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Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

In some ways quite a simple novel, going back and forth between letters recounting the start of a marriage and the present day. Maybe it’s all the books in the story that got me hooked but I thoroughly enjoyed this! 

According to Yes by Dawn French

I wanted something light but good which is exactly what this book is. It’s about a woman who runs away from her life to build a new life in New York. Not too original but with a lovely authentic voice. 

How we met by Katy Regan

There’s nothing earth shatteringly new in this love story set in a grown up group of university friends, but I really enjoyed it nevertheless. 

Shtum by Jem Lester

I loved this book – read it in less than 24 hours. Based on a true story (ish) it’s about a father trying to do the right thing for his ten year old autistic son. A book that will stay with tou

Lie still by Julia heaberlin

Heaberlin’s books aren’t highbrow but they are utterly addictive. This one was about a rape victim trying to uncover the story of her neighbour and the strange women in her small town.

My horizontal life by Chelsea handler

I enjoyed this more than I expected to. I liked her unashamed balsyness when talking about men, her family, one night stands and I liked the rawness of each mini story. It’s not the life for me but it was fun hearing about someone else’s very different choices

The Man Booker 2014 – my initial thoughts

Whoop, whoop!  The Man Booker Prize Longlist 2014 came out today!

man boooker

I am always  geekily excited to see what is on it.  The year before last, I found it inspiring enough to start this blog, and read the whole Longlist, between the time it was revealed and when the winner was announced.  Last year I considered it, but didn’t.  I just couldn’t get enthused enough.  It wasn’t them, it was me.  Or maybe it was them – there were a few real duds. (The Women’s Prize was definitely them this year – what a horrible selection.)

This year, I am finding the Longlist more inspiring again, so am hoping to repeat my feat of a couple of years ago.  (ED: Ok, feat is probably an exxageration.  I didn’t climb a mountain or anything.  Maybe ‘project’ would have been a better word…)

A random selection of my initial thoughts, for your delectation (more to follow over the coming weeks…)

  1. Why are so many books on the Longlist not published until September / October?  This makes it hard (if not impossible) to read the lot before the Shortlist is announced.  This upsets my OCD
  2. Unusually I have only read one of them (and probably heard of fewer than 50%)
  3. The one I have read was We are all Completely Beside Ourselves, which I definitely enjoyed, but am not convinced is Man Booker winning material
  4. The Lives of Others and The Blazing World were already downloaded – nice to have my ‘to read’ list somewhat vindicated by the experts
  5. The Wake is probably the only book on the list which sounds like it really isn’t up my alley.  Having said that, Hillary Mantel destroyed my preconceptions about my enjoyment (or lack thereof) of historical fiction last time, so I will definitely give it a go
  6. I like Howard Jacobsen when he isn’t trying to be too funny – fingers crossed this is a more serious novel
  7. Thank God there is no Will Self!  And no The Goldfinch.  And no The Girl is a Half Formed Thing.  Triple win.
  8. And there is Ali Smith.  Boom.

How about you?  What do you reckon?  Any recommendations on where to start?!

Why I like “one building” novels.

A little arrogantly, I am always surprised when someone recommends a book to me, and it turns out it is famous, but I have never heard of it.  Such was the case with the Yacoubian Building, which I am currently reading.  The novel is set in a building in 90’s Egypt and follows the sometimes interwoven stories of the various inhabitants. I was hooked from the start. As, it turns out were literally millions of others.  The book was the best-selling Arabic novel of 2002 and 2003, has been made into a TV show and a film and translated into 23 languages (thanks Wikipedia).


My friend recommended me this novel, based on my recommendation to her: The Book of Unknown Americans – a new novel about Latin immigrants who all live in a building in Delware.  Again, the novel tells the semi-interwoven stories of the families that live in the building. Again, I was hooked from the start, fascinated by the characters, their histories, the challenges they face and the choices they are forced to make in this new country.

This got me thinking that I think I have a certain penchant for books set in one building.  Among my favourites are The Glass Room by Simon Mawer (set over 70 years, in a house in Czechoslovakia) and The Affairs of Others by Amy Grace Lloyd (set in an apartment block in New York).  Although, I must admit, this love isn’t universal.  I could never get into The Elegance of the Hedgehog, although I know others loved it.

I think I like these “one building” novels like others become obsessed with books about journeys, or novels set in a certain country.  They just play to something within me.  On further thought, I think it comes down to three things.

  1. A sense of place.  I don’t have much of an imagination, and struggle to get a strong sense of the place where some novels are set, particularly if they move around a lot.  One continuous location means there is a far greater chance it will more fully envelope my imagination.
  2. People-driven novels.  Novels set in one place tend to really focus on characterisation, telling the stories of the people who live there.  I think character, rather than journey-driven or more action-driven novels are probably my favourites, as again, I find them the most all-encompassing.
  3. History.  I am something of a history buff.  And novels set in one place tend to tell the story of that time and place with a great deal of detail, through the eyes of the characters which I love.  I find I always get interesting titbits of information from this kind of novel that I wouldn’t ever have found otherwise.


The problem with paper books (and other stories)

So folks, it’s been a while since I have blogged.  And I mostly put that down to the simplest and most retro of reasons: I have been reading paper books. And, well, the problem with paper books is that they are much harder to mark up by theme and then follow up than kindle books.  And also, when I am doing it I feel guilty.  So… well…. I don’t.  At the same time, as discussed before, you have to be in the right mental mode to blog, and for boring day-to-day life reasons I haven’t been….

Which means I am not in a position to delve into as much detail this time as usual, but still wanted to let you know about some of my interesting recent reads.

By far my favourite was A Possible Life by Sebastian Faulks.  This was signed by the man himself (and, embarrassingly I blushed when I met him *no he’s not hot – I just respect-love him).  Anyway, I have pretty much enjoyed his previous books.  But as with so many novels which everybody raves about (see ref. The Goldfinch) I found Birdsong long and over-rated.  But this book was…wow.  Really it is a novel of long-ish, short stories with a slightly Ian McEwan bent, as they focus on what might have been.  That’s what ties them together, rather than actually knitting together as one narrative.  But they are just unbelievably beautifully written, you live the lives of each unique character right alongside them, whether in the 17th Century or the future.  I read it in a weekend, in the sun, and wish I could read it again.


Unexploded by Alison Macleod had moments of genius.  At times, I was completely engrossed in Second World War Brighton.  But overall the book just felt a little facile, trying to elevate conventional middle class concerns and challenges by setting them in a more dramatic time.  The most interesting elements (for instance the internment camp) were not sufficiently developed, and the principal protagonist didn’t have a very strong voice.  I know this because I struggled to decide what she looked like, which you can always do if someone has a well-developed voice (although you may not agree with others, which one of the many reasons on-screen adaptations can be problematic).unexploded


I am still not sure how I feel about The Hive by Gill Hornby (sister of the more famous Nick).  In some ways it is quite similar to his novels, entertaining yet accessible.  But at the same time it just didn’t hit the mark.  Firstly, I think it over-sold itself.  The quotes on the front cover make you think it is a work of great new thinking and genius, which it is not.  Secondly, it plays on “the hive” concept too much, which gets repetitive. And finally, it is just too “social commentary lite” for me.  It tried to tell the story of maternal competition in a way which ‘makes you think’ and yet it doesn’t really.  Or it didn’t for me.  Instead it just made me hate most of the mothers, and fear the day I am one day a mother myself, waiting at the school gates.


Now I’m back to the kindle, so more to follow soon.

What I think about when I am blogging

As with all things, the blog and I go in waves.  Sometimes I love doing it, sometimes it feels like a chore, and sometimes (well, like recently) I just don’t bother at all.  At the start, I used to force myself to blog, but then I did some thinking and I realised two things:

thinking man

  1. This is a hobby.  I do it for fun.  There are enough things in life I have to do (e.g. work) or feel super guilty if I don’t do (e.g. run) – I should allow myself to be a little more lackadaisical.  I won’t lie, as a structured overachiever, I still struggle with this, but I am trying to allow myself to be a little lazy, from time to time
  2. I need to be inspired.  If a book doesn’t inspire me to blog, it probably isn’t that good.  And I do mean ‘good’ in a somewhat literary sense.  I recently read Catching the Sun by Tony Parsons.  I read it in my cosy chair, on a wet weekend, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I have verbally recommended it to others.  But did I have anything to say about it?  Did it stir any deep emotions or make me reconsider pertinent issues?  No it did not.

The latter point, more than my new acceptance of occasional laziness, has led me to reconsider my blog.  Instead of blogging about everything I read (because how much do you really want to read about books I hated, or more frequently, about books I think are just a bit meh?) I am only going to blog about books I would recommend, for one reason or another (NB. no, pedants, this doesn’t apply to reading projects.  If I try and blog the whole Man Booker List again this year, you will get my opinions on all of it warts n’ all.  But please judges, I beg: no. Will. Self.)

Having thought a bit about it, a book must be one of three things to be worth a recommendation:

  1. It must make me think.  The best marker of this is that I usually want to chat to others about it
  2. It must be beautiful, and / or (usually and) evoke emotion in me (this doesn’t mean actual tears, we have covered this earlier) but I must care about the characters
  3. I must lose myself in it.  If hours pass, and I don’t answer my own name being called, I am onto a winner

Some books have all three of these things, but must don’t.  I think one is probably enough.