We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves; terribly good and terribly sad

completely beside ourselvesMy rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

When I started reading this book about a family member, Fern, who has evidently gone missing or died, I really liked how it didn’t start with how she had disappeared or when. The narrator, Rosemary, is Fern’s sister and she begins the story half-way through (running us through events that happen after Fern’s disappearance). I thought this was a really smart approach; a very unique and powerful way of letting us learn about her family and investing in them, before the inevitable bombshell. As it turns out, it’s actually a necessary plot device or else the story wouldn’t have worked so well (it would be a big spoiler to say why…).Continue Reading

And The Mountains Echoed; a different kind of story, full of pathos

mountains echoedMy rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

I found And The Mountains Echoed on my kindle when I was stuck waiting to pass through the Channel Tunnel last month and I’d got through 60% of it by the time I got home. (It was an interesting parallel – reading about  people who are being displaced by war while passing through an area full of people who have been displaced by war. So many people looking for a better life…) I don’t normally like books that change the protagonist throughout and this was no exception; I sighed every time I had to refocus into a new character with a completely different perspective. That said, it’s a lovely book, providing insights into an Afghanistan we don’t normally hear about; normal life under decades of upheaval. The stories are touching although I wasn’t as riveted as I had been with The Kite Runner.

Hosseini is a great writer. One of the characters, Idris, meets a little girl called Roshi in a hospital in Afghanistan who has suffered a terrible injury at the hands of her uncle and has nothing. He’s sickened by how much he’s spending on a new home cinema in his house in the US and feels sure he could do something for her instead. The few pages where he returns home to his family and readjusts into American life are so powerful… the way he convinces himself that he deserves the cinema, how hard he has worked, how far away she is, how he cannot really help… devastatingly full of pathos.

Like this? I occasionally send out newsletters full of useful writing advice and reading titbits. If you want to receive them, click HERE to subscribe.

Stay Where You Are and Then Leave; a thoughtful intro to WW1


stay where you areMy rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

John Boyne’s book, Stay Where You Are and Then Leave is not meant for adults – it’s a little too simplistic – but it’s a really thoughtful introduction for a younger YA audience to World War 1. It follows little Alfie (aged 5) and how he deals with his Dad’s departure to fight on the first day of World War 1 and his realisation four years later that his Dad has actually been injured and is very sick. Boyne wrote The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas about the friendship between two boys at a concentration camp (one the son of a Nazi officer and the other an inmate) and he shows the same thoughtfulness with difficult issues in this book. I was tearful within ten minutes of picking it up; it definitely pulls at you a little but in a gentle, inoffensive way. Definitely one to be re-read with my daughter in a couple of years time.

Like this? I occasionally send out newsletters full of useful writing advice and reading titbits. If you want to receive them, click HERE to subscribe.

The Weight of Water; a charming, poignant ditty

weight of waterMy rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

I picked up The Weight of Water by Sarah Crossan, in my local library whilst getting some books for my daughter; I was attracted to the cover by Oliver Jeffers, a kids’ author I have long admired (if you are ever stuck for a toddler’s present, you can never go wrong with How to Catch a Star or Lost and Found – they are true gems).

It tells the story of Kasienka, a Polish immigrant, arriving in Coventry with her mum, looking for their father. That sounds heavy, but that’s the wonder of this book; it deals with some very heavy issues – bullying, fitting in, immigration, growing up, first love – in a very light, touching and accessible way, written in – wait for it – poetry (but you don’t even notice the poetry, except how it helps to describe and punctuate Kasienka’s feelings).

Her writing skills are a real marvel; I was amazed at how she manages to fit everything in this slight book and was so surprised to find a charming, poignant, coming of age story. Lovely.

Like this? I occasionally send out newsletters full of useful writing advice and reading titbits. If you want to receive them, click HERE to subscribe.

The Mayor of Casterbridge; a depressing masterclass from Hardy

mayor of casterbridgeMy rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

I read a little Hardy when I was at university but after reading Jude the Obscure and being completely depressed, I gave him up. I like real life, but he’s always so, well, downbeat. Now with the release of Far From the Madding Crowd and having seen the stylish BBC adaptation of Tess of the D’Urbervilles, I opened the first page of The Mayor of Casterbridge and got a shock. It was a true masterclass in how to hook a reader; a man fed up with his wife and child, and very drunk, auctions them off to the highest bidder in a bar. He wakes up hours later slumped on the very same bar stool, only to realise that his wife and child did actually go with the man, in exchange for 5 pounds. Years later, he has worked his way up to become the Mayor of a town called Casterbridge, when his wife and child re-emerge. And so begins his downfall…Continue Reading

Sharp objects; mesmerising, malevolent and bloody brilliant

sharp objectsMy rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

There’s a point in Sharp Objects when one of the characters, the youngest daughter of three, asks her mother which of her children she loves the most; she’s trying to assuage her fears that she can’t possibly be loved the best, that the first or second born must be the preferred children. Gone Girl is Gillian Flynn’s “third child”, her third book, and the best known and loved, but it’s Sharp Objects that does it for me.Continue Reading

The Rosie Project; vivid, wise and hilarious

rosie projectMy rating: 5 stars (out of 5)

I’ve seen tons of people reading The Rosie Project over the past few months and now I know why. It’s vivid, wise, hilarious and – despite being a little predictable – it seems having Aspergers (and I mean this lightly and very tongue-in-cheek) has never been so sensible; I felt like the protagonist really made some pertinent points about life that I’m going to adopt myself…

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion is reminiscent of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. The latter portrays a boy with Aspergers dealing with his parent’s separation and life in general while The Rosie Project follows Don Tillman, a university genetics professor with Aspergers (even though he doesn’t know he has it) on his “Wife Project”, to find a ‘suitable mate for reproductive purposes’.

The Rosie Project never pokes fun at Aspergers; on the contrary, it manages to make the reader feel that life would sometimes be better if we took our emotions out of everyday situations and how much more efficient life could be if we were a little more structured. Conversely, it enables us to look at when and where logic can’t come into place – mostly in terms of our relationships. Truly great!

Like this? I occasionally send out newsletters full of useful writing advice and reading titbits. If you want to receive them, click HERE to subscribe.