November Summary and Plans for December

November has been a fantastic reading month for me. I read a string of fantastic books and have been enjoying a diverse range of subject matters. Variety really is the spice of life and I’m going to continue to seek out stranger books in the future.

Book of the Month

People Who Eat Darkness: Love, Grief and a Journey into Japan's Shadows

In any other month these two books would have been ‘Book of the Month’; so I’ll highlight them here too:

Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend The Cook

Books Reviewed in November

People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry 

The Cook by Wayne Macauley 

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Green (audio book) 

The Human Part by Kari Hotakainen 

The Cow by Beat Sterchi 

Just My Typo compiled by Drummond Moir 

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson 

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury 

Jamilia by Chingiz Aïtmatov 

The Finno-Ugrian Vampire by Noémi Szécsi 

Plans for December

For some reason I’m being drawn towards chunksters at the moment. The long, dark nights are encouraging me to settle down with increasingly weighty tomes and so I don’t plan to read many books in December.

My short list of long books are:

Parallel Stories by Peter Nádas
The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
Canada by Richard Ford

I’ll probably mix things up with a few shorter books, but I haven’t decided what they’ll be yet. Luckily I’ve finished most of the books in my sidebar so I still have lots of books to tell you about.

Have a wonderful December!


Just My Typo compiled by Drummond Moir

Just My Typo: From Sinning with the Choir to the Large Hardon Collider

Five words from the blurb: mistake, printed, embarrassing, hilarious, history

Just My Type is a compilation of typographical errors from a wide range of sources. The only thing linking them is that the mistakes created are funny. When an unsolicited review copy dropped through my letterbox I was initially sceptical  –  I have a problem with people who laugh at the grammatical and spelling errors of others.  But I have to admit I’m a hypocrite on this one and was quickly won over by the numerous amusing examples.

The book is divided into twelve sections, each dealing with a different area. Literature, politics and the legal system are all covered, but my favourite was the chapter made possible by new technology – the autocorrect function for text messaging. I know I’ve sent a few dodgy messages in my time, but luckily they’ve tended to make no sense. Some of the examples in this book could easily cause big problems for the sender:

The majority of the book is made up of small examples of faulty text. Here are a few of my favourites:

Yoko Ono will talk about her husband John Lennon, who was killed in an interview with Barbara Walters. TV Magazine (US), 1987

Not to be taken whilst beastfeeding. Warning on paracetamol bottle

Keeping all food under cover is the first step towards ridding the house of aunts. Albany Journal

There are also photographs and historical documents to illustrate some of the more visual blunders.

Overall I found this to be an entertaining little book. It’s the perfect stocking filler.


2012 Crime Non Fiction Recommended books

People Who Eat Darkness by Richard Lloyd Parry

People Who Eat Darkness: Love, Grief and a Journey into Japan's Shadows

Five words from the blurb: Tokyo, hostess, dismembered, fate, family

Lucie Blackman was just 21-years-old when she disappeared in June 2000. She had been working as a hostess in Tokyo and for months no-one knew what had happened to her. It was suggested that she’d joined a cult or run away with a boyfriend, but after a difficult search her dismembered remains were discovered in an isolated cave. Richard Lloyd Parry spent 10 years researching the case; interviewing everyone and gaining detailed information about the personalities of those involved. People Who Eat Darkness provides an insight into the bizarre world of the Japanese hostess and explains the legal system in the country. It is a fascinating book that must rank as one of the best pieces of true crime ever written.

The pace of the book was slow and Parry’s meticulous research was obvious throughout, but what made this book special was the way that every single person was thoroughly developed. I felt as though I knew them, understanding their actions and feeling their pain/frustration.

The book was perfectly structured. In the hands of a lesser author the story could be seen as quite simple, but Parry arranged the fragments to create an engaging book that introduced new threads of information at exactly the right time. Complex moral questions were raised throughout and I’m still thinking about what I’d do if faced with similar circumstances.

People are afraid of stories like Lucie’s, stories about meaningless, brutal, premature death; but most of them can not own up to their fear. So they take comfort in the certainty of moral judgements, which they brandish like burning branches waved in the night to keep off the wolves.

Lucie’s case was high profile and I remembering hearing some details from the press at the time, but this book revealed how little the public actually know about an individual case. I was shocked by certain aspects of the story and surprised by the number of twists and turns.

I love Japanese culture and this book provided me with lots of interesting snippets of information. I found the details about the police force particularly revealing – who knew that the symbol for the Tokyo Metropolitan Police is an orange fairy named Peepo?!

Overall this was an impressive book that will shock and entertain you. Highly recommended.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

It was a fascinating  and intense read. The Literary Stew

…a thorough investigation of a crime that can offer no answer to its questions. In Bed with Books

…a compelling and unputdownable read, that will haunt you for days afterward. A Bookish Way of Life


2012 Books in Translation Other Prizes

The Human Part by Kari Hotakainen

The Human Part Translated from the Finnish by Owen F Witesman

Winner of France’s Prix du Courrier International and Finland’s Runeburg Prize

Five words from the blurb: author, sell, life, family, stories

The Human Part begins with an author approaching an elderly woman at a book fair. The author has writer’s block and with no idea what to write next he offers to buy the woman’s life story for €7000. She agrees, but after telling her story she begins to worry about the way he will depict certain events. The book cleverly shows how difficult relationships within a family can be and how an individual’s perception of a situation can be clouded by their history.

This book was instantly engaging and I fell in love with Salme, the elderly woman, and the way she wasn’t afraid to put her viewpoint across.

First of all, and in partial defense of myself, I should say that I do not like made-up books or the people who write them. It has always irritated me that they are taken seriously, that people get so immersed in them and listen carefully to the people who write them. I am now referring to the novels and other things on the shelves labelled “fiction” or “translated fiction”. It irritated me even more when Parvo and I found out that people go all the way to other countries to find these made-up stories and that people who have studied other languages transfer these obvious lies over into our language.

Her grumpiness charmed me and I quickly felt as though I knew her. The book did a fantastic job of explaining the complex mixture of emotions that exist within a family and how life changes as everyone grows up. There were some beautiful observations, some of which were really poignant:

…human sorrow comes from never being able to be the same age as one’s children.

As the book progressed it became more complex, with the author and Salme both presenting different versions of events. The reader must piece together the information to work out the truth, but unfortunately the big secret that looms over the whole book wasn’t that interesting. Once revealed it lost its mysterious power and so I found the ending a little disappointing. Despite this problem it was still a wonderful book, containing the perfect mixture of humor and darker moments. It is easy to see why this book has won so many prizes and I’m keen to try more of Hotakainen’s other books.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

 The whole book just oozes humanity, both in showing us the faulty and sometimes ugly side of human life and opinion, and in showing us love and understanding. Iris on Books

….a marvelous and fascinating tale… Nordic Book Blog

…with a satirical, tongue-in-cheek view of modern Finland, the novel ultimately descends into darkness… Reader Dad

2012 Audio Book Books for Children Recommended books YA

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Green (audio book)

Memoirs Of An Imaginary Friend Note: Author is known as Matthew Dicks in the US

Five words from the blurb: boy, danger, loyalty, imagination, friend

Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend has the most original premise I’ve come across this year. The book is narrated by Budo, an imaginary friend who explains what life is like for those who only exist because a human has thought of them. Most live brief lives with young children, but Budo is special. Budo was imagined by Max, an 8-year-old boy with autism. Because Max has autism his attention to detail is excellent and so Budo is very life-like – unlike most other imaginary friends he even has ears! Budo can talk to Max and other imaginary friends, but cannot communicate with other people or touch anything in the real world. One day Max disappears and Budo is the only one who can save him. This leads to a thrilling, entertaining plot that is packed with emotion.

I am drawn towards books that deal with autism and this one did a fantastic job of showing the condition in a realistic, but positive light. Matthew Green’s career as a teacher has obviously helped him to understand children and this engaging story was filled with lovely little details about school life.

There were a few moments when I became frustrated by the plot – in the middle it became far fetched and I could see easier ways for Max to be rescued. But as this is a children’s book I’ll give it the benefit of the doubt – especially since the plot was so compelling.

There were also times when it got a bit too sentimental for me, but on the whole the messages were good and so I’ll forgive this too.

You have to be the bravest person in the world to go out every day, being yourself when no one likes who you are.

The audio book narration was wonderful! Matthew Brown was perfect, effortlessly managing all the different voices and capturing the heartache and emotion of the situation. I’m not sure I’d have enjoyed it as much if I’d read the print edition. The style reminded me of My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece and I’m sure that anyone who enjoyed Annabel Pitcher’s book will also like this one.

Because it addresses so many issues this book would make a fantastic classroom resource for older children. Themes of bullying, death, friendship and disability could all be discussed. The fact that most of the problems were faced by imaginary friends somehow made them less oppressive. But this isn’t just a book for children; as an adult I loved the original approach and was charmed by Budo’s insight in human behaviour.

This has become one of my favourite books with an autistic character. Recommended.


Many thanks to Bay State Reader’s Advisory for drawing this book to my attention!

The thoughts of other bloggers:

I listened to the entire 10 hour audiobook over the course of a single day because I just could not bear to put it down. Devourer of Books

….for all the suspense, the writing wasn’t quite as tight as Emma Donoghue’s in Room. Capricious Reader

That Matthew Dicks crafted his novel in such a way as to give an almost 3D view of the life of a child with emotional and social issues impressed me. The Literate Housewife



Three Abandoned Books

The Swarm: A Novel of the Deep Translated from the German by Sally-Ann Spencer

The Swarm by Frank Schätzing

Five words from the blurb: sea, killed, mankind, science, ecological

I’ve been wanting to read this for a long time, but at nearly 900 pages it intimidated me. German Literature Month inspired me to put aside my fears and I dived in. I was reminded of the wonderful Michael Crichton books I used to read and was immediately gripped by the compelling plot.

The book is set in the near future at a time when the world is being battered by a series of natural disasters. People keep dying at sea and the number of unexplained deaths is increasing every day. Groups of experts gather to research the situation, but as the condition escalates it becomes increasingly hard for them to understand what is happening.

The writing was very good and there were lots of powerful warnings about the damage mankind is doing to the planet.

Understanding the planet was no longer enough for most people; they were trying to change it. In the Disneyland of botched science, human intervention was forever being justified in new and disturbing ways.

I initially loved this book – the science was well researched and the scenes were tense, exciting and full of foreboding. As the book progressed I found that this wasn’t enough and I began to lose interest. There was no central character to engage with and, although the science was technically accurate, I couldn’t believe the events would ever occur. Instead of becoming increasingly scary I found the action increasingly ridiculous. I abandoned the book after 250 pages.

The Dogs Of War

The Dogs of War by Frederick Forsyth

Five words from the blurb: African, secret,  mercenaries, tycoon,  government

I was inspired to read this book after attending a wonderful talk from the author a few weeks ago. Unfortunately it quickly became obvious that his thrillers aren’t for me – I have no interest in precious metals and became bored by the detailed information on military operations.

The Dogs of War is set in a fictional West African country where a valuable amount of precious metal has been found. A band of mercenaries set out to take control of this resource and gain power of the country.

Unfortunately the characters were flat and so I didn’t care what happened.

‘G’bye, Patrick,’ he said. ‘I’m afraid it’s over now. Take the Landrover and dump it. Bury the guns and mark the spot. Leave your uniform and go for bush. Understand?’
The lieutenant, who a year ago had been a recruit with the rank of private and had been promoted for his ability to fight rather than eat with a knife and fork, nodded somberly, taking in the instructions.

The book felt dated and lacked the emotional depth I like to see in a book. I abandoned it after about 60 pages.

The Sweetness of Life: A Kovacs and Horn Investigation Translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch

Winner of the 2009 European Literature Prize

The Sweetness of Life by Paulus Hochgatterer

Five words from the blurb: grandfather, victim, silent, child, psychological

I spotted this book in my library and thought it would be perfect for German Literature Month. Unfortunately it failed to engage me, but I suspect the quality of the writing will be enough to entertain most people.

It was cold. A narrow bank of fog was sitting on the hill behind the buildings. Kovacs had also forgotten his gloves. I forget the camera because Demski’s not here, he thought, and I forget my gloves because I don’t have a wife any more. He bent down. There was something in the snow, driven into the broad tyre tracks which were all over the place. A small, dark, brown stone, that was all. He put it into his pocket.

The book begins with a six-year-old girl discovering the body of her grandfather in the snow outside their home. The girl goes into shock and refuses to talk, hampering efforts to work out who committed the crime.

This was a well written piece of crime fiction, but too many characters were introduced and I struggled to differentiate between them. Each chapter was narrated by a different person and so I found it impossible to connect with anyone. It may well all come together in the end, but I’m afraid I didn’t care enough about the story to want to persevere. I abandoned the book after 80 pages.