Sail Upon the Land by Josa Young

Sail Upon the Land

I was fortunate to receive ‘Sail Upon the Land’ in a small competition run by the author. This review represents my honest opinions.

Without giving away plot spoilers, the story concerns four women in the same family over several decades and explores the meaning of family (especially motherhood), love and truth.

Initially after the prologue, the structure took me a little while to adjust to as it moves backwards and forwards rapidly through different eras and timescales. However, I soon realised this is one of the book’s strengths, creating a rich tapestry of entirely historically accurate hooks that entrap the reader, drawing them in. I felt this was one of the most well researched and intelligent novels I had read in some time. The social and cultural references are never clumsy, but serve to create atmosphere and depth to the lives of Sarah, Melissa, Damson and Mellita. Each word contributes to a highly evocative picture. I think what really works well is that every human sense is catered for in the descriptions so the reader almost experiences first hand the things the characters experience.

I found ‘Sail Upon the Land’ a totally absorbing story. Each of the four main female characters is drawn with real understanding so that I felt I knew them well, cared about them and found myself thinking of them when I wasn’t actually reading the book. In fact, it took me some time to read as the writing deserves to be savoured and appreciated.

‘Sail Upon the Land’ put me in mind of a reunion with someone I love, sharing an old photo album and reliving the stories of our joint past. If I say that Josa Young has managed to reduce me to tears with her writing it will show how powerful this novel is. I loved it.

The Grand Reopening of Dandelion Cafe by Jenny Oliver

The Grand Reopening of the Dandelion Café’ tells the story of Annie who is left a run down café by her father. As Annie attempts to leave her complicated past behind and juggle her present career she also tries to inject new life into the café and her own relationships with friends, café workers, her family and Matt – the man she meets during this journey.

OK. I admit it. When I decided to take part in the launch blog tour of this book I was prepared to be underwhelmed as it looked as if this would be the kind of insubstantial froth that it churned out by the thousands. I was wrong.

There is undoubtedly a familiar pattern to the plot structure of this story and the depiction of the characters within it, but it is none the worse for that. Annie struggles to fit back into an environment she thought she had left behind, having become an independent woman in her own right. She has had a difficult relationship in the past and typically, the male lead in this story, Matt, is tall, strong and handsome so that she is drawn to him instantly. All these feel like regular, but engaging, devices.

There are some lovely touches in the writing. The balance of long and short sentences and paragraphs means the reader is drawn along with the story as its pace ebbs and flows with the action. The plot is uncluttered but more than interesting enough to hold the reader’s attention with a couple of twists along the way. Descriptions of the café and the cherry trees in particular are vivid and cinematic so that the reader can picture them easily and feel as if they are there on Cherry Pie Island where the action takes place. Dialogue is natural and engaging, allowing the reader to get a real sense of the characters through their words and to believe in, and care about, what they are saying.

The Grand Reopening of the Dandelion Café isn’t a difficult read, but it is comforting in its familiarity and entertaining so that the reader actually cares what happens to those involved. It’s an enjoyable read that lifts the spirits and I’d certainly recommend investing the time to read it. You might even find, like me, that your prejudices about this kind of fiction are well and truly challenged!

Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

Our Endless

Firstly, an enormous thank you to Tracy Fenton of The Book Club on Facebook (#TBConFB) for supplying me with ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’.

I turned to Claire Fuller’s book after temporarily abandoning another novel I wasn’t enjoying and it was the perfect contrast. Reading ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’ felt like coming home after a long and arduous journey.

The plot is simple; Peggy (or Punzel as she is also known) is taken away by her father to a remote cabin in the woods whilst her famous concert pianist mother is on tour. Peggy’s father tells her that they are the last remaining people alive. The narrative then builds around their life of living from the land.

The book is written in the first person and although it is recounted some eight years after Peggy arrives in the cabin, Fuller manages to convey entirely convincingly the perspective of the child without resorting to contrived childish language. She write so beautifully that it is easy to picture what Peggy sees and to feel her emotions with her. Music is an iterative and cohesive image throughout the novel and Fuller’s writing echoes the swells, stops and refrains of that music causing the reader’s heart to follow the narrative almost against its will. Her writing is a rich tapestry of image, speech, event and emotion. The settings are exquisitely described so that each nuance of temperature, season, nature, weather, water and land can be appreciated fully by the reader. Every emotion is also laid bare. There is great happiness and sadness, love and hatred and considerable madness. The book has a sharply observed but subtly displayed psychological element too.

As I was reading this I really didn’t want it to end, but at the same time I was desperate to know what happened to Peggy as I had become so emotionally drawn in to the book that I really cared about each of its characters.

Occasionally, as a reader, there comes a book I wish I could have written and Claire Fuller’s ‘Our Endless Numbered Days’ is one of them. I can’t recommend it highly enough.


Normal by Graeme Cameron

I rarely choose crime thrillers, but was given the opportunity to read ‘Normal’ by and Harlequin Mira. Given that I protest its not a genre I usually enjoy, Graeme Cameron’s intelligent and precise writing may just make me out to be a liar!

‘Normal’ opens with the protagonist carefully cleaning up, having murdered and dismembered Sarah in her own home, and follows as the protagonist’s life becomes more and more chaotic leading to a mesmerising conclusion.

At no point are we given the protagonist’s name, or any real detail about his appearance which adds to the psychological effectiveness of Cameron’s book. If we don’t know who he is, he could be the man next door, or the one on the bus, or a member of our own family. Many of the characters are deeply flawed, but equally plausible so that we are left questioning what we really know about anyone. I would have liked a little more detail about the main character’s past to give me a better understanding of his present behaviours, but I appreciate that this was probably a deliberate technique to keep the reader guessing.

Written in the first person, the style is incredibly conversational and often quite humorous, at times making the reader feel they are truly inside the murderer’s head. The technique of interspersing direct speech with the protagonist’s thoughts was scarily good, making the reader have the thoughts at the same moment. This has the effect of almost making the reader become the murderer. At times I found myself almost liking this monstrous person.

Once or twice I felt the plot was a little fractured and had to check back over what I’d read, but I found the structure of leaving a cliff hanger at the end of so many chapters gave ‘Normal’ a vibrancy and engaged me as a reader almost against my will. As the end of the novel approached, so did my heartbeat and my desire to see how it ended.

The descriptive writing was concise and often quite poetic giving a vivid, cinematic view of the world of the novel.

I may not be a fan of crime thrillers, but Graeme Cameron’s highly charged and tautly written ‘Normal’ might make me a convert.

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises by Fredrik Backman

my grandmother

If readers were expecting an adult fantasy tale in ‘My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises’ they may be disappointed. I haven’t read ‘A Man Called Ove’ (yet, though I will as a result of reading this one by Fredrik Backman) and I understand from other reviews that some readers like this less.

However, as a wonderful story that blends fairy tale myths with real life it is absolutely brilliant. Elsa’s seven going on eight self is wise beyond her years and her character is portrayed utterly convincingly as with all the others who live in the same block of flats. Whilst many of their characteristics are familiar, none is stereotyped. As the stories that link them together unfold, we become aware of the layers of human personalities who have their flaws and their positive aspects.

The writing is skilful and engaging with nothing lost in translation. The plot is well constructed so that the reader is keen to know what happens next as Elsa delivers a range of letters from her recently deceased Grandmother.

Written in the continuous present I can see that some readers might feel that the narrative is overlong, but I loved every word of it. It made me laugh out loud at some of the Grandmother’s comments and it made me cry with empathy for characters I had come to care about in other places.

I’d heartily recommend it, especially to anyone who has felt themselves to be different or who has children or has been a child themselves! As Alf might say, ‘It’s bloody good.’

Missing Gretyl: You Only Love Twice by Si Page

I read this in one sitting as I’d volunteered to read and review it for the Facebook Book Club I belong to.

Reviewing this book is quite difficult as the success of its humour depends on the taste of the reader. I found wigs, farts, nose picking and cracking people over the head with rolling pins too much like the humour of immature teenage boys to be comic for me, but if you like slapstick I think you would really enjoy this story.

The plot is well designed, bringing the criminal Soddalls together with the too long married Arthur and Gretyl well. The characters are depicted clearly, if somewhat stereotypically, although there is some real pathos attached to Arthur. Short chapters help retain the reader’s attention and the dialogue was particularly effective with accents conveyed convincingly. Despite all the twists and turns in the plot, however, I thought there was little depth or development with far too much dialogue so that it felt as if I was being told what was happening by the characters rather than reading it for myself. It felt more like a film script than a novel.

Some will love this and some will hate it. I thought it was competent.

Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Unravelling Oliver.jpg

This was a book received for review from the wonderful

I’m always sceptical about the proclamations of brilliance that accompany many book blurbs, but ‘Unravelling Oliver’ deserves every one of them.

Liz Nugent’s carefully crafted sparse eloquence begins with the opening sentence of ‘I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her’ and continues to the very last word. Told from the perspective of a range of characters, opening and closing with Oliver himself, each chapter gives their first person perspective and adds to the reader’s understanding (or unravelling) of Oliver whose life the narrative explores. For a book that can be read in just a few hours, there is such a precision of writing that no word is out of place or unnecessary so that the reader is drawn in to the events highly effectively and given a thorough understanding, not just of Oliver but all the others in this tragic and moving story.

Although it may not seem a flattering comparison, I felt this book was like dry rot – its fingers spread throughout the plot and enmesh the reader and the characters together so that there is no escaping the power of the writing.

I’d thoroughly recommend reading this – whether you are a reader or an author. Less is definitely more.

Gods and Beasts by Denise Mina

‘Gods and Beasts’ is my March reading group book. It tells of the reality of living in the corrupt world of Glasgow, Scotland where webs of lies and deceit entangle even the most innocent of characters.

I am somewhat ambivalent about this story, unable to decide if I thought it was brilliant or awful. It has several threads to the plot so that at times, remembering names is a pain and the narrative feels fractured. However, that may be a deliberate technique to illustrate the fissures in honesty and society in general.

With so many characters, none felt particularly well developed, but this might be my reaction as a reader not having read the earlier work involving DI Alex Morrow. I thought some of the sexual references were distasteful but probably served well to illustrate the setting of the text. I also found the use of direct speech didn’t sufficiently well signpost the speakers so that it wasn’t always clear which speaker had made which comment.

The narrative is well resolved, with enough left for future Alex Morrow books to pick up. I wouldn’t read this again and I wouldn’t go back to read earlier Alex Morrow books, but I would read the next in the series.

Guilt trip

Anyone else out there feel guilty if they don’t finish a book? I’ve had a reading hiatus for almost a week where the book I was supposed to be reading for my reading group stared accusingly at me and made me feel so guilty that I didn’t enjoy it and didn’t finish it that I couldn’t read anything else either. Sinclair Mc Kay’s book ‘The Secret Listeners’ evoked a very wide range of responses this month at my reading group. The follow up to ‘The Secret Life of Bletchley Park’ this text told the story of those young men and women stationed around the world who listened to enemy messages and decoded them around the clock, providing invaluable information that helped to win the Second World War. We all agreed that we learnt a great deal about the times and we were filled with admiration for those whose story was told. A couple in the group loved the book. Rather more of us found the disjointed writing style, small print and occasionally patronising tone somewhat off putting and many of us didn’t finish it. It did, however, lead to a very varied discussion with topics covering eras BC to the present day.

New reading group book is ‘Gods and Beasts’ by Denise Mina and I’m already gripped.

The Villa Girls by Nicky Pellegrino

A few years old now, this book was one I received when I swapped texts with another reader. Set mainly both in London and Italy it concerns four girls with very different personalities who holiday together in a villa each year. As a result of these holidays, the recently orphaned Rosie falls in love with olive grower Enzo.

The writing style is as good as Victoria Hislop or similar authors but I found the pace of The Villa Girls frustratingly slow and it seemed to take two thirds of the book to establish the characters. The plot only really began for me about a third before the end.

However, if you want a book that really evokes Italy and food then this is worth a read. The descriptions of meals and cooking are detailed and precise so that you can really picture what is thee on the plate. Unfortunately, I felt this element was overdone and became irritated by the constant references to the food even though cooking, eating, photographing and writing about food are essential elements of the book.

Would I recommend this novel? Yes if you’re holidaying in Italy and want to capture the feel of the country or you’re on a beach and want something light to read. Would I read it again? No.