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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The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared; a long-winded unfunny dose of Forrest Gump

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hundred year old manMy rating: 1 stars (out of 5)

So I get that The Hundred-Year-Old Man by Jonas Jonasson is meant to be a satire on politics and politicians throughout the 20th century and I get that some people find it hilarious but I thought it was boring, long-winded and not very funny. The premise is brilliant; a guy celebrating his hundredth birthday climbs out of the window of his old people’s home and boards a bus, stealing a suitcase from a local thug on a whim. He gets chased, lots of people die elaborately in a way that ensures he doesn’t get framed and he meets many of the major players from the twentieth century (Stalin, Truman, Mao etc.). Only read it if you want another dose of a very long-winded Forrest Gump.


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My Heart and Other Black Holes; a great YA issues novel

my heart and other black holesMy rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

There are lots of brilliant YA books about suicide (All The Bright Places, Thirteen Reasons Why, Wintergirls, etc) – if a book about suicide can be called brilliant – and My Heart and Other Black Holes is (almost) just as good.

In the same vein as All The Bright Places, the two main characters (Aysel and Roman) meet while contemplating suicide. It’s a great study in how to write a successful YA book – it follows all the basic rules. 1) Make a countdown (they plan to kill themselves in a month). 2) Give them serious, well-thought-out reasons to die. 3) And create a full-blown basic attraction between the two main characters. The writing is a bit generic but well done, full of warmth and you do root for them (even though I ultimately felt they weren’t as memorable as some of the other characters from the other books in this genre).

My only gripe would be about how the big reveal relies on us not knowing the reason why Aysel wants to kill herself. In an age where everyone googles everyone else to find out everything about them, it feels a bit weak that the main characters wouldn’t have had that conversation before they actually do. The author does address it – “I’m pretty sure that a basic google search would have given him an inkling. There aren’t many Turkish people in Langston, let alone Kentucky” – but it still didn’t ring too true. I also felt the ending was sewn up a little too neatly for my adult tastes. That said, it’s a very solid YA read.


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Enduring Love; a huge letdown

enduring loveMy rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

I’m a tremendous fan of Ian McEwan’s books (particularly On Chesil Beach and The Comfort of Strangers) but this was a huge letdown. It has a wonderful plot; a couple are on a picnic on a very windy day when they see a hot air balloon that is in trouble. A young boy is stuck inside the basket, his grandfather has fallen out and everyone in the vicinity desperately tries to grab hold before the balloon blows away…

I’m rather partial to literary books but this one felt like it was trying too hard. It came across as a bit pompous in tone, which I couldn’t remember or hadn’t noticed in his other books. It was distracting. The book was strongest when discussing the breakdown of the couple’s relationship (McEwan is really wonderful at nailing human emotions and antagonism between people) but it didn’t deliver on the fear factor that he has really conveyed in his other work.

I very rarely say this but watch the film instead. It’s much better.


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Everything I Never Told You; a solid but not earth-shattering debut

everything i never told youMy rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

I’ve read a lot of books lately that involve a missing person (We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, The Girl on the Train) but Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng is actually less about how the girl in question, Lydia, has disappeared and focuses more on the family she has left behind. It’s well written and hooked me from the beginning, but it lacked the punchiness of Beside Ourselves (which uses such wonderful language) or the strong narrative of Girl on the Train (with its complicated characters and wonderfully unreliable narrator).

Everything I Never Told You is as much about raising children successfully as anything else. The questions it asks are profound and relevant, notably how far parents should live vicariously through their kids, pushing them towards things they didn’t have or couldn’t do as children themselves. It touches on how far we are shaped by being different (they are the only mixed race family in the neighbourhood in 1970s Ohio) and how we yearn to fit in, and the complicated decisions we make as a result. It’s her first novel – I look forward to reading her second – and a solid, but not earth-shattering debut.


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