Review – The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy by Rachel Joyce

Hi,

Last week, I finished reading Rachel Joyce‘s latest novel The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy and I did this without having read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry first. Some advised me against doing so, while others said it would be perfectly okay to read Queenie on its own. As I got the chance to read Queenie in a Lovelybooks reader’s circle organized by Penguin Random House UK and I never was that interested in Harold’s story, I just skipped Harold Fry.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy
Image provided by Doubleday UK¹

Queenie Hennessy has just moved into a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed when a farewell letter to her old friend Harold Fry makes him walk hundreds of miles to meet her one last time. Queenie starts to write another letter to tell him all the things left unsaid. She remembers the life she had and looks back on the beloved sea garden she built herself. In my opinion, Queenie’s description of the sea garden is the most powerful picture Rachel Joyce creates in the whole novel. The drawing in the back of the book doesn’t do it justice at all.

While Queenie is reserved towards the other residents at the hospice at first, she opens up to them after a while. She is, however, a rather bland person who seems to have given up on life as soon as Harold wasn’t part of it anymore. The real stars of this novel are Queenie’s fellow residents at the hospice. I particularly like Finty and Mr Henderson who couldn’t be more different. Finty has such a great sense of humor and Mr Henderson’s development throughout the book is wonderful to witness. The most memorable scenes in Queenie without doubt include the hilarious moments spent with the residents of the hospice.

The chapters I don’t like that much are the ones that comprise flashbacks to Queenie’s time spent working with Harold. They feel hollow, as if there is something missing. I suspect Rachel Joyce didn’t want to repeat herself by writing something she had already written in Harold Fry and so she just presented us with a very condensed version of the past events. I’m afraid that by doing this, she took the life out of Queenie’s encounters with Harold.

While the middle of The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy was truly gripping, the novel ended just the way it started out: a bit weak. Those who have read Harold Fry will probably love the additional information Queenie gives them. For me, the book would have been wonderful with a closer focus on Queenie’s weeks at the hospice. That would have been enough to keep me glued to the pages without dreading chapters on Harold Fry.

3 Star Rating: Recommended(3.5 magic beans)

P.S.: I’m experimenting with different review formats right now to see what suits me best. So please bear with me 🙂

¹ http://www.transworldbooks.co.uk/editions/the-love-song-of-miss-queenie-hennessy/9780857522450

Halloween Giveaway – The Winners

Hi,

Thank you for entering the giveaway to win Richard Flanagan’s Man Booker Prize winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Image provided by Random House UK¹

The winners are:

  • Bettina E.
  • Janine
  • Ira
  • misshappyreading
  • Hannah J.

I already e-mailed them! Congratulations!

Thank you Penguin Random House UK for providing me with the books for this giveaway!

¹ http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/editions/the-narrow-road-to-the-deep-north/9780701189051

Review – The Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford

Hi,

Two weeks ago, I thought it was time for another children’s book and so I chose to read The Wombles by Elisabeth Beresford. Unlike some of you, I don’t have any connection to the book and I never saw the TV series. So this was totally new to me.

The Wombles
Image provided by Bloomsbury UK¹
Synopsis quoted from Bloomsbury UK¹:

The Wombles is the first ever Wombles book and introduces the stern but kindly Great Uncle Bulgaria; Orinoco, who is particularly fond of his food and a subsequent forty winks; general handyman extraordinaire Tobermory, who can turn almost anything that the Wombles retrieve from Wimbledon Common into something useful; Madame Cholet, who cooks the most delicious and natural foods to keep the Wombles happy and contented; and last but not least, Bungo, one of the youngest and cheekiest Wombles of all, who has much to learn and is due to venture out on to the Common on his own for the very first time . . .

My Thoughts:

The Wombles is set in Wimbledon Common, London where the Wombles live in an elaborate tunnel system beneath the common.

The book is written around Bungo, a young Womble who doesn’t have much personality and whom, to be honest, I don’t think to be very likeable. His friend, if you can call him that, Orinoco is also still young and quite selfish. This behavior fortunately gets better towards the end of the book. Great Uncle Bulgaria and Tobermory, the oldest and wisest of the Wombles, don’t make a very good introduction either. They behave judgmental and downright rude when interacting with the younger Wombles. The only one who seems to be an okay fellow but doesn’t matter much is Tomsk.

Even if you don’t know The Wombles, the first half of the book can be rather boring because it mainly introduces the (predominantly male) characters and, like I’ve said before, I don’t find them very likeable. The second half becomes more interesting as the story evolves. I really like the idea of the Wombles recycling the trash the humans throw away. This is an important message for everyone reading the book. Unfortunately, this isn’t enough to keep me glued to the pages. The Wombles is much too serious for my taste and I really miss some wit. I understand that many love The Wombles because they’ve grown up with them, but I just don’t find them very charming.

2 Star Rating: Recommended(2.5 magic beans)

¹ http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/the-wombles-9781408808375/

Halloween Giveaway – The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Happy Halloween Everyone!

What are your plans for tonight? Are you going trick-or-treating? I’m baking a very spooky cake and in the evening I’ll transform the waiters at a local bar into scary creatures. 🙂

As I’m in a celebratory mood because of Halloween I thought we might as well do a little giveaway. I’ve been talking a lot about this year’s Man Booker Prize and I’ve even read some long- and shortlisted books (you can find the links below), so I thought let’s celebrate Halloween with someone who has something to celebrate: The Man Booker Prize Winner of 2014 Richard Flanagan and his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North.

I have to admit that I haven’t read the book yet, but I will do so soon. Penguin Random House UK have been so nice as to offer me five copies of Richard Flanagan’s Booker Prize winning novel to give away. Thank you so much!

The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Image provided by Random House UK¹
What is the book about?¹

Forever after, there were for them only two sorts of men: the men who were on the Line, and the rest of humanity, who were not.

In the despair of a Japanese POW camp on the Burma Death Railway, surgeon Dorrigo Evans is haunted by his love affair with his uncle’s young wife two years earlier. Struggling to save the men under his command from starvation, from cholera, from beatings, he receives a letter that will change his life forever.

Hailed as a masterpiece, Richard Flanagan’s epic novel tells the unforgettable story of one man’s reckoning with the truth.

Giveaway

Like I’ve said before, you can win one of five copies of Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Please read the Terms & Conditions before entering the giveaway! In the Giveaway Tools form, you will be asked to state what country you come from. I need this information as this is an EU wide giveaway (+ SUI & LIE) with three copies going to winners from German-speaking countries and two copies to winners from any EU countries. The second question will be the very tricky 😉 quiz question. So all you have to do to enter is read the Terms & Conditions and, if you are eligible, do everything Giveaway Tools asks you for. Fingers crossed!

Terms & Conditions:

  • This giveaway is open to residents of all EU countries, Switzerland and Liechtenstein.
  • You have to be 16 or older to participate.
  • The giveaway runs from October 31, 2014 until November 7 , 2014.
  • Be fair! One entry per person/immediate family/household.
  • Neither Penguin Random House UK nor I are responsible for lost or damaged items. There will be five winners who will each receive one English language copy of Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North, sponsored by Penguin Random House UK.
  • Three books are allotted to residents of German-speaking countries (1 book: Austria, 1 book: Switzerland and Liechtenstein, 1 book: Germany). If there is no entry from one of the aforementioned countries, this country’s allotted book will be added to the EU lot.
  • You have to enter through Giveaway Tools.
  • The winner will be selected at random and notified via e-mail. If the winner does not respond within 72 hours, another winner will be drawn.
  • The personal information you enter will only be used to contact you in case you win. It will be deleted after the giveaway.
  • I can amend and interpret these official rules at any time, and terminate, suspend or cancel the giveaway at any time for any reason.
  • All decisions are final.
Enter the Giveaway
The Man Booker Prize 2014 books I’ve read:

If you like my blog, I would be very happy if you’d come back from time to time! Happy Halloween!

¹ http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/editions/the-narrow-road-to-the-deep-north/9780701189051

Review – Us by David Nicholls

Hello,

Yesterday, the U.S edition of David Nicholls‘ new novel Us was released. It was longlisted for the 2014 Man Booker Prize, and thanks to HarperCollins US I was able to read an e-galley in exchange for an honest review.

Us
Image provided by HarperCollins US¹:
Synopsis quoted from HarperCollins US¹:

Douglas Petersen may be mild-mannered, but behind his reserve lies a sense of humor that, against all odds, seduces beautiful Connie into a second date . . . and eventually into marriage. Now, almost three decades after their relationship first blossomed in London, they live more or less happily in the suburbs with their moody seventeen year-old son, Albie. Then Connie tells him she thinks she wants a divorce.

The timing couldn’t be worse. Hoping to encourage her son’s artistic interests, Connie has planned a month-long tour of European capitals, a chance to experience the world’s greatest works of art as a family, and she can’t bring herself to cancel. And maybe going ahead with the original plan is for the best anyway? Douglas is privately convinced that this landmark trip will rekindle the romance in the marriage, and might even help him to bond with Albie.

My Thoughts:

In Us, David Nicholls takes us on a trip all over contemporary Central Europe. Due to the author’s vivid descriptions, you get to see the replica of Michelangelo’s David on Piazza della Signoria in Florence and a great selection of paintings, including Velazquez’ The Maids of Honor.

The main character Douglas Petersen is a caring but introvert husband and father. He can’t show his feelings and is therefore often misunderstood by his extrovert wife Connie and his teenage son Albie. The relationship between the three is the novel’s main theme and is depicted so realistically you’ll probably be able to relate to at least one situation.

All in all, Us is a wonderful read for someone who misses the summer. You get to travel quite a bit and I think you will probably find someone to connect with. What I find fascinating is the pacing. Overall, Us reads very comfortably, but at some point during the Petersen’s trip the novel’s pace slows down. I think this is intentional, as the trip becomes strenuous for the reader as well as for Douglas and the slow pacing adds to that feeling of strenuousness. If you’re up for a stirring adventure that could make you shed some tears and rethink your own family, Us will be the book for you.

4 Star Rating: Recommended

¹ http://www.harpercollins.com/9780062365583/us

Review – Rooms by Lauren Oliver

Hi,

Just a few more days until Halloween and so I thought we might as well talk about something spooky for a change. I read Lauren Oliver‘s novel Rooms which scared me quite a bit. Thank you HarperCollins International for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest review.

Rooms
Image provided by HarperCollins US¹
Synopsis quoted from HarperCollins US¹:

Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his country house full of rooms packed with the detritus of a lifetime. His estranged family—bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna—have arrived for their inheritance.

But the Walkers are not alone. Prim Alice and the cynical Sandra, long dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its claustrophobic walls. Jostling for space, memory, and supremacy, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself—in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a light bulb.

The living and dead are each haunted by painful truths that will soon surface with explosive force. When a new ghost appears, and Trenton begins to communicate with her, the spirit and human worlds collide—with cataclysmic results.

My Thoughts:

Rooms is set in a house in Coral River, New York. While the house is old, there isn’t much to help you place the different time periods talked of, so I sometimes got confused as to when Alice and Sandra actually lived while they were still alive.

The ghosts of Alice and Sandra have become one with the walls of the house which is a very original idea. While they both get separate chapters to comment on the happenings, I’m having problems distinguishing the two of them. They are just too similar. On the other hand, they are two ghosts merged with the walls of a house, so they do have one obvious thing in common. The character I like most is Amy, a little girl who is often overlooked by the others but seems to have a lot of insight into the things going on. She’s like a ray of sunshine on a dreary day.

In Rooms, the narrative voice and time alternates between first person narration in present tense with Alice and Sandra, and third person narration in past tense with the characters who are still alive. This is quite irritating and takes some getting used to. Other than that, Rooms is a light read about lots of unresolved family business, but if you are a scaredy-cat like me, it is enough to make you dread to go to the bathroom at night.

3beans

¹ http://www.harpercollins.com/9780062223197/rooms

Review – History of the Rain by Niall Williams

Hello,

The secret is out, Richard Flanagan won the 2014 Man Booker Prize for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. As you might have noticed, I already read some Man Booker Prize long- and shortlisted books this year (but didn’t read Richard Flanagan). The one I’ll be talking about today is Niall Williams‘ longlisted novel History of the Rain. Its cover made me want to read it as soon as I first set eyes on it. Thank you Rupertus Buchhandlung for providing me with a free copy for review.

History of the Rain
Image provided by Bloomsbury UK¹
Synopsis quoted from Bloomsbury UK¹:

We are our stories. We tell them to stay alive or keep alive those who only live now in the telling. In Faha, County Clare, everyone is a long story…

Bedbound in her attic room beneath the falling rain, in the margin between this world and the next, Plain Ruth Swain is in search of her father. To find him, enfolded in the mystery of ancestors, Ruthie must first trace the jutting jaw lines, narrow faces and gleamy skin of the Swains from the restless Reverend Swain, her great-grandfather, to grandfather Abraham, to her father, Virgil – via pole-vaulting, leaping salmon, poetry and the three thousand, nine hundred and fifty eight books piled high beneath the two skylights in her room, beneath the rain.

The stories – of her golden twin brother Aeney, their closeness even as he slips away; of their dogged pursuit of the Swains’ Impossible Standard and forever falling just short; of the wild, rain-sodden history of fourteen acres of the worst farming land in Ireland – pour forth in Ruthie’s still, small, strong, hopeful voice.

My Thoughts:

History of the Rain is set in a small town in contemporary Ireland. It is very hard to think of the setting as contemporary because the story could as well be set in the early 20th century. The town is a very small rural town and Niall Williams’ writing gives it a vintage touch. It’s quite shocking when suddenly a modern car winds its way up the road.

Our main character is Ruth Swain, who tells us about her ancestors’ lives. She is a young, intelligent woman bedbound in her family’s home. Ruth tells us a lot about her father Virgil, a great thinker born into a world of doers. Virgil turns out to be a very intense character in the second half of the book. He loves writing so much that he starts to forget everything around him.

History of the Rain has two stories to tell. While Ruth recounts the lives of her ancestors, we observe how Ruth leads her own life. These two plotlines are interwoven and alternate just like two fish taking turns jumping out of the water. The novel is beautifully written and some passages are amazing and create very strong feelings. On the whole, however, History of the Rain very often drags on. I was wondering about this, because the story isn’t boring. I think it was the writing (some very long sentences in there) that made the book tedious to read, at least for me. Nevertheless, History of the Rain is a book that you will enjoy if you’re looking for a novel you can analyze (and reread), because I think there is more to it than I had time to discover.

 3beans

¹ http://www.bloomsbury.com/uk/history-of-the-rain-9781408852026/

Frankfurt Book Fair 2014 – It’s Been A Pleasure

Hello,

I’m back from a wonderful weekend at Frankfurt Book Fair. Fortunately, this year we didn’t have a snow storm, so we arrived Friday late afternoon, just in time for a quick stroll through the halls and the Virenschleuder-Preis award ceremony.

The Virenschleuder-Preis award is a German marketing award established in 2011 by Leander Wattig and Carsten Raimann. The winners of this year’s awards were:

On Saturday, my friend and I were on a tight schedule. First on our list was the dotbooks and Skoobe blogger breakfast. When we arrived, the stand was already bustling with bloggers. We were served coffee, orange juice and pretzels and soon got talking with Lena and Adrian from Büchernest. The breakfast ended with dotbooks and Skoobe handing out nice little goodie bags containing postcards and a smart phone wiper.

Kein & Aber stand
Particularly beautiful stand by Kein & Aber publishers

On our way to my next meeting, we came by the stand of the Museum of the Printing Arts Leipzig where we were able to do an etching which we printed using a historical press from the mid-19th century. This was most definitely one of my highlights at the fair.

Etching Eye
The etching I did

After our creative rest, we moved on to meet Ulrike from Penguin Random House UK. We had a very nice time and were treated to coffee (my friend said it was the best she had on our trip) and coke. I’m going to tell you more about our meeting with Ulrike in a separate blog post in the upcoming weeks.

Frankfurt Book Fair
A foggy view of Agora at Frankfurt Book Fair

As soon as the meeting was over, we had to rush to hall 4.1 to be engulfed by a mass of (mainly) girls at the Lovelybooks readers’ and blogger get-together. We had a great time talking to Tina and Dani from Lovelybooks, IraWira of … always time for a nice cup of tea and a good book!, Mareike and Maike from Herzpotenzial and, again, Ulrike. The get-together was a blast and Lovelybooks made our day by serving cupcakes and cookies and providing us with a huge goodie bag with lots of books, notebooks and a teeny-weeny stamp in it. Thank you so much! My shoulders and legs hurt for three days and some Christmas gifts are already covered. 😉

Finland Kids
Kids’ corner in Finland’s hall

On Sunday, we spent a large part of our remaining three hours visiting the hall of the guest land Finland and the antiquarian fair. I have to admit that I had expected more of Finland’s hall. It was very basic and cold. I also wasn’t tempted to browse the books on display, as they were arranged chaotically with all sorts of languages and topics mixed up. The only thing I found nice was the children’s area, as it was warm and inviting. The antiquarian fair was warm and inviting as well and so we stayed there for a while to gaze at delicately painted book pages, beautiful old leather bindings and books as big as modern TV screens. We were so in awe of these very expensive artifacts from another time, we didn’t dare to touch a single book. Another highlight at the fair!

Finland
Finland’s hall

Soon after, we had to leave the fairgrounds to hop onto our bus to make our long way home to Austria. But there’s one more thing left to tell you. Strolling through the halls, I’ve written down the names of a few books that grabbed my attention.

Unfortunately, many stands in hall 8 weren’t very inviting. A lot of the publishers were packing, many had already left, others had arranged a wall of chairs to hinder you from browsing their books.

Empty Stand

Finally I’d like to direct special thanks to Mr Besold from Buchhandlung Besold for helping us out of a difficult situation. Buchhandlung Besold is a local bookstore in Carinthia that offers free shipping ;).

Review – The Children Act by Ian McEwan

Hello,

Before I’m off to Frankfurt Book Fair, I’d like to share another review. Thanks to Penguin Random House UK I had the pleasure of reading Ian McEwan’s latest novel The Children Act in a LovelyBooks reader’s circle.

The Children Act
Image provided by Jonathan Cape¹
Synopsis quoted from Jonathan Cape¹:

Fiona Maye is a leading High Court judge, presiding over cases in the family court. She is renowned for her fierce intelligence, exactitude and sensitivity. But her professional success belies private sorrow and domestic strife. There is the lingering regret of her childlessness, and now, her marriage of thirty years is in crisis.

At the same time, she is called on to try an urgent case: for religious reasons, a beautiful seventeen-year-old boy, Adam, is refusing the medical treatment that could save his life, and his devout parents share his wishes. Time is running out. Should the secular court overrule sincerely held faith? In the course of reaching a decision Fiona visits Adam in hospital – an encounter which stirs long-buried feelings in her and powerful new emotions in the boy. Her judgment has momentous consequences for them both.

My Thoughts:

The Children Act is set in contemporary England and from the very first page, Ian McEwan draws you into Fiona Maye’s world with detailed descriptions of her surroundings.

Fiona is an introvert High Court judge approaching sixty who has been living by the rules for all her life. She has problems showing her feelings and in consequence her marriage suffers. When Fiona meets Adam, a young man suffering from leukaemia, her world starts spinning. Adam, who is almost 18, is very different from Fiona. He is overly self-confident, poetry-writing know-it-all and he is determined to live his short life to the fullest – finally, a teenager acting like a teenager.

The Children Act is built around a theme that some might be bored by and it is written in beautiful, refined prose that can be hard to understand for those who aren’t advanced speakers of English. But please don’t be put off by the complex language and the law theme, as McEwan manages to give you insight into a world unknown to most of us, and while I was sceptical at first, this book kept me glued to the pages. So go on and read this riveting novel about life and the choices you make.

4beans

¹ http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/editions/the-childrens-act/9780224101998

Review – How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran

Hi,

Today I’d like to show you a book that surprised me, because, judging the book by its cover, I thought this would be your usual coming-of-age fare. The novel is How to Build a Girl by Caitlin Moran and I’d like to thank HarperCollins International for the ARC in exchange for an honest review.

How to Build a Girl
Image provided by HarperCollins US¹
Synopsis quoted from HarperCollins US¹:

What do you do in your teenage years when you realize what your parents taught you wasn’t enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes—and build yourself.

It’s 1990. Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde—fast-talking, hard-drinking Gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer—like Jo in Little Women, or the Bröntes—but without the dying young bit.

By sixteen, she’s smoking cigarettes, getting drunk and working for a music paper. She’s writing pornographic letters to rock-stars, having all the kinds of sex with all kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.

But what happens when Johanna realizes she’s built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters, and a head full of paperbacks, enough to build a girl after all?

My Thoughts:

How to Build a Girl is set in England in the 1990s. To be more specific, our main character Johanna lives in Wolverhampton, about two hours north of London.

We accompany Johanna Morrigan through the worst of her teenage years. Johanna is a chubby girl who wants to change the way people see her. This is why she reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde, a goth and music critic who has seen it all. While I can absolutely identify with Johanna, I’m having problems with Dolly. Sure, like Johanna, Dolly has traits that remind me of my teenage self (very spooky!), but sometimes I get the feeling that Dolly’s character is a bit over the top. I can’t think of any person I know who, as a teenager, behaved like Dolly – and I was in the goth and heavy metal scene myself for some time.

Overall, reading How to Build a Girl feels like traveling back in time. I got to relive my teenage years with a different perspective. The novel is fun and includes bite-sized historical background information for those who aren’t that familiar with the UK in the 1990s. How to Build a Girl is the perfect read for 20- and 30-somethings, as they can relate to the 1990s setting and connect with Johanna/Dolly.

4beans

¹ http://www.harpercollins.com/9780062335975/how-to-build-a-girl