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Posts Tagged ‘family’

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In Amsterdam in the late 17th century, 18 year old Nella has been promised as a wife to successful merchant Johannes Brandt, but when she arrives at her new home, he is still away on business. Instead, she is met by his prickly sister Marin and staff Otto and Cornelia.

When Johannes does arrive home weeks later, things do not improve – he seems uninterested in being a husband to Nella, and there is constant tension simmering under the surface between all members of the household. Johannes presents Nella with a gift – a cabinet sized version of their house and instructions to furnish it. For the task, Nella engages a miniaturist to supply furniture for the small house, but the miniaturist sends much more – models of the inhabitants which seem to predict events in the future.

Who is the mysterious miniaturist, and how does she know so much about the Brandts? And what secrets lie within the walls of Nella’s new home?

It is difficult to say much more about the plot without giving away significant plot points. I will say however that I did really enjoy this book and can certainly understand the hype surrounding it’s release. The characters all seemed well drawn and believable, and if some of the events took me by surprise, with hindsight they were perhaps obvious and inevitable. Such is the skill of Jessie Burton’s writing however, that they only became so obvious once they had happened (if that makes sense).

Burton does have a lovely turn of phrase and a beautiful way of describing events and scenes, without being overly verbose. The story flowed well, even with the tense atmosphere throughout. The prologue was perfect once I reached the end of the book, and unlike many reviewers I was not disappointed in the ending at all.

Overall, this book gets a definite thumbs up from me and I have already bought Burton’s follow up novel, ‘The Muse’ on the strength of this.

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In 2004, during a weekend away for her father Sean’s 50th birthday celebrations, three year old Coco Jackson disappears – apparently taken from the house where she slept with her twin sister Ruby and other children in the middle of the night. A huge media campaign follows but Coco is never found.

Twelve years later, following the sudden death of Sean Jackson, the truth about what really happened on that weekend is slowly revealed as his family and friends prepare for his funeral.

I really enjoyed this book a lot. Psychological thrillers are a favourite genre of mine but they can also be a real let-down when they venture into the realms of the ridiculous. However, this book seemed actually plausible and I think that may have been due to the writing. And, sadly, possibly also due to the fact that there have been some high profile disappearances of children over the years. Alex Marwood is a journalist and I can’t help wondering if this case was at least inspired by one particularly famous child disappearance.

There is a dual storyline – the first part set in 2004 and told from the point of view of various characters. The truth of what happened is drip-fed bit by bit. The second part is set in 2016 and is narrated by Mila, one of Sean’s daughters from his first of four marriages. As Mila reconnects with Ruby, the twin sister of Coco, she revisits her own past and deals with her feelings about her father and the fragile ties that can bind a family together.

In any event, it’s an absorbing read. Sean Jackson is a deeply unlikeable, narcissistic and selfish character and indeed most of the adult characters in this story are the same. Pity the children who had the misfortune to be part of their families. Speaking of those children though, I did love Mila and enjoyed her character development. I also adored Ruby, who was entirely believable as both a typical teenager and a young girl who had had to live with survivor’s guilt her whole life.

As mentioned earlier, I did think that the final twist was pretty predictable, but there were still a few surprises along the way, and the writing was great and kept me reading on and on.

Overall I would highly recommend this book, and will definitely look out for more by Alex Marwood.

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Larissa Stark has it all – a loving husband, three great children, a big house in a good neighbourhood, good looks and lots of money. But everything is turned on it’s head when she meets a young man in parking lot and finds herself drawn to another life. Her existence becomes a ongoing deceit and web of lies as she struggles with her conscience and tries to decide whether to stay or go. But is it possible to exchange one life for another quite so easily – and is the grass always as green as it appears on the other side?…

I have read several of Paullina Simons’ books over the years and enjoyed them all (I especially recommend The Bronze Horseman, The Girl in Times Square and Tully, the latter of which touched on many of the same themes as A Song in the Daylight). So it was with eagerness that I started this book, as well as maybe some apprehension (it’s almost 800 pages long and if I didn’t enjoy it, that could be a bit of a slog!) And after having finished it this morning, I find I have mixed thoughts. On the positive side, I do like Simons’ style of writing – she takes her time telling a story, so if a fast moving plot is what you are after, this may not be the book for you, but she really grounds out the situation for the reader so that you are immersed in events. Her prose flows and I found that I was reading large chunks at a time, and yes I did look forward to picking it up and continuing to read.

However, I found that I absolutely detested the main character. Now, I don’t think it’s necessary to like a character to enjoy a book  – for me, American Psycho is one of the best books I ever read and there is no universe in which I can say I like Patrick Bateman – but there does have to be something about them to draw you in, to maybe see things from their point of view even if you don’t agree with it. But Larissa just came across as a spoiled, selfish and pretentious narcissist who rode roughshod over other people to get what she wanted. Not only did she treat her husband and family badly but she also stopped caring about her friends and stopped seeing when they clearly needed her support.

Most of the other characters were also fairly unsympathetic – I found that as a reader I never really knew much about her young lover Kai; somehow I feel like he was the least fleshed out character of all. I did quite like Jared in the end, and also Larissa’s friend Maggie, but not her pretentious navel-gazing husband Ezra, although he came across better in the last third of the book, when the point of view is switched to that of Jared.

Overall, I did enjoy this book and would still read more by Paullina Simons. That said, if you had never read this author before and wanted to give it a go, this would not be the book I would recommend you start with.

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This book jumps backwards and forwards in time, and chapters are alternately told from the memory of Mrs Threadgoode, an elderly lady in a nursing home who is reminiscing to Evelyn Crouch, a deeply unhappy housewife who attends the home to visit her mother-in-law and in the third person during the 1930s – 1960s, which is when the majority of the story itself takes place. There are also inserts from The Weems Weekly, an informal gossip paper from the town of Whistle Stop, and various other newspapers from places around Alabama.

As the story would suggest, the majority of the story revolves around the Whistle Stop Cafe, which was run by Imogen ‘Idgie’ Threadgoode, and her friend Ruth, and which became a communal point for many people in the little town of Whistle Stop.

Although the book features such themes as murder, racism and marital abuse, it does somehow manage to be light reading and even what I would describe as fluffy in some parts. That is in no way a criticism however; like Evelyn – who does get a few chapters devoted to her personally and her own ‘journey’ from depression – I enjoyed Mrs Threadgoode’s reminiscences and memories of a different time, when people trusted one another, and everybody knew everybody else’s business.

It’s definitely an undemanding read, filled with memorable characters – my favourite was Idgie, who was feisty, funny and fiercely devoted to those around her. Some of the racial epithets jarred a little, but for the main part they were reflecting attitudes of the time that the story was set in, so I could see why they were there, but it is still something that we are not as used to in more modern books.

Still though, if you are looking for a feel-good book to curl up on the sofa with and lose yourself in, you could do a lot worse than this. I don’t think I enjoyed it quite as much as Can’t Wait to Get to Heaven, by the same author, but I did like it a lot, and would certainly like to read more by Fannie Flagg.

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This film opens with Leanne (Saoirse Ronan), who was kidnapped at the age of 4 and has lived with her benevolent but disturbed abductor Ben (Jason Isaacs) for 17 years, being returned to her parents, having escaped/been discovered at Ben’s home (it is never made clear how she gets away). Her mother Marcy (Cynthia Nixon) and father Glen (David Warshofsky) are delighted to have her home, but their joy soon turns to heartbreak as they realise that they don’t know their daughter – renamed Leia by Ben – at all, and not only does she not remember them, but she also identifies more with Ben, who has been her sole companion for most of her life. As the family struggle to find a way to tread this unfamiliar ground, events take a sinister turn in Marcy’s desperation to make a connection with her daughter.

I enjoyed this film a lot, despite the disturbing subject. The acting – particularly from Ronan, Nixon and Isaacs (albeit Jason Isaacs took a small role, with his character’s life with Leia being told in flashback and just one scene in the present day) was outstanding, and really made me invest in the characters.

It is a slow moving story, certainly not a film for fans of action movies, but I found that that suited the mood perfectly. The ambiguous ending also fitted the rest of the film, and I found myself thinking about this film and the characters for several days after viewing it.

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Year of release: 2015

Director: Nikole Beckwith

Writer: Nikole Beckwith

Main stars: Saoirse Ronan, Cynthia Nixon, Jason Isaacs, David Warshofsky

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One day in Melbourne, happily married mother-of-three Cecilia Fitzpatrick finds a letter in the attic with instructions on the envelope from her husband John-Paul, telling her that the letter should only be opened in the event of his death. With John-Paul being very much alive, Cecilia is naturally curious about what the letter might contain, and wrestles with her conscience over whether or not she should open it…

Meanwhile Rachel Crowley living in Sydney, school secretary and grandmother to two year old Jacob, is reeling from the news that her son and his wife are planning to move to New York and take Jacob away from her. Rachel’s daughter Janie was murdered 28 years earlier and nobody has ever been brought to justice and it seems that Jacob is her only joy in life. But Rachel has her own idea about who killed Janie…

Tess O’Leary is – she thinks – happily married to husband Will. So she is devastated when she discovers that Will and her cousin/best friend Felicity have fallen in love. She decides to get away and goes to visit her mother in Sydney, and tries to put her life back together…

My thoughts

This book started out fairly light-heartedly, but soon developed into something of a mystery. Like Cecilia, I was eager to find out what was in John-Paul’s letter, but I actually ended up guessing the contents before the story revealed them. However, while I was initially disappointed because I thought I had guessed the ending of the book early on, it transpired that the story was less to do with the mystery behind the letter, and more to do with how the characters coped with what was in it.

The first few chapters threw a lot of seemingly unrelated characters out and I generally prefer stories that let you get to know characters gradually rather than all at once, but it didn’t take long before the different relationships between the characters were peeled away. I felt extremely sorry for Rachel, who had been living in a kind of limbo since Janie’s murder, and I also liked Cecilia and Tess. However, a lot of the other supporting characters annoyed me (unfortunately, husbands generally do not come off well in this story!) The ending did take a surprising turn, and I wasn’t entirely satisfied with it, but to say why would be to reveal spoilers and I definitely think that this book is better read with no knowledge of what it is to come.

It’s definitely a quick read – the writing flows really well and the story moves on at a quick pace, keeping you alert to what might be coming next. Based on this book, I would definitely try more by Liane Moriarty and would recommend the book to fans of drama or thrillers.

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It’s 1912, and the Torrington family are at their grand old house Sterne, for daughter Emerald’s 20th birthday. Once rich, but now on the verge of financial ruin, Emerald’s stepfather has gone to try and borrow money to save the property. Meanwhile, Emerald, her thoughtless brother Clovis, their manipulative mother Charlotte and eccentric youngest child Smudge are awaiting the arrival of their guests. But the evening is interrupted by a group of strangers who arrive at Sterne. They have been in a train accident and there is nowhere else for them to go while they await help from the railway company.

With little choice, the Torringtons invite the rag-tag group of victims into the house, but before long events take a strange turn and the family start to wonder if they have invited something more malevolent into their home. Over the course of an evening and a night, secrets are revealed, true colours are shown and everybody learns something about themselves and each other.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of this book. I definitely enjoyed it and it was a fairly quick read for me; however it started out as one thing and then took a different turn. If you asked me to put it into a particular genre, I would struggle – it is described as a dark comedy of manners (and it certainly was funny in parts – the descriptions made me giggle, often). However there was a more sinister undertone, and a definite sense that evil was never too far away from the Sterne house.

I felt that the characters were well described, if not all particularly likeable. My favourite characters were Smudge, and siblings Patience and Ernest. Most of the others featured somewhere on a scale of unpleasant to horrible.

I enjoy books that take place in a single location, and also books that take place in a short span of time, so for me this was ideal. I was never able to predict exactly what was going to happen next, although I did guess the twist at the end- that said, their were clues to the twist throughout the story.

Reviews for this book seem very mixed, and I can see why it would not appeal to people. It’s hard to get a hold of, and almost defies description. However, I liked it a lot – certainly enough for me to seek out other work by this author. I would recommend with caution.

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