Thursday, 21 May 2015

War, Identity & loss in Croatia

Sara' Novics's tale of loss, identity, family set during and in the aftermath of the breakdown of the Yugoslavian state in the 1990s is excellent.

Told through the eyes of Ana we first meet an all-American girl who seems to have it all but her self-containment, studies of authors whose writings deal with loss and identity as well as her unwillingness to commit to her boyfriend hint at  deeper concerns.

We then meet Ana more than a decade earlier, living in Croatia with her parents and her sick baby sister and it is this sick child which will lead this compact loving little family to a terrible end. Ana the child, doesn't understand the sudden breakdown of relations between people who were neighbours one day and sworn enemies the next depending on which ethnic group you belonged to.

Novic captures the initial exhilaration felt by the children, Ana and her school friends when war breaks out and they listen for the air raid warnings, which eventually turns to fear and dread. As her sister gets sicker and requires specialist medical help her family take the decision to evacuate her to America but tragedy occurs on the journey home, leaving Ana alone and fending for herself in a war-zone. Taken in a by some villagers she ends up a child-soldier and it is this experience that takes her to the UN a decade later to speak about her experiences. This unleashes the memories she has kept hidden for so long, having been evacuated to America and taken in by the family who fostered her sister her experiences in Croatia had made people uncomfortable and she learnt it was easier to hide what happened, but in doing that she started to lose part of herself. Years later she is trying to work who she is, where she came from and returning to Croatia starts to lay to rest some of these ghosts. An engaging, thought-provoking story with a believable heroine. An excellent read that would do well for book groups and as a way into to explaining some of the history of the Balkans in the 1990s.

This book was provided for free by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

When Mr Dog bites by Brian Conaghan

When Mr Dog Bites has been nominated for the Carnegie Award and compared to Mark Haddon's Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, both of these create a level of expectation for this book and does it live up to it?

I think so,
The author has created an engaging hero in Dylan Mint who is battling with Tourettes and trying to be a normal teenager in a school for children with special educational needs. He idealises his father who has suddenly disappeared, has an engaging and loving relationship with his mother who is trying to manage a son with whom the world views at best as strange and at worse as offensive. The relationship between Dylan and his best friend 'the bold Amir' is positive as they battle the careless racism prevalent in their area. Dylan is also starting to become interested in girls and one in particular, the scenes between Dylan & Michelle, especially when he his trying to keep the dog (his Tourettes), from appearing are funny. She doesn't bat an eyelid at his language but accepts him for who he is.
The novel follows a year in Dylan's life as he tries to complete his own particular bucket list, having overheard a conversation between his mother and  doctor. He wants to have sex with Michelle, find a new best friend for Amir and see his Dad one last time. Nothing quite goes to plan and Dylan starts to have an understanding of the world especially of his relationship with his Dad.
I really enjoyed this book - laughed, cried and like Curious Incident it gives you an insight into a condition that is little understood and creates little sympathy. Dylan is a great character who will make you laugh and cry.
It has created some controversy for being included in the Carnegie short-list but does deserve its place there. I would say that you need to exercise caution when recommending this book to younger Key Sage 3 students (11/12 year old) but older students would enjoy it.

I received this title for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review

Operatic crime!

Brunetti returns again in the latest in the series set in Venice. Donna Leon combines the Ventian setting, opera and crime in a wonderful and dramatic way. Flavia Petrelli, who has been seen in previous titles,  now a world renowned opera star, returns to Venice  to sing in Tosca but a series of events combine to frighten her and she turns to Commisario Brunetti for help. Brunetti thinks it is an over-enthusiastic fan but when a young girl is attacked and an old friend of both Flavia & Brunetti almost killed. Guido looks at the case again.

Donna Leon captures Venice in all its architectural glory but there is also a sinister edge to the canals. The wonderful character of Signora Elettra who always finds a way to round an obstacle be it a procedure, IT system or a senior officer whilst all the time exuding that quintessential Italian glamour,  adds to the storytelling of this beautifully crafted novel.

There is a strong sense of family in the Brunetti novels with Guido's wife Paola and their children re-appearing again and as usual there is the obligatory family meal or two! The family life is a good counterpoint to the machinations of the Italian policing and political system. Paola's aristocratic parents also make an appearance this time. Family is important in Italian life and Leon is keen to stress this, Guido's life is a counterbalanced with Flavia's more frenetic and slightly chaotic existence as an opera diva.

A wonderful novel that you can slip into and really get the sence of Venice and the ending like the opera is dramatic!

I received this titles free form Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.