Book Count (since 1 January 2012)

Book Count (since 1 January 2014): 30

Monday, 6 May 2013

Norweigan by Night by Derek B. Miller

This is a very difficult book to review. It is about an old Jewish man, Sheldon, who moves to Norway from America to live with his granddaughter, Rhea, after the death of his wife. Rhea and her husband suspect Sheldon may be suffering from dementia and as the reader it is not immediately apparent whether this is a correct diagnoses. Sheldon is apparently confused about his involvement in the Korean War and is racked with guilt over the death of his son, Saul, in the Vietnam War. The plot flicks between Sheldon's recollections of his time at war, his own delusions and an intriguing police investigation into a murder which Sheldon is inadvertently involved in. These transitions were on occasion a bit difficult to follow, particularly the delusions/flashbacks involving the war(s) which, for me, did not sit well with the remainder of the novel. It was almost as if the writer thought the aspects of the novel involving the analysis of war and conflict were too boring so had to be interspersed with some car chases and guns. Which to be fair is very astute. However, although I found the plot a bit disappointing, the writing is excellent and helps to lift this book. This is a very unusual book which is worth a read but is very hard to categorise and it's even harder for me to determine whether I actually liked it.

Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch

Another good fun read in the PC Grant series, which has certainly not yet lost its spark or originality although the writing and the plot line of this novel is in very much the same vein as the previous books. I always enjoy the unusual characters, the excitement of the story lines and the entertaining writing of these novels. Highly entertaining escapism and especially interesting if you live in London.

Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson

Set in World War II, this is a readable but very average book about a young half Welsh, half Turkish girl who is a talented singer. She joins the Entertainments National Service Association and goes to Cairo against the wishes of her family. You can, I am sure, predict the entire the plot based on that introduction. There are better and shorter beach reads.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

An excellent book which I would very much recommend. Don, who apparently has undiagnosed Asperger's syndrome, is a genetics professor in Melbourne approaching his 40th birthday and searching for a wife to share his life with. The book is narrated by Don who is very aware that he does not always behave in a way society expects of him and who struggles to apply logic and reason to social interactions and emotions. Don's friend, Gene, introduces him to Rosie and as Don helps Rosie search for her biological father his inflexible routine is disrupted and his assumptions about his ability to be in a relationship are challenged. The writing in this book is excellent - it is simple but portrays Don clearly and compassionately. Don's dialogues and thought processes often highlight the absurdity of many social practices in a really amusing way but without mocking Don himself. A beautifully written, very funny and touching novel which everyone should read.

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

Set in the early 1850s, this novel is about Honor, a young Quaker who moves to the US with her sister following the break up of her engagement. Honor suffers during the long journey to Ohio and finds it difficult to settle in her new community, particularly struggling with the prevalence of slavery and the casual racism of her neighbours. As Honor befriends Belle, a non-Quaker milliner, and starts to help runaway slaves to make it to Canada and freedom, she becomes increasingly alienated which puts her relationships under further strain. 

I really enjoyed this book which is very interesting and excellently researched. Honor is a well drawn character but occasionally a little insipid which can be a bit frustrating. Belle is a much more colourful character and possesses a strength of will which makes her much more compelling than Honor. Although I did find the plot a little slow in places, it definitely sustains your interest. Overall a very well written and fascinating book about community and social prejudice.

The Fine Colour of Rust by P. A. O'Reilly

An enjoyable book about a young woman, Loretta, who is bringing up her two children alone in a small Australian town after her husband abandoned them. A book about friendship and loyalty, the plot follows Loretta as she battles to save the local school and to preserve the integrity of her small community. There are some likeable characters in this book, particularly Loretta's neighbour Norm, and the plot is gentle but retains your interest. An easy and enjoyable beach read.

Lost and Found by Tom Winter

An excellent novel about modern society which I very much enjoyed. This book is about a disillusioned mother, Carol, living in Croydon who feels trapped in a bland loveless middle class life. Carol starts to write and post unaddressed letters to express her dissatisfaction and these find their way to Arthur, a post office worker approaching retirement. Although this novel is tinged with what could be a depressing amount of cynicism, it is portrayed humorously and ultimately upliftingly. Both Carol and Arthur are touching, well defined characters who are easy to relate to and completely believable. I enjoyed the writing in this novel which is sensitive and easy to read but has a real depth to it. I would definitely recommend this book.

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones

An easy read about an impecunious family struggling to keep their grand family home who gather to celebrate the birthday of one of the children, Emerald. The plot is gripping and the writing light but not dull which makes this a good beach read. I enjoyed the bantering dialogue which presented the characters simply but with distinction. I did find the plot 'twist' a bit of a credibility stretch although this did not detract too much from the overall impression of this novel as a fun beach read with some substance.

The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

This is a vey well written book about a young girl, Judith, who lives with her strict Jehovah's Witness father in a poor industrial town following the death of her mother. Judith is a clever girl who is bullied by classmates because of her religion, so she seeks comfort in a world she creates in her bedroom from bits of discarded rubbish. I enjoyed this book very much as the characters, particularly Judith who narrates the novel, are very well defined and excite real compassion. The plot is simple but gets increasingly dark, which in my view adds to the depth of this novel. A thought provoking and enjoyable book but be aware that this is not the light read it first appears. 

The Forrests by Emily Perkins

A novel about a family who move to New Zealand from America as a result of their father's debt issues. The family settles and their children grow and start their own households but the complex relationships of their childhoods continue to haunt them. The writing in this novel is good but the characters are a bit bland. In particular the main character, Dorothy, is insipid and lacks any distinguishing characteristic. The plot is inoffensive but almost instantly forgettable. This novel is definitely readable but also uninspiring.

The Sopranos by Alan Warner

This is the novel about the group of young Scottish school girls which precedes The Stars in the Bright Sky. In this book, the girls go to the City for a school choir competition and discover things about each other and their schoolmates in the process. As with the subsequent novel, this book is a beautifully observed look at adolescent life. The dialogue is witty, fast paced and genuine which makes the characters endearing and realistic. The plot is simplistically poignant and easy to enjoy on many levels. A great read.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

This book is about a small family from LA who struggle to fit in with conservative life in Seattle. The three main characters are all complex but well defined. The father, Elgin, is a brilliant computer programmer who neglects his family in favour of work. The mother, Bernadette, is an award winning architect who cannot let go of a past injustice. The daughter, Bee, is a highly intelligent young teenager who attempts to keep her unusual family functioning despite disputes with neighbours and Bernadette's increasingly erratic behaviour. The writing itself is not especially literary but the dialogue is believable and often very touching. The plot is a little romanticised but certainly compelling. I really enjoyed this heartwarming novel which would make a great beach read.

The Middlesteins by Jamie Attenberg

A novel about obesity and one American-Jewish family's psychological relationship with food. The main character, Edie, has always been overweight and the novel charts her descent into morbid obesity and its effect on her family. This is not a bad novel, but for me it lacked any real connection with its professed subject. The book tries to analyse each character's relationship with food but there are too many family members for this to be achieved with any real power, resulting in a novel which skims the surface of the subject. I preferred Bed which is a much more in depth look at the topic.

Alif The Unseen by G. Willow Willow

A very unusual book about a computer hacker, Alif, in an undisclosed Middle Eastern country who is propelled into a mystical world as he tries to escape from the political censors who run the country. Alif is a really engaging, likeable and well defined character which makes this book easy to be drawn into. The language is very good, particularly the descriptions of life in Alif's country which are emotive and beautifully portrayed. The plot of this novel is a unexpected mixture of computer science and magic which could easily be an unsettling combination but the writing, especially the natural dialogues, make it believable and intriguing. Definitely worth reading and probably my favourite of the women's prize long list so far - a shame it didn't make the short list

Stonemouth by Iain Banks

A pacy novel set in a small Scottish town run by two gangster families who enjoy a tenuous peace. The main character, Stewart, returns to the town for a funeral five years after he was run out of town by one of the gangster families for cheating on their sister. I enjoyed the grit of this novel and the plot is engaging but I am not sure if this is intended to be a thriller or a romantic novel - for me it wasn't quite either. A easy and unassuming novel but not outstanding.