Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Book of Mirrors by E.O. Chirovici

Also writes under Eugen O. Chirovici and Eugen Ovidiu Chirovici.
Eugen O. Chirovici had a career in mass-media, running a national daily newspaper and then a TV news channel. He has published over 1,000 articles in Romania and abroad. He currently holds three honorary doctorates (in Economics, Communication & History) and is a member of the Romanian Academy of Science. He is the recipient of several prizes for journalism. He lives in both the UK and New York City.
When big-shot literary agent Peter Katz receives an unfinished manuscript entitled The Book of Mirrors, he is intrigued.
The author, Richard Flynn is writing a memoir about his time at Princeton in the late 80s, documenting his relationship with the famous Professor Joseph Wieder.
One night in 1987, Wieder was brutally murdered in his home and the case was never solved.
Peter Katz is hell-bent on getting to the bottom of what happened that night twenty-five years ago and is convinced the full manuscript will reveal who committed the violent crime.
But other people’s recollections are dangerous weapons to play with, and this might be one memory that is best kept buried.
In his note, the author states “I’ve always thought that after three hundred pages readers should get something more than just finding out who killed Tom, Dick or Harry, no matter how sophisticated and surprising the twists might have been.”
Although the premise of the book – an unfinished manuscript containing an account of an unsolved murder – is intriguing, I’m afraid the book didn’t live up to initial expectations for me. The use of three different narrators and the way in which each witness’s account of the murder and the events leading up to it differed, either because of lapses of memory or deliberate deceit was interesting. It was an interesting attempt, though.
However, I felt that the narrators didn’t come across as sufficiently distinctive. My main reservation about the book, though, was the author’s tendency to include a lot of unnecessary information about minor characters. Did we really need to know about the person one of the narrators sat next to on a plane, the name of a waitress in a restaurant or the details of ex-wives, girlfriends, etc?  I agree that some people are way more observant than others, I for instance am, but when reading a novel that is complex enough this actually starts to annoy.
I wasn’t sure if the author was trying to flesh out the narrators’ back stories or just pad out the book. Although, I think the author was trying to communicate something sophisticated about the unreliability of memory, in the end, unfortunately, I don’t think the book did add up to much more than “who killed Tom, Dick or Harry” with the key piece of information that nailed the killer being a chance remark.  I did want to find out who the killer was and the motive so this kept me reading to the end.
Alas, I won't recommend it for reading to my friends. It is not a bad read, but it suggested so much more than it actually delivered. 2FOXGIVEN

The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

She was born in the house where her parents still live in Bedford: her sister was so pleased to have a sibling that she threw a thrupenny bit at her. As a child Hogan read everything she could lay her hands on: The Moomintrolls, A Hundred Million Francs, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the back of cereal packets and gravestones.  Hogan was mad about dogs and horses, but didn't like daddy-long-legs or sugar in her tea.
Ruth Hogan studied English and Drama at Goldsmiths College which was brilliant, but then she came home and got a 'proper' job. She worked for ten years in a senior local government position (She was definitely a square peg in a round hole, but it paid the bills and mortgage) before a car accident left her unable to work full-time and convinced her to start writing seriously. It was going well, but then in 2012 she got cancer, which was bloody inconvenient but precipitated an exciting hair journey from bald to a peroxide blonde Annie Lennox crop. When chemo kept her up all night she passed the time writing and the eventual result was The Keeper of Lost Things.
She lives in a chaotic Victorian house with an assortment of rescue dogs and my long-suffering partner (who has very recently become my husband)  She is a magpie, always collecting treasures, and a huge John Betjeman fan. Her favourite word is 'antimacassar' and she still likes reading gravestones.
A charming, clever, and quietly moving debut novel of of endless possibilities and joyful discoveries that explores the promises we make and break, losing and finding ourselves, the objects that hold magic and meaning for our lives, and the surprising connections that bind us.
Lime green plastic flower-shaped hair bobbles—Found, on the playing field, Derrywood Park, 2nd September.
Bone china cup and saucer-Found, on a bench in Riveria Public Gardens, 31st October.
Anthony Peardew is the keeper of lost things. Forty years ago, he carelessly lost a keepsake from his beloved fiancée, Therese. That very same day, she died unexpectedly. Brokenhearted, Anthony sought consolation in rescuing lost objects—the things others have dropped, misplaced, or accidentally left behind—and writing stories about them. Now, in the twilight of his life, Anthony worries that he has not fully discharged his duty to reconcile all the lost things with their owners. As the end nears, he bequeaths his secret life’s mission to his unsuspecting assistant, Laura, leaving her his house and all its lost treasures, including an irritable ghost.
Recovering from a bad divorce, Laura, in some ways, is one of Anthony’s lost things. But when the lonely woman moves into his mansion, her life begins to change. She finds a new friend in the neighbor’s quirky daughter, Sunshine, and a welcome distraction in Freddy, the rugged gardener. As the dark cloud engulfing her lifts, Laura, accompanied by her new companions, sets out to realize Anthony’s last wish: reuniting his cherished lost objects with their owners.
Long ago, Eunice found a trinket on the London pavement and kept it through the years. Now, with her own end drawing near, she has lost something precious—a tragic twist of fate that forces her to break a promise she once made.
As the Keeper of Lost Objects, Laura holds the key to Anthony and Eunice’s redemption. But can she unlock the past and make the connections that will lay their spirits to rest?
Full of character, wit, and wisdom, The Keeper of Lost Things is a heartwarming tale that will enchant fans of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Garden Spells, Mrs. Queen Takes the Train, and The Silver Linings Playbook.
Set in both London and Brighton this a very sweet read that I couldn't put down since I picked up. It took me a while to write the review, though, because I was constantly re-reading it and trying to sink in all the wisdom and charm it had. It is an intelligent novel, filled with magic and gentleness and speaks of times that are no longer. It was like a throwback of the times when people actually lived, read, loved, breathed at a slower pace. It was a magnificent comic read that I'm sure people will love to get their hands on.
I was especially impressed by the characters: not only were they very vivid and real to me as a reader, but they transported me to a life I would very much wish to be apart of, even the minor once were so full of life that I wished I could pop on the street and say hi!
Ruth Hogan is a true master of the pen, she writes so delicately, her words sweep you of your feet and make you smile with every collocation, with every gap. It was a whimsical experience to have. The Keeper of Lost Things is a very special debut. I often say that every now and again, a book comes along that can make the reader laugh out loud and then cry within just a couple of pages. Well, this novel is exactly that kind of read. I hope all of you who read my humble blog go ahead a read it! The experience is priceless.

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Easy Way Out by Steven Amsterdam


Is a writer living in Melbourne. He was born and raised by lifelong New Yorkers in Manhattan.
He wrote his first story about a hamster whose family was starving. A lilac bush in bloom saved everyone.
Steven Amsterdam has edited travel guides, designed book jackets, is a psychiatric nurse. Is a palliative care nurse.
'The Easy Way Out is a poignant, sharply funny story that raises questions about life, death, and love, with plenty of heart and dark humour' Louise O'Neill

Evan's job is to help people die. 

Evan is a nurse - a suicide assistant. His job is legal - just. He's the one at the hospital who hands out the last drink to those who ask for it.
Evan's friends don't know what he does during the day. His mother, Viv, doesn't know what he's up to at night. And his supervisor suspects there may be trouble ahead.
As he helps one patient after another die, Evan pushes against the limits of the law - and his own morality. And with Viv increasingly unwell, his love life complicated, to say the least, Evan begins to wonder who might be there for him, when the time comes.
From an award-winning author, The Easy Way Out is a brilliantly funny and exquisitely sad novel that gets to the heart of one of the most difficult questions each of us may face: would you help someone die?
This was one of the easiest reviews to write for many reasons, but mainly because the novel impresses the reader with ease. From the very first sentence you are hooked and can't wait to get to the end to see how it evolved. Steven Amsterdam is not only a good writer, he’s a Melbourne palliative care nurse, which gives Evan’s voice an authenticity others might not manage. 
Hospital deathbed scenes are meticulously recorded, reports are written and reviewed, assistants are evaluated. The administrative nightmare is such that it would be a brave assistant indeed who tried to speed somebody through the process.
It is a remarkable read in which Amsterdam touches on legal and inheritance issues of the patients who want to opt out, but this really is about Evan and Vivian and how some people decide to stay or go.  A very sensitive topic today, and everyday for that matter. It is a story about the human choice and the freedom to have it... or not. I am not sure whether if any member of my family and friends wants to die I would necessarily be ok with it, but I know that as far as human rights are concerned we have to be allowed to choose whether to fight or not at our own terms.
This is a hard subject for anyone to discuss but must have been more difficult to write about. It is a heart-wrenching, touching,informative and sometimes funny roller coaster ride which is very well written.
he main characters are well-developed and interesting, contemporary themes are explored in-depth, many perspectives are shared; this book has a lot to offer.
Steven Amsterdam has managed to pen a story that is touching, funny, informative, raunchy (in one scene), heart-wrenching and definitely makes you question your own views around the subject. It is up to you to decide whether you can handle the subject yourself. It was a tough one for me. I cried a lot while reading, and my frustration was obvious even to the people observing my while I was reading, BUT  I definitely recommend it for reading. It is profound, genuine and most of all real and important read.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Plain Brown Wrapper by Greg Lynch

A native Texan, Greg Lynch grew up in Dallas and has worked careers ranging from reporter to private detective to public relations, most of which involved shamelessly sticking his nose into other peoples’ business and writing about it.
Passionate about writing, Mexican food and college football, Greg lives in Dallas with his wife, his daughter and an assortment of animals.
Impoverished college student Allison Kerry only thought her life was complicated. On a broiling August afternoon in Dallas, it's about to get much worse. Political blackmail leads to a political payoff gone terribly wrong and the money ends up in Allison's hands, but she has no idea where it came from or who lost it. When those who lost the money try to take it back, Allison starts to realize she's stumbled into something far worse than she imagined. To make it through, she'll have to run a gauntlet of corrupt politicians, hired thugs, a sociopathic dog-catcher, a foul- mouthed mob hit man and a pearly-toothed televangelist.
Armed with only a single ambiguous clue and the help of someone she isn't sure she can trust, Allison has many questions, few answers and far less time than she thinks to piece everything together.
Ok, this onw made me laugh a lot! It is filled with humour, suspence and spiciness. It is so entertaining that it screams to be made into a movie! I loved the amount of information I was given as a reader. It was just right, not overly complicating the story and giving mee a clear enough image of what kind of characters I am dealing with. 
It definitely is a page-turner and the suspence is build just right, as it accumulates one follows how the characters develop with it until all the problems are solved. I great thriller. Lynch has crafted a diverse group of individuals, and each of them has an agenda that is logical and meaningful. Allison and her dream of becoming a lawyer while trying to support her brother and his ill son was one of the most gripping plots of the story. She makes a couple of decisions that may not seem logical to readers, but the decisions fit when someone is put into an illogical situation, as she is.
What  loved  the most is the twists. Althoug, some of them were kind of obvious they came in waves, keeping you constantly on the look for the next chapter. I read it in one breath!
I'm looking forward to reading whatever Greg Lynch comes up with next-- I think he will prove to be to Texas what Carl Hiaasen is to Florida. Lynch includes lots of little winks and "inside jokes" for readers familiar with the Dallas area, though any reader could find it relatable. An excellent summer read!!!5FOXGIVEN

The Witch’s Kiss by Katharine Corr, Elizabeth Corr

Katharine and Elizabeth Corr are sisters and Essex girls transplanted to Surrey. They both read history at university and worked as professionals in London (accountancy and law). Then they stopped working to raise families, not realising that children are far more demanding than clients or bosses. When they both decided to write novels – on account of fictional people being much easier to deal with than real ones – it was obvious they should do it together.
When Katharine’s not writing, she likes playing the harp, learning dead languages and embracing her inner nerd. When Elizabeth’s not writing, she likes sketching, dancing round the kitchen and plotting for more time free of children and cats. They can sometimes be found in one of their local coffee shops, arguing over which character to kill off next.
Their debut novel is the electrifying, dark magic, YA thriller, The Witch’s Kiss, published by Harper Collins in 2016.
Sixteeen-year-old Meredith is fed-up with her feuding family and feeling invisible at school – not to mention the witch magic that shoots out of her fingernails when she’s stressed. Then sweet, sensitive Jack comes into her life and she falls for him hard. The only problem is that he is periodically possessed by a destructive centuries-old curse. Meredith has lost her heart, but will she also lose her life? Or in true fairytale tradition, can true love’s kiss save the day?
Brace yourselves for your Quidnunc Girl will explode with negative emotions. Let's start with the fact that both authors are unbelievably intelligent women, therefore I am not exactly sure how they ended up with writing this novel... It was very if not extremely disappointing attempt, coming from two people who could have given so much more originality to the idea. 
Okay, you know I love reading YA, and you know fairy tales are my thing as well, so this one should have hit the mark from the very start, but alas. Basically Witch's Kiss is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty with switched role. I loved the concept, it could have being exploited in a much more exciting manner than we find it in the book. BTW I forgot to mention I am giving an opinion on a sample I was given in exchange for an honest review.
Anyway, Jack, the would-be serial killer, has been trapped in an abandoned sleep for 1500 years. Cursed by a wizard to collect the hearts of those in love, he has fleeting moments of lucidity, where he is aware of who he is and fights the wizard's influence, but the spells that kept both Jack and the wizard, Gwydion, sleeping are wearing off.  Merry is his only hope of being freed from the curse.
So far, so good it reads very well. On theory...
It kills me when authors in general rely on clichés to get by... If you don't have a voice of your own, don't bother writing. Like me, I would be an awful writer if I ever attempt it, so I don't I just sit around pointing out the mistakes of others and suggesting ways to fix them. There are a lot of the usual clichés to be seen in this story, as I already said, but there is just enough variety to prevent it from being an exact replica of other young adult books in the genre. We have the usual special snowflake, we have a far from perfect family dynamic, we have the romance set out to fail, we have the historical aspect going way back when, and we have a couple of the other usual young adult check box necessities. Despite all of this, it did have some unique spins on these things. This is job well done! 
What really made it hard for me to read was Meredith: Meredith, isn't very interesting, and I didn't glean much of a personality off her - she feels quite bland, and I would have liked to see more about her life at school, and her friendship with Ruby. Her relationship with her mother wasn't very well-developed, and so later events in the book didn't have the emotional impact they should have. The witchcraft and magic world-building also wasn't well-defined, and seemed a bit vague and generic. It could have been more original in that respect. I'm also not a fan of romances where the guy can't control himself and so hurts the girl he loves - even if it's because of magic, it still leaves a bad taste in my mouth. But that's my own preference in reading romance. I still found Jack to be quite interesting - actually more so than Meredith - but I couldn't get behind the romance between them. Also, considering there are so many female characters, they don't get a lot of screen-time - besides Meredith, the characters with the most significance seem to be her brother Leo, Jack, and the villain Gwydion. There was a bit of sisterly witchcraft going on, but all the other witches felt a bit flat and didn't really get any development, which was a let-down. I think the most interesting and developed female character was her Gran.
I keep on having the feeling that both authors were holding back, as if they were saving themselves for a sequel and that ruined the whole idea. On writing series, your first should grab the reader, not lull them into deep sleep. The concept I love, some of the characters are great, but it ended up being a bit mediocre. I am sorry I have to call it that, but it could have been so much more.2FOXGIVEN

Friday, January 27, 2017

Perfume River by Robert Olen Butler

Robert Olen Butler has published sixteen novels—The Alleys of Eden, Sun Dogs, Countrymen of Bones, On Distant Ground, Wabash, The Deuce, They Whisper, The Deep Green Sea, Mr. Spaceman, Fair Warning, Hell, A Small Hotel, The Hot Country, The Star of Istanbul, The Empire of Night, Perfume River—and six volumes of short fiction—Tabloid Dreams, Had a Good Time, Severance, Intercourse, Weegee Stories, and A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, which won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Butler has published a volume of his lectures on the creative process, From Where You Dream, edited with an introduction by Janet Burroway.

In 2013 he became the seventeenth recipient of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature. He also won the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. He has twice won a National Magazine Award in Fiction and has received two Pushcart Prizes. He has also received both a Guggenheim Fellowship in fiction and a National Endowment for the Arts grant. His stories have appeared widely in such publications as The New Yorker, Esquire, Harper’s, The Atlantic Monthly, GQ, Zoetrope, The Paris Review, Granta, The Hudson Review, The Virginia Quarterly Review, Ploughshares, and The Sewanee Review. They have been chosen for inclusion in four annual editions of The Best American Short Stories, eight annual editions of New Stories from the South, several other major annual anthologies, and numerous college literature textbooks from such publishers as Simon & Schuster, Norton, Viking, Little Brown & Co., Houghton Mifflin, Oxford University Press, Prentice Hall, and Bedford/St.Martin and most recently in The New Granta Book of the American Short Story, edited by Richard Ford.

His works have been translated into twenty-one languages, including Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, Polish, Japanese, Serbian, Farsi, Czech, Estonian, Greek, and most recently Chinese. He was also a charter recipient of the Tu Do Chinh Kien Award given by the Vietnam Veterans of America for “outstanding contributions to American culture by a Vietnam veteran.” Over the past two decades he has lectured in universities, appeared at conferences, and met with writers groups in 17 countries as a literary envoy for the U. S. State Department.

He is a Francis Eppes Distinguished Professor holding the Michael Shaara Chair in Creative Writing at Florida State University. Under the auspices of the FSU website, in the fall of 2001, he did something no other writer has ever done, before or since: he revealed his writing process in full, in real time, in a webcast that observed him in seventeen two-hour sessions write a literary short story from its first inspiration to its final polished form. He also gave a running commentary on his artistic choices and spent a half-hour in each episode answering the emailed questions of his live viewers. The whole series, under the title “Inside Creative Writing” is a very popular on YouTube, with its first two-hour episode passing 125,000 in the spring of 2016.

For more than a decade he was hired to write feature-length screenplays for New Regency, Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Disney, Universal Pictures, Baldwin Entertainment Group (for Robert Redford), and two teleplays for HBO. Typical of Hollywood, none of these movies ever made it to the screen.

Reflecting his early training as an actor, he has also recorded the audio books for four of his works—A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain, Hell, A Small Hotel and Perfume River. He was awarded an Honorary Doctorate degree from the State University of New York system. He lives in Florida, with his wife, the poet Kelly Lee Butler.
From one of America’s most important writers, Perfume River is an exquisite novel that examines family ties and the legacy of the Vietnam War through the portrait of a single North Florida family.

Robert Quinlan is a seventy-year-old historian, teaching at Florida State University, where his wife Darla is also tenured. Their marriage, forged in the fervor of anti-Vietnam-war protests, now bears the fractures of time, both personal and historical, with the couple trapped in an existence of morning coffee and solitary jogging and separate offices. For Robert and Darla, the cracks remain under the surface, whereas the divisions in Robert’s own family are more apparent: he has almost no relationship with his brother Jimmy, who became estranged from the family as the Vietnam War intensified. Robert and Jimmy’s father, a veteran of WWII, is coming to the end of his life, and aftershocks of war ripple across their lives once again, when Jimmy refuses to appear at his father’s bedside. And an unstable homeless man whom Robert at first takes to be a fellow Vietnam veteran turns out to have a deep impact not just on Robert, but on his entire family.
Let me start by saying that this is a very complex and meaningful read that explores a multitude of weighty themes that need a special skill to woven and Butler has done so marvellously. For a numerous time I am falling in love with the fluidity of language that the author possesses; his prose touches the right chord every time and they managing of time-shifts is handled with such easy that it exceeds perfection.
Elegant and strong it is a search for truth rather than for redemption or reconciliation. It is a novel of greatness as it spans over half a century to explore the lives of the Quinlan's under the shadow of the Vietnam war. Through this exploration, Butler raises the postulates of human existence to question them one more time. What is right, and what wrong; how to maintain courage in the face of danger and most importantly how to live with the decisions you make? A worthy story, well told that will move most readers, especially those who grew up in the Vietnam war era. It is above all a read that will challenge your perception of war, how a family can divide over it, one going to war, the other escaping to Canada; and how all changes for ever.
I cannot fully relate to the subject matter as I am a kid of the 90s, but i can assure you it resonates on a very deep and personal level for everyone who attempts to read it. There is a feeling of oppression & suppression throughout this novel. We are invited into this world to disentangle threads - in our own mind. At least that's what I keep doing. It teleported me into a state of mind that very few books have managed to successfully throw me in. I am still recovering... Maybe on a later date in time I will have some more to say, but for now I will let it sink into the soil of my soul to water it with kindness and thoughts.5FOXGIVEN

Monday, January 23, 2017

Runemarks (Runemarks #1) by Joanne Harris


Joanne Harris is an Anglo-French author, whose books include fourteen novels, two cookbooks and many short stories. Her work is extremely diverse, covering aspects of magic realism, suspense, historical fiction, mythology and fantasy. She has also written a DR WHO novella for the BBC, has scripted guest episodes for the game ZOMBIES, RUN!, and is currently engaged in a number of musical theatre projects as well as developing an original drama for television.
In 2000, her 1999 novel CHOCOLAT was adapted to the screen, starring Juliette Binoche and Johnny Depp. She is an honorary Fellow of St Catharine's College, Cambridge, and in 2013 was awarded an MBE by the Queen.
Her hobbies are listed in Who's Who as 'mooching, lounging, strutting, strumming, priest-baiting and quiet subversion'. She also spends too much time on Twitter; plays flute and bass guitar in a band first formed when she was 16; and works from a shed in her garden at her home in Yorkshire.
It's been five hundred years since the end of the world and society has rebuilt itself anew. The old Norse gods are no longer revered. Their tales have been banned. Magic is outlawed, and a new religion - the Order - has taken its place.

In a remote valley in the north, fourteen-year-old Maddy Smith is shunned for the ruinmark on her hand - a sign associated with the Bad Old Days. But what the villagers don't know is that Maddy has skills. According to One-Eye, the secretive Outlander who is Maddy's only real friend, her ruinmark - or runemark, as he calls it - is a sign of Chaos blood, magical powers and gods know what else...

Now, as the Order moves further north, threatening all the Worlds with conquest and Cleansing, Maddy must finally learn the truth to some unanswered questions about herself, her parentage, and her powers.
Joanne Harris... well, it was a love at first word with her and has been so ever since. I have NEVER read a book by her and felt disappointment, regret or mixed feelings. She is a unique human being that has been blessed with the magic of writing and brings joy to the world with ther storytelling.
This is Joanne Harris's first novel for young adults. Its the story of maddy Smith a fourteen year old girl who lives in the distant future in a world entirely different to ours. Maddie is born with a mysterious rune mark on her hand which in her world is considered a very bad omen.
The novel which is quite long for a childrens novel relates Maddie's adventures as she crosses over into the different worlds. On her journey she encounters many colourful characters including norse gods. No-one is quite who they appear to be and who actually can Maddie really trust! There are lots of twists along the way. Joanne Harris in this book demonstates her ability as a storyteller. Although I did feel that she did not explore the character of Maddy strongly enough that said a very readable story. I also would have wished for Loki's character to be a bit more... Well, Nordic... Ever since I read Lachlan's Wolfsangel I have been spoiled by the way he portrays Loki, and so far every other portrayal falls flat for me. I just cannot live with the idea of another Loki, who is to be different to that, which is of course absolute non-sense, for Loki is a shapeshifter above all. But alas, I am a humble human.
On the bright side Joanne Harris' writing style is as strong as ever and it is easy to get involved in the magical world she creates. It is all very tongue-in-cheek with humour that owes a lot to the influence of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. It is easy to read and enjoyable as ever. But I find it a bit less influencial than her other works. Nothing can beat the Five Quaters of the Orange or Chocolate for me. It is still very good, although a tiny bit inferior the rest of her novels.
It is again a crossover book that any age group with a penchant for fantasy and magic will thoroughly enjoy. This is a re-release of the original book which was published in 2007 but this version has an epic, artistic and mythology based landscape on the cover which is absolutely stunning (it is also hardback which is a bonus). I am a huge fan of Joanne Harris so thank you to Gollancz for providing me a copy of the book to devour almost immediately.