2000 - 2007 Booker Prize Recommended books

Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro

 Shortlisted for the Booker Prize 2005

I have been wanting to read this book for ages, but for some reason it never made it to the top of my reading pile. I’m making a conscious effort to ensure that this doesn’t happen to the most important books in my collection and so Never Let Me Go became a priority. I’m so happy that it lived up to my expectations and that I will be joining the hoards of people who rave about this book.

Never Let Me Go is set in an English boarding school, but things aren’t quite as you’d expect them to be. Over the course of the book we slowly discover that it isn’t set in our world, but in one with subtle differences. I won’t say any more than that as I’d hate to give it away. All I can say is that it is an incredibly well constructed book, where the power is in what is left unsaid, as much as what is.

Maybe from as early as when you’re five or six, there’s been a whisper going at the back of your head, saying: “One day, maybe not so long from now, you’ll get to know how it feels.” So you’re waiting, even if you don’t
quite know it, waiting for the moment when you realise that you really are different to them; that there are people out there, like Madame, who don’t hate you or wish you any harm, but who nevertheless shudder at the very thought of you – of how you were brought into this world and why–and who dread the idea of your hand brushing against theirs.

It was such a subtle book that I found myself reading it very slowly, studying each paragraph for clues about what was happening. The ending left me with more questions than answers, but I quite liked the way some things were left open –  it means that it can be discussed for longer, making it a perfect book group choice.

I had expected the text to be challenging and so I was impressed by how easy and accessible it was to read. This combined with a thought provoking and original plot make Never Let Me Go a modern classic.

Highly recommended.

The Never Let You Go movie is released in the US on 1st of October and in the UK on 14th January 2011.


The UK trailer for the film is below – it is almost spoiler free:

I was quite worried about how the adaptation would be handled, but I’ve been reassured by watching the trailers and am looking forward to seeing the film.

Did you enjoy Never Let Me Go?
What did you think of the trailer?

Discussions Other

How Can We Save UK Libraries?

Photo by: Martinrp, Flickr

Libraries in the UK are in real danger. The number of library visitors is dropping all the time, down 50% in the last 20 years, 9% since 2005.



In the past five years, library funding in the UK has actually gone up by 25% to £1 billion and with these hard economic times you’d expect people to be borrowing books from libraries instead of buying them, but that isn’t the case.

Why aren’t people in the UK borrowing books?

I have to admit that I didn’t visit a library for seven years. With a full-time job I found it increasingly hard to visit a library regularly. It was always shut in the evening by the time I finished work and I couldn’t guarantee I’d be able to get there on a Saturday morning. The city centre location, with expensive car parking and long queues of traffic put me off. Why would I put myself through that when I could just buy a second hand book from a car boot sale for 50p and not worry about being fined for not taking it back on time?

I eventually signed up to the library when my oldest son was 2-years-old. I wanted him to experience the love of libraries that I’d once had and, as a full-time mum, I had the time to get there. My children love their library, but as an adult I’m not that impressed. They often don’t have the books I want and although I can order some (at a cost of 50p) there are many books that never end up in my library system.

My local library is packed with people wanting free Internet access, but very few people seem to be borrowing the books.

School Libraries too good?

My oldest son started school a few weeks ago and now has access to a wonderful library in his school and computers with sodapdf to access pdf books online. I’m beginning to wonder if there is a need to go to the main public library now that he is bringing school library books home on a regular basis.

Things are different in America

In the US, despite cuts in library funding, visits to libraries are increasing, up 5% since 2006. I was astounded by the number of different initiatives available in some US libraries.

These include:

I’m going to look into the “books by mail” service a bit more and will report back with my findings soon.

The love for US libraries on Twitter was especially heart warming:

We go to storytime about 3-4 times a week at library. They also do lots of weekly crafts, put on a movie & special events. @mawbooks

Sometimes I take my kids to the library just for a family game night. We play board games there. So much fun. @pussreboots

I run a book club at my library, & there are always events like movies, writing groups, game nights, classes, etc. @pookasluagh

My boys have seen/petted more animals up close at the library at various events then they have anywhere else! @mawbooks

Compare the Usage Statistics

A Twitter conversation with @mawbooks led me to investigate her library in Utah. I have compared this with my local library system in Surrey, England.

I am aware that other libraries in both countries may have huge differences to these two, but as they served similar populations I thought it was an interesting comparison.

The difference in library usage can be seen by comparing the statistics:

Library Population Number of Borrowers

Estimated Number of Items that will be Checked Out in 2010

Surrey, UK 1.1 Million 355,000 6 Million
Salt Lake County, Utah, USA  783,000  680,000  15 Million
  • Just 32% of Surrey residents borrow books from the library, compared with a massive 87% of Utah residents.
  • That’s 5.5 items per year for each resident in Surrey, compared to 19 items in Utah.
  • Roughly 4x more items are being borrowed per person in Utah.

The staggering difference can also be seen when you look at the number of copies of new books available to borrow:

 Library Population Copies of Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins Copies of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
Surrey, UK 1.1 Million 8 copies on order.   No Holds 12 copies on order.   No Holds.
Salt Lake County, Utah, USA 783,000 962 copies,   2718 Holds 47 copies,   340 Holds

Note: Statistics were correct on the day each book was released in its respective country.

The Future of UK Libraries?

1000 libraries in the UK are threatened with closure in the next year.

I still visit my library, but it is more from a sense of duty than a desire to check books out.

I have been impressed by the recent advances Surrey libraries have made in some areas, including a new free audio/ebook download service, but I’m worried that this isn’t going to be enough to save many libraries from closure.

Drastic changes need to be made if libraries are to compete with the increasingly cheap second-hand book market. I’m not sure what the solution is, but we need to start thinking about it before we lose our libraries forever.

What would encourage you to visit your library more often?

Are you surprised by the difference in library usage across the Atlantic?

Which US initiatives do you think would work well in the UK?


2010 Historical Fiction

Corrag – Susan Fletcher

I received a copy of Corrag from the publishers a long time ago, but I wasn’t convinced I’d enjoy it. Words on the back cover like “haunting”, “lyrical” and “dreamlike” put me off, but continual raving from The Book Whisperer persuaded me to give it a try. Unfortunately my instincts were correct and this book wasn’t for me.

Corrag is set in Scotland in 1692. The book is narrated by Corrag, a 16-year-old girl who is imprisoned on suspicion of being a witch. Accused of involvement with the Glencoe Massacre, an event in which 38 members of the MacDonald clan were killed by soldiers, she is awaits her execution.

My main problem with this book was that nothing happened. Corrag is stuck in a prison cell telling her story to an Irish minister, but the snippets of action were very few and far between. The majority of the book revolved around tiny details about her life in prison. It was beautifully written, but after pages of these descriptions I became bored.

It snows. From the little window, I can see it snows. It’s been months, I think, of snowing – of bluish ice, and cold. Months of clouded breath. I blow, and see my breath roll out and I think look. That is my life. I am still living.

The repetition also wore me down. I can see that this is an accurate reflection of her experience, but as a reader I’m afraid I need to be entertained a bit more.

The Glencoe Massacre is a fascinating subject and so there were enough paragraphs of interest to keep me reading, but in many ways I wish this hadn’t been the case. I found myself ploughing through these “lyrical descriptions” waiting for a shred of plot to reveal itself. I reached the end wishing that I had given up early on. The only benefit of finishing was that I got to read the afterword, which was the most interesting section of the book.

Recommended to those who do not need a plot and are capable of immersing themselves in beautiful descriptions.

I’m in the minority. Everyone else seems to love it:

It is truly one of the most beautiful and lyrical books I have ever read. The Book Whisperer

Fletcher’s use of language is also impressive. Shelf Love

….it was a visual experience, a kind of conjuring. Eve’s Alexandria


Choo Woo – Lloyd Jones

I loved Mr. Pip so when John Murray, his publishers, invited me to meet Lloyd Jones I jumped at the chance. In preparation I decided to read one of his other books and because I owned a copy of Choo Woo it was the obvious choice.

Choo Woo isn’t a happy book. It focuses on ten-year-old Natalie who is sexually abused by her mother’s new boyfriend. Her innocence was touching to read, but I found her acceptance of the situation heartbreaking. The book wasn’t sexually explicit, leaving almost everything up to your imagination, but her thoughts and actions seemed realistic and this made the book more disturbing to read.

We also see things from the point of view of Natalie’s father, who is laden with guilt for not noticing what was happening to his daughter.

I wondered how I had missed so many obvious things. I wondered what had turned my head at crucial moments when a more deliberate glance would have told me everything. I wondered where the hell my head was during that year for a thing like that to have happened right under my nose.

The simple, powerful writing was gripping throughout, but by the end I just felt deflated and sad. It came across as an accurate portrayal of an abused child, but I didn’t feel as though I’d learnt anything new.

By coincidence I have read quite a few books about child abuse recently and feel I could write a essay comparing them. Instead I’ll summarize with a little table:

  Point of View Emotion New Perspective
Room Child of Abused Bucket Loads YES!
Forgetting Zoe Abuser, Abused and Family of Abused Trace In Places
Choo Woo Abused Child and Father of Abused Lots No

Reading about any form of abuse is hard, but when it affects a child it is even worse. I think I’ll try and avoid books about the subject for a while, but I have found it interesting to compare them all.

Recommended to anyone who enjoys dark, sad stories.

Have you read any of the other books that Lloyd Jones has written?

Which was your favourite?

Lloyd Jones has a new book coming out soon.

Hand Me Down World will be released on 11th November in the UK (2nd Nov in the US).

I’m going to be giving away copies of this new book on my blog soon, so if you are interested in winning a copy keep your eyes peeled for my giveaway post.

Other Recommended books

Recommendations from a non-blogger #4

It has been a long time since I last featured recommendations from a non-blogger, but I do love seeing lists of people’s favourite books and so I am going to try and make this a more regular feature on my blog.

This month I’m featuring Jacqui who lives in a small town in Warwickshire called Southam. She has a fantastic list of favourite books, so I’ll hand you over to her so that she can explain why she loves them so much:



I have read lots and lots of really great books over 50 years – reading is my favourite past time – but these days I tend towards ‘the lighter stuff’ as I haven’t the stamina anymore for ‘difficult’ literature. I’m not ‘old’ or ill, just busy with a demanding full time job and other interests. I love that Jackie asked me to do this, but my list is definitely not high brow! Choosing 10 favourite books was very hard but in the end I decided to go with those that I re-read on a (fairly) regular basis. I think this list is a bit predictable and I am sure many of you will have read most of these but here they are anyway:

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Fabulous writing, love the humour, brilliant characters – it makes me smile every time I read it and every time I get something more from it. I have read all Jane Austen’s novels and enjoyed all of them but only re-read this one.


Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

I think this is on a lot of women’s lists as a favourite. I like the dark Gothic style, I like that the ‘plain’ woman gets the man and I love the whole mysterious plot. I am a big Daphne Du Maurier fan and I sometimes think she is underrated – most of her novels are enjoyable and interesting and she certainly didn’t follow a formula.


The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

I am not generally a lover of science fiction but this story which I first read as a teenager grabbed form the start. I re-read it quite often and still enjoy the story and the descriptions. I think there are some powerful ‘word pictures’ in this novel and the part where London is described as a crumbling mausoleum a few years after the disaster is just so evocative – to me anyway. Despite not reading a lot of science fiction all of John Wyndham’s novels appeal to me – he is a great story teller.


Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres

A more contemporary book this time – I love the way this is written, the different viewpoints  and voices and of course the love story that runs through it all. After reading this I read Louis De Bernieres first three books, The War of Don Emmanuel’s Nether Parts, Senor Vivo and The Coco Lord and The Troublesome Offspring of Cardinal Guzman and heartily recommend these too.


The Time Traveler’sWife by Audrey Niffenegger

What can I say about this book – just gorgeous, clever and I cried buckets the first time and the second time I read it! Hope it makes me cry when I read it again.



The Seduction of Mrs.Pendlebury by Margaret Forster

Margaret Forster is a brilliant writer and I recommend all of her novels (especially the earlier ones) and her non-fiction. This particular story about an elderly lady who likes to keep herself to herself is so sad and so true to life that it takes my breath away with its wonderful observations on ‘the human condition’.



Gentleman And Ladies by Susan Hill

A gentle story but also like the one above, in my opinion, a perfect observation of the vagaries of human nature.



Restoration by Rose Tremain

This is a historical story. Like science fiction I don’t read a great deal of historical fiction although there are a few which nearly made it onto this list e.g. Katherine by Anya Seton. Rose Tremain’s novels are all good but this is the best for me. Very stylish writing.


The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende

Overall Isabel Allende is my favourite author (I think!). House of Spirits is a magical mixture of romance, family life, history, cruelty, hope, despair and triumph. Please read it.



The Devil’s Feather by Minette Walters

So many books could have made this 10th spot including Katherine which I have sneaked in above and those ‘included’ below but if I am sticking to my policy of including books I re-read then I have to include Minette Walters. Crime is my favourite genre and, quite simply, I think she is the best of the best. These are probably not very ‘literary’ but are very well written. For me her books have unbeatable page ‘turnability’, great plots and appealing characters. This is my favourite closely followed by The Ice House and Fox Evil.

I am slightly surprised at the number of female authors here because I don’t consciously choose to read books by women and certainly read a lot of male authors. The first 3 books on the list were teenage reads that left a lasting impression and I have another favourite read from that era (I am a little reluctant to admit to re-reading this occasionally though!). As a teenager I loved school stories and would pick these up at second hand bookshops whenever I could. There is one that I still own and still love! It’s called The Fourth and Fenella and is by Mary Gervaise. The book has a wonderful plot and is the story of a feisty 14 year old who is sent to boarding school by her long suffering older sister and guardian. Once there she is extremely rebellious and her adventures involve Russian Bolsheviks, recovered fortunes and resurrected reputations and romance (for her sister) – wonderful stuff!

I love this list! The Time Traveler’s Wife is one of my favourite books and I loved The Day of the Triffids and Rebecca. I haven’t read any of the others, but almost all are on my TBR pile. The House of Spirits and Restoration are especially appealing.

A big thank you to Jacqui for sharing her favourites!

Do you love any of these books?

Which appeals to you most?

2010 Books in Translation Chick Lit

Bad Karma – David Safier

 Translated from the German by John Brownjohn

I receive lots of email pitches from publishers and authors asking if I’m able to review their books. Most are dull and uninspiring, so I was pleasantly surprised when I read the synopsis for Bad Karma. Perhaps it was because I’d had a glass or two of wine before reading the message, but I found myself crying with laughter. I read the email to the relatives I had staying at the time and they all ended up laughing too (although maybe they were laughing at me?!) I instantly accepted the review request and went on to do a bit of research about the author. I discovered that David Safier is a successful German screenwriter, having won many awards including an Emmy. This book became a best seller in Germany, selling 850,000 copies.

Bad Karma is a funny, but thought provoking book about discovering the important things in life. Kim, the central character, is crushed to death by debris from a Russian space station and due to the fact that she mistreated her staff, ignored her daughter and cheated on her husband she is reincarnated as an ant:

Krttx glared after the. ‘Stupid males!’ she snarled. ‘They’re totally useless!’

That, I reflected, was a remark you often heard from human females.

‘The only thing they can do is mate with the Queen.’ Krttx growled.

That, I reflected, was a remark you didn’t so often hear from human females.

I stared after the flying ants. I was so inundated with sensory impressions, I didn’t even hear Krttx cussing. Which was unfortunate, because if I had I would have heard her shout: ‘Move, or I’ll bite you in the backside!’

‘OUCH!’ I yelped and lurched into action again.

Kim then goes on to be reincarnated several times – coming back as a guinea pig, a dog and even an earth worm. The animal point of views were realistic and insightful, but also highly amusing. It was great to see everyday human objects described from the the point of view of tiny insects. The only downside is that I now feel a bit bad about spraying “the Great Mist” at them!

Kim slowly realises what a terrible human being she was and makes an effort to become kinder, building up her karma so that she can be reincarnated as as more intelligent animal. It was only while reading this book that I realised how comforting a belief in reincarnation is. I was surprised at how many important issues were raised during the course of such an amusing book.

This has to be one of the most original books I’ve ever read and I really hope that it is able to gain the audience it deserves outside Germany.

Highly recommended.