Book Reviews / Books

Review: Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

02.20.13
Life After Life
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Years ago, when I was backpacking across India on my gap year, a girl I met called Hannah told me that Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson was her favourite book. I added it to my To Be Read list and bought a copy on my return to England. That was eight years ago, and I still have an unread copy of the book on my mantelpiece in London.

I have heard about Kate Atkinson numerous times since I was first recommended Behind the Scenes at the Museum, but it was only when I recently saw a tweet from Jamie Byng, founder of World Book Night, singing the praises of Atkinson’s latest novel Life After Life, that I decided it was time I read one of her books.

Ironically, Life After Life begins on my birthday – 11th February, albeit some years before I was born. The year is 1910, the night is snowy, and into the world comes Ursula Todd, born to a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. Yet on that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born and lives to tell the tale.

In this unique and captivating tale, Life After Life follows Ursula Todd as she embarks upon a number of different lives, each of which are effected by the twists and turns of destiny. Showing how one small decision can wildly affect one’s future, Life After Life sees Ursula encounter heartbreak, death, passion and loss as the hand of fate deals her card.

With characters as profound and well crafted as those found in classics and an engaging plot, Life After Life is both a poignant and inventive tale. The perfect first foray into the work of Atkinson, it certainly won’t be my last.

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Book Reviews / Books

Review: Instructions for a Heatwave – Maggie O’Farrell

02.07.13

 

Instructions for a Heatwave

Despite having had my nose in a book for the best part of the past two decades, until recently I had not yet read anything by Maggie O’Farrell. Prior to beginning Instructions for a Heatwave, I had just finished Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, and while I had promised myself to alternate reading current publications with novels from the BBC’s Big Read, I somewhat digressed from the list.

Having never read Maggie O’Farrell before, I had few expectations of her latest novel, Instructions for a Heatwave. Set against the balmy backdrop of a heatwave in London, the year is 1976 and the Riordan’s are experiencing a family crisis. Retired Robert, husband to Gretta and father of Michael Francis, Monica and Aoife – all of whom are struggling with their own, personal dilemmas – goes to the cornershop one morning to buy a newspaper and doesn’t come back.

His disappearance brings his estranged children and wife back together – Michael Francis, who’s on the brink of divorce, twice married Monica and wild child Aoife, who lives in New York and hasn’t been home for three years. While not a harmonious reunion, it gives each of the characters a chance to delve deeper into the trials their personal lives are currently in the throes of.

The characters are expertly crafted, the is plot captivating and the writing is both skilled and subtle. Instructions for a Heatwave is the perfect family saga and a wonderful tale of flaws and forgiveness.

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Books

An Ode to Horsham Library

02.06.13

Horsham Library

Given the close proximity of National Libraries Day – which takes place this Saturday, 9th February – I wanted to write a blog post on what libraries mean to me. I spent much of my childhood in Horsham, a small market town in West Sussex located on the River Arun. To me, Horsham was perfect, and I still view the town with somewhat rose-tinted glasses; I see it as a haven of tranquility away from the smog of London where I can go to rest my weary head. My memories as a young girl are of walks in St Leonard’s Forest, cycling along the River Arun and learning to bike ride next to the duck pond round the corner from where I lived with my parents and three sisters.

Perhaps some of the most prominent memories I have of my time spent in Horsham however, are my weekends spent in Horsham Library. I clearly remember walking along Guildford Road on a Saturday morning, into the town centre to where the library was nestled – a haven of the unread and undiscovered to my young eyes. From Fantastic Mr Fox to Mallory Towers, to the Babysitter Club books, Sweet Valley Highs, Point Horrors and beyond, much of my time as a child was spent between the four walls of Horsham Library.

During school holidays they would run reading schemes to encourage children to read more; and while I wasn’t in need of any further encouragement, I revelled in the challenge of reading as many books as I could over the six-week summer holidays.

I remember moving from the children’s section to the young adult’s; I remember the glee as I was told that I could borrow seven rather than three books at a time, most of all I remember the love of reading that Horsham Library instilled in me as a young girl.

Horsham has changed a great deal since I lived there as a little girl, but the library has stayed much the same. And every time I pass it with my father, I’m hit with a wave of nostalgia and a longing for the unread books that lie therein.

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Book Reviews / Books

Review: Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

01.29.13

Gone Girl

Of late, Twitter has become something of a nuisance. I have lost count of the number of times I have settled down to begin a book only to find myself, an hour later, still reading through my news feed hungry for the immediacy of information. I often ponder how many more books I would get through were it not for my mild addiction to social media; though working in PR, I can of course lay some of the blame of my twitter reliance at the foot of my job.

Thankfully, while Twitter does serve as an often unwelcome distraction, it also alerts me to the books everyone seems to be both reading and waxing lyrical about; thus the most recent example is Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. While I was planning to read another of the BBC’s Big Read before the end of the month, I wanted to find out why everyone was talking about Gone Girl and thus began it myself.

Before I began Gone Girl, I had read the opening chapter of a couple of other books, neither of which had caught my imagination. So it was something of a relief to find myself instantly gripped by Flynn’s third novel.

Set in Missouri, the novel begins when Nick’s beautiful wife Amy disappears unexpectedly on their fifth wedding anniversary. A struggle has taken place and the finger is quickly pointed at Nick, whose account of events isn’t bought by the police. As he continues to protest his innocence, Nick makes a series of blunders that further incriminates his part in his wife’s disappearance, alienating himself from both the general public and his in-laws.

Woven into the narrative is a series of diary entries from Amy prior to her disappearance and as the tale progresses it becomes clear to the reader that all is not as it seems. The combination of Nick’s present-day reaction to the news of his wife’s disappearance with fragments from her diary, from their first meeting to present keeps the reader guessing as to both the motives and mindsets of the main protagonists.

With a clever twist and a somewhat sinister ending, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn is a fast-paced page tuner that is gripping to the very end.

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Book Reviews / Books

Review: Don’t Look Now – Daphne Du Maurier

01.22.13
Don't Look Now
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Frequent followers of my blog will know that I’m a huge fan of Daphne Du Maurier’s; indeed it was reading Rebecca that began my quest to read the Top 100 BBC Reads. And despite the growing piles of books in my fireplace, the additional shelves I’ve had to use to house them, and the fact that I have books at both my mother’s and my father’s house, at the top of my wish list every Christmas is more books.

Don’t Look Now and Other Stories by Daphne Du Maurier was just one of a number of books I received for Christmas. This particular edition is part of the Penguin Decades series, a really beautifully presented collection with covers designed by Zandra Rhodes, making it something of a keepsake. I had heard of Don’t Look Now on account of the 1973 film starring Julie Christie and was aware of its sinister tone. On the whole, I don’t tend to read short stories; other than those I read on my university or school syllabus, it’s not a genre I would personally indulge in. However, with it being a new year, and trying to remain in the habit of pushing myself in terms of what I read, I decided that Don’t Look Now was as safe a bet as any.

The backdrop to the tale is Venice, a change from the coasts of Cornwall, but equally as atmospheric. The tale follows John and Laura, a married couple who are holidaying in Venice following the death of their daughter. During their time away they get lost amongst Venice’s many side streets and canals and the grieving couple have a chance encounter with two sisters one evening. One of the sisters is blind but apparently gifted with second sight and she claims to have seen their dead daughter, meaning that any chance of putting their ghosts to rest is quickly forgotten. What follows is a string of sinister events set against the rain-shrouded landscape of Venice into which a small figure in red enters, whose seeming innocence forms the backbone of the timely twist in this haunting tale.

A captivating, clever read, Don’t Look Now is yet further evidence of Du Maurier’s prowess as one of the finest story tellers. The only thing I took umbrage with was that the tale ended far too soon.

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