Saturday, 18 February 2017

LION: A LONG WAY HOME by Saroo Brierley @brierley_saroo

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE


How I discovered this book:  My sister recommended the film Lion to me, and I was blown away not just by the film itself, but by the story.  I thought about it for days after ~ I had to read the book.

In the mid 1980s, Saroo was a five year old boy living in poverty in an Indian village with his mother and siblings.  On a railway station, some way from the village, he became separated from his older brother, boarded an empty, stationary train and fell asleep.  When he woke up, he was miles away, and unable to get out of the train.  He ended up travelling 1600 kilometres, to the other side of the country and Calcutta, in just the clothes he stood up in, hungry and unable to speak the language.  

Saroo's story is incredible, and made me think about the survival instinct in every human, even a five year old child, much more so than the film did.  The account of how he stayed alive, and the instinct he developed for danger, is far more detailed than in the film.  Eventually (and I won't tell you the whole story because you should read it for yourself), he was adopted by a couple from Hobart, Tasmania, who have given him a wonderful life.

As he grew up, he thought more and more about his Indian family.  Alas, he remembered the name of his village wrongly, knew his mother only as 'Mum', and had no idea of the places through which he'd travelled to get to Calcutta.  Although searches were made, no one could ever trace his family.  As a young adult, Saroo became increasingly obsessed with the idea of finding them.  Using the new site Google Earth, he started to investigate rural India, sure that he could find the village he came from.  It was a mammoth task that took over his life.

After years of searching without success, mostly because he hadn't realised how far he had travelled, he at last found the village in which he'd spent those first years of his life.  Of course, he went back ~ the reunion between him and his family had me in floods when I watched the film, and it's very touching in the book, too.   His mother had never moved away from the area, because she felt sure he would return one day.

It's a beautifully and simply written book, and taught me much I didn't know about how the poor in India live.   What struck me most, though, was how happy Saroo's childhood was, despite being constantly hungry and living, day to day, with the sort of deprivation we can't imagine.  The story of his adoptive parents is one that would give anyone faith in humankind; Saroo talks about his good fortune in finding people who helped him, and how easily he could have disappeared into the dangerous underworld of the Calcutta streets, forever.

Highly recommended.   

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

THE SILENT KOOKABURRA by Liza Perrat @LizaPerrat #RBRT

5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE




How I discovered this book: It was a submission to Rosie Amber's Review Team, of which I am a member.  

Every so often I find a real gem in the review team submission list, and this was one of them.  I thoroughly enjoyed it; Liza Perrat is an excellent writer.

The story takes place in the early 1970s in a quiet town in New South Wales called Wollongong, and is narrated by eleven year old Tanya, who lives with her alcoholic but not unlikable father, Dobson, her disturbed mother, Eleanor, who has miscarried many children, and her grandmother, Nanna Purvis.  It's sad, tragic and funny, all at the same time.  Behind the story of every day life lurks the shadow of child abuse, madness and murder, but these are dealt with so cleverly that the book doesn't seem particularly dark.  If you can imagine that.

Eleanor finally manages to carry a child to term and Tanya is sure their family life will improve, but events take several turns for the worse, and she has to deal with great uncertainty about her future.  I wouldn't have thought I'd like a whole novel written from the point of view of such a young girl, but one reads so much between the lines as Tanya reveals more to the reader than she understands herself.  Danger and intrigue is added by the appearance of the mysterious, seedy Uncle Blackie, the various nosy neighbours, the girls who tease Tanya for being fat, and her Italian friend Angela's are-they-drug-dealers-or-aren't-they family. 

On the verge of adolescence, Tanya veers between excitement about becoming a woman, and comfort eating her way through her disintegrating family life.  One question remains in her mind, and is still there at the end of the book, an epilogue that takes place forty years later.

The characterisation in this book is brilliant.  Nanna Purvis is hilarious, a real old Aussie matriarch, and the atmosphere of the family's slightly backward way of life of 45 years ago is so well portrayed.  I notice from the Author's Note that Liza Perrat lived in Wollongong, and there are many popular culture references to the time, including items of food that Ms Perrat must have eaten back then, but, unlike other books in which this occurs, I didn't find it contrived, or as if it was a deliberate strategy to press nostalgia buttons.  It worked (I particularly liked Nanny Purvis and her Iced VoVos).

It's really, really good.  You won't be disappointed.

  

Friday, 10 February 2017

THE BEAUFORT BRIDE by Judith Arnopp @JudithArnopp

4.5 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE

How I discovered this book: I'd heard of the author via various history blogs, and Twitter, and a writer/editor friend told me she was good.  Margaret Beaufort is one of my favourite historical characters, so I thought I'd give this a go.  Kindle version is £2.99, or free on Kindle Unlimited.

This is a short novel, about Margaret's childhood, her marriage to Edmund Tudor and the birth of her son, Henry (later to become Henry VII).  It takes us to the point in her life when she meets Henry Stafford, her second husband The Kindle version ends at 90%, after which there is a brief history of Margaret's life and the beginning of the next book, The Beaufort Bride.

I enjoyed this book, the style is clear and readable; at first I thought it too simply written, but then realised that, of course, I was reading through the eyes of a twelve year old.  The pictures painted of the castles and travels through the countryside of 15th century Wales brought the book to life for me.  Not very much detail is known of the subject's early life, but the fiction in this novel is convincingly imagined.  Once or twice, in dialogue and actions, I felt that the author had forgotten that her subject was only thirteen, but on the whole I found the book quite absorbing.

When I first became fascinated by Plantagenet history, I thought Margaret Beaufort might be too straight-laced and pious for me to have much interest in her, but as I read more I saw possible hidden depths, and Judith Arnopp has brought these to light well.  It occurred to me that perhaps Elizabeth I did not only take her many sterling traits from her parents, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, but also from her great-grandmother.

I liked that it was short; I prefer to read biographies like this, in shorter sections, rather than embarking upon a daunting, long book.  I downloaded this on Kindle Unlimited and will definitely be returning it in exchange for the next instalment.

  

Sunday, 5 February 2017

TODAY by Andrew Webber @mrandrewwebber

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE

  
How I discovered this book:  I read the author's second book, Lad, discovered via an Amazon browse, and liked it so much I downloaded this novella, too.  *99p or free on Kindle Unlimited*

Today takes place (mostly) on one day, Dec 5 2014, and is about three Londoners ~ John, Laura and Charlie.  John is living in squalid circumstances while he saves up every penny for his glorious future.  Country girl Laura detests living in the City but is determined to stick it out for another year before going home.  Charlie, who I see as the forerunner to the brilliantly portrayed Danny in Lad, is a vain, superficial ladies' man.

The story nips back and forth between the characters as the day moves on to its grim climax, and is like a 'life in the day of' each one as we explore their hopes, dreams, history and current state of mind.  The event at the end of the day has a massive effect on all three.  In the aftermath, a couple of weeks later, I thought that Charlie's story was a little too unlikely and clear cut, but Laura's was happy, sweet and what I would have wanted for her, and John's was absolutely heartbreaking, so well written. 

It's a story with a heavy moral message, and an important one.  The book could do with another edit and a better proofread, but, hey, it's a first book (his second is superior in style, content and presentation), and I enjoyed it enough to read most of it in one sitting and feel reluctant when I had to put it down.  I like the way Mr Webber writes very much, and look forward to more books by him.  



 

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

WARNINGS UNHEEDED by Andy Brown

4 out of 5 stars

On Amazon UK HERE
On Amazon.com HERE
On Goodreads HERE



How I discovered this book:  It was a submission to Rosie Amber's Review Team, of which I am a member.

I'll start by saying that this book is a terrific achievement by the author.  The painstaking and intricate work that has clearly gone into it is to be admired, as is its purpose.

The 'warnings unheeded' of the title refer to two mass-casualty accidents that occurred within days of each other on a US air base. "Using the words of the people who experienced the tragedies, the book provides an in-depth look at the before, during and after of a preventable “active shooter” incident and an avoidable fatal plane crash."  A shooter terrorised the base hospital, and, in a parallel account, a veteran pilot, known for his reckless flying, put the lives of both his crew and spectators at risk.

Andy Brown was the hero who ended the hospital killing spree, and intersperses chapters about the build up of fears about Mellberg and Holland with information about his own life and what led him to the position by which he was able to act as he did.  He also writes about the aftermath of the shootings, and PTSD.

I found shooter Mellberg's story the most interesting, and read almost open-mouthed that the people who could take action did not appear to see that he was a tragedy waiting to happen, with the professionals who predicted this swamped by bureaucracy.  Most chilling was Dr Brigham's instruction to his wife to keep firearms in the house, because he recognised the sort of patient who would see those who helped him as friends, though could just as easily turn on them.  Although non-fiction, the character of Mellberg, in particular, came across most clearly.  The book is well-written throughout, and the amount of planning that has gone into it is apparent.  For a non-military person (with no particular interest in or experience of the military), I thought that the factual detail was clear and well-explained, though sometimes too detailed, adding facts (and many initials, military terms and the explanations of) that were perhaps not necessary to the story for a layman's point of view, and made one glaze over a little.  However, for its target audience, I imagine such detail will be admired.

For that target audience, I would say that this should probably be required reading.