July/August Summary and Plans for September

I’ve had a very busy summer, spending time with friends and family. I’ve managed to keep up the reading, but haven’t been able to keep this blog up to date. Hopefully I’ll be able to do that now things are getting back to normal.

Over the summer I read two outstanding books: Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. Both go on to my list of all-time favourites and I hope that you love them as much as I did.

Books of the Summer:

Shantaram A Little Life

Books Reviewed in July/August:

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts 

All Involved by Ryan Gattis 

The Bridge Over the Drina by Ivo Andric 

Blackass by A Igoni Barrett 

Familiar Wars by Julietta Harvey 

Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen 

The Loney Andrew Michael Hurley 

Under the Skin by Michel Faber 

Plans for September

I’m a bit behind with reviews. I hope to catch up in the next few weeks, but here are a few words to give you an idea of my thoughts on the books I’ve finished recently:

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh Gripping, but flawed

Swallow This by Joanna Blythman Scary!

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara A masterpiece

Educating Ruby by Guy Claxton and Bill Lucas Insightful

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand Lacking emotion

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson Too long

The Seed Collectors by Scarlett Thomas Too fragmentented

Cafe Europa by Slavenka Drakulic Fascinating, but dated

I haven’t thought about what I’m going to read next as I’m too busy unpacking! I need to have a good look at all the books I have here and try to prioritise them. I’ll update my sidebar as I work through the outstanding reviews.

I hope you all had a great summer and I look forward to catching up with you soon.

Blackass by A Igoni Barrett

Blackass Source: Personal Copy

Five words from the blurb: Nigeria, black, transformation, white, provocative

Blackass is a satire of the way people in Nigeria treat others differently according to the colour of their skin. The book begins with Furo, a black man from Lagos, waking up to discover that he has become a white man with ginger hair. The only remnant of his former appearance is a jet black bottom. Furo heads off to the job interview he had booked for that day, landing the position based purely on his new skin colour. The rest of the book highlights other differences in the way people react to his white complexion, not all of them positive, and many surprising to someone like me.

This book was supposed to be funny, but I didn’t find it humorous – perhaps because the situations described weren’t familiar to me. Instead I found it insightful and surprising. I was gripped throughout and thought the book did a fantastic job of showing how white people are treated in a country where the vast majority of people are black.

As for the outlying – economically as well as geographically – areas of Lagos, places such as Agege, Egbeda, Ikorodu: a good number of the inhabitants of these neighbourhoods have never held a conversation with an oyibo, never considered white people as anything more or less than historical opportunists or gullible victims, never seen red hair, green eyes, or pink nipples except on screen or paper. And so an oyibo strolling down their street is an incidence of some thrill. Not quite the excitement decibels of seeing a celebrity, but close.

I also liked the way the book explained other aspects of Nigerian culture. I finished it feeling as though I had a greater understanding of the country. Some of the terminology was new to me, but I was able to grasp the meaning of the new words via their context, and wasn’t confused in the way I have been with other books from the region.

I also liked the way the book mirrored other literary novels – similarities to The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka were especially apparent.

Overall this was an important book, dealing with a difficult subject in a refreshingly modern style. I suspect it will have more impact on those living with these prejudices, but I’d recommend it to everyone.

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Books in Brief: Under the Skin, In the Unlikely Event, The Bridge Over the Drina and The Loney

Under The Skin Source: Personal Copy

Under the Skin by Michel Faber

Five words from the blurb: hitchhiker, male, specimens, why, strange

There were some wonderfully creepy scenes in this book, but it failed to hold my attention throughout. It was repetitive in the middle section and unconvincing in the end – it seemed to rely on shock-value rather than skillful writing. I’m glad I’ve read Faber’s debut, but pleased his skill as a writer has improved with each further book he’s written.

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In the Unlikely Event Source: Free review copy received from publisher

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Five words from the blurb: town, disaster, friendship, generations, changed

I have fond memories of reading Judy Blume as a teenager so was looking forward to trying her new book for adults. Unfortunately, due to my habit of not reading blurbs, I had no idea this book was about plane crashes. I read about 50 pages of good character development before discovering this problem and abandoning it – in an attempt to prevent my phobia of flying from worsening. I look forward to finding out what others think of this book as I’d love to know if the plot develops well. Unfortunately the subject matter just wasn’t for me.

DNF

 

Bridge Over The Drina Source: Personal Copy

The Bridge Over the Drina by Ivo Andric

Ivo Andric received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1961

Five words from the blurb: Balkan, history, war, generations, survive

The Bridge Over the Drina is a Bosnian classic, but it deserves to be a global one. The plot describes the history of a small Bosnian town by focusing on the events that happen on the stone bridge at it’s centre.  Some sections were a bit slow and there were points when I became bored by sheer number of battles that had taken place over the last 700 years, but that isn’t the author’s fault – Mankind should learn from the lessons of the past! If you’d like to know more about the history of the Balkans this is the book for you.

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The Loney Source: Free review copy received from publisher

The Loney by Andrew Michael Hurley

Five words from the blurb: retreat, coast, hidden, priest, forget

The Loney is a slightly creepy mystery. It began brilliantly, with some fantastically atmospheric descriptions of the English countryside. The characterisation in the book was also excellent, but I’m afraid the plot flagged in several sections. The ending was almost enough to make up for this, but it was too little, too late. This is Gothic horror at its mildest!

 

 

 

All Involved by Ryan Gattis

All Involved Source: Library

Five words from the blurb: Los Angeles, riot, race, revenge, control

All Involved is a fictionalised story which shows the horror of the 1992 LA riots. It didn’t sound like my sort of book, but when I saw David Mitchell raving about it I added it straight to my wish-list. Yet again David Mitchell has proven to be reliable with his recommendations – All Involved is an impressive book. It explains how numerous factors led to the escalation of the riot (in which a total of 11,000 people were arrested), and how different members of society were affected by the violence.

The writing was shockingly vivid throughout. Many people will find the brutal descriptions too distressing, but I was impressed by the honesty of the account. Explaining everything in unflinching detail led to a greater understanding of the event as a whole and I especially liked the fact that things were shown from the viewpoint of both the rioters and the emergency services.

Every person had a unique voice and the individual dialects appeared realistic. I occasionally found the gang members difficult to understand, but I can’t critcise this as it appeared authentic and added to the atmosphere of the novel.

This book did a fantastic job of enabling the reader to understand the factors which lead people into unthinkable acts of violence.

The people who live around here, they know what it actually feels like. They know how ugly life can get. Everyone else, the people sitting at home, watching this unfold on television, they have no idea. Those are the people shocked by the riots. They can’t comprehend them because they don’t understand the other side. They don’t understand what happens to people with no money who live in a neighbour where crime is actually a viable career path when there are no other opportunities, and I’m not excusing it or condoning it or saying it can’t be avoided, but I’m saying that’s how it is.

It was scary to see how precarious peace can be and how easily a bad situation can be inflamed.

The only problem was that the large number of characters meant the book felt fragmented. Whilst reading the novel I sometimes became frustrated by the way the focus of the story kept changing, but on reaching the end I appreciated the rounded picture the author was trying to achieve.

All Involved feels like a classic. If you like reading true crime, or gaining an insight into the criminal mind, then this is a must read.

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I’m Back from Holiday!

Sorry it’s been a bit quiet around here – I’ve been away on holiday. We had a fantastic time – white water rafting in Slovenia, sailing round the Kornati Islands in Croatia, and then visiting a few cities in Italy.

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We’ve had a very busy three weeks - I’ll be back with a few book reviews as soon as I’ve recovered from all the excitement!

Boy in the Tower by Polly Ho-Yen

Boy In The Tower Source: Library

Five words from the blurb: strange, plants, menacing, trapped. tower

Boy in the Tower is a modern-day version of Day of the Triffids. It is equally powerful and, although it was originally released as a book for children, it deserves a place on adult reading lists too.

Ade lives on the seventeenth floor of a tower block with his mum. One day the buildings around him start falling down and it becomes obvious that strange plants are eating their foundations. Most people evacuate, but Ade is trapped because his mum is too depressed to leave their flat. The paces quickens as the battle between Man and plants begins…

I picked up a copy of this book with the intention of reading it to my two boys, but stopped reading it to my seven-year-old when I saw a remark about Father Christmas that would have led to too many questions! Undaunted by this initial set-back my 9-year-old and I continued reading and we fell in love with it. It was impossible for either of us to put down and he couldn’t wait all day for the next installment – I caught him reading it 2 hours after his bedtime! I was equally hooked and finished the second half in one sitting.

Boy in the Tower is an example of what is missing from the majority of the book world. The central character lives in a tower block, but isn’t treated as a pariah for doing so. It also sensitively handles depression, cleverly weaving the subject into the story without it dominating or becoming distressing.

The text was simple, but that didn’t prevent it from being vivid and packed with emotion. It was cleverly paced and didn’t dumb things down for children in the way many other books do.

There are a few moments, while we are all eating our food, when, if you were looking at us sitting around the table enjoying our dinner, you would not have been able to tell that we are on the very edge of disatser. That while we are pushing forkfuls of soft rice into our mouths, the Bluchers are creeping around us in a deadly circle, ready to eat the stones and bricks of our home.

 I was slightly concerned that my 9-year-old would find the concept of dangerous plants disturbing, but he loved it. This was the perfect introduction to dystopian fiction for him and an impressive addition to the genre for everyone else. I’d like to see it introduced to the school curriculum (probably for children around the age of 12) and I highly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Day of the Triffids.

(for children aged 10 – 14)

(for adults)

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