Monthly Archives: June 2011

A Daphne Du Maurier Discovery

Though this might not be as earth shatteringly amazing as the woman who found some of Daphne Du Maurier’s lost short stories which became ‘The Doll’, I did have my own amazing Daphne Du Maurier moment the other day, well I think it’s amazing. It was all again when I was raking through the over flow of books which had been sent for an art installation. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted some taller books one of which was ‘Vanishing Cornwall’ by Daphne Du Maurier, which would have been a fabulous find in itself, this book itself was hiding some secrets…

I would have picked up ‘Vanishing Cornwell’ regardless because its Daphne nothing else needs to be said than that really. You all know I love her work. The fact this book is no longer in print and not so easy to get hold of was an added bonus. If you are like me you will love finding things in books, things previous owners used as book marks. Be they old postcards (possibly my favourite find, especially if they have a note), cinema tickets, shopping lists, etc I find it all fascinating. Well, whoever had this book before I ended up in a warehouse and then with me must have loved Daphne as much as I do as the book was filled with press cuttings about her…

Most of them are obituaries from all the broadsheet press dated April 20th 1989, the day after she died. There are also articles such as ‘Secret jealousy of the real Rebecca’ from the Observer on Sunday the 23rd of April 1989, ‘Estuary is a model for saving species’ from The Guardian June 8th 1996 which is all about ‘Frenchman’s Creek’, ‘Cornwall: A Tip of a Landscape’ which is a colour supplement from 1985 celebrating ‘Vanishing Cornwall’ as a book itself two decades on. My very favourite find though was ‘A Storyteller in a Vanishing Land’ from Living which is a huge piece on Du Maurier’s home Menabilly from 24th of May 1981… the article itself is older than me. Don’t you find that fascinating?  What more of a sign could I have that doing ‘Discovering Daphne’ was meant to be?

I do want to say here that all these books would have been pulped if they hadn’t be bought and used in the installation. So if you aren’t a fan of it let’s simply say worse things could have happened. Also bear in mind I do kind of know my books, though less my classics I admit, and I did take the very best stuff. Sorry, I just felt the need to mention that, back to things you find in books…

Sometimes I really do think you are meant to be in a certain place at a certain time and in this case I was meant to find this book and all it had in it. We can gloss over the other articles the reader had kept about the sale of a Victorian taxidermy museum can’t we? So I wondered have you ever found a book that you have been searching for ages, or didn’t even know you were searching for, and its suddenly there in front of you when you least expect it? What joyful things have you found in a book? What do you think of my find, is it fate?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Daphne Du Maurier, Discovering Daphne, Things In Books

June’s Incomings…

Yes yet another month has flown by and it’s that time when I ask for you thoughts on the books that have come through the letterbox, or snuck in hidden in my bag etc. I was thinking that it wasn’t such a bumper month and then remembered that I had been sent the TV book club titles (I’ve had to give up on ‘Moonlight Mile’ it’s just not me) then there are the Penguins I rescued and the Daphne Du Maurier discovery, oops.

So what paperbacks have come through the door?

  • My Michael by Amos Oz – unsolicited copy, but one that I am glad has arrived as I haven’t read any Amos Oz and would like to (I seem to have lots of his books) has anyone any recommendations on Oz?
  • The Elephant’s Journey by Jose Saramago – another unsolicited copy of an author I really should read, any tips with Saramago?
  • Charles Jessold Considered a Murderer by Wesley Stace – an unsolicited copy of a book that looks right up my street with its gothic murderous tones. I once started Stace’s ‘Misfortune’ and really liked it but left it on a train, got another copy but haven’t picked it up again, I must.
  • Butterfly’s Shadow by Lee Langley – unsolicited copy
  • Nimrod’s Shadow by Chris Paling – after reading ‘The Proof of Love’ by Catherine Hall and loving it so much I have been hankering after more of the ‘Fiction Uncovered’ titles. This is one.
  • Conditions of Faith by Alex Miller – this will learn me the publishers emailed me very nicely about this book, I said yes… thinking it was another book. I thought it was ‘Pure’ by Andrew Miller, oops. Never mind though, I will enjoy it none the less, well I hope I will.
  • The Reckoning by Jane Casey – unsolicited copy, and the second in the series, how annoying as it looks really good, but I like to start at the beginning.
  • The Empty Family by Colm Toibin – I am in the mood for short stories and I love Toibin so this will be read soon, also a GCP submission.
  • Days of Grace by Catherine Hall – Thrilled this has come, it seems Catherine’s publisher, editor and Catherine herself really liked how much I loved ‘The Proof of Love’ (am I stuck record about this book yet) and so her now debut novel has arrived.
  • The Skating Rink by Robert Bolano – another unsolicited copy of an author I really should read, any tips with Bolano?
  • Some Hope/Mother’s Milk by Edward St Aubyn – I asked you all if I should read him, and his publishers spotted this and so sent me all of the books you can see ‘At Last’ below. Very excited about this series, have been dipping into ‘Some Hope’ and its proving emotional and incredible.
  • Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay – I haven’t read any Jackie Kay but have always wanted to, also a GCP submission.
  • The Sacrificial Man by Ruth Dugall – This arrived and with it came guilt because I know so many people who have told me to read ‘The Woman Before Me’ and I have it and still haven’t… I will though.

Next up is those hardback and trade paperbacks lots of which I am very, very excited about…

  • The Midnight Palace by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – I liked his last young adult book ‘The Shadow in the Mist’ for its creepiness, I am hoping this one has the same feel to it. Ooh, I still havent read ‘The Angels Game’, what am I playing at?
  • The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb – interesting title and stunning cover, I think this is one of the books I am going to be reading next as it seems to have been ‘under the radar’ and I am after more books like that. Plus it’s another GCP submission.
  • Night Waking by Sarah Moss – I have already read this one; it’s another ‘Fiction Uncovered’ title and its one that will be getting lots of praise in due course. Its still got me thinking hence no sooner review.
  • The London Satyr by Robert Edric – I didn’t get on with ‘Salvage’ but this novel based in the Victorian underbelly, well that’s the gist I have got, sounds right up my street and is again part of ‘Fiction Uncovered’.
  • Rory’s Boys by Alan Clark – this comes almost screaming its praise from Sue Townsend, a GCP submission.
  • At Last by Edward St Aubyn – the whole series arrived, see above
  • Five Bells by Gail Jones – I saw Kimbofo’s review of this and so had to get my mitts on a copy. It sounds very much like my sort of book.
  • By Nightfall by Michael Cunningham – this will be my first Cunningham read and I am very much looking forward to it.
  • History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason – another book I know little about, though I think the authors debut was one everyone was talking about, a GCP submission.
  • Gypsy Boy on the Run by Mikey Walsh – unsolicited copy which I don’t know why the publishers sent me, as Hodder generally don’t, maybe it’s because it’s a novel about a gay man? Who knows.
  • Remembrance of Things I Forgot by Bob Smith – I read Bob Smith’s column/essay collection years ago so am thrilled this arrived, it’s a GCP submission.
  • Fold by Tom Campbell – unsolicited proof, I am going to look into this one a little more as initially its not sounding like my sort of thing.
  • All The Time in the World by E. L. Doctorow – I loved ‘Homer and Langley’ so much when I read it that I am really looking forward to this novel about a stranger coming into someone’s family and relationships and changing everything.
  • The Storm at the Door by Stefan Merrill Block – I still haven’t read his debut novel, I saw how much Rachel Booksnob loved this book and so was thrilled when it arrived.
  • The Watchers by Jon Steele – I asked for this one as I am was in the mood for trying something different, I am looking forward to this one a lot as it sounds a bit apocalyptic and supernatural and rather page turning, perfect summer read.
  • The Somnambulist by Essie Fox – set in the Victorian era and rather spooky sounding, how could I not want to read this?
  • Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante – I am wondering if Alice is any relation of Linda? This sounds like it’s a gripping and rather emotionally packed crime, I am loving crime fiction this year so this is an unsolicited copy I am looking forward to.
  • The Hunger Trace by Edward Hogan – Thanks to @Foyles who mentioned to S&S the publishers that I really liked Hogan’s debut ‘Blackmoor’ (reading that review shows how much my attitude to blogging has changed, ha) and Hogan is a fellow lad from Derbyshire so that adds to it.
  • Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman – This has caused some controversy I believe as a book a s a tribute to the authors dead wife, can’t seem to find much more out about it than that, has anyone else heard the furore about this?
  • Ashes by Sergios Gakas – now this will be a first, a crime/thriller by a Greek author. A book I will therefore have to give to my Greece-obsessed mother once I have finished it, not sure how she will react to all the cocaine binges that it has in store though.

Blimey typing all those books up actually makes me realise that there were a lot more than I realised, if that wasn’t enough I also received some gifts from friends and then went and bought myself some treats.

  • Read This Next… And Discover 500 New Favourite Books by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark – I saw this on Chasing Bawa, she has now reviewed it, and thought it sounded right up my street, so what a surprise when it arrived in the post as a gift from the lovely Sakura herself.
  • The Newspaper of Claremont Street by Elizabeth Jolley/BUtterfield 8 by John O’Hara – Kimbofo sent me both of these as she knows I live on a Claremont related road and also I work in the publishing industry, plus I loved the sound of it from her review. She also sent me the Riverside Readers last read, it sounded amazing and I was gutted that I missed out on it (I miss that book group so much – I am wondering if they would let me join in virtually?) and now I can give it a whirl.
  • The Rector’s Daughter by F.M. Mayor – I have wanted this forever and found it for a whopping 50p in Cambridge, Susan Hill raves about this book which makes me want to read it even more, I think it might be out of print now.
  • Mercy by Jussi Adler-Olsen – Kimbofo has a lot to answer for actually, her review of this crime thriller made me subconsciously pop it in my trolley at the supermarket. It wasn’t my fault honest… and I know, I know supermarket book buying is sent from the devil.
  • Fidelity by Susan Glaspell – I found this Persephone classic in a new very well hidden local charity shop for a whopping 30p, I know a Persephone for 30p. No idea if it’s good or not, but that didn’t matter at the time… it was 30p!

There that’s my loot this month, what lovely stuff have you had of late? Which of the above have you read and loved? Which would you like to see me reading next?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Fiction Uncovered

A Room Swept White – Sophie Hannah

I have to say that I think this year above any other, well that I can think of, is the year where my taste buds for crime novels has been, erm, criminal. I can’t get enough! I have experimented with some new authors, and had some great successes, but the last few months (maybe because I was feeling a bit ropey) have seen me turn to my favourite series of crime novels and devour the next instalment. The first of these was ‘A Room Swept White’ which is the fifth in what, unofficially or officially I am not sure, have become the ‘Simon Waterhouse and Charlie Zailer’ novels.

I did feel a slight trepidation before I started reading ‘A Room Swept White’. I have liked every book in Sophie Hannah’s ‘psychological suspense novels’ though the last one didn’t quite set me alight as I wanted. I had also done that very foolish thing of going and looking up some of the reviews by people, on a certain website, who had already read it which weren’t particularly favourable. I however thought this book, though I will admit not my favourite of the lot, was a really good thriller that had me guessing until the very end. I was left wondering if people had read a different book which had this cover on the front.

Fliss Benson is shocked when she learns that her boss has decided to give her his job when he decides to leave. What shocks her more is the fact that he has left her to carry on making the film he has been passionate for years. It’s the story of Helen Yardley, Sarah Jaggard and Rachel Hines, three women who were wrongly accused of killing their own children all with the same child protection zealot Dr Judith Duffy who was accusing them but is now herself facing an investigation for apparent misconduct. Not only is this a high profile film with a hard subject matter, its one that Fliss has been trying to avoid due to a secret lying in her very own past. This all gets much more complicated when someone kills Helen Yardley leaving a card with sixteen numbers on it, the very same numbers and in the same formation that someone has just sent to Fliss too.

I thought the premise of ‘A Room Swept White’ was incredibly strong, the whole sixteen numbers on a card had me very intrigued as did the idea of this evil Dr Judith Duffy. I was also looking forward to seeing what was doing on with the dynamics of the relationship between Zailer and Waterhouse. Weird then that I would say that these three things were not what kept me reading the book. In fact the sixteen digits only got the occasional mention and, without giving too much away, didn’t have that much relevance (for me at least) when everything was uncovered, nor really did Dr Judith Duffy. Zailer and Waterhouse were also in the book a lot less than they normally are, which I think makes this the most standalone in the series after ‘Little Face’ which is where it all starts. You would think then after all that I would be about to give the book a stinking review, no, not at all. Other things kept me reading instead.

One of the things that kept me reading was the main subject matter of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. I wasn’t sure how I was going to react to this. I found it, whilst horrifying, quite fascinating to read. Not the deaths themselves, more how people are so quick to point the finger at the mothers, not the fathers so much it seemed, after a baby has died. There is the witch hunt element of it all too. I also liked the way Sophie Hannah weaved in different mediums of writing. There was the first person narrative of Fliss, the third person narrative of the police investigation, newspaper articles, interviews, and even snippets from a biography of one of the mothers (this made me think of the recent McCann book) it was a lot of information to take in but seemed to drive the story forward. Oh and there was the mystery element too which kept you reading on, especially after the very unexpected second murder which I will say no more about.

‘A Room Swept White’ could have been a let down for me if I was only reading the book because I had been hooked in by the blurb. However, as I was reading this as a fan of Sophie Hannah’s previous novels and because I like a good crime – it worked for me overall because even though it didn’t deliver where I was expecting, it delivered in lots of other ways. Oh, apart from the last chapter which left you wondering (which I liked) and then tied up a few (rather saccharine) loose ends that I could have done without, that’s a small quibble though. I would agree with some other reviews that it’s not quite the crime that you’ll be expecting by what you are sold but that’s the marketing departments fault not the authors. What Sophie Hannah again delivers is a smart modern psychological (and the baddie is bonkers in this one) crime that touches on a very current subject, I enjoyed it and its still one of my favourite series going. 7.5/10

This book was kindly sent to me at the request of the author.

Who else has been reading this series? Which has been your favourite so far? Has anyone read the latest one ‘Lasting Damage’ and, without giving anything away, what did you think? It was strange looking back at my previous reviews of some of this series… what happened to ‘Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners’ do you think I should bring that back again?

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Filed under Hodder & Stoughton, Review, Sophie Hannah

Four Metres of Penguin Classics…

As I mentioned recently, one of my friends did an art installation involving books for a local hospital and this meant buying 4 metres of Penguin classics, from a charity shop warehouse – so the a good cause benefitted too, with the odd additional book mixed in. As they ended up only needing just over three metres of these gems I was asked if I might like to have a few for myself. Well how could I say no? The only problem was choosing which ones to take out of quite a selection…

Which went on and on…

I can’t pretend I wasn’t like a kid in a sweet shop. However after some whittling down, because literally I could have ended up taking away about 30+ of the books, and I am aware I have a lot of books already, I decided that I had to be strict. There were a few books that I simply had to have as soon as I saw them. I also allowed myself to pick a few books that just took my fancy; the only rule was that they had to be short. There was then some more whittling from the rather large amount I had picked up/pulled off the shelves…

And I ended up with just the ten copies, though four of them weren’t for me so actually just the six…

  • Noblesse Oblige edited by Nancy Mitford – this one I grabbed the second I saw it, it’s a fortune on Amazon so I was thrilled to get this with my Mitford obsession.
  • The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen – I have read no Bowen and after seeing Rachel’s raving about her I think it’s high time.
  • My Memories of Six Reigns by Princess Marie Louise – I have a copy of this already but I love this one’s simplicity more, Neil Bartlett recommended it to Savidge Reads and its readers last year. I am debating what to do with the spare.
  • Bonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan – I haven’t read much Fench fiction, and this seemed short and a little dark and possibly tragic. Maybe I am wrong?
  • A World of Strangers by Nadine Gordimer – This I picked up for Kimbofo (who won’t know it yet, surprise) as I thought she might like it – she’s probably read it but it’s a fabulous edition.
  • Where Angels Fear To Tread by E.M. Forster – I read Forster for A-Level English and the teacher put me off completely. I have heard lots about this so it could end up being the next one I try.
  • The Comforters by Muriel Spark – I was very tempted to keep this one for myself but Polly of Novel Insights introduced me to Spark and I thought she would like this one.
  • Castle Gay by John Buchan – Again a present for Polly, I know she likes and adventure, and yes – the title made me snigger too.
  • The Loved One by Evelyn Waugh – who also writes in ‘Noblesse Oblige’ interestingly, though the cover doesn’t say so, I read this a while back and LOVED it so now I have two, my other one might have to find a new home.
  • Hons and Rebels by Jessica Mitford – with my Mitford-mania you might expect this to be another one for my never ending Mitford collection. In actual fact this if for my lovely friend Dom (again, surprise) who introduced me to the wondair clan.

I think I was quite restrained, though I have been thinking of finding out the number of the charity that sell 4 metres of Penguin classics for £20 (seriously that’s all it cost) though that would be dangerous wouldn’t it. Oh and I found one more gem of a book, that one (and what I found inside it) needs a special mention all of its own. What Penguin Classic would you most love to own? Why is it that those orange covers are so appealing? What do you make of my collection and choices?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics

Books as Art…

What are people’s thoughts on books as art? I ask this as recently one of my mancunian ‘arty’ friends recently made an installation in a Liverpool hospital featuring books encased on sealed shelves in the colonoscopy ward waiting room…

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I have to admit I was thinking ‘but why not have the books able to be read by everyone instead of endless out of date issues of Heat and The Lady?’ Well apparently, both because they might get taken and some NHS rule about books, that’s just the way it is. So between the books are screens showing things you can learn while your waiting in the waiting room. I like the idea.

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So what do you think? Should books be used as art or should they just be for reading? I have to admit I was pacified more by this whole venture when my friend said after getting 4 metres of old penguin classics they had too many and would I like to riffle through and take some? More on that haul soon…

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The TV Book Club Summer Reads 2011

I realised I haven’t mentioned either the Richard and Judy Summer Reads or the TV Book Clubs summer selections. I did comment on Jackie of Farmlanebooks post about them saying if they had merged the two then it would be an ideal selection of books for me. Then a mystery parcel arrived…

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I admit I was hoping it was a huge contract offering me the opportunity of a lifetime to host a new tv show all about books, well it wasn’t but it was a bit if a book delight…

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Well… My initial reaction, on thinking ‘well I am going to have to read them all now aren’t I?’, was ‘phew, I’ve read two’. I loved Emma Henderson’s and, erm, really didn’t love Jennifer Egan’s. I’m wondering if that will be my reaction to the selection as a whole, maybe a 50/50 divide?

I’m excited by Matt Haig, unsure if starting with Camilla Lackbergs fifth book in a series is a good idea even though I’ve been wanting to read her a while, and am intrigued by Michelle Lovric because of the title ‘The Book of Human Skin’.

I can’t decide if Deborah Lawrenson’s book ‘The Lantern’, which they are discussing tomorrow (as it only came out this week they must think the audience has nothing to do but read swiftly), sounds very much like a retelling of ‘Rebecca’ which I think will either delight me or make me really cross! We will see. The other two I know little about, well apart from that the cover of Kristin Hannah’s looks nice, and the Lehane cover doesn’t compel me to read it at all. But I’ll try them all!

What are your thoughts on the selection? Would you have liked any other books featured? What about the R&J selection? Oh and keep your eyes peeled for another Summer Reading club that I will be announcing very soon, am bit overexcited!

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Purple Hibiscus – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

‘Purple Hibiscus’, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s debut novel, is one I have been meaning to read ever since I was completely blown away by her Orange Prize Winning ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’. That book really took me by surprise, I knew nothing of Biafra and the war there, I knew nothing of the author and the book (which has since become a favourite and was the title I gave away for World Book Night) before it became a choice for a book group I was in. I couldn’t put it down; it was an amazing reading experience. So funny then that it was a book group that made me finally pick up ‘Purple Hibiscus’.

With her debut novel ‘Purple Hibiscus’ Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie takes us into the heart of a family in Nigeria not long after its colonisation, though this not the focus that the book takes, though it’s always bubbling away in the background. Instead Adichie tells us a story of religion as we follow Kambili a fifteen year old girl whose father is an extremist catholic. As the book opens Kambili witnesses her brother Jaja’s defiance of her father as he refuses to take communion in church, something utterly unthinkable, enraging her father and changing the dynamics of the house hold forever.

I did think after the first initial sixteen pages that make part one of the book ‘where is the story here, we’ve got the climax of it all at the beginning haven’t we?’ Well Adichie then proceeded to remind me that to every momentous moment there is a something that triggers it off. In the case of ‘Purple Hibiscus’ Adichie hints in the opening pages that things are pretty fragile for Kambili, Jaja, and their mother, what she does in part two is take us to how things have gotten to that point. For we all know that there is a lead up to every momentous moment. In this case it is their father’s sister Aunty Ifeoma.

The household that Kambili grows up in is, for the reader, an oppressive and claustrophobic one, dominated by a father so obsessed with god and the workings of the devil that he becomes abusive at any turn. Even small things like Kambili coming second in her class leads to some form of abuse based punishment, not sexual but often painful and humiliating. For Kambili this is simply life, its as normal as the schedule, which allows for a few toilet breaks, that her daily life must follow that is until she and Jaja go and stay in her Aunties house. Only this house, whilst with a catholic belief, is one of encouragement, progression and freedom. While they may be poor compared to Kambili’s fathers mass of wealth, they are richer in many other ways. Once Kambili and Jaja have their minds opened and allowed to roam free they begin to question things and so starts unravellings of powers and beliefs.

“I lay in bed after Mama left and let my mind rake through the past, through the years when Jaja and Mama and I spoke more with our spirits than with our lips. Until Nsukka. Nsukka started it all; Aunty Ifeoma’s little garden next to the verandah of her flat in Nsukka began to lift the silence. Jaja’s defiance seemed to me now like Aunty Ifeoma’s experimental purple hibiscus: rare, fragrant with undertones of freedom, a different kind of freedom from the one the crowds waving green leaves chanted at Government Square after the coup. A freedom to be, to do.
But my memories did not start at Nsukka. They started before, when all the hibiscuses in our front yard were a startling red.”

What I found startling, and probably the most effective part of Adichie’s writing and aspect of the book which hit me the hardest, was Kambili’s acceptance of the situation at home. Yet the more I thought about it the more I realised of course she would be, she had been groomed that her fathers form of godliness and the punishment that comes if you don’t come up to those standards are the norm.

“We did that often, asking each other questions whose answers we already knew. Perhaps it was so that we would not ask the other questions, the ones whose answers we did not want to know.”

It also proves an effective device by Adichie, the initial distance she places between the reactions of Kambili and the reaction of a reader gives a reader the room to put there own emotions, shock and horror in there, while this young girl just goes on accepting it. This rather reminded me of the way Margaret Atwood writes Cat’s Eye’ actually, getting the reader to put their emotion into a void purposefully left. Will Kambili go on accepting her fathers ways for good, well of course you will have to find out, you will also have to read on to see that the climatic event you think the book will end with doesn’t at all.

‘Purple Hibiscus’ isn’t a perfect book, it could have either done with being a little shorter and some of the small tangent tales cutting out, or having those tales developed further and been much longer and more epic, the latter I think I would have loved as Adichie is immensely readable. In fact how she fitted all of this and its themes into just over 300 pages is impressive. It is a book that makes you think and one that will leave its narrator with you for some time after. 8.5/10

This is a book I have had in Mount TBR for ages.

It was hard for me not to compare this book to ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’ though I did try my hardest. I was worried I had been harder on it slightly because of my subconscious comparisons. This is where reading it for a book group was great because there were other readers who had read them in the same order as me and felt the same, and people for who ‘Purple Hibiscus’ was their first Adichie novel. The latter also felt the same, everyone seemed to like it a lot, yet they sort of wanted either less or more which I found really interesting. It proved a great book for discussion. What are your thoughts have you read ‘Purple Hibiscus’ or ‘Half of a Yellow Sun’? Who has read her short stories?

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Filed under Book Group, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Harper Collins, Review