Sunday, 29 June 2014

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Reading Group Review

I run one of the reading groups at the library I manage and every month we read a new book and meet for an hour to discuss our thoughts about that months book. Our July book was chosen as it was a Bailey's Women's Prize For Fiction shortlisted book and also the group like exploring books that have a little bit of history and where they are exposed to a different country and culture.

My Thoughts

It seemed to take me forever to get through this book, I am normally a quick reader but with a long week at work and watching World Cup matches I really struggled with reading time whilst reading Americanah & I think that maybe that impacted on my thoughts on the book. I was reading a few pages here and there and that really broke up my enjoyment of the book.
 The book is described on GoodReads as a 'powerful story of love, race and identity' and yes it was. The book starts in Lagos where we meet Ifemlu and Obinze, two teenagers who fall in love whilst in high school, we see them go to university together and then fed up with the lecturers striking Ifemlu sets off to America to study. The plan is for Obinze to follow but the plans goes awry and after 9/11 Obinze is not able to obtain a visa. The rest of the book explores what life is like for Ifemlu in America and how she struggles to make a life for herself. The book looks at race and interracial relationships, immigration and emigration and also looks at afro hair v straightened hair. Ifemlu sinks into a deep depression whilst in the US and cuts all contact with Obinze, the main focus of the book is on Ifemlu and how she settles into her life in America but do see Obinze and how is life goes on without Ifemlu in it.
The book is a love story, a book about lost love and what happens when Ifemlu & Obinze find each other again when Ifemlu after years in America moves back to Nigeria. I admired Ifemlu's strength, the way she would say whatever was on her mind even if maybe it wasn't appropriate to do so. I am not so sure if I actually liked her though, there is something about her that I can't quite put my finger on that didn't sit quite right with me. The book covered so many themes & I was really keen to see what the thoughts of the rest of the group were.

The Group's Thoughts

On the whole everyone loved the book. Even the one member that normally hasn't enjoyed the book and is difficult book found this one interesting and loved how it was written.
Some of the group like me had found it hard book to get through as there was just so much going on and also the font was incredibly small which didn't make for easy reading.
The group enjoyed seeing how Ifemlu transitioned into life in the USA and found the Adichie's look at race and immigration interesting.
As always when we discuss a book we ended up going off at a tangent. This book led us to a discussion around festival toilets after talking about the toilets in the university in Lagos & the mention of maggots. We also talked about hair salons and hairdressing which led to a discussion around hair extensions and then a discussion around how young girls are encouraged to dress far older than their years due to magazines and the fashions available in kids clothing stores today.

Overall a perfect choice for a reading group with so many themes to discuss and characters to love & hate

Little Mercies by Heather Gudenkauf - Review

                                                 5 Stars *****

Thanks to Netgalley & Harlequin I've just been able to read a book by one of my favourite authors, Heather Gudenkauf. The first book I read by Gudenkauf was 'One Breath Away' and I immediately fell in love with her writing style and her ability to tackle difficult topics head on so I was very excited to receive an ARC of her latest book 'Little Mercies'

As with everything the author has written I had high hopes for this book & I wasn't disappointed. At the start of the book we are introduced to Ellen Moore, a social worker and mother of three, wife to Adam who is juggling her busy work schedule with being a mother. She is committed to both her own family and to the children she is sworn to protect in her job. She has seen the worse things imaginable and cares deeply for the families she works with. One hectic morning a moments distraction causes Ellen's world to come tumbling down and she becomes the very person she has made it her job to protect children from.

We are also introduced early on to 10 year old, Jenny Briard who lives with her single father, an alcoholic and the pair move from place to place as her father moves from job to job and various friend-girls as Jenny refers to them. Jenny has not seen her mother in a number of years after her father won sole custody of her and the unthinkable happens one day when Jenny is separated from her father and ends up all alone. At a Happy Pancake restaurant she is befriended by Maudene the waitress and this leads to Ellen & Jenny's worlds colliding with tragic consequences. Jenny's story provides a wonderful contrast to that of Ellen's and made the book even more readable.

This book was very powerful in it's writing and the way that it explores the relationships between mother and child. As a mother of 3 myself I can totally relate to those moments of distraction where the unthinkable could happen. I remember one time being on a family outing to the beach with various aunts and grandparents present and everyone thought that someone else was pushing my 4 year old in her buggy. Thankfully very quickly we realised that no one had her & she was still sleeping peacefully, unaware on the promenade whilst the adults breathed huge sighs of relief. It doesn't matter how good a parent you are mistakes do happen and sometimes the consequences are tragic.

The characters were complex and I couldn't help but feel for Ellen as the story unfolds and what she is subjected to.  I loved the strength of Jenny who had already been through so much in her short life and was left at the end really hoping that life takes a much better turn for her. 

From the moment I opened the book and read the opening scene I just couldn't put it down. I needed to know what happened to all of the characters, needed to see good win over evil everything just swept me along until suddenly I was at the last page. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a well written story and also fans of Diane Chamberlain and Jodi Picoult.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

The Fault In Our Stars- Movie meets book!

I read The Fault In Our Stars by John Green back in September last year and found it an emotional rollercoaster of a read. I read it pretty much in one sitting & remember desperately trying not to disturb my husband at 2am when I was nearing the end of the book & tears were rolling down my face. 
At the time I didn't review the book just gave it a 5 star rating & left it at that. I simply couldn't form the words to write a review. I couldn't decide what to write. The book really tugged on my heart strings from the point of view of me being a mother of an 18 year old girl and from the point of view of that first big love and how you move on from it. The book stayed with me & I have been recommending it to anyone that will listen. As soon as I finished it I quickly grabbed myself a copy of Looking For Alaska by the same author and devoured that in one sitting as well. There is something about John Green's writing that just draws you in & I'm yet to put my finger on it. 
So on Thursday my eldest daughter turned 19 & whilst out shopping I said 'Let's go see The Fault In Our Stars'. She'd started reading the book but never  managed to finish it because she found it too emotional. That fact should have warned me taking her to see the film was not the best idea for a birthday treat. Throughout the film she kept pointing out to me this older lady who was on her own & was constantly crying into a tissue and then all of a sudden it was my daughter crying but hers weren't quiet cries, they were great heaving sobs and she was shaking. What a way to spend your birthday. 
But seriously we both loved the film & I was so pleased that it followed the book. I'm always nervous when seeing a film based on a book I've read & enjoyed as they never quite live up to my expectations but thankfully this wasn't the case with TFIOS. The casting was great,I loved the chemistry between Hazel & Gus. I'm so excited to see that Looking For Alaska is being made into a film as well and hope the end result is as good as TFIOS.  
I'd highly recommend the film to anyone who doesn't mind showing a bit of emotion in a public place. Seriously go watch it, just take plenty of tissues. 
I also came away from the film with 2 new books to read. The trailers at the beginning of TFIOS showed The Maze Runner based on the book by James Dashner & If I Stay based on the book by Gayle Forman. Both looked great & I have added them to my virtual teetering to read pile on GoodReads

Wednesday, 25 June 2014


After ages thinking about it I've finally decided to start a blog. I primarily intend for the blog to be about all things books; my favourite authors, books series that I love, reviews of some of the books I read but I guess other things may pop up from time to time.
I'm very lucky to have my dream job - I manage my local library so I get to be surrounded by books all day. Nothing is more exciting during a work day than opening a box of new books, it's just like Christmas. My job also allows me to work with local children through class visits, assemblies and library events to encourage a love of reading for pleasure and this really has to be the favourite part of my job.
So what do I read? Pretty much anything although I much prefer fiction especially crime fiction which is a genre I have been hooked on since I was 15 & read 'The Firm' by John Grisham whilst on holiday in Portugal. I then discovered Patricia Cornwell & James Patterson and my love for any book with a serial killer was sealed. I also enjoy historical fiction with Kate Morton being one of my favourite authors and lets not forget chick-lit or women's fiction or romantic comedy or whatever header it comes under these days. After reading so many crime novels I need something to lighten the mood and that is where authors such as Milly Johnson, Rowan Coleman, Lisa Jewell, Jenny Colgan and Jill Mansell come in.
I look forward to sharing my reading musings here

Fiction Uncovered - Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood

I was very lucky along with the reading group I run to be involved in the the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize 2014 . As a group we were invited to read and review one of the 8 prize winners before they were announced and I am so glad that I was given the opportunity to read Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood. If it hadn't been for the fact that we were sent free copies I am not sure it is a book I would have picked up. However it ended up being a book that I couldn't put down as I eagerly turned the pages to find our more about the life and wives of Ernest Hemingway.
I rated the book 5 stars & would thoroughly recommend it to everyone. Here is my review:

I've heard of Ernest Hemingway who hasn't, he is one of the greatest writers of our time however I will rather shamefully admit that I have never read a single one of his novels or short stories.  I also didn't know very much about him as a man, all that changed the moment I opened Naomi Wood's book 'Mrs Hemingway'.

You are immediately thrown into the dying days of Hemingway's first marriage set against the backdrop of 1920s France. I fell in love with Wood's writing style from the first few pages as we begin to explore what is happening between the threesome of Hemingway and his wife Hadley and her close friend Fife.

'Lying next to him she wonders how it is she has lost him, although perhaps that is not quite the right phrase, since she has not lost him, not yet. Rather Fife and Hadley wait and watch as if they are lining up for the last seat on a bus'

Wood's gives us a look at each of Hemingway's wives in turn showing us how Hemingway could never be alone, capturing a rather childlike quality about Ernest and in turn we are given a small glimpse at the pain and destruction loving him caused. After reading his first wife Hadley's section in the book I found my heart breaking just a little bit for this woman who loves her husband so much she lets him go and imagine the pain of everyone knowing what has been going on behind her back. I also found myself simply hating Fife and the heartache she caused. However as the story moves forward and we meet Martha and Mary, as well as learning more about Fife I realise that my heart breaks a little for all of them. These were real women whose only mistake seemed to be loving Ernest Hemingway a little too much.

'At least in Antibes, there were three of them, Hadley had her, Fife has noone'

The book takes us from France to Key West in the 1930s, back to France during the Second World War & then finishes in Idaho in the 1960s. I found myself swept along with each wife's story and fascinated by the draw that Hemingway had on these women & females in general. I love how the Wood explores the friendships that Hemingway's wives had right up to and beyond his death.

'Apparently Hadley and Fife are even pals still:by Ernest's accounts his two ex-wives chat regularly on the telephone, talking of children and the proper care of Ernest. Martha & Fife have never spoken since that vacation in Key West. Why would they? She has proper respect for the rules of this game.'

As the book progresses we move from the glitz and glamour of Antibes and Wood's explores the darker side of Hemingway, dropping little pieces of information into the story around his father, his drinking and other things that led to Hemingway ending his own life.

I have really found it hard to put into words how much I love this book. I found it beautifully written and the author set a perfect pace that made me want to carry on reading as Hemingway's marriage to each wife unravelled. I loved how Wood was able to show us a great depth to her characters and how each wife's section was written in a way that helped that wife's personality shine through. The book was evocative of the times in which it was set and through the beautiful descriptions I immediately felt transported. I finished the book wanting more and will now be devouring the author's suggested reading list to learn more about Hemingway and his wives. At the end of the book I was left wondering which wife I would have most liked to of been, Hadley who seemed to remain Ernest's one true love, Fife who loved the man enough to let him go & never seemed to really get over him, Martha, the ballsy female war reporter or Mary who remained his wife until the very end. They were all such wonderful women brought to life through Wood's wonderful & captivating writing but I can honestly say that being a Mrs Hemingway wouldn't have been for me.