Tag Archives: Books of 2008

Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

So after leaving book group (I know shocking) myself and Polly have started ‘Rogue Book Group’ in which we only read books that we both already own or read the books that have been recently made into films and then watch the movie. Oddly this is how the previous book group started with ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ so it seemed write to do it again and start with Brideshead Revisited especially as we both wanted one of the fabulous old covers as shown. See sometimes you should judge a book by its cover.

Charles Ryder is a bit of a misfit, he doesn’t seem to have a particular place in school society until he starts at Oxford and meets Sebastian (a grown man who carries a bear everywhere he goes) someone who is he warned to avoid. Soon the two of them have become the thickest of friends with an added certain tension in the background. Before long he is invited to meet Sebastian’s family at Brideshead. There he meets Sebastian’s mysterious and enticing sister and his domineering mother, the fabulous, Lady Marchmain. He also discovers the catholic undercurrent that rules everyone in the families lives some for good most for bad. Before long he is embroiled in the entire goings on at Brideshead and a tug of war for his attentions from the siblings. It doesn’t sound as thrilling as it is, seriously its brilliant.

I loved Evelyn Waugh’s tone and prose with his writing and I didn’t think I would, it was stunning I think one of the best written books I have ever read. I wasn’t expecting humour in the novel yet the scenes between Charles Ryder and his father were absolutely hilarious. In equal measure this book is filled with venom (Lady Marchmain) and sadness and it all mingles into what I think is one of my favourite ‘classics’ – hoorah, a classic that deserves its hype.

Sadly neither myself nor Polly had finished the book before we saw the movie (which is very good despite reviews saying the contrary) and therefore when I was reading the final third of the book the characters I had visualised clashed slightly with the ones in the film but didn’t ruin it by any means. What I found shocking was not the relationship between Sebastian and Charles but the obvious contempt for Catholicism Evelyn Waugh had, religion really ruined and tortured some of the characters in this novel and back when the book came out I can imagine a lot of people had issues with that.

A beautifully written incredibly deep and dark tale which is delivered subtly and I just thoroughly enjoyed, I know I will read this again.

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Filed under Book Group, Books of 2008, Books To Film, Evelyn Waugh, Penguin Classics, Review

Body Double – Tess Gerritsen

After a few ropey classics I have decided to start October with one of my favourite authors of the moment Tess Gerritsen. It is great to know in a world filled with so many books and the possibility of so many let downs (and yes so many gems) that you can pick up a book and just know the time will whizz by and you will be hooked and lost in another fictional world.

‘Body Double’ has just done exactly that and I think in all honesty that it’s my favourite of Gerritsen’s books so far and that is saying something. Whereas the previous books have in general focused on Jane Rizzoli this one is much more about ‘Queen of the Dead’ pathologist Maura Isles who has been sneakily becoming a bigger and bigger character in the series as it has gone on. You can read these books in any order; I am just a bit funny about reading things in order. I digress, the story…

Maura Isles has been on holiday after her previous horrific adventure with Jane Rizzoli. When she arrives back from ‘vacation’ she finds the police surrounding her house and a dead woman in a car outside, when she see’s the dead woman she sees herself and they share a birth day and the same blood type. In fact when the DNA tests come in Maura finds that the woman in the car was her twin sister given away when they were both adopted. Maura goes in search of her sisters past and finds it’s full of dark and deadly secrets.

Gerritsen is amazingly clever in firstly coming up with such a clever, warped and dramatic story and secondly in pulling it off. What seems so unlikely is made completely believable once the story of the past of these twin sisters starts to come to light and also it’s incredibly creepy. This is less of a gore fest than its predecessors also and I have to say is slightly better for it, you still get quite a lot of facts and some of them quite squeamish when the autopsies are performed to various cadavers.

Plot is one of the key element, like Christie (but much gorier) the prose is fast and blunt rather than flowery but the plot is tight and you can devour a five hundred page book in one sitting. I am a complete Gerritsen fan, and while I could quite happily move straight onto ‘Vanish’ I have decided to savour the moment and leave off, I don’t want to finish this series before the new one is out do I?

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

One Good Turn – Kate Atkinson

Normally when you love a book you race through it, however with Kate Atkinson’s second novel featuring retired detective and private investigator Jackson Brodie ‘One Good Turn’ is one of those novels that you just have to savour and enjoy every second of. The tale starts quite a while on from ‘Case Histories’ its predecessor however you don’t need to have read another Brodie to enjoy this and indeed enjoy it you will.

It’s Edinburgh Festival and people are queuing to see a lunchtime show where most everyone becomes a witness to a serious act of road rage which almost becomes murder. Atkinson then takes us on a journey alongside some of the people that witness the event and whose lives change because of it.

Two of my favourites were Martin the writer of some crime novels featuring heroine Nina Riley which he writes under the pseudonym Alex Blake a character far more masculine and witty than Martin himself who people either see as being gay or a bit of an old woman in a mans body, but he has a much deeper story than originally meets the eye.. Gloria a middle aged lay who discover her husband is in a coma from an escapade with a dominatrix, we watch as she happily adjusts to being a widower before her husband is even dead.

Brodie also witnesses the event but thinks nothing of it as he is trying to have a blissful holiday while his girlfriend (who so sums up some real life frustrated actors I have met) is working in fringe theatre at the festival. However on a trip to an island he finds a body a body that then disappears and Brodie becomes a suspect of a ‘phantom’ murder. As a suspect he then reluctantly yet somewhat excitedly decides to find the real killer and this takes us on a journey that draws along the stories of the characters above plus a washed up comedian, and the investigator of the cases single mother Louise who has a strange chemistry with Brodie also. It gets complex but Atkinson makes it simple and also very funny.
So far this has been my favourite Atkinson novel; the subtitle ‘A Jolly Murder Mystery’ is spot on however shouldn’t dumb it down. Atkinson with this book has shown not only can she make the most amazing and believable flawed funny characters but she can make an amazing plot. This book is a must read and seriously competes for best book I have read this year so far, stop reading this and go and buy it now!

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Filed under Books of 2008, Kate Atkinson, Review, Transworld Publishing

The Pursuit of Love – Nancy Mitford

My first Nancy Mitford novel to read has had a lot of pressure upon it to be good. Everyone I have mentioned it to who has read it has commented on how fantastic it is and also I came away from the letters of the Mitford Sisters earlier this year with a real fondness for Nancy and her humour. Happily I can say that her humour and personality shine brightly through this novel. I was also pleased to see that though yes indeed if you know the Mitford’s and their family history then yes you can see it reflected in this work, but its also accessible for anyone who has no idea who the Mitford’s are at all and just want to read a great and extremely funny book.

The Pursuit of Love tells of Linda and her pursuit of that exact thing, all told by her cousin Fanny. It starts of back in their childhood when Fanny came to live with them after her mother ‘Aunty Bolter’ has run off with yet another man (hence her nickname) and how she copes in a house run by the blunt and endlessly shouting Uncle Matthew. After that it’s a tale of ‘debuts’, dances, dalliances and doomed marriages as Linda tries to find ‘true love’ a thought she originally feels she could only have for the Prince of Wales.

What are wonderful in this book are the characters, and that fact that though there is one main story line with Linda there are also wonderful short stories of others interwoven. It’s also an interesting and funny insight into society and class in those times and also Nancy’s own way of looking at her childhood and family. Quite clearly Linda and her constant crying in childhood (which almost made me cry with laughter) and beauty and dizziness in adulthood is a mixture of Nancy and her sisters. Uncle Matthew who flies into rages, cries at Romeo & Juliet ‘why did they have to die, the silly fools’ and hates foreigners even though he’s only every been to France is easily their father. There are also some other wonderful characters like Lord Merlin who gives Rodin pictures, houses and cheques for £20,000 without a thought who reflect certain society members.

My only gripe with this book has been the cover, I just think its wrong for a few reasons, however I shalln’t open that can of worms right now. This must become a classic, I am shocked in a way that it hasn’t officially, instead it seems to be a cult classic with many authors naming either this or ‘Love In A Cold Climate’ as one of their favourite books. I really enjoyed it and on several occasions laughed out loud. A truly glamorous, witty collection of fantastic characters, and their colourful tales, if you haven’t read this you should!

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Filed under Nancy Mitford, Penguin Books, Penguin Classics, Review

Gold – Dan Rhodes

I love a freebie and the latest Dan Rhodes novel ‘Gold’ was one I picked up for free in a coffee shop, which must do some promotions with publishers, in Angel after a book group meeting a while back. Randomly they were shutting so we got the books and left, the waiters didn’t mind apparently they were disappearing like ‘God Dust’ we got the joke but didn’t really laugh. This had been recently put into my TBR boxes only to be dug out again after it was chosen as the next Book Rabbit (www.bookrabbit.com) book group, I have never done one of these online but have decided to give it a go as I quite fancied this book… today, right now. I am so glad I read it.

‘Gold’ starts when Miyuki Woodward arrives in the same seaside village in Wales that she comes to every year. She has made a pact with her girlfriend that they sped a month a part each year and her two weeks is always spent by the sea in Wales, she likes the routine. During the day she walks and reads, reading a book a day over two weeks so she has read the equivalent of over one book a month every year. In the evening she can be found mainly at The Anchor (but occasionally at The Boat Inn which has a hilarious tale of a landlord, brilliance) sitting reading and watching a whole host of characters. The most prominent of these are Septic Barry, Mr Puw, short Mr Hughes and tall Mr Hughes; the latter provided me with several hysterical outbursts as tales of his past and present unfolded during the book. One scene involving him in the pub steals the entire show from everyone and instantly you know it won’t ever be a film sadly as its brilliant.

Here’s a small part of a conversation between himself and Miyuki early one morning on a beach.

Tall Mr Hughes didn’t seem to react to this. ‘Sometimes I lie on the grass and fall asleep, and hope by the time I wake up I’ll have been torn to pieces by vultures.’
Miyuki swallowed hard as this image appeared before her. This wasn’t the type of talk she expected from tall Mr Hughes.
‘You don’t get many of them round here,’ she said.
‘Puffins, then
.’

The dialect is always quite witty and punchy but there are some wonderfully tender moments amongst the humour. Also the characters are so real. Every single one you know you could easily meet in a seaside town in its quite winter periods, with their in jokes, obsessions about alligators and routines. Nothing much happens in the book, but it doesn’t need to and one thing it definitely isn’t is dull. This was the most fun I have had reading for two hours in a long time, with tears of laughter streaming several times. I recommend this book to EVERYONE as a MUST READ; the title is perfect as this book for any reader is pure gold.

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Filed under Books of 2008, Canongate Publishing, Dan Rhodes, Review

Little Face – Sophie Hannah

Sophie Hannah is an author that I was introduced to this year whilst competing with Polly in our favourite game in Borders/Waterstones/Foyles (delete as appropriate) where we compete with who has read the most on each table of books. I am sure I have blogged about this somewhere at some point. So anyway we found her collection of short stories called ‘The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets’ which was right up our alley as we are both complete nosey parkers. Once I had devoured that I looked into what else Hannah had written and saw that she had written crime (as well as poetry) and as soon as I knew there was a crime series well I was on readitswapit before you can say readitswapit.

Little Face is the first of a series of three (so far) crime novels. Now I have to say I wouldn’t totally put this book in the crime section, I love the fact that crime and fiction are in some ways merging in some ways I would compare Hannah to Kate Atkinson with her crime; however this is more of a psychological thriller more than anything and not your stereotypical detective crime story. It’s a refreshing modern thriller that creeps (and in some places becomes extremely creepy) up on you and has a slight gothic feel to it.

Alice Fancourt comes home from a day checking out a spa as a treat from her mother-in-law Vivienne not long after giving birth. When she comes home she finds the door open and her husband asleep, she runs upstairs and screams, not because the baby is gone but because the baby in the crib is not the baby Florence that she gave birth to.

The story is told in two parts. There is the story of Alice and the disappearance (or swapping) of her daughter, is she mad, will anyone believe her? Why has her husband David suddenly become cruel and possessive and why cant his mother Vivienne (a fantastic character who reminded of me oddly enough of Mrs Danvers from ‘Rebecca’) decide who she should believe. The other side is told from the Detectives on the case Simon and Charlie who get the case, they have personal issues to contend with as Charlie is in love with her number two Simon, they also wonder if there is more than meets the eye with the Fancourt’s as David’s wife was murdered outside their picturesque house ‘The Elms’ did they get the right killer?

Hannah makes quite a complex clever story a breeze to read. It’s really original, I didn’t guess the ending at all, bar one bit, and you find you’re trying to solve more than the one mystery you thought that you were originally getting. This is a brilliant book for crime fans, people who like a page turner, people who like good writing and those who gently want to ease into crime. Really it’s a book for anyone and everyone.

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Filed under Books of 2008, Hodder & Stoughton, Review, Sophie Hannah

The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters – Charlotte Mosely

Now if you are sat there thinking ‘he can’t have read that mammoth book in only a few days’… I haven’t. This has actually been a book I have been devouring in fits and starts for almost a month, well three weeks or so. It’s so big I couldn’t carry it everywhere with me on the tube, so have been reading other books along side. ‘The Mitford’s – Letters Between Six Sisters’ is an amazing book, a collection of the famous sisters letters to each other over 80 years, edited by Diana Mitford’s daughter in law Charlotte Mosley. Edited I think is an unfair word in this case; she hasn’t merely compiled them and then cut out bits and bobs. She has thoroughly researched the sisters so that as you read each different era you get a good introduction by Mosley as to what was going on in each of the sister’s lives and the life of the family of Mitford’s as a whole.

Not that I have read anything about the Mitford sisters before, though bizarrely I have heard of them often, but I can understand J. K. Rowling’s quote on the front that ‘the story of the extraordinary Mitford’s has never been told as well as they tell it themselves’ and she is write, there is no hole barred here. The sisters are constantly frank with each other through times of loving each other and times where they hated each other as some of them did. But its not just the times when they think each other is ‘wondair’ or each other are ‘hateful’ and all the turmoil they go through as a family, its an amazing look through history as the Mitford girls seemed to know everyone separately.

Nancy writes in fascinating detail of the family and how she found the constraints of her parents and the family too much. She also writes of how she writes, why and a fascinating insight into some of the other great writers of the last hundred years such as her close friend Evelyn Waugh. Pamela wants a simple quite life and can discuss any meal she has eaten in the last thirty years, has a love of farming and also became a lesbian although only once or twice do the sisters discuss this. Diana, the family beauty, becomes a fascist, after marrying the heir to Guinness she has an affair with a politician and is jailed during the Second World War. Then there is Unity who became a close friend (and has a slight obsession with) Hitler causing a conflict between her love for him and the love for her country which led to her shooting herself. There is Jessica who became a fighter for social change and ended up living in America writing about funerals and prisons. Finally we have Deborah who became Duchess of Devonshire, owner and restorer of Chatsworth, and who mingles with royalty (describing Diana as ‘clever with the public but truly she was mad’) and the Kennedy’s. This is truly simply outstanding, both for the historical and for the tales of six women who became celebrities without trying to and couldn’t see quite what all the fuss was about. What is also interesting is as they get older they too look back on their older letters and indeed themselves.

This is possibly my favourite book of the year so far. I am now officially a Mitford-holic and will be reading much more by them and about them. Where else would you get such insight in 900 pages of Britain from both the poor and the rich (the sisters weren’t all loaded as some people believe) told by some of the most fascinating, mischievous, voices that you could ever wish to hear.

Another thing that’s been special about this book bar all the above is it has been the first non-fiction book that I have enjoyed, recommended to everyone and has just made me read and read. It’s also a book that has given me lots and lots to read in the future. I now want to read books that they recommend each other; some of these included Daphne Du Maurier’s ‘Mary Anne’, everything by E.M. Forster, Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’. As well as everything that they wrote themselves, particularly Nancy, as well as everything by Evelyn Waugh, so that’s made the book even more of a treasure. I will leave you saying this book is truly ‘wondair’ and a final quote from Jessica on reading. Buy this book everyone should read it!

“1) Get a supply of books you have always meant to read, but never had time, such as Plutarch’s Lives, War & Peace, Bacon’s Essays etc. You’ll find your attention unaccountably wandering – you seem to have read the same paragraph several times and still can’t quite get its import. Put the books on a chair to be read some time later. 2) Next, fetch up some novels that you know one ought to have read in childhood but never did – Hardy, Conrad, the lesser-known works of Dickens. Same, alas, as in 1) above. 3) Find some books that you know you like, as you have read them before – Catch 22? Catcher In The Rye? Pride & Prejudice? (You’ll have to fill in the titles of your own favourites). This is far more easy going, far more pleasurable. 4) Try some collections of short stories, the shorter the better. Also, Grimm’s Fairy Tales – that sort of thing. That way the constant interruptions – meals, pills, baths etc – don’t specifically matter. 5) Above all – lay in a huge supply of mags, the more trivial the better, and leaf through them languidly while waiting for your cup of tea. That, anyway, is what I usually do.”

I was really sad to put this book down, in fact slightly bereft, but on with more!

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Filed under Books of 2008, Charlotte Mosley, Evelyn Waugh, Harper Collins, Nancy Mitford, Review

The God Of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

I have had a copy of this book in my ‘to read’ boxes for absolutely ages, for some reason despite what I think is quite a stunning cover, I have never really had the urge to read it. That’s another reason why Book Group is so good, sometimes you have the books on the list you just haven’t gotten round to them so you get a little extra push.

I had heard mixed reviews on this Man Booker winner, some people (my Gran included) have said it’s one of the best books that they have read. People on Amazon, which I sometimes check to gage how good a book may or may not have been, are very mixed about it. Some say that the prose is some of the most beautiful that they have ever read, others say that it is over done and far too ‘flowery’. So I was intrigued as to what I would make of it.

As it goes I am very much in a confused state about this book, I would say 75% of me loved it and overall feel it is one of the best books I have ever read and the other 25%? To be honest I think there are far too many characters and too little concise clear explanation of who they are in relation to whom. I mean for most of the book I just could not work out who ‘Baby’ was, I have to say she is a brilliantly written mean bitter old woman. There were also various neighbours of the main family who actually had no bearing on the book and therefore seemed to be ‘fillers’ to the book and added to my state of confusion.

The story centres on the childhoods of Estha and Rahel (for ages I kept getting the boy and girl mixed up) and a certain few months that on several levels change their lives forever. You have flashbacks into the family before the twins were born and in their infancy and also the future and the aftermath of events at the start ‘unknown’. Its not written in chronological order which ordinarily I would not have a problem with, I managed fine with the epic craziness of ‘The Book of Dave’, I just found that where Roy is fantastic at her descriptive similes, she is not so good at letting the reader know where in the order of history there are. No the author should not do all the work for the reader but they should help.

Here descriptions are amazing ‘history the smell of old roses on the breeze’ and ‘dark blood slipping from his skull like a secret’ are examples of where it works, there is also the brilliant scene where they park a car amongst others in a car park which is compared to ‘gossiping’. The problem is that there seems to be a simile in every sentence and occasionally it gets too much and doesn’t quite work ‘Margaret Kochamma found herself drawn towards him like a plant in a dark room towards an edge of light’ it appears like Roy is trying too hard and that she is over comparing and it put me off occasionally. The Man Booker judges seemed to like it though.

However despite the slightly confusing story and over egging off descriptions when I had finished the novel and let it settle with me a while I started to marvel at how clever, well written, moving and beautiful a book it was. The more I thought on it afterwards the better I think it was a very confusing place to be in after reading a book.

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Filed under Arundhati Roy, Book Group, Harper Collins, Man Booker, Review

Mister Pip – Lloyd Jones

I think I have just read one of my favourite books of the year. I could have devoured this book in 24 hours partly because its not the longest book but also because it’s a book you simply don’t want to put down, I was restrained as I wanted to savour the whole story and live with it for as long as possible. That for me is the sign of a fantastic book.

The novel is told by Matilda a young woman (she starts the novel aged 14) who lives on the island of Bougainville in the South Pacific in 1991 when it is amidst war. Her school has been closed for quite some time due to the fleeing of several members of the village. One day her mother (a fabulous but difficult character) announces she is going back to school, the only white man in the village ‘Pop Eye’ or ‘Mr Watts’ is opening up lessons once more. What follows is a wonderful tale of a young girl, her life questions and the relationship she has with ‘Pip’ (who though imaginary becomes a friend in a confusing world) the main character from Great Expectations the book which Mr Watts teaches them from reading a chapter aloud a day.

This book is nothing short of a masterpiece and is perfect for any booklover (like myself showing the importance of reading aloud, reading and books in general. One of my favourite lines in the book has to be ‘You cannot pretend to read a book. Your eyes will give you away. So will your breathing. A person entranced by a book simply forgets to breathe. The house can catch alight and a reader deep in a book will not look up until the wallpaper is in flames.’ It unquestionably deserved to be on the Man Booker Shortlist as well as the Richard & Judy Book Group

Lloyd Jones writes in such a way that you almost cannot put the book down, the book flows wonderfully through the joys of the children learning ‘Mr. Dickens’ to the harsh realities of war, including a scene which was horrific yet told in a very matter-of fact way and moved me to tears, now a book has not done that to me in a long time.

This is simply a book for book lovers.

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Filed under Books of 2008, John Murray Publishers, Lloyd Jones, Man Booker, Review, Richard and Judy

The Crimson Petal & The White – Michel Faber

For the last week and a half I have been lost in Victorian London and it’s been fabulous. I have one man to thank for this and that’s Michel Faber. ‘The Crimson Petal & The White’ comes highly hyped and recommended as a modern classic and for once I think this is a title that deserves the praise.

The tale is based around Sugar, a prostitute and the brothels and back alleys she frequents at the beginning to the upper classes she climbs too. Firstly I must say she is a fantastic heroine, she isn’t the prettiest prostitute in the land but she is certainly the most favoured. She’s intelligent, witty and certainly has her wits about her. It tells of her meeting William Rackham, a Perfumery Owner, and all that befalls them and a host of wonderful characters during Sugar’s rise.

I have to say I am not the best with long books, I love reading them but find them daunting however this book draws you in from the first lines. ‘Watch your step. Keep your wits about you; you will need them.’ It’s compared on several sites to a Dickensian masterpiece, having not read on of Dickens novels (the shame) yet I cannot compare the two authors. I can say that Michel Faber writes with a fantastic descriptive prose and makes his background characters (such as Mrs Castaway) as fascinating and interesting as the main.

I think what I loved about this was for a historical novel it was real. In fact in some parts quite graphic, I found it quite odd to think my Gran had read these words and that my mother is currently reading them, I’m not sure if some of the language will be discussed in upcoming phone calls. It’s not a book for prudes, or maybe actually it should be. From reading past historical novels not from the original era this had a real heart in comparison. Faber doesn’t try to be really clever by intertwining royalty or well known names (other than Pear’s) or using the powerful tool of hindsight to make him seem a clever writer. He simply uses the Victorian world he has clearly researched in depth to create a fantastic landscape in which his characters inhabit.

Are there any negatives? Not really, I did find some of the occasional business/perfumery descriptions a tad too much and wanted to skim them, I didn’t. Also the end… I didn’t want the book to finish. I have now fortunately remembered that I did a swap for ‘Apple’ Faber’s collection of tales from the characters after ‘The Crimson Petal & The Rose’ part of me wants to dive straight in, however I shall restrain myself and leave Sugar where she is, plus ‘Mister Pip’ has been sat tempting me on the top of my to read pile for a while now.

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Filed under Books of 2008, Canongate Publishing, Michel Faber, Review

What Was Lost – Catherine O’Flynn

Despite the frankly hideous cover, and these can serioulsy put a reader off, I loved this book. Seriously 100% loved this book. Catherine O’Flynn’s debut ‘What Was Lost’ is frankly a wonderful book. The Guardian awarded it debut of the year and it was long listed for both the Orange Prize and the Man Booker Prize. This and the praise from several authors such as Susan Hill and bloggers like Dovegreyreader means that when you start it you either know you are on to a good thing or you are going to be heavily disappointed. I must join the queue of people who will be raving about this book for a long time to come.

The book is set in Green Oaks Shopping Centre in two separate times, the first in 1984 when ‘young detective’ Kate Meaney and her sidekick Mickey a craft kit cuddly toy hide around the centre looking for people who might be criminals on every corner. She then goes missing. In 2003 we join Lisa, an unhappy music store manager and Kurt an unhappy security guard in Green Oaks. How do the two intertwine? Who is the mystery girl seen wandering on the security footage at night? Will anyone ever know what happened to Kate?

I loved the character of Kate so much; I thought O’Flynn got into the mind of a ten year old perfectly. At first I didn’t realise that she was a young girl until on the way to a stake out she buys a copy of ‘the Beano’. O’Flynn writes with humour and in such a way I couldn’t stop reading Kate’s part of the story for lines such as “Kate ate the burger and perused the first Beano of the new year, while Mickey kept a steady eye on some suspicious teenagers below”. She’s one of my favourite characters to read in a long time, and I was saddened when I knew that her part of the book had ended.

Another thing that I loved about this book was both its humour and its serious sides. You could read lines like ‘anyone who asked for chocolate limes was a killer’ and yet this book also deals with a missing girl, depression and even suicide. While you are not taken into the mind of a killer which stops this book short of being a crime novel, it is still a mystery novel.

Some people have said the ends tie up too nicely, and in some ways they do but with a point and a purpose. I won’t spoil it; you need to read this book first hand to experience it yourselves. Catherine O’Flynn has created a world that is believable, she was a market researcher and worked in retail so there is a slight consumerism side to the novel, and crafted some wonderful characters. I cannot wait for her next novel she is a voice to be watched.

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Filed under Books of 2008, Man Booker, Orange Prize, Review, Tindal Street Press

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 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.

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

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