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The Solitude of Prime Numbers
The Solitude of Prime Numbers

5.0 out of 5 stars It's not about the maths!, February 23, 2015
Teenage years, almost always difficult to navigate, but most do not have the issues that Mattia and Alice have. Mattia once had a twin sister who was mentally retarded and more than a hindrance to Mattia. When he was six or seven he left her in a park, and she was never seen again. A burden too awful for any family or young child to deal with. Alice, on the other hand, suffered a serious leg injury while skiing, again as a young child, leaving her badly crippled. Both are lonely, both have over protective parents, both have put up massive barriers in dealing with the world around them, and their growing up years are tormented, confusing, awkward, and not at all happy. Through the teenage social rituals of parties, drinking and sex they find each other and over the course of the years never really let go.

They are good for each other, in their damaged tormented states and like all the best friendships, things do go awry from time to time. But they quickly realise they need each other, they may not actually survive this stage of their lives if they don't have each other. Mattia is a maths genius, and he comes up with the idea that he and Alice are 'twin primes', like 11 and 13, or 17 and 19, lonely individuals that are forever linked but forever separated. Although the bulk of the story takes place in the teenage years, it finishes when Alice and Mattia are in their late 20s/early 30s, by which time they have worked through much of their pain and developed into reasonably well functioning adults.

It is not a joyful or happy read, but there is always a sense of hope, that things are going to get better for these two, and they are such real people, You feel their pain, their dislocation. So sensitively and insightfully written, it is quite wonderful.

The Incorrigible Optimists Club
The Incorrigible Optimists Club

5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, wonderful coming of age story, of friendship and exile, sadness and loss. Marvellous stuff, February 5, 2015
Can you judge a book by it's cover? In this case - yes. The title for a start is captivating, and the photo - so full of sadness and loss, such a contrast to the title. And it is so long - 600 pages, how can anyone write about optimism for 600 pages! So your interest is piqued, immediately. And you open it....first sentence - "A writer is being buried today."

This is a story of friendship and exile, all taking place at the Incorrigible Optimists Club. Set in Paris over 1959-1964 against the backdrop of the Algerian war for independence from French rule, the narrator is 12 year old Michel Marin. Like many 12 year olds he is on the edge of childhood and adulthood, starting to ask questions of the world around him and the people in his life. He is going through the usual traumas that 12 year old boys face - parents, girls, his brother, school, annoying teachers and other adults, thinking about his future. He finds himself drawn to a nearby bistro which is the haunt of a number of exiles from the post war countries of the Iron Curtain, all runaways from communist/fascist regimes - Russia, Poland, Hungary, Germany. They have left jobs, wives, children, in some cases a comfortable and privileged life. Paris is the only place they feel at home and, if anything, accepted.

Michel is both an amateur chess player and a photographer. The unifying force of the Optimists Club is chess. Some play brilliantly, others not. But it is the one language these sad, lonely, exiled and philosophical men have in common. Mastering the game of chess lets him into the stories and worlds of these men and how they came to be living in despair and poverty in Paris.. His own world is expanded and horizons broadened as a result. Stories of sadness, betrayal, and what it costs to follow your ideals. Michel is also facing the same issues in his own family with his brother joining the army to fight the Algerian rebels, then committing the ultimate crime of betrayal to the die hard French nationalist movement - desertion.

600 pages is a lot of pages to tell all these stories. But it never drags, the same steady pace is maintained throughout, the writing is magical, it simply never falters. Essentially a coming of age story, but also a documentary of the lives of those torn apart by the political doctrines that so savagely destroyed much of Europe some 70 years ago.

Calling Me Home
Calling Me Home

4.0 out of 5 stars Such a great holiday read, when you have plenty of time to deal with the emotion, February 5, 2015
This review is from: Calling Me Home (Kindle Edition)
What a great story to read while on holiday. Cover shows a black boy and white girl, so you know it is a love story and a love story pretty much doomed to fail. Which is exactly what happens. But what terrific story telling it is, leaving the reader with the whole whirl of emotions during the course of the story.

Isabelle McAllister is 90 years old, lives in a small town in Texas. Like any 90 year old she has a story or two to tell. Over a ten year period, she has developed a close friendship with her hairdresser, Dorrie, a black woman in her 30s. One day Isabelle asks Dorrie to drive her from Texas to Cincinnati, Ohio - a journey of some days - so Isabelle can attend a funeral. The resulting road trip, which would appear to be most unusual venture - elderly white woman being driven across coutnry by young black woman - draws its fair share of comment and feedback from those they encounter on the way. But it does allow Isabelle to tell her story of forbidden love. Dorrie, a single parent, meanwhile has her own problems with her teenage son, and trying to find the courage to trust what appears to finally be a decent man in her life.

Isabelle's story, beginning in 1939, is riveting, Dorrie's not so much. In fact compared to the social mores of 1939, Dorrie really has nothing to complain about, and by the end of the book she has finally woken her ideas up, sorted herself and her family out. Whew. She really needed to give herself a kick in the pants! But Isabelle, wow she was quite something. As a teenager she falls madly in love with Robert, the teenage son of the family's housekeeper, Cora. Robert and his younger sister Nell, have grown up with Isabelle, whose father is the local doctor. It goes without saying that the ramifications of the love affair are huge, and the funeral being attended by Isabelle and Dorrie now, in 2013, is directly linked to these two families.

There is a lot going on in this story, and it would have been good to have some back story on Robert and his family, as well as Dorrie's family and her love interest. I can imagine black/white relations in 1939 Kentucky being pretty grim, and the writer certainly pulls no punches in her descriptions of these times. She has based the novel on her own grandmother's impossible love affair with a young black man, and it is Isabelle's story which holds the whole book together. Well worth reading, and it would make a fabulous movie/TV series.

The Typist: A Novel
The Typist: A Novel
Price: $8.86

5.0 out of 5 stars A story of the peace after the war, and the people adjusting to the peace, January 29, 2015
Yet another small book, 190 pages, that contains wonderful writing and a good story. Francis Vancleave is a very ordinary young man, from a very ordinary family in a very ordinary town in the state of Alabama. He does have one talent though - he can type, and type very well, taught by his equally capable mother. After Pearl Harbour, being a dutiful young man, without much of a future in the town of Mobile, Alabama, he signs up for the army. Because of his rare skills, he finds himself attached to the Officers Personnel Section of General MacArthur's headquarters staff. He goes to Australia, then Manila and finally Tokyo which is where this story begins, as America begins the process of helping Japan rebuild itself.
Van is a bit of an outsider, not an officer but rooming with Clifford who is, and so ends up socialising with other officers as well. Unlike many of his compatriots, Van is also married, a state that he is very neutral about, but surprisingly faithful to. He is a bit of an enigma to his colleagues not only for this, but for a rather strange friendship he strikes up with MacArthur's young son. It is inevitable through rooming with Clifford that he finds himself involved in the latter's shady dealings with the defeated Japanese, and there is a sense through the story that this is not going to end well. However, through the months that Van is in Tokyo, recording the process of rebuilding, transmitting the correspondence, and generally observing what is going on around him, he actually finds himself. He is like a quiet center in the middle of a storm, and the writer Ann Patchett makes this comment on the back cover. I very much felt this when I was reading it - this quiet, thoughtful, ordinary man, in the midst of extraordinary events, other people's disasters and tragedies, and somehow it helps him make sense of his own life.

Picaflor: Finding Home in South America
Picaflor: Finding Home in South America
Price: $0.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Easy to read, easy to enjoy story of self-discovery and learning to really love life., January 27, 2015
Review copy kindly provided via Booksellers NZ by Picaflor Press

Picaflor is the South American Spanish name for the hummingbird – ‘a snacker, nibbler, pecker of flowers’. When Jessica Talbot first arrived in Peru at the age of 32, she identifies immediately with this little bird, calling herself ‘a restless searcher of sweet nectar’ in her attempts to find some sort of meaning and contentment in her life, a place to call home. She has no idea if South America is it, but for this native New Zealander, her life as she has lived it to date in New Zealand and Melbourne has not brought her the peace and reason for being she so longingly craves. As a psychologist she is well used to analyzing the human mind, but this does not help her in understanding herself. Since her early twenties she has been drawn to South America, and so one day, after a particularly difficult time in her life, she packs her bags and goes to Peru ‘because it seemed exotic and wild and mystical’ for a three month holiday of sorts, first working as a volunteer with street children in the city of Trujillo and for the last month travelling around.

Her gut instincts prove spot on. Everything about where she travels – Peru, Colombia and Ecuador completely captivates her. A holiday romance with the delicious sounding Paco ultimately leads to her packing up her life in Melbourne and moving to Buenos Aires. She learns Spanish, makes friends with the locals, retains her sanity with her other expatriate friends, falls in love with the equally delicious sounding Diego, marries and has a child. She has found her place to call home, living and working in Buenos Aires since 2004 and this book is the story of how she found that inner peace and stability. End of story, happy ever after.

This is not just a travelogue though. Although for anyone considering a move to South America, particularly for a woman, it is great reading. This book is very a much personal journey of self-discovery and growth that we could all take a lesson or two from. After all, Jessica left a successful career, a comfortable life, family and many friends to go on some sort of wild goose chase in search of some sort of unknown intangible, based essentially on a gut feeling. But the way she tells her story, she was dead inside living in Melbourne, and realized for her own personal survival she did need to change something. This major decision that resulted in her life taking such unexpected and different paths also enabled her internal self to deal with a lot of long buried family stuff, resulting in some much needed resolution between herself and her family.

It would have taken some courage to write this book, and maybe that is why it has taken ten years from when she went to Argentina for her to do so. She works through a lot of ‘stuff’ in this memoir and would appear to come out a happier, healthier, more contented person. Most of us are not really in very deep touch with our inner selves, and her analysis /coming to terms with all this ‘stuff’ is just as interesting and touching as the family ‘stuff’. Being the type of person that prefers reading plot driven books, at times my eyes did glaze over a bit when she was yet again visualizing or angsting about something, for which there is no shortage of material. I did find her ongoing ‘letters’ to her one time love Daniel annoying, but if this is what helped her process everything going on, then I hope it helped!

Despite my initial doubts, thinking it was going to be another ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, I did really quite enjoy reading this book. I got to like Jessica, and I know this because at the end I was smiling to myself, thinking how great it was that things had turned out for her, how far she had come since she got her picaflor tattoo in her second month. As she says in her author’s note at the very beginning – ‘my intention has always been to write a warm, human story about overcoming a difficult past and creating a brighter future’.

The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes
The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Crikey, what a stunning book, it will have you laughing and crying both at the same time with the sheer joy of life, January 10, 2015
What a wonderful, heart rending, joyful, incredibly sad and superb story! Who needs to go see the movie to be emotionally strung out, when the writing will bring out the tissues, and more than once.

A family in crisis, gathering in 40 year old Mia 'Rabbit' Hayes' home town in Ireland to say good bye to their daughter, sister, mother, aunt and firiend. Rabbit has only days left having done her utmost over the previous few years to fight the cancer that has taken over her body. But not yet her heart or her soul. Told simultaneously through the eyes of Rabbit, her mother, father, 12 year old daughter, best friend, sister and brother the story of Rabbit's life unfolds over the remaining nine days of her life. If there is such a thing as a good death, then Rabbit is certainly on the way to it. The love, the unbreakable bonds of family, literally ooze out of the pages, as does the richness and complexity of all these people. At the very core of Rabbit's story is the charismatic Johnny Faye, the one true love of her life.

The back cover blurb says it all really . "Here is a truth that won't be forgotten: this is a story about laughing through life's surprises and finding joy in every moment". Wonderful stuff. PS don't forget to have the tissue handy.

The Children Act
The Children Act

5.0 out of 5 stars A very modern tale of medical ethics and personal ethics and doing the 'right' thing., January 10, 2015
This review is from: The Children Act (Kindle Edition)
For me, this novel is classic Ian McEwan. Sublime writing, unexpected and difficult conflicts between flawed and haunted characters, and not always a neat and tidy ending. In just over 200 pages of generous line spacing and font size, all of these Ian McEwan traits are well and truly apparent. To write about so much in such a compact manner is a quality writer.

Fiona Maye is 59 years old, childless, lives with her husband of many years, Jack, in London. She is a High Court judge, presiding over cases in the family court, renowned and respected for her sensitive and judicious handling of many difficult and heart rending cases that come before here. Two cases are detailed in the introductory chapters showing us the delicacy and ethical/moral conflict she deals with on what at times must seem like a daily basis. The first invovles the separation of Siamese twins - does one let one twin die to save the other, or is it better to allow both to die so as not to be seen to be 'murdering' the weaker. The second case involves the custody and education of two girls whose father belongs to a very conservative sect of the Jewish faith, and their mother who wishes the girls to have a mainstream education so as to not be bound by the conservatism of the life she has left. But these two cases pale into insignificance when Fiona finds herself the judge in the case of an 18 year old boy who has leukaemia and is refusing life saving blood transfusion on religious grounds. But is it a case of the boy making this decision for himself, or is he being unduly influenced by his devout parents? The judgement she eventually makes is never going to be an easy one, and it does come back to haunt her.

Meanwhile she has her own moral dilemmas to deal with. Her husband has announced that he wants to have an affair with a much younger woman, still declaring that he continues to love Fiona and will never leave her. Does she call his bluff or does she not? Is it the end of the road for this couple or will they both realise that some things are worth saving?

All of this in just 200 pages. I love that so much can be said, explored, touched upon, left unsaid and still produce a compelling and surprising story.

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants
David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants

4.0 out of 5 stars Using perceived weakness to achieve well, and very well., January 1, 2015
Malcolm Gladwell, journalist, best selling writer and TED speaker, takes the every day, the things in life we take for granted, the things we never question. He turns them up side down and inside out, looks at reasons why things happen, the bizarre phenomena of what goes on around us. He makes us think about stuff, all sorts of stuff. Much of his writings have not had good press or good reviews with researchers, academics: he misrepresents facts and figures, oversimplifying the research. But if you go into reading his books knowing that there are plenty of experts sceptical about what he writes, then you will probably enjoy them even more. In the times we live in where we are constantly being fed a diet of reality TV rubbish, political spin doctors, multinational spin doctors, the excitement of celebrity lives, we need to question the world around us. It is so refreshing to be able to read something that challenges the brain, and may even lead us to question further the society we live in. I have loved the author's other books - Outliers, The Tipping Point, What the Dog Saw, and Blink. Easy to read and digest, interesting topics, loads of research, wonderfully engaging writing style - what is there not to like?

This is Mr Gladwell's latest offering, and is as entertaining and interesting as his other books. Opening with the story we have all grown up with, David and Goliath, he turns the story and the reason for its outcome inside out with some great revelations as to why a tiny undernourished shepherd boy was able to knock down and kill a giant of a man, a professional soldier, with a stone fired from a sling shot. Another chapter looks at how it may well be better for your child to go to a school or university which is not in the top ten highest achievers/prestigious etc. Your child could well do much better being a big fish in a small pond rather than a small fish in a big pond. Or that sometimes the rule book does need to be thrown out with the bath water, that peaceful resistance can work. He writes about some successful business people who have not let learning disabilities they were born with hold them back. Instead these people had to find other ways, less conventional and even slightly alarming ways, to over ride their disabilities and achieve. Many of the people in his book are ordinary, average, people next door type of people. But they have all become extraordinary in their lives for being able to think outside the square and trusting their own gut intuition.

It is inspiring to know that, if we just think a little bit around the problem, rather than looking at head on, then the odds may well not be stacked against us as much as we initially thought.

Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France
Village of Secrets: Defying the Nazis in Vichy France

2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars True heroes are often the most unassuming and humble, December 26, 2014
War always brings tales of heroism, courage, defiance of the odds, and humanity. And as so often happens these stories often aren't fully revealed until years later, two to three generations later, when the participants themselves have passed on, and truths begin to emerge. So it is with this story. But as well as the truths, plenty of myths also surround this extraordinary and horrific period in modern history. Well known biographer Caroline Moorhead states at the beginning of the book that her intention is to try to put right some of the myths, sift the fact from the fiction, and address the 'fallibility of memory'. In the process she pulls together an enormous amount of research material and first hand accounts from some of the many children that were saved, and descendants of those who did the rescuing. However it would seems that even she has also got the facts wrong. There are a number of reviews on Goodreads and Amazon from some of these people, none of them complimentary, disputing what she has written. All this, of course, makes a book such as this even more fascinating and intriguing to read.

During the period 1940-1944, Vichy France collaborated with the Nazis in the governance of what was essentially the southern half of France. It followed that the French police in this area were expected to carry out the orders of the Nazis to arrest dissedents, resistance fighters, Jews and anyone else seen as a threat or simply unwanted. The Haute-Loire is a region south of Lyons, so well and truly under Vichy France control. It is mountainous, very beautiful and scenic, lots of little villages and hamlets tucked in amongst the slopes, the hills, the plateaux, valleys and gullies. Before the war it was a tranquil holiday region, with many inns, pensions, and other accommodations. As it is now. Because of its geography and its isolation, this area during the war was the site of much resistance activity. The population of the area was essentially Protestant, a sect of the church that believed strongly in being pacifist, and helping out one's fellow man. Which is how the small towns and villages came to be places of refuge and hiding, as well as a transit point for thousands of people, mostly Jewish, and mostly children. The courage of these very ordinary farming families, small business owners, deeply spiritual and humble people in their defiance of the regime they found themselves living under is, in a word, awesome. And not without tragedy as the Nazis and French collaborators gradually tightened their net around the area.

There is so much to write about this whole shameful period in French history, and the author, having been a human rights journalist, fills her narrative with many stories of what life was like in Vichy France during this time. Still, aside from the comments made by survivors and descendants, I am not entirely sure if she does succeed in telling the real story. There are so many people involved, and with the absolute necessity of a code of silence, there are bound to be myths and distortions of the truth occuring. Nevertheless, this is yet another side of WWII that we don't know a great deal about, and is a story that should be told.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 8, 2015 2:58 PM PST

A Pleasure and a Calling
A Pleasure and a Calling

5.0 out of 5 stars You will never look at a real estate agent in quite the same way again - chilling, comic and bizarre, December 13, 2014
After reading this dark and chilling thriller, you will be deleting all those real estate agent contacts from your life, looking for ways to sell your house privately! Real estate agents have never been Top of the Pops in most admired or trusted professions, and most of us have a shady story or two to tell about our dealings with them. But I bet none of us know an agent such as William Heming!

Mr Heming has been an agent in an attractive English town for many years. He is part of the local landscape, respected, well liked it would seem, does his job well, and leads an unremarkable average sort of life. But, how would you feel if you knew that he kept the key of every single house he had sold over the past twenty plus years, and had them displayed on a wall in his home? And that he used these keys to enter the homes of his clients, buyers and vendors alike, finding out every detail of their lives, their bank accounts, their families, their holidays, their pets? Mr Heming is that man.

So much does he love his neighbourhood and many of the people that live in it, he uses his knowledge and his expertise to actually protect and help many of them. He is decidedly creepy, but it is when he his behaviour begins to do more harm than good that things get really chilling. The undoing of Mr Heming's carefully built up veneer begins when a body is discovered by the swimming pool on the property of the Cooksons, who would clearly fill the shoes of nightmarish vendors to be dealing with. During the course of Mr Heming dealing with this situation, he tells us the story of how he came to be involved in real estate, his childhood, and his obsessive streak of curiosity that leads and saves him from so much trouble. He walks a very fine line, but from his story, as a lonely, neglected and misunderstood child, we see how the decidedly unhinged sociopathic Mr Heming evolved. You will like and dislike Mr Heming in equal amounts, which is what makes this book so enjoyable and fun to read - what will he do next, and how will that exactly pan out?

This is a creepy, blackly comic, chilling, macabre and bizarre story, and you will never walk past a real estate office, which incidentally are everywhere if you care to look hard enough, without the hairs on the back of your neck lifting ever so slightly.Would make a great movie, with someone like Kevin Spacey or James Spader in the title role.

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