Friday, 12 December 2014

Book Review: A Week in Paris - Rachel Hore

A Week In Paris
By Rachel Hore
Published by Simon & Schuster
Available in Paperback and ebook

Rachel Hore's latest book, A Week in Paris, is a compelling novel about freedom and family. I don't think that the cover does justice to this fantastic book which tells an intriguing story through a dual narrative. 

A Week in Paris is set during two time periods in the life of a mother, Kitty and her daughter, Fay Knox. Both fall in love in Paris and both are musical but this is where the similarities end - Kitty must form a web of lies to protect her family while Fay must untangle these lies to find out the truth.

The first time period is set in 1930s Paris, where Kitty has gone to improve her piano skills. She falls in love with a man and with the city but this all comes crashing down around her - World War II has just begun, on the day that Fay is born. At first their life doesn't change but then the German army march into Paris. She finds herself stuck in paris during the occupation of Paris by the Nazis with her young daughter and a husband who seems to be hiding away secrets as well as British service men from the enemy.

While Fay's timeline, set in the 1960s, sees Fay in Paris performing the violin in a touring orchestra. Around her, there is unrest created by the tensions in Algeria. The only time she has 'supposedly' been in Paris was on a school trip but everything seems familiar and her memories of her childhood seem to match up with the landscape of Paris rather than London. The streets of Paris hide a past that is unknown to Fay. She must piece together the clues from her past. 

The way we use secrets and lie to protect the ones we love runs through both time lines. Kitty must survive protect herself and her family from the Nazi occupation as well as try to discover the reason why her husband is secretive as soon as the war starts. While Fay must find out the truth to her childhood because the story told by her mother of living in London in Paris doesn't seem to match up with the clues she finds herself gathering during her week in Paris. Hore has created characters that are likable in one chapter but their actions makes the reader reconsider their alliance. 

Hore's writing style sweeps up the reader into a journey through Paris. The realist details do no sugar coat the occupation of Paris - we don't have romantic scenes at the biggest tourist destinations in Paris but rather Hore explores the impact of rationing on the normal citizens and the treatment of foreign residents by the Nazis. There are people on the streets who are hungry, people lingering in the shadows, living in fear of the enemy. Even in the 1960s time frame, Hore doesn't shy away from the riots caused by the tensions of Algeria and France. Normally Paris is painted as a romantic, jazz-age city but Hore has done a lot of research to show a different side of Paris. The research, however, doesn't overshadow the plot. 

This is a enjoyable read about what it takes to survive and the lies we must tell to protect the ones close to us. You can buy A Week in Paris from your favourite bookshop.

Thank you to Simon & Schuster for sending me a copy.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Book Review: The Guest Cat

The Guest Cat
By Takashi Hiraide
Translated by Eric Selland
Published by Picador
Available in paperback and ebook

The Guest Cat, Takashi Hiraide's first novel to be published in the UK, is a book that will not only charm cat lovers but might also tickle at the heart's of non-cat lovers too. This has been a bestseller across Japan, America and France and now it's starting to make a splash over here.

The front cover is gorgeous. The publisher has done a good job in creating a cover that is not only eye catching but also simmers under the light to lure over the reader.

One day a cat invites itself into the small home of a nameless couple, who are in their thirties and both work from home. Their relationship is stale, full of silence. They are trapped in a routine of getting out of bed and straight to their desks.

The couple are not cat people but they start to thaw their feelings when the cat starts to return day after day. They name the cat Chibi which means 'little one,' as well as leaving out food and creating a bed in their rented little cottage. Not only does the cat mend the marriage but also gets the couple to engage in the world. Before the arrival of the cat, they were both intensely involved with their work and growing apart from each other even though they live in a tiny cottage. They are disconnected from the real world except for occasionally seeing their friends or helping their landlady who has moved out of the main house.

Sometimes we need external forces to push us into seeing the world in a different way. Chibi does this to the couple. The cat pushes its way into a private relationship and forces them to see that they need more in their lives. Hiraide explores the way the cat impacts both the lives of the wife and the narrator.

For the wife, Chibi is the child that the couple does not have - she is affectionate with the cat, makes a bed and sorts out fresh food for the cat. The narrator/husband tells the reader that the couple have decided not to have children but from the way that the wife behaves with the cat makes the reader wonder if the wife has only gone along with the husband's viewpoint.

The husband/narrator starts to behave more like the cat - coming and going out of the landlady's empty house, pottering around the garden, stepping back away from his work and taking time to stop and observe the world around him, letting Chibi take him away from the confinements of his home and into the garden.

The last third of the book changes in tone and I found that I enjoyed this part more than the first half of the book. The reader is left wondering how much of this book is 'fiction' and how much of this is 'memoir' as the reader finds out that the narrator has written several articles on Chibi for the original owner - this explains the episodic feel of the earlier chapters. Hiraide leaves the reader wondering at the end of The Guest Cat if the narrator has written down the life of Chibi as a way of stating his ownership of Chibi.

The Guest Cat is a book that is heart warming but also disappointing in some places. I would have liked more of the story from the wife's perspective and for there to be more of a plot. I enjoyed the sections where the couple interacted with the cat's owners and I would have liked more of this. At times the prose is repetitive and the narrator does go off on tangents from the main plot. For me, this book could have been shorter.

This is a short read and ideal for sitting back in a cosy armchair and finishing off in one afternoon.

You can buy The Guest Cat from your favourite book shop.

I was kindly sent a copy by the Publisher.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Hello!

Don’t worry I haven’t got all ‘bah humbug’ about the blog – I am still here.

Things have been a bit hectic as of late. Back in August we finally moved out of our house (having had it on the market since November and had three buyers) but our new house was delayed as the road wasn't finished so we had to move into a hotel for two months.

I thought leaving in a hotel was going to be very jolly and Jazz-age but it wasn’t. We had to move rooms three times because the lock broke the first time, and then the electrics kept blowing every time we had a shower and the third room smelled like stale smoke… maybe our time in the hotel may make it into a story one day.

We’re finally in our new house and most of the unpacking has been done. I was thought I was a minimalist but it seems I'm not… we've had lots of boxes to unpack but I can’t be blamed for everything - I think it’s 50% books and 50% car parts!

The best part of my desk is the view – I can see over the local school farm at the chubby pigs. I have named them Mr and Mrs Jumper (as they have a pattern across their back which looks like they’re wearing a jumper which has shrunk in the wash) and Spotty Doom (because he was covered in spots). I was on the verge of setting them up on Tumblr and blogging about their adventures but it looks like they’re no longer living in the field. I’m guessing that they have either been taken inside for the winter or they have become Christmas Bacon…I’m hoping for the first option. Oh well, no blog for them so you’ll never know about the love triangle and Spotty Doom’s attempts to win the heart of Mrs Jumper by weeing in her face.


Things are starting to get back to normal – I’ll have some book reviews up soon and I’m getting back into redrafting my novel.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Book Review: Dear Committee Members

Dear Committee Members
Julie Schumacher
Published by The Friday Project
Available in Hardback and ebook
Paperback is forthcoming

Dear Reader

This letter recommends Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members a very funny and insightful look into the world of academia told in letters.

But first things first – lets talk about the front cover. I know you’re not meant to judge a book by its cover (or you might have your teacher breathing down your neck) but I’m afraid you will with Dear Committee Members. As you can see from the enclosed picture this one is very striking.

Jason Fitger is an English academic, who we learn through the numerous letters of recommendations he writes for past and present students, is disgruntled by the politics of the education system and with the whole process of writing recommendation letters. However, this doesn’t stop him from writing a recommendation for anyone that knocks on his office door. The frustrations he has with his teaching, writing and love life come out in his letters and at times his opinions get him in trouble.

Schumacher explores the intimacy of letter writing and the way we share and let down our guard more than we would if it was a face to face. Fitger’s letters are full of frustrations on the limited funding for the English department, and at times his words verge on the passive aggressive but his letters also full of passion for his department plus the odd bit of gossip about his colleagues. Fitger is a man who can’t help but write down and broadcast his true feelings on the page. Dear Committee Members reminded me of lecturers when I was at university and the way they used to moan about the facilities and other members of staff.

Through the passive aggressive letters, a narrative starts to form with Fitger advocating a student, Darren Bowles, a brilliant writer who has become a victim of the writing program’s funding being cut. He needs money and time to finish off his novel which Fitger thinks will be a game changer.

Dear Committee Members reminded me of The Wonder Boys, which is also a book about a disillusioned lecturer who thinks the ‘system’ is against him. Dear Committee Members is just as funny, cringe-worthy and insightful as The Wonder Boys.

Fitger doesn’t know when to keep his mouth, which is good for the reader. This book will have you laughing out loud and also rolling your eyes within a couple of pages.

This book is available from your favourite online or offline bookshops.

I hope to hear from you soon,
Jessica

x


P.P.S Thank you to the Friday Project for sending me a copy

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Book Review: Six Stories & An Essay - Andrea Levy

Six Stories & An Essay

By Andrea Levy
Published by Tinder Press
Available in hardback and ebook
Forthcoming in paperback

As the title suggests this collection includes six shorts from Andrea Levy, the author of Small Island plus an essay on how her heritage has influenced her writing. Let me point out that the only downside to this collection is the rather drab title because inside there are some fantastic stories on the immigrant experience, soldiers fighting in WW1, and life in London council estates.

This absorbing and compelling collection is just over one hundred pages long so it will only take a matter of hours to read. I loved this collection so much that I have already gone back to read several of the stories in particular The Empty Pram which tells of a woman who has recently moved from Jamaica to England and is mistakenly accused of stealing a baby. Levy explores the ignorance of the other women and the way communication breaks down if a situation falls out of your comfort zone. I really wanted to grab the shoulders of the mothers who were accusing the Jamaican woman and shake them as I shouted 'listen to her!'

I really enjoyed the small introductions and also the full essay at the beginning of the collection. I found these interesting as Levy tells the reader the inspiration for each story as well as her decision to become a writer. These stories and Levy's writing journey shows the reader the need to embrace the culture we come from even though it may not be the norm (but then what is the norm nowadays). These are the things that make us interesting. We may try to rid ourselves of history but it will find a way of finding us again.

Six Stories & An Essay is about people and history. Levy's characters give voices to people who may not normally be represented in literature - we have the soldiers from Jamaica who serve the British Army in WW1 but then are dismissed for their heroic actions and are treated like second class citizens. There are the young children from working class backgrounds living on council estates where there is nothing to do other than punish and play with each other. The Immigration experience is explored on both sides - from the people who move to England and in Loose Change, Levy explores the behaviour of  the offspring of immigrants and way they see immigrants. Levy writes with lots of honesty and humour.

Levy says in one of her introductions, "Short stories can be as consuming as any novel," which as a writer I can agree and I can also agree with this statement from the readers point of view especially with Levy's short stories. She packs so much detail into these stories that it makes them feel like mini novels. The characters are so vivid that each one could easily have a novel told about them and in fact one of the stories eventually turned into Small Island.

It was interesting to read That Polite Way That English People Have which was written in the early stages of Levy's fantastic novel Small Island and includes the same characters. Levy explores the immigration experience in the eyes of a young woman as she moves from a hot country to a cold country, full of optimism while the people around her are jaded. The themes of the novel are being formed in this short story and I can see why Levy decided to expand this into a novel as the short story is rich with details.

You should go and buy this book today, find your favourite reading chair and settle down to some great stories.

You can buy a copy of Six Stories & an Essay from your favourite bookshop from today.

Thank you to Bookbridgr.com for the review copy.