2014 Memoirs Other Prizes Uncategorized

Do No Harm by Henry Marsh

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery 

Shortlisted for 2015 Wellcome Book Prize and 2014 Costa Biography Award

Five words from the blurb: brain, operate, pressures, dilemma, lives

Henry Marsh is a neurosurgeon and this book explains what life is like for a man performing dangerous operations on a daily basis. The book is made up of a series of short stories, each describing a different set of cases that he’s operated on. It vividly explains the pressures faced by a surgeon; beautifully describing both the guilt felt when procedures go wrong and the pride when lives are saved. 

The brain suddenly swells and arterial blood shoots upwards, turning the operative site into a rapidly rising whirlpool of angry, swirling red blood, through which you struggle desperately to get down to the aneurysm. Seeing this hugely magnified down the microscope you feel as though you are drowning in blood. One quarter of the blood from the heart goes to the brain – a patient will lose several litres within a matter of minutes if you cannot control the bleeding quickly. Few patients survive the disaster of a premature rupture. 

Neurosurgeons require our respect and admiration and this book shows the large amount of skill and knowledge they need in order to work successfully. I’m very pleased they are able to perform these lifesaving operations as I know I wouldn’t have the courage to make millimetre-perfect incisions in other people’s brains. The book is very readable, but it is filled with technical terms. An effort is made to explain the terminology, but I still felt as though much of it went over my head. I can’t criticise the book for this as it made it feel authentic, but it distanced me from the much of the action. 

I also found that after a while the chapters began to feel much like one another. Each case may have been technically different (and of interest to those with a specialist knowledge) but, as a lay person, cutting into the brain felt very similar no matter which area was damaged. As a consequence it began to feel repetitive and I found myself increasingly losing interest in the text. 

This is a very important book and I’m pleased I read it, but unfortunately it didn’t bowl me over in the way I’d hoped it would. 


The thoughts of other bloggers: 

…a beautiful, honest and intriguing look at the world of brain surgery. Biblio Beth

…it does go into the details of several operations, so if you’re especially squeamish, you might want to avoid. Curiosity Killed the Bookworm

…a remarkable account of the philosophical dilemmas of modern medicine. A Little Blog of Books


2014 Orange Prize

Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey

Dear Thief Longlisted for 2015 Baileys Prize

Five words from the blurb: woman, writing, friend, past, revealing

The Wilderness, Samantha Harvey’s debut novel, was an outstanding book. It was beautifully written and packed with emotion. Her second novel, All is Song, was dull in comparison. I tried reading Dear Thief on its release, but abandoned it because it felt more like her second novel than her first.  Dear Thief was recently longlisted for the Baileys Prize so I decide to give it another try. Unfortunately my initial assessment was correct. It is a lot better than All is Song, but not in the same league as her debut.

Dear Thief takes the form of one long letter from a women in her fifties to a friend she knew thirty years ago. There are wonderful descriptions of their childhood in Shropshire and these are contrasted with life in London. Harvey brilliantly observes the natural world and interactions between different people. I can’t fault the writing on a paragraph level at all:

I suppose the world is constantly producing things of wonderment, every moment, at every scale, and one time in every million or so our minds will be such that we will be open to seeing it. To see the silver effervescing of that dust was as beautiful a sight as any mountain or waterfall; but then, when I saw it, I was in love and as happy as a human being can be. Of course this helped. The world is heavily changed by the way we perceive it; in all my reticence and doubt, this is one thing even I haven’t been able to dispute.

Unfortunately the writing lacked emotion. Even scenes that should have been packed with feeling were tempered by meandering thoughts.

Very little happens throughout the book and I found that there was so much foreshadowing I knew most of the plot before it was revealed. If you can enjoy a book simply for the beautiful writing then you’ll appreciate it, but I prefer a bit of emotion or plot.


The thoughts of other bloggers:

…a stunning novel. The Writes of Woman

It has so many merits and so many good things about it yet I still don’t feel right saying I truly enjoyed it because I don’t think I did. Plastic Rosaries

…a most unusual book, alive with matters of spirituality and philosophy. Shiny New Books

Orange Prize Other

The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2015

The longlist for the 2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction was released at midnight and I think it is fair to say that it was a surprise. Almost half of the books longlisted hadn’t appeared on any of the blogger prediction posts circulating in the last week or so. I hadn’t even heard of some of them. At this stage I’m not sure if they are stronger than the books suggested, but I’ll find out as I still plan to read many of the books that didn’t make the longlist (Weathering by Lucy WoodEverything I Never Told You by Celeste NgThe First Bad Man by Miranda JulyEuphoria by Lily KingHausfrau by Jill Alexander EssbaumSummertime by Vanessa LafayeA Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara)

In fact, I am far more excited about reading the books I discovered while researching contenders for the longlist and discussing the likelihood of their success with other bloggers. These books probably need even more attention now they’ve failed to make the longlist so don’t be surprised if I prioritise them over the actual list (below)

The 2015 Baileys Longlist:

Outline: A Novel

Outline by Rachel Cusk

Five words from the blurb: woman, Athens, writing, meeting, indistinct


Crooked Heart

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

Five words from the blurb: evacuated, London, Blitz, disaster, money


Aren't We Sisters?

Aren’t We Sisters? by Patricia Ferguson

Five words from the blurb: family, secrets, grand, friendship, lodger


I Am China
I Am China by Xiaolu Guo

Five words from the blurb: London, translator, Chinese, detention centre, letters


Dear Thief

Dear Thief by Samantha Harvey

Five words from the blurb: letters, recriminating, friend, rage, forgiveness


Elizabeth is Missing

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Five words from the blurb: forgetful, mystery, friend, missing, note


Station Eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

Five words from the blurb: Flu, collapse, world, relationships, unexpected


The Offering

The Offering by Grace McCleen

Five words from the blurb: father, farm, breakdown, memory, rural


The Country of Ice Cream Star

The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman

Five words from the blurb: children, cruelties, poor, evil, America


The Girl Who Was Saturday Night

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill

Five words from the blurb: twins, star, documentary, ex-convict, difference


The Bees

The Bees by Laline Paull

Five words from the blurb: bees, hive, obey, sacrifice, Queen


The Table Of Less Valued Knights

The Table Of Less Valued Knights by Marie Phillips

Five words from the blurb: Camelot, table, quests, misfits, fantasy


 The Walk Home

The Walk Home by Rachel Seiffert 

Five words from the blurb: laborer, Glasgow, family, betrayal, adrift


A God in Every Stone

A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie

Five words from the blurb: Indian, army, connections, lives, adventure


The Shore

The Shore by Sara Taylor

Five words from the blurb: islands, sanctuary, methamphetamine, miracle, family


How to be both

How to be both by Ali Smith

Five words from the blurb: conversation, artist, child, twist, love


The Paying Guests

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Five words from the blurb: lodgers, London, unexpected, ex-servicemen, house


A Spool of Blue Thread

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Five words from the blurb: family, decisions, generations, moments, define


The Life of a Banana

The Life of a Banana by PP Wong

Five words from the blurb: Chinese, London, secrets, violence, family


After Before

After Before by Jemma Wayne

Five words from the blurb: immigrant, Rwanda, secrets, disease, demons


What do you think of the longlist?

Which books are you most excited about reading?



Orange Prize Other

Who will the longlisted for the 2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction?

On 10th March the longlist for the 2015 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction will be announced. Previously known as the Orange Prize, it is awarded to the best full length novel, written by a women, that has been published in the UK between 1st April 2014 and 31st March 2015.

I’ve been researching the contenders and predict that the following books will be longlisted next week:

A Song for Issy BradleyThe MiniaturistWeatheringAll My Puny Sorrows

A Song for Issy Bradley by Cays Bray

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Weathering by Lucy Wood

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews


Everything I Never Told You (Alex Awards (Awards))How to be bothThe Wolf BorderThe First Bad Man

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

How to be both by Ali Smith

The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall

The First Bad Man by Miranda July


Outline: A NovelEuphoriaThe Paying GuestsStation Eleven

Outline by Rachel Cusk

Euphoria by Lily King

The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel


HausfrauThe Girl on the TrainElizabeth is MissingThe Chimes

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey

Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

The Chimes by Anna Smaill


A Spool of Blue ThreadEtta and Otto and Russell and JamesAfter Me Comes the FloodThe First Fifteen Lives of Harry August

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

What do you think of my selection? 

Who do you think will make the Baileys Women’s Prize for fiction longlist?

1930s Classics Pulitzer Prize Recommended books

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

The Yearling Winner of the 1939 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

Five words from the blurb: Florida, swamp, dangerous, life, survival

The Yearling won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1939. I hadn’t heard of it until I stumbled across a mention of the author in a Florida guidebook, but as I always like to read books set in the places I’m staying I ordered a copy for my holiday.  I’m not sure if it is more famous in America, but it certainly deserves more attention than it currently gets.

The Yearling is a vivid portrayal of one family struggling to survive in the wilderness in a time before the luxury of electricity or running water. They are continually at risk of starvation, but they must also battle with the elements and the local wildlife. Rattlesnakes lurk in the undergrowth, wolves try to steal their animals, and bears occasionally come too close for comfort. The story was quite simple, but the adventure of their everyday lives captivated me.

The clearing itself was pleasant if the unweeded rows of young shafts of corn were not before him. The wild bees had found the chinaberry tree by the front gate. They burrowed into the fragile clusters of lavender bloom as greedily as though there were no other flowers in the scrub; as though they had forgotten the yellow jessamine of March; the sweet bay and the magnolias ahead of them in May. It occurred to him that he might follow the swift line of the flight of the black and gold bodies, and so find a bee-tree, full of amber honey. The winter’s cane syrup was gone and most of the jellies. Finding a bee-tree was nobler work than hoeing, and the corn could wait another day.

I loved everything about this book! The descriptions were vivid, bringing the swamps of Florida to life with an incredible accuracy. I may be biased because I read the book as I was visiting places similar to those mentioned, but that is the joy of picking perfect holiday reading material!

Me and my boys canoeing in the Florida wilderness

The characters were brilliantly drawn – I felt a deep emotional connection to them all and found myself involved in a rollercoaster of emotion as I willed them to survive. I was particularly impressed by the way the different generations were given their own set of values and characteristics. The interactions between them all felt incredibly realistic and I understood why they reacted differently to the situations they were presented with.

The ending was especially good. I won’t spoil anything, but the underlying messages were impressive and I will be thinking about them for a long time to come. The coming-of-age aspects of this book make it particularly good for teenagers and I think this would make a great addition to school reading lists.

There weren’t really any negatives for this book, but some people might find the scenes of hunting and animal butchery disturbing. I found them fascinating and loved the detailed descriptions of this almost-lost way of life.

Overall I can’t fault this book. It was perfectly paced, contained some of the most realistic characters I’ve ever come across and combined these with wonderful descriptions of the natural world. It’s the best book I’ve read so far this year. Highly recommended.


Have you read any books written by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings?

Are her others as good as this one?

Booker Prize Other

The 2014 Booker Longlist

The longlist for the 2014 Booker Prize has just been announced. I’m impressed by the selection as it appears to be a nice mixture of themes and styles and some are new to me. Five books aren’t published until September, so we’ll have to wait a while for those. 

The 2014 Booker Longlist:

The Narrow Road to the Deep North

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

Five words from the blurb: Burma, prisoner, camp, starvation, letter

The Blazing World

The Blazing World by Siri Hustvedt

Five words from the blurb: female, artist, experiment, conceals, identity
The Bone Clocks

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Five words from the blurb: teenage, runaway, asylum, Metaphysical, shadows 

 History of the Rain

History of the Rain by Niall Williams

Five words from the blurb: Ireland, twin, hopeful, ancestors, farming

The Lives of Others

The Lives of Others by Neel Mukherjee

Five words from the blurb: saga, Bengali, society, fractures, family


Us by David Nicholls

Five words from the blurb: family, husbands, wives, parents, children


Orfeo by Richard Powers

Five words from the blurb: composer, police, experiment, music, fugitive

The Dog by Joseph O’Neill

(no cover or blurb available)

How to be both

How to be both by Ali Smith

Five words from the blurb: art, versatility, love, playful, mysterious

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

Five words from the blurb: sister, vanished, unique, trouble, story

The Wake

The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth

Five words from the blurb: battle, Hastings, Norman, resistance, fighters

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour

To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris

Five words from the blurb: New York, dentist, privacy, Facebook, sanity


J by Howard Jacobson

Five words from the blurb: love, questions, brutality, suspicion, denial

My thoughts

I’ve only tried three of them:

The Narrow Road to the Deep North was an impressive book, with fantastic writing, but I’m afraid I abandoned it as the subject matter was too dark. 

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves was a lovely book, but it was ruined for me as I accidentally discovered the spoiler in advance and I think the magic of this book is lost if you know the twist

Blazing World was an impressive book – see my review

Of those that I haven’t tried I’m most looking forward to reading Orfeo and The Wake. I haven’t had much success with novels by Howard Jacobson (don’t get his humour), Joshua Ferris (too experimental) or Ali Smith (too experimental) in the past and so may give them a miss unless someone can convince me they are vastly different/better than their previous novels. The rest look interesting and I look forward to trying them, but I’m in no rush, especially as most aren’t even out yet.

What do you think of the longlist?