Saturday, October 26, 2013

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

                                                    Life After Life

Hardback: 477 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction
 Doubleday 2013
Source: Tywyn Library, Wales.
First Sentences: 'A fug of tobacco smoke and damp clammy air hit her as she entered the cafe. She had come in from the rain and drops of water still trembled like delicate dew on the fur coats of some of the women inside.'

Review Quote:  
"There aren't enough breathless adjectives to describe Life After Life: Dazzling, witty, moving, joyful, mournful, profound. Wildly inventive, deeply felt. Hilarious. Humane. Simply put: it's one of the best novels I've read this century."--Gillian Flynn, No. 1 New York Times bestselling author

Favourite Quote:  “No point in thinking, you just have to get on with life. We only have one after all, we should try and do our best. We can never get it right, but we must try.”
Literary Awards: Women's Prize for Fiction Nominee for Shortlist (2013)
My OpinionA fascinating read but one that takes a great deal of concentration if one is going to fully appreciate the story

The previous novels that I have read by Kate Atkinson 'Case Histories' 'One Good Turn' and When Will There Be Good News' have all been part of a series of novels featuring a former private detective.

'Life After Life' was therefore somewhat of a surprise as it was only when I picked up the copy in the library and read the blurb, that I discovered it was a narrative about parallel-lives.

A fascinating read but one that takes a great deal of concentration if one is going to fully appreciate the story as the female protagonist Ursula Todd keeps dying and being reborn. When the novel commences it is February 1910 and Ursula is about to be born for the first time, surviving just a few days before dying. Every time Ursula is reincarnated it is into the exact same life but each time she lives a little longer. Her many but one life is set in an era of havoc in Europe and the author has written some stirring descriptive passages particularly those scenes set in London during the Blitz, which I found particularly harrowing.
This novel made me think just how those ordinary things that happen in one's everyday life could so easily have dire and dramatic consequences, depending on the many decisions you make daily. It is these decisions and what happens that are cleverly shown in the storyline as Ursula's life progresses.

This is an emotional but rewarding read as you are drawn into the same events whether world events or ones within her family as she gets yet another chance again and again. Reincarnation is an interesting and fascinating concept but I am not sure about the opportunity to relive one life again and again.What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?  What do you think?

 'Life After Life' will certainly provide you with food for thought!

'Life After Life' Doubleday Book Trailer

Author Profile

Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson was born in York on January 01, 1951, she now lives in Edinburgh. Her first novel, 'Behind the Scenes at the Museum', won the Whitbread(now Costa) Book of the Year Award. Since then has been a critically acclaimed international best selling author and in 2011 she was appointed an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List.

Kate Atkinson is probably best known for her Jackson Brodie series of novels. Case Histories introduced her readers to Jackson Brodie, former police inspector turned private investigator, and won the Saltire Book of the Year Award and the Prix Westminster. 

When Will There Be Good News? was voted Richard & Judy Book Best Read of the Year. After Case Histories and One Good Turn, it was her third novel to feature the former private detective Jackson Brodie, who makes a welcome return in Started Early,Took My Dog.

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   Kate Atkinson - Official Website    Facebook Page 
 Amazon Author Profile     YouTube - Kate Atkinson - Life After Life

Linking up today with Literary Friday

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat

Paperback: 367 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher:  Triskele Books 2012

Source:  The author in return for an honest and unbiased review.
First Sentence: The early light burns Victoire's cheeks, like a beacon warning her this summer day will bring something special.

Review Quote: Recommended at the Historical Novel Conference, 2013 in “Off the Beaten Path” recommendations.

My Opinion: Already looking forward to reading the next in the series.

I really enjoyed this début novel from Liza Perrat and am already looking forward to reading the next book.  Spirit of Lost Angels is the first in L'Auberge des Anges historical series and is set against a backdrop of rural France.  Wolfsangel is the second in the series and will be published on the 16th of next month. I am already looking forward to returning to rural France to discover what happens to the talisman that is central to this series.  The bone angel talisman is passed down through generations of Charpentier  who face tragedy and betrayal in a world where their gift can be their curse. 

In this first novel of the trio the story revolves around the personal story of the protagonist Victoire Charpentier, growing up in poverty in a small village in France. It is the 18C  a time of violence and having already seen her mother executed for witchcraft and her father also killed, she is forced to seek employment in Paris. Unfortunately things do not improve for her and suffering terrible abuse she becomes desperate and her life gets about as bad as it can.  Whilst at her lowest she makes a friend who helps her become brave enough to join the revolutionaries and make a new life for herself.  Always her angel pendant is there through the many terrible experiences she has growing up in the tumultuous period of the French Revolution.

The character betrayals are very strong and realistic as are descriptions of  the locations. A well researched novel from this début author who writes in a way that will draw you in, especially if you are a fan of historical fiction.

For those of you that are tempted to read, here is a Link to Chapter One on Goodreads.

Author Profile

Liza grew up in Wollongong, Australia, where she worked as a general nurse and midwife for fifteen years.
When she met her French husband on a Bangkok bus, she moved to France, where she has been living with her husband and three children for twenty years. She works part-time as a French-English medical translator.
Since completing a Creative Writing course ten years ago, several of her short stories have won awards, notably the Writers Bureau annual competition of 2004 and her stories have been published widely in anthologies and small press magazines. Her articles on French culture and tradition have been published in international magazines such as France Magazine and France Today.
She has completed four novels and one short-story collection,

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   Liza Perratt - Twitter    Author's Official Website - Liza Perrat

Blog - Liza Perrat - Author  Facebook Profile - Liza Perrat     Amazon - Author Profile

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Girl in the Glass by Susan Meissner

Paperback: 334 pages
Genre: Fiction
Publisher:  WaterBrook Press 2012

Source:  The author in return for an honest and unbiased review.
First Sentence: Prologue: The sun is setting on my last day in Florence.

Favourite Quote: 'Renaissance is a word with hope infused in every letter.' 
Review Quote: “Meissner delivers a delightful page-turner that will surely enthral readers from beginning to end. The antebellum details, lively characters, and overlapping dramas particularly will excite history buffs and romance fans.” Publisher’s Weekly
My Opinion: A clever mix of historical and contemporary.

When I was asked if I was interested in reading and reviewing this novel, as an Italophile I was absolutely delighted to do so. Always interested in reading a novel set in Italy this did not disappoint, although I have yet to meet a real life Italian that drinks cappucini after midday. It was difficult to decide what genre this should be placed in as it is part historical fiction and part contemporary and as such will appeal to a wide cross section of readers. 

Susan Meissner has skilfully intertwined the historical story of a real Medici with her contemporary characters. Three women from different generations Nora, Meg and Sofia are the protagonists in this complex but still very easy to read novel. Nora Orsini is a Medici princess from the sixteenth century whose story is told in brief chapters amongst the contemporary ones, which feature Meg an editor with a travel publisher and Sofia an idiosyncratic author whose work has been drawn to Meg's attention.
The story opens in San Diego, USA where Meg feels her life is not living up to her dream, possibly due to the uneasy relationships she has with her divorced parents. Since she was a child her father has been promising her a trip to Florence, Italy so that she can see for herself the beauty of a place she always been familiar with through a painting belonging to her grandmother. It starts to look as if her dream might actually come true when her father tells her to book the trip.
Meg sets off for Florence to discover if the experience will solve her relationship issues with her father, but things do not work out quite as expected.  As she explores the rich history of this beautiful city the stunning art and architecture she is surrounded by make her realise that her perspective on her own life is seriously adrift. To discover what happens to her expectations of those around her and her dreams you will have to read this delightful exploration of disillusionment.

Author Profile

Susan Meissner was born in San Diego, California, USA in 1961 the second of three children.  She attended Point Loma College in San Diego, and married her husband, Bob, who is now an associate pastor and a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves, in 1980. 

When she is not working on a new novel, she is directing the Small Groups and Connection Ministries programme at The Church at Rancho Bernardo, in San Diego where she lives with her husband and four adult children. She also enjoy teaching workshops on writing and dream-following, spending time with her family, music, reading  and travelling.

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

Goodreads Author Profile    Susan Meissner - Author Official Website    Amazon Author Profile
Susan Meissner - Facebook     Twitter - SusanMeissner

I am linking this review to Art @ Home - Literary Friday

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell.

Hardback: 338 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Publisher: Headline Tinder Press 2013
Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentences:The heat, the heat. It wakes Gretta just after dawn, propelling her from the bed down the stairs. 
Review Quote:'Here is an author whose depth and insight hover just below the surface of an apparently effortless lightness...There is a deliciousness to this novel, a warmth and readability that render it unputdownable and will surely make it a hit. She's done it again' Joanne Briscoe, Guardian
My Opinion:  Brilliant personal insight of a family in crisis.

I was already looking forward to reading 'Instructions for a Heatwave', as I closed the pages to 'The Hand That First Held Mine' so seeing it on the returns trolley on a recent visit to the local library gave me the opportunity to read it straight away. It was with some trepidation though that I started reading as her writing had a lot to live up to after her last novel. No worries, as this proved to be a brilliant personal insight of a family in crisis, written by a talented lady who seems to be going from strength to strength.

An evocative setting, especially for those of us that lived through it. With her wonderful descriptive prose Maggie O'Farrell brings the heatwave of the summer of 1976 vividly alive on the printed page. The novel centres on one Irish family in London that summer that find themselves with a strange crisis on their hands when one member of the family goes out to buy a paper but never returns! When Gretta realises that her husband Robert is not coming home she expects the family to rally round and help her solve the mystery. The family reunion is not an easy one as the siblings Michael, Monica and Aiofe all have secrets, as does their mother. It is not just the stifling heat that makes them uncomfortable with each other! Set over just four days during that incredible summer we get to know the 'Riordan's' family history as they face this situation together.

Now established as a favourite author of mine I highly recommend this latest novel to those that enjoy well written contemporary fiction. It will have added interest to those of you that remember the summer of 1976.

Maggie O'Farrell talks about 'Instructions for a Heatwave'.

Author Profile

Maggie O’Farrell was born in Coleraine, Northern Ireland in 1972, and grew up in Wales and Scotland. She now lives in Edinburgh with her family. An author of contemporary fiction, who features in Waterstones' 25 Authors for the Future. To date she has had six novels published and it is possible to identify several common themes in them.  The relationship between sisters is one, another is loss and the psychological impact of those losses on the lives of her characters. 

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

 Maggie O'Farrell - Official WebsiteGoodreads Profile - Maggie O'FarrellMaggie O'Farrell - Facebook Page

Maggie O'Farrell - Talks about Instructions for a Heatwave - YouTube

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Various Pets Alive and Dead by Marina Lewycka


Paperback : 366 pages 
Genre: Literary Humurous Fiction 
Publisher: Penguin 2012
Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentences: 'The world world is deranged, though most people haven't noticed yet.'

Review Quote'Wonderfully funny . . . a dizzy, eye-watering treat . . . Lewycka is somewhere between Hilary Mantel in her satirical mode and Sue Townsend' Independent
My Opinion Deftly combines serious issues with her talent for the humorous.

Monica Lewycka's fourth novel is written in that same distinctive style that has become her trademark and once again deftly combines serious issues with her talent for the humorous. In this novel her theme is the opposing lifestyle of hippie free thinking parents in comparison to the capitalist lifestyle of one of their children.

The protagonists are Doro and Marcus retired teachers who lived in a commune from the late 60's to the early 90's and brought up their children to embrace the free love and relaxed living. The three siblings Serge, Clara and Oolie Anna have not turned out quite as expected though. Serge is  not studying at Cambridge for a Phd as they think, but living the capitalist lifestyle that they so oppose.  Clara has followed in their footsteps in that she has become a teacher but she has a passion for cleanliness and tidiness, whilst the youngest daughter who has Downs Syndrome is keen to be allowed to lead an independent life.

In her unique style of combining the farcical with ordinary life she has cleverly used the numerous animals that feature to give this novel a very witty title.

I recommend the work of this author and if you have enjoyed her previous novels will be surprised if you do not enjoy this one.

Marina Lewycka - Various Pets Alive and Dead   Link to video of the author reading an extract

Links to my reviews of Marina Lewycka's earlier novels.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian
Two Caravans  published as Strawberry Fields in North America.
We Are All Made of Glue

Author Profile

Marina Lewycka is of Ukrainian origin and was born in a refugee camp in Kiel, Germany in 1946 shortly after World War II ended. Her family subsequently moved to England when she was about a year old, she now lives in Sheffield, Yorkshire. She graduated from Keele University in 1968 with BA in English and Philosophy and from the University of York with a BPhil in English Literature in 1969. She began, but did not complete, a PhD at King's College London. She was a lecturer in media studies at Sheffield Hallam University until her retirement in March 2012. Having spent much of her life trying to become a writer she finally succeeded in 2005 with A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian which has sold more than a million copies in the UK alone. This was followed by Two Caravans in March 2007, We Are All Made of Glue in July 2009 and Various Pets Alive and Dead last year. I have included this link to  the personal biography on her website as it makes delightful reading.  Marina Lewycka Biography.

Photo,Biographical and Video Information is with thanks to the following sites where you can also find out more about the author and her writing. 

Wikipedia - Marina Lewycka    Author's Official Website   You Tube Video