The twice-yearly Buzz Books has now extended to twelve issues a year by publishing a monthly edition. While this is less exhaustive than the half-yearThe twice-yearly Buzz Books has now extended to twelve issues a year by publishing a monthly edition. While this is less exhaustive than the half-yearly edition, it is easier to assimilate as there is a more accessible number of books. I loved the previous version of Buzz Books but I tended to get about half way through and then get distracted. Now I can complete each one in a reasonable period of time.
There were some great books in this January edition. The ones that caught my attention were Selection Day by Aravind Adiga, The Fifth Petal by Bruonia Barry and a new book by Chris Bohjalian, Conviction. In the non-fiction section I was immediately drawn to How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen by Joanne Faber and Julie King. As a new grandmother, this sounds like a must-read!
Thanks to Buzz Books for keeping us in the publishing loop....more
Nope, going to abandon this. So, in my quest to update my reviews, here is another abandoned, one star book. Why didn't I enjoy it as much as the majorNope, going to abandon this. So, in my quest to update my reviews, here is another abandoned, one star book. Why didn't I enjoy it as much as the majority? I actually made two attempts to read this, for two separate book groups - that's how popular this book was when it came out, five years ago. I was surprised to find I wasn't the only one for whom this book just didn't work, there were others in my book groups who also struggled with it and this is reflected in its average star rating.
I only managed 10% and everyone's watched the film, so I won't rehash the story. As I remember from so long ago, there were two things that I disliked about the book. Firstly, I found the writing pretentious and whiny. I was still kind of going with it at this stage, but when the woman's voice came in, with her awful language, well, life is too short for such a book, in my opinion. Then, when I heard that after struggling through it, the ending would be a let-down, I officially put it into the 'abandoned' pile. I'd be curious to see the film, perhaps, just to complete the cycle, maybe......more
This is a difficult book to review because I'm not sure if the confusion I felt while reading this was due to the author's writing, or translator erroThis is a difficult book to review because I'm not sure if the confusion I felt while reading this was due to the author's writing, or translator errors. There were several times where I wasn't sure which character was being referred to and even a re-read didn't always clarify the question. Considering the blurb above says "In the unsparing clarity of his writing", I suspect this was caused by the translation.
Ignoring the issues I had, this was an interesting read, very close to the bone at times. Life was cheap, yet each of these characters is close to our hearts and we're not ready to part with them. The 'Men in the Sun' are unfortunate Palestinians, forced from their country and without means to help their families. They take the ultimate risk and join the floods of immigrants to Kuwait, where they believe that work and riches await them. The journey is treacherous and they must put their lives in the hands of strangers. Three such men travelling on the roof of a tanker give rise to the title.
'Men in the Sun' is the main story, but there are some shorter stories towards the end, along a similar vein. Books like these are important for raising awareness; no-one should have to suffer such deprivations because another people has taken that which was not theirs. I wish I could give four stars but sadly, the confusion marred an otherwise fascinating read....more
Gallivanting around Europe. This was a book club read that I started with reservations. Although I had previously read and enjoyed three of Alan TitchmGallivanting around Europe. This was a book club read that I started with reservations. Although I had previously read and enjoyed three of Alan Titchmarsh's novels, I was worried that this was going to be more of a rehash of David Nicholl's 'Us'. However, while both centred around a guy touring Europe, they we actually quite different and I have to say I enjoyed this. Only the end, as sort of epilogue to the tour, grated with me and I felt the story would have been stronger without it.
Timothy Gandy suddenly finds himself with no job and no wife. So what better to do than the travel that he had longed to do for many years? Inspired by the Grand Tour of previous centuries and armed with old writings and a guide-book dated 1904, he heads towards France and Italy in search of....adventure?
I couldn't help but picture Alan Titchmarsh, himself as Timothy Gandy, he is just too well-known a face. But even that added to the narrative in a way. It's a very easy-read style, almost chick-lit, but I could quite see how the shy traveller could shake off his reservations in a new environment and meet some interesting characters along the way.
Add it to your summer beach reads :)
Also read: Trowel and Error - Memoir (3.5 stars) The Last Lighthouse Keeper (5 stars) Only Dad (4 stars)...more
I discovered this as an in-flight audiobook on a recent long-haul trip, and passed a few happy hours with James Bowen and his loyA cat with character.
I discovered this as an in-flight audiobook on a recent long-haul trip, and passed a few happy hours with James Bowen and his loyal cat. I'm only sorry that it must have been abridged, as the full length audiobook is 6 hours in total and it was considerably less than that. I do have it as an e book so I hope to make up the missing chapters at some point in the future. However, on the assumption that I got the best bits, this was a great listen, not just for the story of James and Bob, but also for the insights into the struggle of life on the streets, trying to make a living as a busker and later as a Big Issue seller.
When we meet them, James has just been allocated a flat in sheltered accommodation, and he spots a sick looking cat on the doorstep of a neighbour. After checking with the neighbour that it isn't his cat, he takes it in to feed and care for it. He used the very last of his money visiting the vet and buying food and antibiotics for the cat, but karma was certainly watching out for him because he found himself earning three times as much with Bob at his side. Even though James tried to let Bob go back into the wild, Bob had other ideas and has since travelled round London on James's shoulder.
James Bowen has at least eight books out, for both adults and children, and his author bio says that he now dedicates his time to helping numerous charities that involve homelessness, literacy and animal welfare. There are several videos on You Tube about him, plus a film recently released....more
This is the first Amanda Prowse book I have read since Poppy Day, her debut novel. At the time I thought the story a biFighting the evils of anorexia.
This is the first Amanda Prowse book I have read since Poppy Day, her debut novel. At the time I thought the story a bit far fetched but the author's writing was excellent. I was thrilled to receive this copy from NetGalley and to get an opportunity to see how her writing had changed over the last five years.
This is the story of one perfectly ordinary, happy family, whose life is shattered by anorexia in one of the teenage daughters. While it paints an excellent picture of this devastating disease it also shows the effect of the illness on the sufferer's family. I suspect these reactions would be similar for other debilitating diseases too.
I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but there were a few aspects that I struggled with. As mentioned by other reviewers, Freya's insistence that Lexi stay at home with her, rather than getting the hospitalisation that she so desperately needed was infuriating. I jarred at the frequent use of the phrase 'my little girl' and the ending was, well, quite frankly, missing. I can't say more about the ending without giving too much away but unless the arc is different to the final copy, there seemed to be at least five chapters missing before we jumped to the epilogue.
I felt a lot of sympathy for Charlotte, Lexi's older sister, who was seriously overlooked in the fight to get Lexi to eat, and the relationship between Freya and her husband, Lockie was interesting too, and quite believable.
Amanda Prowse is one of the most prolific authors currently writing novels. In the five years since Poppy Day she has penned 16 novels and 6 novellas, which is pretty incredible. Maybe a little longer spent on The Food for Love would have earned it five stars but it's still a book I'd recommend....more
Not all books suit all readers and I have decided that this one is not for me. I was reading it for a book group,I have decided to abandon this one :(
Not all books suit all readers and I have decided that this one is not for me. I was reading it for a book group, but as I have discovered that I am not going to be able to make the discussion, it is with some relief that I have decided not to continue. By my definition, an abandoned book gets only one star, so my apologies to Ms Groff, nothing personal.
So, what was it about this book that I didn't like? I made it to 9% and in fact the first chapter started out reasonably well, with the newly-weds consummating their marriage on the beach - but already I'd decided I didn't like the author's comments slotted in by way of brackets. I've come across this technique before and it really turns me off a book. Then the second chapter, Lotto's backstory, suddenly went really staccato in style, more of a series of notes than a novel, and this was where the book lost me. In addition there were a few questions raised, such as why didn't the headmaster question why Lotto was wandering round in the night (loc 450) and who was the 'he' referred to as sitting in on classes - Chollie or Lotto?
I'll be interested to hear the views of my book group but I'm moving on....more
Bryony Gordon is on a mission; she is determined to get mental health issues out into the open so they can be discussed andAn eye-opening confession.
Bryony Gordon is on a mission; she is determined to get mental health issues out into the open so they can be discussed and accepted. Having suffered with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) for many years, along with the other conditions it has caused, Bryony recognises that the default position is to brush such issues under the carpet where they breed and fester. She believes that bringing them out into the open will allow people to receive treatment before things go seriously downhill. Bryony Gordon is a popular columnist for Britain's Sunday Telegraph newspaper, which enables her to get her book recognised where a lesser name, with the same problems, might struggle.
She admits that even she has hidden her problems wherever possible. Developing OCD at the age of 12, she went on to suffer from Bulimia, Alopecia, Depression, Alcoholism and drug dependency - yet her first book, The Wrong Knickers, made no mention of these issues. Now in her thirties, married with a young daughter, she has written a revealing memoir that she hopes will help other sufferers to recognise and treat their conditions.
For me, there were some eye-openers, particularly that OCD could be quite so debilitating. Not just a matter of double checking that the house is locked, but repeating mantras to protect her family and even bringing the iron to work in her handbag to be sure it wasn't still on. The episodes of heavy drinking were upsetting to read, but the way she fell so easily into drug dependency was frankly shocking. Now as a young mum she must be worried that her daughter doesn't go the same way.
The book is typically self depreciating, written in a very British style, with humour and honesty. I think this is its niche market. Our book group are not all British and it wasn't as well received as its Amazon star ratings might suggest. The author is coming to our Literary Festival in March and it will be interesting to see how she is received....more
So, my initial thoughts prior to the discussion in two days time: This book is about a guy who is having some sortMental health issues in 1960s Egypt.
So, my initial thoughts prior to the discussion in two days time: This book is about a guy who is having some sort of a break-down. If it happened in this day and age he would be considering going to a shrink rather than a GP, he certainly had the money to do so. Apparently there are a lot of political allegories and this is what I hope will be clarified at the book group as I don't know a lot about Egyptian politics at the time. I really felt for his friend Othoman who has been in jail for 20 years and is horrified to see how complacent his friends have become while he was away. I also felt for his wife, Zeinab, who had been rejected by her Christian family when she decided to marry a Muslim.....and his daughter.....in fact everyone except Omar, the protagonist. He needed help, true, but he just couldn't appreciate the destruction he was leaving in his wake.
Edit: (8th Jan) - I just found a review in Amazon US by 'Gio', who proposes that "Omar.... is a stand-in for the author in asking those questions: what is worthwhile? does God exist? if so, what is He? what do I do now, having done nothing of worth so far? what would it be like to be truly happy? why do I care so much about happiness?" This makes a lot of sense to me, so many books are in some way semi-autobiographical, why shouldn't Naguib Mahfouz do the same thing?
Book group discussion tomorrow..... Well, firstly, I didn't get much clarification regarding the political allusions. There was suggestion that his friends represented aspects of Egyptian life - Mustafa as the reasonably contented TV journalist, Othoman as the zealous objector, Omar himself as the dissatisfied well-to-do lawyer who would have preferred to follow his artistic talents. Secondly, for such a thin volume there seemed to be an awful lot of differing opinions about the book.
*possible spoilers ahead* Omar in his desperation turns to promiscuity but his improvement is short-lived. Then he feels brief happiness in a startling sunrise; finally he abandons his old life completely to live a hermit-style existence.
A rather strange novel that definitely benefited from being able to discuss it with others....more
"Blows were part of life; they were the price of perseverance."
Having previously read two of Yasmina Khadra's books, I knew this was not going to be c"Blows were part of life; they were the price of perseverance."
Having previously read two of Yasmina Khadra's books, I knew this was not going to be cheerful reading, but as the author is attending our literary festival in March, I decided this was a good opportunity to read his latest book.
It is set in Algeria between the two world wars, during a time of colonial rule. It was quite an eye-opener to realise that the native Arabs were quite so low in this artificial caste system and in their own country, at this time.
Turambo's village had been washed away in a landslide, many of its inhabitants lost and all the animals dead. He moved to the city with his mother, aunt and teenage uncle, who became head of the family, being the oldest male. They were cripplingly poor but managed to scrape enough together by baking. Turambo tries to get work but he was not very successful - what he was good at though, was boxing. Originally used in self defense, a talent scout saw him in action and offered to train him in his gym. Thus Turambo rose to fame - but still he was just a pawn in someone else's game, racism, it seemed, affected even the famous.
The end of the book, which explains how Turambo came to be in prison facing the guillotine, was not what I'd expected and I'm still not sure what I feel about this ending - other than very sad :(
I found myself reading this at the same time as Yalo by Elias Khoury, both books had a young man imprisoned and going back over how they'd arrived at this point, one in Algeria, the other in Lebanon, so I put this one down to concentrate on Yalo. I'm glad I did, as reading the two together was confusing, and this was by far the better read for me.
Also read: The Swallows of Kabul (4 stars) The Attack (4 stars)...more
This would have been a nice read before Christmas, but what made it special was the excellent narration by the indomitabAudio-book read by Stephen Fry
This would have been a nice read before Christmas, but what made it special was the excellent narration by the indomitable Stephen Fry. It is Matt Haig's story of how Father Christmas came to be, complete with morals, as all good children's stories should be. If I'm honest, it's not really a cross-over adult book, but I enjoyed it to get me in the mood for 25th December :) What the audio version lacked were Chris Mould's fantastic line drawings, that are in the paper version, and which I'm sorry to have missed.
Nikolas lives with his father, a wood cutter, in a small wooden cottage. They live hand-to-mouth until Nikolas's father is given the opportunity to go on an adventure to prove that elves exist. Nikolas is left with his horrible aunt, who takes his bed and kicks him outside to sleep in the cold. Nikolas reasons that he has nothing to lose and everything to gain by attempting to follow his father's footsteps and hopefully find him. So it is that he and his pet mouse set off into the snow towards the North Pole and the fabled land of the elves.
Of course there are adventures on the way, an injured reindeer and lots of baddies. A great book to share with your children before Christmas. Oh, and then there's A Girl Called Christmas, also narrated by Stephen Fry and illustrated by Chris Mould - that's going to be a difficult decision!...more
This is a strange book, where all is not as it seems. Not quite to the extent of Alice in Wonderland, but in a similar, less extremeMagic and mystery.
This is a strange book, where all is not as it seems. Not quite to the extent of Alice in Wonderland, but in a similar, less extreme vein. There is some beautiful, almost poetic writing and the characters feel like players in a period piece, such as Jane Eyre.
In the opening scenes we meet Mr Crowe, whose behaviour is particularly heavy-handed and who sets in motion a series of events that he appears to have very little control over. His manservant, Eustace is left to pick up the pieces and attempt to minimise the damage, but eventually, Crowe is called to account by the creepy Dr Chastern and his nasty sidekick, Nazaire.
Several questions are left unanswered, such as who really was Mr Crowe? He appears to be an elderly (centuries old?) author of sorts, who has lost his motivation and now spends his time in a rambling old house with a woman who he picked up at a night club. Two other people live with him - his mute ward, Clara, who also possesses mysterious powers, and the devoted Eustace.
Eustace has his own backstory but this part I found less captivating. Ditto Clara's captivity, both of which form the second part of the book. I would have liked Clara to have had some backstory too. The ending was unfortunately a bit rushed, though maybe the author had backed himself into a corner by this time. For me it was the magic and mystery of the first half of the book that earned this novel its four stars.
I don't think I would have enjoyed this story so much if I'd read it in hard copy but I was listening to an Audible version, which was beautifully narrated by Mike Grady and Imogen Wilde. My only niggle with the narration was that Ms Wilde did not have enough variation in her voices and so Nazaire sounded very much like Arabella....more
I was after a bit of Festive reading for December and this little story certainly provided that, but I hadn't realised that these cChaos at Christmas.
I was after a bit of Festive reading for December and this little story certainly provided that, but I hadn't realised that these characters would be old friends if I'd previously read A Recipe for Love, and I think that would have made a huge difference. It wasn't that it didn't hold its own as a short story, but there's something really special about reconnecting with characters from previous books.
My goodness, I have to hand it to Fenella, she seems to be able to cope with whatever Christmas throws at her. She already has two young children and is prepared for Christmas with two other couples, plus babies, but then she welcomes her (awful) in-laws to join them.. AND the family staying in the cottage that she's keeping an eye on for a friend, and by the end I'd lost count of the number of guests she was hosting! OK, one of her guests is a chef and that helps, but even so.....oh, and I forgot the teenager who is there to help with the children, and a Frenchman who is home alone over Christmas.....I'd have been out the door and down the local pub!
On the downside, this is only 65 pages (if it were in print, which it's not) and I didn't really have time to get to know the characters very well. I think I'd chose a full length book another time, but that's just a personal preference. Merry Christmas....more
"Life is an adventure, not a walk. That's why it's so difficult."
This book reads very much like a memoir and I had to check back to convince myself th"Life is an adventure, not a walk. That's why it's so difficult."
This book reads very much like a memoir and I had to check back to convince myself that it was a novel, but the author writes from first hand experience with his own autistic son and it therefore has a very authentic feel. The other reason I connected with this novel was that Alex, the father of Sam, an autistic boy, finds a bond with his son through Minecraft, an on-line computer game that was played by the three boys who I child-minded for many years.
Alex had avoided the issue of his troubled son by spending long hours at work, convincing himself that his responsibility to the family was to bring home the money. When the stresses between himself and his wife reach breaking point, she asks him to move out for a while and to get some psychological help. Suddenly he is sharing a small flat with his childhood mate and his world has fallen apart.
The author does an excellent job of describing the issue of autism for those without first-hand experience - "He has trouble with language, he fears social situations, he hates noise, he obsesses over certain things, and gets physical when situations confuse or frighten him." He wears "special T-shirts with all the linings and stitchings masked so he doesn't feel it on his skin." Although I knew a bit about autism, I realise that there was still a lot I hadn't grasped.
Despite the more serious issues, I loved the author's sense of humour - " 'Daddy', says a voice from downstairs. 'Some of the Coco Pops have got out.' " and I had to relate to - "Ikea, I now have a rickety single bed, rather than an air mattress. I also have a lamp (because you never come away from Ikea with just the thing you went in for) and a cheap rug that generates enough static electricity to power the lamp."
Members of my book group were less enthusiastic than me about this book and had some valid reasons why, but my ratings depend on my own enjoyment and I thoroughly enjoyed this. Even just judging from the number of highlights I made as I read! 4.5 stars from me....more
I cannot believe I am still reading this book! (Nearly a month later). It churns and churns, repeating itself endlessly, maybe adding a little more detI cannot believe I am still reading this book! (Nearly a month later). It churns and churns, repeating itself endlessly, maybe adding a little more detail with each telling. And the torture, I hate reading about torture; maybe I have my head in the sand but it distresses me that people can be so cruel to each other. Mind you, the main character isn't much better, he may be a product of the Lebanese Civil War, but he's a nasty piece of work too - a rapist who doesn't even realise that what he's doing is rape.
What I'm finding truly fascinating is that, by chance, I have two different translations and I keep swapping between the two. Humphrey Davis's version is very much more poetic, it has more of an Arabic feel to it, while Peter Theroux seems to write for a more Western audience, less flowery but sometimes too direct. I'd struggle to say which version I prefer and I'm definitely spending too much time comparing them.
Just under 100 pages to go and I guess I'm going to struggle through to the end now. The book group has been and gone, so I'm just doing this for myself(?!). I need to know how Yalo will end up, though I can't say I really care if he meets a grisly end.......
16th December and I finally finished. It didn't get any better, although someone from the book group promised me it would. If Elias Khoury's intention was to highlight the fate of the lost children of a generation, then I'm sure he would have benefited from taking the chance to spend more time with his characters actually on the streets. It seems to me that this endless repetition of Yalo's story just wastes the opportunity of having someone concentrate on your book. I'm assured that Khoury's book 'Gate of the Sun' is a wonderful read, but I think it'll be a while before I come back for more of this. 2 starts just because I finished....more
I enjoyed Jessie Burton's first book, The Miniaturist, and couldn't wait to read her new novel, The Muse.Dual time periods and a fabulous painting ...
I enjoyed Jessie Burton's first book, The Miniaturist, and couldn't wait to read her new novel, The Muse. Both were enjoyable reads but I did miss the magical realism element from The Miniaturist, while The Muse had a more satisfying ending.
The Muse is split between two time periods, Spain in 1936 and London in 1967. The Spanish Civil War is brewing when teenage Olive Schloss arrives with her German art dealer father and English socialite mother. They move in to a fabulous old Spanish finca and are immediately approached by Isaac Robles and his sister, Teresa, who are searching for work. I loved these complicated characters and they effectively created a link to the approaching war. Olive is an accomplished artist but her father is unaware of his daughter's talents and so it is Isaac Robles who he encourages to paint. One painting from this era finds its way into the 1960s story and to the Skelton Gallery, but its history is unknown and its provenance questionable. Is it a valuable missing gem from the past and if so, how did it find its way to the gallery??
Thirty years later, Odelle Bastien and her friend, Cynth, have left Trinidad and come to London to find work and improve their fortunes, but so far, a job in the Dolcis shoe shop is the best they have achieved. Then Odelle stumbles into a job as a typist in the Skelton Art Gallery and she realises that she has fond her niche. Her boss, Marjorie Quick is a fascinating and elusive character who Odelle longs to understand, while Quick, in her turn, takes Odelle under her wing and eventually confides in her.
The narrative weaves effortlessly between the two eras and drew me in with several unanswered questions. This is the type of book that always holds my attention, but The Muse had the added advantage of being beautifully written too. If you enjoy dual era, historical novels I'm sure this one will be a great read for you too....more