Tag Archives: Fiction

Book Review: The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O’Farrell

This story goes back and forth between 1930s & present day Edinburgh. In the 1930s, Esme Lennox is sent away to a mental institution on account of her hysteria. Forward to present day Edinburgh where her great-niece is called upon to collect her previously unknown, great-aunt from the same instutition, which is now shutting down. This leaves her niece trying to piece together the puzzle of how she came to live in a mental institution for 60 years. It has the typical O’Farrell style of weaving together two stories from different generations. O’Farrell gives away pieces of information throughout, interweaving past and present until everything comes together in the end, with a signature twist. Set in Scotland, the backdrop adds to the mysteries that continue to unfold throughout the book. It is one of those books that only loosly ties the knot at the end, leaving it up to the reader to fill in some of the blanks. It is quite a short and easy read; it does not even have any chapters. Something that would be good for a week-end beach trip, or a long flight. Although it does not compete with The Hand that First Held Mine, it is an easy-read, quirky novel that leaves you wondering.

Vanishing Act

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The Invaluable Advice of the Berenstain Bears

Growing up, I absolutely loved reading. And I’m sure like anyone, there’s always that series of books that was your favourite. For me it was The Bernstein Bears. Every time I’d buy a new one and add it to my collection I’d get so excited, reading it over and over until I’d near memorised it.  The first of the series was published in 1962 and they are still going on today, even though Jan and Stan Berenstain passed away not too long ago. Just to show that the books are indeed timeless! Not only was it so much fun to hear about the lives of sister bear, brother bear, papa and mama bear, but each book started off with some valuable advice. Below are some quotes that even at 25, hold just as true.

1) On fruit, and strangers:  “You can’t always tell from the outside which are the ‘bad apples’”.

2) On not forgetting your manners and warning us future adults of potential road rage “Please and Thank you, help quite a lot…manners and courtesy are just as important away from home—especially on the road”.

3) On the importance of saving money “When little bears spend every nickel and penny, the trouble with money is – they never have any”.  Same holds true of big bears.

4) On the importance of a proper diet “healthy food is good”. Pretty straight forward there.

5) And the age old honesty is the best policy…”No matter how you hope, no matter how you try, you can’t make truth out of a lie…”

Thank you Berenstain Bears!!!

bbears2 bbears3 bbears5 berenstain-bears1

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Book Review: The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s wives by Lola Shoneyin

secret lives

This is definitely a good book. As the title implies- it is about the secret lives of Baba Segis wives. Baba Segi being a Nigerian, polygamous tribal man. What I loved most about it was that you have no idea in what direction the book will go…the secrets evolve so slowly and subtly…I began to enjoy it more and more as I read, with a delightful twist at the end that brings everything together. That’s always a nice way to end a novel.

Shoneyin keeps you guessing at reasons for things that happen in Baba Segi’s hosuehold. Also her characters are unforgivingly honest and flawed, and the description and the events reflect on the polygamous culture in many Nigerian tribes. Faith and Motherhood is interwoven with Feminism and Education and all their implications.

Each chapter is usually from the perspective of one of baba Segi’s wives or supporting characters. Sometimes Iya Segi will be the narrator for two chapters and then Bonale, or Iya femi, Iya Tope or Baba Segi himself. Even their chauffer was given the voice of one chapter. This is how the author reveals to us the inner thoughts and secret stories of the characters.

Long-listed for the 2010 Orange prize, this can safely be classified under modern literature. Delightful and nicely puzzled together, a very entertaining read.

Just a quick note – the book goes by two titles, The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives & The Secret Lives of the Four Wives – just to avoid any confusion :-).

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Book Review: Room by Emma Donoghue

Room_cover

This is a haunting, yet satisfying novel and definitely left an impression on me. This book was definitely difficult for me to get into. At first I found it frustrating- narrated from a five-year-old boy’s perspective, he tells the story of him and Ma’s life – in Room. He has never been outside Room. Room is the only universe he knows, except for TV where everything is not real, just pretend. In room he spends his time with Bed, Table, Plant…Until his mother reveals to him that TV isn’t just TV- its pictures of real people…real places…

Jack (the boy) and his Ma are held captive in a garden shed by `Old Nick’ and cannot leave room. In fact his mother was kidnapped, raped and forced to give birth in her prison. That is where Jack was born.

Although the subject and reality of this book (inspired by the Josef Fritzel/Jaycee Duguard cases) is grim and horrendous, the fact that it is told by a five-year-old makes it a light read. He is not bitter or angry…he just tells it the way it is, leaving you to decide how you feel about the situation.

At first I felt claustrophobic- two people stuck in a room, keeping themselves busy, creating a routine (as one naturally needs for survival), distracting themselves as much as one can. Though I empathized with the characters I got frustrated, since I too, as a reader, was stuck in Room with them. But that’s the point. Nonetheless, this book is not just story of a kidnapping. The farther you read, the more layers the author embeds into the story.

Donoghue creates levels one step at a time- just like a five year old would when learning and categorizing new information amongst known information, slowly building understanding. She tackles themes such as hope, guilt, education, motherhood, family and survival. And having the narrator be so young was a masterful choice when writing about this subject, as it veils the matter with innocence. An intriguing psychological tale…hang in there…

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Book Review: The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell

Book Cover

Book Cover

This book, The Hand that First Held Mine, is by Maggie O’Farrell, who in my opinion is a great storyteller.
Alternating between past and present, each chapter of this book tells the story of either Lexi or Elaina. Lexi’s story is set in the 1950s-60s and Elaina’s is set in present day. Two women whom, unknown to them, share something in common (you’ll find out). The only reason I rate it 4 out of 5 stars is because I would’ve liked it to be just about the 1950s part, although that would take away from the story- the present-day part is still very good, very interesting and ties in with a twist at the end-its just a personal thing (i prefer period writings in comparison to anything contemporary).

Not only is this a beautiful story line, but there are so many themes tackled, beautiful descriptive passages and just such good writing that takes you so deep into the stories.

The way O’Farrell writes makes you feel as if you are there with Lexie. Sitting beside her. Staring at her red scarf, then looking away to see who’s just walked into the random Soho cafe. Having a cigarette with her, watching her blow smoke into the thick air. Observing the buttons on her blouse, the colour of her hair. When you put the book down you can still hear the London traffic and smell the musky air of the 1950s. The style is just so atmospheric.

It also tackles themes (though subtly- you don’t feel it as you read it which is why it’s so fantastic) such as Love, Trust and Motherhood. And such honest portrayls of each. O’Farrell doesn’t write a pretty-picture story,she just tells it the way it is.

The characters are real people. The locations are real locations- the only thing fabricated is the wonderful story and lives of these people you will grow to love so much. If you want to travel back into time- and really feel something, read this. I highly reccomend it.

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