May Summary and Plans for June

I finished 14 books in May. I was unable to resist the Orange list and so my reading was dominated by books from it. Unfortunately I don’t seem to have the same taste in books as the Orange judges this year – I’ll post a full summary of my thoughts on the Orange short list at some point in the next week, but overall I was quite disappointed.

I noticed that all the books I read were relatively new. I am disappointed by the lack of older books and so intend to concentrate on reading a few next month.

Book of the Month


Beside the Sea – Veronique Olmi

The City & The City – China Miéville 

Hearts and Minds – Amanda Craig 

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – David Mitchell 

The Weight of a Mustard Seed – Wendell Steavenson 

Even the Dogs – Jon McGregor 

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle – Monique Roffey 

A Gate at the Stairs – Lorrie Moore 

The Very Thought of You – Rosie Alison 

Acts of Violence – Ryan David Jahn 

Black Water Rising – Attica Locke 

Blueeyedboy – Joanne Harris 

Hector and the Search for Happiness – Francois Lelord 


Plans for June

The Booker long list isn’t announced until 27th July, so I am going to enjoy a brief period of time without a book prize list to work from! I’m going to try to read a few of the books that I wanted to read in May and then focus on some international reads. I hope to squeeze in a few science fiction reads too! 

A Life Apart – Neel Murkherjee

Our Tragic Universe – Scarlett Thomas

The Surrendered – Chang-Rae Lee

Marcelo in the Real World – Francisco Stork

The Birth of Love – Joanna Kavenna

The White Bone – Barbara Gowdy

Ilustrado – Miguel Syjuco

Songs from the Other Side of the Wall – Dan Holloway

Ender’s Game – Orson Scott Card

The Piano Teacher – Elfriede Jelinek

The Russian Countess – Edith Sollohub

Palace Walk – Naguib Mahfouz

How Late it Was, How Late – James Kelman

The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox – Maggie O’Farrell

The Tin Drum – Gunter Grass

White is for Witching – Helen Oyeyemi

I know I probably won’t be able to fit them all in, but several are very short so you never know!

Which books from my list should I ensure I read?

Do you plan to read any of the same ones?

2009 Orange Prize

A Gate at the Stairs – Lorrie Moore

 Short listed for the 2010 Orange Prize

A Gate at the Stairs is set in the American Midwest and follows twenty-year-old Tassie as she begins work as a child minder. She is hired by a glamorous couple who are about to adopt a mixed race child. The couple seem more interested in running their restaurant business than becoming a proper family and so Tassie has the complex task of keeping the peace in an increasingly chaotic home.

I was immediately struck by the beauty of the language in this book. Everything was described in detail, so I built up a vivid picture of their surroundings.

I woke up in a blaze of white sun. I had neglected to pull the shades and it had snowed in the night; the morning rays reflected off the snow on the sills and on the low adjacent roof, setting the room on fire with daylight.

For the first 50 pages I was happy with this scene setting, but I gradually began to crave a plot. Very little seemed to happen in the book and, on the odd occasion it did, the event seemed to drag on for far too long. I ploughed on through the beautiful text, but I’m afraid that the entire plot could be summarised in about 6 words (don’t worry I won’t spoil it for you!).

The main theme of the book is what it is to be a family. Discussions on adoption, working parents and mixed race relationships are all buried somewhere in the text, but you have to read a lot of waffle to find them.

This book reminded me of Digging to America by Anne Tyler (which I didn’t really like) but I think that A Gate at the Stairs is the better of the two books – just!

Overall I’m afraid that the lack of a real plot meant this book failed to entertain me.

Opinions on this book are very mixed:

Lorrie Moore’s writing is beautiful: lyrical but without ever detracting from the events of the story. Other Stories

…the different storylines and sections of the book were disjointed… I’m Booking It

I had the feeling that I was experiencing a very good writer not at her best. Kevin From Canada

Other Science Fiction

The Best Literary Science Fiction Books?

I’m getting bored of reality. The more books I read, the more it feels as though they are all churning out the same basic stories about love and loss. There are the odd exceptions, but I am increasingly becoming disenchanted with modern literary fiction.

I recently read  The City & The City by China Miéville and found the way it stretched my brain refreshing. I never knew what would happen next and I loved it!

I have always been wary of reading science fiction as I have had many disappointing reads. I blame this entirely on my lack of research. I would never walk into a book shop and just pick the top selling fiction title, so why did I ever imagine the best selling science fiction books would be to my taste? I’m a fan of literary fiction, so I should be looking at literary science fiction if I want to find enjoyable books. I didn’t realise this genre existed until recently, but a brief investigation has turned up lots of books that sound very appealing. I already had a few on my TBR pile thanks to the wonderful world of blogging, but reaching out to science fiction fans has made my list much longer!

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The Prestige by Christopher Priest

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

White Apples by Jonathan Carroll

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

A few others that caught my eye….

Spares by Michael Marshall Smith

Memory and Dreams by Charles De Lint

The Tooth Fairy by Graham Joyce

White is for Witching by Helen Oyeyemi

Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

Many thanks to @ALRutter and @David_Heb for their literary science fiction recommendations on Twitter!

I had a moment of weakness and bought several of the above books – I look forward to letting you know all about them!

Don’t worry I’m not going to switch to becoming a science fiction blog, but I will be including a few more in my reading.

So what do you think?

Do any of these books appeal to you?

Do you know any other wonderful literary science fiction books?

2010 Books in Translation Novella Recommended books

Beside the Sea – Veronique Olmi

 Translated from the French by Adriana Hunter

Beside the Sea is the best book I have read in a long time. It tells the story of a single mother who wants to ensure her two little boys enjoy a holiday by the sea.

Beside the Sea has the most intense narrative I have ever read. The words pull you in, leading you towards an ending that you know will be devastating. A dark sense of foreboding dominates the text, but when I finally reached the conclusion it was far more poignant than I could ever imagine.

Not much happens in this book. Regular readers of my blog will know that this is normally a very bad thing for me, but in the hands of such a fantastic writer this didn’t matter; the ordinary was given an emotional dimension and made to come alive.

In fact, the kids are frightened of other people. I can’t fault them for that. You’re never what they want you to be. You irritate them, disgust them. The whole world’s disappointed by its neighbours. Sometimes, no one knows why, someone exactly matches what everyone expected. And everybody loves them, they cheer them and put them on the telly. It’s very rare. The rest of the human race is all mistrust and hate, what I mean is love’s nothing like as common as hate.

The simple descriptions of taking two little boys to a hotel or out for a hot chocolate were amazingly accurate, perfectly capturing the behaviour of two brothers. I think the fact that I have two little boys meant that this book had a far greater impact on me. I have had similar experinces of loving them, but at the same time being frustrated by their behaviour.

Beside the Sea is just over 100 pages long, but the effects of reading this book will last far longer than the short time it takes to finish. Those little boys touched my heart and just thinking about them brings tears to my eyes. 

I will remember this book for the rest of my life.

Highly recommended to anyone who likes books that provoke an emotional response.

Everyone seems to love this book:

I can’t think of many books where the atmosphere and intensity of the novel come off the page so instantly. Savidge Reads

I’m not sure I’ve ever read anything quite like it… Dove Grey Reader

However, I still found the ending so powerful, so intense and so quietly devastating that I’m still thinking about it a week down the line… Reading Matters

Have I managed to persuade you to read it?

What is the most intense book you have ever read?



2009 Crime Orange Prize Thriller

Black Water Rising – Attica Locke

 Short listed for the Orange Prize 2010

Black Water Rising was the most controversial choice on the Orange short list this year. Everyone who had read the book was surprised by its inclusion on the list and having read it I can only agree with them.

Black Water Rising is a thriller, similar in style to those written by John Grisham, but much longer and more convoluted.

The book is set in Houston in the 1980s. It begins with a young black lawyer heading out on a boat trip. He hears gun shots and a scream and then sees a woman fall into the water. He rescues her, but in doing so becomes entangled in a murder investigation.

My problem with this book was that it didn’t have enough pace to be enjoyable as a thriller, but the writing was too light for it to properly investigate the numerous social and political problems raised.

There were some good sections, but these were connected by long, irrelevant side stories.

I didn’t connect with any of the characters in the book and found the addition of their back stories awkward.

The main theme of the book was racism, but I found the issue to be over emphasised – I like to be shown the problems, not told them. This book treated me as an idiot, repeatedly explaining how terrible things were. 

Overall I’m afraid this book frustrated me more than it entertained. Recommended to thriller lovers who don’t mind a slower pace of plot.

This was another book that divided opinion:

 I loved it. I adored it. I cannot shut up about its absolute brilliance… Nomad Reader

 I don’t think she’s quite got the hang of something…. Book Gazing

 I went into it thinking I was going to fall in love, and I just felt lukewarm like for it.  Wordsmithonia

…intelligent and unflinching storytelling…. Buried in Print

2009 Chunkster Orange Prize

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle – Monique Roffey

 Short listed for the Orange Prize 2010

The White Woman on the Green Bicycle is set on the island of Trinidad. George Harwood is given a three-year contract to work on the island and so moves from England, with his wife Sabine, to take up the post. George quickly falls in love with his new surroundings, but Sabine is home sick and longs to return to England. This causes friction within their marriage, but Sabine comforts herself with a fixation on Trinidad’s new leader, Eric Williams. She explains all her problems in detailed letters to him, but can never bring herself to post them. One day George discovers these letters and realises how many of his wife’s problems had been kept hidden from him. He decides that he needs to prove how much he loves her, but things go very wrong…

There was some fantastic imagery in the book. This section is taken from the very beginning, but it sets the scene perfectly:

Every afternoon, around four, the iguana fell out of the coconut tree. Bdup! While sunbathing, it had fallen asleep, relaxing its grip, dropping from a considerable height. It always landed like a cat, on all fours, ready to fight. The dogs always went berserk, gnashing and chasing after the creature as it fled, scuttling across the grass, a streak of lime green disappearing off into the undergrowth.

There was quite a lot of dialect and this was occasionally difficult to follow, but I didn’t mind as it added to the atmosphere.

My main problem was that the book had no forward momentum and so I often found myself with no desire to read on. With a book of this length (my copy has 437 pages) this isn’t an ideal situation. If I put the effort into reading it then I was often rewarded, but there were times when I considered giving up as reading was a chore.

With hindsight it was a fantastic story, but the pace was too slow for me. I would have preferred it to have been much shorter, but I can see why it was short listed for the Orange prize.

Recommended to those who enjoy slow, character driven novels.

Not many people have read this one, but opinions seem mixed:

I was bowled over by this book.  Other Stories

 …didn’t have the star quality in terms of either plot or writing that my favourites from the Orange longlist have had. The B Files

I think this one will be nestling into my list of favourite reads for 2010. Buried in Print