Kate Morton’s ‘The Secret Keeper’ panmacmillan

June 11, 2013 at 5:07 pm | Posted in Great for Book Clubs, Middle Weight Fiction | Leave a comment
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‘Rural England, a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, a summer’s day at the start if the nineteen sixties. The house is unassuming: half-timbered, with white paint peeling gently on the western side and clematis scrambling up the plaster.’

During a party at her family farmhouse, sixteen year old Laurel from her childhood tree house is witness to a criminal act that gives life to Kate Morton’s abundant epic of a novel ‘The Secret Keeper’.

Now a grown woman and revered actress of her time, Laurel and her family reconvene to the family farmhouse for the last time with their beloved dying mother. Returning after so long to her family home in such sad circumstances Laurel is overwhelmed by memories and an urge to solve the secret of what actually happened that day.

Through research as the National Library Laurel’s journeys back in time to London during the blitz where she attempts to piece together a war torn story of friends, lovers, orphans, secrets and personal tragedies all of which have her mother at the heart of them. 

Kate Morton’s story is evocative with a notable tenderness for her female characters and children she describes. Kate’s characters find themselves mixed up together in ways that would never have come about without the war. Her characters share the sorrow of losing loved ones and the hardship of wartime but their differences in personal circumstances and social classes are toxic. 

This novel is dripping in mystery, is full of well conceived characters and has a very well researched backdrop of war time London blitz making it a glorious page turner of a novel.


Haiku: As the bombs drop down, Dorothy and Vivien, drop bombs of their own. Image




Rules for formulaic fiction

April 11, 2013 at 3:47 pm | Posted in House Rules, Popular Fiction | 4 Comments
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House Rules by Jodi Picoult

Hodder 2010


House Rules is Jodi Picoult’s seventeenth novel and the first Jodi Picoult book I have read. The title refers to the rules that govern the home of Emma Hunt and her two sons one of whom Jacob lives with Asperger’s Syndrome;  an autism spectrum disorder that is characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests.

The plot is quite interesting; Jacob’s social skills tutor is found dead and Jacob’s mother can’t rule out the possibility that Jacob may have killed her due to Jacob’s preoccupation with forensic science and crime scenes. Jacob’s Asperger’s behaviors– not looking people in the eye, yes/no answers and stimulatory tic’s coupled with his kooky hobby make Jacob appear guilty to the police and prosecution team. Emma must summon all her maternal courage and finances to defend Jacob in a trial that tears through their family life and house rules.

The novel has a cast of characters just as you imagine it would need. A handsome and struggling young lawyer, a brave single father town sheriff, a renegade father who left Emma and her sons when Jacob was first diagnosed. Emma is the most thoughtful character in my opinion who shows the rationale and love you would expect of a devoted mother. The novel is driven by hundreds of small chapters of each characters viewpoint which do weave together to show a well plotted driven novel.

Would I read another Jodi Picoult novel? No probably not. If this novel is symptomatic of her other sixteen novels it’s as if I have read them already. Although well researched it felt formulaic. Although quite compelling it felt quite empty. Jodi Picoult’s website however deserves respect, full of reading aids and book club questions it reveres the art of the novel and while her novels may not be to my taste they obviously are to millions of other readers.  Image

House Rules in Haiku: Jacob and Emma, together look for the truth, but can it be found?

Tigers in Red Weather

February 16, 2013 at 6:00 pm | Posted in Great for Book Clubs, Middle Weight Fiction, Popular Fiction | 1 Comment
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Image Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klausmann Picador 2013

Tigers in Red Weather is a family epic starting at the end of World War two which is successfully told from five familial perspectives  culminating in a family portrait which only the reader is privy to. It is such an accomplished and insightful read it is hard to believe that it is a debut novel.

The plot spans two decades beginning with main characters husband and wife team Hughes and Nick who are young newlyweds setting up home after Hughes return from the Navy. We are then introduced to Helena Nick’s cousin with whom she is extremely close. Both women are determined to defy normality and the status quo in their lives at all costs.  Nick’s cousin Helena is preparing to leave for Hollywood and a new life and Nick is determined never to be a bored housewife.

Over two decades the two women’s lives unfold in ways neither of them predicted. Disillusionment sets in and is softened with gin soaked summers spent together with their families in Tiger House where white picket fences and tennis lessons abound. This is also a coming of age story for the women’s two offspring Nick’s daughter Daisy and Helena’s son Ed with a midsummer murder  worked into the plot. By their attempts to defy convention oddly the two women find themselves and the love they crave. Following the five narratives we see the consequences of the two women’s attempts at avoiding conventional life at all costs subverting family life and allowing darkness into their lives.

The story is well plotted, interesting and Klausmann’s writing is meaningful. It is a character driven novel all of whom are well developed and is a very enjoyable picture of a family growing from the early 1950’s to 1970’s dotted with fine and beautifully written insights into human life and love along the way. For regular readers of middle weight fiction this will not disappoint.

Haiku: Tigers all about, where you might not expect them, will create a storm!

When is a book review any use?

November 13, 2012 at 11:29 am | Posted in Book Club Ideas, Literary Academy | 1 Comment

It seems of late that a lot of reviews of newly released fiction are over enthusiastic and vague leading readers in search of a compelling and original read astray.

Big literary figures comments appear on the backs of new novels celebrating fictional triumphs the like of which we have never seen before but often these claims turn out not to be true.

Clever marketing can lead readers astray and with an explosion of debut authors and a sea of fiction how can we pick a book that suits us?
While choosing a book can always be a risk, especially if the author is new, here is  Sarah’s Books list of ways to reduce this risk!

1. Trust yourself and follow your interests: no matter how attractive a book is or how compelling the marketing drive, if you’re not interested in political crime/vampires/chic lit/historical fiction you will not enjoy the book!

2. Take note of the publisher on the spine of the books you like. A favourite publisher of mine is Bloomsbury I know they are purveyors of fine interesting fiction that suits me.

3. Stick with reviewers that you trust. E.g The Guardian newspaper reviews and Eileen Battersby’s recommendations rarely let me down as I like their taste.

4. Get to know the booksellers in your local bookshop. They will be the most discerning and well read people and can make individual recommendations just for you.

5. If your local bookshop has a blog or does book reviews use them.

It’s Sarah’s Books 2nd anniversary to celebrate here is 2011 in review

January 27, 2012 at 3:00 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,600 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 27 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

No Solace here

October 9, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Posted in Middle Weight Fiction, Solace | Leave a comment
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Belinda McKeon ‘Solace’ Picador 2011

I really like Belinda McKeon, she has written eloquently for the Irish Times for many years, has curated the DLR Poetry Now Festival and I always enjoyed her keen observations and contributions on ‘The View ‘ . I waited in anticipation for the release of her long promised debut novel but am so sorry to report I was so disappointed with  ‘Solace’.

‘Solace’  has a highly unoriginal plot of a thirty year old Irish man cutting ties the family farm to pursue his studies in the capital city where he manges to fall for the daughter of his fathers only enemy from back home with ‘devastating consequences’. The story itself places restraints on the writing, it does not act as a vehicle for any new or innovative message or emotional evocation, family dynamics are well enough documented in McKeon’s prose but are drowned in a narrative that fails its author’s ability  and although the story is tense there is little sense of tension created in the writing.

This is one occasion where I wish I was wrong, this is a light not a literary story with uninspiring narrative progression and slow character development, actually by the novels end I couldn’t see that the main character was changed by any of his experiences at all. If McKeon wanted to evoke life outside the Country’s capital in this story it is a flat attempt whereas Kevin Barry’s short stories ‘There are Little Kingdoms’ evoke  this tenderly.

I am confident of McKeon’s abilities and look forward to future more assured writing. When I expressed my disappointment to family and friends they were very surprised having read luminous reviews in much national media which is correct this debut novel has been in critical reviews very well received however looking deeper into readers reviews online they were in contradiction collectively critical and disappointed with what was poised to be a sparkling debut.

Below are some links to various reviews of Solace to add to this debate.

Good Reads




Michael Ondaajte interview for Mountains to the Sea Festival 2011

September 2, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Posted in Literary Academy | Leave a comment

Michael Ondaatje was interviewed last night as part of the DLR Mountains to the Sea Festival last night by the wonderful Belinda McKeon. His interview  fell on the first night of the festival and what a magical opening launch it was. Belinda introduced Michael describing his writing as achieving an unparralled dream like quality which is very apt. Michael read from his new novel ‘The Cat’s Table’  enchanting the whole audience and proved in the interview to be just as interesting and grounded a person as his books are. Sarahsbooks is looking forward to reading Michael’s new offering and invites reviews from anyone who has read it already!

An Independent Author

August 19, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Posted in Literary Fiction | 2 Comments

‘Independent People’ Halldor Laxness Vintage Books 1946

I was inspired to read Halldor Laxness’s ‘Independent People ‘ because of its similarity to Rose Tremain’s most wonderful novel ‘The Colour’ which dealt with the mid 19th Century New Zealand gold rush. In ‘The Colour’ the characters pursuit of  dreams of gold become for them in tandem a source of all-consuming hope and madness.

  ‘Independent People ‘ deals with the struggles of early 20th Century Icelandic sheep farmer Guðbjartur Jónsson who pursues a dream for independence above all things in the social reality of  capitalism and materialism of his time. Very like Tremain’s characters  Guðbjartur is stubborn and often brutal in his pursuit of his dream in the middle of which World War 1 breaks out and becomes for Guðbjartur a financial asset as the price and demand for his mutton soars.

After working for eighteen years for a wealthy landowner Guðbjartur earns enough money to buy a piece of land to live off and marries the beautiful but tragic Rosa whom he frequently leaves alone in winter in dogged pursuit of familial independence.

Rich in scope and emotion this is a rewarding novel that earned the author a Nobel Prize for literature in 1955. It’s capitalist and materialist  indictments are balanced by the characters involvement in Icelandic folklore culture in particular the poetry of rural Iceland that survived and blossomed during these times.

Not an easy read but the most rewarding novel’s are often demanding of their readers. As rich and eloquent as a novel should be and its economic theme is  not lost in our current climate.

Click here to view this book in DLR Library Catalogue. 

Interview with Irish author Steven Callaghan

July 25, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Posted in Literary Academy | 2 Comments

1. How would you describe your latest novel ‘Fishing in Beirut’

       Fishing in Beirut is a novel about five characters who have come to Paris for different reasons. I intended it broadly as a story of desire, and more specifically as being about these five people trying to come to terms with themselves and their pasts. When I lived in Paris I felt intoxicated by the city pretty much on a daily basis. I wanted to really convey a sense of modern, day to day Paris to the reader also.


2. How would you describe your writing style in ‘Fishing in Beirut’?

       I think the writing style changes slightly depending on which character we are with. However, I wanted it to be quite sensual throughout. It is relatively plain in terms of language but the focus is very much on sights, sounds, smells, and physical and mental feelings. Also, exactly where in Paris a scene is taking place is always described.


3. Your novel takes place between European destinations what do these locations lend to the story?

        I would hope they lend the story a strong sense of place. They also help the reader get a fuller grasp of the characters by being able to associate them with particular cities.


4. What authors have inspired you?

I’ve certainly been inspired by authors as diverse as Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, Natsuo Kirino, Fyodor Dostoyevsky  and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. However, I’ve been inspired equally, if not more so, by filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch, Abel Ferrara and Michael Mann, and musicians like Tom Waits, Kurt Wagner and Vic Chesnutt, in how I approach storytelling.


5. Do you have plans for a second novel?

       I’ve just completed my second novel. It’s set in Paris once again and I’m currently looking for a publisher!


6. What advice would you give a debutant Irish author?

       I don’t think authors tend to need advice from other authors on writing itself. The helpful advice is that which relates to the industry, regarding finding an agent, submitting to the right people etc. The whole process is quite trial and error, and I suppose my advice would be if you believe in your work, don’t give up. Do your research, keep submitting, and don’t lose heart if it seems to entire mainstream publishing industry is one big closed shop. Increasingly these days, there are all kinds of ways and means to get your stuff out there. I serialised Fishing in Beirut online before it ever came out in hardcopy. http://fishinginbeirut.com/

This is not a dream………..

June 3, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Posted in Great for Book Clubs, Middle Weight Fiction, Sex and Stravinsky | 1 Comment
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Sex and Stravinsky’ Barbara Trapido, Bloomsbury, May 2010

Not unlike Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ Barbara Trapido’s new novel is a  story of demented romantic and filial love but unlike Shakespeare’s comedy for Trapido’s characters none of it is a dream.

The choices of two sets of couples are compounded by impulse and coincidence. Caroline a beautiful and brilliant tall Australian falls under the charm of Josh a Jewish South African who both in pursuits of their careers come to live in England. Meanwhile Hattie and Herman make a life for themselves in South Africa unaware of the momentous connection they have with Caroline and Josh.

The story is set between Trapido’s native South Africa and England during the late 1970’s gracing the story with scope and bathed in the historical half-light of South Africa coming out of apartheid. The geography of the two locations allows the idea of serendipity to filter through as the story’s tenant. No matter how far these characters diverge from the paths they were meant to go down fate will find them and realign things to how they should be. This in an oridnary novel could be bland but Trapido is under the wing of Bloomsbury publishers who never publish anything but inventive writing.

Like magic, although Trapido’s novel makes confusing and rapid choices if you believe in her, the incredible becomes completely credible.




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