Four Book Reviews

I always read a lot but I’ve been reading even more recently, partly with the aim of improving my own writing. As Stephen King says, “If you want to be a writer, you should do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”

One book I particularly enjoyed was Lost Property by Helen Paris. According to the blurb, “Dot Watson has lost her way. Twelve years ago her life veered off course, and the guilt over what happened still haunts her. Before then she was living in Paris, forging an exciting career; now her time is spent visiting her mother’s care home, fielding interfering calls from her sister and working at the London Transport Lost Property office, diligently cataloguing items as misplaced as herself. But when elderly Mr Appleby arrives in search of his late wife’s purse, his grief stirs something in Dot. Determined to help, she sets off on a mission – one that could start to heal Dot’s own loss and let her find where she belongs once more . . .”

I expected this book to be a rather average romance, a tale of lost things being returned to their owners and the heroine feeling better about herself as a result, and somehow managing to bump into Mr Right along the way. Not that there’s anything wrong with those types of books, but there’s a lot of them about and they are rather predictable.

This book was anything but average, anything but predictable. It touched on some really deep themes – loss was obviously one, but also relationships within families, how we often misunderstand those closest to us, how our interpretation of the past isn’t always accurate. I won’t say more as I don’t want to spoil the plot.

It was thought-provoking but also had many quirky touches. I loved the lost luggage labels at the start of each chapter with their little lost/found descriptions and also the author’s poetic way of describing things – the slug on a magic carpet of kitchen roll is an image etched on my mind! This book will be published on 23rd May and I am hoping that Helen Paris’s second novel won’t be too far behind. I’m looking forward to it.

If you can’t wait till May, The Yellow Bird Sings by Jennifer Rosner will be published on 18th March. The scene is Poland in 1941. “After the Jews in their town are rounded up, Róza and her five-year-old daughter, Shira, seek shelter in a local farmer’s barn. They spend their days and nights in silence to avoid being caught. When their safe haven is shattered, Róza faces an impossible choice: whether to keep her daughter close by her side, or give her the chance to survive by letting her go.”

I chose to read this book for personal reasons. My husband’s parents both left Poland during WW2, his father in the Polish navy, his mother sent to Siberia by the Russian invaders. We’ve visited the many museums and other sites on Poland associated with the war. So I was interested in reading this story, which, although fictional, is clearly very well-researched.

Although the book didn’t immediately grab me, once I got into it, it was a real page-turner. I read it in less than 2 days. It’s packed with beautiful descriptions of music, the imaginary world of the child juxtaposed against her harsh reality, and stories of the many hardships that women like Roza endured. It’s a wonderful story of survival against the odds.

The ending wasn’t obvious either – well, not till it almost happened. From about half way through, I thought I could predict how the writer would end things but I was wrong!

Invisible Girl is the latest book by Lisa Jewell. There isn’t a single one of her books that I haven’t enjoyed and this one was no exception. “When Saffyre Maddox was ten, something terrible happened, and she’s carried the pain of it ever since. The man who she thought was going to heal her didn’t, and now she hides and watches him, learning his secrets, invisible in the shadows. Owen Pick is invisible too. He’s never had a girlfriend; he’s never even had a friend. Nobody sees him. Nobody cares. But when Saffyre goes missing from opposite his house on Valentine’s Day, suddenly the whole world is looking at Owen. Accusing him. Holding him responsible for Saffyre’s disappearance…”

I started reading this book with my morning coffee last Friday and apart from sleeping, eating and necessary trips to the bathroom, I literally didn’t put it down. I got nothing else done on Friday as a result!

It’s hard to put a finger on why this is such a good book. Perhaps good books are like good actors: good actors are so good that you can’t see the acting. I was too busy enjoying this book to really contemplate why I was enjoying it. I was too caught up in it for that. Invisible Girl is a very easy to read book and I like that. I don’t want long-winded descriptions of scenes or people. I just want to know what’s happening and to be able to see inside the characters’ minds so that I can relate to them. If I relate to them, I root for them and that rooting for them is surely what makes the story exciting. If you don’t care what happens to the characters in a novel, you might as well not read it.

Last, but definitely not least, is Catrina Davies’ brilliant Homesick: Why I live in a shed. Described as “the memoir of a personal housing crisis that led to a discovery of the true value of home, nature and belonging”, Homesick has gone straight into my list of “top ten books I’ve ever read”.

It was beautiful. A perfect combination of a powerful and often very sad personal story, interspersed with reflections on the environment, politics, the housing crisis and much more. It was really thought-provoking. As someone whose only real income comes from renting out property (albeit only in a very small way), it gave me pause for thought as I am perhaps part of the problem. (Though I hasten to add here, that I strive to be a good landlord.)

This book is only 99p at the moment on Kindle. I cannot do it justice with a review so go on, read it yourself. It might be the best 99p you’ve ever spent!

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