July Summary and Plans for August

I’ve been going through a non fiction phase this month. I’ve loved learning so many new facts and think this shift in my reading focus will continue to some extent for a while.

I’ve read an eclectic mix of books this month and all are worth reading for different reasons. I was disappointed that The Colour of Milk didn’t make the Booker longlist, but I hope it will be rewarded by other book prizes later in the year and encourage you to give it a try soon.

Books of the Month

The Colour of MilkZeitoun

Books Reviewed in July

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers 

The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon 

Merchants of Culture by John Thompson 

The Hand of Fatima by Ildefonso Falcones 

Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo 

The Doctor Will See You Now by Max Pemberton 

Wonder by RJ Palacio 

The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey 

Lacrimosa by Regis Jauffret 

Plans for August

August will mainly be devoted to trying books on The 2012 Booker Prize Longlist. I have a copy of The Teleportation Accident here and so will try that first. Communion Town is in my local library system and winging its way towards me now. I will then work my way through the rest of the list, adding a few random choices from my TBR pile whenever I’m in need of something lighter.

On a personal note, things are very busy for me at the moment. My youngest son was five this week and I’m busy planning his party. We’re also out most days, enjoying the Summer holidays. I have plans to go to the Olympics next week and I’m heading up to the Edinburgh festival later in the month. I’ll try to blog when I can, but I’m afraid it might be intermittent for a few weeks.

I hope you have a wonderful Summer!

Happy reading!


2011 Non Fiction Recommended books

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers


Five words from the blurb: Hurricane Katrina, flooded, neighbours, nightmare

In 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans. Zeitoun is the true account of what happened to one man, a hard working resident who stayed in the city to protect his property and ended up in prison suspected of terrorism. This is the kind of unbelievable story that you’d never find in fiction. The twists and turns are staggering and it is shocking to discover that the events of this book happened in a modern American city.

Zeitoun begins by introducing the reader to Abdulrahman and his family. Abdulrahman was born in Syria, but emigrated to New Orleans where he set up a successful decorating business, employing a number of people around the city. The book covers the few days preceding the storm; goes on to show the effects of the strong winds and flooding on Abdulrahman’s neighbourhood; and culminates in the shocking way that Abdulrahman was treated by American authorities.

The writing was engaging throughout, the pace slowly building towards the shocking climax. I was worried that I’d find much of this book disturbing, but that wasn’t the case. Several distressing events were mentioned, but they were written so skillfully that they never traumatised me.

The book is well researched, with each account fact checked against many others. It is all intelligently written, but never becomes overburdened with statistics as the emotions of the people involved remains the priority throughout.

 This book is narrative non-fiction at its best. It highlights the way that American authorities managed to make a natural disaster even worse than it already was, but also shows the strength of the human spirit. I found many sections extremely poignant and found this quote from near the end especially moving:

It could have been avoided, she thinks. So many little things could have been done. So many people let it happen. So many looked away. And it only takes one person, one small act of stepping from the dark to the light.

Zeitoun does a fantastic job of showing the Muslim religion in a positive light whilst highlighting the racism that is present in some sections of American society. It is compelling, shocking and insightful.

Highly recommended. 


Booker Prize Other

The 2012 Booker Prize Longlist

The 2012 Booker Prize longlist has just been announced as:

  • The Yips by Nicola Barker
  • The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman
  • Philida by André Brink
  • The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
  • Skios by Michael Frayn
  • The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
  • Swimming Home by Deborah Levy
  • Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
  • The Lighthouse by Alison Moore
  • Umbrella by Will Self
  • Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil
  • Communion Town by Sam Thompson

The Lighthouse (Salt Modern Fiction)Swimming HomeCommunion Town

Part of me is really happy to see several books that are new to me (The Lighthouse, Communion Town and Swimming Home) and another part is disappointed to see so many light, comic reads.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold FrySkios

I have read The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and Skios and whilst both were entertaining, neither stood out as anything special. I didn’t get around to reviewing either as I didn’t have much to say about them. I don’t think that is a good sign for a Booker longlistee.


Narcopolis was one of the only books that I correctly predicted would be on the longlist. I started reading it last week and was immediately impressed by the writing quality. Unfortunately I went on to abandon it because the characters didn’t engage me, but I think it is worthy of its place on the longlist and I can see it being enjoyed by people who like meandering, atmospheric books.

Bring up the BodiesThe Yips

It isn’t a surprise to see these two on the longlist. I haven’t enjoyed books written by Nicola Barker or Hilary Mantel in the past and I’ve heard these are similar in style to their previous work,  so am not planning to try either of these at the moment.


André Brink is an author I have heard many positive things about. He has been shortlisted for the Booker prize twice before and this book sounds like one I’ll really enjoy.

The Garden of Evening Mists

Tan Twan Eng’s debut novel, The Gift of Rain, was longlisted for the Booker prize and this new one has received a lot of praise in the blogosphere. I’m looking forward to giving it a try.

The Teleportation Accident

Ned Beauman has a very bizarre writing style. I abandoned his debut novel because it was too dark and weird for me, but his second is supposed to be a lot more comic (notice that word again!) and so I’m willing to give him another try. I’ll let you know what I think soon!


I’m not surprised to see Will Self on the list. He is one of those authors that I’ve wanted to try for a while, but never done so. I’m looking forward to finally finding out what his writing style is like.

I’m looking forward to trying many of the books on the longlist and hope they are of a high enough literary standard to justify their position.

What do you think of the longlist?

Have you read any of these books?

Which ones do you think I’ll enjoy?

Non Fiction

Merchants of Culture by John Thompson

Merchants of Culture

Five words from the blurb: publishing, world, marketing, books, money

Merchants of Culture provides detailed information about the publishing industry in Great Britain and America. By interviewing professionals and studying sales statistics John Thompson provides a comprehensive analysis of the changes in the industry over the last hundred years.

This book isn’t an easy read – it is a text book packed with technical information and detailed statistical analysis. Some sections fascinated me, but others were explained in far too much depth for the casual reader.

Before I began blogging I knew nothing about the publishing industry, but over the years I’ve come to realise what a complex, high risk business it is. This book explains every aspect of the industry: from the way agents and scouts discover authors, and the types of deals they secure; right through to the changing way books are sold in book shops and on the Internet.

The publishing industry works in a very different way to other retail sectors and I was surprised by some of the statistics: 

…for every 100 new hardcovers shipped out, somewhere between 30 and 60 will come back to the publisher as returns.

I also found the impact of film releases and TV appearances surprisingly large:

The only problem with this book is that it is going out of date fast. It was only published in 2010, but I already found that much of the information on digital publishing was out-of-date.

I think this book is a must read for anyone who works in the publishing industry and authors could also benefit from learning more about rights and marketing issues before they sign a contract with a publisher. Anyone else with an interest in the publishing industry will find a lot of interesting facts, but be aware that you may have to wade through a lot of technical detail to find it.


Many thanks to Litlove for drawing this book to my attention.


The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey

The Chemistry of Tears

Five words from the blurb: automaton, love, grief, mechanics, life

In the past I’ve had a hit/miss relationship with Carey’s books, but now he has produced a book that I neither love, nor hate. I think my lack of passion in either direction can be seen as a bad sign.

The Chemistry of Tears begins with Catherine, an automation conservator, discovering that the man she’s been having a secret affair with has died. Unable to share her grief she retreats into isolation. Luckily her boss is aware of the situation and gives her the task of restoring a rare automation. Notes produced at the time of its creation also give her the opportunity to discover the difficulties faced by its commissioner and these are woven into the story as a second narrative thread set in 19th century Germany.

I enjoyed the investigation into the difficulties of private grief, but the book failed to maintain this beautifully claustrophobic atmosphere. I was unable to bond with Catherine and although I initially enjoyed the descriptions of the automaton I quickly became bored by the increased technical detail.

The historical section about the commissioning of the automaton was also interesting at first, but mirrored the other narrative arc in becoming increasingly dull.

I suspect that the effects were all deliberate, as suggested by this quote from the book:

Time and time again, in the early hours, I took refuge with Henry Brandling whose slightly mechanical handwriting served to cloak the strangeness of the events it described. He was, in the best and worst sense, an intriguing narrative.

Unfortunately the mechanical writing did cloak any strangeness that may have been present and I’m afraid that it also prevented the writing from being intriguing. The coldness of the narrative is probably meant to symbolise the lifelessness of machines, but as a reader it frustrated me. I wanted more emotion and some narrative drive.

Some interesting ideas were sprinkled through the text, but overall I was a bit disappointed. It was a mildly entertaining read, but if you’d like to read a story about automata I’d recommend The Invention of Hugo Cabret every time.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

It’s an enjoyable enough read but my enthusiasm for turning the pages towards the end came more from the prospect of finishing it rather than wanting to know how it finished. Just William’s Luck

This book is good. Really good. Shearer’s Book Blog

I had no connection to any of the characters, not liking them, nor caring what happened to them in the end. Back to Books



Booker Prize Other

Who Will be Longlisted for the 2012 Booker Prize?

2012 has been an amazing year for fiction. Last year I struggled to find 13 books good enough to justify a place on a Booker longlist, but this year I’m overwhelmed by the quality. I’ve read at least 20 books that deserve longlisting and have heard about many others from fellow book lovers. Whittling down the list to just 13 is an almost impossible task and I don’t even have anyone to argue with!

Historical Fiction

It is a good year for historical fiction and as the 2012 Man Booker judges seem to have a strong connection to the genre I suspect that there will be a few on the list.

The Marlowe Papers

I think that The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber is most deserving of a place. Written in verse, it is so different from anything else published recently and shows a real literary talent.

Merivel: A Man of His Time

Rose Tremain was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1989 for Restoration. The sequel, Merivel, is published in September. I’m lucky enough to have a proof copy and although I haven’t finished reading it yet I can see it shares its engaging, atmospheric style. So far it is just as good as Restoration and therefore deserves longlisting.

The Colour of Milk

The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon has a unique voice and should stand out from the crowd. I’d love to see it longlisted, and am keeping my fingers crossed that it is long enough to qualify.

The Street Sweeper

My personal favourite is The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman. It raises important questions about historical fiction and how easily important events are forgotten. I’d love to see its profile raised and so am rooting for it in all literary prizes this year.

Character Studies

I often struggle with the slower pace of character studies and therefore have to rely on the opinion of others to sort the wheat from the chaff.

The Forrests

The Forrests by Emily Perkins seems to be standing head and shoulders above everything else this year. A wide range of knowledgeable people seem to think that this even has a chance of winning. Who am I to disagree?

Painter of Silence

In being shortlisted for the Orange Prize Painter of Silence has already shown its prize winning potential. This quiet story is widely loved and I’d be surprised if it didn’t make it onto the Booker longlist.

Previous Booker Winners/Nominees

Bring up the Bodies

I wasn’t a fan of Wolf Hall, but those who were are claiming that the sequel, Bring up the Bodies, is even better. I guess that means it should walk onto the longlist without question.

All is Song

I was a big fan of The Wilderness, but Samantha Harvey has stepped up her game with All is Song. The writing quality is even better and the emotions come alive on the page. Unfortunately it crossed over the line and became a bit too literary for my taste, but that is what the Booker is all about! If you are willing to put the effort into peeling back the literary layers then you will be rewarded with a fabulous book.

How It All Began

How It All Began is littered with quotable sentences. It is a bit too quiet and domestic for my taste, but I can see the quality shining through. The many references to literature will mean it has an added appeal that I’m sure those Booker judges will admire.


Timothy Mo was shortlisted for the Booker Prize three times in the 1980s, but Pure is his first book for 10 years. The complexity of the prose put me off, but his fans are raving about this one and so I think it may well be fourth time lucky for him.

Everything Else

The Light of Amsterdam

The Light of Amsterdam has received rave reviews from almost everyone who has read it. It has been described as “introspective” and so I’ve been avoiding it so far, but if it makes the longlist I’ll give it a try. I’m prepared to be surprised!


I have a passion for books set in India and so was drawn towards Narcopolis. The subject matter is a bit bleak, but the writing is amazing. It has the benefit of being different from everything else on my longlist.

A Division of the Light

A Division of the Light isn’t my usual sort of book, but a rare endorsement from Kazuo Ishiguro persuaded me to give it a try. I was instantly impressed by the vivid descriptions and the emotional tension that runs through it. It is very deserving of a longlist position.

The Ones I Didn’t Select

Narrowing down my selection to just 13 titles was very hard, especially since many of the contenders aren’t even published yet. I’ve had to rely on feedback from those in the industry who’ve read copies and my own instincts, but as every judging panel is individual it is almost impossible to predict which ones they’ll choose.

Here are some of the other books that I wouldn’t be surprised to see on the Booker longlist:

Mountains of the Moon by I J Kay, NW by Zadie Smith, The Yips by Nicola Barker, The Deadman’s Pedal by Alan Warner, No Time Like the Present by Nadine Gordimer, The Chemistry of Tears by Peter Carey, Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears, Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan

My Prediction for the 2012 Booker Longlist:

  1. The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman
  2. Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
  3. All is Song by Samantha Harvey
  4. How It All Began by Penelope Lively
  5. Pure by Timothy Mo
  6. Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding
  7. The Forrests by Emily Perkins
  8. Merivel by Rose Tremain
  9. Narcopolis by Jeet Thayil
  10. The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon
  11. The Light of Amsterdam by David Park
  12. A Division of the Light by Christopher Burns
  13. The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber


The Booker longlist is revealed on 25th July. I’m hoping that the judges will introduce me to some fabulous new fiction.

Who do you think will be longlisted for the 2012 Booker Prize?