The Stranger in my Home by Adele Parks

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The Stranger in my Home by Adele Parks

The Stranger in my Home by Adele Parks is my kind of book. It has enough to keep you hooked and want to read it in a few days but its not the kind of book that has that many plot twists that it leaves you scratching your head.

Alison comes from humble beginnings. Abandoned by her mother in favour of her younger siblings she doesn’t have the easiest childhood which is made worse by the fact she becomes pregnant at sixteen and is made by her mother to give the baby up for adoption.

It’s not until she meets the level headed Jeff in her twenties that she finds a source of stability and normality. They have a daughter, Katherine, who Alison adores to the point of suffocation. Possibly making up for the fact of her lost child, Alison’s devotion and love towards Katherine is sickening throughout the novel. Not allowing her to have sweets and coffee for fear of what it will do to her body or the longing for her to return from sleepovers, Alison’s love for her daughter is claustrophobic to say the least.

One day Alison and her family’s middle class, normal life is blown out of the water when a man called Tom comes to her door and tells her that Katherine and his daughter Olivia, were swapped and birth and Katherine may have a heredity cancer gene that killed his wife, Annabel. Calm and warming, Tom doesn’t seem to see this as a hug issue but to Alison it’s the end of the world. She feels that due to Katherine’s success on the lacrosse field and her exceptional grades, she never was going to be her daughter.

The families try and get along and go to ice hockey matches and a fireworks display. Tom and Katherine’s relationship blossoms as does Tom and Alison’s as he becomes a shoulder for her to cry on.  However Alison and Olivia ‘s relationship is nothing but hostile as Olivia cannot warm to her real mother.

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At the beginning of the novel I was quite a fan of Tom but when he makes a pass at Alison, I knew things were not as they seemed. When Katherine doesn’t return home from a sleepover Alison panics and contacts everyone she knows.  But then Annabel, Tom’s supposedly dead wife, knocks on her door. She tells Alison what a mess Tom is. Annabel did in fact have breast cancer but it isn’t a hereditary gene and she divorced Tom a year ago. Tom in fact drove a wedge in between Olivia and Alison’s relationship by telling the former that her real mother wanted nothing to do with her. Rather than being a model father Tom is in fact on drugs and unemployed. And then it hits Alison, he has Katherine.

With the police involved and press conferences held, Alison receives a clue from Tom that he is in Brighton. She travels to Brighton alone and finds her daughter drugged and locked in a basement. Playing along with Tom to save her daughter Alison tells Tom what he wants to hear and then knocks him down the stairs and escapes.

The book ends with Tom out of the picture, Alison and Annabel best of friends and the former loosening her parental constraints on Katherine.

This is the first of Adele Parks’ books I’ve read and I was certainly not disappointed. I felt there could have been fifty to a hundred pages omitted from the middle which wouldn’t have made a difference as it wasn’t until the last hundred pages where it really ramped up the pace. Still it’s definitely a book to suit all sorts of readers and to recommend to your girlfriends.

 

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Lion by Saroo Brierley

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Lion by Saroo Brierley

Lion by Saroo Brierley may be the first book I’ve read in a day. I first heard about the film but didn’t think it would interest me but when a colleague at told me how amazing it was I was intrigued and bought the book. And it’s one of the most extraordinary stories I’ve heard.

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Saroo is five years old, living in the slums of India with his mother, two older brothers Kallu and Gudda and sister Shekila. His mother tries to make ends meet as a labourer carrying bricks and stone on her head but her wage isn’t enough and the children have to pick up scraps of food from the street or beg.

It was nothing unusual for Kalyan and Gudda to be away from the family home for days at a time. One evening Saloo decides to go to the next town with Gudda as his brother makes some money by working on the railways. Saloo is tired after the long journey and falls asleep on the station bench. When he wakes he sees a train on the platform, he assumes the same one from one he fell asleep and decides in his sleepiness to get on it as Gudda may be cleaning it. Again he falls asleep but the next time he wakes up he’s alone and the train is moving.

Terror stricken Saloo cannot get off the train as the carriage doors remained locked and after twelve or more hours the train makes it final stop – Calcutta. Saloo roams the streets for days, along with the hundreds of other abandoned or lost children. He picks up scraps of food on the floor but there is competition from the other homeless children. Countless times he nearly loses his life by jumping into the river and nearly drowning and risk being run over by a train.

A railway worker takes pity on him and says he will get Saloo help but once at the workers home Saloo guesses something isn’t right and runs away. A mother then looks after him but when Saloo is disobedient she chucks a rock at this head. Still wary he meets another family who take him to the police station and from there he goes to a halfway house filled full of hundreds of lost, orphaned or abandoned children. Eventually he’s taken to a much nicer children’s home and as his family had not found him he’s put up for adoption. Saloo’s missing person advert was only placed in Calcutta newspapers as Saloo mispronounced where he was from which was hundreds of miles away. We latter learn that Saloo isn’t his birth name as he mispronounced his own name!

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A couple from Tasmania adopt Saloo, and he still has a wonderful relationship with them, they also adopt another boy from India. Their adopted parents encourage the two boys to learn about their heritage. Saloo trains in accountancy, then hospitality and finally works for his parent’s company but there is always the longing to find his family.

When the internet became more available and specifically Google Maps, Saloo tried to remember landmarks he saw on that train journey twenty years before. He painstakingly follows the hundreds of rail tracks from Calcutta by tracking them on Google Maps. It takes him years and help from friends but one evening by chance he sees an overpass and a train station – Burhanpur train station which he departed from all those years ago. He had been misspelling it and mispronouncing it so no wonder no one understood where he was from.

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To cut a long story short he travels to his home town and manages to find the home he last lived in but it’s empty. Luckily a man tells him his mother stills lives in the village and they are reunited. Sadly she cannot speak English and he cannot speak Hindu but to know they had found each other again was enough. Sadly Saloo learns that Gudda was killed on that night they both disappeared and was hit by a train, his mother had to identify his body.

Saloo sees his birth mother and family often now and is trying to help his mother to build a new house – although she refuses to move from the village she lives in! His birth mother and adoptive mother met at the end of the novel.

Saloo’s story is almost unbelievable, that not only was he lost on the other side of India but years later managed to track his family and hometown without knowing that much about either. It was one of those books I wanted to tell everyone about and one that demonstrates that sometimes the world can be kind to us.

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A Hundred Marvelous Ways by Sarah Winman

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A Hundred Marvelous Ways by Sarah Winman

Bonkers. That’s the one word I would use to describe A Hundred Marvelous Ways by Sarah Winman. A hundred pages in I seriously thought about giving up but ploughed my way on and with fifty pages to go I wondered why I was so determined to carry on reading the book. Full of ambiguous sentences and words, it’s one of those novels where you think what in the bloody Nora is going on.

The main character Marvelous Ways, yes that’s actually her name and should have been a warning sign that this is not my type of book, is an 89 year old woman living alone in Cornwall. She’s laughed at by the locals for being the mad old lady who lives by the river. Previously a midwife, she is adamant that her mother was a mermaid.

Francis Drake (yes really) is a young solider returning from the Second World War. He has no family, his mother died and his father went off the rails, so when an unknown dying soldier gives him a letter to give to his father in Cornwall, Drake jumps at the chance to deliver the letter and start a new adventure. Here he meets Marvelous Ways and the two strike up an unlikely friendship. He looks after her and she dotes on him for physical tasks around the home/shed.

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Ask me what happened in the novel and I’m not sure, Marvelous tells of her loves over the years and Drake explains about his lost love who died but other than that it was one of those novels that wouldn’t seem to stick in my brain. Most probably because I didn’t actually like it and by the end didn’t give a hoot.

This is the same author that brought us When God was a Rabbit, which although I remember as being mad, wasn’t as bonkers as this.

I really struggle with novels which aren’t ‘real’ and upon reading that Marvelous believed her mother was a mermaid was the biggest warning sign that I should have stopped reading this novel.

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