The Girls – Emma Cline

My last read of 2016 and it didn’t disappoint. Set in the summer of 1969 it follows Evie Boyd , a 14 year old stuck in a seemingly never ending summer in a dead end town with nothing to do except waiting to go to boarding school in the new term, a prospect she isn’t thrilled about. Disillusioned with her parents who have separated and only interested in their own love lives and feeling distant from her only friend Evie notices some girls who seem different and is enthralled by them. Gradually she gets absorbed into their strange lifestyle at the ranch with the enigmatic Russell at its heart. So happy to be included in their community and so enthralled  by one of the girls, Suzanne, that she is oblivious to how far removed from herself she has become believing instead she has found a way to be her real self. The story of the community has a violent ending although fortunately Evie doesn’t and is left as an adult reflecting on the events of that long ago summer and how it has affected the rest of her life.

It’s a good read, well written, evocatively capturing the mood of a lingering summer and a period of waiting for real life to start. It’s easy to understand why Evie does the things she does even if at times it’s uncomfortable. I particularly liked the ending and the way the author allows it to not really end but leaves Evie still living with the repercussions of that time in her life and us as readers questioning how she will begin to move on from it.

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Cold Earth – Ann Cleeves

Picking up a Shetland book is like meeting up with old friends (apart from the whole murder thing, haven’t experienced that with any friends old or new and hope not to). This was our book group book for December and warmly received by all members as we have previously enjoyed Ann Cleeves books as a group and many of us enjoy the TV series based on her Shetland series. Sometimes the move from book to film and TV doesn’t work well but in this instance I think it’s worked very well contributing to the feeling of meeting with old friends as it’s easy to picture the people and places mentioned. My only minor niggle with the TV show is the lack of genuine Shetlanders in it, the Shetland accent is as unique and beautiful as the place itself and it’s a shame not to have more of it. I love the character of Perez with his depth as well as his own awareness of his imperfections, Douglas Henshall plays him perfectly so it’s easy to imagine him in character when reading this new offering from Cleeves.

This story picks up when a landslide occurs in a small village and reveals the body of a woman in a cottage that should have been empty. Signs suggest her death was not due to the landslide and a murder investigation begins with Perez and old friend and potential love interest Willow at the helm. In many ways Cleeves writes a fairly typical crime thriller, bodies turn up mysteriously, benign seeming characters and activities suddenly seem suspicious and we are led down roads that lead nowhere before the truth is revealed in a gripping climax. What sets Cleeves apart is the way she writes, the depth in her characters, the domestic details that bring them to life and the use of setting although perhaps having visited Shetland I enjoy this more than I would if I hadn’t.  I don’t want to spoil this book by revealing much about the story, it’s a great read and like catching up with old friends I am really looking forward to doing so again, hopefully it won’t be too long!

The New Mrs Clifton – Elizabeth Buchan

This was my book group book for November and because of taking longer over Cutting for Stone I had to read it fairly quickly. Set in post world war 2 London it tells the story of Gus Clifton returning from war to his family home,  where his two sisters still live, with his new German wife Krista. It sounds interesting enough and in some ways it was but it was also a bit disappointing. Obviously the introduction of a German caused tension in the home and there were some interesting moments looking at both sides of this experience but I felt there was too much left unsaid. We never really feel we are properly allowed to explore how it felt for any of the characters. We are given some insight into Kristas past in Berlin and what happened to her during the war but again not quite enough to make it feel plausible as a story. We are also given some information on the post was work Gus and sometimes Krista are involved in, interrogating nazis who had been involved with concentration camp. The story focused on how the couple worked together doing interrogations which was interesting however there were so many issues that could have been explored through these encounters it was a bit frustrating for me to have brought them into the story but not really done anything with it. Similarly the changes to the role and expectations of woman following the war could have been used to tell the stories of Gus’ sisters to far better advantage.

The story on the whole focuses on the constant simmering tension around having Krista in the family. It eventually boils to a head towards the end of the book where we finally learn a bit more about the sisters and why they sometimes behave as they do. It feels like the whole book is leading to this point and finally getting some action is a bit of a relief after what feels like trudging through for a while. The ending is fairly dramatic and does allow the reader to think about what motivates and drives people to do what they do.

The book group generally enjoyed it and while I didn’t actively dislike it I think I just felt frustrated and disappointed that a book that could have delivered so much ended up being a bit bland.

Cutting for Stone – Abraham Verghese

December seemed to fly by with the usual Christmas activities and excitement resulting in me not having to time to blog at all. Thankfully my lack of blogging is not an indicator of how much reading I managed throughout November/December so a quick summary now of my last books of 2016 will bring me up to date and ready for a whole new year of reading and reviewing!

I probably started Cutting for Stone in early November and it did seem to take a while to read. It’s fairly dense at 541 pages of small type so does take a lot of reading however I thoroughly enjoyed every page of it. It tells the story of Marion and his twin brother Shiva born in Missing Hospital in Ethiopia in 1954 to sister Mary Joseph Praise, a nurse from India working in Missing hospital at the time. Everything about their birth is shocking, no one knew she was pregnant, least of all the boys father, the birth was difficult and sadly Sister Mary Praise did not survive. Their father unable to deal with his new found fatherhood and the death of the woman he loved disappears the same night. In many ways the absence of both these characters defines the boys story yet for us readers they are never truly absent as we learn more about them and the lives they led before the twins birth. Marion narrates the story, which is essentially the story of his own life told through his own perspective. For him it is a making sense of the life he has led and the events that caused him to become distant from his twin and best friend Shiva, to leave his homeland and live in America and to eventually return to Africa. Spanning the 50 years of his own life but also telling the stories of others that lived before his life began it is packed full of details that breathe life into this book and combined with his own personal narrative and descriptions of the setting results in a beautiful rich read that it is very easy to become completely immersed in. Set in the Missing hospital and later in hospitals in America, surgery and medicine are a big part of the story and there are many fascinating  anecdotes and stories that add to the glorious richness of the book. Similarly the descriptions of Ethiopia and the changing political climate make this book far more than a book about family and relationships. This book is as good as it is because of its setting and the attention to detail in all of the characters stories not just in the main story of Marion and Shiva. The writing is excellent drawing the reader in quickly and taking us into the heart of these people’s lives. It is hard to sum up exactly what this book is but in short it is warm, funny, sad, exciting, interesting and thoughtful, full of characters who seem as real as the people you live with and descriptions of place that brings a new environment into your own life. Everything a good read should be. I loved it and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone.