Book review: The Map of Us by Jules Preston


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Title: The Map of Us

Author: Jules Preston

Genre: Romance

Publisher: HarperImpulse

Publication date: 4th May 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Synopsis:

Violet North is wonderfully inconvenient. Abandoned by her family and lost in an imagined world of moors and adventure, her life changes in the space of just 37 words exchanged with a stranger at her front door.

Decades later, Daniel Bearing has inherited his father’s multi-million pound business, and is utterly lost. He has no idea who he is or where his life is headed.

When Violet’s granddaughter’s marriage falls apart, Tilly, always adept with numbers, compiles a detailed statistical report to pinpoint why. But the Compatibility Index Tilly creates has unforeseen consequences for everyone in her world.

Tilly and Daniel share a secret too. 10.37am, April 22nd.
Soon, a complex web of secrets and lies is exposed and an adventure begins with a blue typewriter…

My review:

It’s not often that I come across a book with such a distinct style of writing so I was pleasantly surprised with the choppy and quirky narrative. However, it wasn’t quite for me; the story line was monotonous and the characters  too flat for my liking.

Around halfway into the book the reader starts to understand the direction the story is following and the characters’ plot lines begin to intertwine. I enjoyed Tilly’s story and the Compatibility Index that she ultimately designs to explain why her marriage is failing. Looking back, I also think that the author revealed the link between Tilly and Violet in a very clever way and it was a joy following Tilly in her adventure to pursue her grandmother’s tales.

This was an uplifting and inspiring book and I wish that I was more patient at the start rather than rushing to understand from the beginning how the characters are connected. I recommend it to anyone who is looking for something different and is able to look past the short chapters and unconventional writing style.

 

Book review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris


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Title: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

Author: Heather Morris

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Zaffre

Publication date: 11th January 2018

My rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Synopsis:

I tattooed a number on her arm. She tattooed her name on my heart.
In 1942, Lale Sokolov arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was given the job of tattooing the prisoners marked for survival – scratching numbers into his fellow victims’ arms in indelible ink to create what would become one of the most potent symbols of the Holocaust. 
Waiting in line to be tattooed, terrified and shaking, was a young girl. For Lale – a dandy, a jack-the-lad, a bit of a chancer – it was love at first sight. And he was determined not only to survive himself, but to ensure this woman, Gita, did, too.
So begins one of the most life-affirming, courageous, unforgettable and human stories of the Holocaust: the love story of the tattooist of Auschwitz.

My review:

This was an incredibly difficult book to put down despite how harrowing and complex the subject matter is. Perhaps what makes it even more challenging is the knowledge from the start that it tells the true story of Lale, a survivor of Auschwitz, and that all the difficulties he faced as the tattooist were real. It may be a horrifying story but the overwhelming themes of courage, loyalty and the willingness to survive are present throughout making the book truly gripping.

Apart from the strong willed character of Lale, this book also manifests similar strong traits through the hardships that Gita and Cilka lived through, from disease to malnutrition to abuse. The writing is very matter-of-fact and the author doesn’t delve much into the characters emotions, yet as the event of Auschwitz unfold, the reader is able to interpret the mixture of feelings experienced in such a confinement.

I am pleased that I decided to read this novel after much doubt. It is important that stories like Lale’s are retold and reconstructed so the horrors of war are not forgotten and are avoided. What made this book stand out from others in this genre was the brilliant way that the author gave Lale a voice and retold his story with honesty, proving how sincere relationships can form even in the most extreme situations. Everyone must read this book, regardless of the intricacy it boasts, to fully appreciate the buried memoirs of many prisoners that are finally being unearthed.

 

Book review: The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae by Stephanie Butland


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Title: The Curious Heart of Ailsa Rae

Author: Stephanie Butler

Genre: Romance

Publisher: Zaffre

Publication date: 19th April 2018

My rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis:

Ailsa Rae is learning how to live.
She’s only a few months past the heart transplant that – just in time – saved her life. Life should be a joyful adventure. But . . .
Her relationship with her mother is at breaking point.
She knows she needs to find her father.
She’s missed so much that her friends have left her behind.
She’s felt so helpless for so long that she’s let polls on her blog make her decisions for her. And now she barely knows where to start on her own.
And then there’s Lennox. Her best friend and one time lover. He was sick too. He didn’t make it. And now she’s supposed to face all of this without him.
But her new heart is a bold heart. 
She just needs to learn to listen to it . . .

My review:

This was a simply marvelous read and I thoroughly enjoyed discovering the courageous and quirky Ailsa Rae. The author has developed a very likable character in Ailsa and it was a pleasure joining her in her adventures such as learning to Tango, discovering love and finding her father. Despite the tough subject matter, the author explores Ailsa’s courage through her positive stance in receiving her new heart by fearlessly throwing herself into all life has to offer. I especially liked her dedication to her blog and the connection she developed with her followers, basing each decision on their comments but also enjoyed her persistence and willingness to make her own decisions as her confidence grew.

Seb plays an interesting part in this book and I enjoyed seeing his friendship with Ailsa flourish. Although their mutual condition of post-operation recovery originally unites them, it soon becomes clear that there is a romantic touch to their relationship that they are keen to explore. However, I still don’t believe that the romantic part of this book overrides the other predominant themes and I would struggle to mark this book as romance only.

For me the most appealing part of the book is the need to find your true self and live life to the fullest. The author took a very difficult subject and presented this concept beautifully through Ailsa’s character which made this book even more engaging and enjoyable to read. I think I will remember it for a very long time and I am glad to have stumbled across it.

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Book review: A River in Darkness by Masaji Ishikawa

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Title: A River in Darkness

Author: Masaji Ishikawa

Genre: Autobiography

Publisher: Amazon

Publication date: 1st January 2018

My rating: ★★★★☆

Synopsis:

Half-Korean, half-Japanese, Masaji Ishikawa has spent his whole life feeling like a man without a country. This feeling only deepened when his family moved from Japan to North Korea when Ishikawa was just thirteen years old, and unwittingly became members of the lowest social caste. His father, himself a Korean national, was lured to the new Communist country by promises of abundant work, education for his children, and a higher station in society. But the reality of their new life was far from utopian.

In this memoir translated from the original Japanese, Ishikawa candidly recounts his tumultuous upbringing and the brutal thirty-six years he spent living under a crushing totalitarian regime, as well as the challenges he faced repatriating to Japan after barely escaping North Korea with his life. A River in Darkness is not only a shocking portrait of life inside the country but a testament to the dignity—and indomitable nature—of the human spirit.

My review:

This was an incredibly tough book to read but so powerful and vivid that I managed to finish it in one sitting. The first person narrative added a very intimate touch that made his story feel even more heartbreaking. Gripping from the very first chapter, I was immediately drawn into his worries of moving to North Korea and shortly after the struggles his family faced to survive. The narrative feels extremely real and the events so disturbing that it is almost unbelievable how bad the totalitarian regime in North Korea is.

It is probably of no surprise that what I most enjoyed in this book is the end where Masaji shows courage and an exceptionally strong character by trying to escape from North Korea. This was perhaps where the story took a turn for the better and we followed a much more promising, although still rough, journey through Asia to safety. His will to survive is overwhelming and it puts everything into perspective, celebrating the little things in life that we often don’t realise we have.

My only criticism would be the very abrupt end and lack of narrative following his life to date. No information of the author’s life is available online and it is unknown how this story was published or who helped him in writing this book, an important detail that I wish was shared with us, although I feel that this was done on purpose to protect him. Nevertheless, this book is a real eye-opener and I highly recommend it to everyone.

 

Book review: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

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Title: The Rosie Project

Author: Graeme Simsion

Genre: Humour

Publisher: Penguin

Publication date: 11th April 2013

My rating: ★★★★★

Synopsis:

Love isn’t an exact science – but no one told Don Tillman. A thirty-nine-year-old geneticist, Don’s never had a second date. So he devises the Wife Project, a scientific test to find the perfect partner. Enter Rosie – ‘the world’s most incompatible woman’ – throwing Don’s safe, ordered life into chaos. But what is this unsettling, alien emotion he’s feeling?

My review:

I didn’t know what to expect when I first started reading this book but I was pleasantly surprised by the quirky characters and crisp writing style. Don is utterly bizarre but also charming in his own way and I immediately warmed to his character. I particularly liked the contrast of Rosie, relatively normal when compared to Don, and her ability to dilute the strange settings they sometimes found themselves in during “The Father Project”. The other minor character, Gene, offered a lot to the story in terms of the science and logic behind both projects and the mechanics of Don’s mindset which, without giving too much away, I thought was key towards the end.

Particularly notable throughout the book are the very witty scenarios, misunderstandings and quirks in Don’s life such as lobster Tuesdays and the hilariously described cocktail incident. These flaws make for a very vivid and fun personality that the reader cannot help but love. By building the complex wife questionnaire we immediately understand and admire Don’s simple and straightforward thinking and this is later repeated in a more elaborate form with “The Father Project”. The author develops several key themes here and expands on the familiar notion of the difficulty in finding a suitable partner and the fact that quite often opposites attract even though we may not in be control of it.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book even though it doesn’t reflect my usual choice. It was enjoyable and unlike many similar reads I found myself laughing out loud several times and keen to discover the mind of Don Tillman. However, the slow pace and abrupt ending may not suit other readers, an important aspect to consider when deciding to pick up this book.

Book review: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

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Title: Before We Were Yours

Author: Lisa Wingate

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Quercus

Publication date: 30th November 2017

My rating: ★★★☆☆

Synopsis:

Memphis, Tennessee, 1939

Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge, until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents. But they quickly realize the dark truth…

Aiken, South Carolina, present day

Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or to redemption.

My review:

I was immediately drawn into the story from the first page, particularly in Rill’s story starting in 1939 and following the roller coaster journey from her riverboat home to the orphanage. A controversial and difficult theme like kidnapping and child-trafficking requires carefully chosen vocabulary and I thought that the author successfully handled this sensitive topic. The five Foss children felt very real and I especially liked how their character developed from their home to the orphanage to their new adopted homes.

In contrast, I didn’t feel that the present day story held the same level of complexity, perhaps because it unfolded in a relatively slower pace. Avery’s storyline felt strained and I thought that certain parts could have been avoided, such as the love story which seemed unnecessary, considering the theme of the book. However, her relationship with her grandmother was sincere and I admired her will and hope to uncover the truth. The family bond, both in past and present, was completely believable and genuine and I enjoyed discovering the connection between River Foss and the present day characters.

Without giving away too much detail, I can say that the ending was bittersweet and as pleasant as can be expected in such delicate circumstances. It definitely made a lasting impression and I was eager to research this scandal and pleased that it was depicted in such a respectable manner.

 

Book review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern


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Title: The Night Circus

Author: Erin Morgenstern

Genre: Fantasy

Publisher: Vintage

Publication date: 15th September 2011

My rating: ★★★★☆

Synopsis:

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. The black sign, painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, reads:
Opens at Nightfall
Closes at Dawn
As the sun disappears beyond the horizon, all over the tents small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears.
Le Cirque des Rêves
The Circus of Dreams.
Now the circus is open.
Now you may enter.
 

My Review:

This book is so different from any other that I have recently read that I have struggled to identify my feelings towards it until now. It is one of those books that you reflect on even weeks after reading and as much as I want to love it, there are several exasperatingly slow-moving parts that leave a lot to be desired. Note that this is not a cannot-put-down type of book but rather one to be enjoyed at a leisurely pace.

Written with beautiful imagery and eloquent descriptions, the reader is immediately drawn into the magic of Le Cirque des Rêves where anything and everything is possible. We are introduced to magicians Prospero and Mr. A. H. who appoint their young apprentices with the intention of ending their long rivalry. A particularly frustrating aspect of the “contest” is that there appear to be no rules and no boundaries. As much as I enjoyed the magic tricks, unfortunately it is not until the end of the book where the circumstances of the battle are revealed.

Other important details to mention are the time lapses and change in character POVs which I feel do not allow for character development and can sometimes provoke confusion in case the reader is not paying close attention to the dates or keeping track of the constant round of newly introduced characters. Looking back, it is difficult to pinpoint a main character and I couldn’t invest in any of the interactions, particularly the sometimes forced dialogue between the apprentices Celia and Marco.

By far the best thing about this book is the setting. The circus is enchanting and the scenery so rich and full of life that the lack of substance and solidity in the plot is almost completely erased. I was mesmerised by the descriptions of each room in the circus and the imagery that is so superbly portrayed throughout the book. The atmosphere is dream-like and enchanting and the aesthetic extremely alluring – this in itself is enough to merit a four-star review. I highly recommend this book to any dreamers, romantics and fantasy lovers.