An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten (Marlaine Delargy, Translator)

This book was one of those ones that comes along right when you need it. I was scouting through my shelves looking for a light hearted, cosy mystery, nicely bloodless (or nearly) crime and couldn’t find one, hopped onto Netgalley and there was this little treat. And just look at the gorgeous cover! Yay! In the best traditions of these things there is quirky elderly lady and as it goes with these, she is inherently not at all as she seems! 

Maude is to all outward appearances a typically meek, pleasant and frail elderly woman. This belies a gritty determination to get her own way at whatever cost. She will take you can strike you down if you look at her the wrong way. She is a murderous and scheming, not to be tampered with woman, but you’d never know it just to look at her. Maude will let no stone go unturned in her mission to ‘get you gone’ if you irritate her. Don’t be messing with her! She has lived in her apartment all her life, she will not be moved, any attempt to make her do so will result in your demise. And she’ll be creative about it!

This has a very Scandinavian sense of humour about it and I really enjoyed it. It is short, nasty and compellingly readable.

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Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes

sarahSarah Byrnes is worth it, she is the glue in Eric Calhoune’s life at school and after school. Sarah’s damaged face is one of the few things that makes Eric (Moby) feel that someone else has it worse than him. These two have built a friendship based on their mutual misfit status at school. Eric is overweight – really overweight, he is bullied by the bastards and he is the only person that Sarah talks to. When Eric discovers that he has a great deal of talent at swimming and begins to lose weight he worries that the bond between them will be broken, their commonality will be broken, so he decides to maintain his large status and stay fat so that he doesn’t lose Sarah. If he did lose her as a friend she would have nobody and he can’t do that to her. It is a fragile thing this friendship, a change might upset the delicate balance, he is swimming madly, training a lot and also eating to make up for it. It is a fantastic concept! Loyalty stretched to it’s limits!

This book introduces the most marvellous characters, the teacher who is taking a class where everyone gets to discuss issues they want to talk about, a dangerous proposition but this teacher is a gem, she manages a group of kids with extreme views. The issue that they end up discussing is religion and how a persons behaviour isn’t necessarily a good fit with their actions. But wait, there is a bunch more stuff in here. There is bullying, hypocrisy, self image, child abuse and courage but that really only just scratches the surface.

This would be the most fantastic book to study in an English class. So much to discuss, multitudes of issues you could sink your teeth into. I’ll be buying another copy and recommending it to Yr 11 and 12 students. A book to remember.

You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr

DamianI had no idea that concentration camps existed during the Boer Wars in South Africa, I had no idea that so many people had been mistreated and ruined at that time, people who were just living their lives and struggling in a harsh environment. In the first section of the book we meet Sarah, struggling to cope as she is interred with her young son into a concentration camp run by the British, her husband is off fighting and their farm has been razed to the ground as part of the scorched earth policy. Sarah is the first link in the chain of this story which travels through time in South Africa from then to 2015. The characters are all linked by family lines and their stories all show something of how the history of a country forms attitudes and social norms all the way through to now. Sarah’s diary of her time in Bloemfontein Camp is horrific, so much so that I wandered off to search for confirmation of the conditions and discovered the most ghastly photographs.

Many years later we meet Rayna and Irma and Willem, Sarah’s descendants in a new South Africa, where the laws have changed, where violence is increasing and where social order has been disrupted. Not everyone is comfortable with the new ways, the abolition of Apartheid and the changing expectations of how the black people are to be treated. The uncomfortable transition to equality is hard to read. The author has done a wonderful job of making you feel every side of the situation. He drew me into the characters world and made me understand their points of view, although it is uncomfortable reading at times, it is hard to deal with such views from this corner of the world. The creeping menace of the ever growing walls to keep the bad guys out, at the same time as keeping the world and your connection to it out.

Willem is so beautifully written, his fragility and sensitivity juxtaposed against his mother’s partner the awful Jans. Willem’s mother Irma, torn between the new bloke in her life and her son who she doesn’t really understand and whom to her mind seems to be lacking something. Thank goodness for Rayna, the grandmother who loves this sensitive boy sincerely, and who ultimately is his saviour. “Know, she didn’t know. No, she didn’t know. Know, if only she’d known.”

This book is a lot! There is so much depth, it has the most beautiful moments amongst the heartbreak and terror. Along the reading journey with this book, not only the terrible history of torture and struggle, I’ve thought about Willem and the others like him, struggling in a harsh society, the terror of their lives, the fear and the trying not to be noticed. The pain of knowing you don’t quite fit with everyone else and trying to disappear. All of this is written so beautifully. I’ll be thinking about this novel for a long time, my poor heart will need to recover.

Bravo Damian, you’ve written a gem of a book and I am so delighted about that as a reader and as a cheerleader.

Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee

LennyWhere is that 6th star? I need it to rate this book! I’ve bought a copy for myself and two copies for school, this is one of the most beautiful, sobbing into my nightie in the middle of the night sad, can’t stop reading books I’ve ever read. What a treasure this is. From the moment you meet Lennie and Davey you will be swept up in their hilarious imaginations and you’ll want to keep them with you as you go about your days until you head to bed early so that you can get back to them.

Lenny’s little brother Davey was born normal even though his Mum had a weird feeling that something was going to happen. Lenny and Davey’s Dad has gone off and nobody has seen or heard from him, their Mum works hard to try and make ends meet. They don’t have much but they are happy in their world with their neighbours who care and the excitement that their Mum winning a set of encyclopaedias brings. Both Davey and Lenny are desperate for knowledge about the world and about everything in it and they pour over the encyclopaedia entries for hours. Lenny is particularly fond of the bug entries, she intends to study beetles when she grows up, Davey is keen on rivers and log cabins and exploring the wilds of Canada. During the times when their mum is at work the children are cared for by Mrs Gaspar their neighbour, she who smokes too much, gasps for breath often and who has very entertaining dreams which she tells them about in great detail. It is a simple and happy life.

One day when Davey is 5 he starts to grow, at an extraordinary rate, he shoots up and up at amazing speed, an inch a night sometimes. On the outside he becomes as tall as a man but on the inside he is just a small child. It is weird. Eventually he is taken to a specialist and I cannot say more here.

I see that lots of people consider this a book for children. I don’t believe that this is so. This is a book for everyone, it is so full of heart and comfort. The writing is stellar and the way that the author has made a world with few characters and places but which feels so big and real is perfect. I was so drawn into this book that I was sobbing those big messy sobs with the catch in them, the ones where you need 3 breaths to complete the sob, the ones where your partner comes rushing in to see what is wrong and then goes “oh, sad book huh?”, and leaves you to it. This is now officially my book of the year. I might have to go back and read it again.

 

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

CRAA fluffy cloud of funny romantic froth! This is not my usual sort of book but having seen the shorts of the movie and thought it cute, I wanted to find out more. At the same time one of the Yr 10s at my all boys school asked me to buy it for the library and I was all YES!!! So, I gave it a spin and I loved it. So much fun, so many designer labels, so many witty one liners and a really good fun read.

It is the story of Nick and Rachel who meet and fall in love. Nick decides they should go on holiday in his home of Singapore. What he neglects to tell Rachel, an eminently sensible, intelligent and practical young woman, is that he comes from one of the richest families in Singapore and that the wedding they are attending while there, of Nick’s best friend, is the wedding of the decade! Rachel finds herself swept into a world she has no idea about, she is aghast at the wealth she sees and simply cannot believe that this extreme wealth is normal for her lovely boyfriend. She discovers the terrible rich bitch girls and finds unexpected kindness in the form of Nick’s cousins Astrid and Sophie.

There is also the story of Rachel’s background, her Mum’s sad experiences as a young woman and the struggle she had to keep Rachel from finding out the truth about these.

This is just perfect as a book to read as an escape from some of the sad books that are around at the moment, it is a perfect escape book. I thoroughly enjoyed it as a change from the usual.   Click this link to see the movie trailer.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQ-YX-5bAs0

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

lessArthur Less is one of those endearingly frustrating men, he cruises along, not being anything in particular and stuff happens to him. Usually really good stuff. He is ageing and starting to feel his mortality, he has gone from being the slightly shy and aloof person that people notice to being largely ignored. His latest novel has been rejected and he is hurt and lonely. He makes the impulsive decision to head off to a bunch of events in different countries in order to avoid attending his ex partner’s wedding. So we follow Arthur to these locations as he missteps and bumbles his way about. It sounds vacuous, but the writing is so sparkling and it is so wryly funny that I was drawn in immediately and loved this book.

The story is not the thing in this book, it is the atmosphere the author creates, the way that Arthur looks back on what has happened to him, the role he played in the lives of others, his perspective on his life, what the relationships he had have meant to him and where he is now. He is getting old, his life seems to have no substance and he is floundering. He is a kind of bumbling fool, someone who never makes a decision, someone who drifts and this is the charm of the book. Gentle and sweet and sad and lovely, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I loved the feeling of it, a flight of fancy and something lovely to spend time with.

Broken Ground by Val McDermid

brokenI had so wanted this to be great but is was only ok. I like Karen Pirie and have read a few of these books in the past and thought them pretty good. I’m a died in the wool Val McDermid fan and always want them to be amazing and she usually delivers. This one wasn’t my fave though, I loved the start, and thought the whole idea of burying motorcycles so that they could later be retrieved after the war and sold, was cool. Then they find a body buried with the bikes and Karen and her team enter to investigate this historic murder. Unfortunately Karen is grieving her partner, her boss hates her and is setting her up to fail. That isn’t good but then Karen goes on dates with one of the suspects and generally behaves in a way that I found unrealistic and the story just plods along. We get bogged down in the drama between Karen and her boss, the spy who is infiltrating Karen’s team and the detail of the investigation, so much detail, so slow to move along.

I got frustrated with Karen, need the story to get moving and just struggled through it. I was helped by a plane journey which meant I got stuck into it in the end but it seldom takes me so long to finish a book. I do however look forward to a new Val and hope for one that is a bit more exciting.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for giving me access to this book.