August Summary and Plans for September

I finished 14 books in August, most of them from the 2010 Booker long list. I was very impressed with the overall standard of the books I read, having more 4.5+ star reads than ever before. I only hope I can repeat this next month!

Book of the Month

Books Reviewed in August:

Room – Emma Donoghue 

Skippy Dies – Paul Murray 

The Siege – Helen Dunmore 

Sweetness in the Belly – Camilla Gibb 

The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham 

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox – Maggie O’Farrell 

The Betrayal – Helen Dunmore 

The Trespass – Rose Tremain 

A Life Apart – Neel Mukherjee  

The Weight of Silence – Heather Gudenkauf 

February – Lisa Moore 

The Passage – Justin Cronin 

The Sopranos – Alan Warner 

The Stars in the Bright Sky – Alan Warner 

Parrot and Olivier in America – Peter Carey  (DNF)

Plans for September

My first task is to finish the Booker long list – I have three more books left to go. I’m not sure I’ll manage to read them all before the short list is announced next Tuesday, but I’ll do my best!

The Finkler Question – Howard Jacobson

C – Tom McCarthy

In a Strange Room – Damon Galgut

Richard and Judy Book Club

I’m very excited about the launch of the Richard and Judy book club on Thursday – I’ll probably read one or two of their selections straight away. I was interested to listen to them talk about the launch of their book club in the video below – it sounds as though they have at least two books in translation. I’m sure that they’ll pick some fantastic books and I’ll enjoy their enthusiastic discussions.

I’ll also be reading most of the books on this list:

Tinkers – Paul Harding

Solo – Rana Dasgupta

Stonehenge: A Novel of 2000 BC – Bernard Cornwall

Choo Woo – Lloyd Jones

Paprika – Yasutaka Tsutsui

Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

Wolf Totem – Jiang Rong

All My Friends are Superheroes – Andrew Kaufman

Stone in a Landslide – Muriel Barbal

Young Hitler – Claus Hant

Forgetting Zoe – Ray Robinson

The Elephant’s Journey – Jose Saramago

Bad Karma – David Safier

Corrag – Susan Fletcher

More Non-Review Posts

Next week my oldest son starts school and so I will have much more time to write blog posts. I hope that I’ll be able to use this extra time to research some bookish topics so I can produce some non-review posts that will interest you.

I’ll also do some fiddling behind the scenes to try to improve navigation around my blog.

Are you excited about the launch of the Richard and Judy book club?

Which of the books on my September pile have you read?

2010 Booker Prize Chunkster Recommended books

Skippy Dies – Paul Murray

 Long listed for 2010 Booker Prize

One of the reasons I love reading entire long lists is that I stumble upon fantastic books that I wouldn’t otherwise pick up. I had heard good things about Skippy Dies before the Booker long list was announced, but I couldn’t motivate myself to read 650+ pages about teenagers living in an Irish boarding school. I’m so pleased that I read this book as it was entertaining, gripping and insightful.

The book opens with Daniel ‘Skippy’ Juster dying. At first the reason for his death seems obvious, but the plot then goes back in time and we slowly discover that the cause of Skippy’s death isn’t as simple as people initially suspected.

Much of this book could be described as a coming-of-age story, but unlike most other books which describe the lives of teenagers, this book captivated me. Skippy drew me into his emotionally charged world and nearly managed to make me laugh and cry – something no other book has managed to do. I was amazed at how much the everyday school life engaged me – I flew through the book and found every single one of the pages to be captivating and necessary for the plot.

Skippy’s roommate is Ruprecht, an overweight genius trying utilise M-theory to travel to another dimension. I’m a big fan of complex science in literature, but I’m sure that those who struggle to understand physics will still love Ruprecht’s enthusiasm for invention. As well as physics we are also treated to war poetry, Irish folklore and an array of other subjects – I loved it!

As the book drew to a conclusion I became increasingly impressed with the complexity of the plot. When I reached the final page I wanted to start the book all over again, just so I could see the little clues that I’d failed to pick up on.

This book works on so many levels – it is easy to read, but the text hides enough to entertain multiple re-readings.

I can see future generations studying this book and I think it would be a worthy winner of the 2010 Booker Prize.

Highly recommended.

Have I persuaded you to try this book?

Do you think it deserves to win the Booker Prize?


The Japanese Literature Challenge IV

I love Japanese Literature and so enjoy browsing the reviews on the Japanese Literature Challenge site.

Bellezza has done a fantastic job promoting Japanese fiction and now that my Booker reading is coming to an end I’ll be spending more time reading books in translation.

I don’t think I’ll be able to read that many Japanese books before the challenge ends on January 30th, 2011, but I hope to complete these three:


Paprika by Yasutaka Tsutsui

Strangers by Taichi Yamada

After Dark by Haruki Murakami

Have you read any of these books?

Which other Japanese books do you recommend I read?

2000 - 2007 Historical Fiction Other Prizes Recommended books

Sweetness in the Belly – Camilla Gibb

 Finalist for the 2005 Giller Prize

I hadn’t heard of this book, but during a discussion on Canadian literature Claire recommended it and kindly lent me her copy.  I’m so pleased that she brought it to my attention as it was a fantastic read.

Sweetness in the Belly is set in Ethiopia, Morocco and England. The main theme of the book is identity and what it means to be accepted in a community, but this book looks at things from a slightly different angle to other books on immigration.

The central character is Lilly, born to white British parents keen to explore the world. From birth Lilly travels the globe with them, but at the age of eight her parents are killed in Morocco, leaving Lilly to be brought up at a Sufi Shrine. This leads Lily to become a devout Muslim. Political unrest in Morocco forces her to leave the country as a teenager and so she heads for the Ethiopian holy city of Harar. She eventually finds a place for herself in this ancient walled city, but the start of Mengistu’s reign of terror leads her to return to London, a country that feels very alien to her.

It sounds as though I’ve just told you the whole plot, but we learn these facts quite quickly. The book flips forwards and backwards in time, showing us Lilly’s life in each country. It was fascinating to compare the traditions of each country and to learn a bit more about the terrible situation in 1970s Ethiopia. (I first learnt about of Mengistu’s reign of terror by reading Cutting for Stone earlier this year.)

“There is never anything about Ethiopia,” he laments as we watch the world morphing before our eyes. “It is as if it does not exist.”
“Ethiopia doesn’t matter to the West,” I say, stating the obvious. “We offer them nothing they can exploit.”
This has proved both a blessing and a curse. We can feel proud that Ethiopia resisted Europe’s colonial overtures, but then we have to accept that the country does not exist in the European imagination as anything but a starving, impoverished nation with just about the highest rates of infant mortality, the lowest average life expectancy and the lowest rates of literacy in the world. As a story of famine and refugees.

I loved Lilly’s character and was touched by the difficulties she faced. Sweetness in the Belly was easy to read, thought provoking and became gripping as it progressed.

I highly recommend this to anyone who loves epic tales of love and loss and those interested in cultural identity.

Have you read anything written by Camilla Gibb?

I loved this book and so plan to seek out as many of her books as I can.

Which ones do you recommend?



2010 Booker Prize

The Stars in the Bright Sky – Alan Warner

 Long listed for 2010 Booker Prize

The gossiping of the teenagers in The Sopranos drove me mad after a while and so I hoped that the girls had matured a bit for this sequel. I was rewarded by twenty-something girls who were slightly more sensible, but I think they need to age at least another five years before I’ll be able read their discussions without wincing!

The Stars in the Bright Sky is set in Gatwick airport. The girls are trying to go on holiday, but unfortunately they aren’t very well organised and so their last minute get-away is proving elusive. While they wait to get on an aeroplane they entertain themselves by drinking and taking drugs in the airport bars.

The first thing I noticed when reading The Stars in the Bright Sky was the improvement in the quality of the writing from that of The Sopranos. The book also relied less on dialogue and I found the vivid descriptions of the surroundings to be a big improvement.

The water feature was beside them, an infinity pool perfectly filled to a suspended mirror of surface encapsulated within an inch rim of black marble. Water trickled somewhere invisibly. Manda used two fingers to draw back her hand like a dart thrower and she precisely tossed her ciggy butt onto the surface then walked ahead.

Unfortunately the girls still had a tendency to gossip. I enjoyed reading their exploits for a while, but as with The Sopranos I got tired of them quite quickly.

My main problem was that very little happened in this book – 200 pages could easily have been removed without loosing anything.

I loved the ending, but there were many points when I considered giving up. I recommend reading the first 100 and the last 50 pages of this book, but the rest was unnecessary padding.

2000 - 2007

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox – Maggie O’Farrell

I have heard so many people raving about this book that I’m afraid I have forgotten who first brought it to my attention, but I’m really pleased that I have discovered Maggie O’Farrell as I’m sure I’ll enjoy working my way through her back catalogue.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is set in Edinburgh and follows Iris, a young woman who discovers that she has a great-aunt living in a psychiatric unit. Iris was unaware of her existence and so decides to find out why her family have hidden Esme Lennox away for all these years.

I was initially surprised at how readable this book was. For some reason I’d assumed that this was a very literary book, requiring a lot of attention, but it was much lighter than I had imagined and I flew through it.

A draught of cold air snakes in, curling about her ankles. She lifts her head and looks around the shop. The blank, featureless heads of the hatstands stare down at her, a silk coat hung from the ceiling sways slightly in the breeze. She lifts the flap and the seal gives easily. She unfolds the single white sheet, glances down it. Her mind is still running on the beer, on how she’s going to clean it up, how she must learn not to kick cans in the street, but she catches the words case and meeting and the name Euphemia Lennox. At the bottom, an illegible signature.

Despite its modern setting it had a very Gothic feel to it, reminding me of books like The Thirteenth Tale and The Behaviour of Moths.

My only criticism is that I thought the ending was a bit predictable. I had heard about the amazing twist and so was quite sad to discover that I had worked it out quite early on.

Overall this was a light, entertaining read. Recommended.

Maggie O’Farrell has just released a new book: The Hand That First Held Mine

I’m looking forward to reading it in the near future.

Which Maggie O’Farrell book have you enjoyed the most?

Are her other books just as easy to read?