Book Reviews

The Year of the Runaways by Sanjeev Sahota

It’s not the story that lingered long after the final page so much as how the story made me feel. Not that it wasn’t a good story but, like the best of stories, Runaways is all about the emotion stirred up in the reader and, for me, the utter belief that these characters were real. Because even if they were made up names and scenarios there are people out there living similar lives right now.

The story follows the struggles of three young Indian Sikhs who, for different reasons and through different methods, come to England. Randeep marries Narinder but they don’t live as husband and wife; they must stay married for a year for him to have leave to stay in the UK. Avtar comes over on a student visa but despite his best efforts doesn’t get to study, instead working for appalling wages and living in an overcrowded house. And then there’s Tochi, low caste, family dead, who is totally illegal and lives in fear of discovery every day.

We are led through back story, hopes for future and the bitter reality of living in this land of milk and honey where the milk is on the top shelf out of reach and the honey is not available for the likes of them. We also learn why Narinder was prepared to go against her family and marry someone purely to get them a visa. Although I found her the least believable character I’d still like to believe there are people like her out there.

About two-thirds of the way through the book it hit me; this was real. Not biographically real but there are people living in this country in the same conditions with no hope of betterment, trapped in a system which holds them down. Then I felt like the worst kind of voyeur gaining pleasure from other’s misfortune.

What a good job the author had done in tricking my brain into a total belief in his characters.

They were characters, weren’t they?

To find out if you’re likely to  be drawn in too click here.


The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

I’m a big Isabel Allende fan and was anticipating something special.

The story weaves (Allende always ‘weaves’) the lives of Alma and Irina. Alma is a feisty rich widow who has chosen to live in sheltered accommodation, Irina the poor Moldovan immigrant who works at Lark House.

They strike up a friendship and when Alma’s grandson, Seth, falls for Irina the pair piece together the story of Alma’s life.

The book is fairly pedestrian for the first half – as pedestrian as Allende gets with her detailed sketches of character and intricate biographies; but the second half really picked up for me and by the end I was enthralled.

For me, no other writer draws her characters quite so well, and without judgment; flaws and traits are written about with the same even-handed this-is-just-the-way-it-is approach. Stylistically perfect for me.

Other Allende books have affected me more – Paula, undoubtedly, and House of Spirits – but The Japanese Lover more than earns its place on my shelf.


Opening Heaven’s Door by Patricia Pearson

Patricia Pearson’s own experience of unexplained happenings within her family sparked her interest in researching this fascinating area.

When her sister was suffering from cancer, their father died suddenly in the night, appearing as a feeling of light and joy to his ailing daughter for two hours, before anyone even knew that he had passed. Her sister was not someone given to fanciful notions and the book has example after example of rational, mentally-stable beings who have had similar experiences.

The book covers Near-Death Awareness, Near-Death Experiences, Sensed Presences and Uncanny Experiences at the moment of Death. What struck me were the similarities across cultural and religious boundaries that are difficult to account for.

Pearson also includes a healthy amount of research and the outcomes of scientific studies to back up her own findings.

Pearson comes across as a sane individual looking for answers to spiritual questions without the narrow focus of the tenets of organised religion. It is shocking how many people with similar experiences conceal them from even their closest family and friends and I would like to think this book could spark broader debate amongst and greater acceptance of people who would like to speak up.

To read this book, click here


The Creakers by Tom Fletcher

Having loved The Christmasaurus so much, hopes were high for this one but do you remember the disappointment of Speed 2 Cruise Control or the second Jaws movie (I’m still not getting in the water but the fake shark didn’t have quite the same bite)? I know this isn’t a sequel but I was expecting the same joy and happiness we found in Tom’s first book. However…

I was reading to a balanced 10 year old girl and a wildly imaginative 7 year old boy. The first few lines go…

“What silently waits in the shadows at night?”  Okay, pretty terrifying. Even I don’t like to think about that one.

“What’s under your bed, keeping just out of sight?” 7 year old has a mid-sleeper bed with plenty of room for things to lurk…

“What’s patiently waiting while you’re counting sheep?” You can almost hear the breathing.

“What never comes out unless you’re fast asleep?” I was ready to stop reading at this point – I could see the concern crinkling the 7 year old’s forehead – but when I suggested it I was shouted down.

So I carried on, doing my ‘mum-editing’ as I read – this involves skipping ahead to read the next sentence/paragraph whilst actually reading  the previous one aloud, making a decision whether the next sentence was okay, and so on throughout the whole book. Stressful!

With so much love and positivity in the first book, why the author would choose the subject matter of ‘creatures lurking under the beds who steal all the mums and dads’ is beyond me. “Oh, kids love to be scared,” I can hear people say, but the clue’s in the word; scared, it means fearful, frightened. I had to field nightly questions of, “Is Lucy going to be okay?” “Will her mum be okay?” “What’s happened to her dad?” (Subtext: “Something under my bed is not going to come out at night and take you away, is it?”)

The Creakers didn’t even turn out to be lovable creatures.

Okay for some, but a miss for us, I’m afraid.

To make your own mind up click here