Wednesday, March 7, 2018

The High Mountains of Portugal by Yann Martel

Hardback: 332 pages                                                                                                 
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Spiegel and Grau Feb 2016
Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentence: Tomas decides to walk.
Review Quote: An exploration of faith and how we can learn to accept death. Martel has an ability to write about the very fundamental human emotional threads that join us. 'Irish Independent'
Main Characters: Tomas,
Setting: Tras-os-Montes, Portugal

My Opinion: Three parts written as novellas with no chapters which is not a favourite format of mine. Took me until the final one to pull together the connections and understand, I think, what Martel is getting at. Maybe if I was not reading this for book club I would have given up. However I was glad I persevered as the third story is the best as for me it is the exploration of faith that melds this novel together. In conclusion it was for me personally just an ok read but only because it bored me, despite being so skillfully written.     

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

In Lisbon in 1904, a young man named Tomás discovers an old journal. It hints at the existence of an extraordinary artifact that—if he can find it—would redefine history. Traveling in one of Europe’s earliest automobiles, he sets out in search of this strange treasure.

Thirty-five years later, a Portuguese pathologist devoted to the murder mysteries of Agatha Christie finds himself at the center of a mystery of his own and drawn into the consequences of Tomás’s quest.

Fifty years on, a Canadian senator takes refuge in his ancestral village in northern Portugal, grieving the loss of his beloved wife. But he arrives with an unusual companion: a chimpanzee. And there the century-old quest will come to an unexpected conclusion.

The High Mountains of Portugal—part quest, part ghost story, part contemporary fable—offers a haunting exploration of great love and great loss. Filled with tenderness, humor, and endless surprise, it takes the reader on a road trip through Portugal in the last century—and through the human soul.

Video Trailer for 'Yann Martel - The High Mountains of Portugal ' Courtesy of YouTube

Author Profile

Yann Martel was born in Salamanca,Spain on June 25th 1963. After studying philosophy at university, he worked at odd jobs and travelled before turning to writing at the age of twenty-six. He is the author of the internationally acclaimed 2002 Man Booker Prize-winning novel Life of Pi, which was translated into thirty-eight languages and spent fifty-seven weeks on the New York Times Bestseller List. His collection of short stories, The Facts Behind the Helsinki Roccamatios, and his first novel, Self, both received critical acclaim. Yann Martel lives in Saskatchewan, Canada, with the writer Alice Kuipers and their four children.

Photographs, Trailer and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites.

YouTube Video    Amazon Page - Yann Martel   Goodreads Profile    Twitter Profile

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

No Ordinary Life by Diana Rhodes

Paperback:  415 pages                                                                                                
Genre: Autobiography
Publisher: Stand Sure Publishing 2010
Source: Purchased from Plas Dolguog in Machynlleth
First Sentence: 'You're going to die!' screamed the doctor, now puce with rage.

My Opinion: What a perfect title for the biography of Diana Rhodes an amazing woman who inspired so many people around the world in her lifetime. I live in the locality and was motivated to read the book after meeting members of her family, sadly not the lady herself. So glad I did read it, as although I had heard about her achievements, I had no idea just how much she had to overcome severe physical disabilities to achieve her aims in life. An enlightening read, that will make you think about your own place in this world. 

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

The inspirational story of a woman with severe physical disabilities who has made her mark as a wife, mother, teacher, peace delegate to the United Nations and founder of Grandma's Garden, a tourist attraction featured by both BBC and ITV, dedicated to raising money for charity.
From an early age, Diana always felt different. While her two sisters were strong and healthy, Diana was often sick and confined to bed. A sensitive child, she was attuned to the non-physical realms and no stranger to communicating with others who had died. She challenges our concepts of life and death and the role we each play in society and the kind of world in which we live.
Diana's own first brush with death came at age eighteen after an operation to remove part of her thyroid. After complications set in, four young doctors battled to save her life with an emergency tracheotomy.
None of this barred Diana from finding happiness with Richard, the love of her life, and they married when she was twenty. Three children followed, with more health problems along the way, but Diana has never lost her sense of humour and her story is peppered with funny, irreverent anecdotes and asides. These include a passionate search for spiritual understanding and tales of years devoted to teaching 'unteachable' children with severe dyslexia and other learning problems.
Fate led Diana and Richard to a magical part of Wales, where they first ran a caravan park from an ancient stone cottage with hardly a penny to their name. Hard work paid off, and they were able to extend their boundaries to include a small hotel . All the while, Diana's health was a rogue factor and at age thirty six she had another brush with death following a hysterectomy. Diagnoses of severe rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogrens syndrome were to come, and she began to use a wheelchair.
Through all of this, Diana's infectious sense of humour shines out to captivate her readers. When she had to give up teaching she set out to make a difference in another way, setting up the Seed of Life Peace Foundation to bring about one world vision and prayer. A Peace Gathering at Plas Dolguog attracted people from all over the world and Diana's work grew to the point where she was invited to attend the launch of the Earth Charter at The Hague in the Netherlands. This led to an invitation to attend the Millennium World Summit for Religious and Spiritual Leaders and the presentation of her Peace Scroll to the United Nations and the United Nations University of Peace, the Foreword to this book written by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Yet to come would be Diana's vision of a special garden at Dolguog dedicated to peace. Her work is tireless and now supports many different local and national charities. As her health has deteriorated, Diana's determination has grown. You will be amazed, uplifted and enlightened by her story.

Author Profile: 

Diana Rhodes was a devoted wife, mother and grandmother. She was a teacher, educator and tireless worker for the peace process. Despite, or perhaps even because of serious ongoing health challenges she had a passion for her work.  The previous paragraph is adapted from the Biography in her book, No Ordinary Life. 

I never had the pleasure of meeting Diana but I do know her late husband, Richard, sons Anthony and Edward and daughter in law Tina.

Sadly Diana died in January 2015 and below I have reproduced the announcement her son Anthony posted

It is with sadness that we, the Rhodes family, inform you of the passing of Diana Patricia Rhodes. She was an exceptional wife, loving Mum and Awesome Grandma, she will always hold a special place in our hearts. Diana spent many years of her life suffering from an ongoing illness and disability, which never held her back. We take great comfort knowing that she is now free from her pain.
Diana is known and loved locally by all, especially her students, she taught at Ysgol Bro Dyfi and Newtown College, and when she was too poorly to continue she carried on teaching from home, and called her school “Frogs into Princes.”
Her Local charity work was awe inspiring raising tens of thousands of pounds for local people, charities and good causes.
Her passion for peace and love was unsurpassed and she spoke globally on the subject at many prestigious venues and events, including the United Nations World Peace Conference in New York.
Diana was helped with all she did by her amazing Canine Partner, Wallace. Diana and he were wonderful together and shared a connection, he read her mind, he did more than fetching and carrying for her, he was able to comfort her.

Photographs and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites.

Amazon Author Page   Goodreads - No Ordinary Life   

 Facebook - Memorial Page - Diana Rhodes

Monday, March 5, 2018

Britt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman

Translator: Henning Koch
Paperback: 298 pages                                                                                                 
Genre: Fiction, Swedish Fiction,
Publisher: Sceptre 2016
Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentences: Forks. Knives. Spoons. In that order.
Favourite Quote: “One morning you wake up with more life behind you than in front of you, not being able to understand how it’s happened.”
Review Quote: 'Brilliant mix of belly-laughs' Shelf Awareness 'Insightful and touching' Publishers Weekly 'Impressive and Heartwarming' Literary Review
Main Character: Britt-Marie
Setting: Borg, Sweden.
My Opinion: I doubt I would have chosen to read this title had it not been a book club choice, however reading the reviews on the cover I had high expectations. ('Brilliant mix of belly-laughs' Shelf Awareness 'Insightful and touching' Publishers Weekly 'Impressive and Heartwarming' Literary Review). 
What a disappointment it was! Sadly, as I know I am in the minority, I found it a depressing read, although it does have a few humorous moments.  
I understand the obsessive personality of  Britt-Marie is key to the story, however for me she is neither likeable or believable and I was completely unable to empathise with her. Set in what sounded to me like the most dull town in Sweden I also found the football theme excessive. Overall I just think this book is rather peculiar. Therefore I cannot recommend, you will either already be a fan or you will have to decide for yourself by giving his work a try. Personally I doubt I will be reading his other books, without a lot of convincing that I should do so.

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

Britt-Marie can’t stand mess. A disorganized cutlery drawer ranks high on her list of unforgivable sins. She is not one to judge others—no matter how ill-mannered, unkempt, or morally suspect they might be. It’s just that sometimes people interpret her helpful suggestions as criticisms, which is certainly not her intention. But hidden inside the socially awkward, fussy busybody is a woman who has more imagination, bigger dreams, and a warmer heart that anyone around her realizes.

When Britt-Marie walks out on her cheating husband and has to fend for herself in the miserable backwater town of Borg—of which the kindest thing one can say is that it has a road going through it—she finds work as the caretaker of a soon-to-be demolished recreation center. The fastidious Britt-Marie soon finds herself being drawn into the daily doings of her fellow citizens, an odd assortment of miscreants, drunkards, layabouts. Most alarming of all, she’s given the impossible task of leading the supremely untalented children’s soccer team to victory. In this small town of misfits, can Britt-Marie find a place where she truly belongs?

Author Profile

                    Fredrik Backman was born on on June 2nd 1981 in Stockholm, Sweden.
                                More biographical Information can be found  here

Photographs, Trailer and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites.

Translator - Henning Koch    Goodreads Author Profile     Twitter Page

Amazon Author Page     Author's Official Website     Fredrik Backman - Wikipedia

Friday, March 2, 2018

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood

Hardback: 320 pages                                                                                                 
Genre: Literary Fiction
Publisher: Nan. A.Talese 2015                                                                                                                 Source: Tywyn Public Library
First Sentence: Sleeping in the car is cramped!
Review Quote: The best selling author who shot to fame thirty years ago with The Handmaid's Tale is still at her darkly comic best.
Main Characters: Stan and Charmaine
Literary Awards: The Kitschies for Red Tentacle (Novel) (2015)Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Science Fiction (2015)
My Opinion: A very strange read, entertaining but also disturbing. Disturbing in that it will at times send chills down your spine, yet  a few pages later you will be laughing at some of the bizarre events!
The future is bleak for Stan and Charmaine who at the beginning of the novel are living in their car, in a desperate state. They apply to become part of a social experiment that offers them both work and a home, which although it rescues them, in return they become part of something very sinister. One month in prison working alternates with one month in their own home. A home which by the way they share with another couple, swapping from prison to home with this other couple. They develop an obsession with their counterparts and life becomes rather complicated.  Scary in a way as though this is far from reality it so easily could be!

Précis Courtesy of Goodreads:

Margaret Atwood puts the human heart to the ultimate test in an utterly brilliant new novel that is as visionary as The Handmaid's Tale and as richly imagined as The Blind Assassin.

Stan and Charmaine are a married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse. Job loss has forced them to live in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. They desperately need to turn their situation around - and fast. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers. No one is unemployed and everyone gets a comfortable, clean house to live in... for six months out of the year. On alternating months, residents of Consilience must leave their homes and function as inmates in the Positron prison system. Once their month of service in the prison is completed, they can return to their "civilian" homes.

At first, this doesn't seem like too much of a sacrifice to make in order to have a roof over one's head and food to eat. But when Charmaine becomes romantically involved with the man who lives in their house during the months when she and Stan are in the prison, a series of troubling events unfolds, putting Stan's life in danger. With each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.

Video Trailer for 'The Heart Goes Last' Courtesy of YouTube

Author Profile

Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa, and grew up in northern Ontario and Quebec, and in Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master’s degree from Radcliffe College.

Margaret Atwood is the author of more than forty books of fiction, poetry, and critical essays. Her latest book of short stories is Stone Mattress: Nine Tales (2014).  Her MaddAddam trilogy – the Giller and Booker prize-nominated Oryx and Crake (2003), The Year of the Flood (2009), and MaddAddam (2013) – is currently being adapted for HBO. The Door is her latest volume of poetry (2007). Her most recent non-fiction books are Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth (2008) and In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination (2011). Her novels include The Blind Assassin, winner of the Booker Prize; Alias Grace, which won the Giller Prize in Canada and the Premio Mondello in Italy; and The Robber Bride, Cat’s Eye, The Handmaid’s Tale – coming soon as a TV series with MGM and Hulu – and The Penelopiad. Her new novel, The Heart Goes Last, was published in September 2015. Forthcoming in 2016 are Hag-Seed, a novel revisitation of Shakespeare’s play The Tempest, for the Hogarth Shakespeare Project, and Angel Catbird – with a cat-bird superhero – a graphic novel with co-creator Johnnie Christmas. (Dark Horse.) Margaret Atwood lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.

A full bibliography may be found HERE

Margaret Atwood currently lives in Toronto with writer Graeme Gibson.

Born: 18 November, 1939. Ottawa, Ontario.

Education: Victoria College, University of Toronto, B.A., 1961; Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Mass., A.M., 1962; Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., 1962-63, 1965-67.

Places of Residence: Ottawa, 1939-45; Sault Ste. Marie, 1945; Toronto, 1946-61; Boston, Mass., 1961-63; Toronto, 1963-64; Vancouver, 1964-65; Boston, Mass.1965-67; Montreal, 1967-68; Edmonton, 1968-70; England (London), France, Italy, 1970-71; Toronto, 1971-73; Alliston, Ontario, 1973-80; Toronto, 1980-83; England, Germany, 1983-84; Alabama, 1985; Toronto, 1986-91; France, 1992; Toronto, 1992-present.

Employment: Lecturer in English, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, 1964-65; Instructor in English, Sir George Williams University, Montreal, 1967-68; University of Alberta, 1969-70; Assistant Professor of English, York University, Toronto, 1971-72; Writer-In-Residence, University of Toronto, 1972-73; M.F.A. Honorary Chair, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, Alabama, 1985; Berg Chair, New York University, 1986; Writer-In-Residence, Macquarie Univ., Australia, 1987; Writer-In-Residence, Trinity Univ., San Antonio, Texas, 1989.

Associations: Margaret Atwood was President of the Writers’ Union of Canada from May 1981 to May 1982, and was President of International P.E.N., Canadian Centre (English Speaking) from 1984-1986. She and Graeme Gibson are the Joint Honourary Presidents of the Rare Bird Society within BirdLife International. Ms. Atwood is also a current Vice-President of PEN International.

Photographs, Trailer and Biographical Information courtesy of the following sites.

You Tube Interview   Twitter Profile    Margaret Atwood - Facebook   

 Author's Official Website     Amazon Author Page       Goodreads Author Page