Thursday, April 17, 2014

Diary of an Unsmug Married by Polly James

Proof-copy502 pages.
Genre:  Contemporary Fiction.
Publisher: Avon (Harper Collins) February 13th 2014.
Source: The publishers PR company in return for an unbiased review.
First Sentence: Max has only gone and organised a surprise party for my so-called 'big' birthday tonight.
Review Quote: 'A properly good writer' India Knight.

My Opinion: No threat to established diarists.

It was not until after I accepted an invitation to read this novel that I learnt that this début novel has evolved from a blog by the author's alter ego, protagonist of the 'Dairy of an Unsmug Married', Molly Bennett. My reasoning for wanting to read and review this were, as a fan of two other dairy characters Bridget Jones and Adrian Mole, it appealed to me. Well I did not dislike this I did not love it either, the heroine's boring career as a lowly paid research worker put paid to that, maybe if I had already been a fan of the blog and more of a political creature it may have appealed to me more. 

The diary covers the period May to November 2010 during which Molly reveals to her diary, her insecurities as she imagines she is contending with a mid-life crisis. Molly is married to Max, who gives her cause for concern, thanks to their next door neighbour flirting with him. Then there are Molly and Max's two teenage children, Josh and Connie, constantly bickering with each other. Her parent's and sister also feature in the dairy as she wonders why everyone seems to have a more exciting life than her. Much of the diary covers her working life, no surprise as it takes up the largest part of her life. She works as a researcher for an MP and both colleagues, various constituents and political figures feature. Life seems fairly mundane until an old school friend starts flirting with her via Facebook and the reader has to question if Molly is going to act completely out of character or not. Well does she, I am not telling!

Plenty of interesting and amusing situations occur during the six months covered by the diary, which gave me plenty of laughs, but just did not quite meet my expectations. 'Diary of an Unsmug Married' was an easy and enjoyable read even if I would have personally preferred the diary to include less about Molly's work.  A new diarist is indeed in town as the back cover of the novel states, but I do not think she is a threat to the established ones yet, maybe if she retires from her political job it will be different. I might read more of her diaries if she does!

Will probably appeal to readers that enjoy diary format novels, such as those written by Sue Townsend and Helen Fielding.

Author Profile

Polly James was born in Wales, but currently lives in East Anglia, where she works as a writer and editor. She is married and has two adult children.

She would probably still be making excuses not to write, if one of her ex-employers (an MP) hadn’t told her that she should be a novelist, instead of earning her living by writing letters for him to sign. Polly took his advice, handed in her notice, and went back to college to study for a degree in Creative Writing. 

Three years later, she started to blog and tweet as Molly Bennett, and found her voice. 

She also became addicted to the feed-back she got from readers – whether in emails saying how much they loved the characters, or in tweets about lines that had made them laugh – and she was amazed by how much people seemed to care about what would happen to Molly next.

Polly’s first novel, “Diary of an Unsmug Married” is an attempt to answer that question, and her second book will also feature Molly and her family. (Polly still keeps a diary, too, though she has no intention of publishing that.)

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

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern

Hardback:  327 pages.
Genre: Contemporary Fiction.
Publisher:  Harper Collins 2012

Source:  Tywyn Public Library, Wales.
First Sentences: She was nicknamed The Graveyard. Any secret, any piece of confidential information, personal or otherwise, that went in never, ever came back out.
Favourite Quote: "Every single ordinary person has an extraordinary story."
Review Quote: ‘An exquisitely crafted and poignant tale about finding the beauty that lies within the ordinary. Make space for it in your life.’ Heat
My Opinion: The idea behind the names is a good one but I did find it rather fragmented.

Having only previously read two of Cecelia Ahern's novels I cannot say that I am a particular fan of hers as she has written I believe fifteen at least. The two I had already read are probably her most famous ones, P.S. I Love You, first published over ten years ago and which I liked. A few years later I read Thanks For The Memories which I was very disappointed with. You must be asking why I decided to read this then, well against all I say about never judging a book by it's cover, this is exactly what I did! The cover of the edition I borrowed from the library is covered in names and it was these names that intrigued me. The idea behind the names is a good one but I did find it rather fragmented although the author does manage to link it all together eventually.

A brief précis of the story without spoiling it for you is that Kitty Logan, the female protagonist that I did not feel sympathetic towards at all, is a journalist that has had her career destroyed by scandal. She seriously needs to sort her attitude out and I think her mentor knew this as she rescues Kitty from her downward spiral. Constance is Kitty's mentor and friend and as she faces her death due to a terminal illness, she sets the young woman a task to write a story that she herself never had a chance to complete. This is where the list of names from the cover come into play as Kitty tries to solve the mystery her friend has left her to turn into an article. It is a daunting task and one that teaches her a few things about herself, but to find out if she succeeds you will have to read for yourself. 

In conclusion then I am glad the cover attracted me enough to want to read this and it was a pleasant read. Recommended to those looking for contemporary fiction that is will uplift your spirits as you discover that "Every single ordinary person has an extraordinary story."

Author Profile

Cecelia Ahern was born on September 30, 1981 in Dublin, Ireland. She is the daughter of the former prime minister  Bertie Ahern. On 14th December 2009 it was announced that Cecelia had given birth to her first child with partner David Keoghan, a girl named Robin. The couple secretly married on 11 June 2010 in County Kildare, Ireland. Her older sister, Georgina Ahern is married to Nicky Byrne of Irish pop group Westlife. Cecelia also has a musical background and was a member of the Irish pop group Shimma. She attended Griffith College Dublin and obtained a degree in Journalism and Media Communications. 

Cecelia Ahern wrote her first novel, PS. I Love You when she was twenty-one. It was published in 2004, the number 1 bestseller in Ireland for 19 weeks and sold in over forty countries. The book was adapted as a motion picture directed by Richard LaGravenese and starring Hilary Swank and Gerard Butler and released in 2007 in the United States.  For a full list of her publications please visit the link I have included below.

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. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Burmese Days by George Orwell

Ebook:  563KB  320 pages in print edition
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher:  Harper and Brothers USA. October 1934

Source: Amazon.
First Sentence: U Po Kyin, sub-divisional Magistrate of Kyauktada, in Upper Burma, was sitting in his verandah.

Favourite Quote: “. . . it is a corrupting thing to live one's real life in secret. One should live with the stream of life, not against it.” 
My Opinion: Shocking account of Colonial Life.

Recommended to me by my sister in law when she heard I was visiting Myanmar. It is always interesting to read novels set in the countries one is visiting or indeed has visited. I enjoyed this so much that I have already tracked down another novel set in Burma. 
Orwell used his own experiences in Burma as a policeman in the nineteen twenties to show the reader a realistic and shocking account of colonial life during the final years of the British Empire. Much of the story still felt surprisingly relevant as though since those days there has been tremendous change,some things have not changed at all, including the beauty of the country which is also described in excellent descriptive detail. 

Without giving too much away as I think everyone should read this for themselves. The protagonist known simply as 'Flory' is a work tired young man of thirty-five who has become disillusioned with his lifestyle, living in a dull expatriate community in a remote part of Burma, so set in his ways that he feels it is impossible for him to leave and return to England. Flory does not get on with the other Europeans, as being a very racist community they disapprove whole heartedly of his friendship with a Burmese doctor. The doctor is his only real friend and he is repulsed by the ex-pats racism, but still struggles to wholly rebel against it. 
Struggling to deal with his feeling of isolation Flory takes pleasure in gin and a Burmese mistress, neither of which satisfy him. Emotionally dissatisfied he longs to find himself a European wife that will share his love of Burma. It seems all is about to change when trite Elizabeth Lackersteen arrives on the scene, but things do not work out as Flory envisages.  

Reading this has reminded me that it is many years since I read Animal Farm and 1984 and that I really should read the rest of this talented author's work. Recommended to everyone!

Author Profile

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Eric Arthur Blair (25 June 1903 – 21 January 1950),iMotihari, Bihar, in British India. Known by his pen name George Orwell, was an English novelist, essayist, journalist and critic.  His work is marked by keen intelligence and wit, a profound awareness of social injustice, an intense opposition to totalitarianism, a passion for clarity in language, and a belief in democratic socialism.

Considered perhaps the twentieth century's best chronicler of English culture, Orwell wrote fiction, polemical journalism, literary criticism and poetry. He is best known for the dystopian novel "Nineteen Eighty-Four" (published in 1949) and the satirical novella "Animal Farm" (1945)—they have together sold more copies than any two books by any other twentieth-century author. His 1938 book "Homage to Catalonia", an account of his experiences as a volunteer on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War, together with numerous essays on politics, literature, language, and culture, are widely acclaimed.

Orwell's influence on contemporary culture, popular and political, continues decades after his death. Several of his neologisms, along with the term "Orwellian" — now a byword for any oppressive or manipulative social phenomenon opposed to a free society — have entered the vernacular

Policing in Burma

With poor academic results at Eton it was decided that Eric should join the Imperial Police, the precursor of the Indian Police Service. After attending a cramer to improve his on his classics, English and History. he passed the exam, coming seventh out of the 26 candidates who exceeded the pass mark. Eric's maternal grandmother lived at Moulmein, so he chose a posting in Burma. In October 1922 he sailed on board S.S. Herefordshire via the Suez Canal and Ceylon to join the Indian Imperial Police in Burma. A month later, he arrived at Rangoon and travelled to the police training school in Mandalay. After a short posting at Maymyo, Burma's principal hill station, he was posted to the frontier outpost of Myaungmya in the Irrawaddy Delta at the beginning of 1924.
Working as an imperial policeman gave him considerable responsibility while most of his contemporaries were still at university in England. When he was posted farther east in the Delta to Twante as a sub-divisional officer, he was responsible for the security of some 200,000 people. At the end of 1924, he was promoted to Assistant District Superintendent and posted to Syriam, closer to Rangoon. Syriam had the refinery of the Burmah Oil Company, "the surrounding land a barren waste, all vegetation killed off by the fumes of sulphur dioxide pouring out day and night from the stacks of the refinery." But the town was near Rangoon, a cosmopolitan seaport, and Blair went into the city as often as he could, "to browse in a bookshop; to eat well-cooked food; to get away from the boring routine of police life.
In April 1926 he moved to Moulmein, where his maternal grandmother lived. At the end of that year, he was assigned to Katha in Upper Burma, where he contracted dengue fever in 1927. Entitled to a leave in England that year, he was allowed to return in July due to his illness. While on leave in England and on holiday with his family in Cornwall in September 1927, he reappraised his life. Deciding against returning to Burma, he resigned from the Indian Imperial Police to become a writer. He drew on his experiences in the Burma police for the novel Burmese Days (1934) and the essays "A Hanging" (1931) and "Shooting an Elephant" (1936).

The links included below have very comprehensive Biographies of Orwell's life if you want to read the full story. I have just  included above the section that is relevant to 'Burmese Days'.
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.

George Orwell - Wikipedia     Goodreads Author Profile    Amazon Author Profile

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

Paperback: 402 pages

Genre: Contemporary Women's Fiction
Publisher: Penguin 2013
Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentences: It was all because of the Berlin Wall. If it wasn't for the Berlin Wall Cecilia would never have found the letter and then she wouldn't be sitting here, at the kitchen table, willing herself not to rip it open.
Favourite Quote:“None of us ever know all the possible courses our lives could have, and maybe should have taken.” 
Review Quote: 'The Husband's Secret is a staggeringly brilliant novel. It is literally unputdownable' Sophie Hannah - Author
My Opinion: Gains pace as the secret unfolds.

An author I knew nothing about until friends started recommending 'The Husband's Secret' to me. After the fourth one mentioned it, I decided that I really should see what they were all raving about. Well for the first part of the novel I will admit I had my doubts that it was going to meet my expectations. In the end I am glad I read this but it will not make my list of top 2014 reads. It started off I felt very slowly and jumped all over the place in what at first seems irrelevant. However I preserved and the pace picks up and all the earlier chapters suddenly make sense when you learn exactly what this terrible secret is!

The protagonist Cecilia Fitzpatrick has made a successful and happy life for herself as a wife, mother and business woman who is admired by others in her local community in Sydney. Whilst hunting for something in the attic of her house one day she comes across a letter labelled to be read only in the event of the death of her husband. He is very much alive still and when she mentions her find to him, events suddenly seem to spiral out of control and his secret has momentous repercussions not just on himself and Cecilia but on other locals whose lives are also dramatically touched by the contents. There is Tess whose husband has recently announced he has fallen in love with another woman, she has come to Sydney with her young son to stay with her mother while she decides how to move on with her life. The third woman is Rachel a local widow whose life revolves around her young grandson. You will be surprised how the lives of these three women who hardly know each other will intersect. How does the secret impact on all their lives, well I am certainly not revealing that to you here. 

Contemporary fiction that is a compelling read which gains pace as the secret unfolds and recommended as a good choice for book clubs as raises plenty of situations for discussion. 

Liane Moriarty on The Husband's Secret

Author Profile

Biography mainly courtesy of Goodreads Author Profile  To read even more about Liane click here

Liane was born on a November day in 1966 in Sydney, Australia. A few hours after she was born, she smiled directly at her father through the nursery glass window, which is remarkable, seeing as most babies can’t even focus their eyes at that age.

Her first word was ‘glug’. This was faithfully recorded in the baby book kept by her mother. As the eldest of six children, Liane was the only one to get a baby book. 

As a child, she loved to read, so much so that school friends would cruelly hide their books when she came to play. She does not go to sleep at night without first reading a novel for a very long time in a very hot bath.

She can’t remember the first story she ever wrote, but she does remember her first publishing deal. Her father ‘commissioned’ her to write a novel for him and paid her an advance of $1.00. She wrote a three volume epic called, ‘The Mystery of Dead Man’s Island’

After leaving school, Liane began a career in advertising and marketing. She became quite corporate for a while and wore suits and worried a lot about the size of her office. She eventually left her position as marketing manager of a legal publishing company business called The Little Ad Agency. After that she worked as a freelance advertising copywriter, writing everything from websites and TV commercials to the back of the Sultana Bran box.

She also wrote short stories and many first chapters of novels that didn't go any further. The problem was that she didn't actually believe that real people had novels published. Then one day she found out that they did, when her younger sister Jaclyn Moriarty called to say that her novel, Feeling Sorry for Celia was about to be published.

In a fever of sibling rivalry, Liane rushed to the computer and wrote a children’s book called The Animal Olympics, which went on to be enthusiastically rejected by every publisher in Australia.

She calmed down and enrolled in a Masters degree at Macquarie University in Sydney. As part of that degree, she wrote her first novel, Three Wishes. It was accepted by the lovely people at Pan Macmillan and went on to be published around the world. Her latest books are published by the equally lovely people at Penguin in both the US and the UK. Since then she has written two more novels for adults, as well as a series of books for children.

Liane is now a full-time author. She lives in Sydney with her husband, her daughter Anna and son George.

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      Liane Moriarty - Amazon Page  

Author's Official Website      YouTube Video 'The Husband's Secret'

Facebook Profile - Liane Moriarty        Wikepedia - Liane Moriarty