Book Count (since 1 January 2012)

Book Count (since 1 January 2014): 30

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie

A festive murder mystery involving a violent death in a locked room and numerous family members with motives to kill. As always, a well written and engrossing read perfect for a Christmas treat.

Butterflies in November by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir

A novel about an Icelandic woman who, following her divorce from her husband, takes a road trip with her best friend's disabled son. I didn't particularly enjoy this book as I found the plot a bit light and the main character one dimensional and difficult to relate to.  There are some nicely depicted moments between the woman and the boy but overall a feel good novel that doesn't make you feel especially good.

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

A powerful book about a young soldier returning from Afghanistan. This book is difficult to read as it is easy to feel real empathy with the main character. The novel does not get drawn into moral or ethical debate about the war, but contains simple stories and human tragedies which gives the book it's great impact. The writing is simple but effective and the novel's straightforward narrative works very well for this sort of book. Worth reading and likely to stay with you for a long time.

Dear Life by Alice Munro

A collection of short stories which work very well together and which are easy to enjoy. Many of the stories are written so they are almost incomplete - with the reader dropped into the middle of a character's life and then left without a rounded conclusion. Whilst some might find this frustrating I enjoyed this collection and found the inconclusive nature of the stories rewarding and thought provoking. An enjoyable collection which you can dip in and out of, taking your time over each story.

Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving

I really enjoyed this unusual book about a family who buy a dilapidated school and try to establish a thriving hotel in a small American town. The writing is excellent and the characters are all complex, likeable and well drawn. The plot is engaging and the reader is easily drawn into the family relationships, especially between the siblings. Surprisingly easy to read for such a layered book, I would definitely recommend this novel.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

I love Thomas Hardy and although Tess is not my favourite of his novels, I enjoyed re-reading this for my book club.  As with all Hardy novels, there is a lot of descriptive prose to get through but the fateful and ultimately tragic plot is worth it.  I still consider this book to be very forward thinking for its time and enjoy reading about the different roles and expectations of the male and female characters.

Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym

A dark book about four lonely and cynical office workers nearing retirement and have to face the emptiness of their lives without the routine of work.  A very thought provoking and touching book which asks some subtle but serious questions about the meaning of life.  The four characters are each well drawn and distinctive and they work well together to portray the various ways individuals cope with the prospect of unlimited free time.  It can make for uncomfortable reading at times but definitely a worthwhile read.

The Twelve Tribes of Hattie by Ayana Mathis

A very readable and interesting novel about Hattie and August and their large number of children.  The plot follows each of the children as they grow up and move away from the family unit and is a very entertaining read.  The writing is good, although some of the characters are a little two dimensional.  I did enjoy this book and it is easy to engage with but there was something a little disjointed about the narrative which prevents this being an excellent novel.

Holes by Louis Sachar

A book about a camp for young boys found guilty of petty crime - instead of being sent to prison, they are sent to a camp in the middle of the American desert to dig a hole a day.  The concept and the writing is very simple and the plot engaging but straightforward.  Despite this simplicity, there is something very compelling about this novel which is primarily for adolescent boys but is rather touching and a good adult read.  The way the main character, Stanley, interacts with his fellow camp residents is particularly well observed.  An easy to read and thought provoking book which I would recommend.

Under The Skin by Michel Faber

I enjoyed this book, even though it is science fiction.  It is very easy to relate to and not as intricately scientific as a lot of sci fi so easier to read as fiction.  The main character, Isserley, is an alien who has been chosen to come to Earth and harvest men for a purpose which only becomes clear towards the end of the novel.  It is a very interesting observation on consumerism, human behaviour and the rules of society.  Isserley is surprisingly well drawn and likeable as a character and the dialogue is very realistic.  I really enjoyed this readable sci fi novel.

The Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty

A readable bit of nonsense.  Was perfect after The Luminaries but otherwise would have been too lightweight to be enjoyable.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

A very dense, plot heavy book with lots of characters and the sense of mystery.  The book is set in New Zealand during the gold rush of the 1800s when a fast growing gold rush town is rocked by a disappearance and a death as a newcomer arrives to town.   You do have to persevere with the different personalities in order to engage with this novel which is a sort of murder mystery book.  The concept is based on the idea of the "golden ratio" so each section is half the size of the preceding section (so yes halfway through the first section you wonder if you will ever read another book in your life) and this irritated me a little as surely a book should start with a concept based on something other than how long it is going to be.  There is also a focus on the signs of the zodiac and two of the characters are (I am reliably informed by the author) the personification of the moon and sun.  Basically, it is a bit weird and although it is readable and has some exciting bits I don't think the ending is worth the investment.  An impressive book to have written, and I admire the effort but the output (for the reader) is not especially entertaining.

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

A short dark novel about a small family in rural Ireland.  I actually enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I was going to as it was not as stereotypical as the plot description made it sound.  It is another of the very short novels on the Booker longlist but in my view this was a more rounded story than The Testament of Mary and worked much better as a short book.  The plot is simple but is told from a number of different viewpoints, each character revealing a little more about the overall narrative and this works very well to keep the book engaging.  I enjoyed the writing style, although the Irish dialogue takes time to get used to, and the characters are easy to be drawn in to.  One of the better novels on the list this year.

The Lowlands by Jhumpa Lahiri

A powerful novel about two brothers growing up in Calcutta.  Inseparable as children, the brothers attend different colleges as students and their lives start to diverge leading one brother to a life of revolution and tragedy and another to discover a new career and culture in America.  The book is touching, particularly the beginning sections focusing on the relationships between the brothers and their family.  I enjoyed the writing and the dialogue is believable.  However, I did not connect easily with the character of Subhash who was quite unemotional and at times seemed very disconnected from the narrative.  The female characters were more interesting and complex and their plots were more compelling as a result.  Definitely worth reading but not a book I fell in love with.

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

A strange novel which I loved at the beginning but which tapered off slightly.  There are two main characters in this book.  The first is Nao, a young Japanese girl who is forced to return to Tokyo from America after her father is made redundant and who starts to write a sort of diary/letter to an unidentified person to try and deal with the emotions which are engulfing her following the move to Japan.  The second character, Ruth is based on the author herself and is a Canadian woman living with her husband on a remote island who finds Nao's diary on the beach and as she reads it, finds herself increasingly drawn to Nao and her family.  I really enjoyed the interplay between the two characters but Nao's story is perhaps more interesting, particularly as she spends time in a Buddhist temple with her grandmother, Jiko, who is a fascinating character.  The writing in this book is simply but elegant and the plot unusual but engaging.  I did think that the narrative slowed a bit towards the end of this book but overall definitely worth reading.  Probably my second favourite on the Booker longlist, after We Need New Names.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Tampa by Alissa Nutting

This was my book club's choice, and a very difficult book to review.  Celeste is a beautiful high school teacher with an insatiable sexual obsession with adolescent boys. The subject matter was always going to make this a disturbing read but Celeste is a lot more perverse than I was expecting and this novel is truly difficult to read in places. There are some great similes in this novel but it is very difficult to get past the perverseness of some of the events which are described in the book. This is not a book which can ever be enjoyable to read but it is controversial and that makes it very thought provoking. Worth reading but two qualifications - firstly, this is deviant so be warned and secondly, buy on the kindle - the front cover attracts unwanted interest when on public transport.

The Taliban Cricket Club by Timeri N Murari

I really wanted to love this book but I didn't. I did enjoy it, but it was a lot lighter and more 'feel good' than I was expecting given the subject matter. It is about a young Afgan girl, Rukhsana, who tries to bring the truth of the Taliban regime to the public through journalism but who is thwarted by the brutality of the regime's laws.  When the local Taliban leader announces a PR cricket competition, the winners given the opportunity to leave for Pakistan, Rukhsana coaches a team of her cousins in the hope of winning and escaping the violence of Kabul. The plot is unrealistic and fundamentally a love story rather than an observation on life in a totalitarian state. This is not a bad book - the writing is good and the plot full of suspense - but it is not a heavy weight novel and will not teach you much about the Taliban.

The Sea Sisters by Lucy Clarke

The plot is ridiculously predictable, the characters unrealistic and unlikeable and the writing average. Don't even take on holiday. Cheers for the recommendation Amazon.

Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch

Always good fun this novel follows PC Grant as he continues his wizarding apprenticeship and fights supernatural crime in London. With most series, each book's plot is a little bit more tired and threadbare than the preceding one and that is certainly the case here, but even so this remains reliable holiday reading.

Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight

Another readable holiday thriller. Amelia, a young high school student, dies in an apparent suicide. Her mother doesn't believe her daughter killed herself and embarks on an investigation to discover what really happened, learning surprising things about Amelia's life. Easy to read with a fairly gripping plot, this is a good holiday choice.

The Humans by Matt Haig

An excellent book which I really enjoyed. Professor Andrew Martin is taken over by an alien life form seeking to destroy the evidence of a mathematical breakthrough which the Professor has discovered. The plot gives a platform for a wonderfully humorous, well observed and thought provoking book about the behaviour and social conventions of humans. The writing is good and easy to read, but it is the delicate observational dialogue and plot twists which I really enjoyed.  A great book.

The Back Road by Rachel Abbott

readable holiday thriller about a seemingly perfectly happy family who start to keep secrets from each other, dragging them down a dangerous and uncertain path. The writing is fine and the characters believable enough to allow the reader to suspend disbelief. This book will never win any awards but it is definitely a fun holiday read.

Perfect by Rachel Joyce

I really enjoyed this book. It is set in the early 1970s and follows James and Byron, two young boys who embark on a project to rescue Byron's mother from potential repercussions following a car accident. The boys believe that the accident was caused in part by the addition of 2 seconds to the year to rebalance time to match the rotation of the earth, and this contributes to one of the themes of the book - the process of time and how humans define it. As the plot gets darker the writing gets better, particularly the development of the main character which is excellently done. Definitely worth reading.

Kiss Me First by Lottie Moggach

Leila is a lonely young woman whose mother has just died from MS and who interacts with other people almost exclusively online. She joins a philosophy discussion website and the owner of the site approaches her with a proposal - take on the online identity of another person in order to enable that person to commit suicide without anybody knowing. A disturbing idea and well portrayed, this book is well written and worryingly easy to believe. Leila's complex character is very well drawn and really makes this novel more than just a holiday read. An enjoyable book about an unusual and morally interesting subject.

Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Book Club by Robin Sloan

This book is not what I expected but it is quite good fun. It is about Clay, a young unemployed web designer in San Francisco who takes on a night shift in a small old fashioned book store owned by Mr Penumbra.  Clay's curiosity as to the mysterious coded books which are loaned to eccentric members of a book club leads him on a quest to discover the secret of eternal life. The plot is a little too ridiculous for me, and doesn't even really make sense as a lot of it is never properly explained. However, it is an an enjoyable bit of silliness which is good for a sun lounger

Come To The Edge by Joanna Kavenna

I was disappointed by this novel which is not the hilariously funny book advertised. The book follows Cassandra White, an eccentric smallholder who tries to live self sufficiently in a tumbledown farmhouse in a small village in the Lake District. Cassandra advertises for a farm hand and a young city dweller in her mid thirties decides to apply, after having been left by her husband for a younger woman. The characters are ridiculously unrealistic and not especially likeable and the writing is very bland. It is vaguely amusing in places but in a very predictable way. I barely smiled, let alone laughed out loud, but then I suppose that's what you get for believing a quote by the Daily Mail.  Overall an okay holiday read but not as funny as the reviews suggest.

We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

An excellent book about a group of young Zimbabweans who grow up in a small shanty town, playing together as the political climate changes around them. The main character, Darling, then moves to Detroit to live with her aunt and struggles to fit in with the overwhelmingly different culture. This is particularly interesting to read alongside Americanah which is about a very similar subject, but which reads in a much denser less accessible way. The writing in this book, though simple, is really enjoyable with lots of very clever wordplays. Darling's character is easy to like and this makes the novel much more accessible than Americanah. Definitely my favourite on the Booker Longlist so far.

Monday, 16 September 2013

The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin

An interesting novella about Jesus' mother and the way she perceives his teachings and way of life. Worth reading alongside The Liars Gospel to compare the different styles and interpretations of the same subject. Mary is a very well drawn, complex character which makes the book easy to enjoy.  The writing in this book is very good and it is an interesting concept but it was really too short to properly get into.

Monday, 9 September 2013

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

An easy beach read about the Bird family and their various tragedies which impact on their relationships with each other and with their ability to function in the world as they grow into adults.  The mother is the most complex and well defined character as she is quite unstable and develops a hoarding habit, which is an unusual and interesting theme for a book.  Definitely readable as the plot is engaging and keeps you guessing but not a literary masterpiece or anything which will stay with you in the long term.  The characters are gripping and likeable but not very realistic.  The writing is unobtrusive and easy to absorb.  Overall a readable holiday book.

Bright Shiny Morning by James Frey

A fascinating novel about LA, this book follows a number of different characters and stories some of which are dealt with in one or two pages and some of which the author continues to return to as their stories begin to develop.  Interspersed with these stories are facts about LA and its inhabitants which describe a much darker side to the city than the movie star dream.  The writing style is quite difficult to get into as it lacks punctuation but once you got used to this I really enjoyed the immediacy of this style as it really draws in the reader.  To begin with, the constant changing between characters makes the book a little disjointed but this settles down as four main characters emerge from the different threads.  This book is a very surprising read which I found dark, interesting and very engaging.  Definitely recommended.

Unexploded by Alison Macleod

Evvie and Geoffrey, a bank manager, live in middle class comfort in a town house in Brighton with their son, Philip.  When the second world war comes, an internment camp is opened on the hills above Brighton and Geoffrey becomes the camps superintendent.  Geoffrey's new role puts increasing pressure on his relationship with Evvie and they each start to question their love for each other.  As his parents are distracted by their complex relationship, Philip is free to roam around Brighton and he gets manipulated by his friend into doing some uncomfortable things.   I did enjoy this book which is easy to read but not as heavyweight as you would expect from a Booker longlist novel.  Philip was the most interesting character, and the way he strives for love and a sense of belonging was very well portrayed.  I found the way Philip would comply with his friend's direction often quite dark particularly as it mirrored Geoffrey's compliance with orders regarding the treatment of the internees.  This is a good book with good writing and a readable plot, but it is not especially memorable.

TransAtlantic by Colum McCann

This book is about two young men who, after the war, attempt to fly from Canada to Ireland in an adapted war plane.  Before they set off, they are given a letter by a female reporter who is determined to pursue her dream as a writer.  The letter is never opened but is passed down through the generations of the reporter's descendants and the book follows the lives of those in possession of it.  I found this book difficult to engage with and hard to enjoy.  The writing is very good but the plot is slow and I felt the female characters were too undefined to be entertaining.  It is an interesting premis and there is a lot of well researched information in this book but I found it a bit bland and lacking in emotion.

The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris

A fascinating novel about a tight knit Jewish community in North London.  The novel has three main characters, each with a different relationship with their faith.   Chani is a young girl, part of a large family, who is resists pressure to marry until she meets Baruch who seems to respect Chani's bold character despite the fact that it is not always compatible with doctrine.  Avromi is a friend of Baruch's who, when he starts at college, struggles to resist the temptations and freedoms of the secular world whilst at the same time being unable to cut himself off from his family and the guilt he feels for what he sees as a betrayal.  Rivka is a rabbis wife and Avromi's mother who was not born into the community and starts to question the decisions she made to join it.    I really enjoyed the different themes within this book as well as the excellently written characters, all of whom are believable and engaging.  The plot is well portrayed and the three characters' stories are woven in a very natural way.   The way the Jewish community is described is really interesting, particularly the different ways the community interact with those outside of their faith.  Definitely worth a read.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Harvest by Jim Crace

A book about a small self sufficient community in England who work collectively to gather their wheat harvest and tend their lands. The book is narrated by Walter, a relative newcomer to the community who has loyalties both to the villagers and to the local gentleman landowner. The plot begins with two simultaneous events - a burnt out dovecote and the arrival of some travellers - and progress into a much more destructive chain of events. The plot is interesting and compelling and the writing very good. I enjoyed Walter's narrative thread which gives this book a deceptively gentle pace. A very good, thought provoking novel.

Almost English by Charlotte Mendelson

I really enjoyed this excellently observed novel about a young girl growing up in a small London flat with her Hungarian grandmother and aunts and her English mother. The characters in this book a are brilliantly drawn and easy to engage with which makes this novel compelling from the first. The writing is excellent and the plot, though quite simple, both realistic and captivating. This is not a difficult book to read but it contains some very powerful observations. An great book and definitely recommended.

Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw

This is a long book about business and success in Shanghai. It follows numerous characters as they each take different paths towards their goals of happiness and achievement.  I did find this book very hard to get into - to the beginning there are too many and too disparate characters to make it easy to connect with any one of them and for me that made it a challenge to read. 

If you liked White Tiger then I would recommend this. If not, I wouldn't.

The Sea Change by Joanna Rossiter

A novel about a young British traveller, Alice, who's Indian holiday resort gets hit by a tsunami whilst she is on honeymoon. The plot partly follows Alice and her search for her new husband through the wreckage of the wave, and partly Alice's mother Violet who has a turbulent relationship with her daughter and struggles with her past. An easy to read, lightly entertaining book which is instantly forgettable but would make a good beach read.

Mendelssohn is on the Roof by Jiri Weil

An interesting novel about occupied Czechoslovakia in World War II this book intertwined real life events alongside fictional Jewish Czechs stories.  This book is great to read alongside HHhH as Heydrich's assassination is one of the historical events which is covered in the plot. The different characters' stories are all touching and, at times, shocking which makes this book a fascinating read. The writing is good although not outstanding. An excellent read for fans of historical fiction.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

A very enjoyable novel about a young Nigerian girl, Ifemelu, who moves to America to study, leaving behind her family and her boyfriend. The book charts the struggles Ifemelu faces as she tries to start a new life in America and finds herself split between two cultures. The writing in this book is wonderful - really emotive and beautifully portrayed - and the characters are realistic and engaging. My only criticism is that I did find the part of the book which is narrated by Ifemelu's childhood boyfriend less powerful and immediate than the rest of the novel.  Overall, I really enjoyed this book which is definitely worth reading.

Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty

This is a novel about a successful scientist, Yvonne, who embarks on an affair which leads her down a path which results in her arrest. The book starts with a description of a criminal trial at the Old Bailey and it is only as the novel progresses that we learn what the trial is about. The book keeps you entertained and in suspense so it is easy to read. However, Yvonne is difficult to warm to and makes some highly unlikely life decisions so it is hard to be too emotionally engaged with the way the plot develops. A good book which fans of thrillers will enjoy as a holiday read but not a book with a long lasting impact.

Monday, 8 July 2013

The Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Simon Mawer

A novel about British women who were parachuted into France during World War II to take part in the French resistance. This book is surprisingly boring given the subject matter. It is a well researched novel and I enjoyed reading about war training and the way war spy's were expected to behave. However, the main character, Marian although she goes by many other noms de guerre, is difficult to like and even harder to get interested in. She makes inexplicable decisions, particularly towards the end of the book, which makes it hard to be genuinely excited as to her welfare. The plot was much slower than I was expecting and the writing, whilst not dreadful, was very average. I was disappointed in this book which deals with a fascinating subject very blandly.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

An interesting novel about the morality of the world of film.  The book starts in Italy in the 1960s, describing the idealistic attempts of a young Italian man, Pascal, to turn his rural hotel into a high class resort drawing American tourists. The book then takes us straight to the modern day and the dubious attractions of Hollywood where a young woman is torn between following her dreams and the allure of celebrity. As the plot switches between these two characters and times, their connection is gradually revealed.  The writing in this excellent book is wonderful but it is the unusual characters and interesting plot which make this a great book to read. Definitely recommended.

And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

I really enjoyed this well written novel about a small family from an Afghani village whose lives take them in very different directions. The novel does not have one central character but shifts it's focus through the chapters to different members of the family and the people they forge relationships with. On occasion this makes the book a little frustrating as there are times when the changes in narrative leave behind a really interesting plot but overall this style works very well with the idea of disparity amongst families and the twists of fate which change lives. This book is definitely worth reading and whilst it is not as outstanding as his other books certainly holds it's own as an engaging read.

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

A book about a young woman who runs away from her husband and family for reasons which are revealed gradually as the book progresses. The writing is gentle and the characters reassuringly stereotypical which makes this an easy to read book which keeps you in suspense. Ultimately I found the ending a bit disappointing but this is not a bad holiday choice if you're into thrillers.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

A novel about Seattle during World War II and set in Chinatown and Japantown.  This book follows the life of Henry, a young Chinese boy who is being bullied by American schoolmates at his US school and deals with racism and patriotism between nations at war.  I enjoyed this book which is exciting, well written and contains well defined engaging characters.  This would be a good holiday read as the content is interesting but not challenging to read and the plot is pacy but not dark.

On Battersea Bridge by Janet Davey

A readable book about a girl's struggle to fit into her traditional English family.  Anita is a bohemian artist who struggles with depression and has never felt a strong bond with her family.  As Anita's brother's wedding approaches Anita struggles to cope and the reasons behind her failure to connect with her family gradually start to be revealed.  The writing is acceptable and the plot is fairly griping.  Anita herself is a bit wet and difficult to like but overall the novel is an easy read and is fairly enjoyable in the moment.

The Liar's Gospel by Naomi Alderman

A novel about the life of Jesus and his followers, portraying a very different message than that contained in the Bible.  The book starts with a description of Jesus' simple childhood and goes on to describe his nomadic dissatisfied way of life in adulthood.  The book retells some of the events and parables in the Bible from different points of view and with a very different interpretation, which makes the book very interesting.  The writing is very good and although the characters are at times a little confused this is understandable given that the novel challenges the accepted roles of Jesus and his contemporaries.  I particularly enjoyed the focus on the relationship between Jesus and his mother which gave real emotion to this book.  I found this very interesting and an enjoyable read but I imagine it would be offensive to anybody deeply religious.

Monday, 10 June 2013

Mateship With Birds by Carrie Tiffany

A short but powerful novel about Harry, a dairy farmer in Australia who befriends his neighbour, Betty, and her two children. Harry is a likeable, interesting character who is revealed very slowly as the book progresses. The plot is simple but not slow so the book remains very engaging. The writing is enjoyable and sometimes thought provoking although not outstanding. Definitely worth a read as this is an enjoyable novel which tackles some big subjects in a very sensitive way.

The Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

I really like magical fantasy novels but this one is overly long with a very slow paced plot and uninspiring characters. I think I aged about 10 years reading this so I am not going to waste further time reviewing it.

HHhH by Laurent Binet

This historical fiction is about Heydrich, a top ranking Nazi official, and is excellently written/translated. The book comments frequently on the boundary between fiction and history and this makes the book not only historically fascinating but also a really thought provoking commentary on what fiction is.  Definitely recommended as an accessible historical novel.

Miss Peregrine's Home for The Peculiar by Ransom Riggs

I was disappointed by this book which is about a world in which peculiar people with unusual abilities are born and have to try and live alongside regular humans.  It's a much blander book than I was expecting, perhaps because the main character, Jacob, was very difficult to engage with or to be particularly interested in. I still enjoyed this novel which is still great escapism, but this is nowhere near as gripping or as memorable as other novels in this genre.

The Unknown Bridesmaid by Margaret Forster

I loved this book. Julia, the main character, is excellently written and hugely realistic. The writing is very enjoyable without being obtrusive and the plot is engaging (if a little predictable at times). This book is relatively dark as the novel follows some of the murkier sides of relationships and human behaviours. Definitely worth reading.

If Jack's in Love by Stephen Wetta

An enjoyable novel about Jack, an intelligent boy who's part of a red neck family whose neighbours distrust their poverty stricken way of living. When Jack's brother is suspected of murder Jack suffers even more from his peers' prejudices as he tries to better himself despite his social disadvantages. I loved the writing in this book which is easy to read but has fantastic depth, and the characters are all easy to believe in. The plot is a little indistinct but this does not prevent this being a great book.

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

I really enjoyed reading this novel which is narrated by John Dowell, a sometimes rambling narrator who reveals the main characters and plot twists very slowly and incidentally which adds to the impact of this novel. This is a book which requires complete concentration as you can easily miss a dramatic storyline buried in John's verbose descriptions of more everyday activities. A really innovative novelistic style which is compelling and an excellent read.

Monday, 6 May 2013

Norweigan by Night by Derek B. Miller

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

Whispers Under Ground by Ben Aaronovitch

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

Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson

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

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

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

The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier

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

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

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

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

Lost and Found by Tom Winter

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

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones

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

The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

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

The Forrests by Emily Perkins

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

The Sopranos by Alan Warner

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

Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple

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

The Middlesteins by Jamie Attenberg

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

Alif The Unseen by G. Willow Willow

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

Stonemouth by Iain Banks

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

Sunday, 14 April 2013

Jellybird by Lezanne Clannachan

An enjoyable, surprising novel with a very striking writing style, this book is easy to read and enjoy.  It is about a young jewellery designer, Jessica, who makes a new friend in Libby and then finds her past slowly impeding on her new life in London.  Jessica is a well drawn character who is likeable but a little unrealistic.  As she struggles to cope with her past catching up with her, her methods of coping become increasingly unhealthy, and I thought this was portrayed very sensitively.  The plot is gripping but again a little unrealistic.  Overall, a very good book which is worth a read.

The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge

A short but powerful book about two young English women who work for an Italian wine manufacturer in London.  The girls arrange a factory outing to the countryside and the event has life changing consequences for the factory workers who attend.  The writing is excellent and the plot wonderfully observed.  The novel describes the heart breaking implications of misunderstandings and miscommunications in a touching and sometimes humorous way.  I very much enjoyed this book.

Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam

A very chilling book which will remain with you for some time.  It is about a fifty five year old man. David/Gary, who takes an 11 year old girl, Tommie, on a long road trip across America to his cabin in a remove part of middle America.  The book is written from the point of view of David, who is subtly manipulative, so the reader is forced to identify with his way of thinking which is very disturbing.  The plot is gripping and captivating but although the relationship between David and Tommie is not physically or sexually abusive it is not always easy to read.  The language is simple but very well written which increases the power of this book.  A very good book and an interesting take on the topic but perhaps too dark to truly enjoy.

Hector and The Search for Happiness by Francois Lelord

A very interesting, deceptively simple book about happiness and the meaning of life.  I very much enjoyed this novel, which is written by Hector as he takes time out from his job as a psychiatrist in order to attempt to discover a "cure" for his many patients who are unhappy for no discernible reason.  The language is beautifully straightforward and easy to read whilst raising questions of psychology and challenging social assumptions as to what makes us happy.  I would definitely recommend this book.

The Innocents by Francesca Segal

An easy read about a young Jewish couple in North London and the expectations placed on them by their close knit community.  The plot is fairly engaging but not especially unusual.  There are some interesting, if two dimensional characters, which makes this book enjoyable whilst reading but it is not a book which will live long in the memory.

May We Be Forgiven by A M Homes

A long book about the breakdown of a successful TV executive, George, following a car accident.  George's brother, Harry, attempts to help his brother's wife and two children but this only leads to a further disaster, evidencing George's complete mental collapse. Ultimately, Harry struggles to keep George's family afloat as they deal with their father's breakdown.

The book is intended to be a darkly comic narrative about contemporary life and the strain it puts on our relationships and on individual bread winners.  However, I did not find it at all amusing and it went on very much longer than it really deserved.  Harry is a very strange character who is hard to get to know - his personality comes across as very fluid and therefore very difficult to relate to.  The fourth quarter of this book is definitely the best as the children's characters are more developed and the plot picks up.  Overall, a slightly boring book with an odd story and bulky characters. 

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Ignorance by Michele Roberts

Bleak and depressing.  The novel is about two girls who grow up in a small French town during the German occupation.  I enjoyed the writing but the plot is dull and the characters under developed. I expect it will win a prize.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

I really enjoyed this novel. It's a little hard to get your head round as the plot is being continually revised and rewritten. It's a very interesting concept which is dealt with very cleverly and clearly which prevents the story becoming overly confused. The main character, Ursula, is excellently written and likeable and the dialogue is very well observed. Definitely worth a read, and would make a great holiday read.

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell

A good book about an Irish family living in London who gather together following the disappearance of their father. The book is about the relationships between family members and how these are affected by secrets and half truths told within families.  I enjoyed this novel which is easy to read but still engaging. The characters are easy to like and to relate to which makes the novel a very enjoyable read.

Wonder by R J Palacio

A very  interesting novel about a young boy who suffers from a genetic disorder which meant he was born with a severe facial deformity. The book is written in very simple but often powerful language and raises some challenging questions about prejudice. I enjoyed this book although I do this the simplicity of the writing was a little overdone - the book could have benefitted from some more in depth analysis of the themes of the plot.

After The Fall by Charity Norman

An average book about a family who move to New Zealand from a sleepy town in the UK to try and start again following the collapse of the father's business. Distinctly unremarkable.

The Universe versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence

I really enjoyed this unusual book about a young eccentric boy, Alex, who befriends a local widower.  Alex is a very well drawn, likeable character whom the reader feels a real affinity with.  The writing is very good and the plot engaging and fast paced.  I would definitely recommend this novel.

The Fever Tree by Jennifer McVeigh

A very forgettable novel about a young English girl forced into a marriage and a move to South Africa in order to escape a life of poverty in Manchester. Set in the 1880s the book has an interesting sub plot about the African diamond rush and the exploitation of the native African workers but this is not properly explored.  The main character, Frances, is silly and bland so the book is difficult to truly engage with but it is an easy and inoffensive read.

The Travelling Hornplayer by Barbara Trapido

An easy read about a novelist and his small family, particularly his dysfunctional daughter, Stella. The book is about Stella's gradual unravelling as she struggles to settle at University and after her second year ends up unsettled, seriously ill, pregnant and single. The novel is written from different character's points of view and particularly focuses on Stella's father and his relationship with his daughter. Enjoyable and interesting but not especially challenging.

The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai

An excellently written novel which is a surprisingly dull read. The book is set in a hillside village on the foothills of the Himalayas and follows a young girl, Sai, living in a dilapidated house with her grandfather and their cook.  Sai befriends her tutor, a young man who becomes embroiled in India's political unrest, and the novel follows the tension this puts on their relationship and on Sai's small household.  Excellent writing but too boring to be an enjoyable read.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch

The second in the Peter Grant series this is a fun magic adventure story about an apprentice wizard working for a top secret department within the Met police.  It's a bit silly and very easy to read but the plot is good fun, fast paced and not so ridiculous that you can't legitimately enjoy it.  The main character, Peter, is likeable and as realistic as it is possible for a policeman wizard to be.  The writing is good, although some of the metaphors are stretched a bit far, and the dialogue natural but it's really the plot that makes this such an engaging book.  It's basically Harry Potter for adults (and it is definitely for adults – it is really rather rude in places).

26A by Diana Evans

An excellent book which I very much enjoyed about twins of Nigerian origin growing up in Neasden.  The writing is really beautiful and creates a truly engrossing world which draws the reader into a touching, tragic plot.  The two main characters, twins Bessi and Georgia, have really distinct characters and are perfectly described so the reader feels wonderfully involved with them both and with their wider family.   The plot is very sad but manages not to be depressing.  There is also an element of the mystical about this novel, particularly towards the end, which is impressively believable.   Definitely a book I would recommend.

Toby's Room by Pat Barker

A novel about sexuality during World War I.  The book follows Elinor and her brother Toby as they try and define their own relationship in the context of the War and their own growth into adulthood.   I found this pretty hard going to be honest.  The plot is very slow and very obvious – there are a few potentially interesting avenues but these are closed down abruptly which is a real shame.  For example, Elinor starts work at Queens, a facial injuries hospital and uses her talent as an artist to document the injuries and the surgical attempts to heal them.  This is all very well researched and could have been exceptionally interesting, particularly as there are real historical characters written into the narrative, but the heavy plot and the uninspiring characters overtook this more delicate subject.   I found the plot too flighty and the writing too cold to really engage with what could have been an excellent novel.

The Good Father by Noah Hawley

This novel is about an American man who refuses to accept that the police have got it right when they arrest his nomadic son for the assassination of a presidential candidate.  It is an interesting take on gun culture in America but is not as thought provoking or chilling as We Need To Talk About Kevin.  The main character, Paul, is a doctor who struggles to reconcile what he knows about his son with the gathering evidence of his crime.  I found Paul very difficult to like or engage with and this for me made this book a lot less poignant than it would otherwise have been.  Paul's son Daniel is better drawn but the narrative flips too often between father and son to maintain the reader's connection with either.  The writing is sometimes excellent and never offensive but surprisingly bland for a novel with this sort of plot.   Personally, despite the interesting concept I did not enjoy this book, mainly because of the lack of connection with the characters.

Friday, 22 February 2013

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green

This book is about a teenage girl, Hazel, who has terminal cancer and the plot focuses on her relationship with her parents, friends and other cancer patients.  Obviously this is depressing but not as depressing as you would think, mainly because it's not very good.  There are some touching moments but I never felt really engaged with any of the characters, who were all much too one dimensional to really connect with.  Hazel treats her disease with cynicism and sometimes humour which I also found a barrier to any emotional relationship with her as a character because the reader is never given an opportunity to see past what is obviously a defensive barrier.  Personally I did not enjoy this book which for me seemed to skim the surface of this potentially highly emotive subject.

I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith

This is a classic novel about coming of age and the discovery of love.  The novel is set in an old castle inhabited by a destitute family and their young servant and is narrated by one of the daughters.  The characters are all very well drawn and easy to relate to which makes this book surprisingly gripping given the far from unusual plot.  For me the most interesting character was the father, a writer who has not written a word in years and whose mercurial personality impacts on the whole household.  However, the two daughters are also intriguingly portrayed and the complexity of their personalities gives this book real depth.   The writing, in particular the dialogue, is excellent.   A very enjoyable and worthwhile read.

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

I really enjoyed this dark comedy about a young man trying to find his way in life in as peaceful a way as possible.  The writing is good and the comic style reminded me a bit of PG Wodehouse.  The main character, Jim, is very easy to like, realistic and engaging which makes this book enjoyable to read.  The plot is not especially gripping and at times can be slightly slow but on the other hand the more gentle pace of this novel allows the comic scenes to be set up perfectly.  Overall a very well written enjoyable comic novel.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Sula by Toni Morrison

I loved this.  It is a beautifully written story about two young girls growing up in a small black community in the hills of rural America.  The writing is really enjoyable to read – it is thought provoking without being overly complex or pretentious, and is often deceptively simple.  The plot focuses on one of the girls' return from cosmopolitan travels around the US and how that affects her position within the community.  I would definitely recommend this very worthwhile read.

A Book for All and None by Clare Morgan

This book reminded me of Possession by A S Byatt although it was not as good.  It is about two Oxford fellows (Beatrice and Bernard) who start a relationship as they work together on a potential link between Nietzsche and Virginia Woolf.  To be honest, it was pretty boring and hard to get through.  The book is very well researched and exactingly written but this does not make for a very passionate or engaging read.  The best bits of the novel were the sections which were written from the point of view of the husband of one of the Oxford fellows as he was the most well developed and interesting character.  The rest of the book was split between sections narrated by Beatrice and those narrated by Bernard, both of which are a little two dimensional.  There is also a ridiculous DaVinci Code style end to the book which made the whole thing lose credibility in my view.  A technically excellent book which is easy to admire but hard to enjoy.

Hope: A Tragedy by by Shalom Auslander

I enjoyed this novel which is a very unusual darkly comic book about a small American family who move into a rural farmhouse and discover an old lady hiding in the attic who claims she is Anne Frank.  Whilst this sounds like something I would usually cackle at in scorn, it is surprisingly easy to accept.  I think this is partly because the book's comic framework allows for a more forgiving artistic licence.   It is also a very unpretentious book - the writing is good but generally unobtrusive – so it is this ambitious plot which makes this book such an interesting read. 

As well as dealing with Anne Frank, the main character, Solomon, grapples with his own demons apparently the result of his mother's amusingly portrayed bitter self-obsession.  This gives the book an interesting psychological subtext, but the light comic touches deliver this without undue depression.  So overall an enjoyable if dark comedy about family and its impact on one's personality.

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver

This is a strange book about a young American couple and their two children who discover a migration of butterflies on their land.  Their lives are taken over by the flock of visitors and scientists who come to investigate, and this impacts dramatically on the family's hierarchy with life changing results.  This is nowhere near as good as either of her other two novels I have read, partly because the plot is a bit thin but mainly because the writing is not as poetic or meaningful as in her previous books.  I did enjoy the characters, particularly the mother of the two children who is very well developed and realistic, but there was not enough overall depth to the book which made it quite boring in parts.  It did not help that this is a long book because this really stretched the subject matter to breaking point.  It is an interesting read but does not reach the standards of her previous books.