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Archive for the ‘Books I’ve read’ Category

This author was new to me, recommended by two different friends.  An event twenty-two years ago changed detective Frank Mackey’s life, and when new facts emerge he and his family are thrown into more than their usual turmoil.  There are gritty details about life in a poor area of Dublin, and about abusive relationships.  He’d tried to escape from his origins, but circumstances meant he had to go back.  It’s a fast-paced thriller, that keeps the reader on edge, with wonderful characterizations of a diverse cast.  Anyone who likes a well-written suspenseful mystery would enjoy this one.

All kinds of things are going down
around the darker side of town

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This is a beguiling book, with a hint of mystery, and an other-worldly dimension.  It’s the beautifully written story of two different women with two different lives – or is it?  The author weaves a clever web around an idyllic life in a remote village on a Greek island, yet there is a lurking presence that threatens to upset everything.  The story presents as a romantic fantasy with great characters, but is so much more.  I’ll be looking out for other novels by Rosie Thomas.

An earthquake and tsunami mean
some changes to what might have been.

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I found this book disjointed and wouldn’t have persevered with it if it hadn’t been this month’s choice for our book group.  The main character is Rachel, who is half Danish and half African American.  Her parents met and married in Europe, and moving to the United States brought all the racial tensions into focus.  A family tragedy (which is slowly unravelled) caused Rachel to be adopted by her African American grandmother, and the book explores issues of race and identity from several different perspectives.  I wished I’d read the discussion questions beforehand, and I didn’t enjoy the book enough to go back and check on them afterwards.  Reading spasmodically meant I hadn’t retained enough detail to be sure of some answers.  Some may like this book, but I found it disappointing.

This book explores identity
but not enough to engage me

 

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This strange book relates the story of Elvis Presley’s close relationship with his mother.  It’s labelled fiction and clearly states it is not affiliated with, authorised, or endorsed by Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc, the owner of the Graceland trademarks.

The book follows the Presley family, including stillborn twin Jesse, from the shack in Tupolo, Mississippi, to the mansion in Memphis, Tennessee, and finishes with Gladys Presley’s death in 1958, soon after Elvis joined the army.

It’s hard to know how much of the story may be true.  Like many others I had posters of Elvis on my bedroom wall in my early teen years (along with Cliff Richard, Billy Fury, and later, the Beatles).  I still enjoy his music and didn’t need to be reminded of the drug-taking and excesses of celebrity.  The book is promoted as unlocking the mystery to that beautiful sadness in the voice of Elvis.  Utterly heartbreaking.  I’d prefer to appreciate the music and stay ignorant of what was happening in the background.  It’s interesting to read how the music began, but this is not a book I’d recommend unless you enjoy sordid details.

He’ll always be the only King
we don’t need to know everything.

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I was relieved to get to the end of this book because I found it gruesome, and probably would not have continued  had it not been this month’s choice for our book discussion group.  The story centres on the siege of Leningrad (St Petersburg) during the second World War.  More than a million inhabitants died, often of starvation, as they suffered in what was Russia’s coldest winter on record.

The main character is Marina, a docent at The Hermitage, Leningrad’s amazing art museum, which housed many images of the Madonna.  Lately I’ve had a surfeit of war novels.  WWII was a defining time for many of my parents’ generation.   Especially for the English, it seeped into their DNA and was always present.  To some extent this is similar to the way earthquakes have permeated Christchurch life.

In this book Marina is also shown in her old age in America, where she has Alzheimer’s.  The fact that her children know nothing of her earlier life is not unusual for a survivor of such an ordeal.  It’s a bleak book, but luckily has only 230 pages.  The author’s afterword of how she came  to write it is unusual, and readers keen to know more of WWII may well be enthralled.

As a guide she sought to honour
mem’ries of the lost Madonna

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This is a long book – 600 pages, and they were used for thoroughly detailed scene-setting.  The action alternates a castle in Kent in the 1940s and London in the early 1990s, with slow revelations of the links between the two.  There are multiple layers of mysteries shared between a cast of singular characters and a Gothic setting.

I sometimes got impatient during the first 500 pages, wondering whether they might usefully have been edited, but the final section gradually disclosed many answers.  I’d recommend the book, but be warned that it may take time and perseverance to get through it.  I have a friend who always reads the last chapter first to see if a book’s worth reading.  I would not advise doing so with this novel – you need the buildup to appreciate the denouement/s.

A castle with a moat and towers
is where we spend The Distant Hours

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I was thoroughly absorbed by this open and honest account of an Australian woman’s life.  From an Irish Catholic family, Cecilia entered a Sisters of Mercy convent in 1952 at the age of seventeen, and stayed for thirty years.  During that time she chafed at pointless restrictions, taught in a variety of Catholic institutions, and experienced the changes that gradually took place within the Church.  This true story of her life tells the reasons for her decision to leave religious life, and the loneliness she experienced before eventually finding a partner.

The book has an obvious authenticity and would interest anyone who cares about women, social history, or spirituality.

When she no longer was a nun
a whole new life could be begun.

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