taking an obtaining an MA in Creative Writing at City University London that she actually started writing her début novel 'The Last Telegram'

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing.

Goodreads Author Profile   Amazon Author Profile   Liz Trenow - Twitter 

Liz Trenow - Author's Official Website

Friday, May 8, 2015

Where We Belong by Catherine Ryan Hyde

Paperback: 446 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Black Swan Edition July 2014
Source: Tywyn Public Library

First Sentences: By the time I was seven, I had twenty-two packs of playing cards.

My Opinion: Full of grief and hardship, but still a compelling read.

An author I have always been aware of and interested in her writing, surprisingly though this is only the second of her novels that I have read to date. The other was 'Love in the Present Tense' back in 2008. Now I have rediscovered her writing I will certainly be reading more if I have the opportunity to do so. This novel is full of grief and hardship which made me sad but I still found it a compelling read.

The protagonist of this moving story is fourteen year old Angie, whose life is far from easy. Her father died many years ago and her mother struggles to cope with Angie's younger sister, Sophie who is autistic. Forced to grow up fast, she is the young girl with the grown responsibilities that have been forced upon her. Home never seems to be in one place for long as neighbours find Sophie's shrieking unbearable. It is only when she befriends a neighbour's dog that Sophie seems to calm down. This also gives Angie the opportunity to make a friend of Paul the neighbour and slowly a bond develops between them. The families world is turned upside down though when Paul announces he is retiring and moving away. Much to Angie's humiliation her mother thinks the answer is to move themselves, so that the dog can continue to have a calming influence on Sophie. How an earth will this work out, will Angie and family find somewhere they feel they belong?

I recommend this novel to fans of contemporary fiction and feel that if you enjoy the style of writing of Jodi Picoult, then Catherine Ryan Hyde will probably also appeal.

Author Profile

Catherine was born in 1955 into a family of writers, and grew up in the Buffalo, area of New York, later moving briefly to the city. After graduating early from high school at the age 17, she worked as a dog trainer, a tour guide at Hearst Castle and working in a bakery prior to dedicating herself to become a full-time writer in the early 1990s.  Catherine Ryan Hyde is the author of more than 16 novels including Pay it Forward (which was made into a feature film starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt), Love in the Present Tense (a Richard & Judy Book Club bestseller), Chasing Windmills, When I Found You, Second Hand Heart, The Hardest Part of Love, Don't Let Me Go, and the forthcoming When You Were Older.  She currently lives in a very small town in California.

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and her writing.

Twitter Profile    Wikipedia - Catherine Ryan Hyde   

Goodreads - Author Profile

Catherine Ryan Hyde - Amazon Page   Author's Official Website

Monday, April 13, 2015

Another Night, Another Day by Sarah Rayner

Paperback: 408 pages
Genre: Contemporary  Fiction
Publisher: Picador 2014
Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentences: Prologue: Johnnie struggles to open the heavy metal door of the clinic without dropping the stack of files he has clutched to his chest.

Review Quote: 'Carefully crafted and empathetic' Sunday Times
My Opinion: 
A realistic look at mental health issues

A realistic look at mental health issues. In a note from the author she informs the reader that she wanted to write this novel having had first-hand experience of anxiety and depression.

She feels that because the problems of mental illness are very real and painful that mental health should be taken as seriously as physical health. Too often sufferers are told to pull themselves together or snap out of it. This is often because the symptoms are just not visible, but also hard for any of us to talk about. Mental health problems are problems that normal people like you and I suffer from.

Although this novel is not exactly a sequel to One Moment, One Morning it does continue the story of some of the Brighton based characters met previously. This time one of the main characters is a man, but there is an overlap with Karen, Anna and Lou as they have featured previously. The protagonists are just normal people but they happen to meet in a psychiatric clinic, Sarah Rayner has hopefully made understanding mental illness a little easier to understand by writing about it in this way.

Although the story stands perfectly alone it does pick up the character Karen's life, almost two years after the fateful train journey from Brighton to London. Along with the other two main characters Michael and Abby the three of them are suffering tremendous tensions in their lives. Karen's father is dying, Abby has an autistic son, whilst Michael is about to become bankrupt. It is whilst attending Moreland's Psychiatric Clinic that they get to share their secrets with each other, sharing the low points of their lives, whilst on the road to recovery.

Three ordinary people leading seemingly ordinary everyday life's until something tips them over the edge.  They could so easily be you, me or someone we know, as each and every one of us is vulnerable, a thought provoking read. 
Sarah Rayner is a writer that tugs at your heart strings, an author definitely worth reading.

My review of her début novel  One Moment, One Morning can be read here

Author Profile

Sarah was born in London and spent her childhood years in Richmond, Surrey, becoming a punk with spiky hair. After studying English at Leeds University she returned to London and started a career in fashion PR.  Her boss suggested she was better at writing than impressing clients, suggesting she became an advertising copywriter. Taking his advice she then spent  ten years in various London agencies, before  turning freelance, got some short stories published by Woman’s Own, and for many years combined life as an author and copywriter.  Sarah and her partner Tom now live in Brighton along with her teenage stepson who joins them at  weekends.

More biographical information can be found here

Photographs and biographical information courtesy of the following sites.

Author's Official Website   Amazon Author Profile   Goodreads - Author Profile

Sarah Rayner - Facebook Profile   Twitter Profile  Instagram - The Creative Pumpkin

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Well-Tempered Heart by Jan-Philipp Sendker

Paperback: 388 pages
Genre: Romantic Fiction
Publisher: Polygon 2014
Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentence: 'The deep blue morning sky was clear as a bell the day my life lurched off course'.
Favourite Quote: ''Not all truths are explicable and not all explicable things are true'',he once told me.
Review Quote: 'This is the kind of stunningly perfect novel that changes lives' --Claire Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author
My Opinion: .A sensitive and beautifully told story

I have been looking forward to reading this sequel to the touching love story that was 'The Art of Hearing Heartbeats' and it certainly has not disappointed me. The author has written a novel that will entertain and also make you think about the very meaning of our modern life style as it mixes Eastern and Western cultures. I was truly transported back to the wonderful country of Burma/Myanmar as I was in the previous novel.

A sensitive and beautifully told story about the protagonist Julia's quest for happiness, as despite a successful career as a lawyer she has much unhappiness in her private life. Niggling questions about her lifestyle play on her mind, leaving her feeling mentally and physically exhausted. With the help of a girl friend Julia decides that she should return to her father's homeland of Burma, which she had last visited ten years previously. Reunited with her half brother U Ba, she sets out to find answers to her many questions about life and love, that are manifesting themselves as voices in her head. Julia is very disturbed and it is some time before she reveals her worries to her brother. His way of helping her is to take her to visit a village elder and have her listen to the tragic story of her sister. An uncertain future, certain death and a tale of woe that gets under Julia's skin but helps her in her own search for peace of mind.

I found the romantic spiritualism in this book moving but if you are at all sceptical you may find this aspect of the story spoils the novel for you. Read with an open heart for this is a truly moving and sensitive tale, set in a place I have found to be as magical as it sounds on paper in real life.

My review of The Art of Hearing Heartbeats can be read here

Author Profile

Biography/Interview Courtesy of Amazon 

Jan-Philipp Sendker, born in Hamburg in 1960, was the American correspondent for Stern from 1990 to 1995, and its Asian correspondent from 1995 to 1999. In 2000 he published 'Cracks in the Great Wall', a non-fiction book about China. 'The Art of Hearing Heartbeats' is his first novel. He lives in Berlin with his family.

*Can you describe your book in 10 words or fewer?
A story about the magical power of love.
*Where did the idea for the book come from?
Very often people ask me how I got an idea. I always say: The ideas get me. I seriously don't know where they come from. That is part of the magic and mystery of being a novelist. Writing for me is like an adventure, a journey I take myself on hoping to learn and discover new things along the way.
*The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is your first novel. Have you always wanted to be a novelist?
Yes. Even as a thirteen year old school boy it was my dream to become a novelist. I wrote poems and started at least ten different novels when I was a teenager, never got beyond page 20. Discouraged I took a break for almost twenty years and started writing The Art of Hearing Heartbeats when I was 37 years old.
*Which writers do you think influenced you?
Many. Among them are Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Albert Camus, Arundhati Roy, Thomas Bernhard.

The biographical information and photo used in this post are with thanks to the following websites, where you can also find more information about the author and his writing.

Amazon Author Profile    Goodreads Author Profile    YouTube - The Art of Hearing Heartbeats

Jan-Philipp Sendker - Official Author Website