Category Archives: Four Star

‘Mr Doubler Begins Again’ by Seni Glaister

This book is about potatoes, gin, and friendship…Seldom have I rooted so enthusiastically for a character in a book. Doubler is a potato farmer extraordinaire, happy enough going about his routines on Mirth Farm and sharing his lunch everyday with his housekeeper Mrs Millwood, until she is taken seriously ill, and his neighbour threatens to take his land. Despite suffering betrayals very close to home, he is spurred by loneliness and self-preservation to gain new confidence as he steps far into uncharted and uncomfortable territory.

An amusing and charming old-fashioned tale full of surprises, quirky characters, and fresh dialogue, it reminded me of The Unlikely Pilgrimmage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, so if you liked that, you’ll love this. Though a little slow at times, if you are a patient reader who enjoys sinking into a gentle and charming story that is well-told, this is a book for you.

‘The Mother-in-Law’ by Sally Hepworth

When you choose a life partner, the other members of the family come along as free gifts! 🙂 Of course the ‘mother-in-law’ is the classic fraught relationship so it’s no surprise that in this entertaining little whodunit it is she who ends up dead!

Playing on family dynamics, and full of twists and turns, this is a clever summer beach read with a surprisingly perfect and ‘more-profound-than-I expected’ ending which I did not see coming.

‘A Place for Us’ by Fatima Farheen Mirza

“A stunning novel about love, compassion, cruelty, and forgiveness–the very things that make families what they are.”

A Place for Us unfolds the lives of an Indian-American Muslim family, gathered together in their Californian hometown to celebrate the eldest daughter, Hadia’s, wedding – a match of love rather than tradition. It is here, on this momentous day, that Amar, the youngest of the siblings, reunites with his family for the first time in three years. Rafiq and Layla must now contend with the choices and betrayals that led to their son’s estrangement – the reckoning of parents who strove to pass on their cultures and traditions to their children; and of children who in turn struggle to balance authenticity in themselves with loyalty to the home they came from.”

As much as a I love a twisting page-turner, this book reminded me that it’s also nice to read a thoughtful compelling family mystery at a more relaxed pace. As the narrative switches back and forth between various voices, depth of character and insight into relationship are achieved in a beautiful way. Transplanted culture can be difficult and complicated and I found the latter part of the novel very poignant when the father honestly shares his perspective on how things might have been different. The smallest decisions can lead to the deepest betrayals. Mirza deals deftly, hopefully, and gracefully with delicate subjects like guilt, misunderstanding, regret, and loss.

Mirza is a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop which is a common denominator in many of the authors that I have enjoyed and was championed by Sarah Jessica Parker, another one of the celebrities who are endorsing books (others include Reese Witherspoon and of course Oprah). This book does have a slower pace and may not be for everyone, but I found it held my interest, was definitely moving, and was a joy to read. Here is an interview with the author that highlights the author’s maturity beyond her years:

‘The Great Alone’ by Kristin Hannah

From the author of The Nightingale, comes a spellbinding novel set in Alaska, inspired by the author’s own experiences.

Ernt Allbright, a former POW, comes home from the Vietnam war a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes an impulsive decision: he will move his family north, to Alaska, where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier. Thirteen-year-old Leni, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, dares to hope that a new land will lead to a better future for her family. She is desperate for a place to belong. Her mother, Cora, will do anything and go anywhere for the man she loves, even if it means following him into the unknown. At first, Alaska seems to be the answer to their prayers. In a wild, remote corner of the state, they find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the Allbrights’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources. But as winter approaches and darkness descends on Alaska, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates and the family begins to fracture. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own. In the wild, there is no one to save them but themselves.

A compulsively readable, powerful novel of survival, love, beauty, brokenness, and redemption. The pace of this novel is unrelenting, with multiple twists and turns, and much of the time you feel you can cut the tension with a knife. The harshly unforgiving yet breathtaking beauty of Alaska are cinematic, and the exploration of human frailty and resilience are riveting. I’d be surprised if this isn’t made into a movie.

‘The Moon Sister’ by Lucinda Riley (The Seven Sisters # 5)

Tiggy’s story takes place in the Scottish Highlands as well as the hills and caves of Granada, Spain. Tiggy has a gift for working with animals and has inherited a sixth sense from her ancestors. If you are already following the Seven Sisters Series, this is the last one in the series that is available for now. The sixth instalment is still being written and is due to be released in the fall of 2019. It will focus on Electra, the famous yet troubled sister.

If you are new to the series, it is recommended to read them in order. Pa Salt, a mysterious wealthy man, adopts 6 daughters from various corners of the globe and names them after a star constellation. Upon his death/disappearance, the girls are given clues about their origins and each one embarks on a journey of discovery. Each book focuses on one sister, and the books just keep getting better and better. In this one there are a few more clues about what will be coming in the final book which has been top secret all along. However, there is a mystery building about the 7th sister called Merope, who is mentioned but was never found, and about Pa Salt’s disappearance. Is he really dead?

For a complete list of the books in the series, visit Lucinda Riley’s website. I also found an article about her personal life which reads like a page-turner in itself: click here.

 

‘Out of My Mind’ by Sharon Draper

(Age 10+ ) Melody has cerebral palsy. She can’t walk or talk so people tend to think that she isn’t smart, or fun, or someone who you can be friends with. But Melody is the smartest kid in the school, has a photographic memory, sees colour in music (synesthesia), has a great sense of humour, and she’s brilliant in so many ways that people never get to see because communication is so hard for her. The best thing about Melody is that neither she nor her parents allow her to be defined by her illness and the best thing about this book is that it really gives the reader a glimpse of the challenges and misunderstandings that are common to families living with special needs.

Reminiscent of Wonder by R.J Palacio, even though it is classified as a Young Adult novel, it is one of those amazing cross-over books that adults will love as well: easy to read, but with powerful insights and very affecting.

‘Only Child’ by Rhiannon Navin

I love it when novels with a difficult subject matter are narrated in a child’s voice. The innocent description makes a story less overwhelming and gives a unique perspective. The child’s voice can bring an element of tenderness, awe, and even humour to life’s most heartbreaking situations, exploring big emotions with simplicity and fresh insight. Examples you may know are The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer, Room by Emma Donoghue, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.

This book is especially poignant because the child has been largely abandoned by a grieving family when his older brother has died in a school shooting. Already a quiet introverted child, Zach retreats even further to try to cope with his memories of the shooting and the loss of his brother. When his parents remain absent and continue to struggle with grief in their own dysfunctional way, Zach’s courage, honesty, and integrity find a way to save his family from the darkness.