Archive for August, 2012

Everyone has a way of dealing with problems or escaping from reality for a while – for some people it’s soap operas, for some it’s alcohol, for some it’s exercise….for Dora, it’s books.  When she feels disappointed with life, or with herself, she holes up in her apartment for days on end, and reads book after book after book.  And lately, Dora has been feeling very disappointed; she is separated from her second husband, she hasn’t worked for five years, she eats too much pizza and drinks too much wine.  When she meets sexy, funny, clever Fred, who works at – where else? – the local bookstore, they start a relationship.  But when he shows his true colours, she wonders whether he is really the man for her.

I’m not sure what I expected from this book – I looked forward to reading about someone who adored books, as I thought I would be able to relate to her.  This is actually more a chick-lit type read than I was expecting (which is not necessarily a bad thing).

The story is told from Dora’s point of view, and I did feel that she was a very believable character.  She wasn’t always easy to like – she could be prickly, and looked down on people a lot.  I got actually quite annoyed with her when she described different types of readers and how they irritated her; people read for many different reasons, but most of those reasons weren’t good enough for Dora.  However, she did redeem herself in the second half of the story, and I ended up liking her a lot.

Fred’s mother Bea, and his niece Harper, as well as Dora’s sister Virginia, were all very likeable, but unfortunately Fred was one of the most annoying and self-satisfied characters I’ve read about for a while!

The writing flowed well, and was always easy to read, even if some of the events seemed to serve no purpose in the story at all – such as when Dora and her friend Darlene rescue an injured deer.

Overall, I quite enjoyed the book, but I’m not sure that I would be interested in reading anything further by these authors.

(Note: This book was also released under the title ‘Literacy and Longing in L.A.’)

Read Full Post »

Cassandra Mortmain, the narrator of this story, lives in a crumbling old castle with her beautiful but self-centred sister Rose, her younger brother Thomas, her remote (and frankly very unlikeable) father, her eccentric but hugely likeable stepmother Topaz, and Stephen, a young man who lives with the family and looks after the castle for them.  They are penniless, and often struggle even to eat half-decent meals; all their decent furniture has been sold, and things don’t look likely to get any better.  Nonetheless, they somehow rub along together and seem happy enough.  Their quiet little life changes completely with the arrival of American brothers Simon and Neil – suddenly there seems to be a way out of poverty, but things are never quite as simple as they appear.  And everything that happens is faithfully recorded by Cassandra in her journal, which forms this novel.

I have mixed feelings about this book.  I really really enjoyed the first half, and thought that it may well turn into an all-time favourite.  Cassandra was witty and funny – clearly an intelligent narrator, but still charmingly naive.  The way she described certain events made me laugh out loud, and it was very easy to picture what she was writing about.  In the second half of the book, things took a slightly more angst turn.  I’m not about to give away any spoilers, but suffice to say that Cassandra went through a lot of emotions, and all of them are described here – sometimes it felt like they were described time and time again!  At this point, the humour took something of a back seat.

The characters were all very well depicted, and for the most part were likeable.  Certainly Cassandra herself was very endearing, and I also warmed to Topaz and Thomas.  However, the father of the house was not just remote with his family, but sometimes downright horrible to them – I desperately wanted his wife Topaz to kick him into touch, but sadly most of his behaviour was tolerated – almost to the point of encouragement – by his family.

What is worth mentioning though is the ending.  Without telling what happens, I will say that I thought I knew exactly where this book was going, and when I did reach the end, I was genuinely surprised, and very pleased as the ending I had imagined was not one I would have liked.

Overall, I would say that there is plenty to enjoy here, but most of the giggles are definitely to be found in the first half of the book.  I’m not sure I would ever read it again, but I’m certainly not disappointed that I picked it up in the first place.

Read Full Post »

This story is set in London in the near future; it’s a London that in some ways feels very familiar, but in some ways is scarily different from the London of today.  Counties have been partitioned off, and Londoners are effectively trapped in their city.  To escape, they have to literally go underground, and risk their lives.  Women are not allowed to work – indeed, are not even allowed outside their house unless they are covered with a veil.  The fear of paedophilia is so immense that men are frightened of spending time with any child who is not their own, and even then, only with their wife present.  Theatre and books are banned, and any kind of culture is considered anarchic.

Living in the middle of all this are young couple Lucas and Angela.  Lucas works for the sinister Ministry, as a Miracle Inspector – his days are spent visiting people who claim to have discovered a genuine miracle, but so far every ‘miracle’ has been a fraud, or the wishful thinking of the claimant.  Lucas and Angela make plans to leave London, but it turns out to be much harder than anyone could imagine.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  Dystopia is one of my favourite genres, and fans of such books as Nineteen Eighty-Four and The Handmaid’s Tale, would almost certainly enjoy this novel.  I found it scarily believable; a world that was all too easy to imagine, where fear of paedophilia and terrorism has curtailed people’s freedom to an extreme level.

It is not spoilerish to say that at one part, Angela finds herself outside London, as a refugee, and the story drew parallels with how asylum seekers are treated in the real world, with mistrust and fear.

The writing is very ‘clean’ – no words are wasted here – and it flows beautifully.  The different subplots tie together nicely and despite the subject, there is genuine humour here as well.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed this book, and will be seeking out Helen Smith’s other books.  Definitely recommended, especially to fans of dystopian fiction.

(I would like to thank the author, who sent me this book in exchange for an honest review. )

Read Full Post »

Animal Farm is George Orwell’s famous allegorical tale; a satirical tale about communism and the Russian Revolution.

After the animals on Manor Farm revolt and chase away their tyrannical master, Jones, they decide that from  now on, they will work for themselves, and won’t serve any human master.  All animals are deemed equal, and each will work according to his capacity, for a just reward.  The animals are led by the pig Napoleon (who represents Joseph Stalin), and all are initially happy with their new lives.  However, it is not long before the power goes to Napoleon’s head, and things go awry.

It’s a classic for good reason – this book is just brilliant.  It’s funny, but carries a stark message about how power can corrupt.  It can be read simply as a story about a group of animals who try to take control of their lives, but Orwell’s intent and meaning is very clear for all to read.  It also warns of the danger of a lack of education and understanding, and the inability to perceive what is happening.

This book comes in at less than 100 pages, and only takes a couple of hours to read. And it is definitely worth a couple of hours of anyone’s life.  Just brilliant, and one of those rare books which I would recommend to everybody.


Read Full Post »

This book is the first in a series featuring Dr Siri Paiboun.  It is set in 1976, in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, which has just been taken over by the communist party.  Dr Siri would dearly love to retire, but instead he finds himself reluctantly given the post of coroner, despite having no experience in that job at all.  Along with his two assistants, the feisty and eager Dtui and the nervous Geung, who suffers from Down Syndrome, Siri has to learn the job while he’s doing it.  When the wife of a prominent party member dies suddenly, Siri suspects that there is more to it than the husband’s claim that a bad diet killed her.  Things get really complicated when three Vietnamese men turn up dead, and appearing to have been tortured.  As Siri investigates it becomes clear that some people don’t want him to discover the truth.

I have slightly mixed feelings about this book, but overall I would say I enjoyed it.  The writing is wry and amusing, and for such a macabre subject, the book is fairly light-hearted.  For me, the character made the story.  I really liked Siri, and his two assistants, and also his friend Civilai, whose connections prove useful to Siri.

However, the plot seemed to be unnecessarily complicated.  The murder of the party member’s wife, and the mystery surrounding the three Vietnamese men would both have made interesting subjects for novels in their own right, but to have them both feature in one novel, made the storyline convoluted.  There was also a third storyline wher Siri travels to the Hmong region, in order to discover the truth behind some more mysterious deaths, and here the novel takes a supernatural turn, which did not personally appeal to me.

Overall, I would say the book was enjoyable, due to the very likeable main characters; the mysteries which Siri tries to solve are of secondary importance.  I probably would read more books in this series.

(Author’s rather lovely website can be found here.)

Read Full Post »