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A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War, and a Ruined House in France
A Fifty-Year Silence: Love, War, and a Ruined House in France
by Miranda Richmond Mouillot
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.15
68 used & new from $11.88

3.0 out of 5 stars A woman piecing together her grandparents' lives, April 28, 2015
Miranda Richmond Mouillot grew up in the US. Her maternal grandmother moved to the US from Switzerland a few years after the war. At the time she was pregnant and also brought her young daughter (the author's mother). Miranda grew up knowing that her grandparents had separated but never knowing why. While she had close relationships with both of them, neither showed any willingness to talk about the other or to explain how they had met, how as two Jews living in France they had escaped the war, and why they subsequently separated. This book is about her quest over several years to discover their stories.

The problem that I have with this book is that Miranda's grandparents are not particularly interesting, nor likeable. There is an insinuation that there's going to be a big reveal, but actually it's a story that's largely devoid of drama. (Not entirely: the story of how they escaped from France to Switzerland is both dramatic and nerve-wracking.) Having said that, it does give a good picture of life at that time, of the tension of living under the Vichy Government, the desolate nature of the Swiss refugee camps and the soul-eroding experience of participating as an interpreter at the Nuremberg trials. But it also gets bogged down a great deal with variations in Miranda's frustration at trying to piece the story together and her grandparents stubbornly refusing to assist.

What lifts this book is that the author writes extremely well. She has a beautiful turn of phrase and the book is full of sentences that are a pleasure to read.


Hausfrau: A Novel
Hausfrau: A Novel
by Jill Alexander Essbaum
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $15.60
97 used & new from $9.07

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, April 28, 2015
This review is from: Hausfrau: A Novel (Hardcover)
This is the kind of book that would benefit from a Reader's Advisory Label on the front. If it had one, it would say something like this - Warning: Frequent, explicit sex scenes. Depressed and unlikeable heroine. Bit of a downer all round.

And while this is all true, I loved this book. Loved it, loved it, loved it. (Being the old lady that I am, I would have preferred it to have less graphic sex in it - but whilst it was graphic, it was neither titillating nor gratuitous). I got completely immersed in it and I also am full of respect for how cleverly it has been constructed and how satisfying it is on several levels.

The book is about Anna, aged 37, an American who has lived in Zurich with her Swiss husband for the last 8 years. During that time she has had three children but she has never succeeded in feeling "at home" in Switzerland. She hasn't come to grips with the language, she hasn't made many connections with others and she has kind of floundered in a drifting apathy that has evolved into depression and self-loathing. She feels detached from both her husband and her children.

Two years ago, she had an affair that lasted a few months and that gave her a feeling of purpose and life. Over the course of this book she will take further lovers, although the relationships are impersonal - physical but not emotionally satisfying. Sex for Anna is a way to shut out her depression on a temporary basis, whilst at the same time compounding it through guilt.

I didn't particularly like Anna and I don't think many readers will. But I empathized with her. I have been a lonely partner living in Switzerland myself and it is a hard society to break into, particularly if you are not fluent in the local language. Even now, while I read this, I am adapting to a new country that we moved to a few months ago and so I really get that feeling of isolation, how easy it is to avoid taking proactive steps to lift yourself out of it and how apathy just perpetuates the feeling of isolation. I don't know if I would necessarily recommend this book for a book club because I think that lots of people will probably have quite strong negative reactions to it, but I would love to have a discussion about it. Having finished it, I almost immediately feel like reading it again and that's a very unusual reaction for me.


Touch
Touch
by Claire North
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $19.26
58 used & new from $13.95

3.0 out of 5 stars Clever and original but needed to be tighter, April 25, 2015
This review is from: Touch (Hardcover)
A clever book by a clever author: Touch is the second book from the writer of the brilliant The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, and like Harry, it features a protagonist (Kepler) who has abilities that ordinary people do not. Kepler has the ability to switch bodies with anyone that he touches and has been living this way for the past 250 years. Sometimes he spends only moments in a body, other times it can be years. Over the years he has become fluent in multiple languages, become familiar with many cities and has developed a sense of responsibility for those whose bodies he "borrows". He has also come to know a few others who share his abilities - fellow "ghosts" as they refer to themselves.

The book opens when someone is trying to kill Kepler. Gradually he learns that there is an organisation which is targeting and trying to eliminate the ghosts and which has already killed many of them.

I really enjoyed the originality of this book and the thought that the author has put into what it would be like to be a "ghost" - the things you look for in a host body and how shifting into a body that is old or inebriated is an unpleasant experience when you haven't had the time to get accustomed to that state. The first half of the book is fast moving, gripping and clever. However the story is too stretched out and by the end of it I was feeling weary.


The Novel Habits of Happiness (Isabel Dalhousie Novels)
The Novel Habits of Happiness (Isabel Dalhousie Novels)

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A sweet instalment in a loved series, April 21, 2015
I feel a bit disloyal giving this book three stars, hence I've given it four, although that's a stretch. I have read all nine books in the series and somewhere along the way I moved from loving them to just kind of liking them. Having said that, this is one of the best in some time, even if it does take until Chapter 5 before anything of consequence happens.

Isabel Dalhousie is the editor of a philosophical magazine who lives in Edinburgh with her handsome husband Jamie (that's only mentioned about, oh! 100 times) and their three year old son Charlie. She has an active mind and she is always musing about topics as varied as the failings of lions, whether one can be pure of heart without being boring and the reliability of the Swiss railway system.

There are two main storylines in this book. The first concerns Isabel being asked to investigate a child who is convinced that they have had a previous life. His descriptions of where he lived are so vivid that his mother asks Isabel to find out whether it is possible that such a place exists. The second storyline concerns her old nemeses Professors Lettuce and Dove, who turn up unexpectedly in Edinburgh. While both storylines take some time to develop, they are well developed and largely resolved, which is something that hasn't always happened with this series in the past.

The main point of this book seems to me to make you think about kindness. Again and again different characters remind us of the need to be kind to others, to open oneself to goodness "as one opens a door to allow a friend to come in". And ultimately, because you can't read a book in this series without thinking about being a better person, I rate it four stars.


The Mirror World of Melody Black
The Mirror World of Melody Black

5.0 out of 5 stars Keep an open mind and just start reading, April 17, 2015
I loved this. Much like a nervy pregnant woman, I didn't think I could find room in my heart to love another book by Gavin Extence as much as I loved the one I already had (The Universe versus Alex Woods), but I do. Melody Black is quite a different book, but at its core there are similarities. Both are about a quirky misfit and both are told with both heart and humour.

I knew very little about the story when I picked up this book. The description on the book's inside cover is extremely vague and the title also gives nothing away - it sounds like a story about a drag queen! - and in any case has only a tenuous link to the plot. My issue, and I suspect the publisher's concern, is that if you know what the book is about you might say "huh, sounds like a downer" and not read it. And yet it's anything BUT a downer. It's clever, it's engaging, it's witty, it's truthful and it's cautiously optimistic. So read the next paragraph with all of that in mind.

The book is narrated by Abby, a freelance journalist in her late 20s who lives with her boyfriend Beck. One evening she goes to borrow a can of tomatoes from their neighbour and finds his dead body in his living room. (This is not a thriller - the death is from natural causes.) The discovery affects Abby. She develops insomnia and starts to have increasingly wild ideas. Gradually we learn that Abby has bipolar disorder and that the incident has triggered a spiral into mania. Which is what the book is about - what happens to Abby next.

As Gavin Extence explains in the Author's Note at the end of the book, he has some experience of mental illness on which he has drawn to create Abby's completely fictional story. Perhaps this is why the descriptions of how she feels and behaves seem so real and comprehensible. The book is littered with the kind of sentences that you want to read out to someone. One example I loved is when Abby is talking about her sister Fran: "Fran was never someone who was likely to understand her little sister's mood disorder. In terms of her own mental health, she was the equivalent of the person who has never caught a cold."

I loved this book. Abby got under my skin and I am sorry to be saying goodbye to her. Bravo Gavin Extence.


The Shut Eye
The Shut Eye

3.0 out of 5 stars Missed the mark for me, April 16, 2015
This review is from: The Shut Eye (Kindle Edition)
I wasn't familiar with the description "shut eye" before I started reading this book, but as Wikipedia helpfully tells me, a shut eye is a performer who becomes so adept at the illusion of mind reading that the performer comes to believe that he or she actually possesses psychic powers.

In this book, the Shut Eye is Richard Latham, a psychic who failed to give the Police actionable visions in the case of a missing girl a year earlier and now gives readings at a local church on Friday evenings. Among his crowd of desperate attendees is Sandra, who has lost her dog, and Anna, whose four year old son has gone missing.

I didn't really like this book and there are a few reasons. I didn't warm to any of the characters and the setting and premise just felt kind of...grubby. Be aware too that it's a storyline that concerns two missing children and there are some parts of it that I found quite disturbing and hard to read. Also, the psychic elements - particularly a twist near the end concerning a photograph - just felt kind of ridiculous. I have read and liked other books by Belinda Bauer and I think she's a talented writer but in this instance I wish I hadn't picked this book up and I'm a little baffled by the many rave reviews that it's got.


The Final Minute
The Final Minute

3.0 out of 5 stars Very readable but not Kernick's best, April 13, 2015
This review is from: The Final Minute (Kindle Edition)
Simon Kernick's books are reliable page turners. They hook you in quickly and have you flicking the pages until late in the night. This one is no exception, and the fact that I gave it only three stars doesn't mean that it's not relentlessly readable - it is! However it's not one of the strongest plots that Kernick has delivered, relying too much on coincidences and the reader's willingness to overlook logic as the body count mounts. And while the protagonists are very likeable, their behaviour stretches credibility too far.

The plot focuses on Matt Barron, recovering from a car accident which has given him amnesia. His sister is looking after him and has hired both a nurse and a psychiatrist to help him recover his memories. However he has a nagging suspicion that things aren't what they appear to be and when two very nasty killers turn up one day, he finds himself on the run for his life, while at the same time desperate to make sense of the vague memories that he has and find out why so many people are after him.

Like all of Kernick's books, some familiar characters will make an appearance along the way, including Tina Boyd and DCI Mike Bolt. As we will also learn, Matt Barron has himself been a major character in a previous book (if you don't want to know which it was because that would constitute a spoiler, stop reading this review now - but if you do want to know, it's the eigthth Simon Kernick book, with the number ten in the title).


The Lost Art of Having Fun: 286 Games to Enjoy with Family and Friends
The Lost Art of Having Fun: 286 Games to Enjoy with Family and Friends

4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent reference manual for hours of fun, April 11, 2015
This is a terrific reference book for when you have a group of people to entertain. It would be equally good for families or teachers. There are a wealth of parlour and party games (286 to be precise). There are some pen and paper games including ones that most of us are familiar with (hangman, battleships etc) but no card games. The majority need no props or only items that are very easily located.

While there are a few games that can be played with only two people, the majority need at least four. It would have been helpful if there was a reference at the beginning of each description to how many people are required/can be accommodated. The instructions for each game are simple, fairly brief and make them sound like fun!

The sections are:
1. Rainy Day Games
2. Car Journey Games
3. Games using pen and paper, knucklebone or matchsticks
4. Racing games
5. Word or number games
6. Party Games
7. Musical or dramatic games
8. Country House Weekend (games for large groups and/or spaces)
9. Seasonal Games eg for New Year's, Hallowe'en, Christmas


Feng Shui Simply: Change Your Life From the Inside Out
Feng Shui Simply: Change Your Life From the Inside Out
by Cheryl Grace
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.75
56 used & new from $5.29

3.0 out of 5 stars Making changes to improve all aspects of your life, April 11, 2015
Whether you like this book will probably depend on what you're hoping to get from it. It's a book about balancing energy in your life as well as in your home. Around half is dedicated to the specifics of the space that you live in, and the rest is a self help book that covers things like the benefits of keeping a gratitude diary, meditation, thinking positively and listening to your own intuition. So if you are looking for something that is more feng shui specific, this probably isn't the book for you. The other parts are very sweet and are obviously written with care and heart but for the most part there wasn't much there that I haven't read before in magazines.

As far as the more traditional feng shui elements go, Cheryl Grace devotes most of her time talking about the bagua map and how to use it to make corrections and changes to improve all aspects of your life, from wealth to health to relationships. She talks about fixes like bringing more energy into your life by improving the lighting and choosing artwork and ornaments to reinforce the elements that are important in each space. Some of her recommendations are very specific

I am no feng shui expert but I have certainly read other books that disregard this approach as a simplistic take on the principles of feng shui. So I don't really know if there is validity to her approach or not. It wasn't really the book that I was looking for but the things that made it not right for me might suit someone else down to the ground.


The Liar's Chair
The Liar's Chair
by Rebecca Whitney
Edition: Paperback
14 used & new from $12.00

4.0 out of 5 stars Possibly the darkest book I've ever read, April 11, 2015
This review is from: The Liar's Chair (Paperback)
Wow, this one is dark. It makes Gillian Flynn's books look positive and upbeat. Rachel and David have been together for twenty years. They have built a very successful business together and from the outside their lives look perfect. But Rachel is badly damaged from her childhood and David is extremely controlling and abusive. When the book opens, Rachel accidentally kills a man in a hit and run and this will set off a chain of events which will unravel her.

This is a well written book and in the second half particularly the tension is very high. Reading it, I was desperate for Rachel to get back at David and willing her not to be a victim. Be aware that it covers a lot of unpleasant territory and every glimmer of hope will be quickly stamped on. This is not a book about pleasant people or neat resolutions. It is dark, darker than a toothless panther on a moonless night.


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