Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane

The Night Guest
Fiona McFarlane
Hamish Hamilton, 2013

Reading Challenges
100+ Challenge
AWW Challenge

About The Book
Shortlisted for the 2014 Stella Prize
One morning Ruth wakes thinking a tiger has been in her seaside house. Later that day a formidable woman called Frida arrives, looking as if she's blown in from the sea. In fact she's come to care for Ruth. Frida and the tiger: both are here to stay, and neither is what they seem.

Which of them can Ruth trust? And as memories of her childhood in Fiji press upon her with increasing urgency, can she even trust herself?

The Night Guest
 is a mesmerising novel about love, dependence, and the fear that the things you know best can become the things you're least certain about. (from

My Thoughts
The back of this book intrigued me with the talk of a tiger being in a house by the beach in Australia. I don't do well with unreliable narrators at the best of times, but found myself questioning things through the novel. When I finished it I wasn't at all sure how I felt about it. I think I was a little underwhelmed as I quite like knowing what is going on in novels and I wasn't sure I did with this one.

 I am writing this review now a few weeks after having finished the book and am now thinking that it was quite well done. As I read the book I always had the feeling that I wasn't quite sure what was going on, and what was real. For a while I thought that Frida might have been like the tiger, a figment. However she did interact with Ruth's son and the neighbour who found Ruth's husband. There were scenes that had me flicking back through the book to check I hadn't missed anything. I thought that Frida was such an interesting character. I really wanted to like her but felt that something wasn't quite right with her.  I think that is how readers are supposed to feel about her. The whole feeling of confusion or uncertainty about what was going on is I guess meant to show Ruth's decline.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Third Angel by Alice Hoffman

The Third Angel

Alice Hoffman
Random House, 2008

Reading Challenges
TBR challenge
100+ Challenge

About The Book
This haunting, poignant and addictive story travels effortlessly across three generations and through time. Unravelling the years from the present to the 1950s, The Third Angel is a compelling novel, set mainly in London, about girls and women who make the wrong choices and have to live with the sometimes unbearable consequences.The Third Angel opens in London in the present day, when an envious sibling comes to her sister's wedding. Their mother's illness cast a shadow over their childhood, and both Madeline and Allie are still searching for something missing in their lives. Back in the Swinging Sixties, the bridegroom's conventional English mother, Frieda, behaves in a wholly unconventional way, and the ghosts of that era still haunt all their lives and a Knightsbridge hotel. Even before that, the seeds of tragedy are sown in the Fifties, when twelve-year-old Lucy first visits London and the same hotel. Precocious, impatient, wise beyond her years, Lucy becomes a go-between for two star-crossed lovers and then holds herself agonisingly responsible for what happens... - See more at:

My Thoughts
The first Alice Hoffman book I read was Ice Queen. It was about a woman who got struck by lightning who has a love affair with another lightning survivor. However, where she feels she is turning to ice, the man burns. I'm not sure I understood everything in the novel, but I liked the world that the author creates. There is always the sense that the supernatural is simmering just below the surface. I have read a couple of other books by Alice Hoffman and quite enjoyed them all.

I really enjoyed reading The Third Angel. I liked the three stories and how they were all interlinked by the hotel and the events that happened there. Although I have to admit to feeling a little cheated towards the end, which I won't go into. The book, I think was about love - not just romantic love, but love and relationships between siblings and parents. Although in most cases in this book, it is about how love goes wrong and the consequences of that.

When entering the world of Alice Hoffman's books, everything feels a bit lyrical. The stories come alive and anything is possible. I didn't really warm to any of the characters in the first story. Reading about sisters always makes me think about my relationship with my sister. I think my favourite story was the second story. Frieda, when she was young, made things happen and didn't just go along with things.

Monday, February 10, 2014

For The Love of a Son by Jean Sasson

For The Love of a Son
Jean Sasson
Random House, 2010
292p but I read the ebook

Reading Challenge
100+ Challenge

About The Book
From the time she was a little girl, Maryam rebelled against the terrible second-class existence that was her destiny as an Afghan woman.She had witnessed the miserable fate of her grandmother and three aunts, and wished she had been born a boy. As a feisty teenager in Kabul, she was outraged when the Russians invaded her country. After she made a public show of defiance, she had to flee the country for her life.A new life of freedom seemed within her grasp,but her father arranged a traditional marriage to a fellow Afghan, who turned out to be a violent man. Beaten, raped and abused, Maryam found joy in the birth of a baby son. But then her brutal husband stole him away far beyond his mother's reach. For many long years she searched for her lost son, while civil war and Taliban oppression raged back home in Afghanistan. (From Random House website)

My Thoughts
This was the first selection of the Wednesday book group I run at work. It is non-fiction which is a bit of a departure for the group. I worried a bit about the subject matter as the discussion could have so easily turned in to a rant. It managed not too, I think... and we did say a couple of times that all religions have their shortfalls and that there are violent and rude people in every culture.

I always find these books a bit hard. I have read a few over the years, especially the ones that get talked about a lot. One reason I read fiction is that, it is fictional and things that happen don't necessarily happen in the "real world". With books like "For The Love of A Son" which are non-fiction, there is no way around the fact that the events actually happen and that people can be really cruel.

This one differs a bit from what I can remember of the other similar books like this I've read, in that there is a lot of Afghanistan's history covered in it. The book starts with Maryam's grandmother who was born either in the late 1800s or early 1900s and finished in about 2007. I really enjoyed reading the history aspects of the book.  

*spoiler alert*
I find reading the people aspects really hard. Especially when from the outside I can see how things could have been different. How could she risk her family's lives again by slashing the tire of a communist car? How could her father who went against tradition when he married now insist that Maryam follow the same tradition he despised? Why didn't she move out of her father's house when he first allowed her husband  to kidnap her son? How could she ever forgive her father and sister for allowing themselves to be charmed by her husband again? Because I think it would be quite a natural reaction to never want to see the people who were instrumental in allowing a child to be kidnapped again. The book doesn't talk about how she managed to forgive either of them. Surely that's an important point? Surely that would help readers understand her actions more?

What was a bit more surprising was that although the name of the book is For The Love Of A Son the son bit is a fleeting part of the book. More than half of the book is about Maryam's grandmother, and father's life and then her childhood. I guess since she didn't have such a wonderful reunion with her son, I can understand why it wasn't the main focus of the book, but perhaps a better title should have been used?

It may sound like I didn't like this book very much. It's hard to say I enjoyed it because it seems wrong in the face of the hardships Maryam faced. I do think this and books like it are important. Not only to bring into the open how women are treated in countries like Afghanistan, but also to help Westerners have an understanding of where people come from.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Bay of Fires by Poppy Gee

Bay of Fires
Poppy Gee
Hachette, 2013

Reading Challenges
100+ Challenge
TBR Challenge
AWW Challenge

About The Book
When the body of a backpacker washes ashore in an idyllic small town in Tasmania, the close-knit community starts to fall apart. As long-buried secrets start to come out, the delicate balance of their fragile lives is threatened...
Deep in a national park on the east coast of Tasmania, the Bay of Fires is an idyllic holiday community. There are no more than a dozen shacks beside the lagoon - and secrets are hard to keep; the intimacy of other people's lives is their nourishment. The fact that Sarah Avery has returned, having left her boyfriend and her job, is cause for gossip in itself. Then, the bikini-clad body of a young girl is found washed up on the beach a year after another teenage girl went missing. Journalist Hall Flynn is sent to the coast to investigate, and all too quickly the close-knit community turns in on itself. (from the Hachette Website)

My Thoughts
A few years ago I wrote a story where the main character went out dancing often on weekends and occasionally drank a lot. I gave it to a friend to read and she didn't like it because she didn't get the character's lifestyle. Reading Bay of Fires helps me to understand how my friend felt reading my story. I didn't really understand the motivation behind Sarah's actions, namely the amount she drank... and she didn't seem to do much reflection on why she was drinking. It was like she was emotionally detached from it.

I thought the novel was a good read. I enjoyed it, even if I didn't really like it that much. None of the characters were particularly likeable. Although I do think the best drawn one was Roger Coker and his "otherness" made him the focus of the town's attempts to try and solve the murders. I sort of picked the likely suspect early on just because they annoyed me and the writing was trying to not make them stand out too much.

What I do think was well done was the community itself, with it's claustrophobic nature where everyone knows everyone else, but also everyone had their opinion as to who had committed the murders. Namely the outsider Roger. It also felt like everyone had a secret and we didn't always find out what the secrets were. I'm still sure that Don was up to no good! The town itself was also well described, with the landscape coming to life.

It is not a traditional mystery novel and I have read reviews written by readers who like mysteries who didn't really enjoy this book, so I wouldn't recommend it to mystery readers.