Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: emigration
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-06-21 08:51
A challenging but satisfying book written in a unique voice that deals in momentous and relevant themes.
Just: A heart stopping thriller, full of emotion and twists - Jenny Morton Potts

I write this review as a member of Rosie’s Book Review Team (authors, if you are interested in getting your book reviewed, you can check here) and thank her and the author for providing me an ARC copy of her novel that I freely chose to review.

I had read great reviews of the author’s previous book Hiding and when I saw that her new novel was available, I knew I had to read it. I’ve been lucky with most of the books I’ve reviewed so far. I’ve read many good books in recent times. Some have been well-written and entertaining genre books (and I love a good genre book. There is something reassuring and satisfying about reading a book in a genre we like. We know what to expect, and we can be pleasantly surprised when the book pushes the boundaries of the genre or is an excellent example of it), some I would count among some of the best books I’ve read on a topic or genre, some have managed to mix different genres, sometimes even genres that seemed hardly compatible and have pulled it off beautifully, and there are some books that have surprised me, because they seemed to keep wrong-footing the readers, challenging them, and demanding their attention. They are not for easy consumption and they do not reassure. But they can be very rewarding. Just is one of these books.

This novel is told in the third person from a variety of points of view. We have women who cannot move on and let go (of past relationships, or their past and their families), and can at times seem pathetic and self-pitying, whilst at others, they will not hesitate to sacrifice themselves for those their love (at a great cost). We have men who are ridiculously devoted to women (a close friend they’ve known forever, or somebody they’ve worked with but hardly know anything about), hopelessly romantic, and willing to go to any lengths to “save” or “help” this women (who might or might not need saving).  There are friends and relatives who will keep secrets that will cost them dearly. All the characters have very distinct voices, and the reader needs to pay attention at all times, as the dialogues are dynamic, and the author rarely uses tags, so it can be a challenge to know who is talking at times, especially when new characters are introduced.

I’ve seen some comments about the book that mention that none of the characters are sympathetic. Leaving to one side personal preferences and the fact that unsympathetic or downright unlikeable characters can be protagonists as well, as long as they engage our curiosity (why are they as they are?, can we connect with them at some level, even if we don’t like what they do?), in this case it is clear that the author has carefully chosen how to tell the story, and this contributes to the way we feel.  Although the book is written in the third person (and that puts us in the role of the observer), we do see things from inside the heads of these characters, and, as we all are, they can be mean, cruel, egotistical, and truly annoying at times. Personally, I wanted to slap some of the characters sometimes, but there were some I quite liked, and by the end of the book, I definitely felt I had gained an understanding of most of them. As the book evolves we discover that we don’t know as much as we thought about all of these people, and only then do we realise how carefully constructed the novel is, and how its structure creates a whole that is much more than its parts.

The book touches upon important, controversial and difficult themes, both at a general, societal level (terrorism, emigration, wars, international aid and charities, adoption, indoctrination…) and at a more individual one (new models of family, friendship and love, letting go, romantic love, parenthood, family bonds…) and  I doubt any readers will remain indifferent to the plight of the protagonists. When I finished the book, I felt I had gained insight into subjects I had read about or seen in the news often, but the novel managed to make them feel much more personal and immediate.

There are wonderful settings (from Cambridgeshire to Libya), and scenes (beautiful and poignant) that I won’t forget. (I don’t think I’ll be able to look at shoes again the same way). The book is not evenly paced, and there are some contemplative moments, and some when we are taken from one scene to the next and left hanging on, trying to make sense of what just happened. A lot of the book deals in serious subjects but there are some light moments and plenty of humour, some witty, some dark, that bring some relief while underscoring the gravity of the issues at hand.  If some of the scenes might stretch the imagination and require suspension of disbelief (too romantic or contrived, or so I thought when I first read them), we are later obliged to re-evaluate them, we come to see them in a new light and they make sense.

I highlighted many sentences, but I thought I’d share a few:

Muduj had a weak stomach behind her strong heart.

Where once there were honey bees, now the metal drones buzz. Everything good has been replaced by manufactured evil.

Her body now was a foreign attachment to her head. Her heart was beating in her gums. Her eyes felt like transplants.

And so you don’t think it’s all very serious:

I always think it’s a worrying sign, when someone starts to read poetry.

I always recommend that prospective readers check a sample of the book to see if they feel it suits their taste, and this is especially true in this case. As I have warned, this novel treats in serious themes and is not a feel-good book (I will not discuss the ending, that I loved, but is not traditional, as it pertains such a book) for somebody looking for a light read. But if you are interested in discovering new talents and don’t mind harsh content (some sexual scenes as well) and are up for a challenge, this is a treat.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2016-02-17 10:21
A book to be enjoyed slowly and savored like the sweets the poet liked so much
Miss Emily: A Novel - Nuala O'Connor

Thanks to Net Galley for providing me a complimentary copy of this novel in exchange for a review.

I spent a year at Mount Holyoke College and visited Amherst often. And one of the first places I went to was for a visit to the house and museum of Emily Dickinson (and I was living at Dickinson House at Mount Holyoke, where the Centre for Women’s Studies resides).

I’ve always been intrigued by Emily Dickinson and this novel did not disappoint me. It achieves what for me is the trademark of great historical fiction, it makes historical characters and a time and place come to life, without becoming a textbook. It creates a sense of place and it submerges the readers in an era distant from their own.

The author provides enough detail of the period and places to transport us there, and in this case I felt the major strength of the novel was its psychological insights into the minds of the characters, Emily Dickinson and the fictional character of Ada Concannon. Each one of them take turns to tell the story from their point of view, in first person, present tense, and although the differences in language and education couldn’t be wider, the two women bond over a common interest in baking and a kindness of spirit and curiosity for the other’s world and life. Emily accepts and does not question Ada’s religious beliefs and what she sees as her superstitions, and Ada is non-judgemental about Emily’s rituals, reclusiveness and life-style.

The language captures beautifully Emily’s poetry and her creative process, and it reflects the differences between the two women and the other characters around them. The relationships between Emily and members of her family and friends are understated as it would correspond to the period and there are feelings and interests hinted at but never fully developed, in keeping with the sense of propriety of the era.

If Ada’s character is partly a way of providing an outsider’s perspective into Emily’s life, it also tells the story of Irish emigration to the US by sharing different experiences and very personal ones. Ada’s troubles also help highlight some of the difficulties women would have confronted at the time, and what the general attitude towards them might have been. Although these elements might be seen as detracting from the focus of the story I felt they created a more rounded reading experience.

I particularly enjoyed the amount of domestic detail, the cooking, the descriptions of smells, tastes, textures, colours that complement Emily Dickinson’s poetry. A book to be enjoyed slowly and savoured like the sweets the poet was so fond of.

Like Reblog Comment
review 2015-09-09 13:51
The power of stories and the value of remembering the past.
Unexpected Gifts - S.R. Mallery

Having read Mallery’s book of stories Sewing Can Be Dangerous and Other Small Threads I was looking forward to reading her novel. And although not unexpected, it definitely was a gift. The story of Sonia, a young woman studying psychology, in a complicated relationship with the lead singer of a band, and plagued by rituals and other symptoms of OCD, her story frames the novel and provides a conduit for telling many other stories. Through her we get to know her parents, and when her mother suggests she might find direction and some useful ideas by checking the attic and the family boxes that have accumulated there, each box goes on to reveal something about her family members and helps her discover more about herself.

The book is beautifully written, with vivid descriptions of places and people, that in a few sentences transport the reader to the recent (and less recent) pas) and to locations and situations that spread from the new to the old world and from America to Bulgaria, via Vietnam. The structure of the novel is clever and works well in progressively unveiling Sonia’s heritage. Every time she reaches a conclusion about one of her ancestors, the next bit of information or evidence contained in the box corresponding to that person makes her reconsider and reach a better understanding (if not always a kinder opinion) about their lives., The box within a box or the Russian wooden dolls that must be opened up or peeled back to discover what hides inside (that are also mentioned in the novel) work well as a metaphor or visual representation for the structure of the novel.

The stories will affect or touch people differently, but they are all interesting and revisit crucial historical events and periods, adding a personal perspective. We have Vietnam War veterans, the hippy movement, European emigrants arriving in Ellis Island, American Suffragettes, Racial Conflict and Race Riots, the McCarthy era Communist witch hunt, Dance Marathons and the Depression Era, and romances that seem to be fated to end up badly. By exploring the past, Sonia seeks a way of understanding her behaviour and of breaking up patterns that result in sadness and unhappiness. I don’t want to reveal too much, but can add I enjoyed the ending that brought closure and a nice conclusion to the novel.

I recommend Unexpected Gifts to anybody who enjoys a good novel, with a solid historical background and strong characters, especially to people who prefer variety and many different stories. As the book is structured I think it will also appeal to readers of short stories and of anthologies of different styles of writing, as it provides multiple voices and many narrations in one single volume. Another great achievement for the author.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2015-05-05 14:27
Grim yet Beautiful
I Could Read the Sky - Timothy O'Grady,Steve Pyke

The book is written the way memory works. Sometimes the narrator looks back to the past and sometimes he is there, in the past, telling us about events and people as if they’re happening now – he’s lost in his memories, or maybe that’s where he finds himself. As a result this is not a linear story. There are moments when it was completely unclear to me whether we were in the past or the present but overall that didn’t make a difference.


While this book tells the story, as described in the blurb, of a man forced to move from the West of Ireland to England for work and does have a clear beginning and a powerful end – In the morning light I let go – there is no real story to summarize. This is a reflection on a life. A patchwork of memories and impressions – a lot of them bleak but a few so bright they almost light up the page. I won’t attempt to write my normal review. Instead I’ve collected thoughts and quotes as I read which I’ll share below and use as a tool to remember the book and the feelings it created in me, by.


I could read the sky: One of the things the narrator lists as what he could do (Chapter 9).


“What I could do.
I could mend nets. Thatch a roof. Build stairs. Make a basket from reeds. Splint the leg of a cow. Cut turf. Build a wall. Go three rounds with Joe in the ring Da put up in the barn. I could dance sets. Read the sky. Make a barrel for mackerel. Mend roads. Make a boat. Stuff a saddle. Put a wheel on a cart. Strike a deal. Make a field. Work the swarth turner, the float and the thresher. I could read the sea. Shoot straight. Make a shoe. Shear sheep. Remember poems. Set potatoes. Plough and harrow. Read the wind. Tend bees. Bind wyndes. Make a coffin. Take a drink. I could frighten you with stories. I knew a song to sing to a cow when milking. I could play twenty-seven tunes on my accordion.”


He could do so much, and yet it seems to amount to so very little in practical terms.

This book was at times rather devastating, like when I read the narrator’s thoughts and feelings on his first night in England.


“I feel in my pockets. I wonder have I the fare home and if I can find the way. I think of the bed I left in Labasheeda. Outside it is dark and the road full of twists I know nothing of. There is no way back now. I am to pick potatoes and lie down at night in this loft. I am to be in England living with pigs.”


Or when the narrator asks another Irish man in England what it’s like working there.


“It’s like you’re trying to talk to somebody out of a deep black hole, he says.”


The following sounds like the lament of an exile and especially the last one – stop remembering – breaks my heart.


“What I couldn’t do.
Eat a meal lacking potatoes. Trust banks. Wear a watch. Ask a woman to go for a walk. Work with drains or with objects smaller than a nail. Drive a motor car. Eat tomatoes. Remember the routes of buses. Wear a collar in comfort. Win at cards. Acknowledge the Queen. Abide loud voices. Perform the manners of greeting and leaving. Save money. Take pleasure in work carried out in a factory. Drink coffee. Look into a wound. Follow cricket. Understand the speech of a man from west Kerry. Wear shoes or boots made from rubber. Best P.J. in an argument. Speak with men wearing collars. Stay afloat in water. Understand their jokes. Face the dentist. Kill a Sunday. Stop remembering.”


Memories, they are such fickle things. It’s not always the big momentous events that stay with us. All too often the small details – insignificant at the time – are the ones which come back in glorious detail years later.


“I’m walking behind a red-haired man with mud on his boots, the trousers falling off him, the paper rolled up in his jacket pocket and him taking the two sides of the pavement from all the drink and I know it is me. I know it is all of us.”


Lines like the one quoted above broke my heart. How lonely the life of many exiled Irish men in England was.


“I read a book once, he says. I read many one time. The thing about a book is that the man who is writing it brings all the lives from all the different places and makes them flow together in the same stream. As they move down towards the end it’s like they have loops and holes and shapes that all fit together just nicely so that they’re just one big piece really. You can look back and see how all of them got where they are. That’s the time the writer brings the book to an end and there’s no seeing past it. I’d like to meet the man who wrote a book like that so I could ask him where he got those lives.”


“(...)I can see as I look from the side at the arrangement of brow and nose something of what she was when she was a girl and nothing had disappointed her.” – The narrator about a sister he hasn’t seen in years.


These thoughts about music rang true for me; music can indeed do all these things.


“Music happens inside you. It moves the things that are there from place to place. It can make them fly. It can bring you the past. It can bring you things that you do not know. It can bring you into the moment that is happening. It can bring you a cure.”


The time the narrator knows love with his Maggie seems all too short in the full tale of his life. His thoughts about going on without the one you’ve loved with all your heart are both eloquent and heartbreaking.


“What is it to miss someone? (...)It is the feeling of being in a strange place and losing direction. It is the feeling of looking without seeing and eating without tasting. It is forgetfulness, the inability to move, the inability to connect. It is a sentence you must serve and if the person you miss is dead your sentence is long.”


This is a short book containing a lot of beautiful black and white photographs. And yet the words tell the complete story of the life forced away from everything it knew and the near impossibility of finding home again. These words will stay with me for a long time.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2013-10-02 20:24
So, the whole Goodreads thing...

For the little it's worth, I just blogged about current events ... In summary, I'm going to be replacing my GR reviews with links to Booklikes and my blog along with a brief (for me) explanation why. My apologies in advance to my Goodreads friends who will see that message over and over, and to my Booklikes friends who will probably be seeing almost 400 reviews popping up here over the next few weeks. I'll try not to flood the site. :)


Oh, if anyone has a link to one of the posts summarizing events on GR, I'd be grateful. I've been hunting off and on all afternoon, and couldn't find the ones I was looking for. Gracias.

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?