Review – Academy Street by Mary Costello


Mary Costello’s novel Academy Street has won the Irish Book Awards Book of the Year 2014 and was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2014. I’d like to thank Canongate for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Academy Street
Image provided by Canongate¹

In the 1960s, Tess, a young Irish woman, emigrates to New York to find her destiny. Her mother passed away when Tess was a small girl and so she grew up on the dreary family farm among her siblings and her gruff father. Like most people, Tess is looking for love, but for an introvert person finding friends can be a challenge. As she tries to build a home in the United States, it isn’t always easy to stay close to those she loves. Although this country enables Tess to live a life that would be impossible in Ireland, she is just as isolated as before.

Academy Street is a slow-moving tale with a main character who is great to identify with. Mary Costello paints a realistic picture of a woman’s life very similar to the lives of many lonely people out there. The novel’s only downside is its ending. Even though it is surprising, I don’t think it very original. All in all, however, Academy Street is a melancholic novel that will make you value your family and think about those less fortunate than yourself.

3 Star Rating: Recommended(3.5 magic beans)


Review – Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper


I’ve been curious about Emma Hooper‘s debut novel Etta and Otto and Russell and James ever since I first heard about it in October. I was over the moon when Penguin Random House UK sent me a review copy. Thank you so much!

Etta and Otto and Russell and James
Image provided by Fig Tree¹

Etta, an eighty-two-year-old woman decides to walk thousands of miles from rural Saskatchewan to the Canadian East coast to see the sea for the very first time. Her understanding husband Otto waits for her and is confident that his wife will succeed, while their friend and neighbor Russell isn’t that patient and fears that Etta might forget who she is.

Taking only the bare necessities with her, Etta starts her walk through the Canadian wilderness, avoiding big cities and roads. Along the way, Emma Hooper paints wonderful pictures of Canada’s diverse landscape and you can certainly imagine walking through fields and along lake shores.

For all her life, Etta has been the one left behind while others went away, now she feels it’s time for her to finally see the rest of Canada. The fact that Etta starts this walk even though she occasionally suffers from memory loss adds tension to the novel and shows how determined Etta is to reach her goal.

In Etta and Otto and Russell and James Emma Hooper makes great use of flashbacks, letters and even recipes to tell Etta’s story and sometimes you can’t be sure if the things happening are real, imagined, or magical. Etta and Otto and Russell and James is not just another novel about an elderly person deciding to go for a very long walk, it has more depth than that. If you like stories that feel as if they were real, this book is for you.



Review – Funny Girl by Nick Hornby


A couple of weeks ago, I read Nick Hornby‘s latest novel Funny Girl. I was excited because I really liked High Fidelity when I was a teenager and hadn’t read any of his other novels since then. So I’d like to thank Penguin Random House UK for providing me with this book in exchange for an honest review.

Funny Girl
Image provided by Viking¹

In the 1960s, Barbara, a young woman from a seaside town in Northern England decides to move to London to become an actress. Unlike many other women, she’s lucky and is cast for a sitcom that will change her life.

Our main character Barbara, or Sophie as she calls herself later on, doesn’t have more personality than any of the other characters. Her storyline isn’t nearly as engaging as Tony’s, who is one of the scriptwriters struggling to find his true self. But whenever Tony’s plot line becomes interesting it is dropped just like it happens with other plot lines that might become too engaging.

Funny Girl has no climax to speak of, the plot is just slowly flowing along. It seems like Hornby hoped for the story to develop through the process of writing, but, unfortunately, that didn’t work out. All through the book I was waiting for something to happen and it didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, Funny Girl does address topics like homosexuality and self-discovery and it gives a good overall impression of the British society and television in the 1960s, yet somehow this novel and I aren’t made for each other. So I’d recommend it to die-hard Nick Hornby fans or British-sitcom aficionados, but if you are none of those, I think you’d better pick up High Fidelity.

2.5 Star Rating: Recommended(2.5 magic beans)


Review – In Real Life by Chris Killen


Today’s the publication day of Chris Killen‘s new novel In Real Life. I had never heard of Chris Killen until Becca from Canongate Books recommended In Real Life to me and she really seems to know what I like. Thank you Becca!

In Real Life
Image provided by Canongate¹

When you reach thirty, you are supposed to live an orderly life, earn a regular income and, ideally, have a spouse and children. It can’t be that hard, can it? Until 2004, Lauren, Ian and Paul went to university together but a lot has changed since then. Now, ten years later, their lives aren’t what they imagined them to be. Lauren has to convince her friends that she’s not interested in blind dates anymore, Ian is broke and Paul’s life is a lie.

When I started reading In Real Life, I didn’t know what to expect. Fortunately, I soon found myself among three characters who seemed like close friends. We share the same hopes and fears and even though their lives are quite a mess, Lauren, Ian and Paul’s stories are still believable. If you are around thirty, you probably have a friend who is just like one of them.

In Real Life is an easy-to-read novel that jumps between 2004 and 2014 and therefore evokes feelings of nostalgia. You’ll have the ultimate reading experience if you are the same age as the three main characters, because you will be able to empathize with them and relate to their numerous worries. Chris Killen does a brilliant character study introducing three thirty-somethings who stand for a generation of adults striving to lead the ideal life that doesn’t exist. When you think your life isn’t easy, just see what Lauren, Ian and Paul’s lives are like and you’ll find that you are not alone.

4 Star Rating: Recommended


Thank you Canongate Books for a review copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Review – Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman


This review is long overdue which resulted in my reading the book twice within the past year. 😀 But I didn’t mind, because Neil Gaiman‘s Fortunately, the Milk is a real treat.

Fortunately the Milk
Image provided by Bloomsbury¹

When Dad stays out way too long on his way to get some milk, his kids want to know where he’s been all the time. What they didn’t expect is that he had a weird time-traveling experience with Professor Steg, a talking dinosaur.

Dad and Professor Steg travel through different centuries and countries and meet all sorts of characters who aren’t always friendly. Professor Steg is an intelligent and likable character with whom I would travel the universe right away and Dad is, well, a caring Dad who doesn’t shy away from the unknown.

Fortunately, the Milk is a witty and imaginative book that holds surprises on every page. Chris Riddell‘s fitting drawings are beautiful and enhance your reading experience. As this book is a great read for adults, I’m sure children will love it too.

5 Star Rating: Recommended


Review – The Moon Field by Judith Allnatt

Happy New Year everyone!

I really hope 2015 will be a great year for all of you. It can only get better 🙂

New Year 2015

I’ve been very busy all through December preparing for Christmas, celebrating my birthday and visiting family. But I didn’t forget to read, so I’ve got a lot of reviews prepared for you. 🙂

The first year of Great War remembrance is over now and I read yet another Great War novel. This time it’s The Moon Field by Judith Allnatt.

The Moon Field
Image provided by Borough Press¹

In 1914, George Farrell, a young English postman decides to join the war in the heat of the moment when he learns that his crush Miss Violet is already promised to someone else. When George and his comrades arrive in France, they are surprised that they are to fight at the front like professional soldiers.

George soon finds himself knee-deep in mud. The cold and wet is creeping into his bones. Reading about the deafening noise of exploding shells and the stench of decomposing bodies is almost unbearable and you’ll start to understand that you can’t imagine what it must have been like for millions of soldiers who fought this war.

While George fights at the front, his best friend Kitty is at home doing men’s jobs and she really enjoys being able to do so. She knows what she wants but has to live a life restricted by society and class. While Kitty is the hard-working girl walking straight into a modern world, Miss Violet seems like a fading picture of a past era. She’s like a princess in a castle waiting for Prince Charming to come and save her.

The plot switches between George’s, Miss Violet’s and Kitty’s view  In the beginning, Miss Violet’s plotline is most gripping, but that changes as soon as George joins the war. Even though it takes a bit to get going and you’ll definitely need a sturdy stomach, The Moon Field is a truly rewarding read.

4 Star Rating: Recommended


Review – Gebrauchsanleitung Mensch – How to Operate a Human by Paul Hawkins


Have you finished your Christmas shopping? No? Do you still need a gift for that friend who’s already got everything, or your brother who doesn’t have a single hobby? I might have the perfect gift for you: How about “Gebrauchsanleitung Mensch” (English title How to Operate a Human) by Paul Hawkins?

Gebrauchsanleitung Mensch
Image provided by C. H. Beck¹

“Gebrauchsanleitung Mensch” is a manual for those who want to find out about all those hidden features the human body holds and for those who already know about them but want to have a good laugh anyways.

The book is divided into chapters like “Hardware” and “Software”, “Recharging”, or “Compatibility” that tell us more about the human body’s physique, needs, emotions, communication and relationships.

“Gebrauchsanleitung Mensch” looks very colorful on the outside, but it’s quite basic on the inside. The various shades of red that color the pages remind me of a dictionary or a lexicon, but they don’t look very pretty. If I had to save ink, I would have chosen to go all black and white instead. Overall, however, the book is fun to read with charts and drawings to break up the text.

While “Gebrauchsanweisung Mensch” follows an original idea and Paul Hawkins has a great sense of humor, I advise you to read in tiny dosages. I overdosed just a little and the book seemed to get less fun the more I read. If you stick to my advice, I’m sure you, your friend, brother, or even your dog will be very happy with this manual.

3 Star Rating: Recommended

Thank you Paul for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review.


Review – The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan


After reading Donal Ryan’s wonderful novel The Thing About December, I also had to read The Spinning Heart which was longlisted for the 2013 Man Booker Prize.

The Spinning Heart
Image provided by Doubleday¹

In The Spinning Heart, twenty-one inhabitants of a rural Irish town tell us about their lives after Ireland’s financial collapse.

First to tell his story is Bobby Mahon. He was foreman at the local construction firm, its unexpected closing-down having effects on the whole town. Bobby links the twenty other people who follow, but the more stories we get to read, the harder it gets to remember who is who. There are just too many characters and the Irish names I have never heard before make it a guessing game to find out a character’s gender.

The plot is like a puzzle. In the beginning it seems a bit loose, but the further you read, the more the pieces start to fit together. The individual chapters are like short stories that are just connected enough to make The Spinning Heart a novel. This lack of connection makes the book a bit slow to read. Nevertheless, some of the stories make you want to know more and it is a pity that you have to part ways with the characters so soon. Overall, The Spinning Heart is a nice debut, but if you have to choose, I’d recommend you read The Thing About December.

3 Star Rating: Recommended


Review – A History of Loneliness by John Boyne


I recently read John Boyne‘s latest novel A History of Loneliness which was shortlisted for the Eason Novel of the Year Award 2014. As I’ve never read one of Boyne’s books before, I was very happy to get to read this novel in yet another LovelyBooks reader’s circle organized by Penguin Random House UK. Thank you for the chance to discover John Boyne.

A History of Loneliness
Image provided by Doubleday¹

Odran Yates has always felt comfortable in his role as a priest. He likes teaching the boys at Terenure College and he loves taking care of the school library. When one day the Archbishop tells him that he has to move to another parish to fill in for his old friend Tom, Odran only accepts reluctantly and he starts to notice that the Catholic church isn’t the same institution he once thought it to be.

In A History of Loneliness, we follow Odran and the Catholic church through a crisis. In the course of the book, Odran reflects on his difficult past that influenced his becoming a priest. We meet lots of different characters, many with their own crosses to bear. Even though we only get to know them through Odran’s eyes, some of these characters are crafted so vividly you can almost see through them.

I never thought that a book about a priest could actually be that gripping and emotional. Unfortunately, the ending wraps up too neatly for my taste. If you can stomach a literary punch in the gut that will broaden your horizon in regard to the Catholic church, I recommend you read A History of Loneliness.

4 Star Rating: Recommended


Review – Persuasion by Jane Austen

I have to be honest with you. I’m smitten and I’m in a moral dilemma because I don’t know who to prefer. I always thought Mr Darcy to be the most wonderful gentleman of all and then there comes Captain Wentworth who is just as perfect.

As some of you can probably guess, I’ve been reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Set in 19th century England, this novel is a trip through the drawing rooms of grand estates and stately cottages with the occasional tour to the English countryside. You really start longing to go on holiday to Bath or Lyme.

In Persuasion, 27-year-old Anne Elliot, a young, intelligent woman past her bloom, is reintroduced to her former fiancée Frederick Wentworth. Wentworth, now a Captain with a large fortune, is on the lookout for a future wife, but he doesn’t seem to take any interest in Anne.

In the beginning, I really wasn’t sure who this book was about, Elizabeth Elliot or her sister Anne (I admit, I didn’t properly read the synopsis). It takes Jane Austen quite some time to stop talking about Elizabeth and finally introduce our heroine Anne. When at some point Captain Wentworth emerges, his interaction with Anne reminds me of English country dancing. The two of them occasionally come near each other just to move apart once again. As the plot takes its course, Captain Wentworth’s character develops from a carefree bachelor into this responsible man who is able to charm millions of readers out there. From this point onwards I was lost, I almost read the whole night through. With Persuasion, Jane Austen puts you onto an emotional roller coaster ride: So much hope, love and agony in one book is hard to bear.