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The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-time by Mark Haddon

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The Blurb:

Fifteen-year-old Christopher has a photographic memory. He understands maths. He understands science. What he can’t understand are other human beings. When he finds his neighbour’s dog lying dead on the lawn, he decides to track down the killer and write a murder mystery about it. But what other mysteries will he end up uncovering.

My Review:

This is another book that I’ve had on my book shelf for years – just like “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “In Cold Blood.” When I eventually thought I should read them, I was delighted to have unearthed such amazing books from my rather large collection of un-read books. I have to admit that I feel much the same about “The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-time”!

The narrator of this well-known tale is Christopher Boone, a fifteen year old, who is on the autistic spectrum. He has Asperger’s Syndrome. His mathematical skills are way ahead of his chronological age and in many spheres of learning, he succeeds despite his disability. As with many people who fall within the spectrum, Christopher has enormous difficulties with social interaction and has developed strategies to help him to cope with overwhelming situations. These include covering his ears and groaning, working out complicated mathematical problems and looking for patterns.

Christopher is also keen on the truth and when a neighbour’s dog is murdered, he is determined to find out the truth behind Wellington’s death. Unfortunately, Christopher’s pursuit of the truth uncovers more than he imagined and leads to all sorts of problems for the boy, his family and neighbours.

This book gives an interesting insight into the mind of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome. We feel his pain when his brain overloads with information and the confusion of his meltdowns. I have taught children with this condition and also have an autistic granddaughter, so I can say that Mark Haddon has done an amazing job in his portrayal of Christopher.

The book is funny, but also tragic. A whole range of emotions are to be found within the pages, but it is such a worthwhile read. I would recommend it to anyone who wants something a little different – I think it is a book that one will remember for a long time.

Meet the Author:

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Mark Haddon is a British novelist and poet, best known for his 2003 novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. He was educated at Uppingham School and Merton College, Oxford, where he studied English.

In 2003, Haddon won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award and in 2004, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Overall Best First Book for his novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, a book which is written from the perspective of a boy with Aspergers syndrome. Haddon’s knowledge of Aspergers syndrome, a type of autism, comes from his work with autistic people as a young man. In an interview at Powells.com, Haddon claimed that this was the first book that he wrote intentionally for an adult audience; he was surprised when his publisher suggested marketing it to both adult and child audiences. His second adult-novel, A Spot of Bother, was published in September 2006.

Mark Haddon is also known for his series of Agent Z books, one of which, Agent Z and the Penguin from Mars, was made into a 1996 Children’s BBC sitcom. He also wrote the screenplay for the BBC television adaptation of Raymond Briggs’s story Fungus the Bogeyman, screened on BBC1 in 2004. He also wrote the 2007 BBC television drama Coming Down the Mountain.

Haddon is a vegetarian, and enjoys vegetarian cookery. He describes himself as a ‘hard-line atheist’. In an interview with The Observer, Haddon said “I am atheist in a very religious mould”. His atheism might be inferred from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time in which the main character declares that those who believe in God are stupid.

Mark Haddon lives in Oxford with his wife Dr. Sos Eltis, a Fellow of Brasenose College, Oxford, and their two young sons.

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To the Bright Edge of the World by Eowyn Ivey

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Blurb:
Set again in the Alaskan landscape that she bought to stunningly vivid life in The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey’s second novel is a breathtaking story of discovery and adventure, set at the end of the nineteenth century, and of a marriage tested by a closely held secret.

Colonel Allen Forrester receives the commission of a lifetime when he is charged to navigate Alaska’s hitherto impassable Wolverine River, with only a small group of men. The Wolverine is the key to opening up Alaska and its huge reserves of gold to the outside world, but previous attempts have ended in tragedy.

For Forrester, the decision to accept this mission is even more difficult, as he is only recently married to Sophie, the wife he had perhaps never expected to find. Sophie is pregnant with their first child, and does not relish the prospect of a year in a military barracks while her husband embarks upon the journey of a lifetime. She has genuine cause to worry about her pregnancy, and it is with deep uncertainty about what their future holds that she and her husband part.

A story shot through with a darker but potent strand of the magic that illuminated The Snow Child, and with the sweep and insight that characterizes Rose Tremain’s The Colour, this novel from Pulitzer Prize finalist Eowyn Ivey singles her out as a major literary talent

My Review:

Eowyn Ivey’s first novel, “The Snow Child” captivated me, so when I had the opportunity to buy her second offering, “To the Bright Edge of the World”, I did so with great enthusiasm and anticipation. I was not disappointed!
The story of Colonel Allen Forrester’s exploration of the Alaskan interior, following the course of the Wolverine River, is an exciting and intense tale of wonder, exhilaration and extreme hardship. The author brings the spectacular and treacherous landscape to life and offers insights into the lives and traditions of the native tribes of the region.
Hand in hand with the story of the Colonel and his small, intrepid group, is the heart rending account of Sophie Forrester’s months without her husband’s company. She is prevented from taking any part in the expedition and has to remain in the Vancouver Barracks, often without knowledge of her husband’s whereabouts and wellbeing. During this time, which brings her much heart ache, she shows us what a brave and resilient woman she is, as she develops an interest in the fairly new art of photography.
There is another aspect of the novel, which is right up to date. An ancestor of the Forresters wishes to donate the manuscripts left by Allen and Sophie Forrester to an Alaskan museum. This story is told through a series of letters between Walter Forrester and Joshua Sloan, the curator of the museum.
In fact, the whole book consists of diary entries, letters, newspaper cuttings and photographs. This was a style of storytelling that I found very effective. The Forresters came to life in their words and I found myself caring deeply about them. Even the more minor characters were real to me. This is style that Eowyn Ivey absolutely owned!
There is a mystical, supernatural aspect to the novel that I found intriguing. As Colonel Forrester and his team ventured into the interior, they came across some strange “happenings”. These were based on the myths and beliefs of the natives, developed to help them understand their environment. So, we are to ask: Were the “happenings” real? Or did the explorers superimpose the myths that they had heard onto their own experiences? Whatever, the novel was enhanced by their inclusion.
I thought this was a wonderful book and it is one that I will treasure. Thank you, Eowyn Ivey!

Meet the Author:
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Eowyn Ivey’s first novel, “The Snow Child”, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in fiction and an international bestseller. Her newest novel “To the Bright Edge of the World” will be released August 2, 2016. Eowyn was raised in Alaska and continues to live there with her husband and two daughters.

The Huntress with Helle Gade

I love this poem by two talented poets, Helle Gade and Ben Ditmars.

The Midnight Writer

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Blue hearts hum

With ceiling fans

Free as coils

Burning casually

On unsocked feet

The huntress comes at night

Her silent voice

Carried by the northern wind

Listen carefully

For she whispers

The secrets of the dark

She hunts the truth

The fears you harbour

She will alleviate

For she is all there stands

Between you and the evil

That hunts in the dark hours

Winter is approaching

With thunderous steps

Gale winds of cold fury

Following from the frosty

North It is time to go to ground

To cover up and wait longingly

For spring to chase away

The harsh breath of frost

I wish I could hibernate

Like a grizzly bear

Awake to budding flowers

And the promise of light

I fear an icy wind, and collapsing through the narrow skin –

Perhaps it is possible to bloom below subzero or survive in stasis

If…

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The Vegetarian by Han Kang

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My review:
The Vegetarian by Han Kang is one of the most unusual books that I’ve read for a long time. Set in Korea, it tells the story of a young woman’s decision to become a vegetarian and the consequences of that decision for her and her family.
Yeong-hye decides to turn from eating meat following a horrific dream and the reawakening of memories from her childhood. Her husband, who narrates the first part of the book, cannot understand what has come over his ordinary little wife; Yeong-hye distances herself from him and her family as lack of empathy and antagonism grow.
The second part of the book is told from the point of view of Yeong-hye’s brother-in-law. He is an artist, whose obsession with an idea and with a mark on his sister-in-law’s body lead to catastrophic outcomes for the whole family.
Yeong-hye’s sister plays a major role in the final section of the book. She questions herself about her reactions to the past and how she could have protected her sister.
However, the book was so much more than the above synopsis.I think it describe the chaos which lurks under the surface of many of our lives, waiting for a trigger to set it free from the constraints that society and we ourselves put upon it. It deals with abuse, obsession and guilt and the effects that these can have on the mind. Unless the ensuing turmoil is dealt with, with understanding, love and acceptance, catastrophe is never far away.
This is a book which will linger long in my mind.The writing is beautifully poetic in places, in contrast with much of the subject matter.

After the Fire by Jane Casey

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The Blurb:

After a fire rips through a North London tower block, two bodies are found locked in an 11th floor flat. But is the third victim that ensures the presence of detective Maeve Kerrigan and the murder squad. It appears that controversial MP Geoff Armstrong, trapped by the fire, chose to jump to his death rather than wait for rescue. But what was such a right wing politician doing in the deprived, culturally diverse Maudling Estate?

As Maeve and her senior colleague, Derwent, pick through the wreckage, they uncover the secret world of the 11th floor, where everyone seems to have something to hide…

My review:

“After the Fire” is the fourth Jane Casey novel, featuring D.C Maeve Kerrigan, that I have read and I enjoyed this one as much as the others. Unfortunately, I haven’t read them in order, but that has not detracted from my enjoyment in the least.

This book, the 6th in the series, is sadly topical. It deals with the aftermath of a fire in a tower block of flats, but unlike the awful reality of the tragic fire at Grenfell Tower, the death toll is less and the novel deals with the distinct possibility of arson and murder.

The police are quickly involved in the aftermath of the fire, when it is discovered that a politician has died, seemingly by throwing himself out of a window to escape the flames and two more bodies are found in a locked room. There are enough pointers here that police involvement is needed and the ensuing tale unfolds many secrets. One of the early surprises is that the politician, Geoff Armstrong, was strangled before being thrown out of the window. The painstaking murder investigation, alongside the search for an arsonist, kept my interest throughout.

As before, one of the reasons I liked this book so much is the relationship between the characters, especially Maeve Kerrigan and her boss, Josh Derwent. These are not two dimensional; there is real depth to their characters which adds so much to this crime fiction. Jane Casey writes in a style which flows, holding interest. For me, this was a real page turner!

Meet the author:

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Jane Casey is an Irish author of crime fiction novels. She writes the Maeve Kerrigan series. Jane is married to a criminal barrister, which gives her insight into the criminal underworld. Her novels have been shortlisted for the Irish Crime Novel of the Year Award and the Mary Higgins Clark Award and longlisted for the CWA Dagger in the Library Award. She lives in London with her husband, James Norman, and their son.

Jane Casey made her debut as a published novelist in 2010 with the standalone novel The Missing. She followed it up later that very same year with the novel The Burning, which began her Maeve Kerrigan series. Below is a list of Jane Casey’s books in order of when they were originally released:

One Quiet Woman by Anna Jacobs – Blog Tour!

Today, I’m delighted to be hosting Anna Jacobs’ book “One Quiet Woman” as part of a blog tour.

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The Blurb

1930, Lancashire:
Leah Turner’s father has been killed in an accident at the laundry, and since her mother died years ago it falls to her to become sole provider for her little sister. But women’s wages are half those of men and pawning the few belongings she has left will only keep their vicious rent collector at bay for a few weeks, so even if she finds a job, they’ll lose their home.

Out of the blue Charlie Willcox, the local pawnbroker, offers her a deal. His brother Jonah, an invalid since being gassed in the Great War, needs a wife. Charlie thinks Leah would be perfect for the job.
The idea of a marriage of convenience doesn’t please Leah, but she finds Jonah agreeable enough and moving with him to the pretty hamlet of Ellindale may be the only chance of a better life for her sister.

But other people have plans for the remote Pennine valley, and the two sisters find themselves facing danger in their new life with Jonah. Can the three of them ever look to a brighter future?
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An Extract from the Book:

There were two pawnshops in Birch End now, two! That was a sign of the hard times that had hit Lancashire since the Great War.
‘No need to look at me like that. People need pawnshops in times like these, Miss Turner, and some need them at other times too.’
She shrugged.
‘Can we go somewhere private to talk?’
That surprised her. ‘Why?’
‘You need a job. I might be able to help you.’
It wouldn’t hurt to find out what he was offering. Working in a pawnshop wouldn’t be any worse than working in the laundry, especially if it paid more. She set the bucket to one side and gestured to the front door. ‘Come inside,
then.’
He gestured to her to go first. He was polite, at least. She had to give him that. She led the way down the corridor, hearing his steps behind her.It was strange. Some men made you feel uncomfortable walking behind you, but he didn’t. He might have looked her up and down, but it hadn’t been in that rude way Sam
Griggs had with women.
‘Please sit down, Mr Willcox.’
He took the chair she indicated at the kitchen table and she said it again, ‘I can’t offer you a cup of tea, I’m afraid, because I’ve none in the house.’
For the second time that day a man said, ‘That bad, eh?’in a sympathetic tone of voice, which surprised her. Pawnshop owners weren’t usually known for being sympathetic towards people in trouble. That was how they made their money, after all.
He was studying the room now. ‘You keep the place clean.’
‘Of course I do. Now tell me what you want. I’m sure you’re a busy man.’For the first time he looked less confident.
‘Um, you’ll have heard that I have a brother who got gassed in the war?’
‘I don’t know much about you and your family because I don’t waste my time gossiping. All I know is that you’ve got an invalid brother.’
‘His name’s Jonah. He used to be a big, strong fellow, but he doesn’t breathe very well these days so he isn’t able to work full-time, especially not physical work. He helps out in the shop, though, does the accounts for me. He’s really good with figures.”
He paused, seemed to be fumbling for words.
‘Jonah’s been living with me, but I’m about to get married and my fiancée doesn’t want him sharing the house. So I’m looking for a wife for Jonah as well. I’m told you’re a good housewife and I can see for myself how clean you keep this place, even now.’
She looked at him in puzzlement. Had she misheard him? Surely he didn’t mean that he wanted her to marry his brother? He ran his fingertip round his collar as if it had suddenly become too tight.
‘I um, think you might make a good wife for Jonah.’
He had meant it! ‘Why me?’
‘Women gossip in the shop and when your father was killed, I heard about you being left to bring up your little sister. I’m sorry about your father, by the way. Everyone seemed to think well of you, and it made me think. So I checked out a few things. You did really well at school.’
‘Why does it matter how well I did at school?’
Mr Willcox grinned at her. ‘Our Jonah always has his head in a book. He’d not be happy married to someone who didn’t read and take an interest in the world.’

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My Review:

I have to admit, I haven’t read a family saga novel for a long time; many years ago, they were my staple diet, alongside historical novels. So, when I was asked if I would like to review “One Quiet Woman” by Anna Jacobs for a blog tour, I wondered if I would enjoy this genre again.

This novel, the first in a new saga by this author, is set in the 1930s in Lancashire, so I suppose it would fall into the historical genre as well. Anna Jacobs had obviously researched this between the wars era thoroughly and the poverty and despair that were prevalent in many parts of the country, especially the north, are well depicted. Many families had to make do with very little food and men, unable to find work locally, would “go on the tramp”.

This is the back drop to the story of Leah Turner, the “Quiet Woman” of the title and her arranged marriage to Jonah Willcox. These two likeable characters make many plans for their life together in the small village of Ellindale and I look forward to finding out how many come to fruition in future installments of the saga.

I have to say that I did enjoy this book. The opening chapter drew me in at once and there were enough twists and turns in the plot to keep me interested. All in all, a pleasant, undemanding way to spend several hours of reading time.

Meet the Author:

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Anna Jacobs has 57 novels published as of April 2012. She writes historical sagas and modern novels alternately, and in the past has written historical romances and fantasy novels (the latter as Shannah Jay).

She’s addicted to story-telling and writes three novels a year.

The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness

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The Blurb:

We were in the square, in the square where I’d run, holding her, carrying her, telling her to stay alive, stay alive till we got safe, till we got to Haven so I could save her – But there weren’t no safety, no safety at all, there was just him and his men…

Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor’s new order. But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer? And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode…

“The Ask and the Answer” is a tense, shocking and deeply moving novel of resistance under the most extreme pressure. This is the second title in the “Chaos Walking” trilogy.

My Review:

As I suspected, I liked “The Ask and the Answer” by Patrick Ness more than the first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy – and I came to like Todd Hewitt a good deal more in this novel.

When Todd carries a badly wounded Viola into Haven, they expect that their troubles will be over; that their questions will be answered; that Viola will be able to contact “her people” – colonists who are approaching the world of “Noise”. However, the young protagonists find something completely different to their expectations.

Todd and Viola are forced to separate and throughout the unfolding of this violent and often heartbreaking story, they rarely meet. However, the ties that bind them are extremely strong and their faith and trust in each other brings real life to this story. They meet many devious characters for whom power is the guiding light and Todd has to develop ways of dealing with awful situations and actions in which he had to participate.

In the first book of the trilogy, I was irritated by Todd, but the way his character developed in “The Ask and the Answer” provided much to like and admire. Although some of the things he had to do were despicable, he tried to show compassion. Viola continued to be a strong young woman, growing in strength even in the face of betrayal.

This book was written from the points of view of both Todd and Viola – I think this worked very well and helped to broaden the scope of the story. Their voices are quite different and there was no confusion for me, just added enjoyment. I have admired the work of Patrick Ness for a while now and have no reason to change my views. I think he is an extremely skillful, thoughtful writer and although the Chaos Walking trilogy is aimed at young adults, the questions that we are asked to ponder are applicable at any age.

Needless to say, I have now made a good start on the third book: “Monsters of Men”