Beyond the Horizon by Eoin Lane | A Review

I first posted this review in February but as the paperback edition of the book is being launched this week, I thought I would post it again. Eoin Lane is a writer, but also an artist. He travels round Ireland’s coast painting land and seascapes.

This book is the story of an artist’s life, mind, body, and spirit: I found it fascinating, hypnotic, rhythmic, exquisite.

“The rain was in her eyes and she couldn’t see through the rain. She couldn’t see through the fog and the rain in her eyes.”

“A storm of sea voices. Coming through the crack in the wall. On the wind. Voices in the deep. Underwater. Deep. Down. Deep. Strands and fronds of seaweed strangling.”

The artist is Colin Larkin, whose father drowns when he is six years old. Colin nearly drowns too, and this episode is the well-spring of his life. For a long while he is withdrawn and doesn’t speak but eventually, he returns to school, and he begins to draw. For the rest of his life the sea fills his being and his canvases. He has a particular affinity for the works of Paul Henry and longs for islands, for solitude, for the sea and sky.

I enjoyed his early family life with his sister and his two brothers, and his wonderful mother. It wouldn’t be enough to say she was wise and loving – she embodied wisdom and love. For fear of spoilers, I will say no more about the story which explores different types of love and devotion. But I will say that Aisling is the loving heart of his life from the very day meets her:

“Her words swinging in like the first peals of a bell that would ring all around him for years . . . “

When Colin finds an island he loves, and begins to work, we get a wonderful insight into the mind of a painter. We are there with him looking at the immense sky and sea. We experience his complete absorption in putting down what he sees. The prose and the sensitivities of Colin make me feel like I’m half alive and missing out, and I am resolved to look at everything I see, to listen to what I hear, to absorb the reality around me.

There are some snatches of poetry (Yeats) here and there which make me both sad and glad to think of all the beauty in this world, all the words and pictures and music, and the earth itself, particularly Ireland.

Colin describes some of his paintings as ethereal; for me, the whole book is ethereal. To say I give it five stars seems irrelevant, and a bit daft.

Two Short Reviews: Weathering Old Souls by JamesJayCudney and Didi Oviatt | Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica

A book about reincarnation – a subject I have never read about before. Right from the very beginning I was hooked. Twice, I missed my bus stop! Abigail, the main character is so entirely interesting, it’s very hard to stop reading. Her journey through life, adjusting to her own mind, and the adjustments her family has to make, make for absorbing reading. Definitely a unique book. I wondered how it was going to end, and was a little worried, as so often, (for me) the ending ruins a good book. But not this time! The ending was just right, all the threads drawn together perfectly. Nothing rushed, nothing forced, nothing contrived, all as it should be, has to be; I can’t imagine a different ending.

The characters were all believable; the prose was terrific; the shape and pace of the book exact. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. For an absorbing, unique story, it’s easily 5 stars.

This is one of those books which is great at the beginning. I don’t to give spoilers so I’ll try to be vague. We are introduced to Delilah (a young girl) first, and I was totally involved with her story. She was brave and strong and resourceful. I expected the book to follow her and solve the mystery. However, the book has two time lines, now, and eleven years ago. And after a while I began to find eleven years ago tedious although for the purpose of the book they were necessary. There is a massive shock which was well done, but after that, things started to slip. The other characters were believable and well done, and interestingly various.

However, towards the end, there were several new threads which felt to me to be contrived and unlikely. I can’t say any more without giving the plot away – but there are several points I would like to make. I found the ending rushed, contrived, frankly unbelievable. I was aware of the writer writing. I feel that there was a really good story to be told here but it didn’t materialize. Over all it was a readable and interesting book so I will give it three stars.

Has anyone else read these books? What did you think?

Aggravated Momentum by Didi Oviatt | A review

The first thing that impressed me about this book was the atmosphere. I found it chilling and creepy. The plot is engaging from the beginning; you are drawn in straight away, and the tension doesn’t drop half-way through as it does in a lot of thrillers. The intensity is carried throughout.

Markie, the main character, lives with her sister, Kam; they have a strange love/dislike relationship and they share feelings about their unfeeling mother – who’s a great character by the way. I enjoyed reading about her.

None of the characters is perfect; they all have their foibles and their secret thoughts; this is, of course, more realistic, and true to life for the reader. Generally, there’s the heroine and the hero, and you like them and want things to work out for them, but I didn’t feel like that about any of these people. However, I liked the huge FBI agent, Reese, very much indeed. I felt the sisters were safe when he was about.

There are many things about this book that I loved, like unusual little details about the killer. I also really liked the different POV chapters – I always love that in a book, and I could have done with larger chunks of it.

The dialogue is terrific; Here’s a little bit of it:

“Tiny beads of sweat grow in my hairline and on the tip of my nose. The walls of my office creep in closer, leaving me suffocated. I’m drowning in my own imagination.”

One of the most impressive things about the book is the shock element. There were moments when I actually gasped and put the book down to think about what had just happened!

I wonder if there will be another book about Markie and Kam; I would definitely read it with anticipation.

A happy review of We All Die in the End.

Here is a 5 star review by Bluebell Hill on Amazon. You would think I would be really proud and happy to read this, and I am happy, but also I feel – strange as it might sound – humble and honoured. Did I really write such a book? Review is posted on Amazon.co.uk.

“I really enjoyed these stories. They were well crafted and beautifully written with a sparse, pared back style I thought worked well. Each of them was intense, realised with vivid detail, meaning they tended to linger once I’d put the book down. The great range of characters was the most compelling aspect of the collection. Each of them has a powerful and unique voice, they are clearly distinct from each other. Some suffer great tragedies, finding their lives intolerable; others reveal themselves through quiet, domestic detail. Overall, a collection of characters who will roar their soul at you.”

With many, many thanks to the reviewer.

A Review of “Life for Sale” by Yukio Mishima

I was interested to read “Life for Sale” as I am not familiar with Japanese writers – except for Kazuo Ishiguro who grew up, and lives, in Britain.

The protagonist, Hanio Yamada, fails to commit suicide and decides to put his life up for sale, hoping that someone else will do the job for him. There follows a series of adventures as different buyers turn up with a proposition but no situation works out as planned and he remains alive, becoming wealthy as each sale brings in a lot of money – and a few dead bodies.

The book is well paced and so quotable! (I had to choose among so many.) It is a surreal tale with impossible scenarios, including one with a vampire:

“There was a lustrous quality, for sure, but it was the lustre of a corpse. The faint boniness of her arms betrayed her extreme thinness. And yet her breasts were full and firm, while her stomach was soft and white like a vessel brimming with an abundance of rich milk.”

And I did laugh out loud a few times:

“A dead body reminds me a bit of a bottle of whisky. If you drop the bottle and it cracks, what’s inside pours out. It’s only natural.”

“Tall, and probably rather snooty, the steward had clearly just spent a lot of effort squeezing blackheads. “

Eventually Hanio has to re-think his life and his decisions.

“How fearless, utterly fearless he had felt when he first put his life up for sale! But now, a warm furry fear clung to his chest, digging its claws right in.”

I don’t think I’ll re-read this book but I did really enjoy it. It’s the sort of book where you jump in and see where it takes you. You immerse yourself in the strange world of Hanio and that way you get the best out of it. I will definitely try this author again.

A short review of “A Keeper” by Graham Norton.

I didn’t originally intend to write a review of this book but having finished it I am compelled to make a few comments. To begin with, I enjoyed it very much. I wouldn’t say I loved it, but I couldn’t leave it out of my hand. I just had to find out what happened next.

It is told from two separate points of view in different times; a mother (Patricia) and a daughter (Elizabeth) which I really liked. The prose is grand – no repetition or padding that I could see. But the plot is the thing. It is so creative, so ingenious, so shocking. The two main characters were very similar, I thought, but that ‘s my only criticism; the others were more distinctive – the farmer, Edward/Teddy and his mother, Mrs Foley. Oh, she was a quare one – I wish I had written her myself!

” . . . when the old lady slapped the dead bird on the rough bench in front of her and with one swipe took its head off with a large knife. The violence of it made Patricia gasp. Mrs Foley turned and held the headless corpse upside down. The red juice steamed as it trickled noisily into a waiting bucket.

“As if to reassure her Mrs Foley raised her free hand and absent-mindedly licked the blood that was dripping from it. Something shifted in Patricia’s stomach.”

“‘That’s Sunday lunch sorted.'”

I enjoyed that character so much. And indeed the whole book. I raced through it to find out the whole story and the secrets of long ago. Definitely recommend it to anyone. And I’m looking forward to reading some more of Graham Norton’s books.

The Top Three!

Last week was a strange one for me with various family situations, now resolved. Today I resume my routine. This morning I was out for my walk along the river and I thought very hard about which three books I loved the most; I came up with these three. David Copperfield, Catch 22 and Redhead by the Side of the Road. Which surprised me a little as my favourite writer for some years now is Patrick de Witt.

I first read David Copperfield when I was at school and I’ve read it at least twice since; so many wonderful characters, so many quotes still in my head. There was Peggotty, who worked as cook and maid in his mother’s house until she agreed to marry Mr Barkis, who signalled his intentions with the phrase,”Barkis is willin’.” And the wonderful Mr Micawber who was always sure that “something will turn up” and his wife declaring that she “would never desert” Mr Micawber. I’m going to stop with quotes here or I’ll be writing all day! I will just mention David’s cousins who lived in an upturned boat on the beach in Yarmouth; the boy he met in school called Steerforth who was a bad ‘un and became involved with Rosa Dartle. I can’t leave out his Aunt Betsey who took him in and cared for him and called him “Trotwood”. David’s first wife, Dora, made very little impression on me but apparently she was based on Dicken’s real-life first love. There are many more I could include and many, many quotes but – enough!

Catch 22 I first read in my twenties and again, I’ve read it many times since. It makes me laugh so much. Sometimes I stand at the book case and open it at random . . . I could be standing there for a long time! And sometimes I remember various passages when I’m on a bus or a train and I have to keep myself from laughing out loud. The first chapter sets the tone; the chaplain appears at Yossarian’s hospital bedside and begins a conversation. Yossarian doesn’t realise he is the chaplain and thinks he’s another mad soldier but he is happy to continue the conversation:

“Oh, pretty good,” he answered. “I’ve got a slight pain in my liver and I haven’t been the most regular of fellows, I guess, but all in all, I must admit that I feel pretty good.”

“That’s good,” said the chaplain.

“Yes,” Yossarian said. “Yes, that is good.”

The conversation continues in this vein with many – that’s good, yes that is good, and that’s bad, yes that is bad – until Yossarian realises he’s talking to the chaplain and is disappointed that there is a sane reason for the visit.

And what about Major Major Major Major whose father marches along the hospital corridor and register’s his son’s birth in the name of Major Major, unbeknownst to his resting wife. And the episode where the soldiers are listening to a speech by one of the Generals and they begin to moan at the sight of the General’s bosomy nurse, started by Yossarian of course. Ah yes . . .

Finally, Redhead by the Side of the Road. I won’t say much about this book as I recently posted a review on it. Suffice to say, when I was reading it, I carried it about with me and had many conversations with the main character, Micah Mortimer. Happy days!

A Review – Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

I haven’t read any reviews of this book but I’m looking forward to doing that as soon as I have posted this. I’ve never really been a fan of Anne Tyler’s but I loved this book and I will read it again sometime.

The first and last sections pose a question:

“You have to wonder what goes through the mind of man like Micah Mortimer. He lives alone; he keeps to himself; his routine is etched in stone.”

I expected a boring, colourless man with no joy in his life, no excitements, nothing unexpected, doing the same things at the same time every day. But I fell in love with Micah Mortimer when, a few pages in, I read that he spoke aloud to himself – in what he thought of as a foreign accent – while he did his chores about the house. Monday was the day for mopping the floor:

‘”Zee dreaded moppink,” he said. “Zee moppink of zee floors.”‘

This delighted me; I was on his side forever; I loved him. Next, we find out about the “traffic gods” – these supreme beings whom he imagines watching him when he’s driving, commenting to each other in tones of awe at the perfection of his moves:

‘“Flawless,” traffic god murmured.’

I’m beginning to appreciate now that Micah is not a dull, blank, robotic man and when a young lad appears at his door claiming that he’s actually Micah’s son, he becomes even more interesting. (Not only does he have a present, but maybe a past too!) Instead of turning Brink away he brings him in and feeds him and lets him stay for a few days.

Enter Cass, Micah’s long-term woman friend; a tall buxom woman; a school teacher. She plays music all the time in her apartment; the television talks all evening whether they are watching it or not. Micah finds it extremely irritating but he considers Cass restful to look at so he puts up with it when he’s there. But Cass has a problem; she may have to leave her apartment. It never occurs to Micah that she would like to move in with him and this causes a breach between them.

‘”In fact,” Cass said steadily, “what did you do? Quick-quick invite the nearest stranger into your spare room.”‘

And of course, there’s his wonderful four sisters and their families, boisterous, happy, loving, interested in everything that happens to Micah; they know Cass well and like her very much. Micah tolerates and loves them back equally.

I thought about Micah a lot; he’s very self-sufficient, content to live alone, kindly when anyone asks for help but always at a distance – until Cass suggests a break-up:

‘Something hit him in the concave place just below his rib cage.’

I found the writing warm, humourous, and delicious. When Micah meets his old girlfriend, he says:

‘ . . . she was so sharp-edged, both literally and figuratively – a small, vivacious mosquito of a girl, all elbows and darting movements.’

It’s the word – mosquito – that makes that sentence for me. And one final quote – I can’t leave it out:

“I’m a roomful of broken hearts.”

The pacing was perfect and the ending just as it should be.

I am very happy to give Redhead by the Side of the Road 5 stars. *****

A few words on “GOD, A USER’S GUIDE” by Seán Moncrieff

When this book was first published, I couldn’t wait to read it. World religions and all the various creation myths fascinate me, which is surprising as I’m an atheist. (I grew up in a deeply religious home and traces of those old beliefs surface from time to time.) I had to read the book twice as I gobbled it up so quickly the first time and I have referred to it many times since. The first chapter is Rastafari and the book works it way around the continents and finishes with Christianity. There’s an index at the end which I always appreciate. Here is part of the introduction:

“However, writing this book did present me with one problem; particularly the ‘How they came about’ explanation for each belief. All religions, by definition, claim to have been divinely revealed by God; otherwise they wouldn’t be much of a religion. Depending on the religion in question, adherents can be horrified, and, yes, even offended by the suggestion that their belief was influenced by a pre-existing one.

Yet if you view religion from a solely historical point of view, this does seem to be the case. And not just for one or two.

Thus, for the purposes of this book I am, for the record, dealing with Religion, not Faith. Faith is belief in God and an after-life; religion is the all-too-human business of figuring out what God wants us to do, and organising the worship.

Not everyone will agree with this division, and it is far from perfect. But humans, unlike deities, are imperfect creatures.”

The author also says in the introduction that he does not want to cause offence to anyone and that he remains objective throughout. However, his cynicism, and amusement even, does show through now and again. I think the reader would be better served without this personal attitude. All the same, it’s a small enough fault in a very well researched and informative book.

Seán Moncrieff is an Irish journalist and has worked in many radio and television programmes. He has also published the book “Stark Raving Rulers”.

A review: The Chain by Adrian McKinty

I have read a good many books by Adrian McKinty, all of them a series of police procedure thrillers set in the north of Ireland and centred on the detective, Sean Duffy. They were great fun to read.

But here we have a stand alone novel, a new look at the kidnap and ransom trope. You r child is kidnapped; to get her/him back you have to pay a ransom and kidnap another child. When you have done that your child is set free; you free the child you have taken when her/his parents repeat the procedure. This is the chain and you are given to understand that it has been going on for a long time, unknown to the police or the general public.

At the beginning I thought – I can’t read this; I hate anything to do with children suffering in any way but I was intrigued and the narrative drive was so good I decided to read on for a bit. After a while I realised that this could never happen – life and people are too unpredictable, and unforeseen complications would always arise. So I relaxed into the story then, treating it as a puzzle to be worked out.

I found the characters interchangeable, loving desperate parents, cute, clever children; the story is entirely plot-driven and everything depends on whether parents, mothers in particular, are capable of doing ANYTHING for their own child.

To avoid spoilers I won’t give details, but I had many questions regarding the Big Brother aspects of the plot. I couldn’t imagine how the story would be resolved and it was a terrible anti-climax when it arrived. The reason the baddies were caught was far too light considering the heavy material being written about here.

The writing itself was fine and the dialogue was good but the pace just wasn’t right, especially in the last quarter of the book. It was a novel idea though and I think the book should have been a good bit longer with a more thought-out resolution.

I’ll give it 3 stars ***