Monthly Archives: April 2008

Darkmans – Nicola Barker

This is a really difficult book to describe as Nicola Barker has created a book unlike anything I think I have ever read before. Firstly ‘Darkmans’ is a massive novel and I don’t just mean in terms of size. It’s a massive novel in terms of the author’s vision and the host of characters that you have in the novel and in the town of Ashford as that’s where it’s set.

We are in the current day Ashford in Kent home of the Eurotunnel where weirdly people seem to be getting possessed by a medieval past, and in particular a very malicious clown, those of you who have a phobia of clowns will cope but might jump now and again. I did really jump twice and that very rarely happens to me in a book, but in parts this novel is genuinely creepy. Though the book has quite a collection of cast members whose lives intertwine and overlap, their do seem to be three main characters. Beede and Kane are a highly unconventional father and son, both have a crush on the same chiropodist who is the mother of another central character Fleet, a rather creepy child who is building a medieval town out of matchsticks and seems to know a lot about the past, this child is creepy.

There are a host of other characters the hilariously vile Kelly Broad (who I ended up loving) the ex-girlfriend of Kane, Elen the aforementioned Chiropodist and her husband and their dodgy builders, Gaffar a Kurdish refugee and a paralyzed Spaniel. It really is a crazy world that Barker has created and yet the characters are believable and human and you feel you know a few of them and may have passed the others in the street. Do not expect an ending that ties everything up though, mind you from the review so far would you be expecting one?

If I had read Dickens I would say this has a Dickensian feel to it, not that I am sure he would ever set his novels in Ashford. What I mean is from having seen adaptations there is a whole host of characters that have a whole host of their own interesting and never ending stories who all star in the book. Some of them have relevance and some of them don’t, but it doesn’t matter because you want to know all about them anyways. Slight grump from me would be the new cover, the old hardback one was spookier, and the type (sans serif) which can be hard to read. Other than that I can perfectly understand why this novel has caused a little stir of excitement in literary fields and was nominated for the Man Booker.

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Filed under Harper Collins, Man Booker, Nicola Barker, Review

A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

This was a book group choice, but one that I had been looking at and debating in every bookshop I went into after my love of ‘The Kite Runner’ which was one of my favourite reads last year. Plus it was on the Richard and Judy latest list and 90% of the time Amanda Ross seems to know a good book when she sees one. So when Katie’s choice of five was whittled to this one (that’s how we do it in our book group) I was over the moon.

I wasn’t disappointed which can be a worry after you have loved an author like Khaled Hosseini and don’t want that spell to be broken. Oh dear that sounds a little over dramatic. People have said this is ‘the female Kite Runner’ and it isn’t. I don’t want to give too much away as this spectacular novel that I found as moving as The Kite Runner and had so many more ‘oh no that cant have happened’ moments (where you have to re-read a paragraph) than its predecessor, they also start early which is why I cant really give you a massive insight into the plot I dont want to spoil it. Here’s what I can tell you…

The novel centres around two women, Hosseini here proves he is one of those men who can write women really well, Mariam who is sent to Kabul to marry the vile Rasheed, and two decades later Laila a fifteen year old girl for who tragedy strikes on more than one occasion. These two women are thrown together through adversity and what follows is an epic tale of heroines and their struggle to make a better life amongst the bloodshed and fear in a Taliban controlled environment.

This book will stay with you for a long time. I did think the ending was written for a film which I think is bound to happen and had a slightly nicely rounded off edge after several scenes that had left me in tears but that is a minor, minor point in what is seriously a fantastic book. I know people are jumping on to a band wagon of bashing these books now, however I don’t think that Hosseini is a one trick pony which I know certain critics of this second novel have been stating, I guess we will see what he comes up with next… I can’t wait.

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Book Group, Books of 2008, Khaled Hosseini, Review, Richard and Judy

The Battle For Gullywith – Susan Hill

If you don’t know by now, I am sure it will become apparent; I am a big fan of Susan Hill’s books. You will also know that I can be a big fan of some children/young adult fiction, and that I am big on getting kids to read and love nothing more than spoiling my little brother and sister with books. This was originally going to be a book for them (once I had read it to check it was suitable, not that I wanted to read it myself of course) however somehow I doubt it’s going to ever go in the post and I will just have to buy another copy for them.

This is the tale of Olly Brown a boy who is forced to move from his London home to the middle of nowhere (the Lake District) and onto Gullywith Farm. He hates it, he hates the weather, he hates the house, and he hates the creepy stones that seem to be appearing everywhere. When Olly meets KK, a girl who lives nearby, she tells him that many people feel like he does about the house and that very few ever go there, Gullywith it seems has many secrets. In the space of a summer Olly finds himself on an adventure that involves a wonderful bookshop (I wanted it to be real), bats, caves, evil stones, a stone King, the mysterious slightly crazy Nonny Dreever and some very clever tortoises.

I think I empathised with this book in particular as I moved around a lot as a kid and could understand the annoyance and hatred whenever I was moved. I didn’t get to know the characters as well as I would have liked in particular KK’s family as she was so curious and I wanted to know more. However Susan Hill has announced that she will now be writing a sequel and so I am sure I’ll read that and get to know them much better.

If your not a fan of adults reading kids books then I don’t think this review or book with really convert you, if you embrace the reading of young adult fiction then this is a highly enjoyable book that you should be adding to your shelf.

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Filed under Bloomsbury Publishing, Review, Susan Hill

Digging To America – Anne Tyler

How great is it when you have read a book that made reading seem an effort to then pick up a book that totally reminds you why you read, why you should try books you wouldn’t and in particular why you should try and author you haven’t before? Anne Tyler’s ‘Digging To America’ has done all of that in just two days. I spoke to my mother about it who said ‘oh Simon, she’s one of my favourites, I have always said you should read her’ this was news to me I just smiled down the phone in reply.

This was another of those books that someone had put in their final five at Book Group, I think it was Matt, and I had been quite interested in. Tyler’s latest novel (I am thrilled to find there are loads more for me to now readitswapit) is set in Baltimore and starts with two families awaiting the arrival of two adoptive daughters from Korea. One family is The Donaldson’s who are lead by the mother to be Bitsy (great name sums up her character and conjures up and image in an instant) one of those ‘organic amazing’ people that are hard to like but have something about them that you do like in spite of yourself, her husband the good natured Brad and Bitsy’s parents, her mother is suffering from cancer which has sort of set them all unravelling. The other family are the Yazdan’s who compile of the nervous worrier Ziba, her husband Sami and his widowed mother Maryam a complex and illusive Iranian born woman. The families gain a strange bond and the two mothers become close arranging to meet for the girls ‘Arrival Days’ each year, which oddly get more and more competitive and more and more tense as the years go by.

Seeing the changes every year was a wonderful effect and part of the story that made it different from a lot of novels that I have read. Tyler also only focused on the families in hand and their backgrounds and in making it a year between seeing each other (to start with) you have lots to catch up on and many mishaps to come. I thought this book was absolutely amazing. I thought it discussed the dilemmas that adoptive parents must face extremely well, I also thought it dealt with the themes of outsiders, belonging, old people falling in love and culture really, really well. After putting down the book I felt like I had been on a real journey although this novel is not a thriller and is not fast paced. I just thoroughly enjoyed it and it reminded me why I love reading, I hope the rest of her books will do the same?

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Filed under Anne Tyler, Book Group, Books of 2008, Review, Vintage Books

A Quiet Belief in Angels – R.J. Ellory

This book has taken me an age (ten days) to read. I know that ten days to some people may seem like a quick read, no I am not a skim reader (though with this book I almost wished I was) for me this is a long read and its sadly felt like a bit of a trudge. R.J.Ellory’s novel ticked every box when Polly had this in her five choices for a previous Book Group. We didnt choose it as someone in the group said that it would give them nightmares, fair enough!!!!???? It had mystery and murder and we all know how I have gotten seriously into crime fiction in the last year or so in particular, sadly this book seems to be another blurb of bull. I am beginning to get really sick of these.

A Quiet Belief in Angels is the tale of a town and its people pulled apart by the murders of several young girls in the 1950’s (this was the part of the book I whizzed through the setting, the pace, everything was great) and one person who sets out to find the villain is Joseph Vaughan who at the time is a teenager who has had a pretty hard time of it with several tragedies and shocks befalling him in a short space of time. Eventually all seems solved when someone is found dead having admitted to the murders, only decades later they start again, and they seem to be haunting and following Joseph Vaughan once more, why?

See from the review of the story it sounds excellent, a perfect epic mystery, a fantastic setting of 1950’s and modern day America, a murder to solve the works. So why half way was it like wading through treacle (I don’t like treacle by the way)? I actually cant answer that. I suddenly out of nowhere got incredibly bored after about page 170, and having passed the 80 page rule felt I must continue and in places it picked up pace and redeemed itself falling flat again for a hundred pages or so and then having a good ending, not a gripping one. I have seen the reviews on Amazon and it would appear I am in a very small demographic as I would give this a two or a three out of five and hundreds of people have given it full marks/stars. I guess it was just not meant to be, I just didn’t ‘get it’ and it didn’t float my boat like the lying blurb told me it would. I may fall out with Richard and Judy over this one.

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Filed under Book Group, Orion Publishing, R.J.Ellory, Review, Richard and Judy

The Kalahari Typing School For Men – Alexander McCall Smith

How can anyone not love an Alexander McCall Smith, actually I think I will change that, I haven’t been bitten by the bug of the 44 Scotland Street series after reading the first, haven’t tried the Sausage Dogs ones or whatever the series is yet, but I do want to read the second Isabel Dalhousie. Sorry I digress… How can anyone one not love a No.1 Ladies Detective Agency novel? In fact how can anyone not love the entire series?

I have just finished of the fourth and after the third being good but not as much as the last two I can safely say that he is back on form with this one (I am sure he will be so bothered by me saying that) especially as we see more of my favourite character Mme Makutsi, I know she isn’t the one the book is about and I do love Precious Ramotswe, there is just something about Mme Makutsi that I find really endearing, in this one she gets a love interest, I am getting ahead of myself.

A new detective agency ‘The Satisfaction Guarantee Detective Agency’ has opened in town and neither of the above ladies are happy, so much so that precious decided that maybe the new detective agency needs some detecting about, what results will she find and will they take all her business. Mme Makutsi worried her career may be over starts a Typing School for Men; where indeed she meets a man of her own a man almost too good to be true.

This is more of a stand alone book than its predecessors bar of course the first in the series and also slightly less ‘crime’ based than the others have been. The previous stories are summed up in the first paragraph and you could actually read this with having read the others altogether. McCall Smith is however building on the characters and if you haven’t read any of these and are like me you’ll want to read them in order anyway. Africa itself does take a slight backseat in this novel I noted. It didn’t seem as wild as before, not that it should always be the main feature it’s a nice part of the series individuality from other detective novels. Cannot wait to read ‘The Full Cupboard of Life’ though I shall try as I really don’t want to get to the end of this series… or catch up too soon.

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Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Little Brown Publishing, Review

The Oxford Murders – Guillermo Martinez

I had been bought this novel ages ago (though I can’t remember who by) and the reason that I had been put off from reading it was the fact that it was a mystery based on mathematics. I saw that the movie was coming out and that also New Books were going to do a feature on it in the next issue so I thought ‘I’ll be the masses that will read this’ as it turns out I don’t think I need have worried.

Guillermo Martinez’s debut (in the UK) novel is a tale of a Argentinean student who arrives in Oxford, within weeks of his arrival his landlady is murdered, the other person to arrive at the scene and find the body is Arthur Seldom a leading mathematician. From then on they witness more murders and Arthur receives notes in the form of mathematical symbols leading them both to the killer.

This book starts off well and is really intriguing but the dialogue is boring, the setting is slightly dull as really you don’t see Oxford at all and that could be a brilliant part of the book, and after the Da Vinci Code (which it seemed to be trying to emulate) the whole mystery fell a little flat. There was also a love interest that I never believed and in fact couldnt take to the girl at all, she was pompous and just not right. I don’t blame this totally on the author as for a start it was his debut and I think you have to be a little leniant on them, secondly it was entertaining for the first half though trying so hard to be clever I ended up so let down by the ‘thrilling ending’ that fell flat with me. I also think the translator didn’t do a great job, it seemed like they had settled for the blandest words. So overall, not my favourite book, and from the reviews of others on Amazon, and also no one has reviewed his latest book, i get the feeliong other people have felt let down by it. I don’t think I will be giving that a go either. Stick with the movie which looks much better, though actually fro the trailer I am shocked its inspired by this book, who is the cloaked figure as he isnt in the novel?

This isnt a dire book, its just not what I was hoping for. A disappointment sadly. For me it was the end that really let it down, I realised I have recommended this one to people and after some thought am not sure why.

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Filed under Books To Film, Guillermo Martinez, Little Brown Publishing, Review