Category: Book review

By C.S. Lewis

This is my book for Book 26. A book with an animal in the title

I read it because, although I know the book and get references to it and could probably con even myself I have read it, I don’t think I ever did. I seem to have missed a chunk of children’s book in my youth – I think I jumped from Famous Five to adult books because that’s the gap I have.

This book has been reviewed so often it makes little sense to talk about what its about in this note. We all know the story, even those of us who hadn’t actually read the book. And we all know the Christianity allegory etc etc.

What I found interesting to notice, and really mind, is the sexism in this book. I know it is not unusual for its time, but it is a clear indicator that we need more modern kid’s books for the children of today. The boys are Magnificent and Just while the girls grow up to be Gentle and Valiant; the boys go to battle and the girls administer cure-all drops to the injured men-folk, the girls cry over dead Aslan because, I assume, boy tears wouldn’t mean the same in terms of empathy.

The only strong female character is of course, evil.

What were we telling children in their bedtime stories in the 50s and beyond? I wish that this was some kind of weird historical example of what books used to be like, but sadly its not. These are the messages we continue to read to children. And then wonder why boys grow up entitled and girls grow up apologetic.

It really is time for more kid’s books that empower girls and tell boys it is okay to feel emotions. Everyone wins when we get there.


by Janet Fitch

This is my book for Book 32. A book from a celebrity book club. Apparently this was a recommended book in Oprah’s book club in 1999.

I don’t really know how to review this book – it is so magnificent is feels like anything I say will not be enough.

The narrative deals with the life a young girl, and then young woman, lives after her single mother is sent to jail for a murder. Astrid, the daughter, passes through foster homes and had some terribly sad and distressing things happen to her. She also develops as a human being and artist.

The themes of this wonderful book are love and entanglement, expectations and reality, and the line between love and control.

Ingrid, the mother, is a character with whom my relationship changed during the book, mirroring the changes in the relationship between Astrid and Ingrid. Fitch manages to change how the reader feels about Ingrid so subtly I barely noticed until it was irrevocable.

Is there anything more complicated than the relationship between a mother and a daughter? In this book Fitch takes those familiar complications and relationships, and unpacks them, using Astrid and Ingrid’s relationship, as well as those she develops with other women.

My heart broke for Astrid, and for all the real children in her situation across the world. Foster care can be brutal and without drama or gratuitous nastiness, Fitch exposes various aspects of this through Astrid’s experiences.

This is one of the very few books I have reread and I can imagine reading it again and again.

A simply stunning tale told beautifully.

by Cynthia Owen

This was my book for Book 2: True Crime

How people survive what Cynthia did is beyond me. And then they become valuable, kind, caring human beings.
It’s amazing

That people do this kind of things to each other, to children, to their own children just floors me.

I am speechless

 by Jo Nesbo
This is the book I read for Book 5. Nordic noir.
I have read some Nordic noir previously, without knowing it was even a genre. And this fits perfectly in that style of writing.
Not a great deal actually happens, it is slow and detailed, and there is weather. There is always snow and/or sun or darkness, and/or weather. And lots and lots of space.
All of these factors create a harsh but beautiful backdrop for the stories of this genre.
This particular story is about a man who runs from a real drug kingpin because he owes him money and corpse, and hides in the middle of nowhere far north of anywhere sensible.
I enjoyed the story – it is quick to read and pulls you in. I was invested in the characters.
I thought the end of the book was rushed and less than believable. It felt like it was tied up too quickly and too neatly and I didn’t really buy it all.
But I’ll read another Nesbo for sure – perhaps one of his Harry Hole novels as I have read they are deeper and more complex.
An easy read of a genre I really want to explore more – which is the point of the challenge really.

by Andrew Gross

This is my book for 50 – A book recommended by someone else taking the POPSUGAR Reading Challenge
I experienced the book as an audio book and it was the perfect story for that.
I found myself wanting to shout at my phone – run run run, or swear at it when things went awry.

Apparently this book is based on a true story which makes it even more thrilling.

The basic story is of a Jewish man who escaped Poland and got to America is asked to go back a camp to rescue another prisoner with valuable scientific information. We all know enough about the World War II concentration camps to know what a terribly dangerous idea this was.

What i loved about this story was that i expected a crazy chase and not much else, but instead I got well rounded characters with extensive backstories, all of which was interesting and gripping.

A war story with complex characters and enough emotion to have me smiling and crying along.

Not my usual fare but thoroughly engrossing nevertheless.

My (first) book for prompt 15. A book about feminism

I say first because I also have Roxane Gay’s Hunger lined up and one can never read too many books on feminism

I really enjoyed this selection of very short pieces by more than 50 women.

The contributors include immediately recognisable names as well as possibly less well-known feminists. It also includes mothers, scientists, artists, authors, politicians and actors. It is, unfortunately, quite British contributor heavy but considering it was published in the UK I guess that is to be expected.

There is such a wide varieties of writings that some will resonate with some readers, while others will speak to other readers. As the compilers said, this could easily have been 500 shades of feminism there are so many voices to be heard.

As a slice of interesting feminist writings, this is a great book.

The short pieces of poetry between some of the writings are also wonderful and I have a few written around my work space.


Really well worth reading

 Edited by Jo Glanville
I read this for Book 7. A book set in a country that fascinates you.
These short stories are amazing. They offer slices of life in Palestine as experienced and then told by women. Many of them are not political in any overt way – they deal with childhood memories of being mischievous, of buying shoes and not buying into societies ideas of what feminine is, of being a child in a beautiful country.
Others show how the political situation defines and determines so many actions and activities those of us in freer countries would perform without thought. Imagine spending a whole day travelling a short distance to visit relatively because of the numerous road blocks? Road blocks with what seems like very little purpose other than to show power.
And yet other stories talk very specifically about the awful vortex of death and killing that exists in this part of the world. You kill my child, I will kill two of yours – back and forth until all the children are dead.
All of the stories are powerful in their own way. Not a single one can be read and just flipped past, forgotten, consumed like junk food. They are all important and valuable. Each deserves time taken to read and digest. I will return to them all to reread and reconsider.
In each story the very humanness of the characters is so powerful. When we read of deaths and bombings or see footage on tv it is easy to forget that the victims, and perpetrators, are sons, daughters, mothers, fathers, siblings – people just like us with all the same relationships and complications.
These stories show the humanity of the people caught up in the violence, and remind us that it is not politicians who live with the daily fear – it is the people.
In addition, there is a strong feminist thread through these stories. These are women getting on with it, making things happen, surviving often in the most dire of circumstances.
A wonderful collection of stories. Simply wonderful.
In the spirit of fairness, I shall also be reading a collection of Israeli short stories. And I am sure that the same humanity, experiences, fears and disruptions exist on that side of the story too.

by Kenneth de Kok

This is one of many books I will read that will fill the requirement for Book 20. A book by a local author. I plan to read lots of South African and African authors this year.

This little book certainly took me right back to my childhood and dropped me, barefoot, dusty faced and sun burnt into South Africa’s past.

Behind the memory land of a simpler time (for white South Africans) always must lie the knowledge of what was really going on.

de Kok speaks of the undercurrent as observed by a child. The danger when reading this book is to wax lyrical about how wonderful life was then, when for so many of the sub-characters in this book, it was truly monstrous. The reader can see, if she looks carefully between the lines, the things that so many of us, when looking back at our childhoods in South Africa, now view with squinted eyes and a sense of ‘how did we not realise’. Like de Kok, I too remember news reports that spoke to so many dead people, and five blacks. I too remember domestic workers seemingly up all the time, ready to meet the family’s needs. And like de Kok, I didn’t know what it all meant when I was 8 or 9, but certainly do now.

I think that hidden within this memoir, this recalling of a childhood written after a father’s death, is a much larger story de Kok is leaving for the South African white reader of a similar age to remember and create.

The reader can decide if this is commentary or a gentle memoir of a dusty childhood.

by Ben Elton

I read this as Book 49. A book about a problem facing society today.

In Blind Faith Elton deals with so many of the issues facing society and humanity – lack of online privacy, over-sharing, status chasing, anti-vaccination nonsense, global warming and the threat of rising sea-levels, religion and….blind faith.

Trafford Sewell lives, like everyone else in this awful future world, in a sludge of slow moving sheep, slogging from one place to another in a mass of semi-naked humanity. Society insists that everything is blessed and wonderful and to be celebrated, all human behaviour is glorious and to be shared. So public eating in encouraged, whispered conversations are suspect, and the streaming of sex tapes and recordings of every moment of everyone’s lives is available online, all the time. And all Trafford wants is a little privacy.

But wanting a little of what is not allowed is bound to lead to all sorts of other desires and complications. Trafford’s life becomes so much more interesting and so much more dangerous as soon as he even vaguely admits his desire for more – or is that less?

I thought this an interesting satirical look at a possible world. At times it is very funny and at others, rather chilling. Like all good dystopia fiction it seems to sail very close to what seemed inconceivable moments ago and now seems not entirely unlikely. A measles epidemic killing scores of kids – surely not. Ten years ago, impossible. Now – many people would think it is inevitable in the not-to-distant future.

Elton manages to send society forward on a path not entirely unlikely.

You may laugh, you may be annoyed, you may even grimace. But what you will surely do is think. And possibly be a little afraid next time you see a celebrity over share and be fawned over by a multitude of fans for doing so.

In Elton’s book, there go all of us eventually.

by Erika Swyler

I listened to the audio book of this title for Book 39. A book that involves a bookstore or library.

I really liked this book. I had read reviews in which readers said they could not connect to or relate to the protagonists, especially Simon, but I found him very relatable, and very human.

Simon is a librarian living in a slowly crumbling house and a parallel life, in many ways. He receives a book from a stranger and begins to read and unravel the mysteries within.

The book he is sent is a wonderfully old tome, a history of a travelling fair, or probably a fayre actually.

The Book of Speculation is a telling both of Simon’s experience of the book he is sent, and the story within that book.

It is also about family and how we define that word, of connections made and lost, and of love in myriad forms and expressions.

Simon’s family is formed, reformed, broken down and reconstructed in this emotionally honest story.

This book is also very well-constructed and kept me engaged throughout. I was equally fascinated by the story in the book, and the story in the book in the book. Each time the narrative changed I felt like I was returning to friends I had missed ever so slightly, much as I had enjoyed the ones I was with.

The end gallops forward and I listened breathlessly, hands in soapy water, staring out of the kitchen window, task at hand forgotten.

A thoroughly enjoyable audio book which I am completely sure would be just as delightful to read.