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A God in Ruins: Costa Novel Award Winner 2015
A God in Ruins: Costa Novel Award Winner 2015
by Kate Atkinson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb book about what it is to be alive, 26 Mar. 2016
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There are so many dismal books with 5 star reviews that it risks undermining what 5 star means. But this book genuinely, and I think objectively, deserves the accolade. This is, put simply, an extremely good book. Whether you just want a good yarn, an entertaining page-turner or a thought-provoking read, this is it.
A God In Ruins is really about what it is to be alive, the trials, disappointments, compromises and acceptance that comes with aging. That may sound depressing, it isn't: it's uplifting, it's truthful. That is Atkinson's real achievement, because it could so easily have been otherwise. The book is a masterclass in how to write a book: it's original - the descriptions of the wartime battles are superlative - and cleverly constucted, jumping backwards and forwards in time in exactly the way most minds work.
I've read the negative reviews on Amazon: yes, they're truthful, but perhaps those readers haven't got it or have read the wrong book. The ending is a surprise and could be seen as too easy, but it fits the purpose of the book. Some characters are deliberately unlike-able but there's a point to it.
I enjoyed but didn't love Life After Life. I loved A God In Ruins. This book won't change your life but it will make you think about life and about the choices people make and the things they do. I highly recommend it.


What She Left
What She Left
by T. R. Richmond
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars In need of a good editor, 22 Feb. 2016
This review is from: What She Left (Paperback)
This started as a great idea: using letters, social media and other historical documents to tell the story of the death of a young girl. But somewhere in the writing the format killed the novel.
I felt there are a few issues with the novel, most related to the very restrictive requirements of telling a story through blog posts, diary extracts and letters written by the main characters. Firstly this approach means that you never really engage with the characters because they never really reveal themselves and there is little real illumination by real time interaction with other characters.
Secondly, the format gets in the way of a story, of which there really isn't one, making the book feel very disjointed. It jumps around between perspectives for no obvious reason.
The other problem is that nobody in the book is vey likeable, including the female victim. This is compounded by very shallow characterisation: the victim is a strange mix of trailblazing cause journalist, cocaine n booze fiend and suicide risk. If you don't really care about the victim what's the point of reading to the end? The lecturer is a caricature of a burnt out lecturer and the police witness is right out the pages of the Daily Mail. Much of the social media elements read like someone middle aged trying to get down with ver yoof.
As a debut model this is a fair and daring effort but it is disappointing that a publisher like Penguin didn't assign a decent editor to knock what is essentially a good idea into shape.


The Bees
The Bees
by Laline Paull
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Bee careful, 2 Feb. 2016
This review is from: The Bees (Paperback)
I avoided this book for a while because it really isn't my type of book at all. I should have been stronger. It still isn't.
Putting aside my personal preferences, this book struggleson many fronts. The idea of setting this in a hive with bees as the characters seems such a difficult one to sustain that the process of sustaining it is at the expense of rounded characters, a decent story and any actual themes.
The descriptions of bees in flight and foraging are enjoyable but otherwise it feels like a very ordinary story of humans who are actually bees. Life in the hive is hard to believe and harder to actually imagine, talking as it does of patisseries.
The central character Flora 717 is pretty one-dimensional and her progression through the hive, apparently in complete contrast to the firmly enforced hive hierarchy (ok, the hiverarchy) is muddled and implausible.
There are moments of wit, particularly with the description of the swashbuckling Drones, but overall the books feels too worthy, too weighed down and limited by its premise and too Hollywood, particularly the mawkish ending. Perhaps no surprise that the author is a screenwriter.
I finished The Bees but it was honestly a struggle. Yes, writing about bees is clever. But it's a maguffin - the book should work whether about bees or bears or humans, it doesn't.


Kolymsky Heights
Kolymsky Heights
by Lionel Davidson
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars It's got talking apes in it. No, it really has, 11 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Kolymsky Heights (Paperback)
I don't read many thrillers and after ploughing through this to page 330 I'm not sure I'll be digging much deeper into the genre. The final straw for me were the talking apes.
I don't get this book. Apparently it's the best thriller ever written. Really? It's not even thrilling, unless you consider the intricacies of being a deckhand on a freighter or building a Jeep thrilling. I admit, I don't.
When not learning about ships and car construction there is quite a lot of stuff about the cold Russian wastelands. It's mildly diverting.
Aside from not a lot happening for not a lot of reasons the main character is utteely implausible, a bizarre amalgam of Batman, James Bond, Jason Bourne and Top Cat. The talking apes were only mildly more believable.
I have no idea what the point of this book is. It isn't entertaining. It isn't big on ideas and it isn't that well written. All of which might be fair enough if journalists and fellow writers hadn't lauded it so much.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 17, 2016 12:03 AM GMT


All the Light We Cannot See
All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

5.0 out of 5 stars Worth all the praise and adulation, 3 Jan. 2016
Wow, this is A Good Book. I read a lot and have grown tired of the breathless five star reviews of mediocre books. But this one deserves it.
I enjoy a book that is written well, has an original story, is believable and insightful. This is.
The story is clever and original and the characters deftly drawn. The central character's blindness is expressed brilliantly but without mawkish sympathy and I loved the 'maguffin' of the model townscapes created by her father. The way in which the storylines are gradually woven together, without sacrificing the individual character arcs, is skillful and impressive.
To create a book that combines an engaging story with a plethora of insights and ideas is a real skill. This book achieves it. It is one of the few books that I'd re-read and I cannot recommend it highly enough.


Look Who's Back
Look Who's Back
by Timur Vermes
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.84

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Clever, but you need to be German to properly get it, 3 Jan. 2016
This review is from: Look Who's Back (Paperback)
The premis is very clever and the jacket design works well. From thereon it could all have gone very badly wrong, but the author does a pretty good job of using the idea of Hitler coming back to expose the contradictions of modern life, particularly politics and reality TV.
But I had a few problems with this book.

1. It's not very well written. Whether it's the translation or the original text isn't clear but it reads more as a knowingly clever political treatise than a work of fiction. There is no real story, no characterisation and poor description

2. You need to be German to get the very specific jokes and satire of culture and politicians.

3. The idea that nobody would seriously dispute what the reborn Hitler says and does on the basis that it's all a joke is unsustainable. If the book is trying to satirise modern life it would be more believable and credible if it had some balance.

4. The book plays with the idea that some Nazi ideology would be accepted today. Inevitably, this is quite likely: strong leaders, sustainable energy policies, etc are not necessarily evil

5. I was left with the not entirely pleasant thought that the author might be playing with his readers too: while the Hitler character is ribbed, the overall impression I had was that Timur Vermes had a sneaking regard for him. So maybe we're also being toyed with, with a real treatise presented as a joke?

I liked the premise, the idea was dealt with quite well but I didn't enjoy this book. The translation distances you from the original writing and it is just too focussed on topics and jokes that don't resonate with non-German readers.


The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
by Claire North
Edition: Paperback
Price: £3.85

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars So many people, so few characters, 6 Dec. 2015
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I bought this on the strength of the Amazon reviews. Now, after a succession of highly rated books that I didn't enjoy, I'm going to stick with professional reviews. See also Trip Advisor.
So I'm not even sure why I'm bothering with this, except that by giving a honest 3 star review it might balance the effusive raving.
This book is a reasonable page turner but it feels such a mess. The central idea is expansive but very confused in its execution, the story is flimsy and pretty unengaging and the characters are paper thin. The central character is very poorly drawn, essentially being whatever the author feels like on each page, and nobody else is drawn other than in two dimensions. As the book swings between intellectual waffle and sub James Bond espionage, it is extremely hard to remain engaged.
I wouldn't describe this as a bad book, but I endured it rather than enjoyed it. It tries to be literary and to discuss Big Ideas but endlessly sacrifices these on the wheel of storytelling. A better writer wouldn't need to do this: Kate Atkinson has done something similar with Life after Life and far more successfully, weaving concept and story effortlessly.
Some of the problem does lie in the writing: much of the description is hackneyed and often there are great gobs of it where the author seems to remember that some might be useful.
Overall, the book attempts to tackle a big weighty idea but fails to work through exactly how to deal with it. If you want to read a time travel book, read Life after Life.


The Humans
The Humans
by Matt Haig
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A warm bath of a book, 22 Nov. 2015
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This review is from: The Humans (Paperback)
This is the first book I've read where I agree with the 1 and 5 star reviewers. Yes, it is trite. Yes, the story is a bit obvious. Yes, aliens would probably be a bit cleverer and yes, bits are a little twee. But if that's all you take away from this book then perhaps you've missed the point.
The Humans is entertaining and a proper page turner, which is surely the crux of what a book should do. But it is also clever and instructive, casting a light on what it really means to be happy that may be obvious but bears reminding.
I found the characterisation a bit wooden and the first few chapters a bit laboured (but then I hate sci fi), thereafter it got into top gear and was entertaining.
This book is a bit like a big Hollywood romcom: it's soft, fluffy and heartwarming. But that is not necessarily a bad thing: as this book says, leave your cynicism at the door and just embrace entertainment. Now, about those one star reviewers....


A Brief History of Seven Killings: WINNER of the Man Booker Prize 2015
A Brief History of Seven Killings: WINNER of the Man Booker Prize 2015
by Marlon James
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Too many words, not enough story, 8 Nov. 2015
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Some books have greatness thrust upon them (Wolf Hall) others strive for greatness. This is a striver ans boy does it strive. It's hard not to come away with the impression that the writer got more out of the experience than the reader. So much work has gone into the words on the page that what is actually happen, why it's happening and who the characters actually are almost ceases the exist.
Other reviews have covered the essentials of this book. It is far too long, it is unnecessarily complex and whatever message it is trying to convey gets lost under the weight of those faults. The patois is not as much of a stumbling block once you're well into the novel, but I did wonder what it delivers that good character development couldn't also have achieved.
Which is a shame really because there are flashes of brilliance and originality here - some of the descriptions of the killings are genuinely chilling and touching.
But for a book that is apparently about political rivalry in Jamaica it is neither very illuminating or probably very accurate: everyone is basically evil or morally bankrupt, which I didn't find believable.
The author presumably tries to alleviate the tedium of the patois by including 'white' narrators, but even these sections feel like wading through treacle. 30 pages go by (which take an age to read due to small typeface) and you're often lefting wondering exactly what you've been reading.
A book should not just impress with its writing but touch. This book seems to have been awarded the Booker because of the former. It doesn't deserve it.


The Narrow Road to the Deep North
The Narrow Road to the Deep North
by Richard Flanagan
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A frustrating book but ultimately rewarding, 14 Oct. 2015
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This is a book that has rightly split opinion. Its first 150 pages were clearly forgotten by the Booker judges, fortunately for Flanaghan, because they are toe-curlingly turgid. Thankfully perseverance is rewarded and the remaining 300 pages justify the accolades. Just.
It's clear from the start that Flanaghan has big goals for his book and he sort of achieves them. The book uses the story of the Burma Death Railway to raise questions about truth, morality, life and goodness. These themes are neatly woven into the horrific story of the POWs, a tale told almost brilliantly and with none of the literary mis steps of the book's early pages.
The book's weakness, in my opinion, is the Dorrigo Evans character and his life, particularly his love affair with Amy. This affair is so over-written and, with the rest of his life story, so difficult to believe that it undermines the rest of the book. What is intended to illuminate the book's themes only serves to defeat them. It is as if Flanaghan wrote so eloquently about the POWs because he had close experience of that life (his father was one) but the other elements of Evans' life, which are pure imagination, proved more of a struggle.
This is a powerful and affecting book that I urge anyone to persevere with. The way it traces the different protagonists and attempts to show how they justify their actions, particularly the Korean guard, is brilliantly done and thought provoking. The love story that attempts to turn this debate into a book isn't.


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