So Much For That – Lionel Shriver

We Need to Talk About Kevin is one of my all-time favourite books and although I was less impressed with The Post-Birthday World I still found it to be an enjoyable read. I was excited to discover that Lionel Shriver had a new book out and was lucky enough to win a proof copy of the book via a competition on Twitter.

So Much For That is a novel that takes a close look at the American healthcare system. The book follows Shep, a handyman from New York,  who sells his business for $1 million. He is looking forward to a comfortable retirement, preferably on a remote island off the cost of Tanzania. Unfortunately he discovers that his wife has cancer and so the plans are put to one side while she receives treatment. When the bills for her medical care start to appear Shep suddenly discovers that his retirement nest egg isn’t going to stretch very far.

Unfortunately I wasn’t a fan of this book – it felt like one long rant about the state of the US healthcare system.

Thirty percent of the money spent on medical care in this country goes to so-called ‘administration.’ Fact is, there’s a wholly fatty layer of for-profit insurance companies larded between Glynis and her doctors, a bunch of bloodsucking greedy fucks making money off her being sick. Kick those assholes out of the picture, and for the same cost the whole country would be covered, without fifty different bills a week arriving in your mailbox.”

The book was packed with facts and figures about various clauses within the system and the way Shep just happened to have friends with different medical problems (perfect for showing other ways in which the healthcare system was failing)  just made me cringe – it was all so contrived.

The whole tone of the book felt depressing and defeatist and I struggled to make it to the end. Lionel Shriver makes a fantastic argument for reforming the US healthcare system, but I’m afraid that in the UK she will mainly be preaching to the converted. I’m sure this book will have much more relevance in America and probably cause some controversy, but as a UK reader I found discussing the small print of insurance policies very dull.

I look forward to seeing how this book is received in America, but I think readers outside the US will be disappointed.

Are you planning to read this book?

Have you read any of her earlier books?

2010 Recommended books

The Blasphemer – Nigel Farndale

I’d describe The Blasphemer as a solidly good read. It begins by following a couple, Daniel and Nancy, as they travel to the Galapagos Islands. Their plane crashes into the sea and Daniel’s instincts take over – he rescues himself without stopping to think about saving Nancy. Nancy survives the crash too but becomes resentful of Daniel. She questions how much he loves her, thinking that if he had any real feelings for her then he would have put her life above his own.

In a parallel narrative we find out about the equally difficult decisions Daniel’s great grandfather made during the First World War. The scenes of the battlefield were particularly vivid and packed with emotion.

Blood is roaring in his ears. He needs to urinate. A feeling of inertia is creeping over him. He’s no longer sure he’ll be able to climb the ladder. All his fears, he knows, lie over these sandbags – fears not of pain but of annihilation, of ceasing to exist, of unimaginable emptiness.

Back in the present day, Daniel begins to investigate letters that his great grandfather wrote and we slowly learn the truth about what happened all those years ago.

I loved this book! It was written simply, but effectively and I was gripped throughout. There were plenty of twists and turns to satisfy my craving for a complex plot and the characters all came to life for me.

The book analyses whether you have time to weigh up all your choices when your life is in danger and whether your responsibility should be to look after yourself or everyone around you.

There were a few sections where I thought the book went too deep into religious discussions, but I’m not a fan of these at the best of times, so most people would probably be OK with it.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good story with emotional depth.

Have you read The Blasphemer?

Did you enjoy the religious discussions in it?

Would you be upset if your partner saved themselves first?

2010 Fantasy

Ruby’s Spoon – Anna Lawrence Pietroni

Ruby’s Spoon is an atmospheric book with a fairy-tale feel. The story is set in a small town called Cradle Cross, famous for it’s button factory. The residents of the town are disturbed by the arrival of Isa, a strange woman who is searching for her sister. Ruby is drawn towards Isa and offers to help in the search, secretly hoping that she will be rewarded with a journey on the sea.

The majority of the book feels as though it is set in our world, but then something slightly out of the ordinary will happen; I was left wondering whether the mention of mermaids, witches and other strange events meant that it is actually set in a parellel universe.  

I loved the imagery in the book and there were some beautifully touching passages: 

“My daughter drowned before her had a birthday. My grief is here; this handkerchief. I’ve worked her letters here, fine stitches in the corner, but look at all the rest of it, this empty space that says what might have been.” “Yes, yo were blessed with grief so small that yo can keep it in your pocket. My son was fully grown when I lost him to the War. My grief is larger than a sail.”

The dialect did take a short amount of time to get used to, but after a few pages I enjoyed the added atmosphere that it gave to the book.

The plot was straightforward, but strangely mesmerizing. The bizarre nature of some scenes meant that you never really knew what would happen next. I found the ending a bit of an anti-climax, but overall it was an enjoyable read.

The book is very well written and packed with symbolism and underlying themes. The originality and depth of this book make it a perfect for a book group choice. I’d love to discuss some of the aspects of this book, so if you’ve read it please comment below.

Recommended to anyone who enjoys books which are slightly out of the ordinary.


Have you read Ruby’s Spoon?

Did the mermaid exist?

What made Isa a witch?

2010 Crime

Blacklands – Belinda Bauer

Blacklands was the second selection for the TV Book Club. I couldn’t decide whether to read it or not, but although the rest of the show was poor, the short discussion they had on the book actually persuaded me to check a copy out of the library.

Blacklands is set in Exmoor and centres on Steven, a twelve-year-old boy whose uncle  was murdered 18 years ago. He is trying to find the body, so that his Grandmother can finally have some closure. After a fruitless search Steven decides to write to his uncle’s killer in the hope he will reveal the location of the body.

Blacklands is a very quick and easy read – I completed the whole book in one sitting, proof of how gripping I found it. Unfortunately I found the book too light for me and I was left feeling slightly disappointed.

Lots of interesting issues were introduced, including how a tragedy can continue affecting a family many years after its occurrence, but I felt that these issues were not investigated properly. The real heartbreak was skimmed over, producing a fast paced book, with no emotional depth.

Steven’s character was well drawn and I found the child’s perspective to be realistic and touching, but his letters to the serial killer went beyond reality. I struggled to believe that any correspondence between a murderer and child would be allowed and the cryptic replies were just too convenient.

I don’t think I’ll remember much about it in a few years time, but it entertained me for a few hours. Despite these criticisms it is a good page turner and is ideal for anyone who enjoys lighter crime novels.


Did you enjoy Blacklands?

Did you think the letters were realistic/would ever be allowed?

2010 Crime Recommended books

Rupture – Simon Lelic

Note: This book is released as A Thousand Cuts in the US

Rupture is set in a London comprehensive school, where a teacher walks into an assembly and shoots three pupils and a colleague, before turning the gun on himself. The book follows the young policewoman who is in charge of investigating the case. She quickly realises that the incident is not as simple as it first appears and sets out to find what motivated a quiet teacher to become a murderer.

The book begins with some truanting boys hearing a disturbance at their school; they sneak past the teachers and police they try to discover what has happened. The boys don’t actually see anything, but in many ways I found their observations more disturbing, as my imagination was left to conjure up the horror for myself.

I see what I had for lunch the day before, a pile of pork all glistening with fat like it’s been run over by a herd of slugs, just left on a tray in the sink. And there’s stuff all over the floor, lettuce gone soggy and brown, and peas with their guts splattered and smeared all over the tiles. I almost throw up.

I’d like to say that Rupture is a cross between Notes on a Scandal and We Need To Talk About Kevin but I think that would be unfair, as Rupture has it’s own unique voice. Much of the book is written as half a conversation, leaving you to fill in the police officer’s questions yourself. Some people may struggle with this writing style, but I found it to be very effective.

This book is gripping throughout and I was very impressed that by the end I had a great deal of sympathy for the murderer. I loved the way my initial opinions were slowly changed, leading me to question the way I look at crime and how often the perpetrator is often a victim too.

This book has everything I love to see in a book: fantastic characters, an impressive writing style, a compelling plot and a list of things to think about for weeks to come.

Highly recommended.


Have I persuaded you to buy a copy?!

There seem to be a lot of books about school shootings. Which is your favourite?

2009 2010 Chunkster Historical Fiction

Sacred Hearts – Sarah Dunant

Sacred Hearts is the third selection for the new TV Book Club, so when I spotted a copy hiding on the library shelves I decided to grab the opportunity to try it.

The book is set in an Italian convent during the 16th Century. It tells the story of a young woman brought to the convent against her will, as her family couldn’t afford the dowry to see more than one of their daughters married.

I was totally unaware of this practice – I found the detail of convent life fascinating and struggled to imagine a society in which so many women were forced to leave their loved ones to spend a life locked away from the world.

It is always hard, understanding what is being gained in the moment at which something is also being taken away. For such a young woman to appreciate, for example, the different meanings of incarceration and freedom. How while outside these walls ‘free’ women will live their whole lives dictated by the decisions of others, yet inside, to a remarkable extent, they govern themselves.

The book was rich in period detail and contained many of those little facts that you just can’t help sharing with anyone who happens to be close by. The characters were well drawn and I especially loved the way in which all the nuns had unique personalities, following the rules to a varying extents.

My only criticism is that the pace of the book was quite slow, which meant that the 460 pages dragged in several places. I’d recommend this book only to fans of historical fiction, as I don’t think the plot is exciting enough to entertain anyone who isn’t interested in learning about life in the 16th Century.


This is the first Sarah Dunant book that I have read, but I’m interested in reading more.

Have you read any of her books?

Which would you recommend I try next?