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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 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:

The Other Hoffmann Sister by Ben Fergusson

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The Hoffmann sisters, Ingrid and her older sibling, Margarete, are taken to German Southwest Africa in 1902, to live on land bought by their father from Baron von Ketz. The Baron, his wife and son, Emil live nearby and “give” their servants Nora and Hans to the Hoffmanns, to help them settle and to make their life more comfortable. It soon becomes clear that Margarete is not emotionally stable and that the hot, arid country does not suit her particularly well.

In some ways, Ingrid settles better. She has her books to read and is given language lessons by Hans. He is well educated and speaks German and French. Time is taken away from these lessons when he has to escort Margarete over to the von Ketz home every week. It is not totally clear to Ingrid why these trips are occurring.

The Hoffmanns eventually leave Africa in a hurried manner, after Baron von Ketz is murdered at the start of a Herero uprising. Hans and Nora are missing, and this is a source of anguish for Ingrid. This younger Hoffmann sister is full of questions about what has happened and what is to come. She loves her sister deeply and cares for her well-being and these feeling for her sister continue on their return to Germany. When Margarete becomes engaged to the young Baron von Ketz, Ingrid has some misgivings. On the wedding night, Margarete disappears and it is presumed that she is dead – drowned in the lake. The rest of the novel is about Ingrid’s search for knowledge of her sister’s disappearance and her reawakened desire to discover what happened to Hans.

A considerable amount of the story takes place in Berlin after the First World War, where Ingrid becomes tentatively involved with the revolution in the city. At times, her searches for the missing are set aside so that she can follow her passion for translating poetry from English and French into German. However, on return to the von Ketz country estate, the anguish of her loss re-emerges, along with her determination to discover the truth.

This was not a particularly easy novel to read, as the pace is variable. At times, the plot seems to come to a standstill, but then, with a new piece of information, or change of scene, it moves along again. Thinking about this, however, I feel now that this is a mirror of Ingrid’s feelings and actions. She was surrounded by unanswered questions and deception; at times, the confusion seemed to overwhelm her and she, herself, came to a standstill. Then, something was revealed to her and she could move on with her quests.

I am glad that I read this book. It gave much food for thought and I was interested in the sections on post war Berlin and the revolution. Much is written about the post war world, but I hadn’t read anything that looked at it through German eyes.

Thank you to NetGalley for allowing me to read “The Other Hoffmann Sister” in return for my honest review.

Meet the Author:8153785

Ben Fergusson is an award-winning novelist. He was born in Southampton in 1980 and grew up near Didcot in Oxfordshire. He studied English Literature at Warwick University and Modern Languages at Bristol University. Since leaving university he has worked as an editor, translator and publisher in London and Berlin and currently teaches at the University of Potsdam.

​Ben’s debut novel, The Spring of Kasper Meier, was selected for the Waterstone’s Book Club, WHSmith Fresh Talent and the BBC Radio 2 Book Club. It was longlisted for the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award and shortlisted for The Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year Award. It won the 2015 Betty Trask Prize for an outstanding debut novel by a writer under 35 and the HWA Debut Crown 2015 for the best historical fiction debut of the year. His second novel, The Other Hoffmann Sister, will be published by Little, Brown in 2017.

“The Real Liddy James” by Anne-Marie Casey…..Blog Tour!

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Today, I am delighted to be host to Anne-Marie Casey‘s latest novel, “The Real Liddy James”

In my opinion, “The Real Liddy James” is a book about life and the tricks it can play on you.

In some respects, Liddy James is a highly successful woman: she’s a sort-after divorce lawyer, she’s a writer, she has two sons, and she’s good looking, intelligent and lives in New York. My goodness, she has it all……or so, some might say.

Then, we look a little closer and we see that Liddy is herself divorced. On the surface, she and her ex-husband, Peter, appear to be on fairly amicable terms, but is this a true picture of the situation? Liddy is such a successful lawyer and writer, that she is in demand most of her waking hours. Her life is spreadsheet-organised. It has to be if she is to fit in all her appointments, have time for herself (what is that?) and time for her boys. Matty, a teenager, and Cal, at six years old, have very different needs that have to be accommodated. She has help with this in the form of Lucia, but Lucia has a life outside of the James’ household which may need attention too. It also seems that Peter has a new life ahead with Rose, living in the same house he once occupied with Liddy and Matty.

One may ask why Liddy is so driven. Partly, this is to leave behind her upbringing. Her parents are Irish, from fairly humble roots, who immigrated to America to find a better life. However, their idea of “a better life” didn’t coincide with Liddy’s, who became driven by the ambition to lead her own version of betterment. Success is also addictive; the more successful Liddy became, the more her personal life became squeezed. This is definitely one of the tricks that life can play, thinking that the more money one earns, the happier and easier life will become.

This whirlwind of a life finally unravels during a T.V. interview, when Liddy completely “loses the plot”. In the aftermath of embarrassment, puzzlement and utter weariness, Liddy is offered the chance to recover her equilibrium, with her children, in a remote house in Ireland. We wonder at this point, if the peace and quiet away from New York and all the demands of that life will help the real Liddy James emerge…..or have we met her already? You must read the book to find out!

I enjoyed “The Real Liddy James”; not my usual genre, but it made a pleasant change from some of the “murder and mayhem” novels that I read. Although Liddy’s lifestyle is a million miles from mine, I could identify to a certain extent with the juggling of work commitments, while providing a young family with the time, love and care that they need. I was surprised by some of the feelings evoked by several characters in this novel as it unfolded. Anne-Marie Casey’s writing has an easy flow to it and I was able to zip through this book with great enjoyment.

I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys reading about how women juggle the dreaded work/life balance. There are romance, humour and relationship issues within the pages – plenty to keep you interested in meeting “The Real Liddy James.”
Thank you to the publishers for providing me with the book to read and review.

Question and Answer with Anne-Marie Casey

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It’s a pleasure to welcome you to my blog today, Anne – Marie.
First of all, I have to say that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading “The Real Liddy James.” She’s certainly a driven character! Is she based on anyone you know?

While Liddy is certainly based on aspects of people I know (including me!) she had a very precise genesis as a character. I read Anne-Marie Slaughter’s now famous article, Why women still can’t have it all, several years ago. In personal, thoughtful and analytical prose, Slaughter articulated the challenges facing women who want a career and a family. She described how the demands of her life had become overwhelming, and in doing so she voiced the feelings of innumerable other women. Women who had come to the conclusion they didn’t want to live that way. And, more likely, they didn’t think they could.

The following year Lean In arrived. Sheryl Sandberg’s book is a powerful and challenging piece of work. I recognise its importance for women, perhaps particularly for younger women. But being in my forties at the time I read it, having a career and a family myself, having seen several of my brilliant friends have to adapt to (and their careers suffer because of) the demands of divorce, or children with problems, not enough money, or simply not enough sleep, I felt uncomfortable with, and a bit scared by, the emphasis on self-confidence and ambition rather than institutional change. I found myself to be Team Anne-Marie Slaughter all the way.

I had thought about the issues debated by Slaughter and Sandberg a great deal so, when I met my editor to talk about a new book, I said, spontaneously as I recall, that I wanted to write something about a woman “who leaned in so far she fell over”. We laughed. She loved the line and, before I could point out that I didn’t have any more than that, she told me to get started. And that’s how Liddy began.

Why did you choose New York as the setting for this novel?
From the moment I first saw the iconic skyline I have had a love/love relationship with New York City. I’ve spent a lot of time there for work and pleasure, and I guess I just thought it would be fun to inhabit it in my imagination. Also, in the process of feeling free enough to write prose I found it liberating to be so far geographically away from my real life.

Do you personally think that it is possible to create an ideal work/life balance?
NO!!!

I know that you are also a screen writer and a playwright, as well as a novelist. Do you have any preference? What has been your most satisfying work to date?
I am not one of those people who always knew they would be novelists or, like the Brontes, spent endless hours of their childhoods writing miniature books in tiny script to satisfy their relentless urge to tell stories. In fact, writing fiction was never an ambition of mine.

Through my twenties, I worked in Film and TV in London as a producer, but then I fell in love, got married and, with our first baby in tow, my husband and I moved to Ireland where I became a TV writer. (Fortunately I could do it, it was a life that suited me, AND I earned a living from it.) For several years I sat at my desk happily writing scripts that mostly never got made, but then the recession came and bit hard and the two shows I had been working on were cancelled abruptly. What was I to do? I didn’t want to go back into production, and I suspected that production would not want me – by this time I was a working writer, too used to wearing pyjamas all day and mostly talking to myself, and occasionally the dog, to return to all day human interaction. After a couple of days under the duvet, I decided there was nothing for it. I would have to try and write (and sell!) a novel.

When I began writing my first book, I tried to apply the same tools I used when writing a screenplay. There is a rigorous purity in the process of development from storyline, to scene breakdown to script that comes naturally to me. And I love deadlines! I love them so much I give them to myself! (Occasionally I give them to my teenage sons with dispiriting results.) However, to my dismay, I found this didn’t allow me to explore the characters and situations in the way I needed to. In fact, it turned out that the only way I could write a novel was to throw all that planning out, sit down, start writing and see what happened.

Actually I don’t recommend it as an approach, aside from the unoriginal resulting stress dreams, it means I almost always over write and have to self-edit rigorously, but the great surprise to me in becoming a novelist (and two books in I feel okay about calling myself one) is that it has been the most satisfying work I’ve ever done.

Are there any authors or books that have influenced your work?
I’ve been an avid reader my whole life, and I studied English at University, so it’s almost impossible for me to be specific on this – however here are four books that influenced this novel.

The Girls’ Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank.
This is a very important book for me as it was the novel that inspired me to try and be a writer of fiction. The memory of how I felt when I read it, (the sense of emotional connection to the main character, Jane) and my admiration for the simplicity yet boldness of the structure gave me a model of what I sought to achieve.

Little Women and Good Wives by Louisa M Alcott
I came back to these books, which I adored as a child, in 2011, when I adapted them for the theatre and, of course, re-reading them as an adult, I felt an even stronger sense of why they have endured as iconic classics for so many generations of women. As an adult, and a working writer, I find Jo March’s struggle to provide for her family through her work inspirational, as well as her burning desire to marry for love and retain her independence of spirit, most unusual in the context of 19th century literature.

Heartburn by Nora Ephron
I always assume that everyone has read something by Nora Ephron, but if you’ve only seen the movies, get this book. It’s got everything; laugh out loud humour, intense emotional punch and recipes. I read a piece by Lena Dunham in which she said that Ephron “called bullshit on a whole host of things including…the idea that one’s writing isn’t fiction if it borrows from one’s life.” I couldn’t have put that better.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.
I was thinking about late 19th century novels when I was writing certain sections of my new novel and it was pleasure to go back and re-read several of Wharton’s. If you haven’t read any, I think this is the one to start with (although I have a huge affection for The House of Mirth). I was struck once again by two things about this novel; the emotional complexity of the characters and plot, and yet the readability. That is extremely hard to achieve, yet Wharton makes it seem effortless.

Do you follow a strict routine when you write?
I try to. Without self-discipline nothing gets written, and I have a busy life, so as I am starting a new novel at the moment I have imposed the 1000 words a day rule on myself. As I haven’t written a book for well over a year it is like pulling teeth at the moment so I’m trying a tip a writer friend gave me and I tie my leg to the chair with a belt until the work for that day is done!

What about the future? Do you have anything in the pipe-line that you can tell us about?
I have just finished a screenplay adapted from the novel ‘The Master’ by Jolien Janzing about Charlotte Bronte’s time in Brussels and her doomed affair with her Professor, Constantin Heger. It is the secret love story that inspired Jane Eyre and I’ve really enjoyed writing it. I am also working on a touring version of my stage adaptation of Little Women for the Everyman Theatre in Cork. And I’m tying my leg to a chair most days!

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions, Anne-Marie. It has been a real pleasure to read your novel and also your interesting answers to my questions.

You can buy this book on Amazon:

You can also follow the author on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnneMarieCaseyAuthor/
and on her website:
http://www.annemariecasey.com/