White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht – A Review

Publisher: Chatto And Windus, Penguin Random House UK

Publication date: 18th January 2018

Now I have to be straight up honest here and admit that when I was approved via Netgalley to review this book I couldn’t remember requesting it! When I read the synopsis I did wonder if it would be my kind of book but I’m so glad I gave it a chance and thank the publisher for accepting me.

It’s 1943 in Japanese occupied Korea, We meet 16 year old Hana and her younger sister Emi. Hana is a ‘haenyeo’ girl along with her mother, which basically means she dives in the sea to collect shellfish to sell at the market and earn a living. Emi is too young to dive and so she sits guarding the buckets on the shore line. Hana’s mother constantly warns her to stay away from the Japanese soldiers at all costs. One day whilst diving, Hana sees a soldier walking along the shore, heading unbeknownst in the direction of her little sister.

Hana swims quickly to shore and places herself between them to distract the soldier from her sisters whereabouts. In doing so, Hana makes the ultimate sacrifice for her sister and is captured by the soldier (Morimoto).

She is taken away and forced into life as a ‘comfort woman’, basically a prostitute working in a brothel frequented by Japanese soldiers. Apparently the Japanese army thought that a sexually satisfied soldier was a much stronger fighter.

Hana endures some harrowing experiences, brutal violence and sexual abuse as the soldiers basically do as they please with her and the other girls. At times very difficult to read and digest.

There is a dual timeline narrative to this story which links it all together which I really enjoyed. We hear the voice of Emi, now well into her seventies with a family of her own. She is in ailing health and feels such tremendous guilt over what happened to her sister. She has spent her life wondering if her sister is still out there and if they’ll ever be reunited.

Hana is such a beautiful character. Strong, and full or determination to survive and get back home to her family who she loves and misses dearly, especially little Emi.

Now I must admit I’d never heard of the phrase ‘comfort woman’ before and apparently it was only in the early 90’s that the death, torture and sheer destruction of these young Korean girl’s lives was even acknowledged. Which when you think about it is just utter madness.

This is undoubtedly a shocking read, made all the more heart wrenching because it is based on events which actually occurred. And although Hana and Emi are fictional characters, Hana’s experiences as a comfort woman would have been typical of what actually occurred at that time. It just blows the mind.

I’m always loathe to say that I enjoyed a book with content like this as ‘enjoyed’ doesn’t seem like quite the right word to use but I enjoyed the reading experience and found the whole thing fascinating. Yet again this is a book that piques your interest and makes you want to find out more. Handily there is some factual information and a timeline at the back of the book which helps the reader to better understand events and when they happened.

I would definitely recommend this book if you have a love for history and maybe a strong stomach and thick skin!

See you soon.

Bookish Chat xxx

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The Woman In The Window by A.J Finn- A Review

Publication date: 25th Jan 2018 (UK)

Publisher: Harper Collins

I saw this book all over the socials and was intrigued. I requested it on Netgalley and was thrilled to be accepted (let’s face it, I’m always thrilled!).

Anna Fox is a child psychologist who is agoraphobic following an incident which we’re not made aware of until much later in the book. A virtual recluse Anna lives alone without her husband and and daughter Olivia. She views her limited world through the lens of her camera, watching the comings and goings of the families in the street. Sometimes taking her interest online and finding out details about them.

Anna is content to live in this vastly reduced world and live vicariously through chat rooms and online forums. Having weekly visits from her psychiatrist and her physical therapist. That is until her camera lens gets her far more involved with the new family who have moved in across the park than she bargained for when she witnesses something happen which turns her enclosed world upside down…..or does she?

From here we follow Anna trying to make sense of what she might have seen through her alcohol and medication haze. She is desperately trying to figure out what can be happening inside her head and her home with little support from the authorities.

This is a very tense story of an unhappy woman trying to make her voice heard by people who are doubting her. Even at times doubting herself but knowing deep down that something isn’t ‘right’.

The pacing of this book is just superb. In some ways the story unfolds little by little and we’re given access to Anna’s memories of her family life and it’s ultimate disintegration but I also found each of the chapters short and snappy which I love.

The tension builds throughout until I found myself racing toward the ending, desperate to find out what happens. Oh my what an ending! My heart was beating out of my chest.

The characters are all so well written, right down to police officer Little (who I loved). This book keeps you on your toes, little twists and turns and jaw dropping moments, one in particular (which I won’t spoil obvs!).

I read this book in just over 24 hrs which is a good indication with me that I really enjoyed it. I think I blocked my children out for a while there! (I jest…..honest) and it was just a little too late to make it to my best books of 2017 which I’m beating myself up about a little.

When this book comes out at the end of January, do yourself a favour and grab yourself a copy. You won’t regret it. A fast paced awesome thriller for 2018!

See you soon

Bookish Chat. Xxx

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell – A Review

I can’t start the review of this book without a nod to the beautiful cover.  A creepy little cutout keyhole behind which peeps a sinister little eye?…. oh yes please.  Big tick.

This book is set in the 1800’s and flits back even further to the 1600’s periodically.  Our protagonist is Elisabeth (Elsie) Bainbridge, pregnant and newly widowed.  She is sent to wait out the arrival of her baby at her late Husbands family home The Bridge.

When she arrives she sets to exploring the house with her late husbands cousin Sarah who has accompanied her as a lady’s companion of sorts.  Their explorations bring them to the locked room known as the garret right at the top of the house.  In there they find old diaries from a previous occupant and ancestor along with strange carved wooden cut-out figures of people known as ‘companions’.  Firstly a small girl, and then a gypsy boy.  They immediately unnerve Elsie but Sarah is fascinated with them and asks that they be brought down to the main house to be displayed.

This sets a turn of events happening within the house which at first unsettles the occupants and ultimately terrifies them.  The maids in the house have all got stories where strange and inexplicable things have happened  The villagers also have their own theories and tales about odd happenings at The Bridge and choose in the main to stay away, most refusing to work there or set foot in the area.

We travel back in time for some chapters to the 1600’s and the story behind how the companions come to reside at The Bridge. There’s witchcraft and alchemy afoot here and I really loved these chapters. Discovering the history behind The Bridge and the companions was fascinating.

Ultimately we find Elsie incarcerated and accused of crimes that she herself is not certain she didn’t do. Her memories of the horrific happenings at The Bridge are slowly being pieced together as we discover the story with her.

I was warned before starting this book not to read it before bed etc etc but I like to consider myself a bit of a bad ass when it comes to scary books. Whilst it didn’t exactly frighten the pants off me it got beneath my skin and chilled my blood a fair few times! I find that this makes for a much better reading experience than out and out shock value.

This book was highly anticipated and it did not disappoint. It kept me gripped throughout and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I would highly recommend it, especially in the winter months! It’s a ghostly, gothic, gory delight!

See you soon.

Bookish Chat

Xxx

The Clocks In This House All Tell Different Times by Xan Brooks – A Review

This book is one of the four books that have been shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards in the First Novel category. If I’m honest it was the one I was least drawn to but in the interests of completeness I had to read it as I’d read the other three. I have reviewed The Haunting Of Henry Twist here and Montpelier Parade here. Both books I adored.

The Clocks In This House All Tell Different Times is the story of a young girl named Lucy who is orphaned and sent to live with her failing publican grandparents just after the First World War. Every Sunday Lucy is taken in the back of a van with two other young girls and a boy to visit the ‘Funny Men’ in the grounds of a country house estate. The Funny Men are disabled and injured soldiers who find themselves on the periphery of society now that the war has ended and they have served their purpose.

They are all given names pertaining to The Wizard Of Oz characters, Toto, Tinman, Scarecrow and The Cowardly Lion. Now these men pay for the children to ‘entertain’ them in the worst way. I must say that this subject matter was very dark, but quite sensitively written, even though it is still stomach churningly wrong.

What ensues afterwards changes Lucy’s life and the lives of the Funny Men irrevocably. This is a story of class and loneliness. At times there are what felt to me like magical elements to this story, it has quite an ephemeral feeling to it. Especially the parts of the story involving the master of the house where the Funny Men reside.

There are some god awful characters doing god awful things but some of them deserve a little sympathy I feel. The hard hitting subject matters of child prostitution, drug abuse and post war trauma are really very elegantly written. That sounds odd even as I type it, but I suppose what I mean is it’s not graphic or lurid.

What happened to the men who fought for our country and died or returned home with extremely life changing or life limiting injuries is a fascinating subject. The men who found themselves as outcasts in mainstream society. Not only that but the stories of the wives and children they left behind. It’s heartbreaking stuff.

When I started reading this book I got around 50 pages in and boldly put out a tweet that I may have to reconsider my winner of this award. Having now finished the book I can say that I really enjoyed the reading experience if not the subject matter entirely, but I have not changed my mind on who the winner should be……I might keep my powder dry on that one a little longer though……

See you soon.

Bookish Chat

Xx

A Year In Review – Favourite Books Read In 2017.

I’ve seen lots of blog posts and Instagram pictures showing everyone’s best books of 2017 and I’ve really enjoyed seeing what people think.

I love it when you see some choices on there that resonate with your own personal choices, like hell to the yeah dude I loved that one too! Likewise I see other choices and think really??……but the world would be a very dull place if we all liked the same books right? Whatever blows your frock up!

So I thought I’d do a hella quick post showcasing my favourite books of 2017 because I felt the need to jump straight aboard that bandwagon as we roll into 2018. Now I must specify that these books were not all published in 2017, most were but not all. A couple are old school and one hasn’t even been published yet. But these were the books I read and enjoyed the most during 2017.

I thought it would be easy to do…..in fact I found myself a collage grid of 9 squares and boshed 9 images of books in there. Quite happy with my choices until I realised that I’d used images from my bookstagram Insta account……which I only started a few months ago so yeah…….books I’d read in the early part of 2017 were completely overlooked. Dumb as F!

So…..I returned to my personal insta account and trawled back through that for clues. I should point out here that I’ve only just recently started using Goodreads properly so I couldn’t even rely on that.

It was tough! I have a clear head and shoulders number one victor but the other 8 books? Man it was hard to fill those boxes! (And yes I did 9 not 10 because that’s the only collage grid I could find! 9 is a good number though right?, it’ll have to be!)

I’ve also tagged on a few books that I agonised over and at the end of the day are probably quite interchangeable with any of the ones I eventually chose so they are defo up there with the best.

So what are the books? Stop rattling on and get on with it!…..

1. The Hearts Invisible Furies by John Boyne

2. The Crimson Petal And The White by Michel Faber

3. Tin Man by Sarah Winman

4. The Mermaid And Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar (out in Jan 2018)

5. The Visitors by Catherine Burns

6. Lincoln In The Bardo by George Saunders

7. Montpelier Parade by Karl Geary

8. Honour Thy Father by Lesley Glaister

9. The Haunting Of Henry Twist by Rebecca F John.

Now aside from the numero uno spot (and possibly numero deux too) the other 7 are not ranked in any order of preference. I ain’t got time to sit down and ruminate over that one I’m afraid! Just take my word for it that they are fab.

I also need to mention these;

Where possible I’ve included the link to any reviews I might have done, be it a full singular review or a reading wrap up.

So that’s my list done! Have you read any of these? Did you love them or loathe them?

Happy New Year to you bookish lot.

Peace out and see you in 2018.

Bookish Chat

Xxx

Fear by Dirk Kurbjuweit – A Review

I was sent a proof copy of this book by Orion Publishing and also had a Netgalley arc BUT I will forever be a ‘real book you can hold in your hand’ kinda gal over Kindle reading any day so I read the actual physical proof.

Going into this I had heard very little about it, but what I had heard had been very mixed. I try not to let other people’s views affect my reading and will always give something a go and judge for myself. We can’t all enjoy or dislike the same things can we? Oh no sirree!

I think I pre-judged this book a little. With a title like ‘Fear’ and a blurb like:

Your neighbour is threatening your family. Nobody will help – not even the police. There’s nothing you can do. Is there?…’

I was expecting a fast paced, action packed thriller which this soooo was not. Now I don’t mind a slow burner, a building of tension etc but in this case I think it maybe progressed a little too slowly and with not as much focus on the neighbour causing the issues as I would have liked. But maybe I’m a weirdo? Who knows?…

But I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. Let’s start at the beginning. So we have a family living in an apartment in Berlin and their downstairs neighbour Dieter Tiberius is effectively ‘stalking’ the family and has developed a fixation on the wife Rebecca. He then goes on to make some shocking accusations against the way the mother and father of the family treat their children.

The narrator is Randolph, the father of the family and we are told the story from his perspective. Not only that, we are given a history of his childhood, growing up in a house with a father who has a fascination with guns.

For me, I didn’t connect with Randolph. He wasn’t a likeable character for me and I’m not saying all characters in books have to be likeable, I’m just pointing out that I found him to be a little too selfish and self involved. So much so that I struggled to have any empathy for his plight which is awful when you consider the things he and his family were experiencing.

I did enjoy the moral dilemma element to this story and quite enjoyed the twist at the end. This was nicely done.

I understand that this is intended to be a slow burner with a building of atmosphere and tension and if you like that kind of thriller as opposed to a fast paced action packed page turner, then this book is most probably for you.

It wasn’t really my bag but I appreciated the opportunity to read it and form my own opinion.

See you soon.

Bookish Chat.

Xxx

Montpelier Parade By Karl Geary – A Review

I hold up my hands right now and admit that this book had not even entered my radar until it was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards in the First Novel category. I’d read Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine and The Haunting Of Henry Twist, which have also been shortlisted in the same category and enjoyed them both. I have The Clocks In This House All Tell Different Times on order from the library and I bought Montpelier Parade as I couldn’t wait that long to read it.

So what’s it about?

Set in 1980’s Dublin (at least it feels like the 80’s even though I don’t think the time period is ever referred to!) we meet Sonny Knolls, a teenage boy living in a working class family with his Mum, Dad and two brothers. He has earned a place at the local grammar school but struggles to fit in there due to his background. He spends his time helping out at the local butchers shop and riding the buses, drinking alcohol with his friend and admirer, Sharon.

He has a lonely home life where it feels like nobody really understands him and he struggles to find his place. His parents relationship is somewhat strained and living at home is not easy.

One day he is helping his labourer Dad fix a wall when he meets the enigmatic and mysterious Vera, an older woman who he becomes instantly mesmerised and smitten by.

Vera is a complex character with her own demons but she too finds an affiliation with this young boy for her own reasons. Reasons which are not revealed until pretty much the end of the story.

Now I have to admit when Sonny and Vera’s relationship developed, a part of me hoped it wouldn’t go down the most obvious route. When it did I was pleased that it was very well written and sensitively handled.

The writing style is fluid and easy. Nothing is flowered up which I enjoyed. I had reservations at first as this book is written in the second person which is not something I’m used to. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever read a book written this way….however once I got used to it I got along fine.

This was a quick easy read for me. Not least because it’s quite short! But because it is a story you get caught up and swept along in, eager to find out how it will all pan out.

Gritty and raw but also very tender, I definitely give this book 5 stars.

Get your hands on a copy if you can.

My money is on The Haunting Of Henry Twist winning the prize but I’d be happy to see this one win too.

See you soon with another review.

Bookish Chat

Xxx