Other Uncategorized

October Summary and Plans for November

October was an amazing reading month for me. I read four outstanding books (a 5* review is coming soon!), which I think is a record for me. All were very different in terms of style and content, but I highly recommend them all.

Books of the Month

The Last Banquet is an atmospheric story set in 18th century France. The descriptions of animal butchery mean that it isn’t for the squeamish, but if you enjoyed The Cook by Wayne Macauley then this book is for you!

Beneath the Darkening Sky is a disturbing insight into the plight of Africa’s child soldiers. It is a really important book and I hope that word about its brilliance spreads.

Difficult Conversations  makes you look at arguments in a different light. It has changed the way I interact with people and had a positive impact on my life.

The Last BanquetDifficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most[ DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS: HOW TO DISCUSS WHAT MATTERS MOST ] By Stone, Douglas ( Author )Nov-02-2010 PaperbackBeneath the Darkening Sky

Books Reviewed in October

Beneath the Darkening Sky by Majok Tulba 

The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood 

Difficult Conversations by Stone, Patton and Heen 

Wild by Cheryl Strayed 

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth 

419 by Will Ferguson 

Night Flight by Antoine de Saint-Exupery 

The Skinning Tree by Srikumar Sen 

The History of Mary Prince by Mary Prince 

Plans for November

I plan to be an active participant in German Literature Month and am trying to read a diverse range of genres. I’ve already read several books and have a few more in the pipeline. My German books will include:

Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus

The Hunger Angel by Herta Muller

The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach

Back to Back by Julia Franck

The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers

I also plan to join Ghanaian Literature week by reading:

Not Without Flowers by Amma Darko

If I have any time after that I plan to squeeze in some of these:

Tampa by Alissa Nutting

The Orenda by Joseph Boyden

The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

A Man In Full by Tom Wolfe

I hope you have a wonderful November!

2013 Book Prizes

The Skinning Tree by Srikumar Sen

The Skinning Tree Winner of the 2012 Tibor Jones South Asia Prize

Five words from the blurb: India, boy, school, tragedy, regime

The Skinning Tree is set in India during the 1940s. It tells the story of nine-year-old Sabby, a boy who is sent to a boarding school in Northern India. Being away from Calcutta is meant to protect him from advancing Japanese troops, but life away from home is hard as the teachers are strict and abusive. The boys take their frustrations out on animals; killing them and hanging their skins out to dry. The book does a fantastic job of showing how British culture has influenced Indian life, but I found many sections of the book a bit flat and lifeless.

The Skinning Tree was a strange reading experience. It contained two writing styles; so different they could almost to be written by two separate people. Some sections were beautifully written, with atmospheric descriptions that compelled the reader to continue. The opening paragraph, for example, was fantastic:

Murder was the plaything of us kids. We fooled with the idea of killing like some kids fool with fire. We stood around in free time on the far side of the pitch, leaning against the wall or sitting on it, kicking our boot heels against it, talking — talking about killing, killing someone, someone we didn’t like, how we would do it: killing was easy, no one would tell on you, because they wouldn’t. Talking and bragging. Then one day it happened. Sister Man was found on the rocks below the school.

But then other parts seemed very poorly written. The dialogue was especially clunky and the repetition of  “said Sabby” drove me nuts! I found that the sections written in the first person were generally well done, but the third person narrative didn’t work. It was weird, distant and read like the simple books children have when they first learn to read. Things improved as the book progressed, but the wonderful final chapter only seemed to reinforce my thoughts about what had been lacking at other moments.

The title and description of this book may make some people wary, but the scenes of violence aren’t particularly graphic and should be tolerated by all but the most sensitive reader.

Overall this was an odd book. I recommend it to people who are interested in studying different styles of writing!


The thoughts of other bloggers:

…life changing and unforgettable. Julia’s Blog

…occasionally the narration is jarring and confusing Moni’s Nook

 ….it was the 81 year old author’s evocative descriptions of an Anglicised Indian life, of afternoon whist parties, of lengthy train journeys that will long remain with me. Pen and Paper

Other Uncategorized

Quick Reviews: 419, Wild and The History of Mary Prince

The History of Mary Prince: A West Indian Slave (Penguin Classics)

The History of Mary Prince by Mary Prince

Five words from the blurb: black, slave, Caribbean, London, document

The History of Mary Prince was the first narrative of a black woman to be published in English. There is no doubting its historical significance and the role it played in the abolition of the slave trade, but I’m afraid I don’t think it is worth seeking out.

I can’t remember where I heard about this book, but I remember receiving it through the post and being surprised at how thin it is. Mary Price’s story takes up just 31 pages and the rest of this 113 page, £8.99 Penguin Classic is made up of supplemental information, much of which is repeated several times.

Mary Prince’s story reads like a police statement. It is rushed, gives the briefest of details, and lacks any emotion. If you are studying slavery then this is an important document, but if you’re looking for an entertaining read I suggest you look elsewhere.


.419Winner of 2012 Giller Prize

419 by Will Ferguson

Five words from the blurb: Africa, criminal, Internet, corruption, scam

419 is an intelligent thriller that investigates 419 Internet scams originating from Nigeria. It started off well, but lost its way towards the middle of the book. It felt disjointed and some of the plot twists didn’t feel realistic. I also felt that the parts set in Nigeria were far more interesting than those set in Canada.

This book contained several interesting ideas, but if you are looking for a great book on 419 scams I think I Do Not Come To You By Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani is head and shoulders above Will Ferguson’s.


.Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail (Vintage)

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Five words from the blurb: death, impulsive, walk, heal, life

Cheryl Strayed was just 26 when her mother died of cancer. Her marriage collapsed and her life fell apart. She began taking drugs and she struggled to find happiness. In an effort to put her life back on track she decided to trek 1,100 miles along the Pacific Crest Trail; from the Mojave Desert to Washington State.

Cheryl was an infuriating narrator. As I read her story I swung from deep sympathy (for the loss of her mother), to anger and frustration (at her selfishness, affairs and drug taking). She was naive and stupid, but I admired her determination. In the end the great thing about this book is how inspirational it is – if she can turn her life around in this way, anyone can.

It was an entertaining read and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for some hope and inspiration.


2012 Commonwealth Writer's Prize

Beneath the Darkening Sky by Majok Tulba

Beneath the Darkening Sky Shortlisted for 2013 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize

Five words from the blurb: child, soldiers, Africa, plight, resonates

Beneath the Darkening Sky is a very important book. It highlights the plight of African child soldiers; explaining how they end up carrying guns and murdering people at such a young age. It is narrated by Obinna, a nine-year-old boy who is taken from his village and forced to become a soldier. It shows how innocent children become hardened to suffering and death and how abuse slowly turns them into violent individuals.

Obinna is an engaging narrator. His thoughts and emotions jump from the page and give the reader a shocking insight into the horror these children have to endure. The way Obinna’s attitude changes over the course of the novel is cleverly done as it enables the reader to understand and empathise with someone committing atrocities – a rare and special thing to find in fiction.

The descriptions were shocking in their simplicity. The passage below is a good example of the level of violence contained in the book and the sad confusion experienced by children who have never witnessed it before:

The Captain steps away and points his shining machete at one of the boys, an older one with scars on his cheek. The boy screams like he’s won something and runs forward, his own machete raised. What’s he doing?
The boy swings his machete down, onto the old man’s neck. The old man’s head is not joined to his body. Both are lying on the ground, blood pumping out of the neck just like a goat killed for a feast. The rebels cry out in celebration. The killer boy grabs the head from the ground. The old man’s eyes are still open. Maybe he’s still alive. Maybe they can put the head back on.

Beneath the Darkening Sky is powerful book that doesn’t shy away from the truth. It can be seen as a cry for help; giving a voice to the thousands of children who aren’t allowed to choose their future. It is also a fantastic story with lots of twists and turns. If you enjoy reading about the darker side of humanity and like to experience a full range of emotions then this is the perfect choice.

Highly recommended.



Books I’ve Abandoned Recently

It’s been a while since I mentioned books that I’ve abandoned and as a consequence there are quite a few! Here are the books that failed to hold my attention in the last few months:

A Man In Love (My Struggle 2)

A Man in Love by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Five words from the blurb: relationships, parenthood, life, honesty, write

I loved the first book in this series, but the writing quality seems to have taken a nose-dive with this one. It is much lighter, less profound and I quickly became bored with it. Such a shame.

And the Mountains Echoed

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

Five words from the blurb: Afghanistan, brother, journey, fate, apart

I’ve loved all of Hosseini’s previous books, but this one had too many characters. The plot meandered excessively and I failed to connect with anyone. I didn’t mean to abandon it, but after a month of not caring enough to want to continue I decided to end my attempts with this one.

The Best Book in the World

The Best Book in the World by Peter Stjernstrom

Five words from the blurb: idea, writer, bestseller, worldwide, quirky

This book sounded similar to How I Became A Famous Novelist by Steve Hely, but unfortunately the satire didn’t work for me.  I found it silly, rather than amusing. Perhaps the humor is lost in translation?

The Maid's Version

The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell

Five words from the blurb: Missouri, explosion, killed, mystery, justice 

This book had some great scenes, but I found the narrative disjointed and so failed to become emotionally invested in the story. It’s a shame because I’m sure there is a great story buried in here.

A Marker to Measure Drift

A Marker to Measure Drift by Alexander Maksik

Five words from the blurb: Aegean, starvation, brutality, cave, tourists

I loved Maksik’s controversial debut novel, You Deserve Nothing. Unfortunately his new one lacked that vivid passion. I hate to say it, but Maksik should stick to writing about what he knows.

Schindler's Ark Winner of the 1982 Booker Prize

Schindler’s Ark by Thomas Keneally

Five words from the blurb: Jews, Poland, defied, compassionate, saviour

I’ve always wanted to watch Schindler’s List, but avoided doing so as I hadn’t read the book. I finally attempted to remove this gap from my knowledge by starting Keneally’s book last week. Unfortunately Schindler’s Ark read like a research paper. It was packed with facts, but they were so dry they made reading a real struggle. I admire the work that went into producing it, but I think this might be one of those rare situations where the film is better than the book? 

Three Strong Women Winner of 2009 Prix Goncourt

Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye

Five words from the blurb: lawyer, family, future, psychological, journey

I’m afraid the writing style of this book put me off from the very beginning. The sentences lasted for the entire paragraph and it was so wordy that I spent my entire time internally shouting “get on with it!’. If you like books that describe everything in minute detail you’ll probably love this one. 

The Flamethrowers

The FlameThrowers by Rachel Kushner

Five words from the blurb: fascination, motorcycles, art, dreamers, education, Italy

If you have a special passion for art or motorcycles you’ll probably love this book. Unfortunately I don’t and the occasional bits of fantastic writing weren’t enough to pull me through this almost plotless book.

Did you enjoy any of these books more than I did?

I’ll be back to tell you about some books I loved soon!

Booker Prize Uncategorized

Eleanor Catton wins the 2013 Booker Prize!

The Luminaries

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton has just won the 2013 Booker Prize!

I’m very pleased. It wasn’t quite to my taste, but it deserved to win and I correctly predicted it would last week. It is always wonderful when the best book wins…I only wish I’d put a bet on!