Titus Awakes – Maeve Gilmore and Mervyn Peake

Titus Awakes

Five words from the blurb: Gormenghast, Titus, bravery, free, past

Earlier this year the fourth novel in the Gormenghast series, Titus Awakes, was published. The book was discovered in a Maeve Gilmore’s attic nearly 30 years after her death and is Gilmore’s attempt to complete the fragments of a novel that her husband, Mervyn Peake, left behind.

Titus Awakes is a short novel in which Titus leaves Gormenghast, meets a variety of people and ends up in a modern city. Sound familiar? Yes! This book felt like a shortened version of Titus Alone. I didn’t enjoy Titus Alone  and I’m afraid that this was even worse. The plot was very basic; Titus was a weak, charmless individual and the descriptions lacked the vivid atmosphere of Titus Groan/Gormenghast.

This book added nothing to the Gormenghast series and I found it a real chore to read to the end. I can only imagine this being of interest Gormenghast scholars – everyone else should stick to Titus Groan and Gormenghast.



The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

The Night Circus

Five words from the blurb: circus, dark, dazzling, world, imaginative  

About six weeks ago a beautiful book dropped through my letter box. I knew nothing about it, but was immediately impressed by the design and the quotes on the cover. Out of curiosity I read the first page and became so hooked that I ended up reading about 150 pages right then and there. Since then The Night Circus seems to have exploded across the Internet. The hype for this book has been phenomenal and I’m quite pleased that I read it on its own merit, before being influenced by the hundreds of reviews already out there. I can see why so many people love this book, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to add a few words to of caution to the piles of praise. This book is very good, but it isn’t perfect.

The Night Circus is a mysterious black and white circus that appears in towns and cities around the world. Open only at night this “Circus of Dreams” contains a magical array of entertainment, with each tent containing more surprising items than the last. The book crosses into the world of magical realism with the acts portrayed, but the incredibly visual descriptions means that this works really well. I am sure that the Night Circus will instantly jump to the top of most readers “places in literature you want to visit” list.

“You think, as you walk away from Le Cirque des Reves and into the creeping dawn, that you felt more awake within the confines of the circus.
You are no longer quite certain which side of the fence is the dream.”

The main problem with this book is that the setting is so strong it swamps everything else. The characters and plot struggle to make themselves noticed against the stunning backdrop of the circus. This meant that by the half way point the book began to run out of steam. The blurb describes magicians battling with each other and I kept thinking of the amazing book, The Prestige, which makes the twists and turns in The Night Circus look insignificant.

The majority of the characters also failed to come alive. They felt like props in the circus rather than real people and so I failed to form a connection to them. This meant that the romance aspect of the novel wasn’t convincing and I became bored by their interactions.

I’m sure that this book will dominate the end of year favourite lists and I do think it will go on to become a modern day classic, but I’m afraid I need a bit more than an amazing setting to keep me entertained.  Despite my criticisms I recommend that you read this book – your life will be richer for having read about the “Circus of Dreams” and the ability to re-imagine the magical circus displays will surely add to the quality of your own dreams.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

…..the world that Morgenstern builds is so vivid that you can smell the caramel and popcorn in the air,  and so immediately appealing that I would happily spend my life wandering the circus, visiting tent after tent, lost in its secrets.   Fyrefly’s Book Blog

……there just isn’t enough quality in the writing to satisfy and however impressive the fireworks feel at the time there’s a great feeling of disappointment once the smoke clears and the soggy architecture is all that remains. Just William’s Luck

The Night Circus is about a world filled with unexpected magic, and Morgenstern uses it to hint at the magic we might find in our world if we were just open to seeing it. The Book Lady’s Blog



1990s Orange Prize Thriller

Hen’s Teeth – Manda Scott

Hen's Teeth Short listed for 1997 Orange Prize

Five words from the blurb: mysteriously, dead, hens, scientists, Glaswegian

Hen’s Teeth is a thriller set on a farm near Glasgow. One of the farm’s owners is discovered to have died from a heart attack, but because her brother died in the same way, just two weeks earlier, her friends are convinced that both deaths are suspicious and they set out to discover who killed them. The only clue they have to go on is the mysterious theft of the hens…

I found this book very engaging and flew through it in just two days. The central characters were well formed and I loved the way we were given details of their back story. I also liked the way that the central characters were gay, but the relationships were portrayed so naturally that the reader barely notices.

As a former vet Manda Scott does a fantastic job with the science in this book. I often complain that science isn’t handled very well in fiction, but this book is one of the few that includes it in an intelligent way, without scaring the average reader.

My only complaint is that many aspects of the plot were far too convenient. The characters just happened to know exactly the right person to solve every problem they encountered and some of the plot points were a bit far fetched for me (the scene with guard dogs had me rolling my eyes the most!).

Despite these criticisms I found Hen’s Teeth very entertaining and I’m keen to try Manda Scott’s other books.


Have you read anything by Manda Scott?

Her Boudica books look especially interesting. Do you think I’d enjoy them?



Book Lamp: The Scientific Way to Choose your Next Book

Book Lamp is a new site which uses a scientific approach to compare books. By analysing numerous different aspects of both content and writing style the site compiles over 30,000 data points for each book. These are then processed to obtain the “book’s DNA” which then can then be used to compare it to other books.


I decided to test the system by entering my favourite book, A Fine Balance.

Book Lamp came up with the following suggestions:

  1. Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry
  2. Absent by Betool Khedairi
  3. The Lilac Bus by Maeve Binchy
  4. A Beggar at the Gate by Thalassa Ali
  5. Everyman Dies Alone by Hans Fallada
  6. Slow River by Nicola Griffith
  7. A Room with a View by EM Forster
  8. Song of the Cuckoo Bird by Amulya Malladi

It is no surprise to see another book by the same author at the top of the list. I’m reading it now and can confirm that it is almost as wonderful as A Fine Balance.

I was surprised to discover that the second book on the list was one I hadn’t heard of and so I decided to test the site by ordering a copy of Absent. As you can see from my review yesterday I really enjoyed it. I can see why it managed to top the list and as I was reading it I smiled as I spotted the similarities. The writing was of a similar quality and pace, the book focused on people living in a country under turmoil and there was even a seamstress in the first chapter! I’m very pleased that Book Lamp brought this book to my attention.

Most of the other books on the list intrigue me, but I fail to understand why The Lilac Bus ranks so highly. I enjoyed Maeve Binchy as a teenager, but think of her books as warm romances and so struggle to see how they can be similar to life during Indian Emergency. Perhaps I’ll have to read a copy and find out why it has been included.

Have you read any of these books? Do you think I’d enjoy them?

The main problem with the Book Lamp site is that it doesn’t contain a full range of books and authors, but as new books are added every day I’m sure it wont be too long before all my favourites are added.

What do you think of Book Lamp?

Did you discover any new books thanks to its recommendations?

Do you think you’ll use it to discover new books?

2000 - 2007 Books in Translation

Absent – Betool Khedairi

Absent Translated from the Arabic by Muhayman Jamil

Five words from the blurb: Baghdad, apartment, bombings, arrests, honey

Absent is set in a crowded Baghdad apartment building and follows the lives of the residents as they endure bombings, arrests and the international sanctions of the 1990s. The central character is Dalal, a young woman who was abandoned at birth. Living with her aunt and uncle the three manage to avoid the worst of the poverty by taking up beekeeping. This book does a fantastic job of explaining the difficulties faced by Iraqi citizens,  as well as providing a fascinating insight into the problems of setting up a honey production business.

I join her at the window to share her amazement. The smoke from the bombing over the past few weeks has combined with the rain from last night, painting bars of loathsome solution everywhere. The local weather forecasters failed to predict the sudden downpour. Its smell is like a mixture of burnt engine oil and the stench of a rat that had died a while ago.

The book begins with a series of short passages, each describing a different unrelated scene. It was a bit like reading several short stories that happened to be set in the same place and I struggled to connect with it. It took about 40 pages for everything to become clear and for me to begin to bond with the characters, but once I’d managed to fit the pieces of the jigsaw together I was hooked.

I never formed an emotional connection to the characters, but I was intrigued by their lives; curious as to what would happen to them all. The writing/translation was of a very high standard and I loved the way that gentle humor was sprinkled throughout the text to lighten the mood.

My edition of the book also contains a short postscript, explaining the author’s motivations for writing the book. This added an extra dimension to the text and made me feel especially lucky to live in such a safe country.

This can never be described as an enjoyable book, but it is an important one. Recommended to anyone who wants a greater understanding of what the ordinary citizens of Baghdad had to endure at the end of the 20th century.


How did I hear about this fantastic little book? Come back tomorrow and I’ll explain all!




Caribou Island – David Vann

Caribou Island

Five words from the blurb: Alaska, marriage, unravelling, storms, life

Legend of a Suicide was one of my favourite reads in 2009 and so I was excited about trying David Vann’s latest book. Unfortunately, despite being equally well written, it didn’t have the same impact on me.

Caribou Island is set on a remote Alaskan island and follows one family as they battle with relationship problems and illness.

Gary looked out of the window at the lake through the trees, at the salmon, knew he should feel lucky, but felt nothing except a mild, background terror of how he’d get through the day, how he’d fill the hours. He’d felt this all his adult life, especially in the evenings, especially when he was single. After the sun went down, the stretch of time until when he could sleep seemed an impossible expanse, something looming, a void that couldn’t be crossed.

The book is dark and atmospheric throughout, with fantastic descriptions of the harsh Alaskan landscape.

The pace was much faster than Legend of a Suicide and I flew through it in a couple of sittings.

The problem was that the plot was depressing. Not in the wonderfully original, powerful way of his first book, but in the mundane, soul-sapping way that things happen in real life. There were a few fantastic scenes sprinkled through the novel, but most of it just left me feeling sad. I longed for something to lift the mood, or to shock me, but unfortunately the book continued on its melancholy journey.

Recommended to those who enjoy books that investigate the dynamics of family relationships, but it should be avoided by anyone looking for a happy read.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

David Vann writes with honesty and sharp-edged realism that is hard to ignore. Caribousmon

It’s a bleak book, yes, but also a beautiful one. Follow the Thread

This isn’t a novel to pick up if you are looking for a happy ending; instead, if you are looking for the beauty in despair and destruction, this is a great book to pick up. S. Krishna’s Books