The Lyons Legacy – Charlie King

Last year I reviewed The Lyons Orphanage, of which this is the follow-up so it is best to start with that book, if you haven’t already.  If the odd minor spoiler doesn’t bother you though,  then read on for the review of book two.

Ten years on from the events that took place inside The Lyons Orphanage, Sam is still no closer to finding his parents.
Sam takes a job at the Crown Prosecution Service to find clues about the identity of his parents by investigating the case against Howard Lyons, who was sectioned as a result of his actions.
Nicholas Lyons, stricken with illness, pleads with Sam to visit his brother and have him transferred to a prison for his crimes, to save Howard from the indignity of life in a psychiatric hospital.
This sets Sam on a path to learn all he can about the case but clean-cut Sam knows he’ll have to break a few rules to get to the bottom of it.

 Despite my physical copy of the earlier book being a couple oceans away, I found myself falling back in with the story, and the returning characters easily.  With ten years of back story and circumstances to catch up on, both are quickly and succinctly dealt with straight away.

I really enjoyed the first book, and was very much looking forward to this second instalment. The cover is themed similarly to the first but feels like a sexy, modern upgrade which fits very well with the placing of the book, being set a decade after the original.

I didn’t have as much fun with this entry into the series. The Lyons Orphanage was propelled along by mysteries and it was that which drove the reader onward in the quest to seek answers, as well as to be joyfully misdirected as to where the plot was going (at least this intrepid reader was). As such, with most of the key plot points having been revealed already, there is noticeable dissipation of tensions, and questions needing an answer. Continue reading “The Lyons Legacy – Charlie King”

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My Mail Privilege

After a long, long wait thanks to shenanigans at the local Post Office, I finally have my hands on two new books, kindly sent by authors from England and The United States, respectively. If there is anything to get me back to blogging again, then these packages will certainly be the catalyst.

First off, South of the South Wind is a children’s book that I am very excited to read. Long time readers will know that I have been enchanted with the other books in the series and so this one is, for me a must read. At first glance the book has changed publisher and therefore style, it also smells really good. In the back, there are reviews for some of Nils-Johan’s other books and an excerpt of my review for West of the West Wind is in there, much to my excitement. This has shamelessly been shown off to anybody who came to our house in the last week.

Ocean Echoes came, most probably, the other way around the globe, making me the filling in a book sandwich. Fellow blogger Sheila Hurst sent this and I am now officially the furthest place her book has been sent to, beating both Serbia and the Maldives. The book smells differently, but equally good and the back cover tells the reader that: a percentage from the sale of this book will go toward nonprofit organizations working to protect the world’s oceans for future generations. Once again showing how books can and do make a difference, and how independent authors seek to not only tell a good story (and make a bit of money), but also do their part in highlighting and helping with wider issues.

11.22.63 – Stephen King

In 2011, Jake Epping, an English teacher from Lisbon Falls, Maine, sets out on an insane – and insanely possible – mission to prevent the Kennedy assassination.

Leaving behind a world of computers and mobile phones, he goes back in time to a time of big American cars and diners, of Lindy Hopping, the sound of Elvis and the taste of root beer,

In this haunting world Jake falls in love with Sadie, a beautiful high school librarian.  And, as the ominous date of 11.22.63 approaches, he encounters a troubled loner named Lee Harvey Oswald.

This sizeable novel from the wordy wordsmith himself, Mr King has so much of everything in it.  The inexactness of that statement is accurate as the number of little details is vast, and as such I read this book with a huge amount of appreciation.

I avoided this book for a long time because, for me a time travel story and King just didn’t seem to gel together in my mind but once I started reading, I thought it worked really well.  The element of ‘how would I exploit the past if I could time travel’ is explored = and takes the focus off of the main plot, which itself flows logically and languidly (a good thing) according to the rules set out.

When all else fails, give up and go to the library

Jake is often just as focussed on the smaller picture as much as his larger mission, and it is fascinating to get caught up in, as does he. There is the usual whole heap of nostalgia which the author always excels at, allowing the reader to feel like they miss that time and place, despite many not having lived through it.  There is a brief cameo from some of the characters of IT, as well as a couple of Dark Tower references, which is pleasing to those knowledgeable but won’t make any difference to those not familiar with the particular works. Continue reading “11.22.63 – Stephen King”

The Castle of Crossed Destinies – Italo Calvino

A group of travellers chance to meet, first in a castle, then a tavern. Their powers of speech are magically taken from them and instead they have only tarot cards with which to tell their stories. What follows is an exquisite interlinking of narratives, and a fantastic, surreal and chaotic history of all human consciousness.

When my friend Chris passed this book and 100 Years of Solitude to me at the pub years ago, it really opened my eyes to literature beyond the bestsellers, and books that publishers pay to go in the ‘featured’ section.  Thankfully it sent me on a trajectory to discovering some of the best written and most imaginative works of literature, and then beyond to other genres.

As always, Calvino styles this books differently to all his others, it really is impressive to read an author who can consistently change his approach and write such strong works, each of the six books of his that I have read so far have been challenging and ambitious.

The introduction is atmospherically written in the style of Le Morte d’Arthur, presenting us with a medieval castle, a dream like atmosphere and then we are into the story.  Silently telling tales invites interpretations of body language as the placing of cards invites widely differing and not always clearly (for he narrator) conveyed ideas.  Handily for the reader, there are reproductions of the cards in the margins of the book, as they are introduced, the detailed ones do suffer from the necessary smallness of the illustrations.

Interpreting Tarot cards in a direct fashion is not only a refreshing plot device but proves to be equally as subjective as their traditional use is. It is a clever medium in which to tell various stories but not in the original intended style as symbolic, of cabalistic, astrological, alchemical, etc, but of stories the reader will be familiar with in some way.

The structure of the book contains nods to the literary styles of both Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and Boccaccio’s The Decameron. There are also plenty of references to a whole plethora of well-known stories based around such characters as Roland, Oedipus, King Lear, Mephistopheles, Parsifal, and Orlando Furioso to name a few.  It’s a delight to read and encompasses the need for humanity to understand both the world around them and our inner selves.
Continue reading “The Castle of Crossed Destinies – Italo Calvino”

Dream Stories – Merlinda Bobis

A village holding back the rising of the moon.  A White turtle ferrying dreams of the dead.  A queue of longings in Sydney.  A river sweet with lemon grass.  A working siesta in a five-star hotel.  An anomalous kiss in Iraya.  Or the secret of the tightening shoes.  These are among the twenty-three dream stories that Merlinda Bobis conjures between the Philippines and Australia.  The mythic weave with the wistful, the quirky with the visionary, and always in a storytelling that sings.

Confusingly this book has already been published in Australia as White Turtle, and in the U.S. as The Kissing, why it needs a different name in every country its published in is beyond me.  Looking at this in the local bookshop, it seemed like a very enticing read but thanks to the habit the shop has of wrapping them all in clear plastic I was unable to read any of the contents.

It is hard to write about short stories without big spoilers but I shall endeavour to give you a flavour of the work whilst avoiding any key points.  I may as well start with a note about two stories mentioned above as I have to begin somewhere.

White Turtle is a story about cultures, the meeting of old ways, of old story telling and modern, and how they can be understood in different more flexible ways. The Kissing, tells of a stolen kiss and the consequences it brings upon the lives of a house.  Both of these stories were the major highlights along with The Sadness Collector which talks about family bonds and the struggle of a long distance relationship, one involving a child.

Bobis is a strong writer and her feminist views are shown in full force.  Her anger at the stereotypes about Asian women are particularly vivid as are her portrayals of horrible foreign men, especially Australians.  Getting past all the vitriol, there are some interesting stories but I think less is more when it comes to making an impact when about such experiences. Continue reading “Dream Stories – Merlinda Bobis”

The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver

Mexico, 1935.  Harrison Shepherd is working in the household of famed muralist Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo.  Sometimes cook, sometimes secretary, Shepherd is always an observer, recording his experiences in diaries and notebooks.  When exiled Bolshevik leader Lev Trotsky arrives, Shepherd inadvertently casts in his lot with art and revolution and his aim for an invisible life is thwarted forever.

This has been on my to read pile ever since I read Cuban writer, Leonardo Padura’s excellent novel, The Man Who Loved Dogs. The title, The Lacuna alludes to much in the text, the gaps in the reader’s knowledge of Shepherd’s life, his feelings of not fitting in, and of the other characters stories and in part their motivations.

Like a game of football, this is a book of two halves. The latter part I found to be a lot more engaging, partly because it allows the narrator more room to speak, and also as it helps fill in another gap in history that I hadn’t really much knowledge about.  Perhaps that is excusable as most of European literature and history is focusing on the rebuilding of the continent after WWII and our own part in the Cold War.

The past is all we know of the future

To begin with I wasn’t overly blown away by the writing, more annoying was that certain themes were alluded to and then outright brought to my attention through the narrator. It would have been much more subtle, if left hanging in the background, for the reader to discover, even if on a second or third read through.

I didn’t get much of a sense of Diego Rivera as a character either, he is fairly peripheral, his wife Frida is more interesting and remains pleasingly enigmatic, although she is seen as faultless, precisely because of her faults. Trotsky is mainly seen as a hero/saint type of figure, lacking some of the complexity that could have made him more interesting, as in Padura’s book.  Shepherd himself is detached in this first part, as he struggles to discover his place, and true self. Continue reading “The Lacuna – Barbara Kingsolver”

Fire in the Blood – Irène Némirovsky

Set in the rural French town in Burgundy that would also form the backdrop to the bestselling Suite Française, Fire in the Blood is the story of Silvio, his cousin’s wife Hélène, her second husband Françoise, and of the truths, deaths, marriages, children, houses and mills that bind them with love and hatred, deception and betrayal.

This novel is an absolute rural treat from one of my favourite 20th century authors, tragically lost to us at Auschwitz.  The story is a wonderful showing of her talent for unflinchingly portraying the passions and flaws of her characters. Her brutally honest observances of the human nature (in all of her books) make for some wonderfully memorable protagonists, and although this book was unfinished at the time of her death, it still retains its power to captivate the reader.

The story opens with an intimate family setting, a real country way of life, very family orientated and in this instance in touch with nature, its beauty and the integral part it plays in their community. The opening’s vibrant scene setting is both rich in detail and in building characterisation and is a great foundation for the forthcoming drama.  None of which I will comment on as at 152 pages, I run the risk of spoiling too much of the plot.

The layering of intricacies in this small close-knit town and the beautifully drawn characters is slowly teased out over the course of the story, allowing us to change allegiance to people as we understand them in greater depth. It’s a claustrophobic, rule laden arena, made all the more obvious by Silvio, who has travelled the globe, lived a varied life, and cares little for the social nuances he has returned to.

In nature, there is a moment of perfection when every hope is realised, when the luscious fruits finally fall, a crowning moment towards the end of summer.  But it quickly passes and the autumn rains begin.  It’s the same for people.

Continue reading “Fire in the Blood – Irène Némirovsky”