Saturday, 30 May 2015

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

Paperback, 227 pages
Published 2009 by Atlantic Books (first published 2008)

Blurb: "A spare and haunting, wise and beautiful novel about the endurance of the human spirit and the subtle ways individuals reclaim their humanity in a city ravaged by war.

In a city under siege, four people whose lives have been upended are ultimately reminded of what it is to be human. From his window, a musician sees twenty-two of his friends and neighbors waiting in a breadline. Then, in a flash, they are killed by a mortar attack. In an act of defiance, the man picks up his cello and decides to play at the site of the shelling for twenty-two days, honoring their memory. Elsewhere, a young man leaves home to collect drinking water for his family and, in the face of danger, must weigh the value of generosity against selfish survivalism. A third man, older, sets off in search of bread and distraction and instead runs into a long-ago friend who reminds him of the city he thought he had lost, and the man he once was. As both men are drawn into the orbit of cello music, a fourth character- a young woman, a sniper- holds the fate of the cellist in her hands. As she protects him with her life, her own army prepares to challenge the kind of person she has become.

A novel of great intensity and power, and inspired by a true story, The Cellist of Sarajevo poignantly explores how war can change one's definition of humanity, the effect of music on our emotional endurance, and how a romance with the rituals of daily life can itself be a form of resistance."

This book was eloquent, very moving and memorable. I didn't know anything about the siege of Sarajevo before reading this but I find it hard to believe that it happened in my lifetime. It has also brought into perspective that acts of violence and terror like this continue to this day.

The journey of these characters to remember what it means to be human when their world has been torn apart is truly captivating.

I don't feel like I can add any more without spoiling someone's experience reading it for the first time; but I encourage everyone to read this truly beautiful book.

10 out of 10.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Paperback, Waterstones Book Club Edition, 275 pages
Published January 1st 2015 by Penguin (first published January 1st 2014)

Blurb: "In this darkly riveting debut novel—a sophisticated psychological mystery that is also a heartbreakingly honest meditation on memory, identity, and aging—an elderly woman descending into dementia embarks on a desperate quest to find the best friend she believes has disappeared, and her search for the truth will go back decades and have shattering consequences.

Maud, an aging grandmother, is slowly losing her memory—and her grip on everyday life. Yet she refuses to forget her best friend Elizabeth, whom she is convinced is missing and in terrible danger.

But no one will listen to Maud—not her frustrated daughter, Helen, not her caretakers, not the police, and especially not Elizabeth's mercurial son, Peter. Armed with handwritten notes she leaves for herself and an overwhelming feeling that Elizabeth needs her help, Maud resolves to discover the truth and save her beloved friend.

This singular obsession forms a cornerstone of Maud's rapidly dissolving present. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.

As vivid memories of a tragedy that occurred more fifty years ago come flooding back, Maud discovers new momentum in her search for her friend. Could the mystery of Sukey's disappearance hold the key to finding Elizabeth?"

I really enjoyed this book. I thought it was an interesting and very sad insight into the mind of someone with Dementia. It was also interesting to examine the reactions of the people around her to Maud's dementia. Her daughter is obviously trying to care for her and keep her in her own home but you can see her frustration too. In Maud's search for her missing friend Elizabeth, she also causes confusion at the police station when trying to report her as missing. The police's attitude towards her of mockery shows another side of how people can treat people with dementia. Whereas Elizabeth's son Peter show no compassion or understanding towards Maud at all; instead seemingly angry with her despite her condition.

Maud's efforts to remember what she is meant to be doing on a daily basis by writing post-it notes to herself is incredibly sad. The mixture of thoughts about the past converging with the present day, show how confusing it must be to live with dementia. The two thoughts that remain in Maud's mind are 'Elizabeth is Missing' and 'where is the best place to plant marrows?' as she tries to resolve the key mysteries that are haunting her.

Although I thought the story was a little too drawn out at times and some of the flashbacks to the past were unnecessary, overall it was a very moving novel.

8 out of 10

Saturday, 9 May 2015

The Day We Disappeared by Lucy Robinson

Paperback, 432 pages
Published April 9th 2015 by Penguin UK (first published March 24th 2015)

Blurb: "Annie has a secret. But if she's not going to tell, we won't either. It's a heart-breaking secret she wishes she didn't have - yet Annie isn't broken, not quite yet. Especially now there's someone out there who seems determined to fix her.

Kate has run away. But she's not going to tell us why - that would defeat the point of running, wouldn't it? It's proving difficult to reinvent herself, however, with one person always on her mind.

Scratch beneath the surface and nobody is really who they seem. Even Annie and Kate, two old friends, aren't entirely sure who they are any more. Perhaps you can work it out, before their pasts catch up with them for good...

A gripping and unpredictable story of two young women running from their pasts. We defy you to guess the twist..."

I've been looking forward to reading this book for a while as I have read Lucy Robinson's other novels so I bought it on Kindle as soon as it was available. It definitely lived up to expectations! I find that often I can guess where a story is headed, even if just as a general inkling, but for once I definitely didn't guess the twist! When I realised the truth it completely changed my perception of the whole book. Obviously I don't want to give it away for you lovely people but I'd be interested to know if anyone else guessed sooner than I did?

For those who haven't read the book yet, it's a great story about two friends who are going through a lot of change in their lives. Annie has met a new man who takes more of an interest in her than she can believe possible and Kate has run away from her life in Ireland to live and work at a stable for racing horses to get a change of scene. As both stories develop you learn a lot about Kate and Annie and their friends. You also learn more about Annie's past and why she has always been uncomfortable around men. There are a lot of interesting relationships in this book and Lucy leaves you questioning many of the characters' motives as their lives are revealed to be complex.

There are many layers to this book and the story at times is very emotional and quite dark, however I also found myself laughing out loud at times. Lucy is a very talented writer and I will look forward to reading her future works. I highly recommend everyone to go out and buy this book!

Nine out of ten.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

The Road Beneath My Feet by Frank Turner

Hardcover, 272 pages
Published March 26th 2015 by Headline

Blurb: "On 23 September, 2005, at the Joiners Arms in Southampton, Frank Turner played his last gig with his hardcore band Million Dead. On the laminantes that listed the tour dates, the entry for 24 September simply read: 'Get a job.'

Deflated, jaded and hungover, Frank returned to his hometown of Winchester without a plan for the future. All he knew was that he wanted to keep playing music.

Cut to 13 April 2012, a thousand shows later (show 1,216 to be precise), and he was headlining a sold-out gig at Wembley Arena with his band The Sleeping Souls. That summer, they played to 200,000 people at the Olympics opening ceremony warm-up by personal invitation of Danny Boyle.

Told through his tour reminiscences, this is a blisteringly honest story of Frank's career from the grimy pub scene where sweat drips from the ceiling, to filling out arenas with fans roaring every word. But more than that, it is an intimate account of what it's like to spend your life constantly on the road; sleeping on floors, invariably jetlagged, all for the love of playing live music."

This is a book where Frank charts his time from leaving his old (post-hardcore) band Million Dead to taking a new route through music playing a really great blend of folk-rock music, much to the doubt of some of his friends and family. It's a great read to find out about what life can be like on the road for a musician, making friends in every town you visit and asking the crowd if they would let you sleep on someone's floor because you don't have anywhere to stay. From selling tour merchandise before and after shows, even at massive venues to getting lost in fields trying to find the venue.

This is also in many ways a travel memoir and it's amazing the number of countries he has played music in; and the number of people in those countries who promote musicians and show them around strange countries. There are so many people devoted to music and to helping musicians along the way. It was really interesting to learn about different cultures from a musician's perspective - it's not often you read about someone touring China or Israel! I was amazed to find out about the number of well known bands he has supported too; from Biffy Clyro to Green Day and many more.

There are times when I hoped for Frank to write more explicitly about relationships between him and his band the Sleeping Souls but I can completely understand that while writing this book it was meant to be a touring memoir and not a close look at his personal life. However, it is definitely clear from the book that it hasn't always been an easy journey and Frank has worked extremely hard to achieve success. As mentioned previously, he is also very appreciative of the help he has received along the way.

As a fan, it was really interesting to read about the random times and places that Frank wrote some of his songs.

So if you hadn't heard of Frank Turner before, go listen to one of my favourite songs of his here and maybe see if you can go to a show.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in music. It's funny, interesting and a stark, often emotional look at life on the road.

Ten out of ten for his book, looking forward to the next thousand shows.