Book 77 – The Sunrise Victoria Hislop – haunting contemporary history that will stay with you

Victoria Hislop is one of my favourite author’s.  Her book “The Island” recently featured in my top ten books of all time.  So I was eagerly awaiting her new book “The Sunrise.”  I knew I should wait for it to come out in paper back but couldn’t resist and bought it in hardback.  A Victoria Hislop book is a treat in itself but this one is set in Cyprus and is about the division of the Island into the Greek South and the Turkish North.

In 1999 my husband and I had a holiday in Cyprus first week of December.  It was the first time we had visited the Island and we loved it.  We also loved the winter break swimming in the sea while at home it was freezing.  And as you do vowed that we would do this every year.  But a year later we had moved from Edinburgh to the Borders and our daughter was on the way so although we do still get a short break in December thanks to my parents looking after the kids it tends to be as cheap as we can make it usually a house swap with my parents.  But I would love to go back somewhere warmer and I would love to go back to Cyprus.  And not just for the sun.  I couldn’t believe when I went in 1999 that I was so ignorant of the political situation there.  That overnight in 1972 people had to leave their homes and flee never to return and Greeks ended up living in the homes of Turk Cypriots and vice versa and across both North and South there were deserted villages.  We came across one on a tour of the island.  We strongly suspected at the time and having read “The Sunrise” I am sure we shouldn’t have been where we were.  We had visited the Cyprus ski centre and on our descent took a different road which took us through this village which had just been abandoned with people’s belongings still in the houses (yes we got out and took a look mad I know as I am sure we could have got arrested).  It was eerie and so sad.

I hadn’t realised that there was a city that had been abandoned in the same way Famagusta which is what “The Sunrise” is about.  Famagusta was one of the most desirable destinations on the Mediterranean in 1972 but like the rest of the island when the civil war happened people had no choice but to abandon this resort.  So today 40 years later it is behind barbed wire and inside the many hotels and apartments are the belongings of people who fled in terror all those years ago.

The book centres on two families the Georgious and the Ozkans one Greek Cypriots and one Turk Cypriots who don’t flee but stay in the city hidden from the Turkish soldiers.  It is also about a couple who had become rich by building hotels in the city and lose everything.

I loved this book it brought a period of recent history alive.  As this history is so recent I found it hard to believe that this was not just a story but had happened but Google Famagusta and you will see a town that looks like a resort even with sun loungers on the beach still waiting for the tourists that will never return.  By focusing on families on both sides of the divide you see the arguments from both sides.  But more than that this is about the power of money to corrupt and to carry out heinous crimes not for politics but for their own greed.  It’s about the senseless in many ways of being rich and trying to be rich.  When at the end that does not make you happy but the power of love and families.  And the ignorance of the people in Famagusta to see disaster about to befall them with many of them planning expansion even as the civil war had started.

Often when I look forward to a book it can disappoint which if I am honest was the case in Victoria Hislop’s second book “The Return” it was good but didn’t live up to “The Island” for me.  “The Sunrise” totally took me in and even ten days later the characters and the city of Famagusta is still haunting me.

 

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Book 76 – The Faces of Angels – Lucretia Grindle

I have read quite a few Lucretia Grindle book’s since reading the Villa Triste a couple of years ago after a recommendation from a lady in my bookclub. The Villa Triste still remains my favourite book but I have enjoyed them all.

“The Faces of Angels” had been sitting on my book shelf for longer than I am prepared to admit.  I do have a bad habit of buying more books than I can read with my current lifestyle with the belief that someday I will get through them all and maybe one day I will.  But so far I still have so many to read it would take me a long time to do so and then another book catches my eye.

But I am glad that I read this book.  It was a crime book shortlisted for the Radio 4 six best crime novels of 2006.  My children think I like crime just a bit too much.  You name any crime drama on TV and you will find that I watch it avidly.  Causing my daughter to laugh at what she sees as my great interest in murder.  I personally blame Taggart I was so excited to finally see a TV drama about my own town when I was younger that I was hooked in.  Though thinking about it I loved Starskey and Hutch and Cagney and Lacey which pre date Taggart I think so maybe I just have a thing for crime.

I also enjoy crime books particularly if they are set in Scotland and went into labour with my daughter re reading the aptly named Ian Rankin Book “Let the blood run”.  But I also love books set in warmer countries than our own and have always wanted to go to Florence which is maybe why I am drawn to Lucretia Grindle’s books as so many of them are set there.

This one is about a American woman Mary Warren is raped and nearly killed in a vicious attack in a garden.  Her husband who is leading a group nearby come to her rescue only to be killed.  The killer is quickly caught and dies on his way to prison.

Mary can’t settle in the USA after her attack and returns to Florence to study sharing a flat with a very quirky fellow American and resuming her affair with a Italian journalist.  But then there are more murders just as horrible as her attempted one.  And Mary and Pierangeleo her lover start to wonder if the police got the right man or is their a copy cat killer at play?

This book keeps you guessing all the way through the book.  Often I guess the ending but not here which is the best type of crime book and arguably the best type of book.  I loved the relations too between Mary and her flat mate.  Part friends and partly the difficulties being older of sharing with someone who wants to borrow your make up and clothes.  Florence despite the blood and gore was a stunning back drop which still made me want to visit despite some terrifying scenes.  Only wish I had taken the book of the shelf earlier.

 

 

 

 

 

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Book 74 and 75 – Little Lies and Daughter

Little Lies is written by Liane Moriarty whose first book “The husband’s secret” I loved for its darkness and twists really taking a critical look at middle  class lives in a humorously dark way.  “Little Lies” is no different about a P1 class in a middle class beach resort in Australia.  How a single mum who doesn’t fit into the ideal mother is judged on the first day and found wanting which sets up a parent camp of those who judge her and those who don’t.  It’s about the impact that has on her son.  Is he a bully or is he innocent?  It’s about friendship of women and being there for them in the toughest of times.  It’s about what really goes on behind closed doors of even what seems like the perfect family.  And then throughout the book you know someone is murdered someone is the murderer but bet you won’t guess who gets killed and who does the killing.  Safe to say I loved this book too and look forward to her next book.

Daughter has been highly acclaimed and I downloaded both books on my Kindle and read them both one after the other.  I loved the blackness of “Little Lies” but I didn’t like the blackness of “Daughter” by Jane Shemilt.  It’s about a family who seem to be fairly normal then their daughter disappears and the story is about how the family cope with this or don’t.  I didn’t see the huge twist at the end coming and that was good.  But apart from that I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I thought it would.  The main character is the mother who I quickly came to dislike intensely.  And there were few redeeming features about the remainder of the family either including the missing daughter.

Two “black” books one I enjoyed greatly the other I really didn’t enjoy at all despite the twist at the end.  Read both though in double quick time ideal for weekend reading or a journey to pass the time.

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Book 73 – Hero on a Bicycle – Shirley Hughes

This was a book that as soon as I spotted it in hardback in the children’s section in our local bookshop I knew I wanted to read .  But I waited till it was out in paper back then bought it for my son and I to read.

My son and I have struggled to fit in bedtime reading recently as he’s increased his sporting activities this term and is now out several nights a week with only time for a quick tuck in and no reading.  But we both found that we were missing the reading sessions so have made an effort on the night’s that he is in to make time for reading and managed to read Hero on a Bicycle very quickly.  We were home alone on Friday night so settled down for an hour or so to complete the book.

It is as the title suggests about a boy and his bike.  But the reason that he is a hero is that he lives in Florence at the end of the second world war and he and his mother and sister become involved with the resistance by hiding Allied soldiers in their cellar despite the fact that they are already under suspicion by the Gestapo as their Father is in the Partisans.

This was one of those books that brought history to life the fear of the Gestapo.  The hope of the allied soldiers getting through.  The brutality and loss of life on both sides.  And the horrors of war and how it can tear families apart.  By the end of the book the Germans are on the run and the book shows the fear on their part too and that not all of them wanted war but had to fight.  There is a harrowing scene where the sister and brother are trying to get back home and meet a German soldier that they know he implores them not to go down the road they are on as there are landmines so they turn back he and his men go on and he is blown up.  This is covered in a way that can be read to kids but I respected the fact from a historical point of view it is historically accurate.

A good book that both my son and I enjoyed and often read more at night as we had to know what happened next.  I liked the historical accuracy of this book while giving you compelling vulnerable characters who you wanted to survive.  Would suggest you don’t read to anyone under ten but for older children with an interest in history this is a very good read.

 

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Books 69 – 72 – 50p for 3 Books

I haven’t written a book review for weeks and weeks.  I have been reading though and now have a back log of book reviews to write-up.  This was a fear I had when I was on holiday that I would read so much that I would have a book review back log.  But thanks to my Kindle and its Word Press App and lots of time to read and review.  I was able to be up to date when I returned from holiday in July.  Recent weeks have been very busy with work and lots going on with the kids that I now have myself in that back log that I dreaded on holiday.  Going to make an attempt to catch up by linking books together in reviews and trying to allocate time to write them.

So there is a link to the first three of these four books.  My son bought me three books in the one book on a visit to the library.  He was delighted with his present for me “Mum a bargain three books for 50p.”

The first book was by Lisa Jewell “31 Dream Street” which I had read before but re read.  It’s about a man who is given a house by his dad with a sitting older tenant.  He finds himself taking in lodgers for limited rent all who have stories to tell and like him haven’t quite worked out what to do with their lives.  Then his sitting tenant dies leaving him a considerable amount of money and sage advise and he realises he needs to sort out his life and work out what he wants to do with it but first he needs to sort his tenants out.

The second books was “Hidden” by Katy Gardner about a woman who marries someone after a whirl wind romance and moves to the country with him and then finds out she doesn’t really know him at all.  Then he disappears and shortly afterwards so does her young daughter.  Although I did guess the ending it kept me entertained and reading and I really enjoyed this book.

The third book in this book of three was “The Two Mrs Robinsons” which as the name suggests is about two women with one man.  But very quickly the man dies and they are both left alone with their respective children and a joint debt.  Interesting take on how women get on with one another when they really would rather have nothing to do with one another.  The setting is York which is a city I have been to a few times so could relate to the location.  All in all my son was right for 50p these books were a bargain.

The last book was a huge disappointment as I had read her previous book and loved it as I laughed out loud at her take of family life.  “Mad about you” by Sinead Moriarty.  But her book “The secret sisters keep” did not cut the mustard for me.  It was about three sisters all facing issues and their family.  It was ok but strongly lacked substance for me and although there were funny parts it was not as witty or as clever as “Mad about you.”

So now on holiday for a week so hoping that means I not only get time to read lots but that I also manage to catch up with my book review back log.  My aim when I started 2014 was to write a review on each and every book that I read which if I don’t catch up soon I might not achieve.  It was also to read 100 books over the year I am also doubting that I will achieve that but I can try as I love a challenge just need to slow my life down first to make the time.

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Book 68 Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts

Most days can be fairly mundane and follow the normal routines of our every days lives.  It’s not that there is anything wrong with that it is just how life is and often we are grateful that they happen like that as it means life is running as normal.  However when a mundane day is struck by an unexpected gift it pulls it out of the mundane into a special day.  So it was with me when I came home to a parcel with a book in it with a letter from a school friend.  It was her favourite book and she wanted me to read it.

I can’t tell you how much this unexpected gift meant to me so much so that I found it hard to start the book if I am honest.  I have a life long habit of being really touched by unexpected gifts or gifts for Birthdays and Christmase’s that are so right for me that I don’t use them.

I don’t know why it’s as if by using them the specialness goes away which of course it doesn’t.  Recent years have made me realise that any gift has been given to be used in the here and now not treasured for a day that may or may not come.  So after months of reading and re reading the letter and stroking the book I thought “Fiona Drane stop it and get reading.”

Shantaram is 933 pages of some of the best writing I have ever read.  At first I was daunted by a book of this magnitude but by the end I was sad it was finished.  The book is set in the 1980’s in Bombay.  It is the true story of Gregory David Roberts who was an armed robber from Australia who escaped from prison and headed to India.  It is the story of his time there which includes going back into drugs, living the high life, living the low life in the slums, finding himself, falling in love, going to prison and realising the true meaning of humanity.

I have never visited India and although I would love to the sheer size of the population for someone who can get claustrophobic daunts me if I am honest.  But the more I have read of the country the more it fascinates me.  This book again brings India to life.  It’s corruption but how the whole country know how things work and abide by the rules however corrupt and senseless they seem.  The increasing prosperity alongside the huge poverty.  Man’s in humanity to man alongside our ability to live and love in communities.  India’s love of cooking where no matter where you live cooking and food is the centre of the household.  And most of all Indians ability to see the positive side of life even when all to a Western person would seem as bleak as it gets.

No one exemplifies this more than one of the lead characters Prabaker a poor man from the countryside who has come to Bombay to make a better life who be friends Gregory and awakens something in him dead for many years.  I am going to finish this review with Gregory’s tribute to Prabaker which shows the beauty of the writing and also the sorrow of losing someone who in a year of loss I could relate to:

“At first, when we truly love someone, our greatest fear is that the loved one will stop loving us. What we should fear and dread, of course, is that we won’t stop loving them, even after they’re dead and gone.  For I still love you with the whole of my heart, Prabaker.  I still love you.  And sometimes, my friend, the love that I have, and can’t give to you, crushes the breath from my chest. Sometimes, even now, my heart is drowning in a sorrow that has no stars without you, and no laughter, and no sleep.”

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Book 67: Robert Harris – An Officer and a Spy

This was my book club book for September chosen in part as it was the 2014 Sir Walter Scott Prize Winner.  I was really looking forward to reading it as I loved the 2013 prize-winning novel “The Garden of Evening Mists.”  This book was not in the same realm and through out the book I kept wondering why it had been chosen as the 2014 winner.  This question was also asked when the book was discussed at my book club at Mainstreet Trading in St Boswells.

That said I did enjoy An Officer and a Spy.  It is set in 1895 in France and focuses on the famous Dreyfus affair.  A Jewish officer  who was wrongly convicted as a traitor.  The novel focuses on Picquart an officer who is brought into the intelligence unit and while there starts to uncover the corruption surrounding the conviction.  There were three main reasons why I did enjoy this book.

Firstly I studied history at University and much of it was focused on the First and Second World Wars and although I did study some late 19th century history it is not an era I am well read on.  With the anniversary of the outbreak of the First World war it was fascinating in this book to read about the tensions and hostility between France and Germany at this stage following the Alsace wars.  And why France had aligned herself with Russia.  You can see clearly in 1895 that the First World War was starting to be inevitable.

Secondly much of the book is about the rife anti-Semitism in France at all levels of society and the venomous way they treated their Jewish citizens.  So often today due to the Second World War we view Nazi Germany as being anti Semitic.  The truth is that the whole of Europe was and had been for some time .  Perhaps its easier on our conscience to think that but the plain truth was that there wasn’t a country in Europe who was exempt.

Thirdly this book shows corruption in Government and the scary ways that governments take to ensure that their corruption and mistakes are not discovered.  It’s easy sometimes when reading history to think that was then this is now.  But I have always believed that history repeats itself over and over again.  As societies rarely learn from their mistakes.  Through out the novel I did shiver at points when the main character’s life is turned upside down as he believed in the truth and justice and wondered how many people today in this country and across the world are facing the same issues.

After a slow start I did enjoy an Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris and did take a few hours out to finish it as the tension in the story built.  I am now going to read his famous novel “Fatherland”.  I just didn’t think it was an award-winning book but who am I to say?

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