Book Count (since 1 January 2012)

Book Count (since 1 January 2014): 30

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Alys, Always by Harriet Lane

What a bizarre novel.  A weird hybrid between chick lit and a proper book, this novel could have been very powerful indeed but lost its confidence and ended too conventionally.

The plot follows Frances, an early 30s aspiring journalist who witnesses a tragic accident and uses that incident to hatch an elaborate plan to ensnare a husband. I am not really sure what point the author is trying to make, other than that women are highly untrustworthy and romance is dead. Both good points, of course, but not especially novel-worthy. If this book had had a different ending, it would have been refreshingly different. As it is, it is darkly realistic novel written in an incongruously romantic style which is likely to disappoint.   

The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

This novel is set in 1914 and is about a group of shipwreck survivors marooned on a lifeboat awaiting rescue.  An interesting book about morality, justice and human desire to survive.  The writing is good and the main character is particularly interesting.   There is an underdeveloped theme of sexism and the roles, responses and expectations of the different sexes, which would have benefitted from more exploration.  In fact there are many underdeveloped themes, and in my view this book skims the surface of too many issues so it suffers from a surprising lack of substance given the subject matter.  Unusually, this book could have been longer.
Whilst this is technically an excellent book, I can't really say that I enjoyed it.  Particularly as it reminded me of those horrific ice breaker balloon debate "games" during which competing debaters battle to decide who has to jump out the hot air balloon - i.e. it is interesting in theory but after about 2 minutes you fall on your knees and beg: "Please God let it be me".   Obviously, the book is not as dreadful as my suppressed memory of that team bonding day but there is something about it which is a little lacklustre and, on occasion, predictable in its moral stance.
In summary, this is a very well written and theoretically interesting book but it left me a bit cold.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice

Girly but fun. This novel is about two young society girls who become friends and take on the London social scene. Very easy to read and a fun beach novel.

The Story of Wonder by Ann Patchett

Forgettable. So forgettable I can't actually remember what it's about and I finished it not one hour ago, although I cannot deny that the crucial hour has been spent inhaling a rather a good red.

Oh yes - American drug company, possible fertility cure in Amazon, missing researcher/scientist (dead?), rescue mission, success! (at cost of Brazilian boy but that's largely irrelevant because the clever American man is safe!!!!).

The characters are sketchy and not easy to engage with. The writing isn't bad but the plot is boring.  On the plus side, you can polish it off in a few hours. Unlike the red, which sadly took up significantly less of my time

Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor

I loved this. I think it might be a children's book, but who cares? There is no shame in adolescent literature these days.

The first in a series, this is a magical, fantasy novel with ridiculous monsters and parallel worlds. All of which are a lot more fun than my world.  The writing is fabulously descriptive and easy to fall into and the plot is engrossingly unreal.

Best of all - there are no vampires! So we won't have to endure the sullen what's-her-name lolling around like a stroke victim when this is eventually turned into a film. Which surely it will be. Please.

The Legacy of Hartlepool Hall by Paul Torday

A fun novel of crumbling ancestral homes and endearing but useless aristocracy. Enjoyable, easy to read and a good, light hearted holiday book.

The White Lie by Andrea Gillies

This book is loooooong. In my view, unnecessarily and unrewardingly long. It is similar to the Secrets of the Tides in its themes although the family which the novel dissects are more aristocratic.  The novel is narrated mainly by Michael, a young boy who goes missing, and who gradually reveals the various secrets and lies which surround his disappearance.  The characters are well defined, especially the troubled Ursula, and the plot is intriguing. But it's substance is insufficient to justify its length and unfortunately I don't think it's worth the slog.

The Bellweather Revivals by Benjamin Wood

In the style of A Secret History, this novel follows a young group of Cambridge students who experiment with the hypnotic, healing and anaesthetic powers of music. It all goes wrong, of course.

An interesting and excellently researched novel with very powerful themes and perfectly chosen language. There was something slightly superior about some of the dialogue which was a little hard to swallow but overall an engaging novel which is definitely worth a read. Wouldn't be surprised if this was on the Booker Longlist.

The Secrets of the Tides by Hannah Richell

A novel about the Tides family who are ripped apart after a tragic accident. Dora, the youngest daughter, is seeking to heal the rifts and the novel follows her journey to discover the secrets each family member is guarding. Predictable and rather depressing this book is well written but not very uplifting. A good example of a theoretically good book which is hard, in practice, to enjoy.

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

A novel about a young girl (Lynnie) with learning difficulties who is sent to an American mental hospital by her family in the 1950s. Lynnie falls in love with a fellow patient, a deaf man, who helps her run away whilst pregnant with an abusive warden's child. Although Lynnie is eventually returned to the hospital, her baby is born during the brief escape and is brought up by an elderly widow.

I really enjoyed the writing in this novel, which is easy to read but also very poignant ("Self pity is a worse adversary than ignorance"). The characters are complex but well portrayed so surprisingly easy to engage with. The novel is narrated by different characters but the narrative is not disjointed so the overall thread is very compelling. A well written and enjoyable novel.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

A novel about a British psychologist (Adrian) who travels to Sierra Leone post-civil war to work in a mental hospital in the capital. If you are interested in psychology and/or the Sierra Leone civil war this book would be an excellent read because it is very well researched and sympathetically portrayed. The novel describes the challenges Adrian faces with locals who regard psychological illnesses as normal and who are living with the scars of such recent conflict.

As well as he well researched historical context, the writing is good, the characters likeable and the plot engrossing. Personally I thought the love triangle cheapened the novel slightly but it did make for a more intriguing plot.

An interesting book which I enjoyed.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd

This is a novel about an actor turned soldier turned undercover agent during World War I. It is also a spy novel which I understood. Whilst this is all well and good for me, I imagine that those readers with a bit more political nous may find the simplicity of the narrative a little dull. I enjoyed the plot which I found gripping and engrossing but as I say, I am one of those people who got lost after the first 4 words of Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy.

The writing is very good, particularly the unusually natural dialogue, so this book is readable and enjoyable whatever your views on the story line. For me, the characters let this down slightly as they are a little too extreme to be truly believable. Nevertheless, a good spy thriller which is worth a read.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

A wonderful book which is excellently written and with a very moving, well told plot.  The book is set in India and is about two Hindu tailors who travel from their small village to a large seaside city to find work, and end up caught in the political and religious turmoil of the 1970s.  The characters, particularly the four main characters, are very well drawn, realistic and compelling which makes the narrative even more poignant.  Although this novel is very sad in parts it is not depressing and will stay with you well after you've finished it.  I very much enjoyed it.  Thanks Andy.