Three Mini Reviews

Big Ray

Big Ray by Michael Kimball

Five words from the blurb: father, died, guilt, unusual, understanding

Big Ray was a morbidly obese man who died alone in his home. His son, Daniel, is distressed that it took several days for anyone to discover his body and over the course of the book we see his grief and the turmoil that results from the difficult relationship he had with his father.

This book is written in an unusual style. It is made up of over 500 mini chapters. This gave the book a fast paced urgency, but also meant I could never become fully immersed in a scene. I found the continual flipping from one idea to another irritating and wished it had settled in a scene for more than half a page.

The writing was of a high quality and there were some lovely moments in the book, but overall the story was too ordinary.

I don’t understand my complicated feelings about my father. I hated him, but I wanted him to like me. I was ashamed of him, but I wanted him to be proud of me.

This is a compelling read, but I’m afraid I reached the end without any new insight.



Alif the Unseen Longlisted for 2013 Women’s Fiction Prize

Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson

Five words from the blurb: Middle Eastern, mysterious, world, magic, djinn

 Alif the Unseen is a unique book that combines computer science with fantasy. Alif is a Middle Eastern computer hacker who inhabits an almost familiar world. He falls in love with Intisar, royalty already promised to another man, but as a parting gift she gives him a special book that opens a door into another world.

This book is clearly genius, but I’m afraid it wasn’t to my taste. Fantasy is a genre I’ve never enjoyed and this book was too weird for me. I think my lack of knowledge of computer programming and Muslim mythology also contributed to my lack of appreciation for this book.

Alif heard Dina turn on music in her room-a cheerful debke dance song-as though she too, found the storm unsettling. He got out of his chair and curled up against the wall they shared. When his computer was on and connected to the grid, he never felt as though he was alone; there were millions of people in rooms like his, reaching toward each other in the same ways he did. Now that feeling of intimacy seemed fraudulent. He lived in an invented space, easily violated. He lived in his own mind.

I became increasingly confused until I eventually abandoned the book on page 75.

From the glowing comments from fantasy authors such as Neil Gaiman I’m sure this book pushes the boundaries for its genre and so I’d love to see it make the shortlist.



The Sunshine Years

The Sunshine Years by Afsaneh Knight

Five words from the blurb: Sydney, thirty-somethings, relationships, observations, truths

The Sunshine Years is set in Sydney, Australia and follows a group in their thirties as they come to realise that they haven’t achieved anything worthwhile in their lives and are unlikely to do so.

The book is wonderfully entertaining, contains well developed characters with realistic flaws, and gives an insight into the hopes and fears of a generation who have failed to live up to their childhood dreams.

The book could be described as chick-lit, but it has a maturity and depth that lifts it above the majority of books in this genre. I spent a happy weekend involved in the lives of this group and developed an emotional bond with most of them.

If you can’t be happy in Sydney, you can’t be happy anywhere. Sydney put joy in the water and forgetfulness in the sand, and as long as you drank water and stood on sand, happiness would curl up and stick like heat from a campfire.

It had the perfect blend of light-hearted banter and deeper emotional insight and I recommend it to anyone looking for an entertaining read, especially if you are familiar with Sydney.


Have you read any of these books?


20 replies on “Three Mini Reviews”

I’ve never been to Sydney! But that excerpt makes me want to go…what an endorsement! I’ve not heard of any of these. I don’t think I’d be inclined to pick up the fantasy novel.

Sandy, I have been to Sydney and I have to agree with the quote. I’m not sure how it works when you live there, but as a place to visit I think it is hard to top. I highly recommend it 🙂

A shame about Big Ray – I loved it. Devoured in two sittings.

I should be getting to Alif the Unseen fairly soon. I don’t read much fantasy either which has made it a little daunting now.

Naomi, I’m glad you enjoyed Big Ray more than I did. I’ll also be interested to see what you think of Alif. It is a fantastic book, just not for me 🙁

Your comments on Alif the Unseen has made me add it to my list – saying exactly what didn’t work for you has made me think it would for me, so as weird as that is, thank you for being so honest. I usually like books with short chapters, but 500 sounds a bit too much. There does come a point where short chapters only lead to gaps and a disconnect.

Charlie, I’m pleased that my mini review appealed to you. I’m sure that Alif is a fantastic book, it just isn’t for me. I hope you enjoy it!

Nice to hear your thoughts on these three. I picked up a cheap copy of Big Ray in London and looking forward to trying it, though I wonder how I’ll get on with the unusual format. I’m not sure if either of the other two are for me, although I think I have an earlier book by Afsaneh Knight that has been on my to be read pile for a long time, so I may still try it.

Lindsay, I hadn’t heard of Afsaneh Knight before, but I’ll be looking out for her books in future. I’ll be interested to see how you get on with her earlier book and Big Ray, if you decide to read them.

I just reviewed The Sunshine Years for New Books and found it really rather depressing, brilliantly written once you get in the flow of boredom/casual swearing but oh it left me feeling like I needed a hug!

Alex, I didn’t find The Sunshine Years depresssing, but I have read a few books on the Holocaust recently! Is your review online? I’ll go and look for it later.

I really enjoyed Alif the Unseen, it was so unusual and I really enjoyed the blend of fantasy and technology.
Big Ray is on my wishlist, I hadn’t heard of The Sunshine Years but as an ex Sydney dweller I am interested.

Thanks for sharing!

Shelleyrae, If you used to live in Sydney then I think you’d enjoy The Sunshine Years – there are lots of references to the city. Glad you enjoyed Alif. Fingers crossed it makes the shortlist.

My prediction came true. I know Alif the Unseen is a fantasy and it doesn’t appeal to everyone. I am glad you like The Sunshine Year, I read the first two chapters and will read on.

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