Review – A History of Loneliness by John Boyne

Hi,

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

¹ http://www.transworldbooks.co.uk/editions/untitled-2/9780857520944

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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

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 – Life After Life by Kate Atkinson (Reread)

Oops… I did it again 😀

When I first got the chance to read Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life it was in German, and I have loved it since then and decided that I had to read the English original someday. It’s been a year since this novel was first published and Black Swan released a truly beautiful paperback edition of Life After Life this January. Fortunately, I was provided with a copy to read in a Lovelybooks online book club. Thank you Random House UK!

So here is my second review of this truly amazing novel:

Life After Life
Image provided by Transworld¹

Life After Life is a 2013 novel by British writer Kate Atkinson. This review will be about the paperback edition, published by Black Swan in January 2014.

As the title Life After Life suggests, Ursula Todd lives her life more than once. During the Great War, she grows up among her four siblings in England. In her numerous lives, Ursula relives the Great War and World War II, repeatedly travels to the continent and tries to find ways for people to survive.

Kate Atkinson’s onomatopoeic language and her vivid descriptions make the setting of Life After Life very realistic. As mentioned in my first review, the reader constantly feels as if they were inside the book. Kate Atkinson also manages to create a different feel for every setting, that way, war for example does feel different depending in which country Ursula goes through it. Atkinson is brilliant at creating settings.

Ursula, the main character, is a very flexible character. Although she stays the same person, she develops from life to life, adapting to the given circumstances. Another great character is Ursula’s mother Sylvie Todd. Sylvie is struggling with the changing society. The tension between the person she wants to be and the person she has to be is palpable. Unlike Ursula, Sylvie isn’t able to develop much throughout the book.

Life After Life features a very unique plot. Even though Ursula’s life repeats itself multiple times, it never gets boring. When you first read this book, you have no idea how Kate Atkinson will make Ursula relive her lives. You will ask yourself if she has any control over the process or not. These are questions that you may find answers for in the book. Life After Life is a novel that caters for all tastes. It doesn’t fall short of sorrow and happiness and leaves more than enough room for thought.

5beans

¹http://www.transworldbooks.co.uk/editions/life-after-life/9780552776639

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Review – Dear Life by Alice Munro

Hi everyone,

I hope you’re enjoying Sunday! Today I’ve got a review of Alice Munro’s short story collection Dear Life for you. Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2013 and this is the first time I’ve read something she has written. I have to thank Random House UK for this copy. I got it to discuss it with other readers on Lovelybooks and to write a review.

Dear Life
Image provided by Random House UK¹
Summary quoted from Random House UK¹:

Alice Munro captures the essence of life in her brilliant new collection of stories. Moments of change, chance encounters, the twist of fate that leads a person to a new way of thinking or being: the stories in Dear Life build to form a radiant, indelible portrait of just how dangerous and strange ordinary life can be.

My Thoughts:

Dear Life is divided into two parts. The first one consists of ten short stories, the second of four autobiographical pieces. I’ll only review the short stories. As far as I can remember, all of them are set in Canada, many in the 20th century. Of course, Alice Munro knows her trade. She understands how to set the scene and how to transfer atmosphere.

In Dear Life, Alice Munro’s characters often seem to share similarities. The oppressed woman, the confused man and sometimes a child to tell us all about their problems. What struck me most, was how Mrs. Munro told stories from a child’s perspective. Especially in “Gravel”. You really think you are a child experiencing what the narrator experienced.

Unfortunately, technique isn’t everything. Don’t get me wrong, “To Reach Japan” was perfect! I also enjoyed “Amundsen” and “In Sight Of The Lake”. But the remaining seven short stories didn’t do the trick. They were okay, but I really expected more than just “okay”. While “To Reach Japan” was captivating and left me thinking, “Dolly” for example, left me indifferent.

As Alice Munro has won the Nobel Prize, I’m sure there are better short story collections out there. If life is like it is shown in Dear Life, it’s mostly dull, gray and tedious.

bohnen3s

¹http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/editions/dear-life/9780099578635

Review – Touch by Alexi Zentner

Hi,

Today I’ve got another book review for you (to be honest, I’ve still got two more to write). Lovelybooks and btb (Random House) provided me with the German Edition of Touch by Alexi Zentner called Das Flüstern des Schnees. I read it in a Lovelybooks reading group where we also got the chance to ask Mr. Zentner questions. If you’re interested in them, just head over there. They are in English :).

Touch
Image provided by Chatto & Windus¹
Summary provided by Chatto & Windus¹:

On the eve of his mother’s funeral, Stephen, a middle-aged priest, sits down to write her eulogy. But as the evening creeps into night, he is haunted by memories from his childhood: birthday trips to the cuts with his father; the moment his sister slipped under the thick winter ice forever; and the memorable day his grandfather, Jeannot, came home after a thirty-year absence with a bundle of bones in his pocket and a mission to raise the dead.
Masterfully weaving the stories from three generations of one family, Touch tells the founding tale of Sawgamet – originally a gold-mining village – where deep in the forest reign golden caribou drinking from a honey-sweet river. Yet also in the forest lurk malevolent shapeshifters disguising themselves as friends, storms raging against foolhardy settlers, and the forest taking back the land for itself, branch by branch and root by root.
Touch is a singular, startling debut as enchanting as it is unnerving. In this darkly sinister fairy tale Alexi Zentner builds a magical world as distinctive as a grown-up Narnia, and marks himself out as a real talent to watch.

My Thoughts:

Touch is set in the fictional town of Sawgamet somewhere deep in the woods of Canada. The book spans the life of three generations of a family living there from the second half of the 19th century onwards. I am fascinated by the world that Mr. Zentner created in Touch! You can feel the chilly ice and snow, you can see it glitter. You fear the dark woods but you are also fascinated by how vast they are. And while you walk through them, you can even see your breath against the light shining through the trees.

I’d say there are two important characters in Touch, the first one being the narrator, Stephen. The second is his grandfather Jeannot. The reader accompanies Jeannot through many years of his life. He is a tough and fearless man. But it seems like almost all men who come to Sawgamet are tough and fearless. I can’t really remember a feature that would distinguish Jeannot from any of the secondary characters. The same happens with the women in Touch. They are all quite similar. I’d guess this could be interpreted as a means of showing that the characters in the book could be exchanged for anyone.

The plot of Touch is very fascinating as it leaves room for interpretation. It is a work of magical realism after all. My theory is that Jeannot fights nature itself, as he came into the woods and took from them. Touch isn’t a book you’ll quickly read and put back on the shelf, it is a book that will make you go back and think about it.

bohnen4s

¹http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/editions/touch/9780701185466

Review – Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy

Hi,

Things are still quite weird around here but it’s getting better. There’s lots of work that needs my attention and still, I do have a review for you. 🙂 (I also haven’t forgotten about those Frankfurt articles, but they take time to compile and write and I have to sort out other matters right now, so please be patient. Thanks 🙂 )

A few weeks ago, I received an awesome Bridget Jones Blogger Package from Random House UK and Lovelybooks. I’ve already told you how much I love their cooperations! The package included a signed hardcover copy of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy (published by Jonathan Cape), tissues, Galaxy chocolate (that one was super yummy), tea (I love tea!), a scented candle, a facial mask and a Bridget Jones t-shirt! Now ain’t that great? The perfect equipment for a perfect weekend full of Bridget Jones. (We were supposed to read the book in a Lovelybooks reading group on one weekend) Well, thanks to our postal services it wasn’t really a weekend because the package arrived on Tuesday as far as I remember. Too late for the weekend. The chocolate was gone by then ;). Nevertheless, I’m still super happy about this lovely package. Thanks again. And here’s what I think about Fielding’s third installment in the Bridget Jones series.

Image provided by Random House UK¹
The Bridget Jones Blogger Package I got from Random House UK and Lovelybooks
Summary quoted from Random House UK¹:

What do you do when a girlfriend’s 60th birthday party is the same day as your boyfriend’s 30th?
Is it wrong to lie about your age when online dating?
Is it morally wrong to have a blow-dry when one of your children has head lice?
Does the Dalai Lama actually tweet or is it his assistant?
Is technology now the fifth element? Or is that wood?
Is sleeping with someone after 2 dates and 6 weeks of texting the same as getting married after 2 meetings and 6 months of letter writing in Jane Austen’s day?
Pondering these, and other modern dilemmas, Bridget Jones stumbles through the challenges of single-motherhood, tweeting, texting and redisovering her sexuality in what SOME people rudely and outdatedly call ‘middle age’.

My Thoughts:

Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy is set in present-day London but this book really isn’t much about the setting.

The main character in Bridget Jones is, of course, Bridget Jones. In this book she is just over 50 and she still is rather clumsy and awfully fun. As by reading this book, you also read Bridget’s diary, you’ll always know what’s going on inside her head. Although there were some people in the Lovelybooks book group that thought Bridget acted quite immature for a 50+-year-old, I think it’s still her and as this is her diary, we get to know all her thoughts and this is not necessarily what the people around her get to see. So why can’t people over 50 have crazy thoughts? I think this made her likable.

The plot is based on changes that happened in the past 15 years of Bridget’s life. I think that the story was nice. I wish I knew how people of Bridget’s age would see this. I’m far younger, but I can imagine women acting just as Bridget does. Her problems seem very realistic to me. Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy also contains many fun passages but you got to have a special kind of humor to find jokes about farts and things like that funny. I think they were hilarious :D. Other members of the book group were bothered by these passages.

Overall, Bridget Jones: Mad About The Boy was a light and fun read, but I can understand why it might upset hardcore Bridget Jones fans.

bohnen4s

¹http://www.randomhouse.co.uk/editions/bridget-jones-3/9780224098090