The Hobbit; still wonderfully brilliant

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My rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

the-hobbitI first read The Hobbit at school and was so enamoured that I wrote 3 of my own books about a mythical world with dragons and small creatures on great quests (complete with maps). I’m not much into dragons these days and don’t have much time for myths and legends but having just re-read it with my nine-year-old daughter, it’s still wonderfully brilliant. The writing is exceptional, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread” and wouldn’t everyone love to be described “like summer”. And what an opening line: “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit”. It’s actually a supremely political book; along with the hard-hitting sequels of Lord of the Rings, it’s an allegory for World War One. And without any help from me, my daughter has become obsessed with her own maps, carefully carving out old-fashioned quests of her own, with mountains, dwarves, and small creatures. A must read.


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The Girls; superb teen angst with a splash of murder

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My rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

the girlsI first came across author Emma Cline in the Paris Review of Books in summer 2013 when I found her story Marion. The opening had me hooked;

“Cars the color of melons and tangerines sizzled in cul-de-sac driveways. Dogs lay belly-up and heaving in the shade. It was cooler in the hills, where Marion’s family lived. Everyone who stayed at their ranch was some relative, Marion said, blood or otherwise, and she called everyone brother or sister.”

I presume this is the short story that got her the writing contract for The Girls, because it’s based on the same premise – at the end of the 60s, teenager Evie Boyd becomes drawn into a gang of girls and towards their cult leader in LA. It obviously has the backdrop of the Manson murders in mind, highly fashionable at the moment (anyone seen The Invitation? It was a quiet, unsettling movie from 2015 that also has sinister LA cult behaviour as a backdrop).

The Girls is really wonderfully written. It didn’t feel like it had quite the same artistic punch as the short story, but it was pretty spectacularly done all the same. Highly recommended, if you want to be taken back to how agonisingly awful if was to be a teenager (Cline really nails it) amidst some very chilling characters indeed.


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When Breath Becomes Air; over-hyped and way too sentimental

My rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

when breath becomes airI had been wanting to read Paul Kalanithi’s memoir for a while, having read a rave review in the New York Times; he was an esteemed neurosurgeon, diagnosed with terminal cancer in his 30s, who wrote this memoir before his death. The reviews said it provided interesting answers to the question, “what makes a life worth living”. It’s well-written and clearly, Kalanithi was very talented as both a surgeon and a writer, but I found the book way too worthy and over the top (possibly because it’s geared towards US audiences when us Brits tend to be a little less sentimental in our tastes, even about death…) and it just left me with more questions than answers.


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The Luminaries; sooo long but worth it

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luminariesMy rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

My god, I made it. Eleanor Catton’s Booker Prize-winning first novel is not for the faint-hearted. It is long. And I mean long. It’s also historical fiction, which really isn’t my bag, but ten minutes in, I was hooked. It’s set in New Zealand in 1866 and follows a group of men in a small frontier gold town and the two women who weave through all their stories. It’s intricate, with a kind of detail that doesn’t allow for any loss of concentration. It has death, swindling, and superstition all wrapped up in a veneer of social respectability. Worth delving into if you don’t have a life.


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The Grownup; really very disappointing

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the grown upMy rating: 2 stars (out of 5)

I’m a huge fan of Gillian Flynn (Gone Girl, Dark Places and in particular, Sharp Objects) but The Grownup was a huge disappointment. It’s a short story and I think that’s the problem; the pacing feels off, like Flynn doesn’t quite know how to approach the limited confines of a shorter story. The big reveals feel clumsy and manipulative, the characters are interesting but unclearly defined and we never even meet one of the main characters, which left me feeling cheated. It felt rushed. I had to give her 2 stars because I love her writing and flawed heroines but I can’t recommend it and it’s not worth recapping the plot. Go read one of her others instead…


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The Interestings; vivid, evocative and really bloody good

the interestingsMy rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

I hadn’t heard of Meg Wolitzer but when I read some of the reviews in The New York Times and The Telegraph, I discovered she is much-loved and regarded, in some circles, as highly as Jonathan Franzen and Hilary Mantel. So her story about six friends over the course of their lives  – The Interestings – seemed too good to resist. And by the time my Scribd trial had ended, half way through the book, these characters had so pervaded my head that I simply had to hunt down the book in any form possible, just to find out what they were up to.Continue Reading

Middlesex; riveting book about gender but still too long

middlesexMy rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides (who wrote The Virgin Suicides) is a really interesting book about gender; what it really means to be male or female, whether our choices are hard-wired and how we assume our gender over time. It’s also a book about the genetic outcomes from the choices that people make when they have families. That sounds weighty but it isn’t really. It’s very well written and quite timely (written in 2002) considering the increased profile of transgender individuals and how lots of women are now talking about how they don’t define themselves as one gender or another (here or here). I just thought it was a bit too long.


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