Monthly Archives: June 2013

‘Instructions for a Heatwave’ by Maggie O’Farrell

Instructions for a HeatwavestarstarstarOne morning, during the infamous 1976 heatwave in London, a retired Irish gentleman walks to the corner store for a paper and never returns. Upon hearing of his disappearance, the children gather in the family home to support their Mammy and try to figure out what has happened to their father. The three children each have problems of their own. The estranged sisters are barely on speaking terms, the brother’s marriage is on the brink of divorce, and all have secrets which are haunting them.  As the family gathers, the story focuses mostly on the brokenness of their relationships, with a heavy dose of Catholic guilt thrown in. Digging for clues, even more secrets from the past are unearthed,  but through it all, there is very little plot and seemingly very little concern for dear old Dad. His disappearance becomes rather secondary, serving only as the catalyst for the actors to gather on this “family drama” stage, during a time of crisis.

It wasn’t a great novel, but I did enjoy it as a nice easy (beach) read and will definitely pick up another O’Farrell at some point in time. A friend recommended this author to me and I’m glad she did. This is O’Farrell’s most recent novel, she has many more earlier ones which some reviewers found to be better than this one.

Maggie O’Farrell’s Website

Author Feature: Sally Lloyd-Jones

Sally Lloyd-JonesSally Lloyd-Jones, together with illustrator Jago, have produced two amazing devotional and Bible story books for children. Her writing is fresh and creative with a simple, conversational style. I wish I had these books for my children when they were little. Have a look at her website, it’s worth a visit. Although they have both done more books,  these featured here are my favourites. The first one is a story bible, the second a devotional for children.

JagoJago is an amazing award winning illustrator who captures the message and the imagination of the reader so totally. The creativity and sense of humour in Lloyd-Jones’ writing is mirrored in Jago’s illustrations so beautifully. The artwork is unique, creative and just plain fun! Jago’s website is equally delightful. I’ve set the page for both websites to their “About” sections so you can read about them, they both have a very entertaining introduction of themselves.

Sally Lloyd-Jones Website

Jago Website

The Jesus Storybook Biblestarstarstarstarstar‘The Jesus Storybook Bible’ invites children to discover for themselves that Jesus is at the centre of God’s great story of salvation and the centre of their own story as well. The stories are fresh and feel new when reading them and the perspective is right, presenting a vocabulary of faith that underscores what the sub-title already suggests: “Every story whispers his name. ” The central message of the books is “God’s Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.” Jago’s illustrations capture the very essence of the stories and underscore the messages within.

Thoughts to Make Your Heart Singstarstarstarstarstar‘Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing’ is a perfect companion to the story Bible. with the same message and similar style, Lloyd-Jones’ goal in creating this first devotional for children, was to offer an opportunity for an experiential side of the relationship with God to go along with the informational side. It’s an innovative collection of 101 simple, yet profound reflections and thoughts on faith. Insights are drawn from creation, history, science, and the writings of great thinkers, preachers, and writers. It is perfect for family or bedtime devotions. It is accessible yet theologically rich, revealing Biblical truth in word and image. It brings a hopeful message that will make the heart sing. Again, Jago’s illustrations enhance and enrich the experience.

‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’ by Lionel Shriver

We Need to Talk About KevinstarstarstarstarstarThe first time I started this book I couldn’t get into it. But when it became an assignment for my reading group, I tried again and I am so glad that I did. It is an intense, absorbing, and captivating novel. I read it compulsively, stealing time from other projects so that I could get back to it. It is chilling and haunting, not so much in any graphic way considering the subject, but in horrific everyday sorts of realizations  along the way. There are insights into all sorts of aspects of family life and parenting that Shriver weaves into this gripping story. Because it is a series of letters, it reads more like non-fiction than fiction, and gives the reader an incredible view into the thoughts of the narrator. It is not a cheap thriller, it is a great work of literature. The characters and themes are well drawn and the writing is expertly crafted. It will be on my mind for a long time and though I have not yet seen the movie, I don’t see how it could come close to offering all of the insights that the author develops in this book.

Kevin is responsible for a Columbine type school massacre. We know this at the beginning of the book so the letters his mother sends to his father, are all in hindsight. This type of incident (and there have been so many) inevitably raises the question of how something like this could happen. Was there a serious flaw in the person, in the parents, in society? When we look back into that person’s life in light of what happened, which this book does, were there any signs and clues that were missed? Was this the result of a cold and judgemental mother or an indulgent father? Was it because the boy was rich, or bullied, or marginalized? There is the inclination to find fault or place blame, because the thought that an ordinary child from a middle class family could get up one morning and commit a multiple murder in cold blood, is just too chilling to absorb.

The ending (in the final paragraph, not the major reveal towards the end) makes a profound statement and is most shocking of all, but I can’t tell you why I thought so because it would involve spoilers. So when you’re finished reading, we do really need to talk about Kevin.

‘Ketchup Clouds’ by Annabel Pitcher

Ketchup CloudsstarstarIn this young adult novel, a  teenager thinks that she has done something so bad, that the only person who could possible understand, is a convicted murderer on death row. The book takes the form of letters sent to this prisoner, telling him her secrets and slowing revealing the story. It did hook me in at the start, but went on too long and fell rather flat for me in the end. The extreme guilt for the ‘crimes’ committed by herself and her mother, were not as believable as I had hoped. The novel lacked depth and redemption.

The book does illustrate how hard it is for teens to confide in anyone at all. And the author does capture well the type of angst a teen can feel when things are difficult at home or at school. Even friends can easily let you down and it is easy to feel very alone in the world. Pitcher’s other book ‘My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece’ is an award winner, so perhaps I should have picked that one up instead of this newest one.

‘The Black Book of Colours’ by Menena Cottin and Rosana Faria

The Black Book of Coloursstarstarstarstar
My sister has a blind granddaughter. It’s been remarkable meeting her and hearing stories from my sister about how she is learning about the world without the gift of sight. What would it be like to learn about the world relying only on the other senses? And what would a picture book for a blind child look like? This author takes the most intense visual stimulus – colour- and creates a beautiful and tactile children’s picture book which invites readers to see colours with their fingers.

In this experience of colour, the pages are all black, but with beautifully illustrated raised glossy images and simple sensuous text. Each page has a description of the colour in print and in braille.*  The descriptions call on feelings, smells and tastes in addition to the images on the page to be read with the reader’s fingers. Here is an example of the script:
“Red is sour like unripe strawberries and as sweet as watermelon. It hurts when he finds it on his scraped knee.”
This book would also be a good experience for a sighted child, to think about what it would be like to be blind or as a discussion starter about communication.

*Note: What I have learned from some reviewers of this book who have tested it on blind children, is that the Braille was printed too flat to be readable. That is disappointing, but perhaps can be corrected in future editions.

‘The Dogs of Riga’ by Henning Mankell

The Dogs of RigastarstarstarAfter reading Faceless Killers, I knew that I would want to read more from Mankell and follow Kurt Wallander through this crime series set in Sweden. Just as I’ve been doing with Kathy Reichs’ crime series, I read roughly one in the series each year. I’m reading them in the order in which they were written so that I keep the storyline about the detective in chronological order. Why do I love bumbling detectives that do stupid things and get themselves into trouble? Why do I love their personal stories and follow their loves and losses with such glee? It’s compulsive and addictive and enjoyable.  It’s the humanity and the suspense and the comfort of settling into a page turner where we already know the characters and we are quite sure that everything will turn out ok in the end. A formula is not always a bad thing.

What I like about Mankell’s books is that with each instalment, he chooses an issue to deal with, usually socio-political. In ‘The Dogs of Riga’ he focuses on the Eastern Bloc countries and their difficult relationship with Russia. Of course this book was written in the early 90’s so it is rather outdated. But that lends it a bit of charm, like reading about the cold war. Even the fact that they receive information in the police station by telex is endearing, hearkening back to a simpler time before the internet machine took over. Also, the harsh, snowy, foggy, grey winter scenes in Sweden seem to create a gloomy landscape that somehow seems appropriate to the cold of murder and crime. I am not ashamed to admit that I like the way Mankell writes and I like the character of Kurt Wallander.

In ‘The Dogs of Riga’, a lifeboat washes up on a beach with two men in it, both dressed in expensive suits and both shot dead. Wallander travels to Riga, in Latvia, where he is plunged into an alien world of police surveillance and multiple lies and threats. He must fear for his life when he no longer knows who he can trust.