2013 Audio Book Chunkster Thriller

Night Film by Marisha Pessl (Audio Book)

Night Film

Five words from the blurb: journalist, director, disorientating, mystery, reality

Night Film is an unusual thriller. It follows Scott McGrath, a journalist investigating strange events linked to the famous, but illusive Cordova family. Stanislas Cordova is a cult horror film director and his daughter recently committed suicide. Their lives are packed with secrets, many of which involve dark magic. McGrath’s investigations lead him into some very strange situations and the line between reality and imagination was often blurred.  Some scenes were a bit weird, but I loved not knowing what would happen next!

I began listening to the audio version of this book, but quickly realised that I was missing something. The first few chapters were packed with photographs, Internet pages and other images and this meant I wasn’t understanding subtler aspects of the plot. In order to fully appreciate the book I got the hardback version from the library and was impressed by the visual content, but found that it was poorly written and couldn’t hold my attention. I switched back to the audio and noticed that the dialogue-led writing worked far better in this medium – all my issues with writing quality were resolved and I was gripped!

The story was long and meandering, but I loved the twists and turns. I thought it was well paced and some aspects were very cleverly thought out.  It wasn’t great literature, but it was entertaining and original. 

I was slightly worried that I’d find the horror film aspects of this book disturbing, but I didn’t find that to be the case. I guess that some people might have issues the darker scenes, but I found that descriptions were toned down to the right level for me. There was no gore or gratuitous violence and most of the scary sections involved psychological fear, mainly of the unknown.

Overall this was a memorable mystery and I recommend the audio version to anyone looking for something a little bit different.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

I read this book not once, but twice, unable to cut the ties that bind me to its brilliance. Jenn’s Bookshelves

…in a few places the novel veered into territory that was a little unnecessarily weird for me. The Book Project

It is overwritten and could have been edited down to about half its size… Caribousmom


The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach

The Carpet Makers (Orson Scott Card Present's) Translated from the German by Doryl Jensen

Five words from the blurb: knots, hair, Emperor, lifetime, belief

The Carpet Makers is a science fiction story that contains enough elements to entertain everyone, including those who don’t normally enjoy the genre. It begins on a planet where the people have spent thousands of years weaving intricate carpets for the Emperor’s Palace. Each carpet takes a lifetime to create and is made from the hair of the artist’s wives and daughters. The people live happily until one day strangers arrive, claiming that the Emperor has died and there is no longer a need for their carpets.

I loved the first chapter of this book! The introduction (written by Orson Scott Card of Ender’s Game fame) explains that it originally began as a short story and was only expanded into a novel at a later date. I think this shows. The first chapter was the best part of the book by a long way. The rest felt disjointed, like a series of short stories that often had little relevance to the book as a whole. Only one other chapter (the one with the Emperor) really impressed me:

“You mortals are fortunate,” the Emperor said slowly. “You don’t live long enough to discover that everything is vain and that life has no purpose. Why do you think I’ve done all this…have gone to all this effort?

The text was easy to read and contained many glimpses of brilliance, but I was often confused about what was happening. New characters were continually introduced and it was only towards the end of the book that everything came together and I understood the purpose of the story.

But, despite my reservations, I was impressed by many elements of this book. The concept was original and the moral messages were thought provoking. I particularly liked the discussion about society’s need to believe in something greater than itself. It wasn’t perfect, but I’m very glad I read it and would recommend it to anyone looking for something a little different.




2012 Non Fiction

Into the Abyss by Carol Shaben

Into the Abyss

Five words from the blurb: plane, crash, remote, survivors, criminal

In 1984 a small commuter plane crashed into a remote Canadian forest. This book explains the reasons for the tragedy and shows how the survivors reacted after the event. The author, Carol Shaben, is the daughter of one of the passengers and has an emotional connection to the tragedy that is evident throughout.

The book was beautifully written with the tension building slowly:

Lightning split the clouds and the sky hummed hot and electric around him. Seconds later the air cracked with a deafening boom of thunder. Erik felt his insides churn, and a clammy wetness glossed his palms where they gripped the yoke.

Events were described with a sensitivity that enabled to me read about what happened without becoming disturbed. It was also very well structured and information about everyone involved was woven cleverly into the action.

Unfortunately (and I feel bad saying this about a true event) the story wasn’t interesting enough for me to be able to recommend it to others. The survivors were rescued quite quickly so they didn’t have time to demonstrate any real survival skills or to form complex relations with each other. I lost interest in the book about half way through (when they were rescued) and wish I’d abandoned it at this point as the details of their lives after the crash failed to engage me.

The blurb of the book emphasized the presence of a criminal on the plane and I expected him to play a far greater role. I was disappointed, but not surprised, to discover that he was a fairly normal man and the adrenalin filled comments on the cover were very much exaggerated.

I also think that this book would have had a greater impact if it had been written 25 years ago. The dangerous practices of the commuter plane industry are no longer relevant and the navigation problems have been solved by our new technology. It was a mildly interesting glimpse into the problems of the past, but I often felt that she was preaching to the converted.

It is all such a shame because Carol Shaben is clearly a skilled writer. I hope that she finds a more complex subject to write about for her next book and if she does I’ll be at the front of the queue to try it.



Underworld Readalong

Today it’s Don DeLillo’s birthday! To celebrate a few of us are going to read his epic masterpiece, Underworld, together.


It all started a few weeks ago when I discovered this post of 50 Incredibly Tough Books for Extreme Readers. Many are among my favourites and several of the others really appealed (especially The Tunnel by William Gass and JR by William Gaddis).  It started an interesting conversation on Twitter and a few of us decided to attempt Underworld together.

I’ve always wanted to try DeLillo’s writing, but I’m intimidated by this one. It is 827 pages long, has a meandering plot, and involves baseball. It doesn’t sound like my sort of thing at all, but I’m hoping that a group of supportive readers can help me reach the end. We’re planning to take it really slowly, reading just 30 pages a week. It would be great if you could join @utterbiblio, @booklovinggirl, @robchilver and me! Most of the discussion will be on Twitter #underworldreadalong,  but I’ll also post my thoughts on the blog once or twice as we go along.

Have you read Underworld?

Would you like to join our readalong?


All Quiet on the Orient Express by Magnus Mills

All Quiet on the Orient Express: reissued

Five words from the blurb: Lake District, quiet, camper, stays, amusement

I used to live in the Lake District and so am drawn towards books set there. I had no idea that All Quiet on the Orient Express was based in the region until Annabel included it in her choice of books to represent the UK. I immediately bought a copy, keen to be transported back to the Lake District. Unfortunately that failed to happen, but it was a light, entertaining read.

All Quiet on the Orient Express focuses on a man who finds that he is the only person left on a campsite at the end of the tourist season. He agrees to do a few jobs for the owner and ends up staying, forming relationships with the locals. There was very little plot, with most of the book being a satire that revolved around an eclectic mix of characters.

Unfortunately I didn’t recognise the Lake District in any part of the book. It described a lake, but it failed to conjure up the majesty of the surrounding fells and much of the text made me feel that he wasn’t familiar with the area at all. Take this passage, for example:

He placed a perfect pint of Topham’s Excelsior Bitter on the counter, and I paid him.
‘Won’t you be getting any more after that?’ I asked.
‘We’d never sell enough to make it worth while,’ he replied.
‘What about the locals though? Don’t they drink it?’
‘Course not,’ he said with a grin. ‘They’re not interested in real ale.’
‘Aren’t they?’
‘No, they much prefer keg beers. Lager and such-like. You know, from a factory.’

Nonsense! Cumbrian locals are passionate real ale drinkers. It is probably one of the strongest Bitter supporting regions in the country. There were many other details that didn’t ring true and that, coupled with the lack of the regional dialect, made me feel this book was set in another part of the country. In fact, if I’d read this blind I’d have placed it in Berkshire or Buckinghamshire.

If I ignore the disappointing setting of this book it was a reasonable read. It was an accurate reflection a small community reacting to an outsider and there were many amusing little scenes. It was bit too charming for me, but I can see why so many people love Mills’ writing.

Recommended for those who love light character driven satire.



2000 - 2007

Not Without Flowers by Amma Darko

Not Without Flowers

Five words from the blurb: women, Africa, dilemmas, confronting, social

Not Without Flowers gives an insight into Ghanaian culture; raising interesting discussions about polygamy, the treatment of mental health and HIV, and the difficulties faced by an ordinary family trying to raise enough money for a decent funeral.

The book begins with a distressing scene in which those with mental health problems are found chained to the floor, having been beaten by witchdoctors attempting to rid their bodies of evil spirits. It then goes on to introduce a man with five wives. He commits suicide after discovering that he has HIV and the family have to deal with the double grief of his death and his diagnosis.

I loved the way the book introduced me to many issues I was unfamiliar with. The emotions associated with polygamy were particularly interesting:

Many wives who suspect their husbands of having extra marital affairs usually pray for one thing, especially when they know they can’t stop him or what is going on. They pray that they never see nor hear nor smell the affair. She had. She had seen her, had heard her and had smelled her at her workplace and in her bedroom. But in this society where polygyny is a norm, how is a wife to receive adequate sympathy and understanding for a pain she must be suffering as a result of a husband’s unfaithfulness? The pain itself, that she is feeling, is doomed and becomes her failure. She is expected not to feel that pain at all. She is supposed to feel lucky enough to be the one wearing his ring, which should enable her to bear his little pleasures.

Unfortunately I found the book disjointed. Individual scenes were fantastic, but the plot jumped around between a large number of people and so it was impossible to bond with any individual. Things improved towards the end, but I would have preferred the story to concentrate on a fewer number of characters.

The book also contained some surrealism that I didn’t understand. Dreams seemed to come true and there were some potent symbols and visions that clearly had meanings I was unaware of. I think a greater knowledge of African mythology would improve enjoyment of this book, but I guess that will come from reading more books like this one.!

I’m pleased that I read Not Without Flowers because it introduced me to many new themes and ideas. It is a perfect choice for Ghanaian Literature Week and I recommend that you head over to Kinna’s blog in order to find out much more about literature from Ghana.