Book Count (since 1 January 2012)

Book Count (since 1 January 2014): 30

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Starter for Ten by David Nicholls

This is definitely a book for men. It is about an awkward adolescent trying to fit in at university and attract the attention of a popular girl, which he does by trying to join the University Challenge team. The humour is very masculine and the central character is quite hard to relate to (or at least, I thought he was but then I have never been an adolescent boy). It is an easy book to read but not particuarly exciting. One Day is much, much better.

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant

Quite entertaining, and a bit of light relief after Possession, but it won't set your world on fire. The novel is set in a fifteenth century nunnery and the main characters are an established nun who is the nunnery's dispensary and a new novice who's been unwillingly separated from her lover and forced to live in the convent. Both characters are likeable and the historical context is really interesting but the plot isn't fantastically exciting. There's nothing amazing about this book, but it is a good, light read and the historical element definitely makes it worth a read.

Possession by AS Byatt

This is another from the '10 Books to Read Before You Die' talk. At one point I was pretty sure I wouldn't live long enough. It is an excellently written novel and is incredibly clever, but not very easy to read. At times in fact, it was a real struggle. The plot follows two scholars who each study a different nineteenth century poet and who work together to investigate a possible romantic connection between the two poets, starting with previously undiscovered letters between them. There are all sorts of fantastic sub-plots and wonderfully expressive language which makes for a very powerful novel, but not a very accessible one. A S Byatt has included a lot of poems in this novel, which are all excellent but again, not always very readable. I definitely agree that this book should be read before you die, but don't expect any escapism here. I got the feeling throughout reading this book that I was missing an awful lot of intellectual references and subtleties, which would no doubt make this a more rewarding read but would you would need to put a lot of time into it to access that extra level of meaning. And you would need your dictionary.

The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan

I really enjoyed this book. It is very easy to read and the plot is excellent - it really keeps your interst. I enjoyed the writing and all the characters are realistic and likeable. It is set in a Welsh town and the writing is very gentle which diffuses a lot of the darker parts of the story so it isn't as depressing as it might otherwise be. I would definitely recommend this novel.

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Everyone raves about this book, and I did enjoy it. There are six separate stories, which are very different but which are all linked together. They are set in completely different eras and narrated by very different characters, all of which are very well defined. The writing is excellent and each story is very compelling. The down side or me was that the separation of all the stories made it a bit disjointed and sometimes quite frustrating to read. The book is still really good and does work overall but whilst you are reading it, the narrative is a bit halting which is why this isn't, for me, a three star book. Definitely worth a read though and much more deserving of its popularity than some other rave books.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood

This is another book from the '10 Books to Read Before You Die' list. I really like Margaret Atwood and enjoyed this novel. It does not have the pacy plot of a lot of her novels, but the writing is brilliant and definitely maintains interest. I found this novel more immediately enjoyable than Beloved but the writing is still very poetic and lovely to read. Overall, I probably preferred Alias Grace because I think the plot is more gripping but this book is still excellent.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

I went to an event called '10 Books to Read Before You Die' at the Highgate Literary Festival a few weeks ago. This book appeared in 2 of the panel's lists of 10 so I thought I should read it before I die. Luckily I made it.

The novel is about a black slave family in America. The novel is quite hard to read both in terms of style and content, but I can definitely see why it made the panelists lists. It is very high impact and leaves a very memorable impression. The problem I had with this book is that I didn't hugely enjoy reading it. It felt a bit like eating wholemeal bread - I know it is good for me and worth it in the long run but soft, white bread is much tastier. I think this is a novel which would be brilliant to study and to re-read but on the first reading it is a bit overwhelming. The writing is very clever and there is a lot of imagery. Whilst I am sure this style makes this a rewarding novel to study, it also makes it hard to engage with on an initial, surface read.

Overall, I do agree that this is a good book to read before you die but it is not going to be a book you fall in love with immediately or read in one sitting. It needs to be absorbed slowly. And I would recommend sandwiching it between some thick slices of white bread so you have a bit of escapism after what is quite a tough read.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

I really like Kate Atkinson and love the Jackson Brodie books. This one is really good, as usual although I now wish I had read these in order. The plot is very compelling and interesting and the writing is also very good. It is quite dark in places but there are also some light moments. I really like the characters which Kate Atkinson writes into her novels which makes this book very easy and enjoyable to read. This is a good commentary on family life, although perhaps a bit bleaker than most families.

Living in Perhaps by Julia Widdows

This is a novel about 2 adopted children (a sister and a brother) who grow up with very conventional suburban parents who live next door to a large, wild, bohemian family. It is told by the adopted sister from her psychiatric ward, although it is not clear what sent her there until the end of the novel. This book isn't great - for some reason I found it a bit of a struggle. I think my difficulty with it is that I found the central character difficult to relate to and could not get that interested in the plot. It isn't dreadful and there is a lot about this book which is resonating but I wouldn't particularly recommend it.

Breaking Dawn by Stephanie Meyer

A guilty pleasure. As with the other Twilight books, this novel is not very high brow or even excellently written but the plot is very compelling. I do wish I hadn't watched any of the films though as this does limit the imagination when reading the novels. This is a good fun read but it's not life changing.

The Professor by Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre is my favourite Bronte book but I had never read any others by Charlotte Bronte until this one. I enjoyed it although it was not as complex or as grounded as Jane Eyre. The writing is, I think, slightly less mature but the novel is still very enjoyable. I would recommend this if you like nineteenth century female writing as it is in a slightly different style from the recognised 'classics'.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood

I always forget how much I like Margaret Atwood’s novels and this is no exception. It is another post-apocalyptic novel although unlike Far North this one details the cause of the apocalypse (a man-made plague developed as a biological weapon but released by mistake). The novel focuses on the fate of members of a religious extremist group called the Gardeners following the plague’s destruction of the majority of the human race. Summaries of post-apocalyptic novels do unfortunately always make the plot sound like a bad episode of Star Trek but this is honestly very believable and very enjoyable. The writing is, as always, excellent and the characters are also very well developed and likeable. Not Atwood’s best novel but still recommended.

The Devil’s Acre by Matthew Plampin

Quite an enjoyable read about a gun factory in south London in the nineteenth century. The novel has a few historical persons in it (Lord Palmerston, Samuel Colt and Charles Dickens) so has quite an interesting context. But generally it is just about different people beating each other up, often for fairly spurious reasons. Apparently that is what one did in nineteenth century London, leaving a bit of time of course for sleeping with servant girls and wandering through the slums. Definitely a boys book and not very high brow but quite entertaining.

Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan

Cheesier than an Essex boy’s chat up lines. An Irish girl’s husband gets shot in circumstances which are completely unexplained but may have something to do with ‘the Troubles’. The husband survives but is paralysed and the wife does what any wife would do in the circumstances – piss off to America. But then she comes back again – airs, graces and silk stockings in tow – just in time to rediscover how much she loves her husband. I shall stop there or I am in danger of writing a review which has more two syllable words in it than this 400 page novel did.

Far North by Marcel Theroux

A post-apocalyptic novel set in the Arctic North, which sounds dire but was surprisingly good. A young woman struggles to survive in hostile conditions and the book follows her survival techniques as well as her interaction with other survivors. I know – it really does sound dire. The writing is very good and I did enjoy this novel although I am not really sure why. There is something very engrossing about the descriptions of the woman’s daily life which, unlike most descriptive writing, is neither boring nor pretentious. Another plus is that it can be read in an afternoon so not much to lose in giving this a go.

Girl in the Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold

Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2008

This novel is about an author in Victorian England, who is loosely based on Charles Dickens, and is written from the point of view of his estranged wife (called Dorothea in the novel). I am at a loss as to why this book was longlisted for the Booker Prize as it was, frankly, pretty light reading and is more suited to a Richard & Judy.

It also surprised me that this was written by a woman as Dorothea’s narrative is pretty unrealistic. Dorothea was usurped by her younger sister , forced to separate from her husband and refused access to her children whilst her sister continued to live in the matrimonial home. Instead of behaving like a normal woman and doing the nineteenth century equivalent of maxing out his credit card, keying her sister’s car and selling the story to Hello, Dorothea is perfectly understanding and forgiving throughout the separation and her 10 year isolation from her family. Maybe that was likely back in the day, before the Spice Girls and Girl Power, but it is pretty hard to swallow to be honest. There is no fury like a woman scorned and all that.

Leaving that aside, the historical context was quite interesting and it is entertaining. Good for a holiday read but the writing is pretty average so don’t pick this for an A level English critique.

Evening is the Whole Day by Preeta Samarasan

Very much enjoyed this book which reminded me of The God of Small Things. The writing is similar. It takes a bit of time to get into the dialogue because the English is written as it would be spoken by the characters, who are Malaysian, so the language is not British-English. But it is worth persevering as the writing is very clever (although not so clever that it is incomprehensible to normal people).

Having said all that, I feel obliged to warn my two readers that I am not sure they would like it. It isn’t really a boys book (sorry Andy) and it requires quite a lot of concentration (no offense Mum). So whilst I really enjoyed it I am not actually sure who else would.

Invisible by Paul Auster

This book doesn’t have speech marks for the dialogue which annoys me greatly – I know authors think it is very arty and clever to ignore punctuation but it makes a book much harder to read. The author has also played around with the grammar which switches from first to third person which is no doubt also incredibly arty and clever.

Despite the style irritations I quite liked this novel, which is about a young man who witnesses a murder and struggles with his conscience. He has a few affairs along the way including (possibly) one with his sister. Somehow this book is not as pretentious as that description makes it sound, possibly because the characters are actually quite well written.

The Man Who Disappeared by Clare Morrall

There are websites where you can input information, such as your name, a city and the name of your boyfriend, and the website outputs a short story for you (admittedly usually a dirty story). There must be one for novels about happy middle class families whose lives are turned upside down, and then they build it up again. The variable of course being what turns their life upside down. In this case, the father’s money laundering activities. Exciting stuff.

So, a very formulaic story with pretty average writing and dialogue and very two dimensional characters. It is light hearted so a bit of escapism but not recommended for boys.

Down graded half a star because HMS Victory is docked at Portsmouth not Plymouth. How hard is that to check?

The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

A novel about two children who go missing in some woods behind their house. The only thing which is not average about this book is the story line, which is more depressing than average. This book is mildly entertaining as you read it but completely forgettable once you put it down (which, contrary to the claims on the back cover, is very, very easy to do).

The Island by Victoria Hislop

I read this book whilst on holiday in Crete at a hotel overlooking the island of Spinalonga, which is The Island of this book. I’ve given this book an extra half star because I was “on location” and so the story was marginally more interesting. Overall, I thought it was a very girly, very unsubstantial book.

The narrative follows the history of a Cretan family, two members of which suffered from leprosy and were exiled to Spinalonga which was a leper colony until 1957. I thought the book was poorly researched. It is very irritating to be smugly (and perpetually) informed that the popular misconceptions about leprosy are incorrect without being given any information on the disease whatsoever. I appreciate that I should not be looking for education in a chick lit trashy novel but I do expect at least a half hearted attempt at some background research. A google search would have done.

This book is definitely overrated. I suspect that the high sales can be traced back to our hotel’s gift shop, which stocked thousands of copies of this book and a few bottles of suntan lotion.

The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbo

A guy from work recommended this book. I now understand that I do not have the same taste in books as the guy from work. This is a very standard airport crime thriller of the “free with the Daily Mail” variety. The characters are very black and white – with a hero cop and a Very Evil Man. It is at least marginally engrossing for the first 300 pages because it is not 100% obvious which of the 6 or 7 unrealistically degenerate side characters is the Very Evil Man. But the last 200 pages are a struggle.

Monday, 9 August 2010

The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw

This book is literally about a girl with glass feet. Which is, of course, completely ridiculous. If you are willing (100% willing) to suspend all your disbelief then this book is an average read. If not, I would avoid this unless you enjoy regularly sighing in exasperation and saying to the nearest person "can you believe this bit?"

Basically, a girl turns into glass whilst falling in love with a clearly mentally ill photographer who tries to get her help from a man who looks after a herd of flying cows. Like I said, completely ridiculous.

Nevertheless, it is fairly easy to read and pretty quick and a lot better than the other completely ridiculous novel of recent times - the one which is literally about a woman married to a man who travels through time. There is no punchline.

In summary, don't rush out to buy it but you can't go too far wrong with this as a beach read or if you are stuck in an airport and have to choose between this and The Iliad. In Greek. This will be more entertaining (unless you read Greek).

Thursday, 5 August 2010

A Case of Exploding Mangoes by Mohammed Hanif

Don't bother.

This is a very dull book. It is very hard to build up any sort of connection with the characters or to care enough to concentrate on the fairly disjointed plot. I think the story is about Pakistani military cadets and middle eastern politics. But I couldn't be sure as this book is not as interesting as my day dreams about being a gangster so I was really focusing on them rather than the story.

I gave this an extra half star because it is not as offensive as The Still Point (the worst book in the world), but seriously - don't bother.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz

It took me a while to get into this book because it is quite strange. It is a novel about two generations of an eccentric Australian family. Two brothers grow up in a small Australian town and their childhood experiences and personalities lead them to two very different lifestyles. One of the brothers has a son who is the main narrator and who struggles to fit in given his father's unusual parenting style.

The plot is pretty unrealistic but the narrative is very clever and engrossing. Once I got into it I also found the characters likeable and interesting. It is quite funny in places although not as hilarious as it says it is in the reviews quoted on the back.

This is quite a long book but I would definitely recommend it and it is worth putting the time in.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

The Glass Room by Simon Mawer

Shortlisted for the booker prize 2009.

Opening in 1930s Czechoslovakia this novel begins with a young newly wed couple looking to build a modern home to raise a family. The couple hire a German architect who builds them a large, open space bounded by glass walls and known as the glass room. Throughout the story many of the most dramatic events take place in the glass room and the house itself is an important part of the book. The family are forced to move as the war begins because the father is Jewish, so the novel then splits to follow the family's emigration as well as the fate of their glass room.

I did really enjoy this book, which is very well written and the historical setting is interesting. There are a lot of inter-connecting characters which at times is slightly too convenient and coincidental, but perhaps that is a bit unfair as it was of course necessary to make this such a good story. Definitely worth reading.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

This is the prequel to The Shadow of The Wind and tells the story of a Spanish novelist whose talents come to the attention of a mysterious man referred to as 'the boss'. The boss gives the novelist (David Martin) a strange commission but although Martin is compliant to begin with he soon becomes suspicious of the boss' morality and motives. As people around Martin begin to be murdered he comes under suspicion by the police and the identity of the boss is questioned.

I didn't enjoy this book. It is very supernatural and everything is left unexplained. There are just too many things which don't make any sense so instead of being intrigued by the mystery it is just confusing and bizarre. For example, Martin recovers from a terminal illness (a tumor) following a dream involving spiders, the boss constantly eats sugarlumps and Martin discovers a basement of wooden lifesize puppets of himself and all his friends in the basement of the boss' house. None of these things is ever explained, just dropped inexplicably into the narrative.

It is a very quick read but personally I wouldn't bother. Despite all the twists and turns this book is pretty boring because the narrative thread is impossible to follow.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada

This novel was first published in 1947. It is written by a German man who lived a colourful life, having killed a schoolfriend in a duel and spent much of his adult life in psychiatric hospitals trying to conquer his various addictions. The novel is much more peaceful than either the subject matter or the author's life might suggest and is based on real life events. It is focused on small acts of resistance and the effect they can have on individuals and the wider public. Following the death of their son in the war, an older German couple (Otto and Anna) start to hand write a postcard a week denouncing the Fuhrer and the Reich's politics. The couple drop those cards in buildings across the city and the novel follows the people who pick them up, the gestapo investigation and the couple themselves. I enjoyed this novel as it did not fall into the usual goodies and baddies trap of war stories. The Gestapo investigator is cruel but not stereotypically so and is quite a likeable character whilst Otto is quite awkward and not particularly kind or charitable. It is also refreshing to read about resistance which did not involve elaborate, heroic gestures because that makes it much easier to imagine the smaller-scale reality of Berlin during the war. The afterword which describes the couple on which Otto and Anna are based was very interesting. I would recommend this as a different take on a theme but I don't think it is outstandingly well written and the dialogue can be a bit clumsy at times (possibly a result of the translation).

Sunday, 4 July 2010

The Story of Forgetting by Stefan Merrill Block

I loved this book. I found it in a random pile of books in a charity shop and I actually think it is better than some of the Booker prize shortlist (The Quickening Maze for example).

There are two separate narratives - one by Seth, a teenage boy and one by Abel, an elderly man - both of which are distinctive voices and very well written. Seth and Abel both live in Texas and their lives are bound by early onset Alzheimers, a genetic disorder which affects both of their families. The disease is so destructive that it would be easy for this book to be very depressing, but it is actually not only uplifting but also funny (although quite dry). I would definitely recommend this book and it deserves to be better known than it is.

The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2009

This novel is about an asylum in Epping Forest in the 1840s. A peasant poet (John Clare) is a patient, as is Alfred Tennyson's brother Septimus. The novel describes the interaction between the asylum owner's family and the patients. Although there is some historical analysis of asylums in the 19th century, the book is mainly about personal relationships rather than mental illness.

Personally, I thought this book was really boring and it didn't really spark any reaction in me, good or bad. The writing is quite descriptive and is neither offensive or inspiring. It is a quick read but very forgettable. Distinctly average.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Tatty by Christine Dwyer Hickey

This is a very short novel about an Irish family, written from the point of view of one of the children, whom everybody calls Tatty. The narrative is very clever because it does sound like a child's voice. The family are disfunctional and it is very sad to be viewing the family's relationships through the eyes of a child. I quite enjoyed this although I am not sure why as it is quite depressing and a little bit scarey to think that is how children view the adult world. I don't think this is the book of the year and to be honest it would probably be most interesting for a child psycolgist. Not really a beach read and if you have children you will probably find these even more depressing than I did.

Hearts and Minds by Amanda Craig

Shortlisted for the Orange prize.

I really enjoyed this book and read it very quickly. It is really well written and the plot is very gripping. There are a number of different characters introduced fairly quickly at the beginning, which is a bit confusing, but I loved the way they were all linked together. The central character is Polly, a divorced human rights lawyer raising her 2 children in north London. In places the story is quite dark as it does follow the lives of several immagrants whom Polly tries to help. But the way the narrative works means the darker bits are not too gruesome and are interspersed with some much more lighthearted moments.

I would recommend this book - I think it would be a good holiday read. Don't be put off by the rubbish cover.

Troubles by J.G. Farrell

This book was originally published in 1970 and recently won the "lost" booker prize, which is a prize set up to honour novels which did not qualify for entry into the prize when published.

The novel is set in Ireland just after the first world war. An English army major goes to visit is fiance, whom he has only meet once on a three day leave earlier in the war. His fiance is Irish and her family run a dilpidated hotel on the Irish coast. The narrative is very gentle and charts the majors return to real life following the war with an undercurrent of the Irish troubles. Personally I thought this was a bit boring. I enjoyed the characters who were easy to relate to and there are some lovely parts of this book. However, it is very slow paced and does not focus enough on any of the main themes so it is a bit lacking in direction. I did like this book but I didn't love it and I wouldn't particularly recommend it.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

This is a good fun read about a circus. It is currently being made into a film starring Robert Pattinson (the vampire from Twilight) and Reese Witherspoon. I really enjoyed this book although it isn't particularly challenging and the plot isn't hugely exciting. It is just quite fun reading about life on a circus, which is fairly tough. The main character is a likeable vet who, following a bereavement, joins a travelling circus. He learns about circus life and in the process gets entangled in a love triangle. It is not a particularly girly book and is a tiny bit gruesome in places but overall this would be a good beach read.

The Very Thought of You by Rosie Alison

Another on the Orange prize shortlist.

This book is set in the second world war and follows a young girl evacuated to a large country house in Yorkshire, which is set up as a war time boarding school. The novel focuses on her relationship with her teachers at the boarding school and how that affects her relationship with her parents. Meanwhile, the owners of the country house have their own relationship difficulties which the young girl gets inadvertantly involved in.

I enjoyed this book and it is a fairly easy read. I didn't think it was particularly memorable but it is quite a good holiday read.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber

A novel about a black family trying to make a living in the badlands of South Dakota. The book is well written and you really feel connected to the family's fortunes. The husband in the family is not a very likeable character or very easy to understand, which makes the wife's devotion a bit difficult to sympathise with.

The detail of the hardship of the badlands is very interesting. The way communities work together, regardless of race, is touching particularly as the novel is set in the 1920s during the Chicago race riots.

I enjoyed this book although it wasn't fantastic.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey

Shortlisted for the Orange Prize for fiction 2010.

A newly wed couple arrive in Trinidad from the UK intending to stay for 3 years whilst the husband works with a shiping company. The husband falls in love with the island and despite the wife's unhappiness the couple stay and raise two children on the island. The novel spans the family's life in Trinidad and charts their involvement with riots and revolution as the black Trinidadians revolt against white colonialism.

I didn't really like this book because the characters are not very realistic. The wife is so depressed and hates her husband so much that it is impossible to believe that she would realistically stay in Trinidad. Neither of the two main characters are developed enough so it is hard to get emotionally involved in the story.

There's a fairly interesting history of Trinidadian politics but other than that a pretty average read.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

This book was shortlisted for the 2010 Orange Prize and I wanted to read it because I really enjoyed The Poisonwood Bible. The Lacuna is a similar style but not as good as The Poisonwood Bible, and it is hard to describe why.

The novel follows a half Mexican half American novelist whose early life is spent cooking for the famous Rivera painters and for communist revolutionaries, including Trotsky. The novelist then settles in small town American and begins to write novels about Mexican history. This is a very interesting book and the main character is very likeable, although he remains a bit distant. The last 100 pages of this book are excellent and very thought provoking, commenting on Western prejudices and stereotypes in a way which is not as obvious or superior as is sometimes the case in novels. I think what lets this book down is the 100 - 200 pages in the middle, which get a bit lost and slow down the pace of what is otherwise a very good book.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Love and Summer by William Trevor

Pretty dull. I bought this book because it was recommended on Amazon but it was disappointing. The novel is about a young orpan who is married off by her convent to an older man whose first wife died in a tragic accident. That is about all that happens. It is not a very interesting or entertaining book. In fact it is so boring that I can't actually think of anything more to say about it. It is quite short which helps.

The Way Things Look To Me by Roopa Farooki

I read this book in 3 days which is always a good sign. I also randomly met the author's mother on the tube which has got to be a sign of some sort.

The novel focuses on a family of three children, whose parents have both died. The oldest child, a boy in his mid-20s, is charged with the sole responsibility for his aspergis youngest sister as the middle sister moves out and advocates this task. The book is very well written and very believable. The narrative moves from each child very smoothly which makes the book very easy to read.

I really enjoyed this book and whilst it is not as thought-provoking as others I have read so far it is still worth a read.

Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

The novel follows a young Irish girl who emigrates to America leaving behind her family. She creates a life in Brooklyn working at a department store and going to dances at the local Catholic Church. She meets an Italian American who is besotted with her and she marries him in secret. Bad news back in Ireland means she has to travel home and comes to regret her secret marriage.

This book is quite entertaining but nothing special, principally because the narrative is not very gripping and the plot is fairly thin. I bought the book because we were travelling to New York but there is not much history or local context to the novel, much of which is set in Ireland.

If you only read one book this year, don't read this one. But if you are planning on reading 52, this probably makes the list.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

The Small War by Sadie Jones

Light, easy read. Not as good as her first book (The Outcast).

The story follows an Army officer's family stationed in Cyprus in the 1950s. It is an interesting book from the point of view of the history of that conflict. The writing is pretty average and there is nothing outstanding or memorable about this book. It just about holds your interest at the time but doesn't grab you.

Might be worth taking on holiday for a beach read but nothing particularly to recommend it.

Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant

I thought this was an excellent book. It is a bit unusual and takes a bit of time to get into. It is also a book which requires a bit of concentration to read.

It is about a girl who grew up in Canada with her father and uncle and who returns when her father dies in an accident. The narrative is told mainly by the girl (Audrey) and is a combination of a stream of conciousness and dialogue, which suprisingly works really well.

It is very difficult to describe this book but I would definitely recommend it. The writing is very clever without being too intellectual or pretentious. The characters are very realistic as well as being likeable. Worth reading.

The Still Point by Amy Sackville


Don't bother reading this book. It is very boring whilst at the same time managing to be increadibly irritating. The writing is much too poetic and takes about 50 pages to say something along the lines of "Simon felt a bit depressed on his way to the office".

There is no discernable story-line and I would struggle to tell you what happened. Basically, an explorer tried to make it to the North Pole in the early 1900s and failed. The book is about his neice but honestly nothing at all happens. The most exciting bit is when the neice's husband thinks about having an affair. But then he doesn't.


Wedlock - How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match by Wendy Moore

This is non-fiction about the Queen's great-great-great Grandmother, Mary Bowes. Mary's father was an indulgent father who doted on his only child and educated her very well for a female in Georgian Britain. Mary is headstrong and is very interested in languages and botany. Mary's father is a rich gentleman and leaves his fortune to Mary on the condition that any husband of Mary's must retain the Bowes surname. Mary marries a gentleman whose surname is Lyons, and who then changes his name as a result of Bowes' will to "Bowes-Lyon", hence the current royal surname.

The main thread of the narrative follows Mary's life after her first husband dies, when she marries again. Her second husband is a violent bully who terrorises Mary. As a woman in Georgian Britain, Mary has few rights and the narrative follows how eventually Mary is able to obtain a divorce.

It is a very interesting historical book made accessible by the good writing. Worth reading if you have not studied this era. I imagine it could be a bit patronising if you have any knowledge of this area of history. In places it is a bit dull.

The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet's Nest by Steig Larsson

The third and last book in the Millennium series. Not as good as the first one as the story is more confused and unnecessarily violent. One of the main reasons why I enjoyed the first book was because I thought Lisbeth Salandar was such an oddly attractive character. This book does not involve enough of a focus on Lisbeth and loses its way. It is still fairly entertaining and probably worth reading if you enjoyed the other books. But don't expect this to be particularly life changing or worth remembering. Someone told me that the author died before this book was edited and whether or not that is true, this is certainly the less welll written of the trilogy.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

This novel follows the student days of a group of Greek scholars in an American university. The five students are considered odd-balls by the other undergraduates and avoided as much as possible. They try and re-create a Grecian ritual which would allow them to experience true freedom from their bodies. The ritual "works" and the students experience an evening of heightened awareness. When they come back to their bodies they realise they have murdered a farmer who bumped into them during their frenzy. The remainder of the book examines the impact of a murder on five intelligent students.

The book is well written and fairly engaging but not particularly amazing. Some of the reactions of the students are so unrealistic that the suspension of disbelief is not very willing. Not bad though.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

This was a recommendation from someone at work and it won a Pulitzer Prize.

It follows the partnership of 2 cousins (Joseph Kavalier and Sammy Clay) in New York. Joe is a refugee from Prague during the Second World War and arrives in Brooklyn to live with his aunt and cousin. From the day Joe arrives, the two cousins start to draw and write comic books. The novel charts their progress from small-time freelancers to the creators of a new comic superhero - the Escapist.

The two cousins grow older and the story then follows their marriages, romances and war time experiences.

Both Joe and Sammy are easy to like so the story definitely keeps your interest. It is a good book, although not one that will stay with you. Worth a read, particularly if you want to know about the history of comics.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Winner of the Booker Prize 2009

This historical fiction novel charts the rise of Thomas Cromwell from a young boy being beaten by his father in Putney to Henry VIII's most trusted advisor. The historical elements of the novel are very interesting particularly the focus on the reformation. However, the fictional narrative is pretty dull and the characters are not properly developed - it is very difficult to relate to them. The book is over 600 pages long which is about 200 - 250 pages too long. The pace of the book is odd - just as it gets so boring it's tempting to give up, it picks up again and revives your interest.

Overall, I enjoyed learning about Thomas Cromwell but would advise reading the Wikipedia entry rather than slogging through this. Although I think I may be fairly alone in this view - whilst I was reading this on the tube 2 separate people (both middle aged men) interrupted me to go on and on about how good they thought it was. Maybe one for Dad...!!

Saturday, 6 March 2010

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2009.

A ghost story which is fairly frightening in parts. A Doctor goes on a house call to a crumbling mansion to treat a servant of an 'old money' family who have fallen on hard times. His life becomes entwined with theirs as he begins to treat the son for a war injury.

The house 'plays tricks' and the family become increasingly convinced that there is something sinister haunting the place. This leads to the destruction of the family and the Doctor is left wondering how everything fell apart. The ending was disappointing as it left a lot to each reader's interpretation which I personally find unsatisfying.

A good book and I enjoyed it but it is not as good as some of her other books, particularly The Night Watch.

The Children's Book by A.S Byatt

Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2009.

The novel follows the lives of members of a bohemian family through the early 1900s. The mother is an authoress writing fairy stories for children and the father is a socialist whose strong political beliefs cause difficulties with his job in a bank.

The children's lives go from idyllic to complicated and, in some cases, traumatic as they grow older. The children discover that both their mother and father have been unfaithful with the result that the family relationships are not what they were raised to believe.

The novel intertwines dark fairy stories with real historical events. Interestingly, given that I have just read The Great Lover, Rupert Brooke features on a number of occasions and some of the narrative describes the same events as The Great Lover.

This is a good book but at least 100 pages too long as it loses its way towards the end. There are too many characters so that the narrative becomes confused and it is difficult for the reader to really relate to a single person. Definitely worth reading though.

Friday, 19 February 2010

The Great Lover by Jill Dawson

Based on the life of Rupert Brooke, the fiction is entwined with his poems and letters as well as facts about his life. Unfortunately, his life was not very interesting and his poetry was average. It was fairly interesting to understand that he was not really a war poet and that he struggled with mental illness and homosexuality. But the narrative is too disjointed and frankly he is portrayed of a but of a twat.

I did learn that Rupert Brooke died of a blood disorder following a mosquito bite rather than in action. But it isn't worth reading the whole book to find that out.

Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie

A storey of 2 entwined families beginning in British India at the end of the Empire and ending in modern day New York. One family is upper-class English/Ameriacan and the other is Japanese/Indian. The novel begins in India during the riots and moves on to Afgahnastan during the wards. The relationships tells of divided loyalties and betrayals.

The characters are likeable and well-developed. The story is well written and intreguing.

Definitely worth reading.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

A young hopeful writer finds a book and follows a thread to try and understand the life of the author. It is very well written with some lovely language. The characters are believable and the story is very interesting. But, it is not instantly engrossing and you do have to work at the reading.

Objectively, an excellent book but for some reason I did not 100% engage with it.

The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams

A family of moth scientists live in an old mansion. The younger daughter is wilfull, the older mentally ill, the mother a violent alcoholic and the father an unaware workaholic. The family fall apart as a result of lies and murder.

The central character's narrative is a bit difficult to engage with and not very consistent so it is hard to relate to her. The story is well woven and interesting.

Overall, fairly well wirtten and enjoyable but not very memorable. Doesn't have lasting impact.

A Quiet Belief in Angels by R.J. Ellory

Very well written, very gripping and excellent characterisation.

The story is dark and follows an American boys deep South upbringing during a period where a killer stalks his home town. He moves away to New York and the killer apparently follows.

The tragedy in this novel is a bit over-blown and unrealistic but also extremely touching. The standard of the writing means this novel deserves to be more widely known. Definitely worth a read.

Hypothermia by Arnaldur Indridason

Easy read thriller.

An Icelandic detective tries to get to the bottom of an apparent suicide. He discovers an illicit affair and an emptional manipulation which leads to a women's murder. The detective also investigates an old missing persons case and discovers a tragic accident involving lakes and ice and idiots driving thereon.

A fairly engrossing but not exactly a classic.

The Other Hand by Chris Cleave

This book is billed very well. The text on the back page is intreguing, promising a book about which you will want to rave but giving nothing away.

The novel itself does not live up to this excellent marketing. It is very good but over-selling leads to disappointment.

In summary, a middle class couple trying to rescue their marriage holiday in Nigeria and meet with violence on a Nigerian beach. One girl survives a massacre by local oil thugs and her life becomes entwined with the couples with significant results.

It is a fairly well written book but not very thought provoking nor does it have the impact you might expect. For some reason, it is difficult to connect with the characters and it feels like there is a barrier somewhere.

Worth reading but not brilliant.

Eclipse by Stephanie Meyer

And the third.....

Losing interest at this stage.

More vampires, more werewolves, fewer humans, more ridiculousness.

I am getting increasingly irritated with myself. My head says this book is silly and boring. My heart loves it. Weird.

New Moon by Stephanie Meyer

The second installment.

Even more ridiculous than the first as we are introduced to a werewolf family. Of course when dealing with vampires and werewolves one has to suspend disbelief but I suppose there are limits to everone's willingness to do so. And this book streached the limits of my willingness.

But, of course it is not meant to be taken too seriously and it is entertaining.

You can get through this in a few days and overall it is worth the effort.

I am still not sure I can get as excited about this as I feel is socially acceptable but perhaps I am missing a metaphore.

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

First in the series following the romance between a vampire (obviously) and a troubled high school teenager. There is something very compelling about the characters who are very likeable if not very realistic. The book has suffered somewhat from being so well known since all readers arrive with a basic knowledge of the plot and as a result none of the pre-discovering-Edward-is-a-vampire narrative is particularly engaging.

The whole thing is increadibly silly but despite my best endeavours I was drawn in.

Don't, under any circumstances, watch the film.