The Cloths of Heaven by Sue Eckstein

Cloths of heaven

Synopsis from Myriad Publishers:

West Africa in the early 1990s. Isabel Redmond is tiring of her iconoclastic husband’s penchant for pendulous black breasts; the High Commissioner and his wife Fenella are both enjoying illicit affairs; an old English judge is wandering through the scrub following a tribe of Fulani herdsmen; Bob Newpin is about to make a killing in timeshares; and just what Father Seamus is up to is anyone’s guess.

Enter new diplomat Daniel Maddison on his first posting abroad. Rebelling against the endless rounds of cocktail parties, golf and gossip, he finds himself drawn to people and places that lie way beyond the experience of his High Commission colleagues – and specifically to the dusty warehouse in the heart of the city where a thin white woman is silently measuring out lengths of brightly coloured cloth.

In this assured début about loneliness and passion in Africa, Sue Eckstein enthrals with a deliciously intricate plot, compelling characters and razor-sharp dialogue.

Eckstein, in her début novel, transports us to life in West Africa in the 1990s. We meet Daniel, who is experiencing his first international posting as a British diplomat. But life is more play than work. There are plenty of parties, many affairs, mysterious women and an entrepreneur who wants to build time shares in the “real Africa”. This is not the life he expected when he was posted here. This is life that is full of gossip and racism, not politics.

This was an interesting novel that I enjoyed. It looks at life in West Africa for the British diplomats out there. There is an eclectic group of people to learn about – in fact one of the problems I found with this book were the sheer number of characters. I found myself forgetting who some people were as I read the book. However, there were a few I liked. Such as Isobel, a lovely lady with a husband with a slightly disturbing hobby; Daniel, who seemed to genuinely care for people – he seemed like someone you would want to have around; and Father Seamus, who just made me chuckle as he went around in shirts with the Pope on.

Eckstein states in the back of the book that this is purely fictional, and that is how I read this book. As I was not concerned about how accurate the story and events were I was not disappointed with the novel. It is a bit disjointed but there is one main storyline, in which Daniel investigates the mysterious Rachel, with which every storyline eventually links up with. Each character and their part of the unfolding story is explored, giving the book greater depth.

Overall, I enjoyed this book and it did not take me long to read it. I found myself wanting to know what happened, and although there were aspects of the book I didn’t like they didn’t completely spoil the book. This is a good debut novel.

8/10

Marshmallows for Breakfast by Dorothy Koomson

marshmallows for breakfast

Synopsis from Amazon:

When Kendra Tamale returns to England from Australia she rents a room from Kyle, a divorced father of two, and begins a new job. She’s looking forward to a fresh start and simple life. Kyle’s five-year-old twins, Summer and Jaxon, have other ideas and quickly adopt Kendra as their new mother – mainly because she lets them eat marshmallows for breakfast. Kendra eventually becomes a part of their lives, even though she’s hiding a painful secret that makes her keep everyone – especially children – at arm’s length. Then Kendra bumps into the man who shares her awful secret, and things fall apart: she can’t sleep, she can’t eat, she’s suspended from work, and the kids are taken away by their mother. The only way to fix things is to confess to the terrible mistake she made all those years ago. But that’s something she swore never to do …

This is a truly beautiful book which touched a whole range of emotions. This is chick-lit, but with hard issues that add amazing depth to this book. Kendra is good at running away. Something bad happened to her when she was twenty. It changed her. She became someone who didn’t really feel, she became jumpy and she locked away her feelings. When a chance to leave England arose, she leapt at the chance, and off to Australia she went. But she fell in love over there, with someone who she couldn’t have. So she returned to England when she could, and move into the studio in the Gadsborough’s back garden. She has the shock of her life when she wakes up on the first morning to see Summer and Jaxon, six year old twins standing in her flat. She soon grows attached to them, as she realises their life is falling apart because their parents are getting a divorce. For someone who wanted to keep away from children, she quickly becomes their “other mumma”, and can’t live without them. So when their mum kidnaps them she is distraught. alongside that, she has to face up to what happened to her when she was young, and the reason why she left Australia.

There is so much addressed in this book. Ashlyn, the twins mother is an alcoholic, there is attempted suicide, rape and divorce. Brave issues to tackle in a novel, but Koomson handled all of them well, and she brought believable and realistic conclusions to each issue. She dedicates sections and memories to each issue and storyline so they are thoroughly examined. This in effect means Koomson can look into these issues properly, but it also allows the characters to develop in their own right.

I loved the characters, and Koomson writes in such a way that I was completely in tune with them. When the twins were upset or scared my heart broke for them; when they went missing I felt Kendra’s pain and anguish – this is just a well written novel. I loved the twins. They were easily my favourite characters. They were so vulnerable and so easy to love. They were just gorgeous children.

I really enjoyed this book. It was a gripping book that I didn’t want to put down. Well worth reading even if chick-lit is not a genre you usually enjoy.

9/10

Maskerade by Terry Pratchett

Maskerade

Synopsis from Amazon:

THE SHOW MUST GO ON, AS MURDER, MUSIC AND MAYHEM RUN RIOT IN THE NIGHT…

The Opera House, Ankh-Morpork…a huge, rambling building, where innocent young sopranos are lured to their destiny by a strangely-familiar evil mastermind in a hideously-deformed evening dress…

At least, he hopes so. But Granny Weatherwax, Discworld’s most famous witch, is in the audience. And she doesn’t hold with that sort of thing.

So there’s going to be trouble (but nevertheless a good evening’s entertainment with murders you can really hum…)

This is book 18 in the Discworld Series, and one of my favourites. This is Terry Pratchett’s take on The Phantom of the Opera. Now I love that musical, and this book just added to my love. I will definitely watch it in a completely different light now.

This is a Witches novel, and sees Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg travelling to Ankh-Morpork to see an opera. Yet there are strange goings-on in the opera house. There are a series of murders and money disappearing out the window. It seems that there is an Opera Ghost, who likes to leave notes that just say: “Ha ha, ha ha, ha ha!!!!!” The fear is rife in the opera, but the show must go on. So Granny sets herself up to investigate, while the show goes on, and unmasks the Opera Ghost.

This is classic Pratchett. I love the Witches novels. Both Nanny Ogg and Granny Weatherwax are hilarious. This is a very funny take on The Phantom of the Opera – mainly mocking the idea that a small mask that only covers the eyes would hide someones identity. Death features in this book as well, and he is probably my favourite character. Pretty much all he says is funny, and I enjoyed his game of poker with Granny.

Pratchett yet again transported me to Ankh-Morpork and incorporated some of the funniest characters in this adventure. Of course it is unrealistic, but it is an amazing fantasy novel. I have no complaints and as ever, I am eager for the next Pratchett book. This is a great series, full of adventure, humour and amazing characters. I highly recommend this novel. It is very, very good.

10/10

Interesting Times by Terry Pratchett

interesting times

Synopsis from Amazon:

Mighty battles! Revolution! Death! War! (and his sons terror and panic, and daughter Clancy). The oldest and most inscrutable empire on the Discworld is in turmoil, brought about by the revolutionary treatise What I did on My Holidays. Workers are uniting, with nothing to lose but their water buffaloes. Warlords are struggling for power. War (and Clancy) are spreading throughout the ancient cities. And all that stands in the way of terrible doom for everyone is: Rincewind the Wizard, who can’t even spell the word ‘wizard’…Cohen the barbarian hero, five foot tall in his surgical sandals, who has had a lifetime’s experience of not dying…and a very special butterfly.

This is book 17 in the Discworld series, and as enjoyable as the rest. In this novel we are taken on an adventure with the not-so-great wizard Rincewind. Known to get himself into trouble, he finds himself a pawn in the god’s game. Sent by the wizards at Unseen University Rincewind ends up in an unknown kingdom were they were planning a very civilised revolution. He is believed to be The Great Wizard, and again, through running away he gives off this impression. Working alongside Cohen the Barbarian – not that either realise it – they embark on an adventure to take over the Empire and see which god is going to win their game.

I love this series. I have really enjoyed all of them, and this one is no exception. Rincewind novels make me laugh because he finds himself in the oddest situations and yet still comes out looking like a hero. I particularly enjoyed the return of Two Flower and Cohen the Barbarian. The Barbarian Horde were probably my favourite characters because they were all in their 90s or older and yet won many battles and still sniggered at sexual innuendoes. Their whole mentality and them trying to become ‘civilised’ was great reading.

I enjoyed the storyline of this book too. Emperors dying, the Red Army rising out of the ground, and a polite revolution – it was good fun. As ever, Pratchett leads headlong into the Discworld and his writing is so good he makes it seem real. He is witty, writes a good adventure and well worth reading.

As with his other novels, there is not a lot I can complain about – this is just a really good story that I enjoyed immensely. The Discworld books are high on my list of recommendations.

9/10

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y. K. Lee

the piano teacher

Synopsis from Amazon:

Ambitious, exotic, and a classic book club read, ‘The Piano Teacher’ is a combination of ‘Tenko’ meets ‘The Remains of the Day’. Sometimes the end of a love affair is only the beginning! In 1942, Will Truesdale, an Englishman newly arrived in Hong Kong, falls headlong into a passionate relationship with Trudy Liang, a beautiful Eurasian socialite. But their love affair is soon threatened by the invasion of the Japanese, with terrible consequences for both of them, and for members of their fragile community who will betray each other in the darkest days of the war. Ten years later, Claire Pendleton lands in Hong Kong and is hired by the wealthy Chen family as their daughter’s piano teacher. A provincial English newlywed, Claire is seduced by the colony’s heady social life. She soon begins an affair!only to discover that her lover’s enigmatic demeanour hides a devastating past. As the threads of this compelling and engrossing novel intertwine and converge, a landscape of impossible choices emerges — between love and safety, courage and survival, the present and above all, the past.

Claire is a newly wed who takes a job as a piano teacher for the infamous Chen family when she moves to Hong Kong from England with her husband. It is here she meets Will – the Chen’s English driver. He is mysterious, rude and intriguing. She is drawn to him and their love affair begins. But Will is caught up in the past, and his only love Trudy. Life was fine for him and her before the war came to Hong Kong bringing Japanese occupation of the island. It is here life changed for everyone and had a lasting affect on all who experienced the hard war years.

This is an excellent debut novel. Lee writes of life in Hong Kong during the Second World War and the aftermath of it. She explores how War can affect a civilisation and how people change and what they will do to survive. I think this was well written and sensitive. It seemed very realistic, with the horrors of war shown in this book – Lee does not hide the violence, death, fear and poverty. Yet that added to the wonder of this book – it made it more readable.

The book does jump between the decade, as Claire features in 1953 and Trudy in 1941, yet Lee links the story wonderfully and it is clear how the two women are linked and how the story is continued in the decade after WW2.

It is interesting that I was not particularly connected to the characters. Neither Claire nor Trudy appealed to me, and I found Will brooding and strange, yet the story gripped me and I wanted to know what would happen, how people would protect themselves. The story was good enough for me to not need to be empathetic with the characters.

I can’t think of anything particularly bad about this book; this is a good historical novel that I would recommend to anyone.

8/10

Expect a Move of God…Suddenly! by Joyce Meyer

expect a move of God

This is a nifty little book from Meyer. Only 60 pages long but full of good advice. Meyer looks at hearing from God – how we need to be silent and patient and how we should expect a move of God suddenly – how He works on his time frame not ours. This book has personal stories in which are encouraging, and although only a small book she imparts wisdom and has made me consider my prayer life and she has helped raise my expectations. I can confidfently say I am now more open to God moving suddenly, and am looking forward to the surprises!

This is well written and only took an hour or so to read. I liked how she was honest and shared stories of her life to help people grasp what she was saying. I found this a helpful book and well worth a quick read.

8/10

The Radical Reformission by Mark Driscoll

radical reformission

Synopsis from Amazon:

Reformation is the continual reforming of the mission of the church to enhance God’s command to reach out to others in a way that acknowledges the unique times and locations of daily life. This engaging book blends the integrity of respected theoreticians with the witty and practical insights of a pastor. It calls for a movement of missionaries to seek the lost across the street as well as across the globe. This basic primer on the interface between gospel and culture highlights the contrast between presentation evangelism and participation evangelism. It helps Christians navigate between the twin pitfalls of syncretism (being so culturally irrelevant that you lose your message) and sectarianism (being so culturally irrelevant that you lose your mission). Included are interviews with those who have crossed cultural barriers, such as a television producer, exotic dancer, tattoo studio owner, and band manager. The appendix represents eight portals into the future: population, family, health/medicine, creating, learning, sexuality, and religion. Mark Driscoll was recently featured on the ABC special The Changing of Worship.

This book looks at how to evangelise without getting sucked into worldly cultures. Driscoll makes many comparisons between how people interpret the Bible, the traps they fall into when preaching the Gospel and he explores how to reach out without being a hypocrite and a fool.

This was not a particularly easy read  – as my Dad would say, Driscoll is a preacher not a writer, but what he has put down is worth reading if you are interested in evangelism or are a Christian. It is not a self-help book, instead he focusses on the Bible and what it says about God and the dangers one can slip into – such as legalism.  I found this a useful book and will try and put what I read into practice. There were humorous stories and comments in the book to lighten up the theology. Overall, I liked this book even if it did take me a while to read and I will read more of his books in the future as I like his teaching.

7/10