Category Archives: 10 Books Of Summer 2016

Posts about #10BooksOfSummer.

#10BooksOFSummer – Book #6 The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color Purple

The Blurb

Set in the deep American South between the wars, The Color Purple is the classic tale of Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and segregation. Raped repeatedly by the man she calls ‘father’, she has two children taken away from her, is separated from her beloved sister Nettie and is trapped into an ugly marriage.  But then she meets the glamorous Shug Avery, singer and magic-maker – a woman who has taken charge of her own destiny.  Gradually Celie discovers the power and joy of her own spirit, freeing her from her past and reuniting her with those she loves.

My Thoughts

‘Nothing but death can keep me from it.’

I remember watching the film as a teenager and had always meant to get round to reading the book. The 10 books of summer challenge gave me the impetus to finally get it read.

Set in 1930’s Southern America, it follows the life of Celie, a poor black woman surviving in a country where segregation between African Americans and white people still exists.

Told in first person narrative through Celie’s letters, firstly to God and then to her sister Nettie, we are given a first hand account of the impact of race, gender and class on an ordinary woman.

Alice’s characterisation is second to none. The use of colloquial language and the phonetic spelling of a woman who has not had the privilege of a decent and continuing education, all add to the essence of Celie and the time and place she is living in.

Celie’s experiences do not make for comfortable reading. Treated appallingly by her family, her start in life is not a good one. Her relationship with her estranged sister and the hope that she will see her again keeps her going.

Celie is downtrodden by her family life and the lack of expectations for her. However, as the book progresses we see Celie gain an inner strength through her relationship with Shug Avery and her eventual blossoming results in an uplifting tale.

The inequalities are quite astounding and sadly a realistic portrayal of America during this time. Domestic abuse is rife, with the men viewing themselves as having to keep their women in their place. I was struck by the racial inequalities particularly when Celie talks of going to the ’coloured cemetery’. Gender impounds on this racial inequality further – if African Americans are second class citizens then the African American females are the third class citizens.

A powerful and moving book, often sad and shocking, I am so glad I finally got round to reading this wonderfully written piece of literature.

First published in 1982, this edition published 2014 by Phoenix eBook.

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#10 Books of Summer – Book #5 Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

Unravelling Oliver

The Blurb

Oliver Ryan is a handsome and charismatic success story.  He lives in the suburbs with his wife, Alice, who illustrates his award-winning children’s books and gives him her unstinting devotion.  Their life together is one of enviable privilege and ease – enviable until, one evening after supper, Oliver attacks Alice and beats her into a coma.

In the aftermath, as everyone tries to make sense of his astonishing act of savagery, Oliver tells his story.  So do those whose paths he has crossed over five decades.  What unfolds is a story of shame, envy, breath-taking deception and masterful manipulation.

Only Oliver knows the lengths to which he has had to go to get the life to which he felt entitled.  But even he is in for a shock when the past catches up with him.

My Thoughts

I have had this book sitting on my kindle for a while, however, ended up reading Liz’s second novel, Lying In Wait, first in order to hit publication date (you can read that review here). The 10 books of summer challenge gave me the perfect impetus to get it read.

Liz is the queen of the opening line! How can you not be drawn into a book immediately when it opens with this;

‘I expected more of a reaction the first time I hit her.’

Narrated by various characters, the story of Oliver and what led him to his current actions towards his wife, Alice, slowly come to life. I have always had an interest in what makes people tick and the fact that this is a why-dunnit rather than a who-dunnit really appealed to me.

Liz has a way of writing that makes you feel as though you are involved in a direct conversation with each of the characters. This serves to connect you with the characters and at points I even found myself feeling some sympathy with Oliver, despite his despicable behaviour and thought processes.

In my previous life as a social worker, I came across a lot of men who physically and emotionally abused their partners. The attitudes and lack of accountability they have towards their behaviour comes through perfectly in Unravelling Oliver ;

The words that come to mind are ’circumstances beyond our control’. I emphasise the word ’our’, because, although I should not have done it, she really should not have provoked me.’

Paced perfectly to, as the title states, unravel the nature of Oliver and what has made him the person he is, this is a compelling read. It would be great for reading groups as it focuses on human nature and the reasons behind our actions. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

Published on 6 March 2014 by Penguin Ireland.

#10 Books of Summer – Book #4 The Things We Never Said by Susan Elliot Wright

Things We Never Said

The Blurb

In 1964 Maggie wakes to find herself in a psychiatric ward, not knowing who she is or why she has been committed.  She slowly begins to have memories of a storm and a man called Jack and slowly the pieces of the past begin to come together…

In 2008 Jonathan is struggling to put his differences with his parents aside to tell them he and his wife are expecting a baby, when a detective arrives to question him about crimes committed long ago…

And as these two tales interweave, the secrets of the past, long kept hidden, start to come to light in unexpected and sometimes startling ways.

The Things We Never Said is a powerful novel about fatherhood and motherhood; nature and nurture; cruelty and kindness; and mental breakdown.  Written in beautiful, compelling prose, it is by turns revealing, witty and moving.

 

My Thoughts

Told during two different times, we follow the main characters, Maggie from 1964 and Jonathan from 2008. The prologue drew me in immediately with enough unanswered questions to keep me intrigued.

Maggie’s story is really moving. The reader first meets her in 1964 when she is a patient in a psychiatric hospital. Susan has written these parts of the book wonderfully, horrifying yet with glimpses of humour, it has the perfect balance. I really liked Maggie, she has an inner strength and courage that I admired greatly.

Jonathan is having a difficult time as events seem to conspire against him. Expecting his first child with his wife, he is finding it difficult to tell his parents due to the difficult relationship he has with them. I was rooting for him throughout the book, desperately hoping things would work out for him.

Without giving the plot away, the two stories come together perfectly. Mental health and parenting feature in this book and Susan has written sensitively and beautifully about difficult issues. The book is not depressing, however, and I felt uplifted by the ending.

A compelling read that is written beautifully, I would definitely recommend this book. I’m glad I finally got around to reading it as part of my 10 books of summer.

Published 23 May 2013 by Simon and Schuster UK.

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#10BooksOfSummer Book #3 Skin and Bones by Tom Bale

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The Blurb

On a cold January morning, a nightmare awaits in a small Sussex village.  A deranged young man goes on the rampage, shooting everyone in his path before taking his own life.  It is a senseless, tragic event, but sadly not an unfamiliar one.

At least that’s what everyone thinks.

Only Julia Trent – believed to be the sole survivor – knows that there was a second man involved.  But after being shot and badly injured, her account of the massacre is ignored.

But she cannot let it rest there.  Together with Craig Walker, the journalist son of one of the victims, Julia sets out to find the truth.  As they peel back the layers of a dark and dangerous conspiracy, they discover the slaughter did not begin on that bitter day in January.  And worst of all, it won’t end there…  

My Thoughts

After reading and loving See How They Run I had added more Tom Bale books to my TBR list. I decided to read Skin and Bones as part of my 10 books of summer as I liked the fact that it started with a massacre.

Tom has rapidly become one of my favourite thriller writers. I love his descriptions and his use of similes really set my imagination on fire. He makes the mundane incredibly chilling;

‘She’d been shot in the back of the head. The resulting debris lay around her like old porridge.’

The book starts with a bang when we are transported to a sleepy, middle class village in Sussex in the midst of a massacre. Brilliantly written, Tom conveys a silence and a stillness in the village that gives the reader a real sense of foreboding. I thought to myself “yes this it what it would probably be like” and you really feel as though you are there and experiencing the situation along with the character, Julia. His pace is perfect, ending paragraphs and chapters at just the right moment to keep you on the edge of your seat. Tom is a master at building tension!

This is no ordinary massacre, however, and what transpires is a host of secrets, bitterness and despicable business men. The middle part of the book did slow down a little bit, however, it was ratcheted up again towards the latter half. Full of twists and turns and questions over who can and cannot be trusted it kept me turning the pages.

There are a lot of characters within the book, however, I was able to keep up with them all. I particularly liked Julia Trent, a strong woman despite, or maybe because of, all she has been through.

I really enjoyed this book, the writing is excellent and it took me on a journey I did not expect. I am waiting with baited breath for Tom’s next novel and will be reading my way through his previous books.

Published on 1 January 2009 by Preface Digital.

#10BooksOfSummer Book #2 The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

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The Blurb

Enzo knows he is different from other dogs; a philosopher with a nearly human soul (and an obsession with opposable thumbs), he has educated himself by watching television extensively, and by listening very closely to the words of his master, Denny Swift, an up-and-coming race car driver.  

Through Denny, Enzo has gained tremendous insight into the human condition, and he sees that life, lie racing, isn’t simply about going fast.  On the eve of his death, Enzo takes stock of his life, recalling all that he and his family have been through.

 A heart-wrenching but deeply funny and ultimately uplifting story of family, love, loyalty and hope, The Art of Racing in the Rain is a beautifully crafted and captivating look at the wonders and absurdities of human life…as only a dog could tell it.

My Thoughts

The Art of Racing in the Rain is a particular favourite book of mine – how could it not be, it’s narrated by a dog! – and when it came up as the book chosen by my reading group I was chuffed as I had not read it for a while. I decided it would also be great to add to my 10 books of summer.

Narrated by Enzo the dog, we get his unique perspective on the events that occur in his owner, Denny’s, life.

For me, Garth perfectly captures the essence of the canine through his narration. Anyone who has ever owned a dog will know that they are more intelligent than we often give them credit for and are acute observers of us humans. They pick up on our body language, our moods, energy and our scents;

‘So much of language is unspoken. So much of language is comprised of looks and gestures and sounds that are not words. People are ignorant of the vast complexity of their own communication.’

Enzo talks about the strength of will and how we each control our own destiny, although I don’t necessarily believe this is always the case, Garth writes about it beautifully;

‘That which you manifest is before you.’

I have no interest in car racing, but the paragraphs about this in the book are great metaphors for life and how we deal with all it throws at us.

I could not help but fall in love with Enzo. His loyalty and devotion to Denny and his family, his concern and care for them and his humour make him very endearing. Denny is a character I empathise with deeply. He is stuck between a rock and a hard place and tries so hard do what is right for all concerned, despite the impact it has on him. As Enzo states;

‘I marvelled at them both; how difficult it must be to be a person. To continuously subvert your desire. To worry about doing the right thing, rather that doing what is most expedient.’

There are some truly heart breaking moments in this book that Garth writes with understanding and sensitivity. Have tissues ready when reading it as you will need them!

An insight into the psychology and complexity of human beings and a perspective on how we manage events given to us, that could only be captured by another species. The Art of Racing in the Rain never fails to move me. A beautiful book that will both break your heart and make you laugh, it will remain on my favourites list for a long time to come.

Published on 13 March 2009 by HarperCollins.

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#10BooksOfSummer Book #1 – The Children Act by Ian McEwan

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The Blurb

Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court.  She is fiercely intelligent, well respected, and deeply immersed in the nuances of her particular field of law.  Often the outcome of a case seems simple from the outside, the course of action to ensure a child’s welfare obvious.  But the law requires more rigor than mere pragmatism, and Fiona is expert in considering the sensitivities of culture and religion when handing down her verdicts. 

But Fiona’s professional success belies domestic strife.  Her husband, Jack, asks her to consider an open marriage and, after an argument, moves out of their house.  His departure leaves her adrift, wondering whether it was not love she had lost so much as a modern form of respectability; whether it was not contempt and ostracism she really fears.  She decides to throw herself into her work, especially a complex case involving a seventeen -year -old boy whose parents will not permit a life saving blood transfusion because it conflicts with their beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses.  But Jack doesn’t leave her thoughts, and the pressure to resolve the case – as well as her crumbling marriage – tests Fiona in ways that will keep readers thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page.

My Thoughts

I was drawn to this book due to the moral dilemmas it promised to throw up as I love a book that makes me really think and feel. I was also interested to get a, albeit fictional, judge’s perspective after spending many years in the courtroom myself – not because I’m a naughty girl, but because I used to be a child protection social worker. I am, therefore, very familiar with The Children Act.
It was clear from the outset that McEwan had thoroughly researched The Children Act and the court process, including the issues that are brought up in hearings. The memories of the ‘he said, she said’, tit-for-tat of private law proceedings I had been involved in came flooding back and the unfortunate consequence of the children caught up in the middle of these battles.

‘And the children? Counters in a game, bargaining chips for use…’

To be honest, I don’t think my previous career helped me in reading this book as I read it with my professional head on which prevented me from considering the moral dilemmas in any depth. I could not get past the fact that Adam, the child at the centre of the story, was still a child in the eyes of the law despite being months off his eighteenth birthday and that the child’s welfare is paramount. The child’s wishes and feelings need to be considered, however, Adam’s welfare exceeded these, especially when it came to the price his wishes may ultimately cost him – that of his life. I would have made exactly the same decision as Fiona, the Judge.

Adam, brought up a Jehovah’s Witness, begins to question his faith and his parents following the court ruling. This leads to his confusion and, unfortunately, the very thing designed to save him is the very cause of his downfall;

‘Without faith, how open and beautiful and terrifying the world must have seemed to him.

The ending did not come as a great surprise but it touched me deeply.

This book could also be classed as a character study. We meet the main character, Fiona, a Judge, as her marriage is on the rocks and we follow her day to day life. I empathised with her feelings – her marriage has been affected by the demands of her work and she had put off having children to focus on her career which, ironically, centres on taking care of the children of others. McEwan eloquently writes about her thoughts and feelings on this matter and I forgot that it was a man who had written this book.

McEwan’s prose throughout is perfect and beautiful. Despite being a short novel he does not scrimp on detailed and stunning descriptions that led me to reading sentences repeatedly to enjoy them again. He also manages the court hearing regarding Adam with tact and diplomacy and at no point did I feel he was being disparaging towards the beliefs held by those of different faiths.

This book saddened me deeply. It is an insight into human nature, society and all their flaws and the children caught up amongst this;

‘Blind luck, to arrive in the world with your properly formed parts in the right place, to be born to parents who were loving, not cruel, or to escape, by geographical or social accident, war or poverty.’

It is also an insight into the state of the protective services, with it’s emphasis on form filling and box ticking and the dilemmas faced by professionals everyday, which they ultimately have to live with;

‘Now, fewer delays, more boxes to tick, more to be taken on trust. The lives of children were held in a computer memory, accurately, but rather less kindly.’

I highly recommend this beautiful, intelligent and moving book.

Published on 2 September 2014 by Vintage Digital.

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10 Books of Summer 2016 Update

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So far things have not gone totally according to plan with this challenge!  I have not managed to keep my self-imposed ban on Netgalley due to publishers tempting me with some great looking books, and my June reading has doubled as a result! I need to gain some willpower from somewhere, if anyone has any to spare, please send some my way!  On a positive note I have decided on my final four books for the challenge, they are –

The Children Act by Ian McKewan

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein

Unravelling Oliver by Liz Nugent

The things We Never Said by Susan Elliot Wright

I am halfway through The Children Act and The Art of Racing in the Rain, so keep your eyes peeled for my thoughts on those.

How is everyone else getting on with the challenge? Would love to hear from you.

#10BooksOfSummer.

 

10 Books Of Summer 2016

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So I saw on Twitter that people were taking part in Twenty Books of Summer, it piqued my interest and I had to find out more. Set up by Cathy Brown of www.746books.com from 1 June until 5 September she is attempting to read her twenty books of summer and invited other reading addicts to join in. How could I resist?

Initially I was going for the full twenty, however the number of ARCs I have for review in June and coming late to the challenge made me think this may be impossible so I have opted for ten.

Having a few books on my Kindle and in the house that I have not got round to reading, I thought these would be the perfect choice to kick start me off. So far, the books I will be reading are;

Skin and Bones by Tom Bale

Gentlemen and Players by Joanne Harris

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

My Sister’s Secret by Tracy Buchanan

On Beauty by Zadie Smith

Death of a Diva by Derek Farrell

Still deciding on the final four but will keep you updated when I have added to my list (and rummaged around in the back bedroom for books I may have missed that are waiting to be read!).

Join in the fun and follow the hashtags on Twitter (#20BooksOfSummer, #15BooksOfSummer and #10BooksOf Summer) there are some great book blogs taking part, all with a varied selection of books.

As always, I would love to read your comments – Are you joining in? Have you read any of the above books and what are your thoughts?