Archive for June, 2009

In a post-apocalyptic America, a man and his young son try to make the journey south, where they hope to find a life where they can do more than just survive. At the moment, they are just about managing to stay alive in a barren world where houses and stores have been plundered and ruined, and every stranger they encounter is a very real threat.

This is an amazing book.  The relationship between the man and the boy – who remain unnamed throughout the novel – is totally believeable.  They are both all that the other has, and the man will do anything to protect his son, while the son puts all his faith and trust into his father.  The pair show the lengths that people will go to to survive, while still trying to hold onto their humanity; they also show the reserves of strength and thought that people find in such situations, where they are having to consider their every action and deed.

The bare landscape is also portrayed magnificently, and is frighteningly imaginable. The language is very clean, with no unnecessary words; the barren-ness of the prose reflects the barren-ness of the country.

The characters are also beautifully portrayed, with the close relationship between them really coming through.  I was completely immersed in the bleak world in which they found themselves, and felt their hopes and dreams, disappointments and despair.

I was drawn into this book from the very first pages, and didn’t want to put it down.  I was anxious to get to the end to find out what would be the fate of these two characters, but when I finished it, I wished that there was still more to read.

A very thought provoking novel that will stay with me for a long time – highly recommended.

(For further information about the author, please click here.)

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This book tells the story of Pan Yuliang, a young Chinese orphan girl, who in 1913, when she is 14 years old, is sold by her opium addicted, heavily in debt uncle, to a brothel in Wuhu.  After spending two horrific years at the brothel, under the watchful eye of the manager, known as Godmother, Yuliang manages to escape when a young Government Official named Pan Zanhua, rescues her and takes her away.  Yuliang discovers that she has a flair for painting, and wants to cultivate her new found talent. However, she discovers that she is living in dangerous times for a female artist who wants to push boundaries…

I enjoyed this book very much.  Pan Yuliang was a real person, but this book is not intended so much as a biography, as a novel based on Yuliang’s life.  The writing is beautiful – as artistic and enjoyable as the work of Yuliang herself. The main character is entirely believable – portrayed as a woman in conflict with the traditional standards of the society she lives in, but who also loves her country very much. While she is not always portrayed as a likeable person, she is always deserving of admiration, and I found it impossible not to root for her.

This is the first full length novel from Jennifer Cody Epstein, and it is eloquently written.  It manages to be descriptive, yet never boring.  The story moves along at a fair pace, but never feels hurried.  I will await more work by this author, with great interest.

(NB: My copy of this book is called The Painter of Shanghai, but it also appears to have been widely published under the name The Painter from Shanghai).

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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In the rural village of Glennkill in Ireland, a flock of sheep are horrified to find their shepherd dead, with a spade stuck through him.  The sheep decide that they must investigate the murder and work out who killed their beloved master, in order that justice can be done.  Along the way, the encounter various obstacles, face their fears and learn a few lessons about life.

I thought this was an adorable book.  The premise is unusual – a flock of sheep make for an unlikely detective squad.  But these are no ordinary sheep!  Their dead shepherd, George Glenn, had read to them every day of their lives and treated them as proper friends, holding conversations with them.  As a result, they are able to think things through and make plans.

Each sheep has a distinct character.  The main characters are Miss Maple, the cleverest sheep in all Glennkill and maybe the world; Othello, a black ram with a mysterious past; Mopple the Whale, a sheep with an amazing memory and a seemingly inexhaustible appetite; Sir Ritchfield, the elderly lead ram; and Zora, a sheep with a head for heights.

If the reader can accept the premise of this unusual murder hunt, the book is very enjoyable.  The flocks literal interpretation of human conversations and interactions make for some laugh-out-loud moments, and the secret of who killed George Glenn is kept until almost the very end.

Definitely a book I would recommend – heartwarming and amusing. However, it’s put me off eating lamb chops for a while!

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Jean-Marque Montjean is a new qualified Doctor, working in Salies, France, in 1914, under the management of the bumptious Doctor Gros.  Jean-Marque’s first patient of his own is the sardonic and mercurial Paul Treville.  When Jean-Marque meets Paul’s sister Katya, the attraction is instant and undeniable.  Montjean is enchanted by Katya’s enthusiasm for life, in contrast to her twin brother’s cynical outlook and disdain for others.  Paul constantly warns Jean-Marque to stay away from Katya and it becomes clear that the Trevilles are hiding and running from a dark secret in their past.  When Jean-Marque is informed that the Trevilles are planning to leave Salies, he insists on one last meeting with Katya, to see if he can persuade her to stay with him…

I enjoyed this book almost all of the way through.  It was a very easy read, with an easy to follow storyline, and I found myself not wanting to put the book down. However, the ending was something of a let down, because it felt confusing and over-written.  For the first time since starting the book, I found myself having to look back at parts I had read in order to make sure I understood what was happening.

Katya and Paul are both very well drawn characters, and Paul in particular was a character I enjoyed reading about, although he is not portrayed in a particularly sympathetic light.  The minor character of Doctor Gros was also great fun.  However, Jean-Marque himself is not so easy to care for one way or the other.  Although he is the narrator of the story, I found that he was actually the least well rounded out of all of the ‘cast’.  I suspect that had he been easier to empathise with, the ending would have been more exciting and enjoyable.

All in all though, this is a mostly enjoyable book, and perfect if you fancy a bit of mystery, but nothing too heavy.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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Alex and his three friends’ typical activities at night consist of rape, robbery and violence. When this finally spills over into murder, the Police catch up with Alex.  He is imprisoned, and subsequently subjected to a form of mind control, which means that he can be returned to society, with no risk to others around him.

Set in an ambiguous and not-too-distant future (although it is worth remembering that the book was written in 1963), the book is written in ‘Nadsat’ – a form of teenage slang used by Alex (the narrator) and his peers.

If there is one book which I think everybody should read, this would be it.  I first read it about 20 years ago, and thought it was due for a re-read.  I appreciated it more second time around.

The nadsat language has a dual role here – it firmly entrenches Alex into his own culture (none of the adults or authority figures in the book use it), and also makes the violence less graphic, meaning that the book is disturbing because of it’s message and not the violence contained within the pages.

This is a book which raises questions of ethics:  Is a man who chooses to be bad better than a man who is forced to do good?  Is it okay to take away individual choice for the good of society? Does it do any good to only treat the symptoms of a problem, and not the cause?

Despite the violence and disrespect for authority which is shown by Alex and his gang, the most disturbing aspect of this book is the so-called treatment doled out by medical professionals, and people who are supposed to be good.

The nadsat language may put some people off reading this, but in truth, it is not long before you get used to it.  It is obvious what most words mean, either by their context, or by the words they are obviously derived from (for example, ‘apologies’ becomes appy polly loggies’).

A definitely 5/5 for me, and one that I recommend to anybody with an interest in great literature.

(For more information about the author, please click here.)

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