I read A LOT and because my memory is terrible I lose track myself of what I've been reading. I've finally decided to keep a record of what I've just read and what I thought about it, so here it is.(You have to scroll down to find the most recent ones.)


The Hundred Secret Senses - Amy Tan

I love Amy Tan - I have read The Bone Setter's Daughter, Saving Fish From Drowning, The Joy Luck Club and most recently this one, The Hundred Secret Senses. Amy Tan's books give a facinating glimse of Chinese history and Chinese American history on a personal level. I love her characters and I love the mystical magical realism element that often interweaves with the 'real' stories. I'm keeping a lookout in my charity shop sweeps for her other novels. 05/07/09

 

  

The Raw Shark Texts - Steven Hall

I just finished reading The Raw Shark Texts this morning, and I searched for it with google (to get a picture) and read two reviews absolutely slating it for being pretentious and overwritten and cliched but I have to say that whether or not those things are true, I loved it! It was just deep and mysterious enough to intrigue me, and exciting enough to grip me, and sad enough to move me, and now that I've finished it I'm missing it. Okay, so it doesn't necessarily make sense in the cold hard light of day - so what? I loved the characters (including the cat) I loved the mystery and treasure hunt nature of the journey and the strange peril from the conceptual shark and I enjoyed the exciting and interesting use of language - why shouldn't a writer play around with words? To the reviewers who said it was overwritten, I says 'so's your face' (I'm always ready with a clever come-back.) 05/07/09

 

Inkdeath - Cornelia Funke

I'm on about my third attempt to read Cornelia Funke's Inkdeath. I read the first book (Inkheart) ages ago (because The Chicken House, who publish the series in this country, were showing an interest in one of my manuscripts so I though I should read some of their books. Another Chicken House book, Kissing The Rain by Kevin Brooks was BRILLIANT, but Inkdeath was just okay.) I wanted to love it, because the premise is really good - characters from books who become real in our world, and people from our world entering the real world of books - great idea, but the books themselves are a little tedious, especially this third in the series. It's very serious with very little humour which I think is its downfall - at least for me. I'm taking it as a personal challenge to finish it. I'm on page two hundred and something out of about fifty million (actually, I've just checked and it has about seven hundred pages). I can't face the next five hundred pages without a break - in fact, I think I'll leave it here for a while and read something else. I promise I'll finish it eventually though. Honest. 07/07/09


 Chasing Windmills - Catherine Ryan Hyde

  My older son is not really into reading, but I thought he might enjoy an old book by Ben Elton called Dead Famous, which is a comedy/drama based around a Big Brother like reality TV show. When I was looking through my shelves of read books trying to find it, I found Chasing Windmills, and didn't remember having read it (I must have put it there by mistake). I picked it up and scanned the first page, and then carried it with me for the rest of the day and finished it at two thirty this morning. I love Cathering Ryan Hyde - I really enjoyed Love in the Present Tense, and quite liked Pay it Forward, and I really loved Chasing Windmills. Two very different people from difficult backgrounds both ride the subway in New York in the middle or the night as a way of escaping from their home life. Their eyes meet and it's instant love - but they're star-crossed lovers, and things don't go smoothly for them. It's a beautifully written book that I found very compelling reading. I see from the front of the book that Catherine Ryan Hyde has written eight books - so if anyone wants to buy me a present, I wouldn't mind reading some of those (hint hint). 12/07/09


The Child's Book of True Crime - Chloe Hooper

I found this book when browsing in the Oxfam second hand bookshop in Belfast, and the title grabbed me first - The Child's Book of True Crime, by Chloe Hooper. It was shortlisted for the Orange prize as well, so I thought it must be good, but when I first started reading it I have to say I hated it. It read like strange Australian Chick lit. (It's not the Australian bit I didn't like, it was the Chick-lit bit - I am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak is one of my favourite books ever and it's Australian.) It did grow on me a bit - I loved all the bits where the kids were quoted (in the ackowledgements the author thanks 'the brilliant fourth grade students who shared their philosphical insights', so I guess at least some of them where genuine quotes - cool). I was slightly annoyed by the way the narrator told storied about the other characters that she couldn't possibly know - I guess the stories where just her suppositions and were supposed to tell us more about the narrator than about the people she was discussing, but still, it annoyed me. I thought the ending was a bit flat too - one of the quotes from the children was that they thought a good story should have a twist at the end, and I thought great - there's going to be a twist to at least make the ending good, but then there wasn't. I just sort of ended. Ah well. 14/07/09

 

 

The Believers - Zoe Heller

 This book was recommended by one of my book group buddies and I bought it a while back and it's been sitting around in my pile of books to be read for a few weeks, but I finally got around to reading it. I didn't instantly love it, it was a little harder work to get into than some of the books I've read recently, but I think the effort was worth it because I did get very drawn into the characters. It's a book more about characters than plot - an English-American-Jewish family living in New York and for most of the book the husband/father is in a coma following a massive stroke. The characters were very real and familiar, especially one of the daughters who was apologetic and had low self esteem and was overweight - yes, she was me. The mother was so out-spoken and tactless that she was about as far from me as it's possible to be and yet I got a real vicarious pleasure out of imagining having the chutzpah to talk to people the way she did - what would I say and who would I say it to? (Imagining it is making me shudder with a mixture of naughty pleasure and horror at the consequenses.) The son suffered from various addictions and the other daughter is wondering whether to become an orthodox jew. The book was funny and fascinating and touching and I would recommend it. 17/07/09

 

 

Elsewhere - Gabrielle Zevin

This is another book that languished on my 'to be read' pile for quite a long time. I am extremely grateful to Gabrielle Zevin for writing teen novels and having a last name that is beyond mine in the alphabet. Thanks to Gabrielle Zevin, I'm not quite at the very end of alphabetical lists, or at the very bottom of alphabeticalised  shelves in book shops, so the least I could do was read one of her books. I liked Elsewhere (on the whole) it's very readable, and has some very funny lines. I like the premise - a strange look at the afterlife being a place much like earth but where people age backwards until they are babies, when they return to be born again. It reminded me quite a lot of another book called 'The Brief History of The Dead' by Kevin Brockmeier (which I preferred, although it is an adult book rather than a teen book.) It also reminded me of Benjamin Button with the whole aging backwards thing. Things that I loved about it were, the clever premise, the humour, the believability of it all and the real and interesting reaction by the main character to what was happening to her. Things I didn't like about it were, its American-ness (I know, when a book is written by an American, it should be American, and why should that annoy me? Am I a terrible anti-American prejudiced person? Maybe. I will try to mend my ways) the anthropomorphising of animals (the whole talking dog thing - I could buy into the boat journey to the afterlife, and aging backwards - that's seemed feasible enough and was approached maturely and believably, but pet dogs that chat away like humans - no. Animals are not little furry humans, if dogs would talk they would talk about food and sex and walkies and not much more. And mermaids - then the book just got into the realms of throwing in everything the writer wished was true because she was the writer, so why shouldn't she have talking dogs and mermaids?). Overall though, I found the book moving and interesting and enjoyable. 20/07/09

 

 Inkdeath - Cornelia Funke

 Another stab at Inkdeath - I've got about  160 odd pages further through it. I actually enjoyed getting back to it - like seeing an old friend for a cuppa, but unfortunately this old friend seems to be chronically depressed and while I do love them, I can only take the death and despair in small doses, so it's back on the shelf for Inkdeath for another while. 25/07/09

 

 

 Small Ceremonies - Carol Shields

 I was introduced to Carol Shields when we read her last novel, 'Unless' in book group. I found I identified with the book's narrator on a very deep level, and really enjoyed it. I've since read Larry's Party and The Stone Diaries, and this book, Small Ceremonies is the first novel Carol Shields wrote way back in 1976. It is a bit dated, but the familiar voice of the woman who feels like a kindred spirit to me is still there. The book is about a biography writer who wants to write fiction, so she takes a course run by her old friend and successful writer. She's completely stumped about coming up with an idea for what to write for her coursework, and ends up plagiarising a plot from a manuscript she came across when staying in the home of an unpublished writer. Years later, her friend brings out a new book that revitalises his flagging career, but to her horror, when he finally gets around to reading it, he's stolen her plot that she in turn stole from someone else! 27/07/09

 

The Colour Purple - Alice Walker

 My next book group read is Beloved by Toni Morrison, a book about slavery in America (I think - I haven't read it yet). Thinking about this book made me realise that I'd never read The Color Purple, and that I should. I saw the film, ages ago, although it is a film that I found stuck in my mind, and that maybe should have warned me off reading the book - not because I didn't like the film, because I did, just because as a general rule if I've already seen the film, a book is kind of spoiled for me - I don't get the usual free range of imagination giving faces to the characters, plus I know how it ends. I usually don't like it other way round either - watching a film based on a book I've read - I get upset at the changes they make, or if the characters are way different from the way I imagined them (with the exception of the Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter movies which I loved.) Saying that, I still enjoyed reading the book. I loved the structure - the entire book was a series of letters, initially from the main character, Celie to God, and then to her sister Nettie, and some from Nettie to Celie. Celie uses such everyday excepting language to describe the terrible abuse she suffers which gives it, I think all the more impact, while making the book (on some levels at least) very easy to read. I'm taking a break from serious books now though, and re-reading one of my all time favourite feel-good books, Good Omens, by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman (both of whom are my absolute heroes.) 29/07/09

 

   

Good Omens - Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

  I really love this book. I'll have to buy a new copy soon because mine is falling apart due to over-reading. It's funny and sweet and a little bit irreverent and one of my favourite feel-good books of all time. Also it was the book that introduced me to the work of Neil Gaiman and I've enjoyed everything I've read by him since. (I've always pronounced his name guy-man, but I've recently been told it should be gay-man - really? Hmmm. I think I'll stick to guy-man for the time being.) I've always  been a fan of Terry Pratchett (which is why I bought this book in the first place.) 05/08/09

 

  

From Where I Stand - Tabitha Sasuma

I met Tabitha Sasuma at the Lancashire Children's book of the year award (and her mum - they are both really lovely people) so I was inspired to read one of her books, and I chose this one, From Where I stand. I read it during our family trip to Alton Towers, when I could gratefully sit on a rock or a bench while the rest of the family went off to get hurtled around. It's a book that is very easy to get into and very compelling, so I was continually suggesting the boys went to ride something terrifying because I really didn't mind waiting for them with my book! I was reduced to tears at one point (the scene where Raven and his foster mum build flat-pack furniture) so I had to pretend I had hay-fever! I can see why Tabitha's books are very popular with teenagers. 06/08/09

 

 

Human Croquet - Kate Atkinson

I love Kate Atkinson, especially her more recent whodunnit type books, but I picked this one up in the Oxfam shop in Haywoods Heath, where we are staying with my sister and her family at the moment (I bought seven books and one Catatonia CD for less than £15 - you couldn't be bad to that!). It's one of her older books and more of a family saga than a whodunnit, but I still really enjoyed it. I like the narrator very much - a girl just turning sixteen who lives with an odd assortment of relatives in a family still reeling from the mysterious loss of the girl's mother several years before. As always, Kate Atkinson's prose is gorgeous and the plot is odd and surreal which always appeals to me. 09/08/09

 

 

The Quantity Theory of Insanity - Will Self

This was another of the seven Oxfam books, and I'm glad at least that the money I spent on it went to charity so it wasn't a complete waste. First off, I didn't realise it was a book of short stories and not a novel until I'd read two really long and totally unconnected chapters. I don't really like short stories at the best of times, and this certainly wasn't the best of anything. I thought the writing was heavy and laboured and the subject matter confusing and incoherent. In short I really hated this book, and after reading the first two stories I gladly gave up. Maybe I'll give it back to Oxfam and they can sell it again. 10/08/09

 

 

The Kitchen God's Wife - Amy Tan

I'm having a senior moment (I can have them now that I'm in my forties!). I remember writing about The Kitchen God's Wife already, and yet when I looked at my page it's not here (and the cover photo wasn't in my picture library either, so it's not just that I didn't save the review. Hmmm) Maybe I reviewed it somewhere else and can't remember where? Anyway, this was another of the books I bought in Oxfam in Haywards Heath (I really like Haywards Heath by the way) and this one was a real joy. I'm a big Amy Tan fan, even if most of her books could be summed up with the same synopsis - Chinese American woman has strained relationship with mother (or other older relative) but gains understanding when the mother's (or other older relative's) traumatic back-story of abuse and struggle growing up in China comes out. Still, if it ain't broke don't fix it, and if Amy Tan wrote twenty more the same I'd happily read them all. (One of my favourite Amy Tan books, Saving Fish From Drowning differs somewhat from the mother daughter relationship pattern, and is very good as well.) Another thing I remember writing in the mystical other review that is possibly out there somewhere is that before I read the book I was convinced it was about someone married to a TV chef! (It's not - the kitchen God in the title refers to an actual god with a shrine not a man who's a great cook.) 12/08/09

 

 

 

Chrono Trigger - Ds

This is not a book, I know, but I'm having a wee break from reading while I'll playing this DS game. I love my DS and I'm quite enjoying this game. I'm a big fan of the Final Fantasy series for the DS (I don't play them on the things that plug into the telly anymore, partly because I don't get a look in with three teenaged kids, and partly because I don't have the time to play for hours between save points, at least with the DS you can always close the lid and pause it any time.) Chrono Trigger is not quite up the the FF standard, I'm finding the fights just a bit too easy, although my son, who's ahead of me in the game says the final boss is really hard. It passes the time though, and I'm having fun with it. 18/08/09

 

  

  

 Clay - David Almond

This is another charity shop book and I started reading it because I was taking Roxie to the groomers, and I was embarrassed about bringing my DS to play while I waited. At first I found the book easy to read, although it felt like the sort of thing I used to be made to read at school - a bit old fashioned, and definitely a boy book. I was already a third of the way through the book by the time Roxie was looking lovely and ready to go home, and for some reason I didn't want to stop reading. There is something weirdly compelling about Clay - the characters are totally believable, from good hearted but easily led Davie to strangely sinister Stephen. When things started getting even weirder - clay figures coming to life, visitations by angels, and the ever creepier hold Stephen had over those around him I was completely hooked. It's rare and wonderful for a book to draw me in so much that I forget to analyse the writers diferent devices and choices in style and instead just get immersed in the plot and the characters' reactions but that's what happened with Clay. All I can say is Wow - what a good book. 20/08/09

 

What Was Lost - Catherine O'Flynn

The first section of What Was Lost is set in the nineteen eighties (the era when I was a teenager) and follows a little girl called Kate who sees herself as a private detective. I loved this bit of the book - I could identify with Kate so much and yet see much more of the world through her eyes than she takes in. There are some very funny observations but cloaked in sweet innocence. The main bulk of the book is set twenty years later and while still very clever with some very funny comments on people generally and consumerism in particular, I missed Kate's sweet voice. (If you are watching this year's big brother, it reminded me of Marcus - who is foul mouthed and cynical but spot on and hilarious in some of his witty observations.) The ending was sad yet satisfying and I would certainly recommend  this book to anyone (as long as they're not offended by strong language.) 25/08/09

 

Natural Flights of the Human Mind - Clare Morrall

I know I'm prone to gushing about how good books are, and I think that's because I genuinely do love most of the books I read. Maybe because I'm in love with stories and the clever use of language, and also because I think I'm pretty good at picking out books that I know I'll enjoy. It'll be no surprise then when I say I LOVED Natural Flights of the Human Mind! It's about a man who lives as a silent recluse in a lighthouse while he tries to come to terms with an accident he caused twenty five years ago that killed 78 people. He's shaken up (in a good way) by the arrival of the wonderfully angry and forthright Doody and we gradually learn their back stories and get to know them as they get to know each other. I found the book mesmerising and I couldn't wait to get back to it whenever real life got in the way and I had to stop reading. It's my first book by Clare Morrall and I will certainly be looking out for more. 30/08/09

 

 

Apollo Justice Ace Attorney - DS

I had another break from reading to play a DS game - Apollo Justice Ace Attorney. I've played the Pheonix Wright one before, and this is a follow on (there may be more in between, I'm not sure.) I had a lot of fun with this game. It was just hard enough to make me think without me getting totally stuck - I could usually work out what to do either through my powers of deduction (!) or trial and error (although I did consult the walk-through once or twice). The stories were fun and everything came together nicely at the end. There was plenty of game play and the anime style over-the-top facial expressions didn't annoy me too much. (I played most of it with the sound turned off, though as a lot of the sound effects were annoying.) 13/09/09

 

 

The Mermaid Chair - Sue Monk Kidd

I read Sue Monk Kidd's Mermaid Chair at the same time that I was playing the DS game so it didn't get the same avid attention I usually give to the books I'm reading and for that reason I think it felt a little disjointed to me. I loved The Secret Life of Bees by the same author, and the Mermaid Chair is also a very good book. It's quite slow and character driven rather than plot driven, but then that's what I like in a book. The writing is beautifully poetic and I did get drawn in to the world of Jessie, a woman in a long happy marriage with a grown up daughter who felt the need to escape from her life and when she had to return to the island where she grew up because of a crisis with her mother she didn't want her husband to come with her and ended up having an affair with a monk. It's about feeling restless and like there must be something more for me. I was feeling quite weepy on the day that I finished reading it (my lack of a publisher was really getting to me) and the last few chapters really got me wailing. I'm glad it ended the way it did though - when I read it it was almost as though I was dipping my toes in the notion of running away from my life the way Jessie did, but then it was a relief when she decided to come back. That's the beauty of reading - you can experience all the highs and lows of an extreme situation without actually having to go through it. 11/09/09

 

The Point of Rescue - Sophie Hannah

I read Little Face by Sophie Hannah a while ago, and enjoyed it, so I picked The Point of Rescue up when I saw it in a charity shop. When I first started to read it I really didn't like it - all the characters seemed to be so angry and cynical - like in the grim gritty style of British drama where they try to be 'realistic' by making everyone angry or depressed. I don't think people in real life are that angry all the time. I think people are mostly pretty content (maybe I'm naive?) . Saying that, the book grew on me, and as I got to know the characters I became much more sympathetic to them. Also the mystery drew me in, so that I kept reading more and more avidly. I wouldn't be my favourite style of book, but worth a read, and if I see Sophie Hannah's other book (Hurting Distance) going cheep anywhere I'll probably pick it up. (Talking of angry people, last night I watched Revolutionary Road - not really a feel good movie, although it did have one or two laugh out loud moments.) 16/09/09

 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

At first I didn't like this book. Two things about it annoyed me - the very 'posh' English voice (although ironically I love Jeeves and Wooster and The Lord Peter Whimsey mysteries and they don't come much posher than that - maybe it's because, as I discovered when I'd finished reading, it was writen by an American, so the English accent was 'put on'). The other thing that annoyed me was that the main character was a writer who enjoyed seemingly easy success and was fawned on by everyone in the publishing world - although I acknowledge that that was just pure green jealousy. I  very quickly got over my petty problems though, and became too distracted by the characters and the story to notice. It's a lovely book, reminiscent, I think, of Joanna Harris's Coastliners. The funny aspects of community life were hilarious and the touching ones were very touching. I also found it interesting learning about the German occupation of Guernsey - something I've never given a moments thought to before. The book is written as a series of letters (there's a word for that isn't there? Epistle-ary or something along those lines) and I think that format works very well. Sadly the main author, an elderly lady in her seventies, died during the editing process, so the second author (her niece) took over. 24/09/09

 

 Lucas - Kevin Brooks

 Wow! I just finished reading Lucas and I'm still reeling from the emotional impact of it. It is certainly a hard-hitting book. It reminds me of another book called The Raging Quiet by Sherryl Jordan (which I loved) they are both about a small community turning on a young man who is in some way different to them, and in both cases a young woman sees past the prejudice and sees a good person but pays dearly for standing by him. It was a bit of a grower for me - I didn't instantly love it, perhaps because (and this is true almost always when I read a book intended for teens) I was looking at it analitically and comparing it to my books, to begin with at least. Once the plot grabbed me though it was elevated to the status of a book that I carry about with me and read at every available opportunity (standing in queues, waiting for the kids outside school etc). I loved the  really good relationship between the heroine and her father, especially near the end when they were bonded by their mutual pain. The ending made me cry, which I consider to be a good thing in a book! 29/09/09

 

 

Beloved - Toni Morrison

 

 This was my book group read for this month, so scoot on over to the 'my book group reads' page to see what we thought of it. 02/10/09

 

 

 

  

The Angel's Game - Carlos Ruiz Zafron

I read Carlos Ruiz Zafron's first book The Shadow of The Wind, and I remember really loving it, so I was looking forward to this one. I'm sorry to say I really didn't love it. There were lots of things about The Angel's Game that I did like - I could empathise with a lot of the experiences of the main character as a writer, and I loved the atmospheric descriptions of Barcelona - I tried to read with a Spanish accent in my mind! The writing was often beautiful and I found myself re-reading sentences just to appreciate their loveliness. But - I thought the plot was kind of dopey, and I hated the series of chases and fights at the end - too much like a 'boy's own adventure' comic book for my tastes. Ah well. 15/10/09

 

 Unseen Academicals - Terry Pratchett

 Anyone who's heard me talk about being a writer will know that I HATE football (and LOVE Terry Pratchett) so when I realised that the new Discworld novel was based around football I was tossed on the horns of a dilemma. Of course the Love of Terry won, and I'm glad it did because I LOVED Unseen Academicals. There is so much more to it than The Game - the main characters were fabulous and I found I was able to identify and sypathise with all of them in spite of them being so diverse. The book made my laugh out loud, as well as nod thoughtfully and even brush away the odd tear. I hope this is not the last Discworld book. 20/10/09

 

 This Book will Save Your Life - A.M. Homes

 I'm not sure what to say about this book. I was quickly gripped by it - the opening scene describes a man who thinks he's having a heart attack, and his experience of calling 911 and being taken to hospital are pretty compelling. There follows a series of bizarre happening, that are quite surreal and so far out of my realm of experience as to be almost laughable (the main character is mega rich and throws money around like nobody's business.) I think I liked it, though. On the whole - my interest waned a bit in the middle, and the book didn't end with a bang, it just sort of fizzled out. I found the present tense narrative a bit annoying too. I don't regret reading it, although I don't see how reading it will save my life (perhaps if I carry it around in a pocked   one day it will serendipitously stops a bullet?). I did like the cover (in a kind of love/hate way - I have to acknowledge that it grabs your attention.) 22/10/09

 

Being - Kevin Brooks

 This is the third Kevin Brooks novel I've read now, the other two being Kissing The Rain and Lucas (both very good). This one was recommended to me by my fifteen year old daughter, although she didn't like the ending - she said 'it was like someone had a really good idea for a book but then didn't know how to end it.' I agree with her on the 'really good idea for a book' bit. It starts with sixteen year old Robert having minor surgery but waking up during it in a room with armed men discussing the strange things they've found inside him. His internal organs seem to be mechanical - making him either a cyborg or some kind of alien. The rest of the book is a chase with Robert running away from the scary men who are chasing him, and trying to come to terms with what he is - he had no prior knowledge that there was anything strange about himself other than he was an abandoned baby. I thought the book was very compelling and while we were never really told what Robert was of where he came from, we still empathised with his plight (or at least I did). I personally quite like books that leave you guessing at the end, but I can also see how that is unsatisfying for many people. I very much admire Kevin Brooks as a writer though. I hope I get to meet him someday. 28/10/09


 

 The Secret Scripture - Sebastian Barry

 This was one of my two book group reads for November and since I'd already read it, but it was quite a while ago, I re-read it this last week. I remembered that I liked it first time round, but I think I liked it even better second time. It weaves together the life story of Roseanne McNulty, a very old lady in an Irish mental hospital, and her psychiatrist, Dr Grene. They both have sad tales to tell, and while in the first reading, I was taken up with the suspense of the plot, the second time around I was entranced by the beauty of the writing, and how clevery it takes us to the ending. It's a clever exploration of an unreliable narrator, or just how memory and perspective changes history. Some people have complained that the ending is too contrived, but I thought it was believably enough - especially after my second read, and I thought the ending was lovely. 23/11/09

 

 

Nowhere Else On Earth - Josephine Humphreys

I got this book from a charity shop, because I liked the look of it and the blurb, and I tried really hard to read it, but I'm afraid I gave up after 54 pages. I don't know why but it just isn't grabbing me. It's set in the US at the time of the civil war and it follows a mixed race community (half Scots half Native American). That should be an interesting read, and the writing is accomplished, I just found reading it a chore. I haven't completely given up, I may try again some time, but for now, life's too short to force myself to read something I'm not enjoying. 30/11/09

 

Salmon Fishing in The Yemen - Paul Torday

This was supposed to be a book group read, but my Amazon order was delayed and it didn't arrive until after book group! I had read it before - ages ago - a copy from the library, and remembered enjoying it. I wanted to re-read it to refresh my memory, so when it finally came I read it again. Unlike the other book I re-read for book group (The Secret Scripture) I didn't get that much more out of a re-read. It's a funny read though, and I really liked the main character, and that in spite of everything that went wrong in the Yemen Salmon fishing project, things kind of turned out okay for him. I would recommend this book. 1/12/09

 

The Other Half Lives - Sophie Hannah

This is the third Sophie Hannah book I've read (after Little Face and The Point of Rescue) unfortunately for me it's the fourth book in the series and I've missed out one (Hurting distance). Each of her books has a whole new mystery thriller plot, but the same police officers investigating, so it was their relationships and baggage that left me a bit confused. I found the book pretty gripping nonetheless, and although I found the constant repetition of the mystery a little annoying, I still enjoyed the read and was genuinely shocked by some of the reveals. 8/12/09

 

The Dice Man - Luke Rhinehart

This is another charity shop buy for me - I was intrigued by the concept of the book - a man who decides that his every decision should be decided by the roll of the dice. Unfortunately, since he gave the dice options to chose from, and they usually involved sex and or drugs the book ends up reading like bad porn. I guess it was written and first published in the 1960s so it is very much a child of it's time. I really didn't like the main character who seems totally devoid of morals of feelings for other people - for instance when the dice told him to first cheat on and then leave his wife and children he did, when the dice told him to murder he did. Remembering that he was the one who gave the dice the options, it was really just his excuse for behaving badly. I kept reading in the hopes that there would be some redemption or at least nice resolution, and wishing it would hurry up and end so I could get on with my real life, and mercifully it did end, but sadly didn't leave me in any way satisfied. My advice is give it a miss (if you really wanted you could roll a die to decide whether to buy it and burn it, or just not buy it). I guess I'll give it back to the charity shop, except then some other poor sap will buy it. Ah well, somebody might like it - it sells better on Amazon than either of my books even though its older than I am. Huh. 23/12/2009 


 Holy Fools - Joanne Harris

  I'm a big Joanne Harris fan, and Holy Fools is typical of her books. It's an historical drama set mostly in a convent in 17th Century France. Like all her books it's beautifully written and there is reference to cantrips and 'magic' although in this book it's more on the level of superstition without any real 'magical realism' being part of the plot, which I found unfortunate since I like a bit of magical realism. I enjoyed reading it, although it wouldn't be my favourite of Harris's books (Chocolat and Lollipop shoes are my favourites). 9/01/10

 

  


Deaf Sentence - David Lodge

 This is the first of the two book group reads I have for January, and I really enjoyed it. The main character, Desmond is four years into early retirement from being a linguistics professor and suffers from high frequency deafness. I have the same condition, so I could identify hugely with his difficulties (although he seems to be afflicted more severely than me). I found the opening chapter laugh out loud funny, as Desmond miss-heard things comically. The tension in the plot comes from Desmonds interactions with a young pretty American linguistics student who wants him to help her with her PhD thesis, but turns out to be dangerously sociopathic. There is also lots of pathos surrounding Desmonds father's declining health, as well as his trip to Poland and visit to Auschwitz. I also liked the little titbits of trivia that sprinkle the book, from linguistic stuff to the random facts he had to 'talk' about in his lip reading classes (I wonder if I should look for lip-reading classes?) Deaf Sentence gets a big thumbs up from me. (I wonder what the rest of the book group thought about it? I'll write it up after we next meet.) 12/01/10

 

The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery

  This was my second book group read for January, and when I first started reading it I hated it! The two main characters, Renee a fifty something concierge in an upmarket apartment building in Paris, and Paloma, one of its twelve year old wealthy inhabitants both seemed grumpy and arrogant and unlikeable, and the language was, I thought, overly pretentious and ponderous. BUT, I persevered and the more I read the more I warmed to the book, until I got to the point where I could barely put it down. As I grew to understand Renee and Paloma better, I started to genuinely love them and when a Japanese gentleman moved into the building the plot really took off. I found myself actually yelling at the book out loud to make things turn out the way  I wanted, and I cried more than once towards the end. I once read a book called 'Splashes of Joy in the cesspool if Life' and I think that title sums up the theme of this book, of beauty in the midst of tragedy. I'm really glad I stuck with the book, and now that I've finished it I'm missing it, and trying to hold on to the feelings it evoked in me for as long as possible. 18/01/10

 

  

Hurting Distance - Sophie Hannah

My enjoyment of this book suffered for two reasons. Firstly, I read it immediately after the much weightier and brilliant 'The Elegance of The Hedgehog', which is definitely a hard act to follow. Secondly, as I said when I reviewed 'The Other Half Lives' I accidentally read the series out of order, so I knew one of the major reveals ahead of time. I don't know if that knowledge sent my mind in the right direction, but for the first time when reading a Sophie Hannah book I was way ahead of the police in seeing significant clues and wanted to shout at them to look at what was staring them in the face, even clues that weren't directly connected with what I knew from reading the books out of order. I also found the book quite seedy, with a lot of reference to rape and sexuality, which was necessary to the plot, but is it really what I want to be reading about? Having said all that, I was still fairly gripped and I was quite satisfied with the ending. 20/01/10

 

Under The Dome - Stephen King

When I mentioned to my book group buddies that I was reading a Stephen King novel, they looked a bit horrified. I think this is the first book by him I've read, although I've seen movies based on his books (Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and The Mist) all of which were obviously well written, and the premise for this book intrigued me. A small town in America is suddenly and without warning encased in an invisible and impenetrable dome, cutting it off from electricity and water and the rest of the world. It's a huge book - almost 900 pages and it has quite a cast of characters. I really enjoyed it. I even carried it about with me although it was too big to fit in my handbag and I had to ram the end in sideways and have at least half of it sticking out, because I wanted to snatch every available opportunity of reading time. There were some quite brutal killings, but on the whole it's certainly not a horror book. It's more of a mystery thriller and also a drama about human nature, both good and bad. For a lot of the book the cause of the dome was unknown, but the immediate danger was not from who or whatever put it there, rather from the other people inside the dome. When I finished it, in spite of its size I wished it was longer so I could keep reading. I think I'll look for other similar books by Stephen King - maybe The Strand. 30/01/10

 

The Cellist of Sarajevo - Steven Galloway

It was interesting reading this book immediately after the Stephen King Dome book, to compare and contrast the two. The Cellist of Sarajevo felt really short to me, although it was long enough at 230 odd pages. Like Stephen King's Under the Dome, it's set in a city/town under siege, although unlike in Under The Dome, the enemy is not at all secret and hidden in Sarajevo. Like the citizens caught under the dome, those in Sarajevo also had to contend with corruption from their fellow besieged countrymen, and the best and worst of human nature is brought to the fore. I felt the book was perhaps a little lacking in depth, so it was difficult to bond totally with the characters, although I did feel I knew them fairly well by the end of the it. It felt almost more like a long short story - like a slice of live - than a full novel. I do feel more informed about the war in Sarajevo now though, and reminded of the real human suffering that war causes. 4/02/10

 

 

Killing God - Kevin  Brooks

This is (I think) the fourth Kevin Brooks book I've read. I thought the writing was stunningly good (curse him!). The book was very gripping and interestingly written and I liked the main character, Dawn. I don't think it's my favourite Kevin Brooks book though, (that would be Lucas). I though the plot was just a little too bleak and depressing for my liking. Rebecca, who's about to turn sixteen really liked it though. It's about a girl who is a loner and a miss-fit (lots of books are about loners and miss-fits - is that because they're easier to write about, or because writers are loners themselves and identify with there characters if they are too?) whose dad was an alcoholic and a drug dealer and has been missing for two years, and whose mum who fell apart when dad left and is now a depressed alcoholic herself. That's how it starts, and things just get worse for poor Dawn. You couldn't blame her for wanting to kill God with a life like that! 11/02/2010

 

The Stand - Stephen King

I enjoyed The Dome so much, that I wanted to read another similar Stephen King, and the blurb at the back of The Dome suggested this one. It's another huge book - 1300 pages! At first I really didn't like it. Lots of characters were introduced, and I didn't really care for any of them. However, the plot was exciting, and while all of the characters were pretty flawed at the beginning, some joined the 'bad guys' camp, and others went on redemptive personal journeys and became the 'good guys'. There were lots of things that I loved about the book, although I didn't love it all - I found it a bit over long at times (needs a bit more editing!) I don't regret reading it though - I think I would give it four out of five. 01/03/10

 

Home - Marilynne Robinson

This is my book group read for March. I remember reading Housework by Marilynne Robinson when I was seventeen or eighteen and trying to explain to my friends why I loved it so much, when not that much happened in it. This is another book where not that much happens. It is a very atmospheric book, although the atmosphere is quite claustrophobic - full of nervous politeness and regret - it's really not a feel-good kind of a book! It is very beautifully written however, and I can recognise a lot of myself and my family in the characters.  06/03/10

 

The Road - Cormac McCarthy

I bought this book in a charity shop before I saw the movie, but then I watched the movie before I read the book. I don't normally like to read a book of a movie I've seen, but in this case I think it was good. Partly because the movie is very true to the book, both in content and in feel, so that didn't annoy me, and also, I think having seen the film, and knowing what was going to happen, I could appreciate the language all the more. The language is stark yet profound. Sometimes I couldn't really understand it, but that didn't detract from the book too much! Some of the passages would benefit from being picked over in an English Lit classroom, I think, like Shakespeare or the war poets. But even if I didn't get all the words or all the similes, I still really felt moved by the book, and liked the film even more in hind sight because of reading it. 08/03/10

 

 

Paradise News - David Lodge

I really liked this book. I picked it up in a charity shop, because I enjoyed Deaf Sentence by David Lodge so much, and if anything I enjoyed this one even better. For one thing it was funny without being silly - a gently mickey taking of the British traveller abroad. And the main character, Bernard Walsh really struck a cord with me - I felt a kinship with him. David Lodge is very good at giving his stories emotional depth without clogging them down with it, and this story tugged at the heartstrings as well as making me laugh out loud and cringe with sympathetic embarrassments. I now want to read everything David Lodge has ever written. 09/03/10

 

Ghost Written - David Mitchell

This book pretends to be a novel but is really a series of short stories that bleed slightly into each other. I really don't like short stories - I don't know why, but they just annoy me as a rule. I felt a little cheated when I realised what I was reading, however, I finished the book, and on the whole I liked it. I couldn't bring myself to like one or two of the characters, especially the ones who swore constantly, but then I loved other characters, and I liked the magical reality bits - with ghosts and disembodied spirits, and I liked the way the stories interconnected. Not my favourite book ever, but I didn't hate it either. 18/03/10

 

Inkdeath - Cornelia Funke

Yay! I finally finished Inkdeath. It's taken me at least three sittings, since it's a long book and quite dark and depressing.  I've only been able to read a bit of it at a time before I've had to take a break and read several other books before coming back. This time I had about a third of the book left, and I have to say that I enjoyed this final part of the book (and the trilogy). It felt nice to reconnect with the characters who I've known for so long now, a bit like a homecoming, and the pace had picked up as the book approached its final denouement. I found the ending satisfying and my appreciation of the book and the writing has grown since the last time I read it. I might even read it again one day. 21/03/10

 

We Are All Made of Glue - Marina Lewycka

 I enjoyed the other two books by Marina Lewycka, so I bought this from Tesco (cause they had it on offer - which is funny because looking for bargains is something of a theme in the book). It made me chuckle out loud several times. The main character has teenage children and a marriage that is falling apart, and she befriends a crazy cat lady. I could identify with lots of things from her experience - especially her upbringing in Leeds, although sometimes I was horrified by the choices she made (sleeping with the sleezy estate agent!) but then I guess people do make bad choices in real life. I liked the book - it had interesting snippets of Jewish and Palestinian history, but also lots of warm human interest. And cats. 25/03/10


 The White Tiger - Aravind Adiga

I have read two Rohinton Mistry books set in India and dealing with issues such as poverty and corruption (A Fine Balance and Family Matters) and I thought they were both excellent. This book however I really didn't like. It takes a very cynical look at Indian life from the point of view of a man who worked his way up from being a poor village boy, son of a rickshaw puller to being a rich respected business man. The problem is that I never liked him enough to want him to do well, or hated him enough to want him to get his comeuppance for the sins he committed along the way (murder and theft). I didn't find the writing particularly beautiful or the plot particularly tense. It was okay, I've read worse, but not my cup of tea. 31/03/10


    

Blue Diary - Alice Hoffman

I wasn't sure what I'd make of this book. I picked it up in a charity shop even though I'd never heard of the author - I bought it because on the blurb she was compared to Carol Shields, whose work I really like. Well - I loved it! such a contrast to the book I read before it (the White Tiger) I thought the writing was very good - I want to go back over it and mark places where I was struck by the beauty of the imagery or the unusual turns of phrase that I think worked really well. The plot was interesting - it starts by building up a man Ethan Ford - husband, father, volunteer fireman, little league coach and all round hero-everyone-loves-him-goes-the-extra-mile-good-guy (one small criticism I had was that she hammered home this point to the extent that I was getting a bit irritated by how perfect he was, but I guess that was to make the most of the contrast) who turned out to have raped and murdered a fifteen year old girl before moving to the town. Well, his past catches up with him, and the book is about the reactions of the people around him. I liked it so much, that when I was next at the Oxfam book shop I bought two more titles by Alice Hoffman. 8/04/10


 East of The Mountains - David Guterson

This book was recommended to me by one of the ladies in my book group, and is by the author of the wonderful Snow Falling on Cedars. It's the story of an old American man whose wife is dead and who is dying himself of painful colon cancer. He takes his dogs and his father's hunting gun and plans a trip to stage a hunting accident and end his life. Things don't go according to plan and the journey turns into something of an odyssey. When my kids were at primary school, I used to borrow audio books from the library to listen to as I did the school runs. This is a book I would have liked to have read to me by someone with a lovely gravely old American voice - like Johnny Cash. It's slow paced and beautiful, and while I didn't love it as much as Snow Falling on Cedars, it is still a very worthy read. 15/04/10



 Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer

Wow - Jonathan Safran Foer is awesome! I loved Everything is Illuminated, and if anything I loved this book even more. I feel like everything I've written is like painting by numbers compared with the originality and genius of his style. It's the story of Oskar, a nine year old boy who's father was in the top of the twin towers when the planes hit. There are some excellent books written in the voice of a precocious child (and this is definitely one of them). Oskar is clever and frank and direct and the book is as heartbreaking as it is absorbing. I also loved the stories of Oskar's Grandparents that ran in parallel with his own, and I loved the use of photos and the arrangement of words on the page for dramatic effect (reminded me of The Raw Shark Texts - which I also loved, although not as much as I loved this). I read it obsessively for three days, and now I'm sad because it's finished. 18/04/10


 Saturday - Ian McEwan

I was really excited when I found an Ian McEwan book in a charity shop because I have loved other books I've read by him (Atonement, On Chesil Beach, Enduring Love). I don't know if it was because I read it after the Jonathan Safran Foer book which I loved, but I didn't instantly like this book. It reads like a slice of life which is more often the case with short stories (which I just don't like) - every moment and thought process that the man character Perowne (a middle aged neurosurgeon) goes through in one long Saturday is catalogued and for a long time it just didn't seem to be going anywhere. Yes it is well written, but for me a plot has to have direction to keep my interest. Saying that, it did get quite exciting near the end which gave it shape and structure. It might be worth reading again to appreciate it more (but then again, why bother?) 28/04/10


 The Earth Hums in B Flat - Mari Strachan

This was my book group read and since I chose it I felt quite responsible and was therefore probably a little over critical when I first started reading it. I found it a little hard to get over that, but once I did I found the book very compelling. It's many things - a murder mystery, a family drama, a coming of age story, a piece of historical fiction, a fable etc. It's told in the first person by Gwennie, the younger daughter in a family troubled by secrets and scandal who sees everything through innocent eyes and wants to investigate the mystery of a missing man in the small welsh village where she lives, not knowing what kind of hornet's nest her investigation will uncover. 30/04/10


  

David Lodge Trilogy (Changing Places, Small World, Nice Work)

I have very much enjoyed the two David Lodge books I've read, so I thought this trilogy was a good idea, as it was cheaper than buying three separate books. Unfortunately I'm finding the bulk of the thick paperback a little hard to manage - it's quite a lot of book to hold in your hands, also they've made it with pretty small font, I guess to stop it from being even larger, which makes it less comfortable on the eyes as well. With hindsight, I should have coughed up more cash and bought the books separately. I'm finding the first book quite wordy, but still enjoyable, and quite funny. Sadly I seem to have miss-placed my copy (even though it is the size of a brick). I can't find it! I'm sure it'll turn up, but in the mean time I guess I'll read some other stuff. 17/05/10

 

Skellig - David Almond

This book was recommended to me by Jim McDaid, a teacher at Hazelwood Integrated Primary school in Belfast. It is one of the many great books he's read with his primary 7 class and they voted this as their favourite. Having just read it, I can see why. It's a really quite short and simple book, and yet it is terribly profound. It made me laugh and cry and stop and think. it's actually one of those books that I view as a turning point in my life, because I feel touched and affected by it. I've read one other book by David Almond, Clay, which I also thought was very good, although I think I like Skellig better. Apparently it's been made into a film, although I would almost rather not watch the film, because I want the feelings and images in my mind that I got from reading the book to remain unsullied (if that makes any sense.) All I can say is, Thanks Jim for recommending it. 18/05/10



 

A Swiftly Tilting Planet - Madeleine L'Engle

 When I was sixteen I moved with my family to California for a year and we lived in the house of a couple of academics who had gone to Scotland for a year. They were married with no children, and had converted their spare bedroom to a library. They had lots of books I'd already read and loved (Tolkien, CS Lewis etc) and a stack of books by Madeleine L'Engle. I read and loved them all, especially the magical series About the Murray family including this book -  A Swiftly Tilting Planet. It's not quite fantasy - more magical reality, I think. On the eve of nuclear war, fifteen year old Charles Wallace, guided by a unicorn/angel must travel through time and inhabit ancestors of the man about to blow up the world to make little changes that turn a bad man into a good man. I have re-read the books many times, although it had been a while since I last did, so I decided to read this one again. It reminded me of all the reasons I loved it the first time and made me feel young again. Why isn't my writing as magical as this? 25/05/10 

 

Changing Places - David Lodge

 I found the book again (It was down the side of my bed) and finished reading the first part - Changing Places. This book was written in the early seventies, and is very much 'of the period'. I didn't like it as much as the more recent David Lodge books I've read. I still liked his writing style, and the plot was satisfying I think I just don't like the ethos of the seventies - it's all free love and drugs and raging against the system - it just seems a bit immature and silly to me (I must be such a prude, man). It reminded me of the book 'Dice Men' which I also didn't like because of the selfishness and childishness of the whole 'if it feels good, do it' mentality with no regard for the long term affect of one's actions, or how they affect other people. Okay, rant over. I'll still read the other two books in the trilogy though, after a bit of a break. 07/06/10



 Lord Sunday - Garth Nix

This is the last in a series of seven fantasy books following Arthur, a sickly human boy who is transported to a magical mythical realm. I read these books to my youngest son Christy as bedtime reading until he got too old for that (sob). We got up to book six (Lady Saturday) Up until book six we had both enjoyed the series, but we both thought book six was awful (I wrote a bad review of it on Amazon) - just a filler to pad out the series. Well, book seven the final book was much better. Garth Nix was back on form with totally action packed end to his series - exciting, emotional and satisfying. Unfortunately, Christy didn't want to read it, having lost interest after the previous book, so he said, 'you read it and tell me what happened.' Ah well. 11/06/10


 The Double Comfort Safari Club - Alexander McCall Smith

I do like the No1 ladies detective books. This one was a birthday present and I read it over two days. It's typical of the series - gentle optimistic pontification about life and people wrapped around the detective activities of Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi. Nothing terribly dramatic and no clever twists, but nice reading all the same. 13/06/10




 Love and Summer - William Trevor

Although this is a modern book, it feels old - I guess because William Trevor was born in 1928, so he's no spring chicken. It feels unhurried and atmospheric and conjures up the mood of a sleepy Irish village where 'nothing ever happens'. Unfortunately, not a wild lot happens in the book either, and although the tale of love versus duty was moving enough, I wasn't terribly gripped. 18/06/10



 Breathing in Colour - Clare Jay

I liked this book. It is the story of a mother looking for her teenage daughter who has gone missing during her gap year in India. The daughter has the medical condition where all her senses get mixed up so she can hear colours or see smells - that kind of thing, which makes for some imaginative writing. The back story of the mother and daughter and the tragic memory they share (each with their own perspective) is slowly revealed on the long journey to reconciliation. 20/06/10



 And Another Thing - Eoin Colfer

I grew up loving The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and I'm a fan of Eoin Colfer (The Wish List is one of my all time favourite books) so when I heard Eoin had written a new HTGGT book I had to have it. Did it live up to my expectations? Hmmm. Almost. There were things about the book that I really loved, and it did feel in keeping with the series, but I found myself getting a bit bored in the middle. To be fair I was getting ready for my holiday to Nice with the book group ladies and so I was probably a bit distracted. I'll read it again sometime and see if I get more out of it. 28/06/10


 

Water for Elephants - Sara Gruen

I just loved this book. I was hooked from the very first line. I read it while travelling to Nice with three other ladies from my book group. I could absolutely believe it was written by a man who had spent a big chunk of his life in the circus even though it was written by a woman who had never even been to a circus when she began writing the book. I loved the chapters in the present when the main character is an old man in a nursing home abandoned by his family at least as much as I loved the telling of his life story from the tragedy of his parents sudden death to his running away and joining the circus. I really connected with him both as a young man and as an old man and I wanted him to be happy. I loved the ending - it made me smile. Water For Elephants gets a big thumbs up from me. (I heard they're making it into a movie - I hope the film is as good as the book.) 01/07/10


 Trespass - Rose Tremain

This book is set in the South of France, where I was when I read it!! Unfortunately being in Nice made me want to save up and buy a holiday home there (alright, not save, since I have no money to save, but get a giant book/movie/merchandising deal and then buy a house in France) but one of the themes in the book was the dismay (or anger) of the locals when foreigners (mostly Brits) bought up all their scenic country homes. Hmmm fair enough. The book was tragic - I felt sorry for most of the characters. The element of mystery was nice, and the way the story threads all came together. I think this is going to be a book group read, and I'm planning a question along the lines of 'how many times can the word 'trespass' be applied to what happens to the characters in this book.' Clever, hunh? 03/07/10



 Notwithstanding - Louis de Bernieres

If you've read many of my reviews you will know that I really don't like short stories. However, when I read reviews of Notwithstanding on Amazon, I really wanted to read it even though it's described as a book of short stories. On the cover of my copy  there is a one word review from the Daily Mail 'delightful' - well, I have to wholeheartedly agree. I was delighted with Notwithstanding. Set in a quaint English village the stories each centre on one inhabitant or family, but refer to the others so that the stories intermingle into a complete picture of the village - I've read books described as novels which where more disjointed  - this book flowed as a whole - like an exquisite necklace with each of the stories being a glittering gem. It made me laugh out loud and also wipe away the odd tear. I'd always thought of de Bernieres as being South American - because I read the south American trilogy about Don Emmanuel's nether parts so I was surprised by the English-ness of this book - but of course he is English so silly me. 05/07/10

 

 

I Capture the Castle - Dodie Smith

This is a book that keeps cropping up in peoples' lists of their favourite books from their youth, and since I'd never read it, when I saw a nice old hardback copy in my local charity shop I snapped it up. It was written in the 1930s and is set in the 1920s, and feels at times surprisingly modern, and at other times very old and different. I flipped it open and read the first line in the shop and was instantly drawn in and wanted to hear more of the narrator's voice. She is seventeen year old Cassandra who lives in a ramshackle old castle with her older sister and younger brother and her father who is a writer. His first book was a huge hit, but he's had writer's block for years and they are now impoverished. Cassandra's mum died and her dad remarried a very arty and interesting woman. Their lives are shaken up by the arrival of a family of wealthy Americans (with two eligible bachelor sons who had studied Cassandra's dad's first book at college) and a loud raucous mother who is determined to get him writing again. It's strays slightly into the mills and boon-y love triangles wherever you look territory at times, but is still a worthy read. 13/07/10



 Local Girls - Alice Hoffman

I read this book in one day, partly because I had lots of waiting around to do (doctors appointment in the morining, and sitting in Starbucks while Becca (teenage daughter) tried on every piece of clothing in a mile radius in the afternoon) and partly because I found it very compelling. Like 'I Capture The Castle' that I just read, this book begins as a journal entry of an adolescent girl. Unlike 'I Capture The Castle' it jumps around between the journal and narration from other points of view, and also time passes and the girl grows up. It's a very tragic book - I cried in Starbucks, and again when I finished it in my back garden (the kids are off school, so the back garden was the only place I could get peace.) It was beautifully written, although I thought it was just a little bit too depressing (to be fair it did end on a more hopeful note.) I have another Alice Hoffman waiting to be read, and she's still on my list of writers to buy if I see them in charity shops. 14/07/10


 Her Fearful Symmetry - Audrey Niffenegger

I had started reading a different book (The Oystercatchers by Susan Fletcher) which I wasn't really enjoying, when I bought Her fearful symmetry (on offer in Sainsburys) and I rakishly abandoned the boring book for the eagerly awaited Niffenegger. I was instantly hooked from the first emotionally wrought chapter. The book gets very mixed reviews on Amazon with a lot of people not liking the ending. I found the ending a little disturbing, but not bad. Unlike many reviewers I loved all the characters and thought their various character flaws were understandable and believable and I was able to identify with them all on different levels. The book doesn't hide the fact that it is a ghost story, so if people don't like that they shouldn't read it. For me the what-if's in books make them special - it may not be how I see the real world, but within the confines of the book's universe, I enjoy being presented with the problems that would arise if someone's spirit is trapped in their apartment after they have died. I loved the character with OCD and the whole twin thing. At first I despaired, because Niffenegger's description of the thought process of someone who has died but who still finds themselves aware and watching the world was (I thought) so much better than mine in Ruby Dead (the ghost story that I am currently writing), but as I read on I was reassured that the books (mine and Audrey's) are so different that comparisons are meaningless (and my book is good in its own way - I think!) 27/07/10


 Noah's Ark - Barbara Trapido

I have very mixed feelings about this book. I hated the beginning - I think I just don't like Trapido's writing style. I find the language overly wordy - like she's showing off how much cleverer she is than the average writer (or reader), and she sounds too posh (I have an inbuilt prejudice against 'posh' people which comes of having grown up 'up north' in England and feeling that posh people look down on us). Saying that, I really identified with the main character, Ali and at times I found the plot compelling (but at other times I found it a bit plodding). Hmmm. By the time I got to the end I felt relieved to be leaving the world of the book. I can acknowledge that it's well written and all that - just not to my taste. 02/08/10


 Alias Grace - Margaret Atwood

I had a couple of false starts with books after The Barbara Trapido one, which had left me in a bad mood with books. This one however grabbed me enough to take away the taste left by Noah's Ark. Based on a real life case from the 1840s, the story follows Grace, who at the age of 16 was convicted of murder in Canada and just escaped hanging on appeal. The book is about interviews between Grace in prison and a young psychiatrist. I found the book fascinating and very readable, until about two thirds of the way through, when I guessed what the big reveal would be and hoped I would be wrong, or that it would be a double bluff and the truth would be more shocking. Sadly my first guess turned out to be right (I think - there was some ambiguity, but not enough to satisfy me) and I felt a bit let down at the end of the book. Still a really good read, though. 09/08/10


 The Lost Art of Gratitude - Alexander McCall Smith

Hmmm. I do like A McCall S, however the Isabel Dalhousie novels are probably my least favourite. Sometimes I find them a little too wordy - I know the character is a philosopher, so she should blether on about everything, but it sometimes gets a bit much. Also, McCall Smith rarely uses conjunctions - he says 'I do not' rather than 'I don't' or 'I would not' rather than 'I wouldn't'. In the ladies detective agency books, I assumed this was an African thing, but he does it in all his books, so I guess it's just a quirk of the writer. Maybe I'm lazy, but it just seems easier and more natural to use conjunctions, and the dialogue seems a little staccato in my mind. (Look at me, criticising the great A McC S - I know, I should be ashamed.) I still enjoyed it though, on the whole. 15/08/10


 How To Talk To A Widower - Jonathan Tropper

This book is quite different from what I normally read - I bought it from a charity shop because it had a Richard and Judy recommendation sticker, and I've (mostly) enjoyed their recommendations in the past. I read a review on Amazon that said the book was like 'chic lit with very dark humour written by a man' - I think that sums it up pretty well. There's quite a lot of use of the 'F' word, as well as some quite graphic sexual descriptions. Saying that, I found myself pretty gripped by the book and wanting to read on. I was moved to tears and also laughed out loud a few times. It was maybe written with a movie adaptation in mind, because it felt quite screenplay-ish. Nothing very unique, but then what is? Is not the story as much as how you tell it, right? I wouldn't laud it as high literature, but I enjoyed reading the book, and isn't that the point? 21/08/10


 Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood - Rebecca Wells

My feelings about this book have been a little up and down - I liked it at first, and then I got a bit annoyed by it's preciousness - like it was trying too hard to be a smulchy, women's relationships, tear-jerker, deep south melodrama. But then, I got more and more drawn into the characters and the plot and I started to really love it. I read the final few chapters sitting in the garden with Roxie (my lovely Cavalier King Charles spaniel) on my lap and a glass of ice tea to hand and I thought, life doesn't get much better than this. I've not seen the movie, but now I'm tempted to rent it, as well as Gone With The Wind - which is referred to several times in the book and it's so long since I've seen it I don't remember that much about it. I didn't realise (until I searched the net to get a picture of the cover) that it's the second in a series of three books about the Ya-Yas (the name that the group of girl friends in the book gave themselves). The book is totally complete on its own, although it would be fun to read more about the Ya-Yas, so I'll look out for the others in my charity shop book runs. 30/08/10


 One Day - David Nicholls

This one was a grower for me - I really didn't like it at first. It follows two people from their student days when they got together at a party on the night of their graduation, and then that day each year for the next twenty odd years. Sometimes individually and sometimes together. Both characters were too annoying at first and I didn't warm to them (especially the posh idiot Dexter, I quite liked the lacking in self confidence but funny northern lass, Emma). But I found myself warming to them and caring what happened to them and by the end of the book I was bawling like an colicky baby. I was at a car boot sale today and bought two more David Nicholls books on the strength of liking this one so much (although at 20p each, it didn't take much persuasion for me to buy them. I also bought Terry Pratchett's The Unadulterated Cat which I've wanted for ages and which cost me the princely sum of 50p. Now I just need an extension on my house to store all these books. And no, I can't just give them all to charity, because they are mine and I love them.) 04/09/10


 The Help - Kathryn Stockett

I didn't want this book to end, and although the ending was satisfying, I just feel sad that it's over and I miss the characters and wish I could phone them or go round for a cup of tea and catch up. Set in the 1960s (not that long ago) it follows two black domestic maids in America's deep south and one white woman who wants to tell their story in a book. It highlights the terrible racial prejudices that abounded (and other class related prejudices) and how difficult it was to live at the wrong end of them. There are some great characters from the saintly Aibileen to the truly evil Miss Hilly and all kinds of colourful people in between. I enjoyed reading it very much. 09/09/10



 Three Cups of Tea - Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Hmmm - I have really mixed feelings about this book. I never read non-fiction - hate biographies (with one exception - I really liked the biography of Michael J Fox, called Lucky Man), especially ones that glorify the subject beyond human recognition. This book was recommended by someone who's opinion I value, and when I saw it for 20p at a church jumble sale I snapped it up not realising that it was a biography that glorified the subject. The introduction, written by the journalist who collaborated with Greg Mortenson (the subject) had me spitting with loathing. I thought it was clunky and overly wordy and sick-makingly worshipful of the man, and yet, I kept reading - in fact, I read the whole book, and it did grow on me. The story of the mountain climber who vowed to repay the kindness of a random village in Pakistan who looked after him when he got lost climbing K2 by building them a school, and who went on to spend his life raising money for and working on building many schools and clean water pumps and women's centres in Pakistan and Afganistan was an inspiring and interesting one. Especially after 9/11 when feelings between Americans and Muslims ran very high. Saying that, when I finished and started reading my next book, Remarkable Creatures, by Tracy Chevalier, it was like stepping into a lovely hot bath after a hard day compared with reading this book. Back to fiction for me. 17/09/10


 Remarkable Creatures - Tracy Chevalier

I'm a fan of Tracy Chevalier, and I was looking forward to this book. It's the book group read this month, so I saved it until the last minute to read so I would remember enough about it. It reminded me strangely of The Help in that prejudice and social standing were so important - not in this case to do with colour, rather than class and sex. I was so annoyed at the men in the book who dismissed the two women main characters who were patently better fossil hunters than them because women couldn't possibly understand science (grrr!) For women in the nineteenth century, to marry within their social sphere was the only ambition allowed, and although the two women, Mary and Elizabeth triumphed in their field of fossil hunting, they were considered failures by society. The book has a nice readable style and I enjoyed it. I'll write up what the book group thought of it in the 'my book group reads' page after this Friday! 21/09/1


 

 I Shall Wear Midnight - Terry Pratchett

Oh, I love Terry Pratchett! Reading a Discworld book is like having a lovely holiday that you don't want to end. This is the third (or forth? I forget!) book in the series about Tiffany Aching, teenage witch (a million miles away from the Disney show about a teenage witch). Even though it's a 'kids' book, it's in no way dumbed down and Sir Pratchett's risqué humour shines through. It has mystery and magic and common sense and humour and love and hate and everything that makes Pratchett's books so brilliant. Loved it. 01/10/10

 

   

 Dragon Quest - ds   

I know it's not a book, but I'm addicted to playing this game at the moment, and I'm not reading a book (!!!). I beat the final boss, and got the end credits, but then there's lots of post credits stuff to do (like an epilogue or an encore) and it's really hard - I'm not sure whether to soldier on or give up and go back to reading! Ah well. 04/10/10 (I did soldier on, and I beat the post credit final boss, and then I beat the post, post credit final boss, and then I got more credits, so now it's truly over and I miss it :-(  06/10/10


  One Moment, One Morning - Sarah Rayner

I really didn't like this book - not my cup of tea at all. The blurb on the back describes it as a suspenseful thriller when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. The book had no mystery, no tension, no plot twists - I'm not sure how they justified the use of those words. The book begins when a man dies of a heart attack on the train to London one morning, and follows three women who were on the train at the time over the course of the next week - the widow, her friend, and a woman who tried to help them. I found the characters superficial and charicatured, the plot meandering and boring - I just hated it really. I never believed in any of the women as anything more than annoying words on a page. I forced myself to finish it hoping it would get better but it really didn't. Ah well. 08/10/10 

 

Cell - Stephen King

 I wanted to treat myself to something fun after ploughing through One Moment One Morning, so I tried a Stephen King. Cell is in some ways very like The Stand - although in this case instead of a virus killing most people in the world, it's some kind of pulse sent through 'cell phones' (or mobiles to us Brits). And the victims don't always die - most of them turned into kind of angry violent zombie types. Like The Stand, there's a malevolent evil force leading the baddies and talking to the goodies via dreams. I thought The Stand was better, but Cell passed the time. I didn't like the ending which left you guessing too much. Still, it was fairly gripping stuff. 12/10/10 (I think I'll read something a bit more literary next.)

 

The Water In Between - Kevin Patterson

 I don't know what's come over me - this book is a memoir about a man who bought a boat to run away from a failed relationship and sailed to Tahiti (from Canada) in it (ie non fiction) and I loved it! Maybe it's because I'm ill (bad cold) and I read it in one day (too ill to do anything else) or because it feels like a novel, the way it's written, but I was hooked. Even the descriptions of nautical stuff were interesting (although I did skim over some of the more lengthy and wordy bits of boat talk). The guy is an avid reader, and puts quotes from the books he was reading at the time into it, which I liked as well. 13/10/10

 

 

The Unicorn - Iris Murdoch

Hmmm - I'm not sure what I thought of this book. It's my first Iris Murdoch, who is one of those writers that I felt I ought to read. It is terribly fraught and melodramatic, which I found a bit silly plus the language is sometimes overly philosophical and I found it a bit of a slog to get through. I definitely didn't hate it, although I am glad I've finished now it so I can move on and read something nicer. 23/10/10



 The Girl on The Landing - Paul Torday

I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED, this book! I wish I had written it. I was gripped from the very start by this strange, intriguing, mysterious, funny, disturbing, lovely book. What is real? What is not? What is madness? What is normality? which is better? These are all questions asked by the characters within the book and also by me as the reader. I loved the main character, Michael (or Mikey, his mad alter-ego) as his boring staid character unravelled throughout the book and his very disturbing past came to light. By the end of the book it was hard to know who were the bad guys and who were the good guys and I couldn't help rooting for the one who on face value was very bad indeed. I'm sorry its over and I'm missing it already. 26/10/10


 Room - Emma Donoghue

Wow! I found this book mesmerising. Narrated by five year old Jack, who's lived his whole life with Ma in a single room. He believes room to be the only real place in the world, until his Ma tells him she used to live outside with trees and houses and other people until the man who Jack calls Old Nick (because he comes in the night and goes on the bed with Ma while Jack hides in the cupboard) stole her and locked her up. The writing is clever enough to make us feel Jack's confusion and conflicting emotions, and to show us, by reading between the lines what his mum is going through as well. I found the book totally gripping and exciting and moving - I thought it was fab! 27/10/10


 The Uncommon Reader - Alan Bennett

This is a fun little book about the queen getting excited by reading and everyone around her trying to get her to stop. I read a lot, but not the deep heavy obscure books that were referenced repeatedly in this book, so I didn't really get those 'in-jokes'. Still, I got the idea that books expand the mind and give us more of an insight into the lives of people other than ourselves. There were several laugh out loud moments that I did get, as well as some poignancy. 28/10/10


 

The Man Who Disappeared - Clare Morrall

I very much enjoyed this book - I found it gripping and interesting and thoughtful and I liked all the characters. I liked the chapters that were told from the point of view of the children equally as much as those of the parents and I liked how the back story was teased out along with the present story and how everything made sense in the light of it. I brought it with me to read while waiting in line at my daughter's parent teacher interviews (I knew from experience that I would be in for a long wait) and I was almost sorry when my turn came up and I had to stop reading! 4/11/10 

 

The L-Shaped Room - Lynne Reid Banks

This was my book group read for November, and although I've read the book before, I really enjoyed re-reading it. It was written in the 1950s when attitudes were a lot different to today (it was quite acceptable to be racist or homophobic, but absolutely not acceptable to be an unmarried mother). The heroine is just that - pregnant and unmarried at 27 she is shunned by her family and friends (and feels she deserves it too) and goes and lives in a grotty apartment building in a run down part of London. She meets some lovely people in the building though, and it's her relationships with them, as well as her pregnancy, which make the book interesting. It's also a fascinating piece of social history - it's amazing how much things have changed in just fifty odd years. Now I want to read read the remaining two books in the trilogy. 10/11/10


The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce

 I loved the other two Paul Torday books that I've read (Salmon Fishing in the Yemen and The Girl on the Landing) and I started off loving this book too. The structure of the book is unusual in that it starts at the end, then goes back a few years, and then goes back a few more years, so you get the conclusion first, and then the reasons for it, or the journey the main character went through to get there later. I think that was fine, except I'd have liked to go back to present Wilberforce, at the end, armed with his back story, to see how he finished up. Instead I was left thinking, 'oh. well that's over then. okay.' I didn't feel satisfied by the ending. I suppose it did make the beginning make sense, but still, I just didn't love it. I have been talking about this book to several people though, so I guess it has been on my mind, which a good book should be. 15/11/10



The End Of Mr Y - -Scarlett Thomas 

This is the type of book which is right up my street. It has mystery and tension, a cursed book, time travel, philosophy, a strange 'thought landscape' deep meaningful questions etc, but even though I liked it very much, I didn't love it (like I loved the similar book The Raw Shark Texts). It was certainly readable - I've been ill with a cold/flu this week, and started reading The Fools Alphabet by Sebastian Faulks, but couldn't be bothered with it, so gave it up in favour if this book. I think the reason I didn't totally love it, is the main character - I just couldn't bond with her because her world view is so bleak and dark and she is constantly using sexual swear words (call me a prude, but I just don't like that). Although there was definitely a vulnerability to her, I just couldn't warm to her. Still, I was gripped by the book, and spent a lot of time reading it. I could almost understand the philosophical posturing, and it was fun at least pretending I could. I liked the ending too. 28/11/10


The Child in Time - Ian McEwan

 I'm having a bit of a love/hate relationship at the moment with Ian McEwan books - I don't know if it's just to do with my mood, because sometimes I'm blown away by the perfect descriptions of the minutiae of everyday events and feelings and reactions, and sometimes it's the very same thing that annoys me and I think, yeah, I get it - get on with the plot already. It's funny that I read this immediately after The End of Mr Y, because there are similarities - they both have characters who are experts in theoretical physics, and they both discuss the philosophical issues that this raises -mostly to do with the nature of time and causality and relativity -all fascinating stuff. Another thing the two books had in common was their bleakness. Both had sort of optimistic endings, but they weren't enough to make up for the depressive nature of the books which left me feeling a bit sad and heavy. I decided to read an old favourite (Neverwhere) after this book, to take away the taste. I want to be immersed in a world view where people are basically good and kind and noble - and I don't think that's too naive. I know there are elements of selfishness in everyone, but I don't think it's realistic to make everyone hedonistic  machiavellian sociopaths. (Not that I'm saying that The Child in Time does this, but it leans that way more than the noble altruistic nature way). Perhaps I'm just reacting to my agents critique of the latest manuscript I sent him (he thinks it should be more dark and less 'twee' - hmmm, if by more dark, he means nastier, and less twee, he means less lovely, then I'm not sure I want to do that. There must be room in the world for books that celebrate goodness - surely.) Ah well, rant over. 11/12/10


Neverwhere - Neil Gaiman 

Since I haven't totally loved the last few books I've read, and since it's Christmas, I decided to reward myself by re-reading some of my favourites, and this is definitely one. I LOVE this book - Wonderful wordplay with the strange London place names and underground station names - great characters - truly noble if a little pathetic main character (just the way I like 'em). I was so sad when I finished reading it (because I wished it would go on forever)- I wanted to go straight into reading Stardust, but I've leant it to someone (ages ago - give it back, Kenny - you know who you are!!). Ah well, I decided to read Hogfather next, which is almost as good. 18/12/10


Hogfather - Terry Pratchett 

I love Terry Pratchett, and Hogfather is his 'Christmassy' book (where Christmas is Hogswatch, and in this book, the role of a Santa like figure is taken on by Death - his sleigh pulled by real live pigs.) Death is one of my favourite Discworld characters, and his granddaughter, Susan, who stars in this book is great - a total role model for strong independent women everywhere. Loved it. I asked Santa to bring me the DVD of the tv adaptation but he forgot. Nevermind - perhaps I can pick it up in the sales. 22/12/10


Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling 

Continuing in my indulgent re-reading of favourite books over Christmas I read this, the final HP book. I went to see the movie (the first part of the film adaptation) with my family, and was the only one who was totally captivated and enthralled by it - I  just loved the movie - I thought it was grown up and serious but still entertaining. (The rest of the family thought it dragged and was boring - philistines!) I'm a big fan of the whole Harry Potter series - they are just good books that bear re- and more re- reading. I think JK deservers all her success because she came from nowhere and wrote really good books and they were successful - you go girl! 28/12/10


Sister - Rosamund Lupton 

This book looked really promising from its rave reviews on Amazon, and having been a radio four book at bedtime - I thought it must be good, so I added it to my Amazon wish list, and was given it as a Christmas present from one of my sons. Did it live up to its hype? Hmmm - not for me at least. It was told in a strange mix of present and past tenses, in the first person, with the narrator sometimes breaking off from the story to talk to her dead sister (who was found dead with a coroners verdict of suicide, which the living sister is determined to disprove - she's sure her sister was murdered.) The whodunnit part I guessed as soon as we met the murderer, but the other (bigger) twist I didn't guess, and to be fair to the book, when it was revealed at the end, the style of narrating made a lot more sense and the things that had irritated me as I read became, with hindsight, clever rather than annoying. Did the ending make up for the rest of the book? - largely, yes. Even though I initially really disliked the book, it did grow on me, and when the things that annoyed me were explained  in a satisfying way I can actually look back on it fairly fondly. Not going to make my favourites list though. 4/01/11


Bright Angel Time - Martha McPhee 

This book is set in the 1970s and written from the perspective of an eight year old girl with two older sisters, whose dad leaves home for another woman, and whose mum hooks up with a new age therapist and they travel around in a camper van with his five children. At first I loved the book, because the writing is at times truly beautiful - poetical without sounding forced or sounding like it's just trying to be clever. I started to get bored and annoyed by it though. I really don't like the whole seventies hippy ethos - I did when I was younger, but now it just seems infantile and sad - grown adults thinking they can just do whatever they want without worrying about consequences.  Plus the plot didn't really go anywhere - I didn't really feel like there was tension or development, just more of the same. I was glad when it was over. (although I don't regret reading it, if that makes sense) 16/01/11


The Locust and the Bird - Hanan Al-Shaykh 

This book tells the story of the author's mother, although it's written in the first person. It's set in Lebanon and Beirut and was originally written in Arabic and translated into English. It begins when the main character is a child, living in poverty with her mother and young siblings. She is promised to an older male relative and is married to him when she is thirteen. She has already fallen in love with a young man and continues an affair with him behind her husband's back. It follows her life, which is littered with tragedy until she dies as an old lady. I found the book interesting, in terms of the insight into the culture in the countries where it is set, and the lot of women in those cultures. I didn't totally like the main character though - she seemed a little spoiled in spite of her hard life. It was pretty readable though, and I enjoyed it (although I didn't love it). 22/01/11


The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Alan Bradley 

I won this book from a competition on the lovereading.co.uk website which was very exciting. I might not have read it otherwise - it's a terribly posh English country murder mystery, written by an American which would have put me off. Saying that, I did read it, and really enjoyed it! The main character is eleven year old Flavia, who has a precocious intelligence and a 'nose for sniffing out a mystery' (sorry, I couldn't resist the cliche). I really liked the writing style - lots of funny and imaginative metaphors and similes, which might have felt like the writer was trying too hard, but somehow didn't. I've added the second book in the series to my wish list on Amazon. It was a fun read and a nice antidote to some of the more serious stuff I've been reading lately. 02/02/11


Jayber Crow - Wendell Berry (pages 1- 165)

This was the book group read that I didn't (read) because of confusion over when we were doing it. I decided to read it after the discussion because the others who had (read it) recommended it (except for one, who gave up after 90 pages). Well, I can see both sides. In favour of the book, it is really beautifully written - the easy poetry of the prose struck me repeatedly, as well as the insightful observations of the main character, who I felt real empathy toward even though superficially I have nothing in common with him. On the negative side, the pace is really slow, which I guess reflects the story that it's telling - the life of a barber in a small American town told in the first person. Jayber Crow seems to be always on the edge of the community, looking on and making wry observational comments. I have to confess, that after 165 pages, I needed a break from the meandering narrative, so I've decided to read one (or maybe two) other books before returning to Jayber Crow. I will return though, (I haven't given up - honest!). 15/02/11


 House Rules - Jodi Picoult 

I really liked the first two thirds of this book. I found it pacy and interesting and I liked the characters. It's a sort of murder mystery told in five voices: a teenage boy with Aspergers who is accused of murdering his therapist, his non-Aspy brother, their hassled but loving single 'mom', their young inexperienced but heart-in-the-right-place lawyer and the detective in charge of the case. But the last third annoyed me - there was too much repetition of lists of Aspergers symptoms, and even though we were repeatedly told that Jacob (the accused)'s brain was wired up in such a way that he couldn't lie, during the whole trial, nobody asked him outright what happened, not even his family when that was all they needed to do to get to the bottom of everything. I wanted to yell at them all for being so stupid. Then the ending felt very rushed and unsatisfying and I felt annoyed that I'd enjoyed the beginning so much only to have it end like that. Ah well. 18/02/11


A Recipe For Bees - Gail Anderson-Dargatz 

This covers a day in the life of an old lady in Canada when her son-in-law is undergoing brain surgery. She basically reminisces about her whole life (and a hard life it was as a farming girl in austere times without much female company). At first I found the book plodding and a little confusing as it jumps about in time, but the writing is very lovely and I liked all the facts about bee-keeping. The second part of the book started to make more sense to me, as the pieces that confused me at first began coming together and I ended up reading the whole second half in one sitting. The book is quite old and I will look out for more books by this writer. 27/02/11


Sleep Pale Sister - Joanne Harris 

I'm a big fan of Joanne Harris - I love Chocolat and Lollipop shoes as well as many of her other books. This is one of her earlier works that has been re-released on the strength of her success now. I have to say that I really didn't love it. It is very atmospheric (in a spooky Gothic way) and there are lots of things about it that I did like (such as the magical realism and mysticism) but over all I think it dragged and I started to think: enough already, hurry up and end why don't you. It's interesting to see how Joanne Harris has developed as a writer though, and how much better her books are now. 15/03/11

 


The White Woman on the Green Bicycle - Monique Roffey 

This was my book group read for March (I missed book group because I was sick, which is a real pity, because I would have liked to have discussed the book). The emails going around the group showed that many of the members were put off by the very violent beginning of the book. where a young local boy is being badly beaten by corrupt policemen in Trinidad's Port of Spain. The main plot of the  book is about a white couple who came to Trinidad in 1956, supposedly only to stay for three years, but never left. The first half of the book is recent, with the couple in their seventies and then the second half tells the beginning of their story from when they first arrived as young newlyweds. The wife always yearned to go back to England or France (she was French, but her husband was English) and we wonder why she never did until we kind of find out near the end. It was an interesting look at marriage and politics and how ideals are challenged by circumstances and how power almost always corrupts. I would have liked some little return to the present at the end, maybe even just an epilogue, because it felt like the story ended in the middle rather than at the end which just felt a bit wrong. On the whole I enjoyed reading it though. 23/03/11

 

The Piano Tuner - Daniel Mason

I've been a bit ill this week - a bad cold combined with the world's worst migraine (exploding head, vomiting, whimpering, wanting to die), which is sad because I missed some things like book group, and the kids school concert and work and toddler group, but nice because I got to lie about and read (once the migraine had died down to bearable proportions). I read this book, and mostly really loved it. A quiet unassuming piano tuner from Victorian London is sent to a remote Jungle location in Burma to tune a fine grand piano owned by an important army man. His journey changes him and broadens his horizons and the descriptive language is beautiful. Some reviewers on Amazon thought the pace was too slow, but I didn't find that, (perhaps because I read it in two days). There is a little bit of magical realism thrown in, which I always like, and some tentative romance (ah). I would have totally loved it were it not for the ending, which felt too abrupt and harsh after such a lovely uplifting novel. 25/03/11

 

The Hopeless life of Charlie Summers - Paul Torday.

I've read a few of Paul Torday's books now. I absolutely loved The Girl on The Landing, and Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, which I found to be quirky and compelling. This book, and The Irresistible   Inheritance of Wilberforce really didn't thrill me much at all. I think it's maybe because the characters in Paul Torday's books are all so posh, and I have an inbuilt distrust of posh people. I somehow feel like they're all looking down on me, even if they're fictional characters who never met me! This book, and the Wilberforce book don't have the same tension in the plot of the others, and I found they dragged a bit. Saying that, I didn't hate them, and I came to be fairly fond of the characters by the end (even if they were southern pansies!) I know - it's very naughty and prejudiced of me to label people because of where they grew up. I'll try to be better. Oh - I did like the ending of the book - very satisfying. 30/03/11

 

The Witch of Portobello - Paulo Coelho

This book is full of New-Agey pagan stuff. It follows the story of a woman adopted from a Romanian orphanage by a Lebanese couple who fled to London during unrest in Beirut. It's all about how she found a connection to the 'Earth Mother' who is the supreme Goddess of the world. There's lots of philosophy and stuff in it, and while I don't buy all the pagan mumbo jumbo, it was still an interesting read, and it did contain a lot of wisdom about things like finding joy in whatever situation you find yourself, and how love is how you act rather than what you feel. It's ultimately an uplifting book, although I felt a bit bogged down by all the 'spiritual teaching' that took up a fair bit of its content. 08/03/11


The Wonder Boys - Michael Chabon 

Hmmm. Not sure what I made of this book really. It's written in a style that I don't really like - quite masculine, some how, and often it felt like the writer was just trying to show off how clever he was with word play, which I felt got in the way with the plot. Saying that, the plot was madcap enough to keep me kind of interested, and there were a few laugh out loud moments. I'm always annoyed with main characters who are constantly either drunk or stoned, and the protagonist of this book was both, although at least the tale was somewhat cautionary, as he did kind of wreck his life (or almost) as a result of his stoner existence. I only realised towards the end of the book that I had seen the movie adaptation (one memorable scene where the protagonist's only copy of the novel he'd been working on for seven years blew away in the wind struck a cord in my memory). There were several depressing anecdotal tales of writers whose careers nosedived after two or three successful books and ended up either living in obscurity or committing suicide, which weren't the cheeriest things for a women with a career like mine at the moment to be reading. Ah Well. 14/04/11


Blood and Sand - Frank Gardner

 This is one of the two book group reads for this month and since I was ill and couldn't attend the last meeting, I couldn't voice my dislike of biographies. Saying that, there was lots to like about this book about the BBC news correspondent, Frank Gardner, who was shot and paralysed in the middle east. Frank had a pretty privileged upbringing, and well paid jobs seemed to throw themselves in his lap because if that, but then he worked hard, and travelled a lot in the middle east and had a love and understanding of the Arab world which made what happened to him all the more horrific. The book began with the shooting, and then most of the book told Franks life story up that that point, only returning to the shooting near the end. In the middle of the book I got a bit bogged down with all the politics and Arab names and was glad when it got back to the more interesting (in my mind) human interest story of Frank's struggle with his injuries. 23/04/11

 

 

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party - Alexander McCall Smith 

I love The No1 Ladies Detective Agency books and this one was typical: optimistic, funny, thoughtful, beautiful, entertaining. Not too deep and certainly not difficult to read, it felt like a frothy dessert after the meaty Blood and Sand and Wonder Boys. A lovely book to while away a couple of hours in the garden enjoying the great weather we're having at the moment and the laziness of holiday time. 25/04/11


The Life of Pi - Yann Martel 

This is the second of this months book group reads and one of my favourite books. I read it some time ago, so enjoyed re-reading it for book group. The story of Piscine (Pi) is simply but profoundly told, with lots of interesting facts about religion and animals (Pi's dad owned a zoo and Pi believed in three major religions at the same time (Christianity, Hinduism and Islam) much to the annoyance of the various religious leaders. When Pi's family and several large wild animals travel by cargo ship to Canada, disaster strikes and the ship sinks. Pi finds himself on a lifeboat with a hyena, a Bengal tiger. a zebra and an orang-utan, and the amazing story of his survival makes up the bulk of the book. Once again (for me) the end of the book brought up questions as to the truth or otherwise of the tale and how much what you choose to believe reflects what kind of a person you are as a reader. It will be interesting to see what the other ladies in the book group make of it. 30/04/11


Started Early Took My Dog - Kate Atkinson 

This is a very readable mystery with several threads intertwined and with the theme of small children (or small dogs) being removed from bad situations and put into (hopefully) better situations, but with a wide range of morality and ethical issues raised. It's not a preachy book, though. The pace is perfect and the characters flawed but likeable, and with one or two twists that I didn't see coming. The ending is fairly satisfying, although some lose ends are left, perhaps for the next installment in the series? I have read them all, but occasionally when a character from a previous book is mentioned, I kind of miss the significance, because I forget names from books I haven't read in a while (actually, I forget names from the beginnings of books I'm currently reading, but ah well). Sometime I should re-read the series in one go. (Although most of the plot is stand-alone, so you can still read it even if you've never read the others). 03/05/11


The Girl With Glass Feet - Ali Shaw 

It took me a little while to get into this book (I'm not sure why) but once I did I just loved it! It has everything I like best about fiction - quirky  characters, interesting setting, gentle romance, and magical realism. It's a grown up fairy tale and very beautiful and sad, definitely one I will read again (and probably again). For some reason I assumed that Ali Shaw was female while I read the book, and then was surprised to learn that he is male. Quite often I don't like the style of male writers - I wonder if I'm prejudiced by knowing their gender before I read? Well, anyway, although the ending of the book was satisfying, I felt sad that it was over, and glad that I'd enriched my life by reading it.  05/05/11


Blue Eyed Boy - Joanne Harris

I love Joanne Harris books, especially the 'French' ones, although I really liked Gentlemen and Players too. I've also read her old gothic type horrors which are quite fun too. This book I'm not so sure about. It's definitely well written - in the format of web blogs, some public and some private, but the subject matter is quite disturbing. All the characters are pretty creepy and messed up and there is a lot of fantasizing about murder. It plays on the theme of the unreliable narrator, in the context of not being able to believe what you read on the internet, and how people portray themselves is often very different from how they actually are. It's so full of twists as to end up as a bit of a tangle and although I pretty much followed what was going on, with each new twist I became not so much shocked as weary so when the ending came I felt more 'whatever' than 'oh my goodness'. I liked the whole synesthesia thing though. 10/05/11

 

The Long Song - Andrea Levy

This book tells the story of a woman born into slavery in Jamaica and what happens to her as a slave, and then after slavery is abolished. It has some humour, lots of pathos and some very disturbing moments, and it held my interest and once again reminded me of the terrible things humans can do to each other, and the widespread belief, not that long ago amongst white people that 'people of colour' were somehow less human. I couldn't help comparing it as I read to the similar book 'The Help' and somehow just not liking it as much. I don't feel the same deep connection to the characters with this book as I did with that. Still a good read though. 19/05/2011


Final Fantasty - The Four Heroes of Light (DS game)

Again, this is not a book (obviously) but when I get really into a DS game then it eats into my reading time and this game was competing for my attention with Skippy Dies which I was reading at the same time. The problem was that they were both engrossing, so I had a bit of a heave-ho going on between them. I love the Final Fantasy franchise of adventure/role play type games, and this one was a doosy - just hard enough that I had to think about strategy and do some 'levelling up' but not so hard that I got disillusioned and quit. I like to play with my DS with the sound down at the same time as watching 'fluffy' tv (is stuff that doesn't hold my full attention) but I kept playing this when i went to bed, which is usally book reading time. 31/05/2011


Skippy Dies - Paul Murray

This is a big book, and so well written all I can say is 'Wow!' The writing is both beautiful and very readable (not easy to do) and the structure of the novel (alternating between different points of view and jumping a bit chronologically) is so well executed, and works so well that the book could stand up as a holy grail of what a writer strives to achieve. The book is set in an Irish boys school and we are told the story through the eyes of several pupils and members of staff. There are some hugely funny moments, and some very disturbing moments (as a parent of teenagers in a grammar school in Belfast, I'm quite shocked by the sex, drugs, porn, swearing etc that seemed commonplace amongst these Irish kids from 'well-to-do backgrounds - I hope it's not really like that with my kids!!) Despite the title of the book, I was still shocked when Skippy died (I thought, no! he can't really die!) but the ending is fabulous and there is a sweetness and redemption that is not at all saccharine but very satisfying. It's not a 'feel-good' book (although the ending is uplifting) and there's a fair bit of bad language, but I still really enjoyed it, and would recommend it to open minded friends. 01/06/2011 

 

The Republic of Love - Carol Shields

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with Carol Shields books. What I love about them, is the seemingly effortless beauty in the writing, and the window Shields gives us into the minds of her characters. I like that we hear the meanderings of their thoughts - it makes me feel less strange for having such random thought pathways myself. I think one of the main strengths of books over other storytelling media (ie movies, plays etc) is this ability to look right into the minds of the protagonists. But, with so much time spent on the minutiae and not much plot happening, I did get a bit bored at times, and found the book a bit of a slog. Maybe I'm not intellectual enough, or maybe Carol Shields books are too slow paced. Still worth reading, though. 15/06/11

 

Artemis Fowl and the Atlantis Complex - Eoin Colfer (Kindle Book)

I am totally in awe of Eoin Colfer because he is such a great writer. He's one of my all-time favourite writers in fact, because his books are just so perfect. I love the Artemis Fowl series - the characters are interesting and believable and likeable and complex and the plots are pacy yet still filled with heart and warmth and humour. This was another great example and manages to keep the idea of a teenage human 'criminal mastermind' working alongside highly technological 'fairy folk' as freshly and ingeniously as in the first instalment. I also found it very exciting as my first book that I read on my new kindle! It was my birthday present - I like the way its so portable, and I can keep buying books without having to put up yet more shelves in my house to accommodate them! (Although I still slightly miss the physical presence of the new book - which is daft, because it's all about the words and the words are in my kindle). The kindle is easier to hold  than an open book, plus I bough a cover for it which can be folded into a stand so I can prop it up on a table if I'm reading while eating and I don't need my hands at all (except to turn the page, which is a really easy button press.) 18/06/11


When God Was A Rabbit - Sarah Winman (Kindle Book)

This was my second Kindle read and again I really enjoyed it.  The first half of the book is set when the main character, Elly, is between nine and twelve years old, and the second half is set when she's in her late twenties. It gives an interesting 'child's eye view' of all kinds of things from religion, sexuality, family, friendship, 'fitting-in', wealth and poverty, abuse and love in the first half, and then shows how all these childhood experiences shaped the character and those around her when she becomes an adult. I found it very readable - the chronology jumped occasionally, and teased the reader with gaps in the information before filling them in, which provided little pockets of tension and suspense which I found at first a little confusing, but once I got used to the style, I though it was a clever and interesting technique. 21/06/11

 

The Importance of Being Seven - Alexander McCall Smith (Paperback)

Back to an old fashioned paper book for this one. Alexander McCall Smith books are like comfortable slippers - you know what to expect and they keep your feet warm (just kidding!). This book was pleasant and fun and typical of the series (44 Scotland Street) and as long as 'Sandy' continues to write these books, I'll continue to buy them and read them. 23/06/11




The Reader - Bernhard Schlink (Kindle Book)

This is my book group read for our Summer Garden Party. I have seen the film, which I think takes away somewhat from the pleasure of reading a book, especially since the 'twist' (or twists) was known to me from the beginning. I found the style a little strange (although similar in feel to the film, which was obviously true to the book) perhaps it was the 'German-ness' that made it feel different. Saying that, I enjoyed the book, and while not totally liking the characters, I still felt enough for them to be sad (and even cry) at the end of the book. It gave an interesting perspective on the familiar holocaust story and was no less poignant for being told from the point of view of a guard rather than an inmate. 25/06/11


Remix - Lexi Revellian (Kindle book)

This was a cheep Kindle book that got lots of really positive reviews on Amazon, so I bought it (I still love the way you click on a book on Amazon and it is instantly there on your Kindle). Having read it, I'm really not seeing why people raved over it. It's a basic thriller where a rocking horse maker meets a supposedly dead Rock star and helps him investigate the murder he was believed to have committed before faking his own death. I think books should tell a good story, and the story was fine, but I think as well as that they should be things of beauty in terms of language and structure and character development, and this was not. I found it shallow and prosaic and I didn't particularly care for the characters. I foolishly bought Lexi Revellian's other Kindle book at the same time as the first on the strength of the reviews, so now I'll have to read that too. Ah well, maybe her writing gets better. 27/06/11


The Mesmerist - Barbara Ewing (Paperback)

Now this was a great book! It was recommended to me by one of my friends from Book Group, and I bought it second hand from Amazon with their 'fulfilled by Amazon' deal, where you don't have to pay postage, so it only cost me about a pound, and I can tell you, it was a pound well spent. I loved this book. It's an historical novel about a woman, Cordelia, brought up in poverty by her mother and Aunt who were jobbing actresses. After her aunt had an accident which left her disfigured and unable to act, she took up 'mesmerism' a precursor to hypnotism. Cordelia watched and learned, and later in her difficult life she took up the business herself. The book is full of heart without being sentimental, with  moments of laugh out loud humour as well as disturbing and thought provoking scenes. I found the ending thoroughly satisfying and instantly went to Amazon and ordered more books by this Author. Absolutely Fab. 01/07/11


The Unicorn Crisis - Jon Rosenberg (Kindle book)

I was starting to think that cheep kindle books were all going to be rubbish, but then I read this one and loved it! It's a modern Fairy tale (or Urban Fairy tale, as I saw a similar book described) and in many ways is similar to Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl series (although this is aimed at adults not children, with the only real difference being a smattering of 'F' words and a few sexual references). I found the plot really interesting and plausible and the characters well defined and likeable. I liked the back story of the main character and I found the books ending satisfying enough while also making me want to read a sequel. The only thing that let it down was the astonishing number of typos. It's a book that is only available as an 'ebook' - there's no printed version, but still, I think there's just as much reason for thorough copy editing - there were so many typos that often there were several to a page. Surely somebody could have read over the manuscript and corrected them. I would still recommend it though, to people who like fantasy, and I will look out for more books by the writer (If you're reading this, Mr Rosenberg - send me you manuscripts in future and I'll proof read them for you). 04/07/11


Astonishing Splashes of Colour - Clare Morrall (Paperback)

I have loved every book by Clare Morrall that I've ever read, and this one was no exception. I think what I like most is how much I identify with the characters in her books (even though they are often deeply disturbed - what does that say about me?). I loved the main character in this book, Kitty, even though she was clearly mentally ill after the loss not only of her first baby at 28 weeks into the pregnancy, but also her womb therefore robbing her of any chances to carry more children. I love the fact that Kitty and her husband James lived next door to each other, because she needed to be surrounded by colour and chaos and he needed calm minimalist tidiness, and yet they were such a lovely perfect couple - both flawed but both adoring and needing the other. The story has twists and turns that keep the pace moving and the writing is gorgeous. There's one Clare Morrall book that I haven't read yet - The Language of Others. I'm looking around for it second hand, but if I don't find it soon, I might have to splash out and buy the Kindle version from Amazon for a fiver. 06/07/11


Cave - Ali Cooper (Kindle Book)

I think when I bought this Kindle ebook from Amazon, I must have confused Ali Cooper with Ali Shaw, who wrote The Girl With Glass Feet (which I LOVED!) and so I was expecting a beautiful modern urban fairytale, and instead got a gritily real account of one man's life with a fair bit of drug taking and drinking and a lot of caving. If I'd have known that before reading, I definitely wouldn't have bought it. Saying that, I did find the story fairly engrossing, (although I got quite bored with the endless caving stories - caving is definitely not my thing). The ending was pretty exciting with a lot of twists and turns which I hadn't seen coming. I think there's a fine line in storytelling between perfect bringing together of lose ends and revealing things that make you say ah, yes, now that makes sense, and being too contrived. Books like A Prayer For Owen Meany and Holes do this perfectly, but I felt somehow that this book was just a little on the too contrived side of perfect. I did over all enjoy it though, and after finishing it, the main character stayed in my mind for a few days and I kind of missed him, which is a sign of a good book, I think. Funnily enough, when reading The Girl With Glass Feet, I assumed Ali Shaw was a woman, and was surprised to learn after finishing it that he was actually a man. With this book I had the exact opposite feeling - assumed Ali Cooper was male, and just discovered that she's a she. Funny that. 11/07/11


The Spider Truces - Tom Connolly (Kindle Book)

Hmmm. I have mixed feelings about this book, or at least, I didn't love it at first, but it really grew on me. It's a coming of age story that focuses on the main character, Ellis, and his relationship with his widowed father and older sister. What I didn't like about the beginning of the book was the voice of twelve year old Ellis which just felt too babyish to me, I have raised three kids who are now teenagers, and worked with primary school kids for twenty years, and twelve year old Ellis sounded more like a seven year old to me. I wondered was he mentally ill. But then he seemed to grow-up all of a sudden and turn into a more recognisable stupid teenager which was when I felt really sorry for him, because he was basically nice, but messed so many things up spectacularly, which I guess is true of many teenagers. Then the young man Ellis grew up more, and the final third of the book was incredibly moving as Ellis dealt with his dad's terminal illness. The writing was original and accomplished throughout and I feel it is a story that will stay with me for some time. 15/07/11 (oh, by the way, both this and the previous kindle book I read where mercifully free of typos, which shows it can be done!)

 

The Hotel New Hampshire - John Irvine (Paperback)

I don't know if I can put my finger on what it is about John Irvine's writing that sets it apart from the majority of others. This book is about a family and spans from when the parents were young in the nineteen twenties (or thereabouts) until the children were grown. It is packed with drama and comedy, it's both sweet and shocking, it's totally mad and yet totally believable. It think maybe that is what's special about it. From the moment I began reading. the characters were real to me - not two dimensional or oh-I-can-see-what-he's-doing-here-making-this-character-this-way, but actual real multi-faceted people. There are performing bears (real and fake), family dogs (alive and stuffed), three hotels (one real American, one real Austrian, and one fake American) terrorists, hookers, blind men, circus performers, homosexuality, incest, suicide, murder - it's amazing that so much can fit into one book. I think a John Irvine book is like a really rich sumptuous meal - I wouldn't want to have one every day, but now and again it's an experience worth savouring. 20/07/11

 

 

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot (Paperback)

My friend Gill from book group leant me this book because she knew I'd studied Biochemistry and Genetics at university and thought I'd be interested in the story behind HeLa cells - human cells that are grown in labs around the world and used to research and test just about everything you can think of that effects humans. She was right. It's more than twenty years since I studied science, so although I remember HeLa cells, my technical knowledge is rusty, but that didn't matter, because the book is mostly a human interest story and the science in it as explained well enough that anyone could get it. Henrietta Lacks was a poor black woman who had a particularly virulen form of cervical cancer that spread through her whole body and killed her. Cells from her tumour were taken by the doctors who were attempting to grow human cells in culture. Henrietta's cells were the first (and possibly only) cells to grow and multiply in culture without 'growing old' and dying. They were and are immortal. The book tells the story of Henrietta and the five children she left behind, alongside the scientific journey of discovery which HeLa cells enabled. Hela cells sell around the world and generate billions of dollars and yet Henrietta's descendants are too poor for health insurance, and were confused and ill-informed about what exactly had happen to their mother - was she cloned? Was she still alive somewhere? Why didn't they get any of the money from the sale of her cells? The writer of the book, tried to help the family get answers from the scientists in return for them giving her the human interest side of Henrietta's story. I very much enjoyed reading the book, even though I rarely read 'non-fiction' maybe because it was paced like a novel. 24/07/11

 

Of Bees and Mist - Erick Setiawan (Kindle Book)

I bought this as kindle book because it was linked with the wonderful Girl With Glass Feet on Amazon. It is a story that begins like a fairy tale with magical mirrors and ghosts and sentient mists although as the story progresses, the magical elements fade into the background and the human drama takes centre stage. It is the story of one girl and her parents and then her husband and his family and how they all interact. I found the writing style very appealing, and I was drawn in emotionally and really cared about the main characters. The women in the book were much stronger than the men (for better or worse) and the writer didn't seem to have much faith in enduring love or passion within married life, which I found a little depressing although there was some glimmers of hope  at the very end. I would recommend it to friends and will probably read it again at some point. 26/07/11

 

Guards! Guards! - Terry Pratchett (Audio Book)

I love Terry Pratchett and have read all the discworld novels and this is one of my favourites. I borrowed it from the library as an audio book and have been enjoying some very happy times working on my embroidery whilst listening to it. Sam Vimes is one of my favourite characters and he is introduced in this book, which has romance, humour, clever word play and dragons. What more could anyone want in a book? I can't wait or the next Discworld novel (Snuff) and I hope Terry remains well enough to write more. 26/07/11

 

The Weed that Strings The Hangman's Bag - Alan Bradley (Kindle Book)

This is the second Flavia De Luce mystery novel. I won the first in the series in a competition and was surprised by how much I liked it. I think because in the first book the precocious heroine is investigating a murder in order to clear her dear father's name and save him from prison. In this second book, she is merely sticking her nose in to random people's business. I found myself annoyed by eleven year old Flavia's encyclopaedic knowledge and her occasional flashes if naivety didn't sit well. For instance, she claims to have no idea what constitutes 'an affair' and yet was able to deduce the identity of the murderer as if she had understanding of the passions and emotions stirred up by 'affairs'. I don't know, I can't totally put my finger on why, but I found the book a bit boring and was glad when it was over. 31/07/11

 

How To Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe - Charles Yu (Kindle Book)

I love my Kindle! Without it I probably wouldn't have bought this book. I haven't really read Science Fiction since I was a teenager (apart from a brief flurry with Star Trek fiction in my twenties) and I wouldn't really go for it as a genre at the moment. But I really liked this book! It is so much more than science fiction - it's surreal and philosophical and about self awareness and family relationships and the meaning of life as well as time travel and paradox and that stuff. I found the main character really likeable and engaging and the style of the book was very readable even if it did occasionally get a bit technical with the science stuff. (Did I mention how much I love my Kindle?  With this book I learned how easy it is to get a definition of a word - just put the cursor beside the word and the dictionary definition appear in a window at the top of the screen - simples!). It's a very professionally produced kindle book as well, and I found the story inspiring me to take charge of my life and have another go at pushing for a new start in my writing career. 03/08/11

 

 

 Spilled Water - Sally Grindley (Audio Book)

I borrowed this from the library as a dinky little audio book thing that you just plug earphones into and off it goes! I loved the convenience of the audiobook, but the book itself, meh. I hadn't realised that it was a children's book although as I listened to it I thought it was like something they used to make you read at school and then answer comprehension questions about. It's the story of a young Chinese girl and her very difficult life, but I think I'm spoiled in that area by the fabulous Amy Tan books that often cover the same kind of ground but in an infinitely deeper and more satisfying and enjoyable way. Small children might like it, I guess. 04/08/11

 

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency - Douglas Adams (Audio Book) 

I've had this BBC production of Dirk Gently for some time, but since I'm enjoying listening to Audio Books at the moment (while playing Farmville and entering competitions on my computer) I thought I'd give it a re-listen. It's a lot of fun, and the main characters are played very well by Harry Enfield and Billy Boyd (the Scottish Hobbit - either Merry or Pippin - the one who wasn't Charlie on Lost). 06/08/11 

 

The Unseen - Katherine Webb (Audio Book)

I won this audio book from a magazine competition and listened to it whilst messing about on my computer and I have to say I found it mesmerising. It is told in two parts, one set in 1911 and the other following a writer in 2011 who is investigating what happened a hundred years ago. I much preferred the historical bits (with themes such as classism, women's rights, homosexuality, fairies, and murder) and was frustrated by the modern woman's story getting in the way of it, but apart from that I really loved it. I think when stories are told from two perspectives, the reader is bound to prefer one to the other, and that's not necessarily a bad thing because when you're forced to read the bit's you don't like as much, absence makes the heart grow stronger for the other bits (if you know what I mean). I was really sad when I got to the end of the last disc, and now I miss it. 11/08/11 

 

The Actresses - Barbara Ewing (Paperback)

This seems like the type of book I would normally not read, but I bought it because I loved The Mesmerist by Barbara Ewing so much, and, although I didn't enjoy it as much as The Mesmerist, I still found it a very good read. Several Actresses (and Actors) in their fifties attend a drama school re-union and gradually secrets from their pasts are revealed. There are quite a few fruity (sexual) scenes, although they're not overly gratuitous. Since quite a few characters are followed, I didn't always remember which one was which, although it did all make sense in the end. There was one small twist that I got perhaps before you should and then all the little clues and the final reveal had me saying, 'yes, yes, I got it already!'. It was only a small part of the plot though and I still enjoyed the book. 11/08/11

 

Black Swan Green - David Mitchell (Audio book)

This is an enjoyable coming of age type novel told from the point of view of 13 year old Jason describing his life over the course of a year. Jason is a poet who suffers from a stammer. The narrator of the Audio book sounded like a young teenage boy, which is good and read pretty well. Some of Jason's poetic imagery was stunning and imaginative, and I think the book captures well the terrible highs and lows of teen life. I thought Jason's year was incredibly eventful - much more so than real life, but then I guess real life wouldn't make for such interesting reading (or listening). 15/08/11

 

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel (Paperback) 

The front cover of my copy had a quote which said ' the most gripping book you'll read all year' I think perhaps it was a typo and it meant to say 'the least gripping book you'll read all year' unless I'd got a copy that was meant for whoever proof reads the phone book. It started well, with the exciting childhood of an unnamed boy, but as soon as we hit the grown up version (about forty pages in) it turned dull as dishwater (in my opinion) political history told in slow motion with no fun bits - at least it was until I gave up at page 61. Some people obviously like it, but not me. 18/08/11

 

Unnatural Death - Dorothy Sayers (Audio book) 

I love Dorothy Sayers books (very English old fashioned murder mysteries), although I prefer the ones with Harriet Vane in (Lord Peter's love interest). This was a nicely done BBC play and it was a fun way to pass a couple of hours while playing with my computer. 19/08/11

 

 

 

Out of Time - A Paranormal Romance -  Monique Martin (Kindle Book)

This book got glowing reviews on Amazon, and I was hoping for a quirky surreal sweet romance. Oh boy was I let-down. If I had to sum this book up in three words they'd be: Trashy, rubbish, drivel. It was awful, painful to read. The plot could have been interesting, if it was given any space - 90% of  the book was taken up with cringe-worthy, subtle as breeze blocks, sexual tension between the will they/won't they male and female protagonists. If you like Mills and Boon (which I've never read for the precise reason that I imagine it reads like this book) give it a go. If you have any taste or intelligence, do your self a favour and never ever read this book. (to be fair to it, I got slightly interested in the ending, but not enough to forgive the many faults). 21/08/11

 

The World House - Guy Adams (Kindle Book)

Now this was much better (or more to my taste) than the previous book I read. True SciFi/Fantasy with clever plotting and nice characterisation. There were quite a lot of characters and (especially early one, when we hadn't got to know them that well) I had trouble keeping up with who's who. The book held my interest well though, and the cliff hanger ending has me very tempted to buy the next book (although it's almost a fiver and I usually spend less than a pound on kindle books! Dilemma). 28/08/11

 

 

At Home - Bill Bryson (Kindle Book)

Bill Bryson is one of the few non-fiction writers that I really like. I love his travel books and also books like this one that take a wry look at the world. At home is supposedly a history of houses and everything in them, which I suppose it is, but it goes off on such wild tangents and meandering ways that it's sometimes easy to forget what the point is. Saying that, I'm having fun reading it. I think it's a good one for the Kindle because I imagine it's a bit of a brick in real life. I'm about half way through, and am having a break to read a bit of fiction before going back to it. 15/09/11 

 

The Language of Others - Clare Morrall (Paperback)

I love Clare Morrall books. I always identify really well with her main characters which is worrying as they often suffer from psychological or mental illness/conditions. In this case the main character has Aspergers.  The only slightly annoying thing was that it was screamingly obvious that she did, but it was only 'revealed' at least to her at the end of the book. I couldn't decided if the reader was mean to also not know yet (in which case it was annoying) or if we were meant to know all the time and just watch her journey of discovery (in which case I'll let her off). Either way I loved the book. 18/09/11

 

When God Was a Rabbit - Sarah Winman (Kindle book) 

I just re-read this for book group even though I read it a wee while ago. It's amazing how much of it I'd forgotten already, and how much I got out of the re-read. I think I could appreciate the beauty of the writing even more second time round, and still got caught up in the tension of the story since my memory of what happened was so vague! 23/09/11 

 

 

Room - Emma Donague (Hardback)

This is another one that I  re-read for book group. Unlike When God Was a Rabbit, I don't think I enjoyed it as much second time round. I think a lot of what makes this book special is the shock value and uniqueness of the way the child tells the story, and I remembered more of it (it's maybe a less complicated plot). I still think it's a good book though, and it still made me cry several times. It will be interesting to see what the rest of the book group girls make of these two books. 24/09/11

 

 

 

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle - Haruki Murakami (Paperback) 

I won this book in an online competition celebrating Vintage's twenty first anniversary. They chose 21 iconic books and to enter the competition you had to pick your favourite and describe it in five words. I picked The Time Traveller's Wife,  and my description was: sad story, wrong order in. My prize was to pick five books from the series, and this was one of them. Wow! What an interesting, surreal, funny, dark, gripping, mind expanding, fabulous book (at least I don't have to limit myself to five words to describe it!) The story starts simply enough - a man loses his job, then his cat, then his wife and he spends his days lounging around, cooking, sleeping, and talking to people he meets in his neighbourhood. Through the interactions with these people, and strange phone calls and dreams/meditations the narrator/main character has, things become increasingly surreal, and reality is questionable. There were some bits that I found hard to read (graphic torture scenes) and one very erotic scene which I read when waiting in a public place and felt very embarrassed as if all the people around me could tell what I was reading!) But ultimately I found the book hugely satisfying. After all, weird in a good way is my thing. 09/10/11

 

The Complete Mapp and Lucia, volume one Queen Map - E. F. Benson (Paperback) 

We're doing Mapp and Lucia as a book group read, and since Amazon had the complete set in two paperbacks for hardly any money, I decided to buy them and start at the beginning. The first book, Queen Mapp was very funny as a look at the snobbery and insecurities of the upper classes in 1920s England. I was convinced, however that one of the very camp male characters was obviously gay, though, until he developed a crush on a married woman - hmmm. The end was somewhat spoiled for me by the arrival in the post of my new Terry Pratchett which made me want the book to hurry up and end so I could get to discworld. Still, I'm looking forward to the next instalment. 19/10/11

 

Snuff - Terry Pratchett (Hardback)

I couldn't wait for this book to arrive, and then was very impatient to finish the book I was reading before it so I could start. I love Terry Pratchett books, and Sam Vimes is one of my favourite characters. In the book, Sam (the head of the Ankh Morpork police) takes a 'holiday' to the family country estate and uncovers all kinds of illegal and immoral activities. The book didn't have as much humour as previous ones, and was a little overbearing in getting its message across that slavery and racism is bad (or in the case of discworld, speciesism). I feel terribly disloyal saying I don't think it was quite as good as previous Pratchetts but still worth reading, and I for one will snap up any more books that Sir Terry produces. 21/10/2011

 

Limitless - Alan Glynn (Kindle Book) 

It's lovely to get back to my kindle after a few actual books - it's so much more portable and easy to hold and I love the way I can make the font bigger. This was a cheap kindle book, and my son saw the film and said it was good, so I gave it a go. I liked the premise - a drug that can make you take in and understand and remember loads of stuff sounds really good to me at the moment (I'm trying to read lots of academic  articles for my MA studies and I'm finding it difficult: a) staying awake, b) understanding more than a third of the words used and c) remembering what I've read when I've finished). The book was certainly pretty gripping (although with a little too much info on stocks and trading etc in the middle) and I found it very readable if not very deep or subtle. Not the sort of book I would normally go for, but fun nonetheless. 24/10/2011

 

The Book of Human Skin - Michelle Lovric (Kindle Book) 

This is the kind of book I really like -  hovering on the edge of the South American magical realism genre, and dipping its toes into the gothic horror, The Book of Human Skin is a real gem. Yes, the characters are charicatured, but for me that adds to its charm - I delighted in the sweetness of the main girl character as a foil for the total evil of her older brother. The devotion of the the man who loves her contrasts with the indifference of her parents and the madness of the crazy nun highlights the wise goodness of the other nuns. The settings were Venice and Peru at the time of the Napoleonic wars and the book zinged with dark humour and gentle human feeling and the ending was satisfying. Not everyone's cup of tea (you only have to look at the dichotomy of reviews on Amazon to see that) But definitely mine. 01/11/11

 

In The Country of Men - Hisham Matar  (Kindle Book)

This is one of my book group reads for November, and I can't help comparing it with one of the books we did last time - 'Room' by Emma Donague. Both tell stories of terrible oppression and cruelty from the perspective of a small child, and in both cases, the child's mother is a central figure, and in both cases the mother has bouts where she's overcome with mental illness (in Room the child described his mother as being 'not there' and in The Country of Men, he described her as being 'ill').  Set in Libya under Gaddafi, it examines issues of oppression of women and oppression of freedom of speech and ideas.  The book is quite short, and the language is simple, but at times the message is profound. Occasionally  I found the narrative devices (for example the mirroring of events in the mains story with vignettes with the little boy's friends) to be a bit clunky and contrived, but some scenes I found very affecting - for example the boy and his mother and another adult watch a televised execution and I found the telling of it from the child's point of view extremely moving. I'll be interested to see what the rest of my book group thought of it.11/11/11

 

Invisibles -  Ed Seigle (Kindle Book)

This book gets great reviews on Amazon, and it was a cheap kindle book, so I gave it a go.  I can see why the people who like it, like it, but for me it's just not really my cup of tea. The book has a lot of plot and a lot of characters (which is not necessarily a bad thing) but it just felt like the words and language were merely a tool to tell the story rather than an artistic medium in their own right (although one or two of the reviewers praise the use of language, so maybe I'm missing something). I didn't feel a great deal of empathy with the characters, and although I did get a little caught up with the plot resolution towards the end, I found the beginning and middle a bit of a slog. It's set in Brasil and Brighton, and does give something of a feel for those two places. It just wasn't quirky enough for my taste, I think. 16/11/11

 

 Oranges are Not the Only Fruit - Jeanette Winterson (Paperback)

Hmmmm - I have mixed feelings about this book. To begin with, I read the introduction written by the Author in 1991 (the book was first published in 1985) and I really didn't warm to her - she came across (to me at least) as being terribly pretentious and 'up herself' (and I've met writers like that and really wouldn't want to meet them again) which started me off on a bad foot. Saying that, I mostly loved the actual book - it's criticised (I don't know by who, but the author said it was in the introduction) for going off on odd tangents with seemingly random bits of fable and Arthurian legend but that was one of my favourite things about it. The plot tells of a young girl brought up by her fervently 'charismatic' Christian adopted mother which had resonance for me having been brought up in a charismatic Christian fellowship (spirits, demons, words of knowledge, speaking in tongue etc) and although I recognised some of the idiosyncrasies of character of people attracted to that movement, in my experience they were a lot more loving and well meaning than the church members described in this book. The book is semi-autobiographical, and the character of Jeanette comes out as a lesbian and is shunned by the church, which sadly can still happen. I remember when the TV adaptation came out and it was very shocking (because being gay, and especially lesbian wasn't talked about openly in those days).  I did think the book was well written, though, and I liked the playful use of language. 20/11/11

 

IQ84 - Haruki Murakami (Kindle Book)

I loved The Wind Up Bird Chronicles by Maruakami, so when I read about IQ84 I splashed out and bought it off Amazon (Parts 1 and 2, and part 3). Written in Japanese and translated into English, the first two parts had me gripped (mostly, with the odd boring passage). Like The wind up bird, this book is surreal and strange, but the two main characters were likeable - Maruakami describes the minutiae of daily life well, and often describes what the characters are eating, when they need to go to the toilet, when they feel sexual etc. The third part was translated by a different person, and introduced a new point of view (of a private detective observing the main characters) and I didn't much care for him (although I felt sad about what happened to him in the end). I found part three duller, and started to look forward to the book being over, (but some passages were gripping). Then when it was over, I immediately started missing it! I would definitely read more by Murakami. 13/12/11


 A Tiny Bit Marvellous - Dawn French (paperback)

Oh dear. I picked this up for 50p at a local jumble sale, so at least it didn't cost me much.  I really like Dawn French, and the premise for her book looked interesting enough, but in actuality, it's a tiny bit c**p. After the sublime writing of Marakami, the chunky overwriting of French was just too annoying. The characters are so caricatured and predictable and unlikeable that I gave up after only about twenty pages. Maybe I'll try again with it another time, but then, maybe I won't. It's a sad indication of society when people will buy this drivel because it's written by a celebrity, but won't buy really good books written by people they've never heard of (like me....) (Not that I'm bitter or anything..) 14/12/11

 

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood (Paperback)

I know others who've found Margaret Atwood's dystopian  handmaid's tale a bit of a slog, but I loved it! Maybe it was just the joy of good writing after the awful Dawn French book, but from the very first page of this book I was hooked. Set in a future where pollution and radiation has made fertility scarce, and a strange religious order is in control. Society has gone back to the biblical practice of a 'barren' married couple using a handmaid to sleep with  the husband to produce a child to be raised by the wife. The book was gripping and exciting and very well written. I was slightly annoyed by the ending which was pretty open (I can now sympathise with people who didn't like the open-endedness of The Forbidden Room because I really wanted to know what happened to Offred after the end of the book.) I bought two more Margaret Atwood books (with a Waterstones gift voucher that my church gave me to thank me for running the parent and toddler group for eleven years) on the strength of reading this one. 20/12/11

 

The Charming Quirks of Others - Alexander McCall Smith (Kindle Book)

I'm a bit mixed in my opinion of this series of McCall Smith books, it's probably my least favourite. Even though I really like the character of Isabel, she feels like a little old lady to me, and I don't really buy the whole wife and mother thing she's got going on at the moment. Also, the tiny bit of plot is so hidden amongst all the philosophical musings, that I sometimes get a bit bored of it all. I like philosophical musings generally, but all things in moderation, I guess. The No 1 detective ladies is my favourite. 22/12/11

 

 

Runelight - Joanne Harris (Hardback)

I'm a big fan of Joanne Harris, and I loved the prequel to this book, Runemarks. It was the traditional fantasy tale of a young person who doesn't fit in with all the ordinaries around them, and through hints and clues discovers they are special - in this case, a child of the Gods and they have to go on a quest to save the world. The joy is in the journey from normal to special, and the way the reader can relate. This book, Runelight lacks this journey of discovery and starts wham bam right in the thick of it with Gods fighting chaos and order and dream and reality. To be honest, I found it all a bit much - too many characters, too much action, too many words (it's a bit book), and not enough quiet moments of reflection - I didn't feel able to relate to any of the main characters very much and at times reading this book felt like a chore. Saying that, it did have a satisfying ending, and it did leave me thinking about (and even missing) it for a few days afterwards. 30/12/11

 

Ape House - Sara Gruen (Paperback) 

I bought this because I loved Water For Elephants so much. This book didn't move me in the same way that one did (although I did read Water For Elephants while on my book group holiday to Nice, which made it more special) but it was still a good read. I liked the information about bonobo monkeys, the writer did a lot of research and it showed (in a good way). The plot was quite exciting, and I liked the characters that you were supposed to like. It's more on the side of popular fiction than literary fiction, but enjoyable none the less. 01/01/12 

 

 

The Tiger's Wife - Tea Obreht (Paperback)

My friend Gill from book-group recommended this book to me as 'the kind of thing you like' - how right she was, The Tiger's Wife is very much the kind of thing I like. Set in the Balkans and covering a time period that takes in both WWII and the more recent civil war, The Tiger's Wife reads like a fable or folk story with magical characters and death as a anthropomorphic personality. The writer is young and very pretty which surprised me as the beautiful writing feels wise enough to come from a more experienced mind (I don't know why her prettiness surprised me, maybe I pre-judge young pretty blondes as not being equipped for brilliant writing - shame on me!) I found the book very readable and moving and sad - I was very upset by the ultimate fate of the Tiger's Wife. I read a review from the Guardian which talked about all the allegories between the stories and the fate of Yugoslavia which I suppose I got a bit, but for me the stories where an end unto themselves and I didn't feel the need to look beyond them for allegories (maybe I'm just stupid!) 10/01/2012

 

Caleb's Crossing - Geraldine Brooks (Hardback)

This is my book group read for February, and I was able to buy it and many other lovely books thanks to the very generous gift of Waterstones tokens (as well as a bouquet of flowers) given to me from my church to thank me for leading the Parent and Toddler group for eleven years (I've stepped down this year since going back to university). The book claims to be the story of the first native american to graduate from Harvard, which it is, but more so it's the story of the narrator, a girl living in a very strict pilgrim settlement with all the frustrations and limitations because of her gender, which are almost worse, or at least equal to the prejudices against the native Americans. The book is easy to read and I liked it enough to order another book by the author from Amazon (Year of Wonders - second hand paperback). 20/01/12

 

Restoration (The World House) - Guy Adams (Kindle Book) 

I bought this book because it is the sequel to The World House which I enjoyed. I have to say that I really didn't enjoy this one. The world house impressed me with the originality of the idea, and the unfolding of the mystery which was lacking in the sequel. Also, this book had several little vignettes of grotesque and gory scenes which to me read like something an angry (if imaginative) teenage boy might come up with, and not something I really want to read - I'd say this book is much more in the horror genre than the first one which was more mystery sci-fi. I forced myself to finish it, because I felt emotionally invested in some of the characters, but it was with a sigh of relief that I reached the end (finally) -  now I can read something nicer.04/02/12

 


Year of Wonders - Geraldine Brooks (Paperback) 

Well, this certainly was a nicer book to read than Restoration, although it was not a cheery tale. Set in a small English village in the seventeenth century beset by plague many (actually most) of the characters were dead by the end of the book.  I thought the book was well researched with lots of details about superstition and the level of scientific and medical knowledge at the time, although a few of the reviewers on Amazon thought the language was later than C17 and that the main character was way too sophisticated in language and outlook for a poor uneducated village girl of the time. (It's something of a theme of Brooks (at least in the two books by her I've read) for intelligent but uneducated girls to take the initiative to educate and 'better' themselves.) I loved the writing style, and while a lot of Amazon reviewers hated the ending as being 'soap opera worthy' or just out of character, I quite liked the ending as being sweet and understandable in the circumstances. It's a book that will probably stay with me for some time, and one that I may well read again in the future. 15/02/12

 

 

Possession - A S Byatt (Paperback)

Wow!  This book reminded my a bit of The Elegance of the Hedgehog - not that they have anything in common other than the fact that I found them both quite hard to get into, and a bit of a slog in places to read, but both really drew me in until I couldn't wait to read on and find out what happened next. This is like the Da Vinci Code for intellectuals - a scholar studying an old poet (historically believed to be a happily married man) finds love letters from him to an other old poet (historically believed to be a happy lesbian!) and sets out on a mystery solving treasure hunt with another scholar. There are several epic poems (epic as in long) interspersed within the narrative, as well as letters, and essays which were at times heavy going, although allowed the reader to understand where the mystery solving scholars were coming from as well as reading different things into the old writings as the story of what happened to the writers unfolded. The book also celebrates the joy/pain of writing, which many books do, but few in a way that inspired me so much. Definitely a book that's worth sticking with. 26/02/12


Breakfast at the Hotel Deja Vu - Paul Torday (Kindle Book) 

This is more of a short story than a book. I'm a bit up and down with Paul Torday - I loved Salmon Fishing, and Girl on the Landing, but the other books I've read by him not so much.  A recurring theme of his is corruption in politics and financial dealings which comes into this story as well. The story has a small twist, although you can really see it coming, so maybe we are supposed to know more than the narrator and just watch his journey of discovery. Didn't hate it, didn't love it. 29/02/12

 

Vernon God Little -  DBC Pierre (Paperback)

I've had this book on my 'to be read' shelf for a while, and finally got around to reading it. It won the Booker in 2003 and for the first 70 odd pages I thought why am I reading this? It's set in Texas from the point of view of a fifteen year old boy arrested in connection to a high school massacre. There is a lot of swearing in the book, and it takes a while to get into the style of the narrator but once I got past that, I really started to enjoy the book, and during the second half I literally couldn't put it down. Poor Vernon had such a succession of unfortunate happenings, and he's so hapless in how he reacts, I really started to feel for him. Some reviewers on Amazon complained that the ending was dopey, but I found he ending to be really satisfying. I'm glad I finally read it. 01/03/12 

 

 

The Snow Child - Eowyn Ivey (Hardback)

I thought this book was lovely - really beautifully written and very moving and sad. It's not quite magical reality, but there is a mythical fairytale quality to this story of an older couple who's only child had died at birth, struggling to cope with their grief while trying to carve out a living farming potatoes in Alaska. I read about this book on the bookhuggers website, and I really wanted it, so I spent the last of my Waterstones book token money on a beautiful hardback copy, and read it very quickly over a couple of days. I think it will definitely be one I'll re-read at least once. 04/03/12

 

Uncle Vanya - Anton Chekhov (Kindle Book)

I went to see this play in the Lyric Theatre in Belfast and thought it was brilliant. The kindle version of it was free on Amazon, so I downloaded it out of interest to see how close the adaptation was to the original. Well, it was pretty much word for word, and reading the play brought home to me what a fabulous job the actors/directors etc did in bringing the play to life. I'd always thought Chekhov would be too high brow for me, and indeed reading the play is a little off-putting as it's quite wordy, but watching it performed brought out the fun and down-to-earth aspect. It's about unrequited love, and unfairness (some people are born with beauty and money and others are lovely people, but the rich/beautiful ones get the breaks) and it's just so real and applicable to everyone and quite funny at times. 07/03/12

 

 

Dona Nicanora's Hat Shop - Kirstan Hawkins (Kindle Book)

This is my book group read for March, and I really enjoyed it. The writer is an American (I think) who was an anthropologist in South America somewhere, and the book is set in a little South American town cut off from the modern world in a hard to reach location with no phone signal most of the time. There's a bit of magical realism and superstition and lots of sometimes comical and charicatured social interactions, and sweet love stories. I found it a very enjoyable read.13/03/12

 

 

Bertie Plays the Blues - Alexander McCall Smith (Hardback)

I almost thought I was getting tired of Alexander McCall Smith after The Charming Quirks of Others, so I put off reading this one for a while, but I actually really enjoyed it. Perhaps because it follows so many different characters in wee small chunks (I obviously have a short attention span), and I've always liked the character Bertie (and Angus's wee dog Cyril), and I loved that Bertie's Mum might finally be seeing the error of her ways. The book is sweet and thoughtful and funny and very uplifting and optimistic which are all good things. 16/03/12

 

Super Sad True Love Story - Gary Shteyngart (Kindle Book)

Hmmm. I have really mixed feelings about this book. It's a dystopian look at a world not too far divorced from our own, where social networking has got to the point where facts about everyone in your vicinity flash up on your mobile computer - things like how much money they have, where they live, how attractive they are (I'm putting that politely compared to how it's phrased in the book) etc. The title kind of sums up the other element of the story. What I didn't like about it was the very modern brash style, what impressed me was the clever plotting so the sense of doom from the political state of the world was interspersed with the relationship and character development in an interesting way which kept me reading in spite of not getting on too well with the style. 24/03/12

 

The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde (Kindle Book)

I was browsing on Amazon and saw that Terry Pratchett is working on a series of books with an author I hadn't heard of called Jasper Fforde. I discovered the wonderful Neil Gaiman because of his collaboratio with Terry on Good Omens (best book ever) so I thought I'd check out this guy Fforde. He has written a series of books about Thursday Next, which is the name of a female literary detective in an alternate version of our world where classic works of fiction are very highly thought of almost to the point of religious fervour and manuscripts are extremely valuable. In this book someone had made a machine that allowed people to enter books and also for the characters in books to be brought out into our world (something like the plot of the Inkworld books) and a bad guy is trying to mess with the plot of Jane Eyre. I found the book a little hard to get into, but once I did I found it hard to put down, and now that it's finished I miss it. I'll be looking out for good deals on the other books in the series. 19/03/12 EDIT - what am I talking about?! Terry Pratchett is working on a series of books with some other guy called Stephen Baxter - I think I just stumbled upon Jasper Fforde while looking at TP and SB's new book - what am I like?

 

Various Pets Alive and Dead - Marina Lewycka (Paperback)

I loved the tractors in Ukrainian book, and I've enjoyed the other Marina Lewycka books since then. This one continues in the theme of families who at some point in their history immigrated to the UK from eastern Europe. There's the typical interplay between family members - partners, parents and offspring, siblings, as well as some back story of the parents when they were young hippies. There are some very funny moments, and some touching moments, and some boring moments (a little too much financial explanations for the son of the family who worked in finance in the city of London and did some shady trading). I enjoyed it, but maybe didn't love it. 31/03/2012

 

 

A Visit From The Goon Squad - Jennifer Egan (Paperback) 

I'm a little behind with writing up these latest books, so I'm stuggling to remember some of the detail, but I remember that this book took me a little while to get into. The format is a little disorientating, the first chapter centres around a female character, and then all subsequent chapters focus on other characters who have some connection to her. It jumps about chronologically as well, and once I'd got my mind around that, I started to really like the book - pieces here and there began to come together and create a whole picture of the character from lots of points of view and points in time, and isn't that how real life works - we don't get neat narratives, we piece together bits from here and there. I felt like a fly (ew - maybe not a fly - a butterfly!) following one character until they bump into another and then flitting off with them for a while until they bump into someone else, and then I follow them. Some reviewers didn't like this, but I did - I think it was a clever way of achieving that often cited goal of showing not telling - by the main character being an extra in the other people's lives, we build up a more true picture of who she is than if we just followed her (I think, anyway). 04/04/2012

 

The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint - Brady Udall (Paperback) 

Wow! This book blew me away. From the moment I started reading, I loved everything about it - the writing style, the narrator, the opening scene (a young boy having his head run over by a mail van). It sounds terrible, when you put it like that - and poor Edgar Mint's life was terrible - but also humorous, and unlucky but also lucky. Edgar is so lovely and accepting of life's horrors you can't help but love him and yearn for his life to get better. The descriptions of the awful things that happened to Edgar in boarding school reminded me of the book 'Skippy Dies' in that it made me wonder if such terrible places actually existed and if they did (or do) how could people survive that without being scarred for life - It makes my own school days seem like a Sunday School picnic. The whole book was a masterpiece of wonderful writing - the ending was satisfying without being unrealistic, the plotting, the characterisations, everything was perfect. I loved it. I've bought another book by the author second hand from Amazon, although I'm almost worried to read it, because how could it compete with Edgar Mint? 10/04/2012

 

 

The Forgotten Affairs of Youth - Alexander McCall Smith (Hardback)

Having been a bit scathing about the previous book in this series (The Charming Quirks of others) it think either this book shows a return to form, or I was just in a better mood to read it, because I enjoyed the philosophical pontificating this time. The plot (there's never a huge amount of plot in these books) was pretty interesting, and a little racier than usual. A review of the series from somewhere said the books were so good because the character of Isabel Dalhousie was so believable, but I disagree. Isabel doesn't seem to think about anything except really deep things - I find it hard to believe that a young mother and wife/partner wouldn't spend more time fretting over little household things - maybe she does and these thoughts are just not shared with us (in contrast to Maruakami books, where we're told every little thought and hunger and toileting need etc of the characters, which, while making them very real, does get a little much).14/04/2012

 

The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins (Paperback) 

I went to see the movie of The Hunger Games, which I really enjoyed, but I didn't particularly want to read the book. Two of my kids, Becca (age 18) and Christy (age 15) wanted to read the trilogy though,  and always wanting to encourage reading in my offspring, I bought the three books from Amazon. Christy, who used to be much more into books but has gone off them lately, couldn't put the book down, and Becca raved about it too, so I thought I'd give it a go. Well, It's just as well I'm a bit ill at the moment, and wouldn't be getting much work done on my MA studies anyway, because the last four days of my life have been consumed with reading the three books. The first book is pretty true to the movie (or the other way round, if you know what I mean) but with more detail and explanation. Set in a dystopian future following a civil war, the world of the book (which appears to be on the land mass of North America - there's no mention of any other countries) consists of rich pampered inhabitants of the capital, and poor enslaved inhabitants of twelve districts, who must offer up one girl and one boy each year to fight to the death in a televised arena battle called 'The Hunger Games'. The book is very thought provoking, and exciting and well written - I finished it in one day! 14/04/2012

 

 

Catching Fire - Suzanne Collins (Paperback)

This is the second book in the Hunger Games Trilogy. I had to wait for Becca and Christy to finish it before I could read it, but luckily, they both read quickly! Christy complained that nothing happened for the first two thirds of the book, but the last third was exciting. Becca and I disagree with him over the beginning - I liked the way the pace was a bit slower, and as well as filling in some of the gaps in the back story, there was a real ramping up of tension, I felt building to the exciting final third.16/04/2012 

 

 

Mockingjay - Suzanne Collins (Paperback)

After the very exciting ending of book two, book three once again started with a slower pace, and Collins introduced more complex issues for the reader to think about on the subjects of rebellion and oppression  and human nature and morality - again very thought provoking stuff and while aimed at young adults it's not at all patronising. The love triangle is cleverly continued without getting too gushy and annoying and like book two, the tension ramps up until again we reach a very exciting crescendo. All three books had their share of killing and gore, but book three almost takes it beyond what's acceptable - I guess the idea the writer is portraying is that war is ugly and cruel and gory, and that there's an ever present danger of getting carried away in the name of what you believe to be a good cause, and the importance of making a moral stand if the violence is ever going to stop. I read well into the night to finish the book, and I found the ending satisfying, and now I feel the hollow feeling of bereavement that a good book (or good series) leaves in its wake. I need to pause now, and collect myself before starting to read anything else. I feel I owe it to the (yeah, I know, fictional) characters to give them due thought before just moving on to someone else's story. 17/04/2012

 

 

The Lonely Polygamist - Brady Udall (Paperback)

I bought this book because I loved Edgar Mint so much, and while this one didn't thrill me quite so much, it's still a really good book. It tells the story of a 'plyg' family - a family of Mormons in Utah from the points of view of Golden - the husband/father of the family, Trish  - wife number four, and Rusty - the eleventh of the twenty eight children. The book is very funny in places, and also interesting and heart wrenching and at times quite gripping. It's pretty long though, and I did get a bit bored in the middle, although that quickly passed as the action began to ramp up towards the end as all the meandering threads came together. The writing is brilliant - clever similes and metaphors that flow seamlessly and don't shout out about their cleverness, and the characters are very real and I bonded with most of them on some level. I will look out for more by this author. 02/05/2012

 

Pigeon English - Stephen Kelman (Kindle Book)

This was my book group read for May along with Dona Nocanora's Hat Shop (carried over from March, since hardly anyone had read it). It's another book with a child narrator with their naive telling of an incredibly stressful and tragic story. The book is based on the story of Damiloa Taylor, a young black boy stabbed to death in London. The main character, Harri is sweet and loveable and the terrible pressure on him to corrupt his innocence is heart wrenching - I wanted to shout at his peers to leave him alone and let him be good. It made me wonder how bad the family's life had been in Ghana to make the mother bring her children to grow up in London's gang and knife culture. The language is interesting, with a spattering of both Ghanaian and London youth slang thrown in, and Harri's colourful metaphors are clever and don't feel forced. Occasionally the narration is taken up by a pigeon, who Harri has befriended, and we're left to wonder if the pigeon's words are entirely from Harri's imagination, or if he really is the personification (or pigeonification!) of Harri's guardian angel. Some reviewers on Amazon didn't like the pigeon, but I did. 09/05/12

 

The Misremembered Man -  Christina McKenna (Kindle Book)

This book wasn't really my cup of tea. It felt like a short story in the kind of women's magazine your granny might read - old fashioned and sentimental and lacking in subtlety. It was basically a love story/family saga with flashbacks of horrendous abuse in the childhood of the main male characters at the hands of the nuns and Christian Brothers in the orphanage where he was raised. Although the book was written by a Northern Irish woman, it was published by an American publisher and the prevalence of 'Americanisms' such as sidewalk and candy really jarred with the otherwise authentic dialogue/narration. I'll be charitable to the writer and assume the publishers forced them on her, but surely American's would be able to understand English/Irish ways of saying things? The plot was hugely predictable, and I only warmed slightly to the characters. The abuse in the orphanage read like the writer trying to exploit our emotions rather than feeling real, and although there are some interesting metaphors, they feel like an essay assignment of using interesting metaphors rather than flowing and feeling authentic. Saying that, I read it to the end, so it wasn't so bad, and lots of people on Amazon liked it, so I guess it has merit, just, like I said, not my cup of tea. 13/05/12

 

Whatever You Love - Louise Doughty (Kindle Book)

This is the story of a couple whose nine year old daughter is killed in a hit and run incident. It jumps about in time telling the reader how they became a couple, how they stopped being a couple, and how their daughter's death affected their lives. The writing is accomplished and the feel is tense and intriguing.  None of the characters are totally likeable, but they are all three-dimensional and their flaws are realistic and often understandable given their circumstances. There are elements of mystery some of which I guessed and others I had to wait until I was told. It was gripping enough to keep me reading until one in the morning to finish it, and I found the ending satisfying. 14/05/12

 

Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood (Paperback)

Wow! I loved, loved, loved this book. I'm a fan of Margaret Atwood's writing style, and the plot of this book is also very intriguing. It's a futuristic dystopian novel about genetic modification and the world's resources running out, and biological warfare, and the still-there-somewhere-geneticist in me liked the science. I also really liked the main character, Jimmy, even though he had many faults (one reviewer on Amazon absolutely lambasted the book as filthy gratuitous porn, and I guess Jimmy does use the F word now and again, and think about sex quite a lot, but that's entirely in tune with the plot of the book and not gratuitous at all, or even that shocking compared with some things I've read - hang on, that sounds like I've read all kinds of terrible stuff, which I haven't, honest! I suppose easily offended people should probably give the book a miss, although they'd be missing so much!). The book ends on a big cliff hanger (or let the reader decide what happens next kind of ending) so I couldn't wait to start reading The Year of the Flood, which although it was published several years after Oryx and Crake, I didn't have to wait for since I only read it years after it was published. 15/05/12

 

 

The Year of The Flood - Margaret Atwood (Paperback)

This book is not really a sequel or even a prequel to Orxy and Crake, more of a companion book, since it deals with the same events but from very different perspectives. I'd read reviews that said you find out in this book what happened to Jimmy at the end of Oryx and Crake so I think I approached this book wrongly. Instead of getting to know the new characters and enjoying the different perspective on the story, I was thinking, yes whatever but WHAT ABOUT JIMMY!! when in actual fact you don't meet up with Jimmy again until the very end of this book, and even than the ending is a bit open-ended. I almost wish I'd waited a while before reading it so I could enjoy it more in its own right. This time, rather than told from the point of view of scientists, the book follows characters from a religious sect who foresaw a global disaster which they called 'the waterless flood' and stockpiled food and studied survival techniques so were in some way forearmed to survive the apocalypse. Even with my bad attitude, I couldn't help but enjoy the brilliant storytelling and wonderful writing and characterisation that Atwood so excels in. 22/05/12

 

Before I go to Sleep - S.J. Watson (Kindle Book)

This is a thriller about someone who loses her memory every time she goes to sleep, so he has to rely on her husband and her psychiatrist to tell her who she is etc every morning. She starts to keep a diary, which builds up a picture of her life and makes her start to doubt if she can trust what people are telling her. It's quite a good premise, and quite exciting in places (a bit boring in other places). After reading Margaret Atwood it would be hard for any writer to compete and S.J. Watson's writing falls far short of Atwoods - shallow, plot driven, okay if you like that kind of thing, but give it a miss if you prefer something meatier. 31/05/2012

 

 

Garden Spells - Sarah Addison Allen (Hardback)

This books has a lot of elements that I like - some magical realism, some quirkiness, some natural history. It's sweet and engaging but a bit frothy - like candy floss, or a bit Mills and Boony maybe (not that I've ever read Mills and Boon, but I imagine the romance is unsubtle and overdone). I didn't hate it, I even liked it quite a lot, but I didn't love it. Pity - I had high hopes. Ah well. 03/06/2012

 

 

 

Cutting For Stone - Abraham Verghese (paperback) 

Wow! I absolutely loved this book. The writing is rich and sumptuous and the plot drew me in like I was there. It tells the story of identical twins, born conjoined but separated at birth physically if not spiritually. From the perspective of one twin, we learn about both the biological parents and the adoptive parents as if they were our own family to be loved and hated and loved again. The book is mostly set in a mission hospital in Ethiopia (called 'missing' hospital due to a long ago clerical error) and effortlessly informs the reader about the country's political history and best and worst characteristics. The medical information included enthrals and horrifies until I had to read through squinted eyes and gasp at every incision or dripping wound. The scene describing the twins birth was one of the most dramatic things I've ever read. I finished it yesterday, but have to pause before starting to read again because the book still resonates with me and to move on would be disloyal the characters that have become so real to me. It's my book group read for July and I'm intrigued to see what the others will think of it (I hope they all read it!). 19/06/2012

 

 

The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern (Paperback) 

The is a lovely book and very well written for a debut novel. It feels old fashioned and magical, it  reminded me of the book Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Although it's set in a circus, it's not really a book about circus life, like Water for Elephants, rather the setting is backdrop to the two main characters caught up in a magical contest which neither of them chose and neither want to win. The book is beautifully written and the balance of suspense and tension is just right with a sinister undercurrent to give contrast to the bright purity of the young couple (or couples) in the foreground. I enjoyed it very much. 24/06/2012

 

The Long Earth - Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett (Kindle Book)

I've never read anything by Stephen Baxter before, but I've read just about everything Terry Pratchett's ever written, so of course I had to read this first book in a new series co-written by the two. While TP's Discworld books are in the fantasy genre, this is very much sci-fi. I used to read much more science fiction in my youth, so reading this took me back in a good way. It's a book about stepping between parallel versions of Earth and the huge impact on Earth's politics and economics the discovery of this ability to step produced (not to mention the impact of meeting other sapient life forms). It's very different in style to discworld, but the similarities are there - for instance there are often hilarious things going on incidentally in the background, but the main character and plot are to strong that they don't distract from the story merely add depth. I enjoyed the book very much and I look forward with interest to the rest of the series. (While reading this book, I had a calamity and stood on my kindle resulting in a frozen screen! apparently this is not uncommon, and Amazon will replace it without quibble within the one year warranty, except mine was two weeks past one year! It's covered with my gadget insurance, so I'm processing a claim with it. In the mean time, I did the kindle PC app so I was able to finish reading the book on my PC - slightly annoying that I couldn't bring it about with me, but there you go  - that's what you get for standing on your kindle.) 28/06/2012

 

 

Lost in a Good Book - Jasper FForde (paperback) 

I read the first Thursday next, Literary detective book on kindle, and liked it, so ordered a few more in the series second hand through Amazon. This is book two, and just as much fun - it reminded me a bit of the Dirk Gently books by Douglas Adams  - sort of mad-cap but intelligent and with heart. There are lots of literary references and cameo performances from Miss Havisham, the Red Queen and The Cheshire Cat (all together) which are quite fun. I'll certainly read on through the series. 01/07/2012

 

 

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection - Alexander McCall Smith (Kindle Book)

The  lovely Mma Romotswe gently leads the reader through her beautiful Botswana and sees good in people and places wherever possible. This book is typical of the series - a dash of humour, a pinch of villainy and a big side order of contemplation served in the familiar way that readers of the series have come to love. 07/07/2012

 

 

 

The Last Guardian - Eoin Colfer (Hardback)

Eoin Colfer is one of my favourite children's writers. The wish list remains one of my favourite books, but I also really like the Artemis Fowl series. Colfer cleverly combines humour with tension and three dimensional characterisation which seemingly effortlessly evokes the whole gamut of emotions from the reader. This is supposed to the last book in the series, but I really want there to be more - I know Eoin Colfer is bringing out a new series, but I want to know what all my friends from Fowl Manor are going to do with the rest of their lives. He could have put a Harry Potter like epilogue on the end with everyone married with little kiddies/imps running around their ankles to give me closure (I wasn't sure about that HP ending when I read it, but with hindsight I can see that  closure is comforting). 14/07/2012

 

 

The Red House - Mark Haddon (Kindle Book)

 I loved the dog in the night time, and I loved a spot of bother, so I couldn't wait to read this book. Wow - it's certainly less easily accessible than the other two books. The style is interesting - the narrative is a seeming jumble of thoughts and dialogue of all eight characters, including passages from the books they are reading and it takes some time to recognise each character and be able to pick out the individual voices and threads of plot. Once you do though - wham bam, the genius of it hits you. It's like being an empath at a big family gathering and getting to listen in to everyone's thoughts - the cacophony of all those troubled minds and random tangents and different perspectives all drawing together to form the shared experience. All of the characters have strengths and flaws and depth and the language is very beautiful (at first I found the language and style offputting - like Haddon was trying too hard to prove that he was a serious writer, but once I got into the flow of it, I forgot to be put off and started to just enjoy the richness). It's a book that's worth sticking with. 27/07/2012

 

Heaven Eyes - David Almond (Hardback)

I got this book for 50p from a charity shop based on having loved clay and skellig by David Almond. This book has a similar surreal mix of everyday issues and strangeness so that it feels like a fairy tale or a fable. I read it in two sittings in bed over two nights. It was gripping (and easy reading) enough to read in one go, except I fell asleep! I'm once again impressed by David Almond's writing and I will certainly keep looking for his name in charity shops! 29/07/2012

 

 

 

Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure - Joanne Harris (Kindle Book)

I really enjoyed reading this book - it had its own soft purring voice in my head and from the first sentence I felt like I'd come home. I have loved the whole series that began with Chocolat and then Lollipop Shoes and now this book almost brings you full circle back to where it all began. Some books, although good, are almost a chore to read, whereas this was a treat that kept drawing me back. It deals with prejudice of women, of religious and class difference or any difference really. The themes from the other books were there too - the sleepy French town, the air of just below the surface magic and the sumptuous descriptions of food that does more than just fuel the body. A very lovely book. 01/08/2012 

 

The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh (Kindle Book) 

This was another lovely book - although it was American it didn't fall into the trap of many American books of being overly patronising or  sentimental. It actually reminded me of Chocolat, because the main character had an almost magical way with flowers that was very similar to Vianne's magical was with chocolate. I loved all the information about the Victorian language of flowers - how each flower had it's own meaning, and combinations of flowers in bouquets meant much more than just how pretty they looked together. The plot and characterisation were both deep and layered and believable and I felt for the characters and wanted their lives to improve. A very enjoyable read. 08/08/2012

 

The House of Sight and Shadow - Nicholas Griffin (Paperback) 

Hmmmm - I found this book a bit of a slog to read, if I'm honest. The subject and setting was fairly interesting - the ill-informed 'medical practice' of physicians in Victorian times - blood letting and so forth, which led to a well meaning doctor trying to cure his near blind daughter by transfusing the pureed innards of a hanged man into her blood. There was grave robbing and mixing with criminal lowlife, and the love affair between the doctor's apprentice and blind daughter, and doctor ending up in bedlam - all interesting subjects, which led me to google to see if doctors really did so that kind of thing (they did!) but the style of writing was just not to my taste - I found it turgid and quite boring in places. Ah Well. 20/08/2012 

 

Black Water Rising - Attica Locke (Kindle Book) 

This was one of those 99p Kindle deal of the day books on Amazon, and since it was short-listed for the Orange  Prize I thought it was worth spending a pound on. Hmmmm. I have to say I really struggled to finish this book - it almost had me missing The House of Sight and Shadow (!). It is really slow paced and full of boring facts about the American Civil rights movement, and corrupt police, politicians and big business men - all topics that have been covered before in much less boring ways. The writing was accomplished enough, but the plot was just uninteresting. No real twists, no great character development, dull as dishwater really. I wish I didn't have this compulsion to finish books once I've started them, and then I  wouldn't have wasted part of my life with this drudgery. 29/08/2012

 

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? - Jeanette Winterson (Kindle Book)

I almost let out an audible sigh of relief when I started reading this book, which after the previous two books I've read felt like a definite homecoming  to good writing. I have mixed feelings about Jeanette Winterson, but I can't deny her skill at telling a story in a rich and compelling way. I've already given off a bit about her when I reviewed 'Oranges are not the only Fruit'  - my problem being that her criticisms are a bit too close to home as we shared similar upbringings so when she criticises I take it personally. Illustrated by her own feelings being hurt when her biological mother criticised her adoptive mother even though the adoptive mother was awful! I feel she's is a little too disparaging of all things 'Northern' now that she is an Oxford Alumni honorary southerner which rankles me, sensitive as I am to perceived slights or snobbery from those of a posh southern persuasion. Saying all that, though, the book was eminently readable and Ms Winterson is brutally honest about her own failings as well as others'. I was so enraptured by the book that I read it in one day. 30/08/2012

 

The Well of Lost Plots - Jasper FForde (Paperback)

I found this third instalment in the Thursday Next Literary detective series a little harder to get into than the first two. While it still had charming and funny references to great (and not so great) literary works, the plot just didn't move along so well or create enough tension to really hold my interest in the first half of the book, and I found it a bit of a slog to read. It picked up though, towards the end, and I am still quite looking forward to reading the next one (I'd better be, since I've already bought the whole series!) 05/09/2012 

 

The Blind Assassin - Margaret Atwood  (paperback)

I have loved all the books by Margaret Atwood that I've read, so I was really  looking forward to this one. The Blind Assassin is perhaps less plot driven than other Atwoods, and although I loved the writing from the start, I found the story a little hard to get into, and the style a little heavy and therefore the book took me quite a long time to read. I did get more drawn in towards the end, and now that I've finished I miss the characters. I have more Atwoods on my 'to be read' shelf, but I'll read some lighter things first, I think. 25/09/2012

 

Something Rotten - Jasper Fforde (paperback)

It was nice to read something fun after the  heavy going Blind Assassin. Something Rotten is the forth book in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, and after feeling slightly disappointed by book three, I feel this one was a return to form and I thoroughly enjoyed it. With a guest appearance by Hamlet, and growing anti Danish feeling this book was set back in the 'real world' and it was clever and funny and satisfying. I was just reading on Amazon about Jasper Fforde's Sci-Fi book 'Shades of Grey' which I really want to read. I had initially dismissed it because I thought it was something to do with that awful erotica book, but now I know better! Trouble is I'm not supposed to buy any new books because we're approaching financial disaster, and I have a stack of unread ones anyway, it's so hard though, when I come across books that I really want! Ah well, I'll put in on my Christmas list... 30/09/2012

 

The Cleverness of Ladies - Alexander McCall Smith (Kindle Book)

I was going to hold off from buying the new J.K. Rowling book (what with having no money and all that) but then I got an email from Waterstones saying it had been dispatched - I must have pre-ordered it and then forgotten!  I didn't want to start reading anything big while waiting for it to arrive, because I knew I would be too distracted by wanting to read it when  it did, so I looked what was shortest on my Kindle and The Cleverness of Ladies had the fewest wee dots so I read it. It's short stories, which I usually don't go for, but you have to love anything by nice Mr McCall Smith, and this was a fun way to pass the time until The Casual Vacancy arrived. 2/10/2012

 

The Casual Vacancy - J.K. Rowling (Hardback Book) 

This book gets very mixed reviews on Amazon, and it seems that many of the bad reviews are from people who gave up on the book after about 100 pages, and to some degree I sympathise with them, because this book was quiet hard to get into. One of the biggest shocks to the reader is just how different it is to the Harry Potter books - while HP is steeped in magical realism and charicatured (in a good way) goodies who are truly noble and baddies who are truly evil, The Casual Vacancy goes to the other extreme and shows us life in all it's gritty and complicated realism. The characters (and there are a lot of characters all introduced quite quickly at the beginning of the book - another reason it is hard to get into) are complex and untidy mixtures of weaknesses and strengths, and of selfishness and altruism - just like real people. Once you do get to know the characters, and get into the swing of the plot though, the book just races along and I found myself becoming more and more gripped by it. The ending was shocking and moving and satisfying and I felt the whole book was beautifully orchestrated with little gems of literary prose and words of wisdom almost hidden by the momentum of the plot, like a snowball rolling down the hill to its unstoppable doom. There is a lot of swearing, and sex and drugs are mentioned, so not for the faint hearted, but if you can see past that, I would definitely recommend reading this book. 09/10/2012

 

Headhunters - Jo Nesbo (Kindle Book)

 This is one of my book group reads for October, and I probably wouldn't have read it otherwise, as it's not a genre I normally go for (even though I enjoy watching Scandinavian murder mystery/police dramas on TV). Saying that, I found the book quite readable - at times I though the characters were refusing to see the obvious things that I (clever me) figured out instantly, but then when they were revealed, I generally had missed the mark and only got them half right, so fair do's to Jo Nesbo for misdirection! It was quite exciting and the end was quite satisfying - not really my cup of tea, though, so I'll not be tempted to read any more Jo Nesbos. 12/10/2012

 

State of Wonder - Ann Patchett (Kindle Book) 

This was my second book group read for October, and much more to my taste than Headhunters. I found myself instantly drawn into the story and I connected with the main character. I thought the writing flowed really well and I very much enjoyed reading it. The Amazonian Jungle setting was exotic, but didn't dominate this character led book. I read a review that said the fact that the main character kept losing her luggage was a metaphor for her life. I'm full of the cold this week, and fuzzy headed, so spotting metaphors and allegories is even more beyond me than usual. It will be interesting to see if the book group discussion brings out deep and meaningful stuff like that (or will we just have a laugh like usual?). 16/10/2012

 

Luke and Jon - Robert Williams (Kindle Book) 

I was a bit up and down with this book -  at first I was really drawn to the simple direct style of the child narrator, but I quickly got quite annoyed with it and thought it grabbed at every cliched childhood trauma (loosing mother in car accident, father becoming alcoholic, moving house, having trouble making friends, bullying etc) and skimmed the surface of lots of scenarios without giving any of them enough depth. Saying that, the book did grow on me again, and by the end I liked it again. Not as well done as the likes of David Almond, Kevin Brooks or Meg Rosoff, but not terrible either. 20/10/2012

 

600 Hours of Edward - Craig Lancaster (Kindle Book) 

Similar to the last book I read, this one had a simple style. Not a child narrator this time, but a forty something single Asperger's man with severe OCD. Like the previous book I liked it at first, got a bit irritated in the middle, and then liked it again towards the end (this one redeemed itself even more, and I was left feeling very positive about it). The dip in the middle was partly due to the very repetitive nature of Edward's recording of facts, which illustrated his condition, but got a bit hard to read, especially the American football stats which bored me stupid, but I had to read because mixed up with them were wee gems of Edwards memories regarding his somewhat estranged father. It's very clever writing that holds the readers' interest all through the book, and even some of the greatest writers' works get a bit tedious in the middle. The book was sweet and the ending was uplifting and I may well read the next book in the series at some point. 27/10/2012

 

Jamrach's Menagerie - Carol Birch (Kindle Book) 

Wow - what a fabulous book! If I'd known ahead of time that most of this book took place on  a Victorian whaling ship (or at least at sea) I might have been put off reading it, but I'm glad I didn't (or wasn't) because I really enjoyed the book, and it is one that will stay with me for a long time. Based loosely on true stories the book follows the tale of a young boy, Jaffe, who was almost eaten by a tiger in London that had escaped from the Menagerie of Jamrach, purveyor of exotic beasts. Jamrach then gives Jaffe a job looking after the animals until a customer wants a Komodo Dragon and Jaffe joins a whaling ship as part of the team sent off to find and capture one. The time at sea is very dramatic - whaling, and catching the dragon and being shipwrecked and surviving for months in a small life boat (which reminded me of The Life of Pi with less philosophising). It's a historic, coming of age, road (or sea) movie, with wild animals - what more could you ask for in a book? 02/11/2012

 

The Invisible Ones - Stef Penney (Kindle Book)

I bought this book because I loved The Tenderness of Wolves so much, and then I forgot I had it on my kindle, so when I found it one day I was very excited to start reading. Set in England in the 1980s it is a missing person mystery from the point of view of a private detective from a gypsy background and a 14 year old boy who is a relative of the missing person and also a travelling gypsy. I found the book very readable and enjoyable - I liked the information about gypsy ways and I liked that all the characters were well rounded and had both strengths and flaws. I guessed the big reveal about a chapter before it was revealed - long enough to make me feel clever, but not long enough for me to feel irritated at the characters for not working it out for themselves. Now the book is finished, I miss it - always a good sign! 05/11/2012

 

The Man Who Rained - Ali Shaw (Kindle Book) 

I've been working full time in a nursery school since the middle of November and I've been reading and writing less as a result of being so cream-crackered at the end of each day, so I'm four books behind with my write up - forgive me if I can't remember that much about these books! I read this book as a result of having loved The Girl With Glass Feet by Ali Shaw. Once again, Shaw has written a modern fable, with magical realism and tender human interactions: ie everything I love in a book. However, for some reason which I can't quite put my finger on, I liked rather than loved the book. I felt it was just missing the sweet point - that Je ne sais quoi that transforms words into magic. It's set in a sleepy Northern American small town where weather is personified in strange dogs and other animals, and the male lead is another personification of weather shunned by the fearful villagers, but finding love with the new girl from out-of-town. Maybe if I read it again some time I'll like it more. 10/11/2012

 

So Much For That - Lionel Shriver (Hardback)

One of the characters in this book said life is like a movie - maybe some bits in the middle drag or don't really work, but if it ends well you come out of it feeling positive and satisfied, and that's kind of how I feel about this book. In the middle I was about ready to give up - the four characters were annoying me, and everyone's constant rants about the unfairness of life and the American health care system were wearying, but I really liked the ending. Illness and death abounded, with squelchy detail, but I liked how everything came together in a positive and satisfying way so in spite of the themes of death and loss, the ending felt optimistic and nice. 01/12/12

 

The Hills is Lonely - Lilian Beckwith (Kindle Book)

 I found this book very readable, if a little dated. It's about a retired English school teacher who on the advice of her Doctor to get some country air, moved to  a remote Scottish island sometime when they still had old money and no political correctness. I found the tone quite patronising - even though the protagonist was fond of her new neighbours, she described them in such condescending terms that if I was an islander reading her memoir I would be very offended. Saying that, it did paint a picture, and was well written and I enjoyed reading it. 12/12/12

 

The Thoughts and Happening of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals - Wendy Jones (Kindle Book)

I liked this book -  it was easy to read and not too deep, but still satisfying. Like Jeeves and Wooster except serious and a bit edgy. Set in Wales, but feeling like an English period drama (except for the odd reference to Welsh things), there was entangled love affairs (but not in a smulchy chic-lit kind of way) and family drama and tragedy, that kept me on edge hoping all the missed chances and miss-understandings would be ironed out for a happily every after, and although not everyone ended up totally happy, the ending didn't disappoint. 24/12/12

 

The Corrections - Jonathan Franzen (Kindle Book)

This is one of my book group reads for February,  and came highly recommended by the two members of the group who had already read it. I have to say, it didn't start well for me. The book follows different members of an American family of Mom, Dad and three grown up kids, with each getting quite a long chunk of the  (very long) book before it moves on the the next character and unfortunately I hated the first son - a failed writer (not another book about a failed writer, I screamed inwardly) who is hopelessly lead by his male bits rather than his brain. It did improve once we met some more members of the family and started to understand why each of them were so disfunctional in their own way. I particularly liked the bits about the aging parents - the father's Lewy body dementia, and the family's problems dealing with it were very familiar as my father in law suffered from the same condition. I think the book had many good points, but it could have used some more editing to cut out some of the boring bits, and I felt the writer was showing off by using obscure big words, graphic sexual swear words and 'clever' literary devices, often all in the same paragraph. Not one of my favourite books, but a worthy read, I guess. 11/01/13

 

There is no Dog - Meg Rosoff (Hardback)

This book could easily offend Christians, as the premise is that God is a teenage boy with all the usual teenage boy problems ie laziness, petulance and more sex drive than emotional maturity. If you can get past that, however, the book is very readable and quite sweet - it reminded me a little of one of my all time favourite books, Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaimen. There is humour and romance and suspense and it's clever and thoughtful without shouting about its own cleverness, and it wrapped up nicely, I thought. A much easier and more fun read than The Corrections which I read before it. 17/01/13

 

 

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce (kindle book)

Wow! I loved, loved, loved this book. It's so refreshing after reading a few so so books to come home to something as brilliant as this. A simple yet profound tale of a recently retired man in a stale and bruised marriage rediscovering life and love and purpose. Harold receives a letter from an old friend telling him she's dying. He writes a trite reply, and walks to the letter box to post it. On the way he starts to reminisce and realises his letter just won't do. He passes the letter box and keeps walking, and walking and walking - the full 600 miles to visit his dying friend in person. On the way he meets people, and remembers things which is the real journey he's going on. It sound like a million other 'road trip/journey of discovery ' novels, and maybe in a sense it is, but it is just so well written and so effecting I couldn't wait to read on, and I felt totally emotionally invested in Harold and his journey. I can't wait to read it again! 21/01/13

 

The Kashmir Shawl - Rachel Joyce (Kindle Book) 

This was my second book group read for February, and I have to say it made me think more fondly of The Corrections, which with hindsight was a much more well written book (in my opinion). The Kashmir Shawl to me had the feel of the sort of first readers they give to children in primary school - kind of educational about  history and  foreign countries, but too simple and unsubtle with not a undercurrent or implied theme... or any depth really. And then we got on to the cringe-worthy women fancying other people's husbands bits and I revised my opinion to that of the book reminding me of Mills and Boon (not that I've ever read any) - Pul-lease... do we really need all the 'electricity of his touch' nonsense. The plot hung together on a gossamer  framework of unlikely co-incidences (which I don't mind in a good book, because, let's face it all writing is contrived because we want an interesting story) but in this book's case, it was just another thing to annoy me. To be fair to the book, non of the other members of book group seemed to dis-like it as much as I did, so it is maybe just a style of book which will appeal to many but is not to my taste. 01/02/13

 

Wool - Hugh Howey (Kindle Book)

One of my hobbies is entering online competitions, and there was recently a spate of competitions to win this book (I think it's because they have made it into a movie).  I entered a few and looked on Amazon to see what it's about, and really liked the sound of it. It's a post-apocalyptic sci-fi, whodunnit, drama. Rather than waiting to see if I would win a copy, I just went ahead and invested six or seven pounds on buying a kindle copy. I found the book very readable and well written and the world Hugh Howey had created was a chillingly believable version of what might happen after a global disaster. Perhaps not quite as epic as I hoped after reading some of the reviews, but still a fun way to pass the time.  09/02/13

 

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of a Window and Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson (Kindle Book)

I enjoyed this book - the main character, Allen Karlsson, is quirky and likeable. He escapes from the nursing home he finds himself living in and goes on a madcap adventure with stolen goods, mobsters, misfits and an elephant, and at the same time recounts incidents from his long and eventful life. Like Forest Gump, Allen seemed to have been accidentally present at most of the major historical events of the last hundred years, and indeed to have played a pivotal role in many of them. I found the book a little over long in places, but on the whole really enjoyed reading it. 14/02/2013

 

 

The Moment - Douglas Kennedy (Kindle Book)

This is my book group read for March. I found the book a little hard to get into to begin with - it opened with a middle aged American man ending his marriage and buying a house in the middle of nowhere and being depressed, and I though 'why am I reading this?' It's only when the book went back to the time he spent in Berlin as a young travel writer that I began to get interested, and then gripped by the story of his love affair with a girl from East Berlin and entanglement with espionage. The book had several twists that I didn't see coming (which is novel for me) and I really got emotionally involved with the characters and their tragic stories. By the time the book returned to the man's later life, I understood him much more. Good Book. 21/02/2013

 

Shades of Grey - Jasper Fforde (paperback)

Despite it's title, this book has nothing to do with another infamous series of books  that are similarly named (just thought I'd clear that up). I have enjoyed Jasper Fforde's Thursday next series of books, so when I saw this book second hand, I snapped it up. At first I was a little put off by having to hold an actual book having got so used to reading on my lovely Kindle, plus the first couple of chapters of this book had me thoroughly confused as to what was going on, so it started slowly for me, but once I got my head around the strange dystopian world which Fforde has created where a caste society exists around peoples ability to see colour, I really started to enjoy the book and to be intrigued by its unfolding mysteries. Both old-fashioned and futuristic in style, the book held my attention, and cruelly ended on a cliff-hanger, and when I looked on Amazon for the sequel, discovered that Jasper Fforde hasn't even begun to write the sequel yet! Oh No! Ah well. 02/03/13

 

The Motel Life -  Willy Vlautin (Kindle Book)

This is a fairly short book which follows the spiralling fortunes  of two brothers in America following an accident where one brother runs over and kills a teenager. Although he wasn't at fault in the accident, he had been drinking a bit, and so didn't go to the police but instead the brothers ran away. The story is tragic, but quite lyrically written and quite readable. While very American, it is not annoying and would sound good narrated by a gravelly voiced American! 06/03/13

 

 

The Ninth Life of Louis Drax - Liz Jensen (Kindle Book) 

This book is told from two points of view - one a small boy who spends most of the book in a coma, and the other his doctor. The first couple of chapters are from the child's point of view and as I read them I found myself becoming a little irritated by the precocious narrator, although as the book progressed and the other voice came in I warmed to it more, and actually became gripped. The elements of unreliable narrator, with memories jumping about chronologically, as well as splashes of magical realism make the book a little confusing, but ultimately all the more intriguing. By the end of the book I was so enamoured that I instantly went to Amazon and ordered another book by Liz Jensen. 10/03/13

 

The Telling - Jo Baker (Kindle Book) 

About half way through this book I was tempted to give up and write a three word review - Dull, Dull, Dull. But I persevered and I did get more into it. It's a dual timeline story, and the historic bit is much more readable than the modern day bit. The writing is at times quite beautiful, but the plot is kind of slow and the connection between the two protagonists is tenuous. 17/03/13

 

 

 

The Quarry - Damon Galgut 

 This is a short and strange book set in South Africa. Written in a stream of conciousness kind of way  without punctuation it is often a little hard to follow. By always referring to the main character as 'the man' rather than giving him a name, the writer had me confused for a while about who was who (which man does he mean?) While the writing is sparse and arresting with few words saying much, they sometimes didn't say quite enough. While I hate books that ram the significant events into you as if you're stupid, this one perhaps goes a little to far in the other direction leaving you (or me at least) scratching your head and wondering what just happened? I bought three books by the author that were all going cheep on Amazon, so it'll be interesting to see what I think of the other two. 23/03/13

 

A Song Of Ice and Fire (Box Set) - George R R Martin (Kindle Books) 

Wow! I am loving the kindle version of this box set - each book is a brick with tiny writing (my sons own  copies) and between the arthritis in my hands, and my failing eyesight (I am only 43, honest!) the physical difficulties of coping with holding and focussing on the books might have put me off, but my lovely kindle is as light as ever and the thousands of words look nice and big on my screen! I started reading the box set, intending to stop after one, and read something else, but I've found I just can't stop reading. The series is about warring factions in a mythical medieval world with some fantasy elements, but it is just so well written it's not funny. I'm also watching the TV series at the same time as reading, which is weird as the adaptation doesn't always do things in the same order so for a while some things had happened in the books that hadn't happened on tv and vice-versa which messed with my head a bit. I think the TV series is a bit like The West Wing with  sword-fighting and naked people (it is a bit rude) and the odd dragon. 06/05/2013

 

 An Honourable Man - Gillian Slovo (Kindle Book)

I had to tear myself away from a Song of Ice and Fire to read this book as it's my book group read for May. It didn't help my enjoyment of the book that I was pining for George R R Martin while reading it, and I found it a slow starter. To be fair, I did kind of get into it, and I didn't hate it. It followed a young doctor travelling to the Sudan from Victorian England to help with the war, and his slightly pathetic wife who he left behind, as well as some historical stuff about General Charles Gordon  who was under siege. It was all right but not great. 12/05/2013

 

(I'm two months behind on writing up what I've been reading, so I'm struggling to remember what I read, let alone what I thought about it, so the following 10 or so reviews may be short and possibly rubbish!) 

 

A Song of Ice and Fire - George R. R. Marting (Kindle Book) 

Once I got my book group read out of the way, I was straight back to lovely Game of Thrones. This very long read manages to hold your interest through the awesomely good writing, fabulous characterisation, and the way the story is told in chapters from lots of different points of view, so before you can get bored of one plot thread, you move on to another.  I find it particularly interesting when the same event it told from more than one point of view - it's fascinating both as a writer, and just generally, how the same event can seem so different to two different people. I've now finished all the published volumes, and will have to wait impatiently for the last two books in the series to be written and published! 10/06/2013

 

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote (Kindle Book)

Like I said, I'm really behind with writing up my book reviews (I was busy with teacher stuff - writing up end of term reports etc) so I can only remember vague things about this book - I think I was surprised at how easy I found it to read, in terms of the writing style, it flowed and drew you in. It was an intriguing and compelling if somewhat disturbing slice of Americana. 15/06/2013 (ish)

 

 

 

How To Talk to Girls At Parties  - Neil Gaiman (Kindle Book) 

I don't normally like short stories, but this is by the Great Neil Gaiman, and it was free on Amazon, so I downloaded it and read it and what a fun read it was.  Somehow Gaiman manages to flawlessly mix the very real awkwardness of adolescence with the very un-ordinary other-worldly plot of this clever story. A little gem. 16/06/2013

 

 

 

All The Beggars Riding - Lucy Caldwell (Kindle Book)

This was my book group read for June, and I feel quite up and down about it. At first I liked the writing style, which is quite conversational and apologetic, and the plot is quite interesting from the point of view of someone growing up not realising that her Dad had a wife and two kids and she and her brother and her mum where his 'bit on the side'. I really didn't like the 'book within a book' bit where the main character decides that since she doesn't know much about her mother's side of the story, she'll just make it up. I quite liked the ending, though. 21/06/2013

 

 

The Ocean At The End of The Lane  - Neil Gaiman (Kindle Book)

 I love Neil Gaiman, so I was very excited about his new novel and couldn't wait to read it. I found the story gentler than some of his older stuff, more like the children's novel Coraline (which I also loved!) The style of the book, with it's magical ancient wisdom feel reminded me a lot of the Terry Pratchett Tiffany Aching books (which I also love, love, loved!) I'm not sure if it is marketed as a children's book, but it has that feel (not necessarily a bad thing). 23/06/2013

 

The Long Earth/The Long War - Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett (Kindle Books) 

My cup is really running over at the moment with new books by several of my favourite authors all out. I was really looking forward to reading the sequel to The Long Earth. When I started reading though, I realised I'd forgotten too much to get all the references to the first book, so I decided to re-read it. I'm glad I did - I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the book which is a really clever and character led look at the discovery of lots of parallel Earths and a way to step between them. The book raises lots of thought provoking questions and has humour almost hidden in the background. I liked the second book too, but dare I say, not quite as much as I liked the first. 27/06/2013

 

Ignorance - Michele Roberts (Kindle Book) 

This is a nicely written book following the stories of two girls from childhood to womanhood in France during the German occupation. I liked the writing style and felt for the characters trapped and punished by the judgements of others. 29/06/2013 

 

 

 

 

 

Life After Life - Kate Atkinson (kindle Book)

Like the last book I read, this one is largely set during WWII, this time mostly in England, but sometimes in Germany. It's a really clever concept - the story of someone who is literally born again every time she dies, to live her life over with the innate knowledge necessary to avoid whatever killed her, and some disturbingly strong feelings of deja vu. It manages to avoid being overly sci-fi and is really a character led story with lots of what ifs explored and if they didn't work out, rejected. Very well written and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. 5/07/2013

 

The Universe Versus Alex Wood - Gavin Extence (Kindle Book)

This  feels like a book I should have written because it explores a lot of themes and ideas which I would like to explore, and I'm a little jealous because it's done very well. I'm having a run of books that I'm really enjoying reading (lucky me, long may it continue!) and this fits in nicely. One or two things annoyed me - the whole studious kid getting bullied and teachers too stupid to do anything about it felt a bit old and a bit over the top but other than that  I liked everything about it. (I don't want to say to much about the plot because I don't want to give spoilers) 7/7/2013

 

Angelmaker - Nick Harkaway (Kindle Book) 

I can't remember how I came to buy this book since the Amazon blurb describes it as a spy story (which I guess it is) and that would have completely put me off buying it. How glad am I that I wasn't put off and did indeed buy it because Angelmaker was the most fun read I've had in ages, and I've read a few good books recently. I was hooked from the very first oddly quirky collection of words that began the first chapter. I loved the main character of a sweet old fashioned clockmaker trying to escape from his father's criminal past, but I also loved the cast of characters from the London criminal underground who turned out to be his friends. The book felt like Dickens mixed with Neil Gaiman (very reminiscent of NeverWhere) and Pratchett and maybe some Douglas Adams - oddly old fashioned and quirky and full of heart and soul with a very complex plot that even I was able to follow easily. Magnificent. 12/07/13

 

 

 I Have Waited And You Have Come - Martine McDonagh (Kindle Book)

This  is a bleak and quite disturbing post apocalyptic novel whose characters walk the line between survival and madness. I found it atmospheric and quite compelling with a fairly shocking ending. 16/07/13

 

 

 

 

Sunshine on Scotland Street - Alexander McCall Smith (Kindle Book) 

 After the bleakness of the last book I read, it was nice to get back to (as the name suggests) a bit of sunshine. A McC S can always be relied on for a pleasant smile inducing read where the reader knows that nothing is going to go too wrong and it will end happily with a poem. A usual, Bertie and Cyril were the stars (six year old boy and dog) with their astute perspectives on the lives of those around them. 20/07/13

 

Edie Investigates - Nick Harkaway (Kindle Book)

This short story was supposed to be a teaser for Angelmaker introducing one of its main characters. It's a testament to how much I loved Angelmaker that I read it anyway, given my aversion to short stories generally and the fact that I've already read Angermaker. It was a very readable little story and I enjoyed it very much. 21/07/2013