August Book Haul

I’m really excited about  my most recent book acquisitions. I’ve managed to stop myself from buying books for a while, and recently I caved and thought, well why not treat myself…

First up we have Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce. I’ve seen this book reviewed a fair bit on other blogs and thought it sounded really good, I also keep seeing it in various bookshops. It’s set in London during the Second World War. It follows Emmeline Lake, who dreams of being a Lady War Correspondent and takes a job where, after an unfortunate misunderstanding, she finds herself typing letters for a formidable agony aunt of a magazine. Although instructed to bin any letters containing any ‘Unpleasantness’, Emmy decides to secretly start writing back to them. When I heard about this book it reminded me a bit of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows, which I read earlier in the year and absolutely LOVED (you can read my review of it here). Hopefully I will enjoy this book just as much.

August book haul

I recently read The Venetian Game by Philip Gwynne Jones, and I enjoyed it so much that I decided that I wanted to read the sequel. So I treated myself to Vengeance in Venice. Still set in Venice (as the title suggests) it rejoins protagonist Nathan with a murder mystery to solve. I’m looking forward to reading this; it isn’t a genre I would usually go for, but as I enjoyed the first novel so much, and really liked that it was set in Venice, I thought I would give it a go. Also, since Autumn is coming up (waahhhhh, I’m going to miss Summer!) I thought it would be nice to curl up with a good murder mystery/thriller novel.

Finally is a novel which (as they often seem to) has been following me around bookshops and telling me to read it for a little while. This is The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan. It’s about a man called Anthony who has spent half his life collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a broken promise. Realising he’s running out of time, Anthony leaves his house and all its lost objects to his assistant Laura, the one person who he can trust to reunite the objects with their owners. I have a feeling that this book might get a bit emotional (I could be wrong) but it sounds quite a sweet and unusual novel. When flicking through the book when trying to decide whether I would enjoy it or not, the description on the first page of a man travelling on a train in a biscuit tin and being caught ‘by a safe pair of hands’ really stood out to me as it was such an unusual and unexpected opening. It had me gripped, and I’m really intrigued to read more!

I’m looking forward to reading these three books; they all sound slightly different and I think they’ll make great end of Summer/start of Autumn reading. What are you looking forward to reading next? Have you got any recommendations of what to read?

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Black Moses, by Alain Mabanckou – review

Set in the People’s Republic of Congo (now Republic of Congo), the book is about Moses, a teenage boy who grew up in an orphanage and knows nothing of life outside the rule of the orphanage’s corrupt director. That is until Moses escapes to Pointe-Noire, where his adventures in the city see him become a member of a gang of petty thieves, taken under the wing of a group of prostitutes from Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), lose his grip on reality, and consider himself as the Robin Hood of the Congo.

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The novel is satirical, particularly in its descriptions of political figures. A scene in the novel involving the President of Zaire not recognising his own constitution when it is quoted to him, and firing multiple bodyguards because they tell him something he doesn’t want to hear, is particularly memorable. The novel examines how those in power care only for appearances, and not about those under their care. The director of the orphanage Moses grew up in is keen for the authorities to consider him as one of the ‘great defenders of the Revolution’ (even though the orphanage’s staff know him for ‘chang[ing] with the wind’ when it comes to political allegiances). Yet he treats the orphans without much care, having taken the position of director of the orphanage years previously as a consolation prize, noting how he ‘do[es]n’t like children.’ Subsequently, the orphans don’t gain useful knowledge under his care, instead learning only to be able to recite perfectly the president’s latest speech, and with ‘heads stuffed full of things of no apparent value.’ Likewise the mayor of Pointe-Noire sets up campaigns to chase out the teenage gangs from the city in an effort to promote his chances in election campaigns, rather than taking responsibility and finding a solution to why and how they ended up in that situation.  

I enjoyed Black Moses, although there were points in which it was a challenging read. It is an unusual novel in that we don’t really find out what happens to many of the characters in the novel: they are mentioned, we find out about them, then they disappear. It seems every time Moses becomes close to someone and begins to rely on and appreciate them, they disappear from his life leaving him alone and having to fend for himself. It is also unusual in the way that it charts Moses’s gradual transition into insanity and his lack of awareness of who he is. At points this made it a difficult read, especially when trying to understand exactly what was going on in the chapters describing his lost sense of reality.

This is the first novel I have read from the Republic of Congo, have you read any others that you would recommend? Have you read Black Moses? What did you think of it?

 

The Venetian Game, by Philip Gwynne Jones – review

The Venetian Game is a fast-paced thriller about Nathan, a translator, who is suddenly offered a large sum of money to look after a valuable package. He finds himself caught up in a complicated and deadly game of art theft between two brothers that has played out for twenty years. I really enjoyed this novel, and having visited Venice earlier this year I loved the descriptions of the city. I also found the descriptions of Venice’s ‘acqua alta’ (high water) interesting, as I didn’t experience it when I visited.

I must admit that at times Nathan could be a little bit annoying – mostly in regards to his odd relationship with his estranged wife. There didn’t seem to be a good reason they had separated and he seemed to spend his time moping about it, avoiding her calls and seemingly flirting with a female friend (who he might have been better off with anyway). I did wonder whether the inclusion of Nathan having an estranged wife was to show how much he loved Venice; that despite his wife leaving him to move back to Edinburgh and despite the boring translation work (he often translates lawnmower manuals), he would still rather be in Venice than anywhere else.

Although Nathan’s character could be annoying, it wasn’t too much of a major issue. I really enjoyed the book and its occasional humour (particularly the antics of Nathan’s grouchy cat). I found it very difficult to put this book down as it was full of twists and turns. I was intrigued what would happen next, and whether Nathan would manage to solve the mystery of the world of art theft he had been drawn into. I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Vengeance in Venice, and returning to these characters as they tackle the next mystery. I’m hopeful that Nathan’s cat will make an appearance in the sequel too!

Have you read either of these books? What did you think? Are there any other books set in Venice you would recommend?

How to Stop Time, by Matt Haig – review

This is one of those books which I felt was following me around every single book shop I went into. For several months. Until I had How to Stop Time by Matt Haigto buy it.

The concept of the novel is an unusual one: it is about Tom, a man who ages slower than most other humans, and who has lived hundreds of years whilst barely ageing. Set in the present day, with flashbacks to his past, we follow him as he starts his new job (and new identity) as a history teacher in an inner-city London school. We learn about his past, and the people he has loved, and lost, over the centuries. It is a novel that is very much about learning to live in the moment and not being distracted by all of the things that might happen in the future, or brooding on all the things that have gone before.

I enjoyed this novel. It was interesting to have a character who had met both Shakespeare and F. Scott Fitzgerald, but who was attempting to teach history in a modern secondary school and trying not to reveal that he had been there and experienced it all. Although the concept of Tom ageing slower than normal humans was an unusual one, I enjoyed how Tom’s experiences of the past and how he has to hide his slow-ageing from the world was woven in with interesting historical references: making Tom’s condition almost believable. I did feel that aspects of the ending could have been elaborated on, but the glimpse of the future at the end of the novel was interesting and a nice way to finish the novel (I’m trying to be suitably vague here, so I don’t give anything away).

Have you read it? Let me know what you think!

My top 5 reads for the summer

With summer most definitely here, I thought I’d share with you my top five books that I think are perfect summer reads. I must admit, it was pretty tough to narrow it down to just five! I haven’t listed them in any particular order, as I really enjoyed reading all of them. I think these would all be good holiday reads, or perfect too for whisking you away from warm commutes! Where I’ve written a review for a book, I’ve linked to it so you can find out more about the book.

  1. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

This is a heartwarming story set just after the second world war, in which a writer befriends a group of people who live in Guernsey. Written as though its a series of letters, I found this book really difficult to put down.

  1. The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell

Set for the most part in Argentina, this is a book about a man and a penguin he befriends, and who essentially adopts him. It is a really lovely (and true) story that is delightfully written.

  1. Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier

I do love Cornwall, and I love Du Maurier’s writing so this one just had to feature. Set during the reign of King Charles II around the Helford River in Cornwall, it features the adventures of Dona St Columb, our plucky heroine. You’ll find yourself transported to the rugged beauty of Cornwall in a time of pirates.

  1. Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason ( or any book from the series)

I love the Bridget Jones books, and find them really fun reading. I haven’t yet read Bridget Jones’ Baby (the most recently published), but I’m sure I’ll love it. If you haven’t read them because you’ve seen the films, I recommend reading them anyway – they’re absolute classics and nice easy reading too. You can also check out my review of Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy.

  1. The Venetian Game by Phillip Gwynne Jones

As the name suggests, this book is set in Venice. It’s a very readable thriller about Nathan, a translator, who becomes caught up in the middle of art theft. I haven’t gotten around to writing my review of this book yet, so keep you eyes peeled for it. I really enjoyed this book, and it’s very readable.
Do you agree with my choices? What would your recommended summer reads be?

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman – review

I was absolutely enthralled by this novel. I know it has been around for a while and I’ve heard a lot of people rave about it. I’ve seen it on the best seller stands. People have recommended it to me. But for some reason, I just hadn’t picked it up, thinking perhaps it was over-hyped. Oh how wrong I was. A friend recently lent it to me and convinced me to read it, and I was utterly hooked. Why had I not picked it up before now?! I really struggled to put this novel down, and found myself eagerly awaiting when I could next pick it up and read a bit of it. What would happen next? What had happened to Eleanor in the past?

Eleanor has a set routine: wearing the same clothes to work every day, and buying the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. But there is something missing from her life, and the novel follows her journey as she comes to realise and deal with this. She is a very likeable character and her narration is both at times humorous, and at times incredibly sad. This novel is full of unexpected twists and turns, and characters you’ll love (and some you won’t).  It’s a captivating novel, and I barely noticed the time passing when I read it for hours at a time. It deals with themes of loneliness, loss, and finding friendship and hope where there has been none before.

This novel is Gail Honeyman’s debut novel, and it is absolutely brilliant. I look forward to seeing more from this writer!

If you haven’t read this book, you must go and read it! If you have read it, what did you think of it?

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

All Our Wrong Todays, by Elan Mastai – review

All Our WThis was a book that I had been looking for for a while, having initially come across it in a bookshop whilst waiting for a friend. At the time I thought it looked relatively interesting, but not enough to stop me putting it back down when my friend arrived. I then forgot about it.

But it kept popping back into my mind as something I wanted to read, except I couldn’t remember the title or who wrote it. Until, after a month of searching, I finally found it again.

The novel is set in 2016 and is about Tom: a man who lives in a technologically advanced version of the world where time travel has just been invented. He goes back in time and changes the world, resulting in our world as we know it. From flying cars and time travel and the world which according to Tom ‘we were supposed to have’, to the world we have today. It is also a love story of how he met the woman of his dreams.

I found All Our Wrong Todays an unusual novel, and at times I did get impatient with it and was keen for it to end. The long and confusing description of the character’s own and futuristic 2016, and the writer’s frequent use of the word ‘like’ in the writing, did get a bit tiresome.

However, it did pick up and I found the chapters towards the end particularly fast paced and interesting to read. The perspective on time travel, the logistics of time travel, and what would happen if you attempted to change the past, were really interesting. There were also points in the novel when I (and some of the characters in the novel itself) did question whether Tom was schizophrenic and if his belief in time travel and the other timeline were symptoms of this.

The novel deals with themes of living in the moment and enjoying what you have and not taking those around you for granted. I found it an interesting read and a different style from what I would usually go for.