Book Count (since 1 January 2012)

Book Count (since 1 January 2014): 30

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Where We Belong by Emily Giffin

As you may know, I have an unbreakable moral code which prevents me from abandoning a novel in favour of an alternative.  I've made my bed, I'll lie in it.   50 pages into this book, my code chaffing at my heels, I realise I have met my nemesis.  I cannot finish this book and look myself in a mirror.  I faced down the only remaining option -  I must give up reading altogether.   So be it.   I drafted a list of a few substitute hobbies, I investigated evening classes, I bought some knitting needles, contemplating a possible social event I even went so far as to have a conversation with a colleague.   But deep down I always knew that the cocktail of hatred, depression and cynicism which makes up my personality is not conducive to any activity involving other humans.   I picked up this book, took a deep breath and counselled myself – "they are merely words" – as I forced this down in instalments which I can only hope were not large enough to do permanent damage.   I survived this but the consequences are written all over my face and I urge you to back away, screaming.

Days of Blood and Starlight by Laini Taylor

I love this.  Second in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone series which is clearly for adolescents but I don’t care.  This is true escapism – with angels, monsters and fighting but without the dark angst of some other teenage novels.  The characters are fun, easy to like and engage with and the plot is exciting and fast paced.  The writing is basic but by no means weak and at the end of the day this is about a fun read not a literary challenge.  This series would be a great Christmas present for fans of Twilight or Hunger Games.

A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks

A collection of 5 short stories with a tenuous link.  As with any book of short stories, some were more enjoyable than others but in this collection none were outstanding.  I didn't find any of the plots gripping enough to sustain interest in the relevant characters and the writing was definitely average.  Not up to the standard of any of his other books.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

Second in the Hunger Games series.  Fun and exciting, the plot is far from predictable which keeps you engrossed in this enjoyable guilty pleasure.

Ours are the Streets by Sunjeev Sahota

This is an interesting novel about a young Muslim who goes to Afghanistan to visit relatives and comes back committed to a much more extreme interpretation of his faith.  The main character is complex and portrays his own internal struggle between his ancestral culture and his UK upbringing very well.  However, he was not as well drawn as I would have liked and this did detract slightly from the power of the book.   The writing is very good and I particularly enjoyed the dialogue which is convincing and very cleverly done.  The book addresses a lot of difficult issues raised by the integration of Muslim immigrants into UK life so is not an easy read but is very thought provoking.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The Casual Vacancy by J K Rowling

This book is about a small village just outside a much larger town. There is a decrepit social housing estate sitting between the village and the town, and the central plot concept of the book out of which all the other events flow, is the ongoing dispute as to whether the parish boundaries should be drawn so as to include the estate in the village or the town. The estate is essentially a political pawn and sparks passionate and personal disputes between the inhabitants of the village.

It is very difficult to read this without being acutely aware of the identity of the author. I found the character development minimal, the plot uninterestingly simple and the writing bland. It is easy to draw comparisons with a book for young adults. There are too many characters for any of them to be truly identifiable as realistic people - they remain characters, and in the main they are portrayed as clearly good or clearly bad.

There is one character, Krystal, who is better drawn than the others and to be fair the ending does redeem this book slightly. But for me this book is an average book piggy backing on the success of Harry Potter.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

An unusual book about the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic and the consequential migration, of all those who could, to America. The narrator, Oscar, is an overweight geeky Dominican who is struggling to keep up with the social demands of his new life in America. I really enjoyed the historical context of this novel and it was fascinating to learn about Trujillo's regime.  The writing is very good and Oscar is a realistic character who is easy to like. I can really appreciate the wonderful talent behind this book, and I am glad I read it but personally I cannot say I enjoyed the book.  There was something in the frequent references to comic books, fantasy games and science fiction which made this book difficult to engage with and prevented me becoming really gripped by it.  If you're into that stuff though, definitely read this book.

Tell The Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

An enjoyable book about two sisters and the effect on their relationship following the AIDS related death of their uncle. The (slightly clunkily delivered) message behind this book is - wonderful consequences can come from tragedy, and without sadness we cannot experience joy. Quite uplifting in it's own way.

This book is definitely readable and has some nice phrasing but isn't particularly memorable, perhaps because the characters (although pleasant and appealing) are not especially realistic.

The Sari Shop by Rupa Bajwa

A light hearted read on the surface this book is about India's social hierarchy and how constraining this can be for those who strive to break free of it. The main character, Ramchand, is a young orphan who works in a prestigious sari shop and is forced to witness the discrepancy in the fortunes and reputations of the privileged and the poverty stricken. The writing is a little average but the message is well delivered and the plot engaging. I did enjoy this book but it is not what I would describe as truly literary.

Indignation by Philip Roth

I very much enjoyed this excellently written and thought provoking book about a gifted young undergraduate student, Marcus, in 1950s America, trying to find his identity outside of his small, Jewish family. The reader discovers early on that Marcus is dead and seemingly stuck in endless remuneration over his short life. This ensures that the plot, while engrossing, leaves space to really explore the character development. Marcus is a complex and sometimes uncomfortable character who it is easy to be intrigued by but hard to really understand. Ultimately this book is about the randomness of tragedy and that does make it quite dark, but it is still a very good book.

Salvage The Bones by Jesmyn Ward

This novel is about a young family in America who are struggling to cope emotionally and financially with the death of their mother.  Set in the run up to hurricane Katrina the book highlights the extreme poverty of this Southern American community and their lack of resources to cope with natural disasters.  The characters in this book are immediate and realistic which makes it easy to engage with them and become truly engrossed in the story.  I very much enjoyed the style of writing which is simple but poignant with really believable dialogue.  The story is often sad but in a very touching way which stops this book being depressing. Definitely recommended for an unusual, powerful read.