Thursday, 12 November 2015

Review: The Blackhouse

The Blackhouse The Blackhouse by Peter May
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I like reading books that are set in/around the Highlands/Islands/West Coast of Scotland, so I was keen to start reading the first of the Lewis Trilogy.

DI Fin Macleod was born on the Isle of Lewis, but had left when he was 18. Investigating a murder in Edinburgh, he is sent back to Lewis when a man is killed in similar circumstances. However, although the murder investigation rolls along in the background, the novel is more about Fin's journey back into his past.

It took me a few days to get into it, but then I really enjoyed this novel. The chapters alternated between what was happening in the present day, and Fin's memories of his life on the island as he grew up. There was a lot of history there, which was revealed slowly, so it was a real page-turner, wanting to get to the next revelation.

I did think that Fin had had an exceptionally bleak, unhappy life, which was quite depressing. When the book begins, he is leaving for Lewis and effectively walking out on his marriage, just four weeks after his son had died. This was only referred to a handful of times throughout the rest of the novel, and I couldn't understand how Fin had seemingly come to terms with his son's death so quickly.

The killer wasn't too difficult to guess, in the end, and that part of the story was possibly a bit of an anti-climax. There was a big twist too which to be honest seemed a bit too convenient to me, as there had been no hint of it at all up until that point, as far as I was concerned.

Overall though, I did enjoy this novel. I've already got book two of the trilogy, so I'm looking forwards to reading that.

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Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Review: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh my, what a lovely, lovely novel!

Retired Harold Fry receives a letter from an old work colleague, Queenie, informing him that she has terminal cancer. He writes a quick note of sympathy, and while his wife Maureen furiously cleans the house from top to bottom, he pops out to the nearest postbox to post the letter. Except, he doesn't. Instead, he decides to deliver it in person. But he lives on the South Coast, and Queenie is in a hospice in Berwick-upon-Tweed. But Harold feels that as long as he keeps walking, she will keep living. So that's what he does. He just keeps walking.

Along the way, he has ample time to reflect on his life - his failures (as he sees it) as a husband and father - and he meets lots of characters to whom he lends a friendly, listening ear. He realises that there are people just like him, everywhere - on the outside they appear 'normal' and do normal, everyday things, and no one ever knows what kind of turmoil they might be going through on the inside.

"He understood that in walking to atone for the mistakes he had made, it was also his journey to accept the strangeness of others".

Meanwhile, Harold keeps Maureen updated on his walk. At first, angry, embarassed and confused, her enforced solitude eventually gives Maureen the opportunity to reflect on her own conduct as a wife and mother. Her gradual understanding and acceptance of Harold's journey, and the way her anger and bitterness gives way to support and forgiveness, was incredibly moving.

For most of the journey, Harold walks alone, but inevitably the media get involved, which is where his walk becomes a 'pilgrimage'. He is never comfortable with this, and this reader shared Harold's relief when he finally slipped away from the crowd of 'followers'. (I didn't mind the dog though).

There was a twist towards the end of the book that I didn't see coming, but perhaps I should've done. The last few chapters were sad, poignant and yet uplifting as well. I absolutely loved this book, and it will stay with me for a very long time.

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Sunday, 8 November 2015

Flying Visit...

I don't seem to be able to find much time for blogging lately! I feel busy, but it's busy in a 'lots to do' kind of way, like I've got a lot on my mind, lots of things to remember. I'm thinking about what needs doing, but not actually getting much of it done. I should write it all down, make a list, but I forget to even do that, or I do it but then forget to look at it!

It doesn't help that I've been ill for about three weeks. It started as a cold, one Friday afternoon at work. I'm so relieved that I now work on my own, in my own office, because it meant I could just shut the door and sneeze and sniffle in private. After a few days I developed a horrible chesty cough, in fact, I suspect I've had a chest infection, although I never actually got around to making an appointment with the GP. Sometimes the cough would be so bad that it would make me sick (sorry, a bit TMI). Then I got a sore throat, possibly as a result of all the coughing, and didn't eat for a day, and although it's mostly back to normal, it still hurts when I yawn, oddly enough! I had my flu jab just over a week ago, which in hindsight possibly wasn't a good idea when I wasn't very well, although I don't think I had any side-effects from it. And just yesterday I had an appointment with the practice nurse (which had been booked for a few weeks) to have a test to find out whether I've got asthma. So to say I've been a wheezy, coughing mess for the past few weeks is an understatement!

I haven't done any crochet at all since I started with the cold, which is making me a bit sad, but I knew it would frustrate me if I had to keep breaking off to cough or blow my nose. So instead I've mostly been snuggling up on the sofa with my hot water bottle, under a blanket (and a cat!), and either reading or watching tv, and just taking it easy.

Anyway, sorry for moaning about all that!

In much happier news, we've had a birthday recently - a certain little someone turned two years old! I can't believe he's two already. He got some lovely cards and pressies from all the family, and absolutely loved being the centre of attention, as always :-).
He's a little bundle of energy, completely fearless, running all over the place, climbing everything. He fell/climbed out of his cot bed the other week - I heard the thud on the monitor and I don't think I've ever got up our stairs so quickly! Thankfully he was completely uninjured - there were a few tears, but I think that was more the shock of what had just happened, and then he stopped crying and actually looked a bit pleased with himself! He hasn't done it again, but just to be on the safe side, just about every cushion we own is spread out on the floor around his cot every time he's in there.
He can count from 1 to 10 (and sometimes carries on to 20, although the numbers start to sound a bit vague after 12), and he can pretty much say the alphabet all the way through. He's saying 'mum' and 'dad' really well now - I'll never get tired of hearing him call me mum (although, when I've just popped to the bathroom and I can hear him shouting me from the living room, that's... interesting! Can't I just... you know... do this, in peace?!). He can say loads of words now, really, too many to list. He's recently started saying 'ok' when we ask him anything, or sometimes he just says 'yes' to every question.
He loves singing, and some mornings I can hear him on the monitor singing The Wheels On The Bus or Wind The Bobbin Up to himself, it's so cute! He does all the arm actions too.
If we say "can I have a kiss?" he'll come over to kiss you, and he'll make a 'mwah' sound at the same time. And we've just taught him how to blow kisses too.
He's absolutely adorable and I love him so much I could burst!!

I'm still watching Strictly, of course, and still think Jay is fantastic. I don't think I breathed during his Argentine Tango this weekend, it was mesmerising! Since I last talked all things Strictly, Ainsley has left, followed by Kirsty and Carol. Ainsley was just starting to annoy me, he didn't seem to know when to stop talking and sometimes his sincerity was a bit OTT. I never took to Kirsty at all, so I wasn't sorry to see her go. Carol was the right person to leave tonight; as happy and smiley as she is, I can't really make my mind up whether I like her or not. But dancing-wise, she was definitely the weakest one. The next person to leave probably should be Jeremy, although I am actually quite enjoying his partnership with Karen, and I feel Katie Derham might be on thin ice too. To my untrained eye, she seemed to make a lot of mistakes in their Quickstep this week, and ballroom is meant to be what she's best at, so I don't know how much longer she can hang on.

Anyway, it's going to have to be a flying visit tonight - I thought if I don't blog something soon, I'll never get around to it!

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Review: House Rules

House Rules House Rules by Jodi Picoult
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

House Rules centres around Jacob, a boy with Asperger's Syndrome, who is accused of murder. The nature of the Syndrome means that a lot of his mannerisms could potentially be mistaken for signs of 'guilt', such as not being able to make eye contact and not answering certain questions, particularly under pressure. It also didn't help his case that he has a fascination with forensic science, something which he is extremely knowledgeable about.

The murder victim is Jess, Jacob's social skills tutor. His mum, Emma, knows that he had some kind of involvement in what happened to Jess, but she doesn't know to what extent. When Jacob is charged with the murder, Emma enlists the help of a rookie lawyer to try and prove her son's innocence. Meanwhile her other son, Jacob's younger brother Theo, is dealing with his own issues alone, while his mother is preoccupied with Jacob's court case. The 'forgotten sibling' seems to be a popular theme through several of JP's books...

This was another formulaic Jodi Picoult novel - moral/social/ethical dilemma etc culminating in courtroom scenes. I felt like I learned quite a bit about Asperger's Syndrome, although having read a few other reviews on Goodreads, it seems that Jodi Picoult threw every possible symptom at Jacob, so that he was quite an 'extreme' example of the condition.

The part that moved me the most was when Jacob was actually being held in jail (he was 18, so legally an adult) and trying to cope with such a dramatic change to his routine, and the torment that Emma was going through being parted from him and unable to help, but knowing how much he would be struggling. Even though he was an adult, the Asperger's meant that he was sometimes a bit naive and child-like, and as a parent myself I kind of felt that pain of not being able to help your child when they were suffering.

Overall I enjoyed the book, but there were a few moments of frustration when I wished someone would just ask Jacob, in a way that he would be able to respond to, about what really happened to Jess. Emma was always pointing out that he was incapable of lying, so I couldn't help thinking it could've all been solved a lot sooner!

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