2000 - 2007

Chang & Eng by Darin Strauss

Chang and Eng

Five words from the blurb: Siamese, twins, childhood, circus, independence

Just before Christmas Siamese twins were born in Brazil. I followed a series of links and ended up reading about Siamese twins for over an hour. My random reading ended on an article about Chang and Eng and I realised that I had a book of the same name buried somewhere in my TBR pile,  so I dug it out.

Chang and Eng is a fictionalised biography of the original Siamese twins. The brothers were born in Siam in 1811 and went on to become famous, appearing in America, England and France. This book details their life – from their early years in Asia until their death in America in 1874.

I enjoyed learning about how their life progressed, especially their visit to the King of Siam, but it always felt as though something was missing. Chang and Eng had a very interesting  life, but unfortunately this book felt a bit dry. It rarely managed to capture any emotion and tended to read like a non-fiction reference book. Occasionally emotions were investigated, but I found them to be lost amongst the overly complex sentence structure. It could be argued that it is an accurate portrayal of how people spoke back then, but I’m afraid it just irritated me.

Could I be falling in love with her? I asked myself. Is this what tender sentiment feels like?
Perhaps you are, I told myself. It could be so.
This discovery, which would have reduced me to fear and despondency just minutes before, seemed now little more than whimsical circumstance that somehow did not concern me directly. Rather than a flood of passion, love came to me as a curious and distant spectacle. But I shared my brother’s resolve to marry like ordinary human beings, to experience the matrimonial joy less deserving men relished.

The male perspective probably helped to further distance me from the book. I felt as though the wrong aspects of their lives were highlighted – for example, the arrival of their children was a minor event, whilst entire chapters were dedicated to small arguments within the marriage.

I’m pleased that I read it, but I’m sure there are better books on Siamese twins out there.


The only other book about Siamese twins that I’ve read is The Girls by Lori Lansens, which I remember enjoying.  Can you recommend any other books about Siamese twins?

2012 Thriller

The Child Who by Simon Lelic

The Child Who

Five words from the blurb: murdered, schoolmate, solicitor, defend, dilemna

Simon Lelic’s debut novel, Rupture, is one of my favourite books from the last decade. I wasn’t as impressed with his second, The Facility, but I was still keen to see what his new book would be like. The Child Who falls some where between the two. It is a fast paced, gripping read, but it lacks the depth and originality of Rupture.

The book centres on a solicitor who is called to defend a twelve-year-old boy accused of murdering a girl from his school. His job is made more difficult by the high public profile of the case and the way his family are increasingly affected.

The Child Who has far more commercial appeal than his previous books. It reads like a British version of Jodi Picoult, complete with the moral dilemma and the court room drama.

It was so compelling and easy to read that I read it in a couple of short sittings, but on ending the book I felt a little disappointed. The topic had potential to be thought-provoking, but I came away without feeling my viewpoint had been challenged. Each decision made by the characters seemed easy and the ending felt out of proportion and unrealistic. I wish it had contained a subtler character study instead of just being endless dialogue and action.

‘Well,’ Leo said. ‘There’s no denying it was a terrible crime. But the boy – Daniel – he hasn’t been charged, not officially. He’s barely spoken. And anyway it’s hardly our place – ‘
‘Did he do it, Leo?’ This from Stacie.
‘Surely they wouldn’t have made the fuss they did if they weren’t sure he did it?’
‘Now, Stacie, you know I can’t…’ But already her eyes were leaching disappointment and Leo was loath to let down the crowd twice.
‘Yes,’ He said. ‘I would say he did it. There’s not a doubt, if I’m honest, in my mind.’

I think I’m only disappointed because Simon Lelic has previously set the bar very high. This is an entertaining read and I recommend it to fans of lighter thrillers.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

The Child Who is a powerful and heart-wrenching thriller that will keep you on the edge of your seat and drag you, emotionally, into the thick of the plot. This is, without doubt, Lelic’s finest work to date. Reader Dad

I found it hard to become involved in the novel: none of the characters engaged my sympathy, and although the author attempts to create psychological understanding for the crime, I felt this was somewhat superficially treated… Petrona

…Almost a 5 star read for me. I did enjoy it, although the subject matter is dark, but in the end its middle ground between literary fiction & crime fiction made it not quite enough of one or the other for me. Novel Heights





The Book of Revelation by Rupert Thomson

The Book Of Revelation


Five words from the blurb: man, dancer, abduction, strangers, disturbing

I hadn’t heard of Rupert Thomson until he was mentioned on twitter by author Will le Fleming. We were discussing how sad it was that more people hadn’t read books by Andrew Miller (I recommend starting with Ingenious Pain) when he mentioned Rupert Thomson as another author who deserves more recognition. Having read The Book of Revelation I can only agree. It is sad that authors this good manage to slip through the net.

The Book of Revelation is a fast paced, but thought provoking book about the perceived difference in sexual behaviour between the sexes. The central character is a dancer who is abducted by three strange women. They hold him prisoner and subject him to a number of different sexual acts. The book cleverly questions the difference between male and female rape and investigates the emotions of a man who is subjected to a series of sexual crimes, but torn between vaguely enjoying himself and wanting to be free.

There was a moment, too, when he felt the beginning of an erection, that gradual tightening at the base of his penis, that slow, almost luxurious rush of blood. It was as if his body was taking sides against him. Betraying him.

I have to admit that when I started reading this book I planned to avoid mentioning it on my blog. The first half was quite pornographic; not in a titillating, explicit way, but in the number and frequency of sexual acts mentioned. It was only when I read the second half of the book that I realised how clever it was. It made me realise that I do have a different attitude to male rape and my attitude needs to change.

If you have a very tolerant book group then I highly recommend selecting The Book of Revelation – there is a lot to discuss and it would be interesting to know what others thought of the specific scenarios mentioned.

I love authors who manage to question the behaviour of society in this way and so I look forward to trying many more Rupert Thomson books in the future.


Have you read anything written by Rupert Thomson?




Three Gentle Reads

Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m not a big fan of gentle books. I know a lot of you love them, so here are three for those who enjoy quieter books:

All is Song

All Is Song by Samantha Harvey

Five words from the blurb: brother, alone, rootless, unite, questioning

I loved The Wilderness so was excited about Samantha Harvey’s new book. Unfortunately, although it could be argued that her writing quality has improved since her debut novel, she has done so at the expense of a compelling plot.

All Is Song follows two brothers who reunite after the death of their father. Very little happens. This book is a simple study of the relationship between two siblings and the way this affects the emotions of everyone around them.

If you enjoy character studies then I’m sure you’ll find a lot to intrigue you, but I’m afraid I found it all a bit dull and gave up after 90 pages.

Don’t be put off by me though – I’m sure this will end up on the Orange/Booker shortlist later this year.

Rules of Civility 2012 TV Book Club Selection

Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

Five words from the blurb: New York, coming-of-age, woman, society, change

The blurb of this book held no interest for me, but I was persuaded to read it by its inclusion on so may ‘best of 2011’ lists. I’m afraid that on this occasion my instincts were right – I do not enjoy charming coming-of-age stories set in New York high society.

From the very beginning I was aware of the very high writing quality in this book. New York came alive and the characters were very well developed. Unfortunately I seem to have a thing against rich characters and their relationship issues. Very little actually happens in this book and everything that does could be described as “charming”…… Arrghhh! *Runs away*

If you enjoy well written books about finding love in Jazz clubs and cocktail bars then this is for you, but I couldn’t finish it.


The Lady's Slipper

The Lady’s Slipper by Deborah Swift

Five words from the blurb: 1660, steals, orchid, exile, memories

I was drawn to this book because of its Lake District setting, but although I enjoyed reading some historical fiction set outside one of the big cities it didn’t contain enough specific local detail for me to be able to recommend it to fans of books set in Cumbria.

The Lady’s Slipper is set in the middle of the seventeenth century and focuses on a woman who discovers a rare orchid on her neighbour’s land. She steals the flower and attempts to propagate it, but the land owner is determined to get his flower back, leading to a battle of power.

The period atmosphere in this book is fantastic and it has clearly been very well researched, but I found the plot too slow and gentle for my liking. This book has over 400 pages, but the pace made it seem even longer. I know a lot of people love simply being immersed in another time period, but I prefer a bit more action.

Recommended to fans of gentle historical fiction.



2012 Chunkster

The Art of Fielding – Chad Harbach

The Art of Fielding

Five words from the blurb: college, baseball, friends, love, American

I hate watching sport, know nothing about baseball and haven’t enjoyed a sports themed book before (not that I’ve read many – I tend to avoid them), but increasing enthusiasm for The Art of Fielding persuaded me to give it a try. I’m pleased that I did as this is a modern classic that will be talked about for years to come.

The first few chapters did their best to put me off – I could see the writing quality, but the endless baseball references did nothing for me.

Henry played shortstop, only and ever shortstop – the most demanding spot on the diamond. More ground balls were hit to the shortstop than anyone else, and then he had to make the longest throw to first. He also had to turn double-plays, cover second on steals, keep runners on second from taking long leads, make relay throws from the outfield. Every Little League coach Henry had ever had took one look at him and pointed toward right field or second base. Or else coach didn’t point anywhere, just shrugged at the fate that had assigned him this pitiable shrimp, this born benchwarmer.

Without the hype I would probably have abandoned this book after the first few pages, but I persevered and at page 50 I was rewarded with chapter 6 which didn’t mention baseball at all. Instead it introduced Moby Dick, an English professor and a glimpse of the magical writing Chad Harbach is capable of when he talks about something other than sport.

As the book progressed I became increasingly attached to the characters in the book and completed its 500 pages in a surprisingly quick time, but on reaching the end I found I was quietly impressed rather than bowled over with excitement. I didn’t find anything particularly new or interesting in The Art of Fielding. It is simply a well written book about American college life – and I have read a lot of those, although I admit this is one of the best.

I think those who have been through an American college will have a far greater appreciation of this book than I did. I found it very similar to The Marriage Plot in terms of both style and subject matter – with The Art of Fielding being the better book in terms of consistency and message.

I’m also sure that I missed some of the relevant baseball references and their significance on the bigger picture. I’m afraid that those who claim this book will give the reader a passion for baseball are wrong, but I agree that it isn’t necessary to enjoy the sport to appreciate this book.

Despite my criticisms I do think this is a very good book. It is a simple story, but one that is very well told. It is hard not to feel compassion for the well developed characters. I just hope that next time Chad Harbach will devote his time to writing a book that doesn’t contain any sporting references.

Recommended, especially to American graduates.



Other Recommended books

My Favourite Reads in 2011

Happy New Year! I hope that you’ve had a wonderful few weeks and are enjoying 2012.

I’ve already posted about my favourite books published in 2011, but last year I also read a lot of fantastic books published in previous years.

Here are the best:

The Illustrated Gormenghast Trilogy

Gormenghast – Mervyn Peake

Titus Groan – Mervyn Peake

My favorite reading experience of the year was my Gormenghast read-along. The first two books in the series were leagues above anything else I’ve read recently and it was wonderful to be able to share the reading experience with so many other readers.

I highly recommend these atmospheric books. They are packed with the most vivid characters you’ll ever come across and I’ll never forget reading about their adventures in that spooky, sprawling castle.

Mountain People

The Mountain People – Colin Turnbull

The Mountain People gives an insight into a society with a very different structure to our own. In times of trouble could we ever leave our closest family members to die? This is a shocking, but thought-provoking look at the way one African tribe copes with a famine.

Things Fall Apart (Pocket Penguin Classics)

Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

This African classic shows how a traditional community was torn apart by the arrival of Europeans. It is one of those books that everyone should read.

The Wasp Factory

The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

You wouldn’t have thought a book about a child who tortures animals could be so good, but somehow Iain Banks manages to create something that is both enlightening and entertaining.

Leviathan – Philip Hoare

This book contains everything you’d ever want to know about whales. Nearly a year after reading this Hoare’s enthusiasm for his subject is still affecting me.

Independent People – Halldor Laxness

This isn’t an easy read, but I think it is worth the effort. The remote Icelandic community cope with many difficulties in ways I often found surprising. More people should read Laxness.

Year of Wonders – Geraldine Brooks

This book about how a small village is affected by the arrival of the plague is both gripping and devastating. It is historical fiction at its best.

Have I tempted you to read any of these books?

Do you love any of them as much as I do?