Posts Tagged ‘Publisher- Black Swan’

The Light Between Oceans

M L Stedman
between oceans 2A boat washes up on the shore of a remote lighthouse keeper’s island. It holds a dead man – and a crying baby. The only two islanders, Tom and his wife Izzy, are about to make a devastating decision.
They break the rules and follow their hearts. What happens next will break yours.

As we were sent this book unsolicited it took a while for me to pick it up and read it, and when I did I wished I’d started earlier. We first meet Tom who is a lighthouse keeper on the coast of Australia (as in the Light of the title), he has survived the horrors of World War 1 and is happy to have a quiet life, the complete opposite of his time in the trenches. Tom comes across as a thoughtful, caring man, toughened up by life, he has learnt hard lessons from his experiences and now seems content, but changes are on his horizon.

A change in posting sends him to Janus, the most lonely Light, furthest from shore. On his way there he has to stay for a few days at the nearest town and he meets Izzy. There is an instant connection between them, but Tom doesn’t think any woman would want to be with him alone out at the Lighthouse. He under-estimates Izzy who is a strong, and for the time especially, independent and free thinking woman, they eventually get married and go to live at Janus together. M L Stedman beautifully describes the island the life is on and their life there. In some ways it almost comes over as quite idyllic. However as time passes Izzy has miscarriages and they have to cope with this alone, really in the middle of nowhere things get harder.

Then, as the blurb says a baby washes up to them and to Izzy this feels like a miracle, but Tom is not so sure. As you can guess from the blurb too they do keep the baby, much against Tom’s better judgement and for a while everything is wonderful, but as Tom’s conscience continues to prickle life is not as charmed as it might appear. Big decisions still lie in store for everyone and the consequences of their actions are far reaching.

I really enjoyed the way that we got to know Tom and Izzy and watched as their unique relationship grew and blossomed, it made an excellent basis to watch again as they have to deal with disagreement and tough times and to see whether or not their relationship would overcome adversity. The build-up also enables us as the reader to fully sympathise with both Tom and Izzy as they make decisions that many people would just see as being wrong. There is a real challenge here to think about what we would do in the same circumstances. It is not always easy to do the right thing, and the right thing is not always clear either! I also liked the way that the changing fortunes of the couple made me re-evaluate them as people, I felt quite differently about Izzy by the end of the book.

Verdict: A great out working of a complicated moral dilemma, wrapped up in gripping prose and unforgettable characters, gripping!

Reviewed by Helen

Publisher: Black Swan
Publication Date: May 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 464
Genre: Historical Fiction
Age: Adult
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge: Debut Author
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The Book Thief

book thiefHERE IS A SMALL FACT – YOU ARE GOING TO DIE
1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.
Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.
SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION – THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH

The subject of this novel was of interest to me. I have read lots of books set during World War II but most have been from the point of view of the British, Americans or Europeans resisting the Germans, some have been about the Jews having to cope with the horrors thrust on them, only one has been through the eyes of a person living in Germany and trying to make sense of what was happening around them. The Book Thief is about Liesel, a young girl growing up in the wartime in Germany and this made it fascinating, quite aside from the interest in why she was a book thief or why Death himself was narrating the story.

Therefore, and I feel compelled to be honest here, it was a bit of a disappointment when it took me a little while to really get into this. Maybe I wasn’t in the right mood! I found it hard to get to like our protagonist Liesel, despite her plight, (she loses her brother and mother and is fostered into a new, harsh family early on in the novel), however as I got to know her, and her new family I got drawn in.

From the beginning I was interested in the narration. The voice of Death as a storyteller and as a character is quirky to say the least, and the pictures painted in his sections are very evocative. It is evident that the war period is going to be a busy time for Death and he is ideally placed to comment on what is going on all around him. As an overseer he gets the big picture and can comment on the lives of Liesel and those that live with her and around her.

Liesel’s is a story of growing up in pre-war and wartime Germany, a time of tension, fear and suspicion, at least if you were unsure about Nazism and didn’t want to be a part of what was happening. As her father was a communist Liesel has been sent away to a new home, a place of safety. She has to learn about a new family, a new neighbourhood and a new Germany. There are tough times, food shortages and job difficulties for Liesel’s new father, work is hard to find if you are not thought to be sympathetic to the cause. It is hard to get by and live up to your conscience. Liesel also has to cope with finding friends, standing up for herself, proving herself and all the other things that would normally affect a teenage girl.

Zusak effortlessly shows us the toughness of Liesel’s world and the plight of the German people, those who are unhappy about what is happening and those who are drawn in. The book burnings, the attacks on the Jews, the shortages suffered by many, the fear of being different, the pressure to be the perfect German. As Liesel’s new family suffer, hide a Jew, wait for the bombs, lose a father to work away from home, through all these things the curtain is lifted on what it was like to be part of the other side.

Verdict: In the end I was enthralled, some of this is not easy to read, but it is so thought provoking, it is heartbreaking and at the same time it succeeds in being up-lifting. Many of its themes are still relevant today. A fascinating read.

Reviewed by Helen

Publisher: Black Swan
Publication Date: September 2007
Format: Paperback
Pages: 554
Genre: Historical fiction, WWII
Age: YA
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Borrowed
Challenge: None
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In Her Shadow

Louise Douglas

in her shadowHannah Brown never thought she’d have a best friend like Ellen Brecht. Ellen is everything she isn’t – beautiful, daring, glamorous and fierce. Growing up together in rural Cornwall, life seems perfect. But their idyllic childhood is shattered by obsession, betrayal and, ultimately, tragedy.
Hannah has tried for twenty years to forget what happened during that terrible summer. Then, one ordinary morning at work, she glimpses a woman who is identical to Ellen. Can it really be her? And has Ellen returned to forgive her – or to punish her?

I was gripped by this novel, it has all the essentials for a good read; compelling characters, beautiful settings, an intriguing story and a little bit of mystery to keep you guessing along the way.

The story is told by Hannah who is in her thirties and working for a museum, she is thrown into turmoil one day by a glimpse of her old friend Ellen Brecht and we discover that Hannah’s past holds secrets and a history of mental illness because of childhood events that she has never really recovered from. Through Hannah’s life now and her reminiscences we gradually discover what she is hiding from and why Ellen’s possible return is so significant.

Ellen and her family burst into Hannah’s quiet life bringing an excitement and vibrancy that Hannah is drawn to like a moth to the flame, but there are hidden dangers and her youthful eyes don’t see the whole picture or the darkness within this family. Ellen is strong, fierce and determined (all things Hannah is not) they form a strong friendship, along with with Hannah’s adopted brother Jago. They grow through their teenage years together with the angst that goes with that and the added problems caused by Ellen’s family and Jago’s history.

Hannah has her own qualities and is a good friend to Ellen, but also struggles with jealousy and loneliness and feeling of betrayal as Ellen and Jago grow closer. She is a very complex character and the many facets come together along with the events so we can understand why she has suffered mental illness. As events roll on in the present we are left wondering if she is having more episodes and if she is heading for another breakdown.

As secrets are revealed and the darker elements come to the fore all the characters show their best and worst sides. I really enjoyed the build-up and revelations when they came, some things I didn’t see coming at all. The whole story is very atmospheric and there is a chill that pervades the book as we wonder where this is all going and how Hannah is going to cope with re-living the horrors of her past.

Verdict:I really enjoyed this and have already got another of Louise’s books on the Kindle to read soon!

Reviewed by Helen

Publisher: Black Swan
Publication Date: August 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 464
Genre: Fiction
Age: Adult
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge:British book
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Peaches for Monsieur le Cure

Joanne Harris

peaches A welcome return to the village in rural France that was the setting for Joanne Harris’s remarkable and much-loved number one bestseller Chocolat.
It isn’t often you receive a letter from the dead.
When Vianne Rocher receives a letter from beyond the grave, she has no choice but to follow the wind that blows her back to Lansquenet, the village in south-west France where, eight years ago, she opened up a chocolate shop. But Vianne is completely unprepared for what she finds there. Women veiled in black, the scent of spices and peppermint tea, and there, on the bank of the river Tannes, facing the square little tower of the church of Saint-Jerôme like a piece on a chessboard — slender, bone-white and crowned with a silver crescent moon -a minaret.
Nor is it only the incomers from North Africa that have brought big changes to the community. Father Reynaud, Vianne’s erstwhile adversary, is now disgraced and under threat. Could it be that Vianne is the only one who can save him?

I have enjoyed quite a few of Joanne Harris’ books and jumped at the chance of getting my hands on this. I love revisiting old characters and finding out where their various journeys are taking them and this novel is perfect for that. I enjoyed Chocolate very much and Vianne’s next story The Lollipop Shoes. This story continues on Vianne’s tale for years later when she is drawn back to Lansquenet by a letter from her old friend Armande. Armande has died and her grandson passes the letter on. Vianne is a little shaken by this blast from the past, particularly as it encourages her to return to Lansquenet and follow the wind again. But Vianne never likes to revisit the places she lived in and Lansquenet holds more than memories for her as it was the nearest place she ever had to a home. Armande calls on her to return as she realises trouble is coming to Lansquenet and evidently feels that Vianne is the one to sort it out. Vianne is not nearly so sure but can’t refuse her old friend so she, Anouk and Rosette travel back to face both the uncertainties of the past and the future in the village they last saw eight years ago.

Lansquenet, as you would expect, is both changed and the same. This is one of the things Vianne fears as she returns, the changes from her memories. The village and its population have moved on. Time has caused the young to grow up and the adults to develop and yet in far more ways they are still the same people. The village still has friendly faces and gossips, pointing fingers and suspicion alongside unchanged traditions. However there is a new Arab community at Les Marauds, complete with mosque and calls to prayer, ladies in niqabs and strict rules. But there is unrest within this new community which has grown to become separate from its Catholic, white neighbours. This time it is not Vianne who is the outsider in the village.

In Lansquenet Monsieur Francis Reynard has been ousted from his church by suspicion that he has been trying to harm the Muslim community and by a new, up and coming priest who brings a guitar and power point to the church. Vianne’s arrival shakes Monsieur Reynard and yet this time he feels maybe she is the one to help him.

I was drawn in by this revisiting of characters and the way that they have developed. They are still true the original and returning to the setting of Chocolat is exciting. The issues it raises for Vianne are easy to identify with, even though she has led such a different kind of life than most of us will never have. Vianne continues to be wise, using her special brand of magic and mystery to help and understand others. She treads fine lines, befriending some in the new community as well as catching up with old friends. There are demons of her own for Vianne to face, but I am not going to put in a spoiler here!

Written from the perspective of both Vianne and Francis we get to see the world from to totally different points of few that serves to keep us, the reader, at the heart of the story. Always knowing what both parties are thinking is fascinating. From Francis thoughts we see his good intentions and motivations, and through Vianne we see why his efforts produce so little fruit! The development of the relationship between Vianne and Francis was particularly well written, after all the water under the bridge between them, neither of them could have found this easy.

The novel explores many contemporary issues, racism, prejudice, intolerance and religious misunderstandings. Yet at its heart it is about people trying to get by in this world with their insecurities, differences and similarities. As always Joanne writes beautifully with descriptive prose that makes you not just merely imagine it but see, smell and taste it all as well. Her evocative style sweeps you in, the subject matter provokes thought and the characters jump off the page.

Verdict: If you haven’t tried Joanne Harris before you really should begin.

Reviewed by Helen

Publisher: Black Swan
Publication Date: March 2013
Format: Paperback
Pages: 544
Genre: Magic, Fantasy, Religion, Food
Age: Adult
Reviewer: Helen
Source: Provided by publisher
Challenge: British book
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