adult fiction

READ THE WORLD – Belgium: Thirty Days by Annelies Verbeke

Translated by Liz Waters.

Alphonse is a friendly and observant former musician, who has left Brussels with his girlfriend Cat to live closer to her parents in the rural district of Westhoek. It’s a place that has open fields and more World War I graves than almost anywhere else in Europe. Alphonse starts a new life as a painter and decorator, and he becomes entwined in so many peoples lives. But when he, Cat and one of his clients help a group of Afghans and Syrians at a makeshift refugee camp, he learns that not all of the locals appreciate what they’re doing.

Somewhat surprisingly the first chapter in Thirty Days is chapter 30, and each chapter number decreases. While it’s a slow book to get going, this adds to the fact that the story appears to be building to something – and it certainly does build to something unexpected. Plus, like the title suggests, it each chapter is a day, something I didn’t register to begin with.

I really liked Alphonse, but I could see why his partner Cat would get frustrated with him. He’s a painter and decorator so he goes to various people’s homes to do a job but there’s something about him that causes his clients to offload a lot of their thoughts or secrets on him. He becomes involved in so many people’s lives and Cat doesn’t always like that as it takes his time and thoughts away from her and their life together. He’s a guy that’s almost too nice for his own good but his niceness is never off-putting or eyeroll-inducing.

Alphonse is victim to a lot of racism ranging from micro aggressions, being asked where he’s really from after first saying Brussels, to full on hostility, such as when a client’s neighbour accuses him of trying to break into their house. As Thirty Days is from Alphonse’s point of view, it never stops and describes how he or Cat look like, so you get to know him without any preconceptions meaning when he does experience racism it’s more of a shock and an interesting way of presenting what he faces.

Surprisingly, Alphonse doesn’t encounter the refugee camp until the last third of the book. Instead, the clients he has and his relationships with them, and his girlfriend and their friends and family, is the main focus of a lot of this story.

Thirty Days is beautifully written and it’s a moving story. The themes of being a good person, helping others but still making sure you don’t give up all of yourself are all handled well. As is both the underlying and overt racism Alphonse experiences, in every day life, and when he tries to help refugees who are just looking for somewhere to call home. It deals with so many opposites, good and evil, beauty and ugliness but it never feels preachy. Thirty Days is a compelling story and I devoured the last few chapters as I just had to know where things were going for Alphonse. 5/5.

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READ THE WORLD – Tanzania: The Last Gift by Abdulrazak Gurnah

Abbas has never told anyone about his childhood and his life before he was a sailor, before he met his wife Maryam outside a Boots in Exeter and they made a quiet life for themselves in Norwich with their children, Jamal and Hanna. At the age of sixty-three, Abbas collapses and is left bedbound and unable to do speak about the secrets of his past. Abbas’s illness forces his children home, Hanna who calls herself Anna now and is moving to a new city with her boyfriend, and Jamal, a quiet university student who is captivated by a young woman in his shared student house. There they have to deal with their father’s silences and their fretful mother as their parents’ pasts are revealed.

I listened to the audiobook narrated by Lyndam Gregory and it took me a while into the story because of his narration, I just didn’t really take to it straight away.

The Last Gift is told from the perspectives of each family member with each chapter having a section of the story from each character. The exposition at the beginning of the novel is blended almost seamlessly with the action. Abbas collapses at the very beginning of the story and as he does so, it’s like his life flashes before his eyes, allowing the reader to get a sense of who he is. It’s not until he is recuperating that he begins to think about his childhood and adolescence, and the reasons why he left Zanzibar, for the first time in decades after keeping the guilt and memories buried for so long. His revelations shock his wife and children and they each deal with it differently.

The Last Gift is a story about immigrants, their children, and the struggle to find an identity. Maryam doesn’t know who her parents were and grew up with different foster families. She has dark skin and as a child was bullied and didn’t feel like she fit in. She’s not confident in herself and has relied on Abbas to deal with money and bills, so when he falls ill she has a whole new world of responsibilities to navigate.

As Abbas had previously only told his family he was from East Africa when they asked, and Maryam has no idea of her heritage, Hanna and Jamal have never really known what their family heritage is. When they are faced with some unexpected knowledge of it, Hanna doesn’t want to be a part of a “vile immigrant tragedy” while Jamal is keen to find out more.

The Last Gift is about stories and memories, and how not everyone wants to hear them and face up to the truth of them. Most of the characters are nuanced, Hanna especially is equal parts unlikable and sympathetic, and while some of them get some closure, others are left as uncertain of their place in the world as when the book began. 4/5.

Ninja Book Box: ‘Journeys’ Summer Reading Box

Welcome to this very late unboxing of the ‘Journeys’ Summer Reading Box! I received this exciting package two weeks ago today, but due to work being super busy and life in general being a bit hectic, I didn’t have a chance to write this post until now.

Ninja Book Box is a UK-based quarterly book subscription box that’s all about sharing independently published books. There’s different genres every quarter and some goodies included too. Ninja Book Box also runs a monthly book club for independently published books and anyone can vote for the next months book which is pretty cool too. They are opening their own online second-hand independent books bookshop very soon as well! The fabulous brain behind Ninja Book Box never stops.

Now onto the books. I bought the ‘Journeys’ Summer Reading Box. This is the second year Ninja Book Box has done a summer reading box and it focuses on the books, not the goodies – though there were some nice surprises in here! Each book was individually wrapped in tissue paper which is a nice touch.

The first book I unwrapped was The Last Pilot by Benjamin Johncock – I love the cover of this book, it’s beautiful. The story sounds great too as it starts off in the late 1940s with US Air Force test pilots racing to break the sound barrier. By the 1960s the space race is in full swing and Jim Harrison and his colleagues are offered the chance to be the world’s first astronauts. But when his young family is thrown into crisis, Jim must decide whether to accept his ticket to the moon, and if he does, what will it cost. I’m intrigued to see how much of this book is fact and how much is fiction. I do enjoy historical novels that blend the two together, and the space race is always interesting! There was an interview with the author included as well.

The next book I unwrapped was The Red Beach Hut by Lynn Michell and it was signed which is always a bonus. The Red Beach Hut is about eight-year-old Neville and Abbott, a man who’s on the run after panicking over what he believes to be a homophobic cyber-attack. Abbott takes refuge in the red beach hut, and slowly he and Neville form a friendship, but Abbott’s past threatens to tear him away as others interpret his and Neville’s friendship in their own ways. This is a relatively short book and it sounds like a poignant story.

And finally, the last book was Dust by Mark Thompson which came with a signed bookplate, a bookmark and an interview with the author. The story follows J.J Walsh and Tony ‘El Greco’ Papadakis, two inseparable friends in one formative summer in the 1960s. They face religious piety, alcohol, girls, and tragedy but it’s a road trip through the heart of southern America that shows a darker side to life. It shows the divided nation where wealth, poverty and racial bigotry collide.

All three books sound compelling in their own ways, and while The Last Pilot is the sort of book I’d pick up if I saw it in a bookshop, the other two aren’t. That’s what I love about subscription boxes like Ninja Book Box, it gives me the push to try something a little out of my comfort zone. I really like how all three books definitely fit in with the theme of “Journeys” – whether it’s a physical journey across the country or into space, or an emotional one. I’m looking forward to reading how all these journeys unfold.

Make sure you check out Ninja Book Box’s website and their various social media channels, especially Twitter, so you can keep up with all their bookish news. And if you like the sound of these books and fancy getting them for yourself, there’s a few Summer Reading Boxes still for sale here.

Ninja Book Box – A Grand Adventure Summer Reading Box

Last week my first ever order from Ninja Book Box arrived. Ninja Book Box is a UK-based quarterly subscription box that focusses on independently published books. The book featured each quarter are from a variety of genres and are not particularly YA focussed, so if you like the idea of a subscription box but aren’t a huge YA fan, then the Ninja Book Box might be for you.

At the moment, they have a special box for sale called A Grand Adventure Summer Reading Box which contains three books but none of the usual goodies you find in the usual subscription box – this is the box I got. I chose to get this box because while I like the goodies you get in subscription boxes, the main draw for me is the books. This is a cool one-off box and you can choose if you want adult books or kids’ books or a mixture of both – and you can stipulate the age range for the kids’ books.

So that’s what the Grand Adventure Summer Reading Box is so let me show you what was inside.

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REVIEW: The Doris Day Vintage Film Club by Fiona Harper

FullSizeRender (9)Thanks to her grandmother, Claire Bixby grew up watching Doris Day films and fell in love with the world on the screen – the sunny, colourful world where happy endings always happen. But Claire’s been lacking any romance in her life for quite a while. That is until Nic comes into her travel agency looking to book the perfect holiday. Pity it’s for two! But as Nic and Claire get closer and the sparks start to fly, Claire begins to question everything Doris taught her about romance.

Claire’s a pretty relatable character and even though she still believes in happily ever after’s, she’s not naïve and she’s willing to work for what she wants. Nic is a bit frustrating at times. It’s been ages since I’ve read a romance novel where it’s the man who is the source of the miscommunication and keeps digging himself a hole. So often it’s the woman who keeps making mistakes but this time it’s Nic that doesn’t seem to know when to stop talking.

The Doris Day Vintage Film Club is a sweet read with some lovely friendships between women. Really it’s these friendships that are the highlight of the book. Those who attend the Doris Day Vintage Film Club are all ages and from all backgrounds so you wouldn’t normally expect to see them together. It’s nice to see women become friends over a mutual passion and who like to help each other out.

The Doris Day Vintage Film Club is a nice story. There’s nothing too memorable about it but it’s still a sweet read with nice characters and it manages to not be too predictable. And if one thing is for certain, The Doris Day Vintage Film Club has made me want to watch Doris Day’s filmography. 3/5.

REVIEW: The Murdstone Trilogy by Mal Peet

FullSizeRender (6)Award-winning YA author Philip Murdstone is in trouble. His books about sensitive young boys are just not selling so well and his agent Minerva Cinch has the most ridiculous idea to get him back on track- write an epic high-fantasy novel. Philip hates fantasy and has no idea what to do, that is until a creature by the name of Pocket who shouldn’t exist in Philip’s world appears in his life. Now Philip might have an idea for a book, but is he aware of the consequences?

The Murdstone Trilogy is a lot of fun. It does make fun of the high fantasy genre but in such a light-hearted way that you can’t be mad at it. Plus what is says about the genre and all its tropes is true! I’m pretty sure it kind of alludes to the Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini as well, a series I love by the way, but it does so in a good-natured way.

There’s kind of two stories going along at once. There’s Philip’s struggle to write and his interactions with his agent and the people in the local village (who are all a little odd) and the story Pocket tells in a fantasy world full of magic and creatures. Philip’s story is fun as it captures his desperation to write but how he is also so ill-equipped to write fantasy, plus Minerva is such a fun character who is a real battleaxe and it’s fun seeing her deal with Philip’s eccentricities.

The Murdstone Trilogy is pretty clever as you’re not always sure if the story Pocket is telling is really happening in a far off land or another universe or if it’s all happening in Philip’s head and he’s going a bit mad. Pocket’s story is full of action, magic, big forces of evil and a lost Prince struggling to save the kingdom. It is in a way paint-by-numbers fantasy but it’s aware of that and Pocket’s story is still gripping.

The Murdstone Trilogy is unlike any book I’ve read before. It’s laugh-out-loud funny and weird and has the best elements of high fantasy but it’s told in a completely different way. 5/5.

REVIEW: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

FullSizeRender (5)Days before his release from prison, Shadow learns his wife Laura has died in mysterious circumstances. As he makes his way back home, he encounters the enigmatic Mr Wednesday, who claims to be a God who is getting ready for a war. Soon Shadow finds himself in the service of Mr Wednesday as they go on a strange journey across America whilst all around them a storm of epic and supernatural proportions threatens to break.

American Gods is a much-loved, epic book full of Gods, mysterious and lies. I can see why so many people love it but for me it was a bit of a slog to get through. American Gods is a very descriptive story full of characters who each have their own story which may or may not be true. There’s long passages that are dedicated to a myth or legend or some story or character that you’re not sure will ever reappear again or have any effect on the main plot. Also Shadow has these vivid dreams that often make little sense to you or him, at least they don’t till near the very end of the novel.

Shadow is quite a passive main character. He accepts everything that’s going on around him, he takes each encounter with a God or myth or legend in his stride and when weird things happen he just shrugs it off. I found him too easy-going and accepting of the situations he found himself in. You’d expect a character in that situation to have more questions or at least have a little freak out every now and then but Shadow didn’t so it was hard to connect with him.

American Gods is a long book and I never really felt pulled into the story or that I just had to read on until the last 200 pages. I don’t know if it was because there was so much to set up or so many characters and events that didn’t seem that important or interesting but I just felt like I was reading American Gods for the sake of it. As I said, the last 200 pages is when I really got interested in what was going to happen to Shadow (though I never particularly liked him a lot) and the other characters I’d come across.

American Gods is structurally a good book, it’s got twists and turns, death and mystery, suspense and a lot of weirdness, but I never really felt fully-invested in the characters or the story. If anything I now feel glad that I can say I’ve read American Gods when t’s mentioned as an example of a work of great fiction. 3/5.