The Quality of Silence – Rosamund Lupton

Set in Alaska in the middle of winter this book tells the story of Yasmin and her daughter Ruby as they search for Matt, husband to Yasmin and father to Ruby, a wildlife photographer. When he doesn’t meet them at the airport and they are told he has died in a fire Yasmin refuses to believe this is true and with 10 year old Ruby sets off on a mission to find him. This involves her driving a huge truck through the alaskan wilderness during a storm that forces all other, experienced, truckers to stop. I found this element of the book completely unbelievable, we are told (annoyingly) several times how beautiful and intelligent Yasmin is however her decision to take a child into one of the most inhospitable environments in the world on her own doesn’t seem too clever. They have some pretty scary moments on the road and it soon becomes clear that they are being followed. Putting disbelief to one side, there are likeable elements to this book. Ruby is deaf which allows the author to explore issues of voice and identity and how this affects the relationship between Ruby and her mother. I found this really interesting and Ruby to be a much more realistic and endearing character. The descriptions of the Alaskan wilderness are skilled, the author captures a real sense of oppression and hopelessness caused by the overwhelming cold and darkness yet also portrays elements of beauty within this hostile world. It definitely piqued my curiosity about the places mentioned and the people that live there. At times their journey feels never ending yet the final climax seems to appear suddenly, this too feels pretty unbelievable however it does allow for some thought on what we humans are doing to our world which is interesting. The final words are given to Ruby which feels apt as despite the flaws in this book she is the pin that holds it all together and alongside the descriptions of Alaska make it a book worth reading.

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The Girl in the Red Coat – Kate Hamer

Another of my birthday books. I love it when I get into the zone of reading books fast, this is how I have always read, finishing one in a few days or a week then moving on to a new one, but so often in the last few years life has got in the way. This last couple of weeks I have been flying through my birthday pile and loving it. I read this one in 2 days mostly because once I started reading I couldn’t stop and read far too late into the night, forcing myself to stop the first night to avoid being a complete monster the next day!

If you have the time this is definitely the type of book to be read in one sitting. It follows the story of single mum Beth and her 8 year old daughter Carmel who disappears from a festival they attend. The story is told by both Beth and Carmel and details what happens to them. Beth’s story moves back in time on occasion as she tries to examine all the events leading up to the disappearance, while Carmel’s story always moves forward. This is not always a comfortable read, as a parent this story is terrifying and so well written you can feel Beth’s panic and loss jumping off the page. However it is totally compelling and very difficult to put down as you just want to know what happens and if they will ever be reunited. It feels very real, the voice of Carmel feels authentic which is not always the case when a child tells their story. The emptiness of Beth’s life without Carmel and the frustration she feels at not being able to find her is almost tangible. It’s hard to say much without spoiling it but it is a book that definitely makes my good reads list and an author I will be looking out for in the future.

At the Edge of the Orchard – Tracy Chevalier

Every now and then I have a notion that I might quite like to write a book, this is usually followed by the thought that it’s probably really hard work. This is the kind of book that confirms to me that there is a lot of work in writing a novel! I have no idea how long Tracy Chevalier spent in research before putting pen to paper in the actual writing of this book but given the amount of information and attention to detail on a variety of subjects I can only imagine research was a significant part of the process.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, telling the story of Robert Goodenough from his early life on his parent’s orchard in the 1830s to his journey across America as he tries to put his past behind him. It covers a vast amount of time and space yet also never moves that far away from the beginning. Although Robert wants to leave his past in the black swamp where he grew up, it becomes clear his roots are so intrinsically part of him and who he is that this is not as easy as he would like. As a reader the beginning of the book haunts you right through it so you want to return and find out what happened there to make Robert so desperate to escape. Apple trees are a huge part of the story as are other trees later on which enables the author to subtly but beautifully explore the concept of roots and stability. There are many well written characters in the book, initially we meet Robert’s family, who are very dysfunctional, and hear their story as they try to carve out a life for themselves in the bleakest of environments. This story is fairly dark yet compelling. The character of Robert develops as the book progresses and you can’t help but want to see him flourish and succeed at something as he forges his way across America trying many different occupations but never settling, always too restless and haunted by his past. As his past finally catches up with him the story picks up in pace and suddenly Robert has choices to make that he has never envisioned.

Although telling the story of one man this book also captures a part of the story of America, of pioneer life, of gold digging and those that hoped to make their fortune and of man’s attempts to tame their environments to make a living. This book is well constructed, well written and packed full of so much interesting information as well as telling a very readable story that it definitely makes my good reads list.

 

 

The Lie Tree – Frances Hardinge

Finally the first of the new book pile! I love books from anywhere, the library, a friend, a charity shop but there is something special about a brand new book. To hold it’s clean and smooth cover, feel it’s uncracked spine and be the first to open it’s pages. There is always the promise of possibility, of getting lost within it. I love it!

I had this at the top of my pile as it had caught my eye a few weeks earlier so I was very pleased to receive it and looking forward to getting started. It is about a family leaving their home in England and moving to Vane in the channel Islands after a scandal involving the father the Reverend Erasmus Sunderly, a prestigious natural scientist. He has been invited to work on an exciting excavation but all too soon the news of his scandal follows him and he is found dead, suspected of suicide. The story is told from his 14 year old daughter Faith’s point of view. She believes there is more to his death than meets the eye and sets out to discover the truth. Trapped in a girls body in victorian times this is easier said than done for Faith. She begins to make discoveries about her father and a mysterious plant he has been looking after, the lie tree, a plant that thrives on the spread of lies. Faith finds a way to use this to help find out the truth about her father. The story itself is very enticing however this book is so much more than this. It is about the role of woman in Victorian society , the limitations and prejudices that kept them restrained but also how beneath their assumed roles they could find ways to pursue their own interests. It is about science and religion as the Victorian age began to make discoveries that countered long held beliefs. It is about the relationships that exist within a family, love and disappointment. It is about a girl in that precarious time between childhood and adulthood and how she struggles to break free from the expectations laid upon her to form her own identity. It is about truth and the way truth and lies can knit together until it can become impossible to discern which is which. It is exceptionally well written and definitely makes my good reads list. It should also be noted that although it is written for older children/teens, like many books in this genre,  it should not be limited to young people as it has so much to offer all readers.

 

The Truth According to Us – Annie Barrows

This was not one of my new birthday books but the book group book for March which I thought I better read first given there is a deadline to meet for it and it looked quite a long read. I took it on holiday and optimistically packed a new book too but unfortunately this was a long read so I didn’t get started on a new book as soon as I would have liked.

The author of this book co authored ‘The Guernsey literary and potato peel society’ which is a great read so I was looking forward to this. I wouldn’t go as far as to say I was disappointed in it but it is definitely not as good as that. It is set in Macedonia, a small town West Virginia, during the depression of the 1930s. It is narrated by a 12 year old girl Willa who lives with her sister, aunts and her father when he appears from his mysterious business dealings. Willa feels that grown ups have secrets that she would like to know so starts to make it her business to try and find out what they might be. Added to this the family have just started letting out a room in their house to Layla, a young society girl who has been cast out of her wealthy family in the city for not marrying the man of her father’s choosing. As an attempt to make her see the error of her ways she is sent to this town to work for the writer’s project writing a history of the town for it’s sequential celebrations. The story follows her experience of working for the first time and gathering together the towns history as well as Willa’s perception of the lives her family and gradually the two stories begin to intertwine. It becomes apparent there is a secret within the family however it is fairly easy to guess at and therefore not shocking or surprising. The most surprising thing about the book is how the author managed to use so many words and pages to tell what is in essence not much of a story. It does feel long winded at times however it is a pleasant enough read. The main characters are on the whole likeable, there are some nice touches of humour and the descriptions of the town and pace of life are skilled and atmospheric.I did enjoy this book but it could definitely have been shorter so for this reason it doesn’t make it on to my good reads list.

Second Glance – Jodi Picoult

Due to the excitement of having a large pile of new unread books, thanks to a birthday,  I have become seriously behind in this blog. Therefore I will attempt to concisely and speedily update it so I can get back to reading having only read one of the said new books so far!

Before my birthday and receiving lots of exciting looking new books I had just started this Jodi Picoult book, not being prone to putting down a book once started and being a fan of her books I decided to carry on. I wish I hadn’t bothered! I think she is a great writer and this book was well written however the storyline was too fanciful for my liking. The main character Ross had lost his fiancé in a car crash some years earlier, he carried a lot of guilt at not being with her when she died as he was rescuing the other driver and had attempted to kill himself several times to try to join the love of his life in death but appeared to be unable to die. The story joins him as he is walking away from his job with a ghost hunter and turns up at his sister’s house in a town that  is  experiencing very unusual events such as rose petals falling out of the sky, frozen ground during a hot August and other abnormalities. It is suggested that this is because of building work that is due to take place on an ancient Indian burial site. Ross becomes involved in investigating this using his skills as a ghost hunter. He meets a young woman and quickly falls in love without realising initially that she is a ghost. The story then dips in and out of her storyline which is probably the best bit about the book, we learn about the eugenics programme of the 1930s which is fascinating, although shocking ,in its own right. As we get to know Lia and what happens to her the story becomes a bit of a murder mystery. Many characters are introduced over the course of the book and there are few twists and turns before it is resolved in a fairly unbelievable although not entirely unsatisfactory way! I found there were too many characters, too many handy coincidences and Ross was not a sufficiently likeable character to make up for all the unbelievable and far fetched aspects of this book. That is not to say it isn’t well written and will no doubt prove to be a good read for some people but definitely not for me!