Sunday, 11 June 2017

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

There aren't many books that I've enjoyed so much that I want to read them again, but this is definitely one of them. I think it's because it took me by surprise. I'd read an interview with the author where she'd spoken about the main character, Eleanor. I obviously wasn't paying attention because I came to the book with a completely different expectation. What I knew of Eleanor was that she lived alone, didn't go out much, and was really very lonely, and that the book would explain how she'd become how she was, and how she got through life. Well, all of that is true, but as soon as you start to read the book, you realise that Eleanor is not like everyone else. She may have a job, a flat, and enjoys doing cryptic crosswords, but she is hugely scarred mentally by her childhood. Something happened which has caused her to interact with colleagues in a very different manner. She needs bottles of vodka to get her through a weekend. She has a bullying and controlling mother, and the only contact Eleanor has with her is a weekly phone call, during which the mother usually berates and belittles her.

Eleanor decides she needs someone in her life to love her and be her companion. She becomes obsessed with a local musician and tries to organise a situation where they can meet. While this is happening, one of her work colleagues, Raymond, befriends her. She doesn't particularly like Raymond, but will she be able to see past looks and realise who may be better for her in her life? 

This is an emotional and moving book about not fitting in and about mental health. It is Gail Honeyman's debut novel, but it has already been shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction prize while it was a work in progress, and it was chosen as one of the Observer's Debuts of the Year for 2017.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

(Review by Megan, age 14)

The original story behind the Netflix show, 13 Reasons Why is a very raw and emotional story about a suicidal girl who has left behind casette tapes for her peers who are the 'reasons why'. 

The book is different from the on-screen show, but is definitely still hard-hitting and certainly makes you think about the affect you make on other people's lives, that however small it may be, it can make a big difference. It might not be a story for everyone, but I think that everyone should read it, because unfortunately, it is based on countless true stories that are still happening around the world today.

Overall, a very touching, emotive and important tale, told in a realistic and heart-breaking way. I recommend this book to anyone aged 13+.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Day That Went Missing by Richard Beard

In the summer of 1978, Richard (aged 11) and his family (brothers Nicky, 9, 13-yr-old Tim, 6-yr-old Jem and mum, dad and grandparents) were on holiday near Port Isaac in Cornwall. They decided to go to a nearby beach for a picnic. With the tide coming in, mum decided it was time to pack up and go, but Richard and Nicky wanted one last swim. They ran across rocks to an empty cove and jumped into the sea. Within minutes, with the tide rushing in, they were out of their depth. Richard saw his younger brother struggling to keep his head above the water, and with himself struggling he managed to swim to the beach to get help. That was the last time Richard saw his brother alive. Getting help meant running up the coastal path (about a 15 minute run) to the local farmhouse, where a call was made to the RNLI. Rescuers arrived about 40 mins after Richard left the water. Too late to help Nicky. Within the week, they'd had the funeral (which the boys didn't attend), and were back down to Cornwall finishing their paid-for holiday in the same holiday cottage, and at the same beach. Nicky wasn't spoken of again amongst the family.

This book is Richard's way, now in his early 50s, of coming to terms with the death of his brother, and trying to finally grieve for him. He interviews his family members, trying to find out why they never spoke of Nicky's death, or even of Nicky himself, and he returns to Cornwall to the place where they holidayed, and to the beach itself.

Living in Cornwall myself, I am all too aware of the dangers of the sea and the quick-turning tides, and during the tourist season there are many stories in our local papers of accidents involving holiday-makers getting stranded, or worse, during high tides. What happened to Nicky was indeed tragic, but how the family dealt with the aftermath of his death was just as upsetting. Why are there no photos of Nicky around the house? Why does Richard not know the date Nicky died? Why was he not allowed at the funeral? Why did the father drive them back to Cornwall after the funeral to finish the holiday? Because Richard has never been able to openly grieve for his brother, some of the terms he uses and the way he speaks of his brother come across as very cold. He asks blunts questions of his mother, whether it's because he is unfeeling himself, or whether he is punishing her for how she handled the situation, it's not really clear. 

This is an emotional read, and I hope Richard is now finally able to grieve for the brother he wasn't able to save.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

I'm not going to say much about this book apart from this - if there's only one book you read this year, make it this one. I gush over it to everyone at work, I recommend it in our recommends bay, I'm excited for any customer reading it for the first time. It was a Radio 2 book club book and went down very well with the readers there too. The writing is superb, the story is entertaining, the characters are exciting. The 'gentleman' in the title is Count Alexander Rostov who, in 1922 and because of his background and beliefs, is put under house arrest and sent to live out the rest of his days in the hotel Metropol in Moscow. We witness Russian history over the years through his eyes, as he learns about it only through newspapers or for the changing habits and customers of the grand hotel. From being a rich artistocrat living in a large house, he is now living in an attic room of the hotel, but in all ways he is a true gentleman.

A wonderful and unforgettable read.

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

I've only read 2 of Matt's books before, and they were both children's ones (To be a Cat; Shadow Forest). He is probably best known for his adult novel 'The Humans' and for his non-fiction work on depression 'Reasons to Stay Alive' (Matt has been a sufferer of depression for many years).

This current book has already attracted attention from the press - even though at the time of writing this, the book hasn't even been published yet, film rights were snapped up, and Benedict Cumberbatch is due to play the lead role in the upcoming film! (as well as producing it).

The book is about Tom Hazard, who suffers from a rare medical condition (anageria) which causes him to age much much slower than the average human. He looks and puts his age at 41, but he is actually over 400 years old. There aren't many other sufferers of it in the world, but one of them, Hendrich, has decided to set up The Albatross Society, and aims to recruit all sufferers into the society to protect them from medics and scientists from using them in scientific experiments. Tom has lived through many historical events (for example the plague), met many famous historical figures (for example Shakespeare), but one thing that is the most difficult for him to manage, and one which Hendrich has advised him against, is falling love. He fell in love once, with Rose, and they had a daughter, Marion, who also has anageria. Marion has disappeared, Tom hasn't seen her since she was a child, so he is now trying to find her, but Hendrich seems to be putting obstacles in his way.

I enjoyed the book - I loved the detail of the historical events mentioned. Matt obviously did a lot of research. But I did find my interest waning a bit in the last few chapters - I skim-read them instead. It's a great premise for a story, and I can see it working well as a film, so I'd be interested to see it when it comes out.

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout

I read another of Elizabeth's books called 'Olive Kitteridge' on a recommendation of a colleague a few months ago, and I fell in love with her writing. It wasn't what I expected - it read like a collection of short stories, with one character, the titular Olive, being the thread running through them all. I'm not usually a fan of short stories, and I don't like to describe it as such to customers coming into our bookshop in case it puts them off for that reason, but in this case I just loved them. Elizabeth Strout the author is wonderful at character analyses and descriptions, and day to day life and relationships are described in such a realistic and truthful (and sometimes ruthless) way.

I was eager to read her next book 'Lucy Barton', and I was very disappointed. This followed Lucy being visited in hospital by her estranged mother. Even though other characters are alluded to and memories brought to the fore, it mainly deals with the strained relationship between Lucy and her mother, and I missed the other characters and descriptions from 'Olive'.

I was willing to give her another go, and thus read 'Anything Is Possible'. I loved it. It surpassed my love of 'Olive Kitteridge'. This book follows the other characters that were mentioned in 'Lucy Barton', including her brother and sister, her cousins, her aunt, her school janitor - they're all in there, with Lucy being the thread through it all, and I just adored that return to style of 'Olive'. The last chapter is especially moving. Highly recommended.

Friday, 7 April 2017

A Talent for Murder by Andrew Wilson

Late evening on Friday 3rd December 1926, Agatha Christie drove from her home in Berkshire and wasn't seen or heard of again for 11 days. Her car was discovered abandoned in Guildford. There were many suggestions as to what had happened to her - she'd committed suicide; she disappeared as part of a publicity stunt; her husband had murdered her.

'A Talent for Murder' is a fiction novel about the incident, but Andrew Wilson uses facts and newspaper articles surrounding her disappearance to create his own imaginings of what took place during those 11 missing days.

I found it a very readable and enjoyable story. It's fast paced and gripping. I don't know whether the actual truth about her disappearance was ever discovered - Agatha Christie never spoke of it - but it was very strange reading the book knowing that something had happened and that one of the most famous crime writers in the world had found herself the center of a crime story herself.