Review – An Almond for a Parrot by Wray Delaney

Hello,

Some of you might know Sally Gardner, a British children’s book author. She decided it was time to write a book for adults as well and in November she released her first novel An Almond for a Parrot under her pen name Wray Delaney.

an-almond-for-a-parrot
Image provided by HQ¹

In 18th century London, Tully Truegood, one of London’s finest courtesans, finds herself in prison because she is accused of having murdered her husband.
Growing up in an isolated household with only the cook to keep her company, Tully is glad when she can finally escape the influence of her father, a heavily indebted gambler, who always treated her like a maid. She finds a new home at Queenie Gibbs’ Fairy House where she soon becomes one of the most sought after women and a magician’s apprentice – because what many don’t realize is that Tully has powers that even she doesn’t quite understand.

An Almond for a Parrot is written like an 18th-century autobiography. It very much reminds me of Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders. Our heroine Tully writes about her fortunes and misfortunes, about how she turned from an uneducated child to a well-read, rich courtesan who wants to be her own woman.
The novel’s writing style fits the time it is set in. While it is still readable for someone living in the 21st century, the language carries you back to 18th-century London. This also means that the large amount of graphic sexual content reads like a poetic description of a vegetable garden.

In this 400-page novel, Wray Delaney keeps you glued to the pages. If it weren’t for the magical element, you would almost believe you were reading a true account of a courtesan’s life. An Almond for a Parrot is a mix of historical and erotic fiction with a pinch of magical realism. If that sounds good to you, you should give this novel a go, you won’t be disappointed.

4 Star Rating: Recommended

¹ https://www.harpercollins.co.uk/9780008182533/an-almond-for-a-parrot
A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Review – Bridget Jones’s Baby by Helen Fielding

Hi,

One week before the movie Bridget Jones’s Baby was released in Austrian theaters, Helen Fielding’s book was published and so I had enough time to read it in yet another LovelyBooks reading group.

Bridget Jones's Baby
Image provided by Jonathan Cape¹

Bridget Jones has once again gotten herself into a love triangle with Mark Darcy and Daniel Cleaver and to her surprise, she soon finds out she’s pregnant. There is only one problem: she doesn’t know who the father is.

Bridget Jones’s Baby is set between Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason and Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy. The novel starts out five years after Bridget and Mark have broken up over a misunderstanding.

Bridget and her friends are around forty and still I got the feeling that the characters haven’t matured at all. Bridget’s friends haven’t stopped drinking and partying, Daniel is acting like a child, Mark lacks empathy and Bridget is naive and hasn’t learned one bit from her past mistakes.

Nevertheless, with about 200 pages, Bridget Jones’s Baby is a quick and entertaining read. I laughed here and there, but I didn’t find the story overly funny. What bothered me was that the ending felt very rushed. It didn’t fit the overall pacing of the book. There is lots of drama up until a certain point and then the story is quickly wrapped up like nothing ever happened. Overall, reading the book was a nice diversion and I liked the idea behind Bridget Jones’s Baby, but I would have wished for it to be better executed.

3 Star Rating: Recommended

¹ https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/1113499/bridget-jones-s-baby/9781911214564/
A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Review – Some Rain Must Fall by Michel Faber

Hello,

There was a time when I associated short stories with school or university. Due to their length, they are just too popular with teachers and, because of all the work that is associated with them, not very popular with students. For years, I’ve tried to avoid short stories until I started to see them in a new light. Nowadays, I think short stories are great, because you can read one when you are in between books or during a commute and they contain whole worlds within just a few pages

Michel Faber’s short story collection Some Rain Must Fall And Other Stories certainly is a gem among short story collections. It was first published in 1998 and has recently been reissued as a Canons edition with a beautiful new cover designed by Yehrin Tong.

Some Rain Must Fall
Image provided by Canongate¹

It is always hard for me to review short story collections, especially if they are as diverse as this one. Some Rain Must Fall consists of fifteen brilliant short stories that showcase the broad spectrum of Michel Faber’s talent.
The book starts off with the story that lent this collection its name and “Some Rain Must Fall” isn’t for the faint of heart – it actually is one of my favorites and knocked me right off my feet. The next story, “Fish”, has a surrealistic, post-apocalyptic setting and feels quite oppressive, while “Toy Story”, a story about a lonely boy named God who finds a discarded planet in the trash, made me chuckle. Another gem in Faber’s collection is “Somewhere Warm and Comfortable” which is a heartwarming tale of trust between two siblings.

In Some Rain Must Fall, Michel Faber lets his vivid imagination run free. I almost always remarked, “Well, that was weird!” after finishing a story. If you want to ride an emotional roller coaster full of surprising and creative stories, I suggest you start reading soon.

5 Star Rating: Recommended

¹ http://www.canongate.tv/some-rain-must-fall-and-other-stories-paperback-canons-edition.html
A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Review – Nutshell by Ian McEwan

Hi,

Long time no see! Five weeks ago, I had nose surgery and I might even do a little blog post about what it was like. I almost look the same and I can already breathe so much better now!
In those five weeks, I participated in another LovelyBooks reading group. This time, we read Ian McEwan’s latest novel Nutshell.

Nutshell
Image provided by Jonathan Cape¹

His home is his mother Trudy’s womb and he has already been in here for about nine months. It is at this point in his life when he notices his mother and her lover Claude making plans to murder someone and his options to interfere are very limited.

Nutshell is told from the perspective of an unborn boy. This young tot spends his time listening. He listens to conversations going on around him and he listens to podcast lectures, self-improving audio books and the BBC World Service. This is why he has an impressive word range that would put most grown-ups to shame. The way he expresses himself, however, isn’t very authentic. To me, this isn’t the voice of an educated unborn, it is the voice of an educated, adult narrator – the voice of Ian McEwan.

The plot of Nutshell is inspired by Hamlet and the plot structure reminds me of Freytag’s Pyramid with exposition, rising action, climax, falling action and resolution. That does, however, depend on what you think the climax is. In my opinion, it is an outstanding monologue by the baby boy’s father John. After this climax, the plot just takes its course and there isn’t much suspense.

Since I read The Children Act two years ago, I have to say that I think Ian McEwan could have done a better job with Nutshell. Don’t get me wrong, this novel reads well and is written in brilliant prose, but there has to be a way to find an authentic voice for our little baby boy that doesn’t sound like the author himself.
Nevertheless, I’m glad I read Nutshell. This way I had the chance to read this wonderful monologue I was talking about earlier. So if you’re curious about life from the perspective of an unborn infant and a very special monologue, you might as well start reading now.

3 Star Rating: Recommended

¹ https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/1112686/nutshell/9781911214335/
A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Review – The Comet Seekers by Helen Sedgwick

Hi,

Helen Sedgwick’s novel The Comet Seekers with its beautiful embroidered cover is published today. I was fortunate enough to receive a proof copy, so I was able to read this special novel before everyone else did  😎

The Comet Seekers
Image provided by Harvill Secker¹

2017: When Róisín and François meet at a research station in the Antarctica, they aren’t aware of the many encounters they had in the past.
20th century: Róisín grows up in a small Irish village, becomes an astronomer and breaks out of her monotonous rural surroundings, while François’ mother Severine learns a family secret from her dying grandmother shortly before her son is born. This secret binds her to Bayeux for the rest of her life, but it is also the reason for François’ and Róisín’s shared passion for comets.

Set between 1066 and 2017, the plot spans almost a thousand years and tells the story of Róisín’s life and Severine’s family history. Severine’s family is closely connected to the Bayeux Tapestry and this valuable work of embroidery is skilfully threaded into the storyline. The chapters alternate between the present and the past, just like a needle repeatedly piercing the fabric to see what lies underneath.

While the blurb suggests that this is a story about Róisín and François, for me it is a story about Róisín and Severine. Not only are the two women close in age, Severine’s character is very well developed and the most fascinating in the whole story. Severine, who has a strong connection to the past, is bound to stay in Bayeux for the rest of her life, whereas Róisín travels the world and shows us more than just France and Ireland. She takes us to Hawaii, to Canada, to the United States and, finally, to the Antarctica.

Helen Sedgwick created a very special story that is so firmly set in this world that I had to Google a couple of things while reading. Its unique plot, likeable characters and references to real-world circumstances make The Comet Seekers a captivating novel that is hard to put down.

4.5 Star Rating: Recommended
4.5 Magic Beans

¹ https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/1110869/the-comet-seekers/9781910701737/
A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Review – Erwachsenwerden für Anfänger – Avoiding Adulthood by Paul Hawkins

Hi,

A few weeks ago, Paul Hawkins, author of How to Operate a Human (English title available now), sent me a nice e-mail asking if I’d be interested in reading his new book “Erwachsenwerden für Anfänger”, Avoiding Adulthood. As someone with slight Peter-Pan-syndrome, I was instantly intrigued.

Erwachsenwerden für Anfänger
Image provided by C.H. Beck¹

Do you think your life would be better if you were allowed to spend your days catching snowflakes and licking cookie dough off a spoon? Maybe you’ve already reached your thirties and you freak out every time someone calls you ma’am or sir. Do you keep asking yourself when and how you should start to act like an adult? Yes? Good, then read on.

Unfortunately, Paul Hawkins can not tell you when to start acting like an adult, but in his book “Erwachsenwerden für Anfänger” he shares lots of tricks to facilitate your life among adults. In the main chapters “Wohnen”, “Leben”, “Lieben”, “Arbeiten” and “Etc.” (E: Work, Spare Time, Relationships, Home and Admin), you will find helpful information to guide you through all kinds of difficult situations. It doesn’t matter if you’re looking for a new apartment (have you noticed that you lower your expectations with every rejection?) or trying to find out if you and your partner are compatible sleeping partners (and I’m not talking about sex), there is a solution for your problem and it comes with a laugh.

And laugh I did. More than once, I found myself wondering if there was a slight chance that Paul Hawkins had been studying me when he wrote this book. Did he watch me grocery shopping when I was on holiday – a very important skill to acquire -, or is it simply because we’re very close in age? Anyway, if you just can’t part with your inner child and have to find a way to deal with this cruel world out there, go on and read “Erwachsenwerden für Anfänger”. It’s laughing-out-loud funny, I swear!

Update April 2019: An English-language edition called Avoiding Adulthood is now available.

4 Star Rating: Recommended

¹ http://www.chbeck.de/Hawkins-Erwachsenwerden-Anfaenger/productview.aspx?product=14942041
A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Review – The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray

Hello,

John Wray’s The Lost Time Accidents is a novel that I was very much looking forward to. Fortunately, I had the chance to read it prior to its UK publication day on June 2nd and I really needed all that time, as it took me three weeks to plow my way through the book.

The Lost Time Accidents
Image provided by Canongate Books¹

On Monday, at 8:47 EST, Waldemar Tolliver excuses himself from time at his aunts’ apartment in Manhattan to come to terms with his family’s past. Ever since Ottokar Toula’s sudden death in the early 20th century, Waldy’s ancestors have been trying to find the lost pages of his great-grandfather’s scientific work to solve the mystery of the Lost Time Accidents, and in the process becoming obsessed with time themselves.

The novel The Lost Time Accidents counts over 500 pages and spans more than one century. Of all the characters Waldy is the one who stays with us from the beginning until the end, so we might as well call him our main character. The plot meanders between Waldy’s current situation in his aunts’ apartment, his past love affair with a woman called Mrs Haven, and his chronologically recounted family history.

In the first half of the book, I had problems with these sudden changes of setting. This is where you are introduced to a great part of the important characters and as soon as I got a feel for one of the narrative threads, it was cut and the plot continued elsewhere. This way, I wasn’t able to connect to any of the characters and soon I had to bring myself to continue reading, because the plot moved so slowly. If I were one to just give up on books, I probably would have done so after 1/4 of the novel, but I like to read until the last page and in this case I’m glad I did.
I don’t know if it’s me, or if The Lost Time Accidents really increases its pacing in the second half. This half reads much better than the first one. Maybe because we already know most of the characters and also, because the pieces finally start to fall into place. It’s also this process of digesting the complex plot in combination with a fitting ending (that I still don’t quite understand) that leaves me satisfied that I finished the novel after all.

As you can see, The Lost Time Accidents isn’t an easy read and it isn’t easy to review. It is a very complex novel with lots of talk about physics and time. You will meet many diverse characters, but you’ll never get to know them very intimately (except for their shared obsession with time). If all this sounds good to you and you aren’t afraid to be challenged by this 500-page tome, then you should have a look at The Lost Time Accidents.

3 Star Rating: Recommended

¹ http://www.canongate.tv/the-lost-time-accidents-ebook.html
A digital review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Review – Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler

Hello,

In April I decided to read another book from my TBR pile. This time I chose Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler.

Z A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald
Image provided by Two Roads¹

In 1920, Zelda Sayre, a nineteen-year-old girl from Montgomery, Alabama, hops onto a train to New York City to marry F. Scott Fitzgerald. Within months, the couple is widely known among New York City’s society. The two of them stay up all night to drink and party and sleep until afternoon. This lifestyle leaves marks and so it doesn’t come as a surprise that Scott has problems concentrating on his writing.
The couple move to France where Scott is supposed to finish his novel undisturbed. This is where they meet some of the most influential artists and writers of the 20th century and their marriage starts to get complicated.

Therese Anne Fowler is very good at creating a suitable atmosphere. The depiction of surreal 1920s parties, the arty Paris salons and the increasing bleakness Zelda faces in France help to get a better understanding of the world she lives in and what it must be like for her to deal with it.

Z starts out as a cheerful, exciting novel and steadily drifts into a melancholic, desolate mood, which mirrors Zelda’s physical and mental health. This also affects the novel’s pace which slows down after the couple leave for Paris the first time. Reading Z, it becomes clear that you probably wouldn’t want to swap places with Zelda. In the end, she is nothing more than another wife who isn’t able to do what she wants just because her husband says so – and that is a complete understatement.

3 Star Rating: Recommended
3.5 magic beans

¹ https://www.hodder.co.uk/books/detail.page?isbn=9781444761436

Review – Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel

Hi,

Last month I participated in a reading group on LovelyBooks where we read Sylvain Neuvel‘s novel Sleeping Giants.

Sleeping Giants
Image provided by Michael Joseph¹

When Rose, a girl from Deadwood, USA, falls into a pit one evening, she doesn’t realize that this incident is the start of a fascinating discovery she is about to make years later.
Dr Rose Franklin didn’t just fall into a pit, she fell onto a giant hand and where there is a hand, there could be more body parts buried somewhere. But who created that hand and why? Rose only knows that it can’t be man-made.

Dr Rose Franklin is a scientist through and through. She loves her job and finding out about the giant hand is her priority. Nevertheless, she won’t sell her own grandmother to achieve her goals. Rose still has enough conscience to know where to stop and that makes her very likable.
Another important character is the interlocutor. We never really find out who he really is and he doesn’t tell us his name but he tends to evoke all sorts of feelings – positive and negative – through the actions he takes.

As I’ve implied before, the novel consists of written interviews and occasional journal entries. This writing style might not be for everyone, but it does suck you right in and gives you all the details you need. There are, however, instances when characters open up to the interlocutor in a way that isn’t very credible. Would you tell a nameless stranger about your love affairs? The author could have used the journal entries to give us that information.

Sleeping Giants is a science fiction novel that takes on a necessary geopolitical dimension that can get a little tiring in parts. The disturbing plot reminds us that peace often lies in the hands of few people. Sylvain Neuvel’s Sleeping Giants is gripping up until the very last page, and if you don’t mind books ending with a cliffhanger, you’re in for a thought-provoking read.

4 Star Rating: Recommended

¹ https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/286671/sleeping-giants/
A review copy of this book was provided by the publisher.

Review – The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Hi,

A few weeks ago, I devoured Becky Chambers‘ novel The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet which was longlisted for the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet
Image provided by Hodder & Stoughton¹

Rosemary Harper is the newest crew member of the Wayfarer, a tunneling ship. While she has obviously traveled through open space before, Rosemary has spent most of her life planetside and the idea of living in this new environment is making her feel a little uneasy. Fortunately, most of the crew give her a warm welcome, especially the talkative and excited mechanic Kizzy, the friendly pilot Sissix and the big-hearted cook Dr Chef.

Rosemary’s addition to the mixed-species crew proves to be of value soon because the Wayfarer is offered a bigger job than usual. They have to travel to a far-away planet to build a hyperspace tunnel from there. On the way, they have to deal with all kinds of species and Rosemary who is well-read and open-minded, shows that these traits can be of great importance for the outcome of their job.

Even though The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is set in the distant future in space with planets and galaxies full of species created from Becky Chambers’ imagination, this novel is about current issues. It doesn’t matter if it’s different species or different nationalities that have to deal with each other, the strategies for successful communication and negotiation are always the same. This is what the crew of the Wayfarer has to learn the hard way.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is more than your usual Science Fiction novel. It is a sociological study that deals with interspecies communication, with prejudices, customs and culture. Even though Rosemary lives in the future out there in space, the problems she faces are the same as ours. The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is a reminder of what is important if we want to continue to live a peaceful life.

5 Star Rating: Recommended

¹ https://www.hodder.co.uk/books/detail.page?isbn=9781473619814