Monthly Archives: March 2008

The Road – Cormac McCarthy

This book is a prime example of why I love Book Group. I would never have read a Cormac McCarthy, ok it would be unlikely rather than never, unless Matt hadn’t put this on his list of five (of which he had some other brilliant sounding books which I have been on RISI for) though I have seen ‘No Country For Old Men’ and loved it I wasn’t sure that I would read anything by the actual author of the book.

Picador Books, paperback, 2007, fiction, 320 pages, bought by myself for myself

The Road is a tale of an apocalyptic world, you are left to your own devices as to what might have caused it, a burnt America where you follow a father and son as they travel endlessly in one direction looking for the sea. On their journey they must beware of anyone as some remaining humans have become carnivores (some of the most shocking scenes in the book) searching for humans they can stockpile for flesh. The tale of the father and son on this long journey is tense and heartbreaking, they have little hope of finding food, allies or civilisation and the boy asking ‘Am I going to die today?’ was incredibly moving.

McCarthy uses his language like the landscape it’s a sparse novel to match the sparseness of the scenes in which it is set the prose stripped down like the lands upon which they walk. I can totally understand why this book has been such a huge success, it manages to effortlessly capture your fears of what could happen to the world, it’s a book set in a time of no hope, a book set in a world of fear and yet you read on. Though they are walking through endless grey and dust he tells the story in such a way that you are hooked and cannot help but read on.

I actually read this in one sitting and I have never said this of any book before but I think it’s the best way to read it. It has no chapters anyway and before you know it you’re engrossed and four or five hours have passed. This is a must read novel. I can say nothing else.



Filed under Book Group, Books of 2008, Cormac McCarthy, Picador Books, Review

Poppy Shakespeare – Clare Allan

I was determined to read this since I had seen they were filming it for channel 4 so naturally I ended up reading it just a few days before it was going to be shown and actually finishing it a few hours before the TV version. I have had the actual book on my shelves (well in my boxes) for quite a while and been meaning to read it so this has been the perfect opportunity.

The tale of Poppy Shakespeare is told by N, a day resident of the Dorothy Fish Hospital in North London. One day N is asked to look after a new patient Poppy Shakespeare who is insistent that she isn’t made and shouldn’t be there at all. Despite N thinking she clearly is mad, she sets out to not only look after Poppy but to help her convince the doctors she isn’t mad, by being really mad. Are you confused yet? Fortunately the author Clare Allan manages to put what is quite a complex story across in an easily digestible and very funny debut with seriously dark undertones. I can see why this has had such rave reviews and why Allan has been up for the Orange Award.

Allan is asking the question who is sane? Who is mad? How do we define the two? Where do they overlap? I think what I loved about the book was how real some of the characters were, I loved the fact that N had no desire to leave the Dorothy Fish and couldn’t understand why anyone would. N is a great narrator and extremely original, if you are put off by swearing just ignore it in this case as you will be missing out on a real treat. Her language is also not politically correct, she calls the patients ‘dribblers’ of which Allan herself was one and so you know the book also has that slight edge of realism whilst being quite surreal. Overall a funny, heart breaking, heart warming debut.

Sorry this is a short review… I just dont want to give anything away and also the storyline sounds much more confusing than it is and I dont want that to accidentally put you off.

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Clare Allan, Orange Prize, Review

Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin

I decided that while I was in Paris I would read a book that was based there. I had several hours to kill on the Eurostar and wanted something that wasn’t a holiday read and wasn’t a tome as I was only in Paris for 48 hours. I had bought The Hunchback of Notre Dame but didn’t think I would read it, I kind of wish I had stuck to my first thought, instead I bought the slim ‘Giovanni’s Room’ by James Baldwin. It sounded different, was a classic and apparently had once been a shocking novel in its time (1957).

It tells the tale of David a young man in Paris who far away from his family, and for a short time his girlfriend, decides to embrace his true homosexual feelings. He starts to frequent bars with a wicked friend and eventually meets Giovanni, one of the bartenders all the while knowing that one day his fiancée will be back from Spain.

What follows is a tale of lies, love and deception. David is a vile main character who’s utter selfishness leaves people in debt and ruins lives whilst breaking hearts. While I found the book quite fascinating the fact that this character was so vile made me really angry and I kept putting the book down as I was getting so exasperated, which on a nice holiday you don’t really aim for from your reading material. Sadly I think that tainted the book for me and when finished I was glad it was all over.

So yes a classic, shocking then but not some much now. I cannot fault Baldwin as an author his prose is brilliant and his descriptions of the late 1950’s Paris did stick with me as I walked around the city on several occasions. He also successfully created some very weird, wonderful and downright vile characters that stayed with me though not always for good reasons. I will be keeping this book as one day I am going to give it another go, only not when I am on holiday and trying to de-stress.

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Filed under James Baldwin, Penguin Classics, Review

Trace Memory – David Llewellyn

If you had asked me a couple of months or even weeks ago if I would ever read a Torchwood book I would have said ‘as if’ I certainly didn’t think I would have enjoyed it. However as part of work, as part of being a fan of the show and of being a fan of the author I decided that I would give a TV Book a go.

David Llewellyn has already written a novel, the great ‘Eleven’ which is a tale of the reactions to 9/11 from some office workers points of view via email. He is something of a new talent I firmly believe and has a new novel ‘Everything is Sinister’ out later this year. So onto ‘Trace Memory’ I have not read any of the other books so cannot compare it to them and am writing as if you don’t know the show.

Captain Jack Harkness is the head of Torchwood Cardiff and his team who deal with all things ‘unusual’ from fairies to aliens, from the living dead to… you get the drift. The book starts in 1950 when a cargo ship arrives in Cardiff bay its contents for the Torchwood Institute; it explodes killing all but one Michael Bellini. Cut to the present day and Michael Bellini appears in the Torchwood Vaults only that’s not all, every member of the Torchwood team has a memory involving Michael Bellini in their pasts from many different periods in time and he always looks almost the same.

If you are going to dip into science fiction then I would say this is a perfect way to start and if you are a fan of Doctor Who or Torchwood then you won’t go wrong with this novel, in fact I am sure you will lap it all up. The same applies to those of you who know nothing about Torchwood as Llewellyn gives some really good insight and backgrounds on every member of the Torchwood team. A must read for fans, a good read for anyone else.

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Filed under David Llewellyn, Review

The Surgeon – Tess Gerritsen

Now bear in mind that I was bought this book by my best friend Polly, as the perfect read for an operation. Funnily enough its not something you would actually want to read before you go under the knife, fortunately my mind couldn’t concentrate on the book what with pre-op nerves. So instead I thought I would read it when I was recovering from being ill, and I am glad I did because I think I would have cancelled my operation.

The Surgeon is my first dabble with Tess Gerritsen, only in the last year or so have I started to read more and more crime novels (it makes sense in a way as I was addicted to Sherlock Holmes in my youth) and hers are renowned for being some of the fastest paced and most gory and in what is a huge market some of the best.

Detective Thomas Moore and his partner Jane Rizzoli are called the investigators of a bout of killings in Boston, all have the same ritualistic acts of torture all are women who were on their own, all are killed in there own houses. It seems a serial killer is on the loose and with the gruesome way in which he kills his victims (think Boston’s very own Jack the Ripper) he is called The Surgeon. To add another twist or two into the works the killer seems to be linked to an old case of which the only surviving victim, medic Catherine Cordell, is now living in… you guessed it Boston. How are they interlinked and how soon until Cordell becomes The Surgeon’s latest victim?

Yes the book is gory, but it isn’t to the point you feel ill, Gerritsen clearly knows her stuff and in some bizarre way I found it quite educational. She also writes great characters Rizzoli, so focused on her job she has sacrificed a life, is smitten with Moore who is in turn smitten with Cordell so we not only have murders we have a complex love triangle. The story is also extremely fast paced, forget the tags of ‘holiday read’ and ‘page turner’ just apply thrilling and entertaining as this book really does have it all. I read it in two sittings I simply couldn’t get enough. My first Gerritsen will definitely not be my last.


Filed under Review, Rizzoli and Isles, Tess Gerritsen, Transworld Publishing

On Writing – Stephen King

Its funny how sometimes you get recommended a book and this is one that I was recommended by Stella Duffy when we met recently. Now I love it when you get authors recommendations in the book sections of all the broadsheets, being given a recommendation by an author in the flesh I would have been stupid not to have read this book as someone who wants to write. I admit I have never yet read a Stephen King novel so it might seem odd reading one of his non fiction books. I have seen all the movies made from his novels though, does that count?

‘On Writing’ is a delightful mix of memoir and hints and tips of how King feels he writes and as a million selling author how could you not want to hear his story? He gives you his rules, and that’s the important bit, this is his story and his rules he at no point preaches to you at all and that is rare in books on ‘how to write’. Its not just his techniques he discusses, what makes this such an original and interesting read is he tells you how the ideas form and where he gets his inspiration. I haven’t read any books where an author will go into that much detail and it makes it so much more insightful to writers and none writers alike.

Amongst all this King gives a personal, honest and detailed insight into the horrific accident where he was nearly killed by a drunk driver. So in the end you are getting three books, a book of ‘how you can write’, a book of funny memoirs, and the writings of a man who has been close to death and wants to live. He deals with this in a factual manner, no high drama, the facts his real feelings and nothing more or less.

It’s not a mammoth book but is fairly long, you will through it. King writes with such humour and with such an honest unpretentious voice that you feel like a friend is having a nice chat with you. Nothing is over done or over dramatised or over exaggerated its sharp and snappy.


Filed under Hodder & Stoughton, Review, Stephen King

The Room of Lost Things – Stella Duffy

Once every so often you come across a book where you just think ‘what a great idea’ and ‘how the hell did they come up with that idea?’ This is the case of Stella Duffy’s latest novel ‘The Room of Lost Things’. It is a really accomplished and human novel that tells of some of the residents of Loughborough Junction and celebrates the often forgotten ‘south of the river’ part of London. I really loved this book and not just for the real characters but for the idea of the room of lost things.

The story focuses on several characters but in particular Robert Sutton who is the keeper of the room of lost things. He runs a laundry in Loughborough Junction which he is handing over to Akeel and his wife, meaning that he is packing up and dealing with his past and not only the secrets that other people have left in their laundry, but his own demons. There are also tales of a gay commitment phobe, a nanny who is having an affair, a woman with memory loss and many more colourful but most importantly realistic characters.

The other star of the story is London and not the London that everyone knows and loves, not the tourist traps and the hustle and bustle of the West End but the more hidden parts where tubes dare not tread and in some ways you could say this is a love letter (the prose is beautiful) to a part of London that Duffy lives and indeed loves. I haven’t read any of Duffy’s previous works but I know she has written crime and though this is not a crime novel you can see how she weaves a plot dropping hints and herrings to what’s to come at the end of the book.

I was moved, I feel in love with London even more (especially as it was based on my side of the river) and I had read it before I realised it, and it just enveloped me. A wonderful book I whole heartedly recommend.

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Filed under Books of 2008, Orange Prize, Review, Stella Duffy, Virago Books

Midnight Cowboy – James Leo Herlihy

I am worried that I am having a serious problem choosing a good book so far this month. Mind you I am only seven days into March and actually this wasnt a bad book it just wasnt a very ‘me’ book. I need to work out what one of those is. I had decided to go for something different and maybe a ‘cult’ classic and Midnight Cowboy because it sounded quite different from what I would normally read, I have never seen the film, and I thought it might be a challenge. It was a challenge but one that I am glad I have undertaken. Why has no one on Amazon or Waterstones reviewed this book, a lot of people haven’t even heard of the book. I think it caused quite a lot of controversy and I could see why as some of the language and scenes are quite full on.

Joe Buck has an unhappy childhood and decides he wants to escape, so knowing he has quite a talent with the ladies decides to become a hustler. He moves from the countryside to the city where he feels that rich women will be more than happy to spend their endless cash for time with him. Its not the case and he quite often gets hustled. He falls in the with dodgy Ratso Rizzo who is a double dealing shady scoundrel, and things go from bad to worse.

It’s moving in parts and I think James Leo Herlihy is a great writer, it just wasn’t for me, I am glad I have given it a go though. It has made me want to read more of the modern American classics.

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Filed under James Leo Herlihy, Review, Simon & Schuster

Judging A Book By Its Cover (You Know You Do)

Tonight was book group which as usual was lovely though sadly Kaylord had a bad cold. The book was ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ which we all agreed (bar ME – such a bloke tut) was fantastic, if a little too long and a little too clever for its own good sometimes e.g. when Ann Boleyn says to Jane Seymour ‘I hope you die in child birth’. I mean come on, isn’t that a little contrived? We loved it though; well you know I did as I went Tudor mad for a week or so. The venue was fabulous too, it was the Café in the Crypt at St Martin’s near Trafalgar Square and the food was lovely.

As we always do (bar poorly and her man) Muffintop, Fimmy and I all went to Borders (its open until 11 hallelujah) to get the next book (Cormac McCarthy ‘The Road’) which is where my little rant will begin after I saw this…I cannot stand books with film covers. I don’t know where this small rage has started and built up and built up I just cannot stand them. The thing is I am not alone; we had been discussing ‘Chocolat’ after I was raving about the film to everyone, yet I haven’t read the book. Muffintop said ‘I nearly bought that once but it had the film cover on the front and I didn’t want Johnny Depp feeding whatserface Chocolate like it was his phallus in front of my face on the tube’. And it’s true we do care about what people think of what we are reading even subconsciously, more of that in a minute.

From a marketing perspective I can understand that people might want to be seen reading the latest movie but why with a horrid vile cover, they are always so glossy it’s sickly. But then it cant be working as people aren’t buying them like people would, as you can see from the picture they are half price, and this annoyed me even more, where as the original covered version wasn’t. That’s madness!…Back to the idea of book covers on the tube.

I randomly had this discussion when I was interviewing Brit & Alex, they had read ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ and I made a joke of bet people know I am a puff reading that on the tube with its golden swirly writing and bodices. It’s true though. I always look at what people are reading. I mean if I saw someone reading a Mills & Boon I would automatically start making assumptions about them (not necessarily bad ones – I have read a few, shush don’t tell anyone) or if I saw someone reading a mammoth book on war I would do the same.

The same goes for my bookshelves too. I want fabulous covers that make everyone want to read the books I own, not the latest Hollywood star. I know authors feel the same in fact Stella Duffy did a blog about how important the shape of the key was on her cover and what images of London to use. I have bought books based on covers before, we all have. I have also not bought books for the same reason and quite possibly missed out on some gems.

People say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but sorry in the literary sense… frankly I do! Right, rant over!

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Filed under Book Group, Book Thoughts

Then We Came To The End – Joshua Ferris

When I heard about Joshua Ferris’ debut novel ‘Then We Came To The End’ I really wanted to read it. Having worked in an office environment for the last few years I know how everyone needs to know everyone’s secrets and how everyone loves a good gossip and a good office romance. Also I had heard from other people how good it was and yes, I do fall for the Richard & Judy books, though after this that might have changed.

There is something real about this book; the problem is that there was no one with any redeeming characteristics. I don’t know anyone who would take pleasure in gossiping about someone with cancer and how would you know that about your own boss? Many people have said that Joshua Ferris is a new ‘comedy writer’ I laughed but at completely the wrong bit which concerned a woman having a breakdown after the loss of her daughter in a ball pool in McDonalds. The way it was described was hysterical, whereas it should really have been touching.

The story doesn’t centre on any particular character instead it follows almost everyone in the office, which gets a little confusing, but the inter office emails can be slightly amusing if you don’t know who the person in the story is who it came from where its going to or why they are emailing each other.

I did struggle to keep reading the book in parts particular towards the end of the book where things went into farce territory… why do some authors feel the need to do this. Also the ending is very odd and I was completely confused after that. So I guess the best way to describe this book is that the first half is very good, then sadly it all goes wrong and your very glad you came to the end.

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Filed under Joshua Ferris, Penguin Books, Review, Richard and Judy