The Last of Us – Rob Ewing

This was another book I had been keen to read for a long time so I was delighted to find I could order it in at my local library! I planned to take it on holiday but finished it in the couple of days before I left as I found it to be a much quicker read than expected.

Set on a remote Scottish island it tells the story of five children who are the only people left after a mysterious illness has killed everyone else. The story isn’t set in the immediate aftermath but sometime later by which time the children have established roles and routines. It’s told through the voice of 8 year old Rona and describes a chain of events that threaten the fragile life they have formed.

At times it reminded me of Room because of the child’s voice but obviously the story is very different. As well as reading about the children’s current situation we are able to piece together information about the last few days before the illness took hold and really sense the fear that permeated the island. That fear is a huge theme of the book as we learn of the rules the children have devised to try to keep themselves safe. Alongside that fear is a hope, hope that they will be rescued and that parents are not dead but simply elsewhere. This combination of fear and hope drives everything they do in their quest to survive.

I loved this book, it was the kind of book you don’t want to put down as you’re desperate to know how it ends despite the sense that it may not end as you hope. It’s a haunting, powerful and ultimately heartbreaking read.

The Other Mrs Walker – Mary Paulson-Ellis

Having just returned from a two week holiday I now have a huge pile to blog about so the next few entries may well be on the shorter side!

I read this book shortly before my holiday, I had wanted it for a while so was pleased to buy it with a belated birthday book token. Set mostly in Edinburgh it tells the story of middle aged Margaret Penny who has turned up at the door of her childhood home in Edinburgh without a very enthusiastic welcome from her elderly mother. There are implications that she has left some sort of relationship in London but apart from the fact she faces an uncertain future this is not hugely significant to the story. Her mother is on a rota to attend funerals of people who have no one to attend and through this Margaret finds herself with a job trying to track down the families of those who have died neglected and alone. She becomes involved with the case of an elderly lady who has died in an Edinburgh flat leaving very little that helps identify her. The book jumps between Margaret in 2011 and a family in London in the 1930s and 40s as the mystery of the dead woman and her connection to Margaret is slowly revealed.

It’s a well written compelling read. The author paints very vivid pictures of each scene so you could almost imagine yourself in them. It’s sad and touching at times, particularly the story of the family in London. The relationship between Margaret and her mother is particularly well written, you can sense the exasperation but also the underlying loyalty. I had a vague idea of how it would end but was pleasantly satisfied with the way the details worked out. A great read.

 

Perfect Daughter – Amanda Prowse

This was our book group book for May. Telling the story of Jacks a middle-aged mum who feels stuck in her life looking after her children and her mum who has Alzheimers, she dreams of a better life for her bright daughter. It’s a fairly predictable read. Jacks life has never measured up to the expectations she had as teenager, she still spends a lot of time wondering what might have been if she had sailed into the sunset with her first love instead of being left at home with a baby to bring up. She is dissatisfied and wants more for her own daughter and is alarmed as history appears to be repeating itself. It’s all quite contrived with pretty two dimensional characters. We never really get to know anyone particularly well except Jacks who comes across as quite whiny and self obsessed! I found it boring with a very contrived predictable ending. It was a really easy read although I did get annoyed at how much repitition there was in it so I wouldn’t recommend it even for passing the time on holiday!

Imagine Me Gone – Adam Haslett

I bought this in a bookshop with a birthday book token on the strength of a review written by a staff member, I would probably have walked past it without that review and as I really enjoyed it I’m very glad the staff take the time to write and display their reviews pointing readers in new and different directions.

This is a story of two parts. It focuses on one family, parents John and Margaret and their children Michael, Alec and Celia. The first part tells of their lives while the children are young and ends with the death of the father John. The second part picks them up again years later when the children have grown up and are leading their own lives. It’s very much the story of their family, the relationships, the events and experiences that make them who they are. Each chapter is narrated by a different member of the family so we hear the different voices and are able to piece together a real sense of their family dynamic. Although at times it seems very much like the story of a normal family it gradually becomes clear that John struggles with depression so this underlies much of the first part of the book. In the second part mental illness becomes much more of a present theme through the character of Michael and the way his family try to support him yet also retaining their own individual voices and stories. I really enjoyed this book, it pulls you into the family and their lives and the way it allows you to see all the perspectives is really interesting. The writing is excellent, particularly the character of Michael, it really feels like an insight into depression but without being overtly so. It’s a sad haunting read yet with moments that are funny and tender. A real exploration of the complexity of both mental illness and family life. A great read.

Where My Heart Used to Beat – Sebastian Faulks

I had been keen to read this book for ages and finally got round to getting it out of the library over the Easter holidays. It’s very much a character study of the main character Robert Hendricks. Robert is an English psychiatrist who lost his own father at a very early age in the first world war and served in the second world war himself. The book is set in the 1980s as Hendricks accepts an invitation to a small island off the coast of France to be the guest of a man Alexander Pereira, also a psychiatrist, who served with Hendricks own father and would like Hendricks to become his literary executor after his death. In many ways Pereira merely serves as the tool which allows for Hendricks self reflection, most of which the book is. At times this is really interesting, I particularly enjoyed the parts about his early days in psychiatry.  War is a reccuring theme for Faulks but I didn’t find the writing in this instance as powerful as it was in Birdsong. A main theme running throughout the book is that of memory, how we remember events and how our memories shape us even though they may not actually be accurately reflecting the event we are remembering. I found this really interesting although I must confess I didn’t always follow it as I read at night when I’m too tired for anything too clever! Overall this was a good book with comments on humanity and identity as well as being a thorough character study. It was a book that made me think but it didn’t really make me feel. I didn’t care that much for Robert until nearly the end and there were not really any other characters that we got to know sufficiently well to really care about. That said it’s a good read especially if you are already a fan of Faulks.

The State of Grace – Rachel Lucas

Another one of my daughter’s books! The main character Grace is a teenage girl with Aspergers which my daughter also has so I thought it might be useful to read to see if it would help me get inside her head a bit. The book is narrated by Grace and follows her as she deals with pretty normal teenage stuff, friendships, boys, families etc. The fact that it is all told through her own perspective is great and does really help show how the world can seem to someone with Aspergers and why they might behave in certain ways. My daughter felt that aspect was very realistic. I don’t think she was as impressed with the story but as her current book is War and Peace and one of her favourite books is Les Miserables I can understand! It is a good little read with a nice story and happy ending however although Grace is a very realistic character there was one aspect that didn’t strike me as realistic and made me feel quite sad. Grace has a lovely best friend Anna who seems to totally understand her and help her navigate tricky social situations. I know a few girls with autism and none of them have such a friend and often exist at the very edge of social circles, feeling isolated and lonely. I know aspergers is very much a part of who my daughter is and we have fully embraced it but seeing her feel lonely so often is hard and the one thing I would change. I would love for her to have a friend like Anna who just got her. In that respect this is possibly quite a helpful book for young people to read to help them understand how their peers with autism might be experiencing the world.

The Night He Left – Sue Lawrence

This is my book group book for April.  As it was Easter holidays I was able to spend more time reading than usual so had it read in a few days, hopefully I’ll remember what it was about by the time book group meets!

It tells two stories, the first is set in 1879 beginning the night the Tay bridge collapsed. Ann Craig, a wealthy jute mill owners wife,  is waiting for her husband to come home and sees the disaster unfold believing her husband to be on board the train that her plunged into the sea. When his body doesn’t appear it becomes clear to Ann that he hasn’t died and she sets about trying to find out what’s happened whilst also trying to protect the life she has built for herself.

The second story is set in the present day as Fiona Craigs new partner Pete has suddenly cleared their bank account and vanished. As Fiona starts trying to work out where he has gone she uncovers secrets from his past as well as connections her family has to the events of 1879.

Overall it’s a really good read, I prefered the story from 1879 as learning about the Tay Bridge disaster was really interesting and not something I knew much about. I found Ann a little irritating but the more we found out about her the easier it was to understand her behaviour. The present day story wasn’t quite as strong and couldn’t have stood on its own however it was well written and enjoyable to read. There is a connection between the two stories however I didn’t find it particularly relevant and feel the book would have worked just as well without it although it did work well telling both stories from the same house. At times the moving between the stories was annoying but this does seem to be a popular technique at the moment and as the stories were so different there wasn’t any confusion! It’s not the best book we have had but in general I think this book will have been well received by my book group and I look forward to hearing what they thought.