2009 Mystery Recommended books

The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters

The Fingersmith is my second favourite book of all time (after A Fine Balance), and so I was so excited about the release of Sarah Water’s new book that I ordered a copy from America, just so I could read it a few weeks before it’s UK release.

The Little Stranger is a Gothic, ghost story set in rural Warwickshire just after WWII. The central character is Dr. Faraday, who one day is called to  a crumbling mansion to treat a maid who is so scared by things she has seen in the house that she wants to leave. Dr. Faraday is intrigued, by both the house and the Ayres family who live there, that he makes an effort to return to Hundreds Hall as often as he can. Increasingly strange events occur in the house, frightening and mystifying everyone who witnesses them.

The Little Stranger is very different to Fingersmith in both the style of writing, and plot development. The plot was linear, very easy to follow and structured like a fast-paced  thriller. The quality of  Sarah Water’s writing is still high, but I think that this book will be much more accessible to the general public, and slightly disappointing to her old fans. The Little Stranger has much more in common with books like The Thirteenth Tale or The Seance, both of which I really enjoyed reading too, but don’t require as much thought as Water’s earlier books.

I was slightly disappointed with the ending, as although it wasn’t predictable, it didn’t have any of the clever plot twists that she is famous for. I shouldn’t really complain though, as the book had me captivated throughout . All the characters were well developed, and the storyline was reasonably plausible. It was a gripping, spooky tale – perfect for a cold, dark Autumn night.



2009 Orange Prize

Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie

  Shortlisted for the Orange Prize 2009

I can’t describe the plot of  Burnt Shadows better than the blurb on the back cover of the book, so I have copied it here:

August 9th, 1945, Nagasaki. Hiroko Tanakasteps out onto her veranda, taking in the view of the terraced slopes leading up to the sky. Wrapped in a kimono with three black cranes swooping across the back, she is twenty-one, in love withthe man she is to marry, Konrad Weiss. In a split second, the world turns white. In the next, it explodes withthe sound of fire and the horror of realisation. In the numbing aftermath of a bomb that obliterates everything she has known, all that remains are the bird-shaped burns on her back, an indelible reminder of the world she has lost. In search of new beginnings, she travels to Delhi to find Konrad’s relatives, and falls in love with their employee Sajjad Ashraf, from who she starts to learn Urdu. 

 As the years unravel, new homes replace those left behind and old wars are seamlessly usurped by new conflicts. But the shadows of history – personal, political – are cast over the entwined worlds of two families as they are transported from Pakistan to New York, and in the novel’s astonishing climax, to Afghanistan in the immediate wake of 9/11.

Burnt Shadows is an epic book, spanning both generations and continents. There were many amazing sections in this book; the first chapter in particular was incredible, the subtle building of tension was brilliantly achieved, and the horror of the atomic blast, was sensitively written.

I loved the central character, Hiroko; she overcame so many tragedies, but remained a believable stalwart throughout. Some of her quotes were particularly thought provoking:

‘Sometimes I look at my son and think perhaps the less we have to “overcome” the more we feel aggrieved.’

The female characters in the book were far superior to the male ones. They seemed to have a depth, and realness lacking in all the male ones.

My main grievance with this book was that the ambitiousness was too great; trying to capture so many different cultures in one book, led to too much explanation, at the expensive of the flow of the story. In many places the book came across as contrived. The plot seemed to have been forced around major historic events: Nagasaki, Indian Partition and 9/11. These events were so far apart, both in time, and distance that it didn’t work for me. The credibility of the book just kept sliding away, the more I read. Would a 91-year-old lady really have travelled all the way from Asia to New York on her own, and then ‘run around’ New York like a person a quarter of her age?

Despite my criticisms there were many important issues raised by this book. The ambitiousness of this writing project deserves some recognition, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this won the Orange Prize. I’ll let you know once I’ve read all the other shortlisted books if I still think this is a contender.

Recommended for the first chapter, and a few other moments of genius, but be prepared to wade through some of the slower sections.



I noticed that some of Kamila Shamsie’s books have been shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. Has anyone read any of her earlier books?

What did you think of this one? Do you think it might be a contender for the Orange prize this year?

2009 Recommended books Short Story

The Thing Around Your Neck – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

This is the best selection of short stories I have ever read! Chimamanda’s ability to draw you into each of the characters in such a small space of time is phenomenal. The short stories are focused upon Nigerian life, but many of them are based in the west. The balance between tragedy and happiness is perfect, leading to a book which does not dwell on hardship, but shows vivid glimpses of it, making the messages come across far more powerfully than continual horrific scenes.

Each story is unique, and although they all contain Nigerian characters, none have the same atmosphere or feel like repetitions of the same idea. The book is very easy to read, and is the perfect introduction to her writing style, as Half of a Yellow Sun, although I’m sure it will be amazing, is very long. 

The only flaw in this book is that I was left yearning to know more about each character. I could easily have read whole novels based on each short story, in fact I’d be happy to read a book written by her once a month for the rest of my life! She gets my vote for a Nobel Prize – how many books do you have to have written to qualify as a ‘body of work?’  Sorry for gushing, but talent like this needs to be read by everyone!

Highly recommended to everyone!!


I’m really looking forward to reading Half of a Yellow Sun next week, and hope it will have the character depth and plot complexity to become my third, five star read of the year.

Is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie one of your favourite authors?

Which of her books do you like the best?

Will you be rushing out to buy a copy of this one as soon as  it is released?

If you can’t wait until June then you could order a copy from the UK – just click on the book cover above!

Have you ever ordered a copy of a book from another country, just to get it a few weeks earlier?

I’ve ordered a copy of Sarah Water’s new book, The Little Stranger from America, just so I can read it a few weeks before it is released here in the UK!!

I look forward to hearing all your thoughts!


Dirty Little Angels – Chris Tusa

Dirty Little Angels is set in the slums of New Orleans, and follows 16-year-old Hailey as she deals with problems within her family, and the dark world of drugs and violence that surround her.

When I first read the synopsis I didn’t think I’d enjoy the book at all, as I don’t normally go for books full of drugs and violence, but as the author was kind enough to contact me, I started reading the first chapter, and was quickly drawn towards the central character, Hailey. She is only sixteen year-old; I loved her innocence, and her reactions as this innocence is gradually eroded. She spots the signs of her parent’s marriage breakdown, but they try to persuade her that everything is OK:

Daddy’s side of the bed was empty. A few weeks back, he’d started sleeping on the sofa. Mama said he snored too loud, and that when he was in bed with her, she couldn’t get any sleep. I told her about those nose strips that all the football players wear, but she said nothing ever worked the way it was supposed to.

Hailey blames her father for the breakdown of her parent’s marriage, but when she discovers the truth about her mother’s past she struggles to cope. Her brother and best friend draw her into a world of drugs and violence, and slowly her life starts to fall apart.

I loved the imagery of the book:

He had a full head of black hair. It was so greasy, it looked like he’d combed it with an eel.

There were lots of original, comic, but vivid descriptions in this book, and many brought a smile to my face;  this must be the talented poet in the author, Chris Tusa, shining through.

The synopsis suggests that one of the major themes of the book is religion, but I didn’t find this to be the case. The religious aspect of the book only occupied a few pages, and there were no profound revelations, only a few well thought out sound bites:

“So you’re an atheist?”
“I dunno. I thought about being an atheist, but the whole idea of somebody’s belief being that they don’t believe in anything doesn’t make much sense.”

My main criticism of the book is that it is too short. At just 170 pages long  there wasn’t enough room for everything I’d have liked. I would have preferred it to have a more complex plot, and to develop the side characters a bit more.

Drugs, sex and violence all feature in this book, so avoid it if you are of a prudish nature! I did not find the violence in the book to be disturbing, as it was fairly brief, and directed at characters I had no emotional bond with.

The book was gripping, and I would have read it in one sitting if life didn’t get in the way! It was a light, atmospheric, and enjoyable read. Overall, I thought it was a great first novel, and if Chris Tusa writes any more books then I would love to read them.


An interview with the author, Chris Tusa, will be published on this blog soon – so keep an eye out for it!

2009 Recommended books YA

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

I bought this book about ten seconds after I finished reading Semicolon’s review for it, and I’m really glad I did, as I think this is my favourite book of the year so far.

The Hunger Games is an annual televised event in which twenty-four children fight-to-the-death. Two children from each of the twelve regions of Panem, a new land created from the ruins of post-apocalyptic North America, are randomly selected to take part.

This sounds like a scary, violent book, and if I’d have thought about it too much I may not have bought it. I admit that when I was reading the first chapter I was worried about the kind of book I’d started, and wondered how on earth it could be suitable for eleven-year-olds (the age suggested on the back cover). I didn’t have to worry, although the children do fight to the death, it isn’t graphic, and in a strange way you are hoping that each of them die, so that the narrator, Katniss, can survive.

Many important issues are raised in the book, including poverty, war, the misuse of power and the evolution of reality television – for this reason I think it would be great for reading groups.

The book is perfectly paced; the plot drives the book on so well that I didn’t want to put it down, but at no point was it going so fast that I was skimming sections. The characters are well thought out, and although survival is a large part of the book, I think the main theme is love. Katniss’s confusion over who she truly loves is very touching. I enjoyed this book so much that I have already pre-ordered the second book in the trilogy, which is released in September.

I can’t fault it. Highly recommended.