The Book Page II

Just the idea of this book, loaned to me by my grandson, Jack, spooked me out. Whenever the heroine, Jem, looks into someone's eyes, she can see the date they will die. Not surprisingly, she tries her hardest not to look into anyone's eyes, earning herself a reputation for being wilful, distant and a loner.


It's not until she meets Spider that life seems to take a turn for the better - though not for long. A trip to London which should have been a fun day out turns into a nghtmare as Jem foresees a tragedy about to happen when she realises that everyone around her has the same date in their eyes - today's date.


She also carries the awful knowledge that she knows when Spider will die. Is there any way the numbers can be defeated? Can she, somehow, prevent his death?


I loved the character of brave, lonely Jem, unwilling to let down her guard but so clearly craving love and companionship. Spider, too, was more than the gangly, smelly misfit he appeared and the relationship which slowly developed between the two was strangely sweet.  Spider's gran, the enigmatic Val, and well-meaning but struggling foster mother Karen added background to the characters of both Spider and Jem.


A survey reported in the newspapers this week reported that, while many of us will fib about reading "chick lit" or the likes of "Fifty Shades of Grey" - we are quite happy to admit to reading children's books. I reckon that's because so much fiction written for today's children presents us with really challenging, thought-provoking reading.


Rachel Ward's Numbers is one such book. Once again, I won't spoil the ending for you - but it made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck!

I did enjoy this book - even though I rather suspected the twist in the tale less than half way through.  It's a warm-hearted book, full of likeable characters, especially Alice - the Wife 22 of the title - struggling to make sense of life, marriage, children, job and ambition. On the back of the book there is a quote describing it as "a wonderfully clever, sad and funny read." I am inclined to agree.


Alice's mother died when she was 45 and Alice herself is approaching this landmark birthday. She refers to it as her "tipping point year", the time when she becomes the same age her mother was when she died. It has made her reflect on her life as wife to William, mother to Peter and Zoe, drama teacher to the youngsters at Kentwood Elementary School.  When an invitation appears in her in-box to take part in a major survey on married life, she is sufficiently intrigued to accept. So she becomes "Wife 22" in the anonymised terms of the research centre, responding to a stream of questions asked by "Researcher 101." As Alice's answers become more and more honest and detailed, the reationship between researcher and subject develops into something much deeper.


There are lots of laugh-out-loud moments in the book and some very well-drawn pictures of family life. I loved Alice the mother, particularly her relationship with son Peter. Alongside the humour are some poignant scenes as Alice recounts the early days of her relationship with William and meets up with a group of friends who all lost their mothers as children.


The book is peopled by an excellent cast of supporting characters, from best friend Nedra to the appalling mother of one of the children Alice teaches. Only William remains a bit of a mystery, coming alive through the passages in Alice's responses to Researcher 101's questions.


I felt for Alice the writer, who lost her way as a playwright when she suffered biting reviews to her first stage play. Through her answers to the survey, Wife 22 finds her writing talent again. But what about her marriage?


I won't spoil the ending!

Having read - and enjoyed - The Ice Cream Girls (see my review below) I found The Rose Petal Beach in the local library and just had to borrow it. It was on a "Quick Choice" so had to be returned within a week but I was pretty sure, from past experience, that this wouldn't pose a problem.


I have to say that this was not my favourite Dorothy Koomson novel. At 657 pages, it's rather long drawn out, with not a lot happening for considerable stretches. The author also uses a somewhat complicated structure of flash-backs which makes for a confusing read at times, though in her favour, the various voices of the main characters whom she uses to tell the story are all distinctly different.


At the centre of the book are relationships and secrets -Tami's with her husband Scott who turns out to have a sordid secret which shakes Tami's world; Tami with Mirabelle, a beautiful neighbour with a painful secret in her past; Tami's with best friend Beatrix who also - you guessed it - has a secret. The story starts when police turn up at Tami's house and arrest Scott for sexual assault. It is the start of a painful unravelling of everything that Tami has held dear in her life.


The pace picks up a bit with the discovery of a body, turning the book from kitchen sink into a crime novel. However it slows down again, rambling into new, but not necessarily gripping, avenues


My favourite character was Fleur, Mirabelle's long lost daughter, whose search for evidence that she had always had a place in her mother's heart rang true. The moment when she discovered the truth about her mother's role in her life moved me more than anything else in the book. As always, with Dorothy Koomson's books, I enjoyed the faithful and affectionate depiction of Brighton as the main centre of the action.


There was, of course, the expected twist in the tale when we discovered "who dunnit" - but I am afraid I didn't find it in the least bit plausible. It seemed manufactured, not at all reasoned. Perhaps that was just me?


In the notes at the back of the book the author explains how she had cut 50,000 words out of her original maunscript.


I think she should have gone a lot further and made this a tighter, brighter read.

After watching the television adaptation of Dorothy Koomson's novel, I was keen to read the book - not least because I was aware, from an interview on the radio and reports back from a WI meeting where Dorothy Koomson was the guest speaker, that she was extremely unhappy with the changes which the TV directors had made to her story.


I could understand why, because even the killer had been changed in the TV version, and the emphasis on domestic violence, something the author feels very strongly about, was minimised.  Some changes made sense, I thought, including Poppy's home background and the fact that the story began with both girls returning to Brighton, scene of the tragic events of their youth.


This is the story of two young girls - called the Ice Cream Girls because of a photo of them licking ice creams, taken by their tormentor, the creepy history teacher.  He is a thoroughly nasty piece of work and perhaps the main fault of this book is that it is difficult to understand how Serena and Poppy ended up in the dock, accused of his muurder and how Poppy went to prison for it.  But that is the whole premise of the book which focuses on the determination of Poppy, newly released from prison, to make Serena confess her guilt and clear her (Poppy's) name.


Serena in the book is a far more sympathetic character than her TV persona. Cut down to just three episodes, the TV adaptation also had to trim some of the "side" stories which went such a long way to develop the characters of Serena and Poppy. In particular, the relationship between Poppy and Tina, the woman who helped her survive her long years in jail moved me as much as anything else in the book.


This is a story which is easy to read - but not necessarily easy reading.  The theme is one of childhood betrayed and youth lost. Worth a read - especially if you want to know who REALLY killed the history teacher!

J.K. Rowling's first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy, had a mixed reception from both critics and from the Harry Potter Fan Club.  A strange setting, some  might have thought - revolving around the Pagford Parish Council and a battle between two factions within the village. And certainly not the language one had come to expect from the Wizard of Hogwarts.


When Barry Fairbrother falls down dead on page 5 he sets the wheels in motion for a Parish Council election, at the heart of which will be all he has worked for in terms of bringing the warring factions of Pagford together. All through the book the reader cannot help but wonder what would have happened if Barry hadn't died so unexpectedly on page 5. Most of all,we wonder what difference it would have made to poor, doomed Krystal Weedon, the "bad girl", desperately trying to keep her dysfunctional family together, whose talent as a rower Barry worked hard to foster.


Knowing something about local government, I winced at some of the obvious errors in this tale of a parish council at war - the book is not as well-researched as it might seem though I doubt that will worry many readers. The strong language throughout will shock some - I can imagine parents hiding the book from their sons and daughters.  


Reviewers have made much of Rowling's depiction of the smug, middle class Pagford stalwarts and certainly most of the characters are not particularly likeable on the surface. However this is a book about secrets and at the heart of the book are the secrets that almost every one of the characters harbours. It is in understanding the secrets that the reader comes to understand (if not to like) the characters.


I cried at the end. One review I read said the main problem with The Casual Vacancy is that, unlike in the Harry Potter novels, there is no hope of redemption, no magic wand to dispel the evil. Certainly there is no sense that everyone will "live happily ever after."


But the fact that I cried meant I cared. That must count for something.

Latest comments

23.04 | 20:15

lovely and heartwarming - an inspiration to us all x

09.03 | 12:07

Love this story told as ever beautifully.x

10.11 | 21:31

What a super account of a special event. I loved meeting you last night and seeing your creation come together. I’m so pleased you got so much from the activity

07.09 | 13:17

I have broad shoulders x

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