Book Count (since 1 January 2012)

Book Count (since 1 January 2014): 30

Monday, 29 August 2011

How To Be A Woman by Caitlin Moran

Interesting and funny. Although I disagreed with some of the opinions in this book it is worth a read for some perspective on feminism and a woman's role in society. Split into chapters on different aspects of being a modern woman, there is a lot of very insightful commentary and it is all written in a very light, funny style so easy to read.

Having said that, there are a lot of self depreciating stories about Caitlin Moran's failures at being a woman, which are a little self satisfied and made this book a little more grating (on occasions even irritating) than it might otherwise have been. "Nothing is more deceitful than the appearance of humility. It is indirect boast". Agreed.

Overall, an enjoyable read that you can take as seriously or as lightly as you wish.

Purge by Sofi Oksanen

I found this book incredibly boring. It jumps around between the two main characters (an older woman and her estranged young niece) over a number of years. As a result there is no narrative thread and you do not feel any affinity with or interest in either of them. The book is set in Russia, Estonia and Finland during the 1950s and 1990s so there is some interesting historical context but the plot is not at all gripping. There is also no discernible ending - the book just runs out of pages like someone's torn out the rest. In fact, if there hadn't been an "Acknowledgments" I would have suspected my husband had run out of toilet paper. I wouldn't bother.

On Canaan's Side by Sebastian Barry

A young Irish couple travel to America to flee a threat of political violence and try to set up their lives there. The novel follows their lives and careers until death and spans a number of generations. This book is undoubtedly well written but not particularly memorable perhaps because there is something distancing about the style of writing which prevents the reader getting too involved in the (fairly slow moving) plot or the characters. I would hesitate to recommend this unless you enjoy good writing for its own sake as I do not think there is much to distinguish this from other novels with more powerful subjects.

The Boy in Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Very poignant and well written - I enjoyed this very much. It is an interesting perspective on World War II and identifies in a very innocent way the absurdities of the Nazi ideology. A short novel with a very emotional (but terrifyingly plausible) ending it is both easy to read and thought provoking. If there is anybody out there who hasn't already read this I would recommend it.

The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers

A little bit to sci-fi for me but still a well written and thought provoking book which I did enjoy. It is written as a testament by a young girl who records her reaction to a deadly disease which is affecting the whole human race. The descriptive writing and social insights are excellent but I felt the thinness of the characters and stilted nature of the dialogue let the novel down slightly. I thought the girl's ultimate actions hugely unrealistic which did detract from the impact of this book. The novel is still worth a read and definitely a memorable subject.

The Tigers Wife by Tea Obreht

This book is quite unusual but enjoyable. It is set in Yugoslavia and follows a young medical student whose investigating her grandfather's death. There is a lot of folk lore in this book which you need to be willing to embrace or this book descends into the ridiculous. Personally, I found it easy to accept some of the more supernatural parts of the plot because this book is written in a way which indicates the writer is also skeptical and therefore you are similarly more willing to examine your own doubt. Even leaving aside the less realistic parts of the novel, the characters are excellently drawn and the plot is pacey and gripping. I would recommend this for a more intellectual holiday read.

Friday, 19 August 2011

A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards

I really liked this book. It is about a young woman whose mother was murdered by her step father when she was a teenager. It sounds very depressing, and it is quite difficult to read in places but overall it is actually quite uplifting. The book switches regularly between the present day and the woman's teenage years, and this can be a bit confusing but, as it means the plot is revealled fairly slowly, it does make the book very gripping. The writing is excellent and unobtrusive, so it is easy to read this novel. An enjoyable book with well drawn characters and excellent writing although quite dark in places.

Monday, 15 August 2011

The Storm At The Door by Stefan Merrill Block

Although fictional, this novel is heavily based on the author's family history. Perhaps because of this, this book is not a page turner as the plot is fairly light. The book incorporates both sides of the author's family but its central focus is on his maternal grandfather who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and is confined to a psychiatric hospital. The writing is excellent, particularly the dialogue between the patients at the hospital, and he deals with the subject very sensitively. I did feel some of the characters were a bit one dimensional, especially the doctors and most of the nurses who were a bit too over-the-top baddie. I did enjoy this but I don't think it would have universal appeal. Once it's finished, you do get that feeling of having just looked through someone's family album - a fairly pleasant use of time but ultimately your role is merely to confirm their suspicion that they have a wonderfully interesting family.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

I enjoyed this book very much. It is about four school friends who grow up and start to realise how much they misunderstood about each other when they were young. Not much happens and although this usually irritates me, the writing is excellent and so absorbing it makes up for the lack of a substantial plot (particularly as this is a very short novel). The main narrator, a man in his 60s is believable and easy to connect with. Definitely worth a read.

The Last Weekend by Blake Morrison

Bizarre. Describing a long August weekend in the countryside, this book examines old friendships and new relationships. The narrator, a primary school teacher, harbours some old jealousies which culminate in two fairly dramatic events - neither of which he seems to acknowledge. As there is only one "voice" in this book, it is only as you finish it that you realise how dark it is. I did enjoy this book but, strangely, it is only afterwards that its impact is really felt and it is quite discomforting. A good read but a bit unsettling.

Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch

An enjoyable, if fanciful, novel about a boy and his time at sea. The writing is excellent and the characters are colourful (although a bit too numerous to get too attached to). It's an adventure story with a lull in the middle. The lull is actually very clever because it gives the narrator space to comment on the faster paced plot beforehand and therefore elevates this novel beyond a forgettable page turner. An unusual book which I enjoyed.

A Week In December by Sebastian Faulks

I have mixed feelings about this book. Some days I enjoyed it, some days I hated it which makes it very difficult to review. It follows a number of characters over a week in December, and particularly focuses on the banking crisis. There's also a lot of social commentary on middle class etiquette. On the days I didn't like it, it was because the analysis of the economic collapse was incredibly smug and over simplified and the characters very stereotypical. On the days I did like it, it was because there was one character who had a more interesting story (the tube driver). Definitely not as good as Birdsong and difficult for me to recommend.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

A very enjoyable, funny and insightful novel about life in the English countryside. The main character, Major Pettigrew, is an old fashioned but liberal gentleman who becomes friends with Mrs Ali, the local shopkeeper. The story follows the Major and his dawning realisation of the easy prejudice of his friends and relatives. Although the plot is not exactly unpredictable, there are some interesting and exciting twists which keeps the novel moving in a gentle yet compelling way. Whilst this book does verge on "chick lit", it is funnier and more substantial than a lot of contemporary romances. The writing is very good and the characters are realistic (if slightly exaggerated) and likeable. A lighthearted novel with a bit of bite - this is an excellent holiday read.

Saraswati Park by Anjali Joseph

This novel is about a middle aged couple living in Bombay who take in their nephew when his parents move out of the city. The plot is very basic and although this book is well written it suffers from a lack of character development. At no point do you really feel a relationship with any members of the family which, in a book this slow paced, results in a rather dull read. The book offers a quite interesting insight into life in Bombay and family relationships but is not particularly powerful or memorable. There is nothing to dislike about this book but also nothing to fall in love with. Likely to be enjoyed the most by those who have an interest in or experience of Bombay or Indian culture.

Sister by Rosamund Lupton

A very exciting, fast paced, easy to read novel. It is about a young woman who goes missing and her sister's quest to discover what happened to her. The characters and plot are both entirely unrealistic (some of the characters staggeringly so) but it's a good story nonetheless. It is less gruesome and more intelligent than a lot of murder mysteries. If you like thrillers, this is a good holiday read.