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review 2019-01-01 19:03
A gorgeous and deeply touching book
When All Is Said - Anne Griffin Perry

Thanks to NetGalley and to Sceptre for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

This is a beautiful novel. Its structure is simple and so is the plot. Written in the first person, this is the story of a man, Maurice Hannigan, a widower, who has come to a decision about what to do with the rest of his life. Having made that decision, it has come the time to explain why he has decided what he has. The novel is structured around his conversation with his son, Kevin, who lives in the USA and is not there in person; therefore it becomes a monologue, with an intended audience of one. We, the readers, act as his son’s stand-ins. Maurice, as we soon learn, has never been the talking kind, so this is a bit of a departure for him, probably because of the time of his life and because he is not eye-to-eye with the person he is addressing.

Maurice has booked the best room in the hotel and is drinking five toasts to the people who have had the most impact in his life. In the process of talking about them and their influence, we get to hear about his life and what made him who he is. He chooses carefully his drinks, measures his words, and also the mementos he has kept. He drinks ale and also his preferred drink, whisky, and shares photographs, a pipe, a coin, and plenty of memories. He toasts to his brother, who died of TB when he was very young, always protected him and was his role model; to the daughter who never was and has always remained present for him; to his wife’s sister, who spent most of her life in psychiatric hospitals, took to him from the first and played an important role in solving an interesting mystery; to his son, who always had different dreams but tried hard to keep in touch; and to his wife, the one and only, the person he cannot live without.

Through his toasts we learn a lot about Maurice, his world, and the changes in Ireland through the years: when he was young life was harsh for farmers, the owners of the big house could behave as if they owned the people around them, school was hard for those who could not learn at the normal rhythm, and a family feud could last for years. Ireland moves with the times, and we hear about his change of circumstances, but he finds it difficult to let go of his wish for revenge and his resentments, of his low self-confidence because he never did well with books (later on in life he realises he suffers from dyslexia), and especially, of his grief and bereavement. He has suffered many losses through life, and he has many regrets, although he has also done some good things, intentionally or not.

Maurice feels real and very familiar, and I think most readers will be reminded of somebody they know. He is not the most sympathetic character at first sight, although he has gone through a lot, and some of his decisions are harsh and mean-spirited. During the book we get to understand what has made him as he is and it is difficult not to feel touched by his narrative, even if we don’t have much in common with him. There are plenty of family secrets revealed, and he learns to let go of the hatred he held for most of his life. The author writes beautifully, and without using complex language manages to convey true feeling and emotions. She gives her character a recognisable and true voice, dry and sharp, with touches of black humour and always understated, even when talking about those dearest to him. There is a beautiful love story at the heart of this novel, and it is very difficult not to feel moved by it. As for the ending… I won’t discuss it in detail, but I don’t think it will come as a surprise to most readers, although what might be surprising is how we feel about it by then.

Although the author is well-known, this is her first novel, and it is a thing of beauty, poetic and sincere. Here I share some examples of her writing:

It’s an awful thing, to witness your mother cry. You cannot cure nor mend nor stick a plaster on.

Forty-nine years ago, I met Molly, and only for fifteen minutes. But she has lived in this dilapidated heart of mine ever since.

I watched her skin survive the years, softly, folding upon itself. I touched it often, still hopelessly loving every bit of her, every line that claimed her, every new mark that stamped its permanency.

Loneliness, that fecker again, wreaking havoc on us mortals. It’s worse than any disease, gnawing away at our bones as we sleep, plaguing our minds when awake.

These past two years have been rotten. I’ve felt the ache of her going in my very bones. Every morning, every hour of every day I’ve dragged her loss around with me. The worst thing has been the fear that I’ll wake one morning and she’ll be gone from my memory forever, and that, son, that, I just can’t do.

This is a gorgeous book that touches on important subjects and deep feelings without going over the top and being sugary sweet. It is not a page turner plot-wise, and there isn’t much action (other than in some of the memories), so it will not suit readers who are looking for a fast plot. But anybody who loves a character-driven novel, enjoys savouring the quality and poetry of good writing and is looking for new authors will have a field day. I am going to follow Anne Griffin’s career with interest, and I expect to hear great things from her.

 

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review 2018-12-21 21:18
No Place Like Home (Love Can't #1.5)
No Place Like Home - Kim Fielding

Near the end of Love Can't Conquer, Jeremy's told about an out gay couple in his old hometown in Nowhere, KS. This short story shows us how that couple met. Stephen and Max are in their late 50s, single and looking at old age alone, until a chance meeting leads to more. This is very short, just a few scenes really, but they're sweet.

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review 2018-12-18 00:09
The Tin Box (Audiobook)
The Tin Box - Kim Fielding

Wow, that was maudlin.

 

Appropriately so, given the subject matter, but...damn, that was maudlin.

 

I gotta say, I didn't care much about the romance in this one. Not that Colby wasn't sweet - if on the flighty side - but this really was more about Will accepting himself as a gay man after spending the last 33 years of his life trying to pray the gay away, even going so far as to marry a woman he's now divorcing. He's having to do all the self-discovery stuff most people do in their teens and twenties, and he doesn't even know the first thing about gay sex. Colby takes him under his wing, literally being his wing man as well as his friend as Will figures himself out.

 

But it's Will's discovery of a tin lunch box hidden in one of the cells of an abandoned mental institution that really helps him with his journey. Will's working as a caretaker for the abandoned hospital while he works on his college dissertation, and he finds letters that the patient, coincidentally named Bill, wrote to his lover John. Obviously, John never got said letters but Will slowly reads through them and discovers the strength and desperation of this one-time patient as Bill was forced to endure one "cure" after another for his homosexuality, at that time considered a mental illness. Some of the details are not easy to hear and learning Bill's ultimate fate is enraging, so you've been warned, but the way Will decides to honor Bill's life and legacy is indeed touching.

 

It took me quite awhile to get into the audiobook. The narrator, KC Kelly, has a pleasant enough voice and speaks clearly, but I wasn't quite feeling his voice at first, and he doesn't have a lot of range with the voices. Still, it did grow on me by the end.

 

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review 2018-11-03 15:24
My Neighbor Totoro (book) art and story by Hayao Miyazaki, text by Tsugiko Kubo, translated by Jim Hubbert
My Neighbor Totoro: A Novel - Tsugiko Kubo,Hayao Miyazaki

Mei, Satsuki, and their father, Tatsuo, move into a crumbling old house in the country in order to be closer to the sanatorium where their mother, Yasuko, is recovering from tuberculosis. The girls adapt to their new rural life pretty quickly, although four-year-old Mei doesn't respond well to being left with their neighbor while Tatsuo is at work and Satsuki is at school.

Both girls realize there's something a little strange about their house when they first arrive. They briefly spot little beings called soot sprites, and Kanta, the boy who lives near them, tells them that their house is haunted. Then Mei starts talking about having met a being she calls Totoro and who Tatsuo believes is a forest spirit. Satsuki longs to see Totoro too.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I read this. Would it be a stiff and soulless adaptation of the movie, or would it be able to hold its own in the face of the movie's sweetness? I'm happy to say that it fell into the latter category. Although I still prefer the movie, the book was a breeze to read, added things to the overall story that the movie couldn't, and had much of the same charm as the original movie.

(I should briefly explain that I'm most familiar with the English dub of the movie. I'm not sure if I've even watched it in Japanese with English subtitles yet. Some of the information "missing" from the movie could possibly have been translation decisions when creating the dub, editing the script to better match mouth flaps. I won't know until I watch the movie with subtitles, and even then translator decisions are in play.)

The book was more direct about explaining exactly why Tatsuo, Satsuki, and Mei moved out into the country, explicitly naming Yasuko's illness. There were more mentions about what Satsuki and Mei's life used to be like, back in the city, and even one portion of the book where they briefly went back to the city. Yasuko was slightly more in the foreground - the book included letters she wrote to her children while at the sanatorium. I got a stronger picture of her personality here than I did in the movie. She seemed like a dreamer.

In general, I'd say that the bones of this book were about the same as the movie. A few scenes were added, and there were more details about the history of the house the family moved into, and Satsuki's efforts to learn how to cook different foods over an actual fire without burning them. I really enjoyed these additions.

One thing that disappointed me a little, however, was that the fantasy aspects were scaled back. In the movie, viewers' first exposure to Totoro happened when Mei chased after a little Totoro and ended up finding Totoro's napping spot. All of this happened on-screen. These same things happened in this book as well, but for some reason the author chose to focus on Satsuki instead of Mei. Mei told Satsuki and her father what she'd experienced, but there was no evidence that any of it was real, rather than the dreams or imaginings of a child. The first on-page appearance of Totoro didn't happen until the bus scene. The ending was also altered slightly - the scene where Mei and Satsuki watched their mother and father from a tree didn't happen. I was at least glad that all the Catbus scenes were included.

The focus of this book seemed to be slightly more on the relationship between the two sisters and their barely-spoken-of fear that their mother might die and never come home, as well as the girls' growing independence as they adapted to rural life. It was lovely, but, as I said, I did miss some of the Totoro stuff. All in all, this was an excellent novelization that I'd definitely recommend to fans of the movie.

Extras:

Several illustrations (black and white sketches with maybe a watercolor wash?), including a color map of Matsugo, the place where the Kusakabe family moved. The map also gives the exact year this story took place, 1955, so I suppose this could be considered historical fiction.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2018-09-19 03:42
Tinsel Fish (Tyack & Frayne #2) (Audiobook)
Tinsel Fish - Harper Fox

I seem to be having trouble connecting with this series, and I honestly don't know if it's the length of the stories or if it's the narrator. 

 

This is really too short to go in-depth with the material or the characters, and things and other characters keep getting introduced, on top of the mystery of sorts that Lee and Gideon are working on. I did love Gideon's mom, and it was nice to see Gideon going out on a limb relationship-wise, planning time off from his job when he knows that Lee will be home from his own job. 

 

I didn't understand why Lee, a psychic, didn't believe in spirits off the bat. His job is going out, documenting monsters and such, and reading energies and people's minds and other random mojo to find things and people. But spirits? That's crazy talk! Atheism in paranormal settings just doesn't make a lot of sense to me. He doesn't have to be religious or anything, but he does have use basic common sense. It reminded me of those idiots in that godawful The Boys on the Mountain, going out to investigate a haunted house but none of them believe in ghosts. *headdesk* Thankfully, Lee does prove to be smarter than that lot. Not that that would've been a hard thing to do.

 

Tim Gilbert is a great narrator, and he's easy to follow, but he's got this gravelly, gruff voice that just doesn't really seem to fit. Well, that's not quite right. It fits Gideon perfectly, but everything else? Not so much. He is able to clear his voice up for Lee, but the variation in his voices for the various characters shows a limited range. And I still feel like he should be reading something much more serious, like one of those classic Russian authors with names I can't pronounce. :D

 

There is promise here, and I've loved nearly everything else I've read by Ms. Fox, so I'm going to try the next one eventually, but I I'll be reading it. This'll be it for me with the audiobooks. 

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