29 January 2011

Review: The Distant Hours by Kate Morton

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton book coverAfter declaring Kate Morton's novel The Forgotten Garden my favourite book of 2010, and telling anyone who will listen, I've been hanging out to read her latest book The Distant Hours.

Edie is a book publisher and is curious when her mother receives a long lost letter, originally posted in 1941 from Milderhurst Castle. Her mother is secretive about her past, but Edie soon finds out she was billeted at the castle for a short time during the war.

Edie is inexplicably drawn to the castle and meets the three elderly Blythe sisters without revealing her mother's connection. Twins Percy and Saffy live together with their younger sister Juniper in the slowly decaying castle. The reasons they each chose to stay at the castle after the war and why they never married or had children have been deeply buried in the past.

As Edie tries to peel back the layers of the past, the reader is whisked back to 1940s war time and thrust into the lives of the Blythe sisters. We find that each of the sisters have their own dreams and aspirations and we discover what transpired to bond the sisters together for life.

I reveled in the fact that the characters loved to read, write and tell stories, and all shared a love of books. The reference to the library in the castle made me weak at the knees, as did the news of what happened there for that matter! There is even reference to a children's book written by one of the characters called The True History of the Mud Man, which becomes pivotal to the story.

The pages are rich with the sense of unravelling mysteries and long kept secrets, and Milderhurst Castle itself is a haunting and gothic presence for each of the characters. These themes can also be found in her other novels, The Forgotten Garden and The Shifting Fog, and is the main reason Kate Morton is my favourite Australian author.

In her own words, Kate says:

"This novel brings together many of my favourite things. A crumbling castle, a family of sisters, a love of books and reading, the haunting of the present by the past, thwarted love, ghostly shivers, mystery and memory and secrets".

This pretty much sums up everything I love about her books, and this one is no exception. As long as these are the themes she likes to explore, I'll continue to enjoy exploring them with her as the reader.

I highly recommend this book and it's going to be a hard one to beat in 2011.

My rating = *****

Carpe Librum!
21 January 2011

Review: Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist book coverLet The Right One In is a Swedish vampire horror novel set in the '80s in suburban Stockholm. Oskar is 12 years old, lives with his Mother and is a victim of school yard bullying. He has a bladder control problem (with a unique management system) and loves to collect newspaper clippings about gruesome murders.

He meets Eli in the local playground, and learns she has just moved in next door with her Dad. Oskar is glad to have a friend, but Eli is different and things aren't what they seem. After many subtle hints for the reader, Eli reveals to Oskar she is a vampire. While Oskar is trying to deal with bullies, separated parents and his first love; Eli is trying to obtain the human blood she needs to survive, and bodies soon pile up.

This is an offbeat look at what happens when you introduce a vampire trapped in the body of a twelve year old girl into a drab suburban area, already brimming with their own problems.

Some reviews claim Lindqvist to be the Swedish equivalent to Stephen King, but I've got to say I disagree. Sure the novel contains supernatural themes and is a little gory in sections, I don't believe Lindqvist reaches the literary heights and levels of complexity of Stephen King.

I enjoyed Lindqvist's ability to create so many damaged and broken down characters, all living in such a dreary, bland and miserable suburb. I also admired his ability to conjure so many pungent smells that almost leapt from the page. I almost dry retched at the stench of cat's piss in Gosta's grotty apartment containing 22 cats.

The Vampire genre has been popular for quite a while now, and perhaps not surprisingly this novel has been adapted into a film. Entitled Let Me In it was released in 2010 (in English), and I'll probably check it out.

Ultimately, this was a disappointing read for me after reading so many rave reviews, but you be the judge.

My rating = ** 1/2

Carpe Librum!
12 January 2011

Review: Women Food and God by Geneen Roth

Women Food and God by Geneen Roth book coverThis is the book Oprah Winfrey has been excited about, and has been telling viewers to "read it now!" Written by Geneen Roth, Women Food and God is a book about getting in touch with the real reasons why some people eat more or less than they should.

Roth writes:
"All that you believe about love, change, joy and responsibility is revealed in how, when and what you eat. The world is on your plate."
Author Geneen Roth was a guest on the Oprah Show which went to air in Australia on 21 September 2010. Immediately after the show, I logged onto my local library website to reserve a copy, only to find I was already number 22 in line for this book. My turn came on 22 December when I was able to pick up my copy and start reading.

After all of the Oprah hype, I was expecting a revelation while reading this book, and I've got to admit I was mildly disappointed. The book contains references to retreats run by Roth and the experiences and breakthroughs people have made during their stay which were interesting. Roth also takes the reader through the various relationships that can cause distress, including most importantly the relationship with yourself and the fears and stories we tell ourselves.

The book did contain one particular piece of information that struck me. In summary, Roth wrote that sometimes when a person wants to eat a particular food, they're not seeking the feeling they get when they eat it, but they may be seeking the feeling they experienced in the past when they were permitted or allowed to eat it. This gave me pause for reflection and was a valuable tidbit that was completely new to me and one to which I could relate.

Having said all of that, this was a good read, but ultimately didn't live up to my high expectations. Geneen Roth has published seven other books on this topic, including When You Eat at the Refrigerator, Pull Up a Chair. What a fabulous title!

I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in understanding how to improve your relationship with yourself and others and how this relates to food. The book is also suitable for male readers, despite the title.

My rating = **1/2

Carpe Librum!