The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick

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Having been married for over 40 years, 69-year-old Arthur Pepper is mourning the loss of his wife. On the anniversary of her death, he finally musters the courage to go through her possessions, and happens upon a charm bracelet that he has never seen before.

What follows is a surprising adventure that takes Arthur from London to Paris and India in an epic quest to find out the truth about his wife’s secret life before they met, a journey that leads him to find healing, self-discovery, and love in the most unexpected of places.

My Review:

Every now and then I read a book that is different to my usual choice of fiction. The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper was an absolute joy.
It starts just before the first anniversary of his wife’s death and we learn how the decision to go through her belongings changes his life. Up until that point his life had consisted of going though his daily routine like clockwork. He never tries anything different, not even a different outfit or a different meal for his breakfast. He tends to his plant which he has named Frederica and goes out of his way to avoid his neighbour who insists on baking him pies and giving him self help leaflets.
When he finds the charm bracelet a whole new world opens its doors to him, that of his wife’s life before she met him. When he decides to look into the story of each charm he learns a lot. Some he finds comfort in but there are also things that he finds distressing.
I loved reading about his adventures, and how he learned to embrace what he had left in life. He had his family but he also realised that there were people he could build a friendship with. He accepted that even though there were parts of his wife’s past that he didn’t know about it didn’t affect the memory of their happy marriage.
If you liked Harold Fry you will love this, it’s perfect.

With thanks to the publisher for the copy received.

Pimp by Ken Bruen and Jason Starr

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DEALING… PRODUCING…ALL IN A DAY’S WORK FOR A DRUGLORD. OR IN HOLLYWOOD. Ruined and on the lam, former drug kingpin Max Fisher stumbles upon the biggest discovery of his crooked life: a designer drug called PIMP that could put him back on top. Meanwhile, a certain femme fatale from his past is pursuing a comeback dream of her own, setting herself up in Hollywood as producer of a series based on her and Max’s life story. But even in La-La Land, happy endings are hard to come by, especially with both the cops and your enemies in the drug trade coming after you…

My Review:

Pimp is a very violent and at times extremely funny swipe at the entertainment industry that many people are fascinated by.
Max Fisher is living under a new identity right across from the police station and making a fortune with the drug PIMP. Some of the funniest moments of the novel involved Max, especially the delusions that he had about his looks. Most of the other characters who featured were trying to get his story on TV.
All of the characters were unlikeable, it’s a long time since I read a novel where so many people were self obsessed. Stand out scenes involved Paula with her attitude towards most of the people that she dealt with.
It was a slightly different novel for me, but it was very entertaining book to read. It is violent, and some of the more violent scenes were unexpected. I had the feeling throughout the book that the celebrities who were mentioned in the book would have loved it. Even if they were ridiculed to some degree. I had never heard of either author and need to have a close look at their other novels.

With thanks to Titan Books for the copy received.

The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt by Tracy Farr

imageThis is the story of Dame Lena Gaunt: musician, octogenarian, junkie.

Lena is Music’s Most Modern Musician; the first theremin player of the twentieth century.

From the obscurity of a Perth boarding school to a glittering career on the world stage, Lena Gaunt’s life will be made and torn apart by those she gives her heart to.

Through it all her relationship with music

My Thoughts:

The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt is a novel that is completely different to my usual crime fiction. And I loved every bit of it. Even having the press release stating that it was a fictional biography I was still convinced that Lena existed. I was googling both her and the instrument that she played, the theremin. Think of the music that featured in Midsomer Murders.
Covering a period of eighty years, most of it set in Australia and New Zealand but also in Europe where Lena experienced her first really cold winter and America. She lived through both World Wars but was untouched by both. She lost both her parents when she was still young but was close to neither. But she suffered unmentionable loss later in life.
Her relationship with Uncle Valentine was lovely. Her closest family member who asked no questions and never passed judgement. She had a similar friendship with Cath during the 1940s and Mo, the filmmaker who she let into her past.
Every now and then I read a book that turns into something special. One that stays with you long after finishing it. I would like to thank Aardvark Bureau for sending me this novel.

The Green Road by Anne Enright

imageSpanning thirty years and three continents, The Green Road tells the story of Rosaleen, matriarch of the Madigan family, and her four children.

Ardeevin, County Clare, Ireland. 1980. When her oldest brother Dan announces he will enter the priesthood, young Hanna watches her mother howl in agony and retreat to her room. In the years that follow, the Madigan children leave one by one: Dan for the frenzy of New York under the shadow of AIDS; Constance for a hospital in Limerick, where petty antics follow simple tragedy; Emmet for the backlands of Mali, where he learns the fragility of love and order; and Hanna for modern-day Dublin and the trials of her own motherhood. When Christmas Day reunites the children under one roof, each confronts the terrible weight of family ties and the journey that brought them home. The Green Road is a major work of fiction about the battles we wage for family,faith and love.

My thoughts:

I had seen quite a lot of publicity about this novel in various book of the year lists in newspapers at the end of last year. A bit of a departure from my comfort zone but it was a step that I was glad I took.
Telling the story of an Irish family, much like any other family they all had their own dreams and their own troubles. At first I thought that Dan was selfish and quite cold, especially when the AIDS crisis was causing so much anguish for those affected. As he got older and more honest with himself I changed my view slightly. Emmett always seemed to be full of anger although he used it to try and make the world a better place. Constance was harassed, the only one out of the four who had stayed close to Rosaleen. The scene where she did her Christmas shop was very funny and very accurate, anybody who has ever done the Christmas shop will agree. Hanna, the first one we met and re-introduced to last. I didn’t connect to her immediately, it was only after she made the trip home that I warmed to her more. Rosaleen seemed very real. Through much of the novel she was alone, resentful and feeling abandoned by her children but uncertain how to be when they were altogether.
I loved the way it was written, there was sadness at times but it was also quite witty. All of the five main characters felt real even though some were hard to like at first. I enjoyed reading the Irish accent, sometimes in a novel an accent doesn’t read properly but I felt that it did in this book.

Shtum by Jem Lester

imageIf you only read one novel that is released during 2016, I would recommend that it be Shtum by Jem Lester.

Ben and Emma have a severely autistic son, Jonah. They are forced to take the local authorities to a tribunal to get him into a residential school that will be the best option for him rather than the day school that will be by far the worst for all concerned. To help with their appeal Emma convinces Ben that they need to look like they have separated, so even though he doesn’t agree Ben and Jonah move in with Ben’s father Georg. Ben and Georg have a strained relationship but Georg idolises Jonah and Ben can’t help but feel jealous when he overhears Georg tell Jonah about growing up in Hungary. Something that he has never done with Ben.

I will be the first to admit my lack of knowledge regarding autism and even after reading the novel I still know very little. However this had no negative impact on what I read. The story of three different generations of a family, two who had their differences trying to do the best for the third. Ben and Emma had their faults and both dealt with their situation without much regard for each other. But they dealt with it in the only way they could.
I went through the the whole range of emotions whilst reading. I laughed but I also cried. I felt anger, mainly towards the councils, schools and social workers but also at times towards Ben. And I had a huge amount of sympathy towards a family who were trying to do the best thing possible for their child, and were being let down by a system and a feeling of betrayal towards absent ‘friends’.
I have read two books this year when I have felt bereft when I have finished it. This was one of them. Totally different to my usual choice of fiction but I think it’s a book that will be enjoyed whatever your tastes are. I have no hesitation in recommending this novel to anybody who loves to read.

Thanks to the publisher for the copy received.

Shtum will be released in April 2016.