The Roundabout Man by Clare Morrall: a compassionate and gripping read

Who is the Roundabout Man? He calls himself Quinn, the name of a boy in a world-famous series of children’s books. What he hopes no one will discover is that he’s the real Quinn, immortalised as a child by his mother in her entrancing tales about a little boy’s adventures with his triplet sisters.

My review:

It’s always been an utter mystery to me why Clare Morrall isn’t more widely known as she’s one of the best living writers we have in the UK. Her books are always a joy to read and this one is no exception. Morrall dissects the convoluted life of Quinn gently and with great compassion, and his life, both as a child and an adult, rings clear and true.

It’s a gripping and humane story, and I loved it. I’m already looking forward to her next book!

Anne Brooke Books

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton: a book of two halves

On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office–leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist–an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .

Johannes’ gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand–and fear–the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?

Review:

This is an interesting and brave book but it doesn’t quite work; it’s definitely a book of two halves, which don’t hang together. The Nella of the first half is dull and weak, whereas the Nella of the second half is very feisty and gripping. I think there should have been more of the hint of feistiness in the first half to try to hold the book together. It’s also fair to say that the writing of the first half is very long-winded, but suddenly when the plot actually begins half way through, this is when the story starts to sing.

I did have to say that I guessed about the baby issue long before Nella realised, so it was no surprise and really something of a cliche. Strangely, the story about the miniaturist is rather out of place and tends to slow the book down – we didn’t need this and it all fades out into something nonsensical in the end anyway. Still, the portrait of a new and challenging marriage and the fabulous writing in the last few chapters of the book make this worth reading, but probably best to start halfway through.

3 out of 5 stars

Anne Brooke Books

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh: a poetic and powerful story

The Victorian language of flowers was used to express emotions: honeysuckle for devotion, azaleas for passion, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it has been more useful in communicating feelings like grief, mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings.
Now eighteen, Victoria has nowhere to go, and sleeps in a public park, where she plants a small garden of her own. When her talent is discovered by a local florist, she discovers her gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But it takes meeting a mysterious vendor at the flower market for her to realise what’s been missing in her own life, and as she starts to fall for him, she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, and decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness.
The Language of Flowers is a heartbreaking and redemptive novel from author Vanessa Diffenbaugh, about the meaning of flowers, the meaning of family, and the meaning of love.
My review:

This is a powerful and poetic story about a young woman trying to find her place in life. Victoria’s relationship with flowers is a fabulous metaphor for how she sees the world and the people in it. The exquisite prose and the sympathetic main character drive the story along and the time-shift scenes between then and now are superbly done. The only reason it didn’t get 5 stars was because I thought the ending was too weak and it was too obvious that a lesson was being learnt – whereas I’d have preferred the character’s fantastic voice to remain as gripping as it had been up until the final chapter. Still, a great novel and I shall look out for more from this author.

Anne Brooke

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara: a flawed work of genius

This is a very powerful story and very powerful writing, with a good range of character viewpoints – almost Dickensian in fact, although the focus is purely on the rich and talented. The trouble with it is that it’s about 150 pages or so too long – a lot of Jude’s (terribly tragic) story needed to be cut as it has too much repetition and misery in it which weakens the tragic effect. Indeed, after a while, Jude’s utter refusal to get professional help for his very understandable mental health problems becomes selfish and irritating. It was also unfortunate that the too intense focus on Jude means we lose out on the delight of the other characters’ voices – I missed the middle years of JB and Malcolm especially.

There are however some achingly lovely turning points, and I was particularly struck by the negative and positive balance of the ‘what if’ scenario, i.e. what if we’d never met the horrible person who hurt us, as set against what if we’d never met the wonderful person who loves us – a good philosophy to ponder. So, in spite of obvious flaws, this book is still in my opinion a work of genius and I doubt I’ll read anything better this year.

9 out of 10

Anne Brooke Books

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor: a bleak but incisive novel

mrs-palfrey

A subtly written book that’s very sharp about human nature. I was however hoping for something more light-hearted and vibrant, but those sections were few and far between. The picture of advancing age, vulnerability and approaching death, as well as the small but significant betrayals of family and friends, is essentially a grim one. It left me feeling very bleak.

3 out of 5 stars

Anne Brooke Books

Free Book Friday: Angels and Apples

Welcome to Free Book Friday! Today’s FREE books at Amazon are as follows:

Angels and Airheads

Ricky has been secretly in love with his best friend Jez forever, but he’s never dared confess his feelings because he thinks Jez is too high-class for him. One evening, while sharing a quiet evening with Jez, a mysterious angel, Madred, appears and tries to persuade Ricky to take a chance on love.

Too bad Ricky doesn’t believe in angels. Madred is forced to take desperate measures in an attempt to show the reluctant Ricky the truth. When the angel leaves, can Ricky find the courage to declare himself to Jez, and what will happen to their friendship if he does?

Download this book for FREE today only!

The Apple Picker’s Daughter

Born in the 1960s on a UK apple farm, Clare Rivers is a girl out of time, living in a family and a world that makes little sense to her. Determined to carve out her place somehow, and with her deep love of her father to see her through, Clare begins a unique journey to discover the reasons for her own existence. If she can. However, accompanied by the oddities of family, school and the strange lyrical life of the apples, can Clare really find a place within herself to call home?

This novel will appeal to lovers of rural life, recent history and a child’s quirky but clear-sighted view of the adult world.

Download this book for FREE until Saturday!

Happy reading!

Anne Brooke Books
Gay Reads UK
The Gathandrian Trilogy

FREE Book Friday: It’s All About the Women!

Welcome to Free Book Friday! Today’s selection is very much focused on women and how we see and manage our lives. Find out more below:

Rosie by Name

Rosie (AKA Alison) works at a high-class escort agency as a receptionist. When her boss asks her to be the special birthday present for his favourite nephew, she can’t help but agree. The boss is the boss after all.

However an evening of surprises, unexpected parents and even the odd spider awaits her. By the end of the night, will she have fulfilled her mission or is her potential pay-rise nothing but a distant dream?

Download this book for FREE today only!

A Brief Guide to Period Pain Management

Period pain: it can be the most excruciating agony and can really ruin your month, every month. Here then, from someone who has suffered from exactly the same problems as you do, is a list of tips and tricks on how to ease the utterly debilitating symptoms.

The wisdom in this little book will enable you to manage the agony of period pain and diminish any future bouts as they occur. It will help turn your miserable months into magical ones!

Download this book for FREE until tomorrow!

The Singing Road and Other Stories

A woman listens to the song of the road and wonders if she has the strength to stay with her husband, this time. A journalist visits the opera and discovers a bitter history of failure alongside the music. An angry young boy finds the beach is not always a place of healing, and two lovers face their last day together with something like courage.

In this collection of twelve thought-provoking stories, a variety of very different characters confront the brokenness and despair of their lives, and begin a tentative journey towards the possibility of hope. Can they ever find their way back to the people they used to be?

Download this book for FREE until tomorrow!

Have a great weekend, everyone.

Anne Brooke Books
The Gathandrian Fantasy Trilogy
Gay Reads UK