Short Stories Challenge – Cellists by Kazuo Ishiguro from the collection Nocturnes: Five Stories Of Music and Nightfall

Published May 20, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s Cellists all about?:

In this sublime story cycle, Kazuo Ishiguro explores love, music and the passage of time. This quintet ranges from Italian piazzas to the Malvern Hills, a London flat to the “hush-hush floor” of an exclusive Hollywood hotel. Along the way we meet young dreamers, café musicians and faded stars, all at some moment of reckoning.

In Cellists, we meet a talented young cello player living hand to mouth in Italy until he meets a fellow musician who changes his life forever.

What did I think?:

This is the last short story in Ishiguro’s Nocturnes collection and, like the others, focuses mainly on music and characters who are at a turning point in their lives. The story is actually narrated by the member of another band who meet our main character Tibor when he stops to listen to their music. They begin to get to know him and discover that he is hugely talented as a cellist, trained by the finest musicians in the business and with some strong qualifications behind him. However, he just hasn’t caught that lucky break, is living on the breadline and is at a bit of a loss of what to do next.

This is where our mysterious American woman comes in. Tibor notices her listening to music in one of the city’s squares but doesn’t think much more of this until she approaches him directly telling him that she had been present at his recent recital in the San Lorenzo church. Immediately she rubs him up the wrong way by telling him that he has a lot of potential (instead of genius/talent which he was expecting). She informs him that it is important to have that one person there who recognises something in you and is prepared to nurture and lead you on the right path. Tibor is still slightly offended but takes up her offer of help, too curious to let the matter lie.

When he arrives at her hotel room for the first “lesson,” she merely tells him to play a few pieces while she sits back to listen. The advice she gives him is both abstract and vague but the funny thing is when he plays the pieces again it seems to have worked! The two continue to work together although Tibor’s new friends in the other band become suspicious of her motives and disappointed as Tibor’s character appears to change over a short period of time into someone entirely unlikeable. There is a slight twist in this tale which we learn a bit further on and I loved how it shone a whole new light on the situation that Tibor finds himself in.

As a short piece of fiction, I did enjoy this story in general and as always, loved how beautiful the author’s writing was. It’s not my favourite story in the collection (that prize falls to Malvern Hills, please see my review HERE) but it’s still a pleasure to read. The characters are interesting enough yet I would have loved a more in-depth look at the character of Eloise, the American woman that Tibor meets as I found her fascinating. I would recommend this story and indeed the whole collection to any Kazuo Ishiguro fan but it may not be the best example of his amazing work.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: Roots And All by Brian Hodge from the collection A Book of Horrors

Songs Of Willow Frost – Jamie Ford

Published May 15, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Twelve-year-old William Eng, a Chinese-American boy, has lived at Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage ever since his mother’s listless body was carried away from their small apartment five years ago. On his birthday—or rather, the day the nuns designate as his birthday—William and the other orphans are taken to the historical Moore Theatre, where William glimpses an actress on the silver screen who goes by the name of Willow Frost. Struck by her features, William is convinced that the movie star is his mother, Liu Song.

Determined to find Willow, and prove his mother is still alive, William escapes from Sacred Heart with his friend Charlotte. The pair navigates the streets of Seattle, where they must not only survive, but confront the mysteries of William’s past and his connection to the exotic film star. The story of Willow Frost, however, is far more complicated than the Hollywood fantasy William sees onscreen.

Shifting between the Great Depression and the 1920s, Songs of Willow Frost takes readers on an emotional journey of discovery. Jamie Ford’s sweeping book will resonate with anyone who has ever longed for the comforts of family and a place to call home.

What did I think?:

I first came across Jamie Ford in his amazing debut novel, Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet which received global acclaim and deservedly so. As a result I was really excited when my sister Chrissi managed to get her paws on a copy of Songs of Willow Frost and urged me to read it as soon as possible. It tells the story of a young orphan called William who was left in the care of the nuns at the Sacred Heart orphanage in Seattle following the death of his only surviving parent, his mother Liu Song. Life at the orphanage isn’t easy but William doesn’t really know anything different, having only hazy and vague recollections of life with his mother. Then comes a day that will change his life and what he believed about himself and his mother forever.

On one day each year (which is decided to be the birthday of all the orphans) they are taken out into the city for a treat – to watch a film in a theatre. William is excited to be away from the orphanage for a while anyway but as he watches the actress on the screen, he becomes utterly convinced it is his mother. Although he is slightly puzzled why he has been told that his mother is dead for all these years he is mostly overjoyed that he appears to have a second chance with her. With the help of his blind friend Charlotte (who is probably my favourite character) the two children run away from the orphanage and into the streets to begin the hunt for Liu Song. As they edge closer to her whereabouts William realises that there are many questions that have to be answered: why was he left at the orphanage in the first place and who exactly is this woman who claims the title of his mother? Yet William must be careful and dampen his expectations somewhat as Liu Song has had a complicated and traumatic upbringing that will give him the answers about his adoption but perhaps not the answers he wants to hear.

I think it must be really hard for authors if they have had such a successful debut novel like Jamie Ford. No matter what, the second novel is always going to be compared to it and it must be quite a lot of pressure to be under as an author. If I was to compare the two I have to confess that I do prefer Hotel On The Corner Of Bitter And Sweet but this does not mean that Songs of Willow Frost is a bad book – far from it! I love books that are set in a different time period from the present and I hadn’t read anything recently that was set in 1920’s U.S.A. at the time of the Depression so it was a very interesting insight to the States at that time. William and his friend Charlotte are beautiful characters although at times they came across as a bit too adult in their way of thinking. I don’t know if this was a deliberate ruse by the author to illustrate the difference in development when raised quite strictly by nuns in an orphanage versus the usual Mum, Dad,brother, dog (insert your own favourite animal/sibling here).. family relationships. Even so, there were instances where what the children were saying/thinking didn’t feel realistic enough as their manner of speaking was just very adult. This is just a minor niggle though.

I loved that we got to read the back story of Williams mother, Liu Song especially because what she went through as a young woman was so traumatic and was very effective at tugging on my heart-strings. I also enjoyed that the author fed us tid-bits of information through the novel leading us to pose questions and feel slightly wary about Liu Song (standing sternly and protectively in front of William…oh maybe it was just me that imagined that?!) As Liu Song relates her history, the jigsaw pieces start to come together and yes, there are reasons behind her actions. William does not necessarily want to hear these reasons but it is something he must do if he is ever going to achieve any closure on this issue. I did wish that there had been a bit more of a build-up to William meeting his mother and I’m not sure why the author resolved everything quite early on but maybe I just missed something. This is still a terrific read that fans of Hotel are going to enjoy and I’m sure will bring new fans to his work. Looking forward to the next one.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Summer We All Ran Away – Cassandra Parkin

Published May 4, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

When nineteen year old Davey finds himself drunk, beaten and alone, he is rescued by the oddly-assorted inhabitants of an abandoned and beautiful house in the West Country. Their only condition for letting him join them is that he asks them no questions.
More than thirty years ago in that same house, burned-out rock star Jack Laker writes a ground-breaking comeback album, and abandons the girl who saved his life to embark on a doomed and passionate romance with a young actress. His attempt to escape his destructive lifestyle leads to deceit, debauchery and even murder.

As Davey and his fellow housemate Priss try to uncover the secrets of the house’s inhabitants, both past and present, it becomes clear that the five strangers have all been drawn there by the events and the music of that long-ago summer.

What did I think?:

First of all I’d like to thank NetGalley and Legend Press for allowing me to read a copy of this intriguing debut novel. I have to admit I was initially drawn to this book by the simple yet absolutely beautiful and very effective cover art and a synopsis which sounded anything but dull. Unfortunately I appear to be in the minority group of readers that didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I was going to. It starts brilliantly enough, when a runaway called Davey is saved from the streets by Tom and Kate who along with sixteen year old Priss are living in a beautiful old house. At first, Davey assumes the same as the reader, that is that Tom and Kate are the owners of the house but it turns out that not only are they not a couple but they are all squatting in a house abandoned in mysterious circumstances.

As the story continues, we learn a lot more about the houses’ previous inhabitants, in particular those of thirty years ago where a rock star called Jack Laker, burnt out at the height of his fame is planning an almighty come-back. His back story sees him neglecting one girl who saves his life and falling head over heels in love with another girl called Matilda (who appears to have a few secrets of her own) and looking after a black panther who he keeps caged in the garden. Yes, I know. It’s a bit strange. However, Jack cannot maintain a rock star lifestyle without there being consequences and with the arrival of the mute and mysterious artist Isaac, emotions become heightened, dangerous and overwhelming with drastic results for those involved.

The story flips between the past (Jack’s story) and the story of the inhabitants at the present time. Even the house becomes a character in its own right – oh the things it must have witnesssed! They all have their own back story, some traumatic, some practically unbelievable. Not everyone is what they seem. And of course there is a link between the two stories which adds a nice little twist to the proceedings. I had already guessed it which was a bit of a shame as I like to be surprised (or proved wrong!) but I enjoyed the way the author pulled the two strands together. In general, I did like this book and as a debut it’s incredibly promising but for some reason I didn’t really connect with any of the characters so never felt fully invested in the story. There is some great writing here though and huge potential for the future so I look forward to reading more from Cassandra Parkin.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

 

Short Stories Challenge – Martin Misunderstood by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Published May 3, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

A darkly comic tale about Mr Less-Than-Average in an average world from the No. 1 Bestseller.

Crime fiction obsessive Martin Reed is the proverbial butt of everyone’s jokes. Working as a glorified accountant at Southern Toilet Supply and still living with his cantankerous mother, he has become resigned to the world in which he lives – the school bullies now pick on him in the workplace, women still spurn him and his arch enemy is now his supervisor.

But then he arrives at work one morning to find the police on site. A co-worker has been brutally murdered and her body abandoned in a ditch. And the overwhelming evidence points to Martin – especially when he can’t or won’t admit that he has an alibi.

When a second victim is found in the company bathroom, things really conspire against Martin. The one bright star on his otherwise bleak horizon is the beautiful and sympathetic Detective Anther Albada, but even she’s beginning to have her doubts about his innocence. Could Martin be guilty? Or is he just misunderstood?

What did I think?:

I love that Karin Slaughter puts out short stories/novellas as well as her hugely popular Grant County series featuring the fantastic character of Will Trent (one of my most loved agents in fiction). Martin Misunderstood is more of a novella, weighing in at 147 pages in my own paperback format. When reading it however, it felt like much less and I whizzed through it very quickly. Our main character is Martin Reed who I am sorry to say is one of life’s losers. He is single, works for a company that sells toilet supplies, remains in the same town that he grew up in where the bullies of his schooldays continue to haunt him (and work with him in some cases) and still lives with his mother who makes it her mission to taunt him on a daily basis and who is desperate for him to be gay just so he would be a bit more interesting. To make things even worse, someone has keyed the work “twat,” on his car and looks to have damaged the bumper. Lovely!

Things start to get much more interesting one day as Martin arrives at work to find a police presence and an area cordoned off. It turns out that one of Martin’s colleagues, Sandy, has been murdered and unfortunately Martin is the prime suspect. Not only has the bumper of his car been mysteriously damaged but there is blood present which matches the blood of the victim. After looking at his messed up car, Martin has managed to cut himself, perfectly innocently of course but it doesn’t look too good in front of the investigating officer, Detective Anther Albada. To put the icing on the cake, the detective also happens to be very beautiful but poor, socially awkward Martin who quakes in excitement in her presence really doesn’t have a hope in hell. His colleagues incriminate him further by telling the police that Sandy had been taunting Martin two days previously by announcing that he had a “teenie weenie” on the company loudspeaker and super-gluing a twelve inch vibrating sex toy to his work desk. When another body is found with a further connection to Martin it looks like his hum-drum life is going to be getting a lot more interesting. But is Martin a killer? Or simply misunderstood?

Karin Slaughter’s trademark black humour makes this story easy to gobble up in a short space of time and some scenes definitely made me laugh out loud. One sex scene was written in such a way that it was both hilarious and cringe-worthy at the same time, those who have read this story will know exactly what I’m talking about! I felt so sorry for our main character Martin as the evidence stacks up against him and he doesn’t help matters by digging himself into a colossal hole. The author manages to pack in some great characters like Martin’s co-worker, Unique Jones (with an accent on the e and pronounced You-Nee-Kay thank you very much) and Martin’s intimidating and infuriating mother, Evie. Karin Slaughter also knows how to write a brilliant ending that leaves you feeling completely satisfied yet somehow gagging for more. Take the last line for instance – “And it was true. Martin finally understood.” For me, it’s a must-read for fans of the author and anybody new to her writing, which after this novella should make anyone hungry to seek out the rest of her work.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Cellists by Kazuo Ishiguro from the collection Nocturnes: Five Stories Of Music and Nightfall

Beth and Chrissi do Kid-Lit 2015 – APRIL READ – Flour Babies by Anne Fine

Published April 30, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Let it be flour babies. Let chaos reign. When the annual school science fair comes round, Mr Cartwright’s class don’t get to work on the Soap Factory, the Maggot Farm or the Exploding Custard Tins. To their intense disgust they get the Flour Babies – sweet little six-pound bags of flour that must be cared for at all times.

What did I think?:

I’m not very familiar with Anne Fine’s work although I know that she has held the post of Children’s Laureate here in the UK, which is quite an honour. I learned from Chrissi Reads that this was one of her favourite books when she was a child so I was excited to add it to our Kid-Lit list for this year. Flour Babies is set in a boys school and tells the story of class 4C which is composed of children that are not particularly academic and that are perhaps not doing so well at school than their peers. As a result, when it comes round to the annual science fair, some of the more “interesting” topics like making your own soap or exploding custard tins are allocated to the upper grades. 4C and their teacher Mr Cartwright (who has the patience of a saint) are left with the safer topics of: textiles, nutrition, domestic economy, child development or consumer studies or as Mr Cartwright helpfully explains to the class: “sewing, food, housekeeping, babies and so forth or thrift.” 

None of these topics look particularly exciting to the class but when our main character Simon Martin mishears a conversation in the teacher’s staff room he coaxes the other children to agree to the topic of child development. The task for the class in this topic is flour babies, which attempts to teach the children about responsibility and parenthood. Specifically (because there are rules!) each child is given a bag of flour which they should take home with them and treat as if it were a child. It should not be left alone at any point, kept clean and dry, weighed on a weekly basis to check for signs of neglect and each child should keep a daily diary noting their thoughts and experiences with the project. Many of the children become exasperated by the flour babies while others end up making money out of the process by forming a flour babies creche! Simon on the other hand seems to undergo a radical transformation during the experiment, caring for his flour baby impeccably and talking to it constantly. It appears that with the advent of the flour babies comes an in-depth consideration of his own life situation and his absent father who left when he was six weeks old.

I found this novel to be a really sweet and humorous little read, even if some of the language and slang felt a little dated. I would have loved to have had a teacher like Mr Cartwright who put up with a lot from some of the more difficult teenagers in his class but handled each situation calmly and fairly. It was also nice to see his sensitive side when he realises that Simon is working through some difficult issues and deciding to monitor him carefully. I think it also gave out a great message to young adults reading the novel about the responsibilities of having a child and the huge, life-altering changes that it would bring. As a result, I think it’s a great book to teach or read in the classroom, enjoyable and funny with a strong message that at no time feels “preachy.”

For Chrissi’s fab review please check out her blog HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

flour

A Colder War – Charles Cumming

Published April 29, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

MI6’s Head of Station in Turkey is killed in a mysterious plane crash. Amelia Levene, chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, wants the incident investigated – quickly and quietly.

The only man she can trust is Thomas Kell, a disgraced spy searching for redemption.

Arriving in Istanbul, Kell discovers that MI6 operations in the region have been fatally compromised: a traitor inside Western Intelligence threatens not just the Special Relationship, but the security of the entire Middle East.

Kell’s search for the mole takes him from London, to Greece, and into Eastern Europe. But when Kell is betrayed by those closest to him, the stakes become personal. He will do anything to see this operation through – including putting himself, and others, in the line of fire…

What did I think?:

Okay, confession time. Espionage novels really aren’t my thing, but I was prepared to give this one a shot, firstly because I’ve never read any of the authors work before and secondly because it was chosen for the Richard and Judy Spring Book Club this year. I follow their recommendations religiously and 9 out of 10 times they get it right for my personal reading interests. Unfortunately this time, I was sorely disappointed. As the story begins, the chief of MI6, Amelia Levene, also known as “C,” is having a terrible time. A few agents abroad in Greece, Turkey and the Middle East that have defected to working for the West have been killed and rumours are flying around that there is a mole within the service. To add to this, one of her British agents Paul Wallinger (whom she was having a long-standing affair with) has been killed in a light aircraft crash yet the manner of his death is arousing her suspicions.

Enter former agent Thomas Kell who is not actively working in the service after an enquiry into events that happened in the authors previous novel, Foreign Country. Amelia is not only Thomas’s boss but a good friend and she asks him to find out all he can about Wallinger’s fatal “accident.” There are a lot of mysteries to be solved that Thomas is keen to get to the bottom of including why Wallinger, a notorious womaniser, was doing in Greece in the first place. As Thomas begins to unravel all the messy details of Wallinger’s life and last movements he begins to realise that he has become embroiled in something a lot bigger than just a plane crash. Furthermore, when he becomes romantically involved with Wallinger’s beautiful daughter Rachel he finds it difficult to separate his emotions from the job he has to do which could prevent him from achieving the results he needs.

For me, this novel proved quite tricky to read, especially in the beginning where I found the pace excruciatingly slow and didn’t really understand what was going on. I did get used to the writing style eventually but it took a good third of the book for the action to pick up and for me to get a handle on the plot. It’s obvious that Charles Cumming is a talented author who can write well but it felt like the reader had to be a bit of an expert on spy lingo and procedures which I definitely fall flat on! The characters were interesting enough – I would have liked a bit more focus on the Chief of MI6, Amelia who seemed like the most intriguing character and I would have been curious to learn more about her mindset as a strong, intelligent woman who although married, had recently lost her lover in hazy circumstances. I do think that many people will enjoy this novel, especially if you enjoy a good spy read. Personally, I’m sorry to say it wasn’t my cup of tea.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

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Banned Books #10 The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier with Chrissi Reads

Published April 27, 2015 by bibliobeth

bannedbooks

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What’s it all about?:

Jerry Renault ponders the question on the poster in his locker: Do I dare disturb the universe? Refusing to sell chocolates in the annual Trinity school fund-raiser may not seem like a radical thing to do. But when Jerry challenges a secret school society called The Vigils, his defiant act turns into an all-out war. Now the only question is: Who will survive? First published in 1974, Robert Cormier’s groundbreaking novel, an unflinching portrait of corruption and cruelty, has become a modern classic.

A New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year
An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year

bannedbooks

Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to our fourth book of 2015 and the tenth book in our series of Banned/Challenged Books. We’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. This is what we’ll be reading for the rest of 2015 – the post will go out on the last Monday of each month so if you’d like to read along with us, you are more than welcome.

MAY

What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones

Chosen by : Chrissi

JUNE

Bridge To Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Chosen by : Beth

JULY

Detour for Emmy by Marilyn Reynolds

Chosen by : Chrissi

AUGUST

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor

Chosen by : Beth

SEPTEMBER

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

Chosen by: Chrissi

OCTOBER

Forever by Judy Blume

Chosen by : Beth

NOVEMBER

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

Chosen by : Chrissi

DECEMBER

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes

Chosen by: Beth

But back to this month….

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

First published: 1974

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2009
Chosen by: Beth
Reasons: nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group.

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: Hmmm, this is a difficult one. Perhaps because it was a bit controversial for the 1970’s yes. I thought it was a very interesting book and sent a brave message out there but I just can’t imagine it being taught in classrooms especially back then. I certainly can’t picture a teacher reading out certain parts of the book:

“Then she brushed past him again – that was the night he’d bought her the earrings – and he knew it wasn’t an accident. He’d felt himself hardening and was suddenly ashamed and embarrassed and deliriously happy all at the same time.”

See what I mean?

CHRISSI: I can see why it was banned, merely because of the language/nature of the book. It’s quite blunt in places, but to be honest, this book doesn’t expose teenagers/young adults to anything that they haven’t heard before. Like many of the books we’ve read for this feature, it would take a brave teacher to read this with a class. I can just hear some of the sniggering that would go on. I can certainly recognise that some parents and school boards would be very uncomfortable with their teens reading this. Are we underestimating the maturity of teens? Perhaps.

How about now?

BETH: I agree with Chrissi that this book doesn’t expose kids to anything they haven’t heard previously in their daily lives. What I think it does do is introduce a new way of thinking about the world that perhaps they haven’t realised before. As I said in the last question, I can’t imagine it being taught in classrooms (if it is, great!) but it’s a fantastic book that teachers can recommend to teenagers to seek out and read in their own time and perhaps discuss their thoughts and opinions with other students at a later date.

CHRISSI: I don’t think this book exposes anything new to young adults so I don’t see why it continues to be banned. Most teenagers I know would feel more compelled to read this knowing that its banned. Making a big deal out of books like this actually is ironic, because teenagers end up wanting to read it even more…If it was dealt with in the classroom then perhaps the issues included could be addressed in a more mature manner. It would certainly encourage some interesting conversations/debates. Would a teacher take it on? I’m not so sure.

What did you think of this book?

BETH: This book was really interesting. In the Introduction the author says that the book was initially rejected by seven major publishers. Why? It was thought “too complicated for teenagers. Far too many characters and a downbeat ending which teenagers of the 1970’s would find difficult to accept.” My first thoughts on reading this is that they seem to be both predicting what teenagers would think and under-estimating them without even giving them a chance! Some parts of the book were quite dark it’s true and although it is a harsh reality to face that life sometimes isn’t fair, at least the book is honest and I think most teenagers would appreciate that.

CHRISSI: I thought that it was a well written and interesting book. It’s incredibly dark in places. It’s not a book that I would necessarily revisit, but I thought it was interesting enough and thought provoking!

Would you recommend it?

BETH: Probably!

CHRISSI: Yes!

BETH’s Star Rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Please join us on the last Monday of May when we will be discussing Chrissi’s choice of Banned Books – What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones.

bannedbooks

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