Category: Review

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 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

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.

by Seth Grahame-Smith

This is my book for Book 47. A book by an author with the same first or last name as you. Zadie Smith was to easy a choice so I decided to go outside of my predictable set of authors.

And I am so glad I did.

I loved this book. It’s fun and silly and it’s not about vampire that sparkle in the daylight and want to have sex with inappropriately young people. So that was a nice change.

As I went along I googled a lot of the characters and events and it would seem this book is pretty historically sound, minus the vampire bit (probably!).

It did interest me enough to want to know more about Lincoln so I may even read a non-vampire including biography at some stage. I have seen a lot of rather annoyed reactions from Americans saying it is not cool to mess with the memory of so great a man. I say calm down. It’s just a creative, irreverent bit of fun vaguely at the expense of Lincoln but nothing that could possibly be taken seriously enough to tarnish his reputation.

It’s vampires for goodness sake!

East fun read that will make you smile and may even pique your interest in the great man.

by Maxine Case

This is my choice for Book 45: A book with a fruit or vegetable in the title.

I LOVED this book. It spans decades and tells the stories of a Dutch settler in the Cape in the 18th Century, and one of his slaves, Lena.

Geert Baardwijk is a rich man living the relatively easy life the Dutch had in the Cape. Lena is a young woman, sold into slavery by the chief of her village in Madagascar. We are led to their interactions through the telling of their individual stories.  I loved this part of the book because so few of us are aware of the lives slaves and indentured workers had before they became someone’s property. It is important that we remember and remain aware of the facts of this part of South African history.

South Africa did not start on 1652 as so many of us learnt at school. The Dutch did not sail in to rescue this land and its people from a lack of civilisation. And they only succeeded in creating a settlement through the hard work of people who hardly benefited at all.

All of this is in this book, but then so is love and guilt, emotional conflict and confusion. The characters are multi-dimensional and even ‘bad’ acts can be seen in the light of the times. Weak people do not go against society regardless of how they feel. And strong people will always survive.

This book also looks at love and betrayal, expectation and ownership. It is just full of wonderful themes and in the middle of all of that, delivers an interesting history lesson too.

As a South African I think this book is so important. While Case acknowledges that she could find record of Baardwijk quite easily, there is no record of Lena. This in itself is so telling.

As a result, Lena’s story is not the story of a specific slave but the story of so many. Lena is a character in Case’s family history but the journey she took to land up where she did was a journey similar to that forced upon so many people.

Every South African should read books like this to realise the depths of the system we are trying to move past. When white South Africans say it’s been 25 years, get over it – I wish they remembered that 300 years ago one set of our ancestors was buying and selling the ancestors of other members of the population.

A wonderful book on so many levels. Just beautiful.

by John Green and David Levithan

This is my book for one written by two authors – Book 18

What a wonderful book that left me grinning and feeling fabulous. It’s a YA book I guess, in that the characters are teenagers, but I don’t read much YA so I am not sure if that’s the criterion.

Anyway, the titular Will Graysons are two teenager boys with the same name who tell their own stories, each written by a different author.

Each chapter is a different boy’s story and the reader sees their lives rolling out until they collide. And when they do it is simply marvellous.

The supporting cast of characters are wonderful and the kind of people you wanted to know as a teenager. Their lives are messy and complicated but ultimately positive, like those of most teenagers.

The characters were believable as teenagers even as they dealt with some pretty grown up stuff – mental health, sexuality, loneliness, love, friendship, betrayal and musicals!

This book is about love and friendship, and song and forgiveness. It’s an absolute delight that I read over two days, ignoring all my chores and other responsibilities.

5 stars all the way!

by Bret Easton Ellis

This is my anti-hero book for the book challenge – Book 9

And boy is Bateman ever an anti-hero.

So much has been written about this book I think the only valuable comment I could make is my emotional reaction to it

It made me sad. Really really sad. Mostly for Bateman but also for all the invisible interchangeable people in the society.

I did the expected and predictable eeeeuw and shudder when reading some of the scenes, and I really was bothered by the casual abuse of animals but still, my over-riding emotion was not disgust or horror, but sadness.

All Bateman wanted to do was connect, to be seen and to see. And of course he was off his bloody rocker in a very real and scary way – but the vulnerability under his violence is what continues to haunt me, rather than his violence.

Even his obsession with what people wore waned towards the end of the book, growing less detailed.

The scene in the Hamptons made me want to weep for him – he says he tried so hard to be normal, to do normal things like play tennis and hike – and then ate scavenged sea life in the middle of the night. No one doing that is having fun – that’s a horrible internal torture.

What happens to a little boy that he turns into Patrick Bateman?
And how does a society exist in which people like him get lost in the mass of humanity? No one listened to him – and he told everyone over and over again.

It’s not fantasy to have people fall so completely through the cracks of society – it happens all the time. How much do we not listen to the cries of help from others because it may interfere with our lives?

Is one madman to blame or are we all, as members of society?

This book has really disturbed me but not for the reasons and in the way I expected from reading other reviews and comments. I am sad and ashamed of society for all the real Batemans who never are seen or helped until their lives spiral out of control and into deaths.

A most profound book.