My Review of the Lemon Grove… for what it’s worth

The Lemon Grove by Helen Walsh

My score: 8/10, just for the ending alone.

I was lucky enough not to have noticed the hype surrounding this book, as it has been deemed as the “summer read of 2014” by some. So I went in with a pretty clean slate, at least before the book club..

20140712-002235-1355195.jpg

In short, I loved it. Read it. Now.

Embarrassingly I had only read around 40 pages before going to the first ever Underground Book Club (by Books on the Underground) to discuss The Lemon Grove and I felt very out of the loop. Despite knowing pretty much every aspect of the plot by the end of the evening, I still thought I’d give it a fair shot.

The basic story (and this is on the back of the book) is about a married woman who takes an unnatural fancy to the new boyfriend of her step daughter.

The book club members were shocked about all the sordid things that happen in this book. Perhaps because I was ready for this, I wasn’t too put out by it all (it’s only really in a couple of places that you wouldn’t want someone reading over your shoulder on the tube) but the thing that most distressed me was the lack of regret, guilt or care that the main character has in doing the things she does. At one point my heart lifted as she sobbed about her misgivings, but then a few hours later, off she went again! I found this quite unconvincing and I know I’m not alone on this. I felt that her character could have been more fleshed out at the start.

I’ll be honest I didn’t enjoy the book while I was reading it. It felt like the author was patronisingly leading us by the hand – like someone saying “and then I did that, and then we went there, and I felt like this”, and it felt quite immature. I got frustrated with this way of writing, not to mention the excessive detail about everyone’s appearance all the time.

Saying that, I was hooked and I hadn’t even noticed. I had a hundred pages to go when I opened it for the last time and that was that – I had to know what was going to happen. This was so strange as I didn’t even care for any of the characters!

When I reached the end, or what I should describe more accurately as “the point at which the author stopped telling us what was happening”, I felt like I had been slammed in the chest. I realised that the whole reason she was taking us so patronisingly by the hand was so that when we had been led to the end of the cliff, she would let go. And we would decide whether or not we should jump.

Book Review: Why I Loved The Shock Of The Fall

A Review of The Shock of the Fall, by Nathan Filer

I realise now that most readers discovered this book last year, which is when it was awarded the Costa award (whatever that means..). This book really is fantastic, a MUST READ. In this review, I will only give away as much as the blurb on the back of the book – which tells you right away that the narrator’s brother is dead.
 

I don’t want to go into what it’s about in detail, or what happens through the book, because that’s for you to find out. I simply want to talk about what grabbed me about it and why I was so taken with it. 

 
The novel reminded me a little of We’re All Completely Beside Ourselves, where I was constantly aware that there was something not being mentioned, like an elephant in the room. Throughout The Shock of the Fall there is a feeling of uneasiness, as if the narrator is unfurling as much of the story as you need  to know at that stage – and nothing more. The elephant in the room is the death of the narrator’s brother, which is so frequently touched upon but not discussed in detail – and as the reader, all you want to do is find out more. The narrator is clearly carrying a great deal of guilt, and until the last few pages this is left unexplained.
 
I am a big fan of the unreliable narrator. A narrator that you go along with up to the point you realise a few things he said don’t add up – and then you spend the rest of the book wondering what is true. I love the narrator of this book, because though he is not a likable character, he takes you through the story by basically grabbing your hand and pulling you in. At first, I was surprised at the directness of some of the language but as I continued it became my favourite part of the book. It really feels like the narrator is reaching out of the book, grabbing your attention and reeling you in. Like the fourth wall has been breached. I found this technique fascinating and I’d love to find more books that do this. At no point was I disappointed in this book – the end lived up to the build up, and it only got better and better.
 
I can’t quite believe it’s a first novel, what an amazing achievement. It’s funny, scary, intriguing and sad. This is the one book this year that has really grabbed my attention, and I had to read it from start to finish in one day. Watch out friends and family – this will be under the Christmas tree for you all this year! 
If you have read it, please let me know what you thought 🙂

My Review of McEwan’s On Chesil Beach

On Chesil Beach, by Ian McEwan

…a reluctant book review

I have to be honest here, I don’t particularly enjoy writing reviews. In fact, I read about ten times as many books as I write about here. This may have something to do with the fact that personally, I do not enjoy reading book reviews. I even go so far as to stubbornly read a book without once looking at the blurb on the back. On top of this, if the blurb on the back is quotes like “this is SIMPLY engrossing” then forget it, the book doesn’t even get opened.Image

Grumpiness aside, I have chosen to emerge from my antisocial cave to give my tuppence worth about Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach. This is because on this occasion I am moved to do so, simply because of the fact that I am still thinking about the characters, days after finishing the last page.

Chesil Beach book review

I know I’m very slow of the mark in terms of the height of this book’s fame and interest, and I’m not even sure how well it was initially received (given my aversion to book reviews myself) but I have to say – this novel is one that really stays with you. Exploring dark emotion such as fear, horror and hate, as well as family ties and obligation, On Chesil Beach is complex network of contradictions and human avoidance. (Not even sure if that sentence makes sense so I apologise)

In short, the novel in theory takes place in one fateful evening, but spends a lot of time looking back at past events, all the time building to a climax on Chesil Beach.

I don’t know what it says about me, but I really felt for Florence and found myself relating to the character. The points she raised and also heard were poignant and thought-provoking. I like that this book was challenging in terms of not giving the reader everything on a plate, and making me want to work out the stories behind the characters.

After quite a slow first half, the end really galloped along, and I couldn’t put it down for the last 50 pages or so. I simply had to find out what happened, but mainly how they were each feeling at every stage. I’d recommend this novel (and also Solar, though they are very very different).

looking forward to the next book

I really should be less grumpy about book reviews actually. Only recently I read a blog entry recommending FanGirl by Rainbow Rowell and the conclusion was so solid that I ran to buy it almost immediately. That said, I’m still yet to start it..

Little plug alert: When I can, I buy my books from a lovely bookshop in Hampshire.

Laurence Oxley Alresford Bookshop

My October 2013 in Books

This month has been quite uninspiring for books unfortunately. I was all geared up for London Book Club, but at the last minute could not attend, and that slowed me down a bit to be honest – all that hard work for nothing! And boy, was it hard work.

untitledBook # 1 – Brodeck’s Report by Philippe Claudel

After being blown away by Monsieur Linh and His Child and unimpressed by Grey Souls, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Philippe Claudel’s Brodeck’s Report, but I had read and heard good things. As is his style in Grey Souls, this book is a rambler. He jumps around with dates and people, but it is essentially readable.

Quiet villager Brodeck is called upon to write a special report, surrounding the death of a ‘newcomer’ to the village. This task leads him to thinking about his time in the labour camp, his friendship with the newcomer, and his relationship with his family. The story is compelling, with a mixture of laughter (not that much actually come to think of it) and horror. As the pieces begin to fit together, we get a real feel for the nature of the villagers, the effect his past has had on him, and the weight on his shoulders to invent history.

In this type of novel, having never lived through a world war or anywhere in rural Europe, I found it hard at first to relate to the story or characters. The more I read though, the more I realised that I could relate – to the village. Much like the village in Mick Jackson’s Five Boys, and somewhat like the village I grew up in, the atmosphere is darkly protective and threatened. I felt that the feelings and actions of the villagers reflected a magnified version of most people living in a small community – being weary of the ‘other’. It was quite like Lord Of The Flies in its portrayal of the human condition away from any authorities.

I’d recommend this novel, as though it is quite serious, it is definitely food for thought.

Book # 2: The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbackthe art of fielding by chad harback - a review

This was the London Book Club October read this week, and though I had to miss the meeting I did make it through the book. I say make it through because it really did feel like a painful and unrewarding endeavour (and yes, I know I’m in the real minority here..).

I was going to write in detail about why I disliked this book, but I know how horrible it is to read negative things about a book you loved (which the whole world seems to in this case!) so I’ll leave it at this – it just wasn’t my cup of tea. And yes, I did make it to the very end – I rarely give up on a book!

Lovejoy and the Judas Pair - book reviewBook # 3: Lovejoy: The Judas Pair, by Jonathan Gash

If you weren’t judging me for my last review, you certainly will now. I loved this little book. I plowed through it in two days (I’m not a fast reader, was just travelling a. lot. those two days).

I found this book in the book shop in a doctor’s surgery, quite randomly. There were three from the series but I limited myself to just this one, which turned out to be the first in the Lovejoy series!

Lovejoy is such a character. This novel is such a romp, and written so delightfully that I didn’t even mind that I knew ‘who did it’ pretty much from the very beginning. It’s a great story, and moves incredibly quickly. This is a book which I learned a lot from, as Lovejoy is an antiques dealer (you’ve probably seen the BBC series) and he goes into detail about the tricks of the trade. If it wasn’t for this book I never would have known that those codes written on labels in antiques shops tell the owner how much he originally bought them for, so then he can make up the price depending on who he’s dealing with!

This is the only book that has made me scared, too. It’s a real adventure where near the end I became genuinely worried for Lovejoy’s safety! This might have had something to do with my car sickness, but still… felt like real fear! As a result of reading this book I have asked everyone to get me Lovejoy books for Christmas – I just hope they are all as good!

Currently reading: Iceberg, by Clive Cussler (it’s very random)

Five Boys, by Mick Jackson: a Book Review

Having just this minute finished Mick Jackson’s Five Boys, I have to share with the world what a piece of art it is.

Five Boys is an entrancing novel based on the story of a boy being evacuated to Devon from London. The story has many strands, which I have now read is something that puts many readers off the book, however I felt that this quality added to it’s charm.

The clever and humorous narrative stretches from the little boy and travels to all the different households in the village, just as if you are being transported right into each house and dropped in the centre of things. The narrative and dialogue are interwoven to create beautiful and funny contradictions, which only serve to give character to the villages and outsiders. Such a picture of painted of a little town which distrusts anyone entering from the outside world.

The Bee King is a real highlight – he moves into the village in the second half of the novel, and the behaviour of the Five Boys as a result of his presence is dramatically altered for the better.

I don’t want to give too much away, not because it will ruin the twist (it’s not that kind of book) but because I think it will take away from your enjoyment.

You may or may not have read Mick Jackson’s The Underground Man, but I have (one of my strong favourites) and I was worried about how he would follow such a triumph. He has.

I would recommend this book to any avid reader. I would even go so far as to say that this book may even restore someone’s faith in reading, reminding you that you really can be lost in a book.

20131004-233232.jpg

September 2013 in Books

The Reading Commute…

Last month I perfected the art of ‘walk reading’. Walking five miles a day means I can get through 30 more pages a day as I dodge other London commuters in the rush to and from work. I must admit that I have also started getting up an hour early just so I can read and cuddle the cat before work… this all means that in September I got through three novels in a month – which I haven’t done for quite some time!

The Moving Toyshop by Edmund Crispin book reviewThe Moving Toyshop, by Edmund Crispin

I found this copy in Oxfam Books on Upper Street. This novel is a delight. It’s like reading a good Poirot mystery but with a lot more humour!

It’s fun, exciting and fast-moving, and as a result is a very fast read. It’s part of a Gervais Fen series, and I’ll definitely be tracking down the rest of the books.

I’d recommend this book to anyone looking for an easy and entertaining murder mystery romp.

scores on the doors

9/10

The White Queen, by Philippa GregoryThe White Queen by Philippa Gregory book review

This one I read as part of the book club at my work. In other words, I would not have chosen it myself – I don’t usually go in for historical fiction.

Taking me by surprise, I enjoyed a large chunk of this book. It was a real page-turner, speeding along with intrigue, action and romance. I enjoyed the beginning especially, with the classic romantic story of the prince and the pauper.

In the latter parts of the novel, Gregory really did delve into the ‘fiction’ part of the ‘historical fiction’ genre, supporting the conspiracy theory of the hidden prince. This worries me, because if I didn’t know better I might have been taken in and thought this was fact. This theory has been long since disproved and simply does not hold water…

She ends on a cliff hanger, but it didn’t pull me in, and I won’t be reading her other novels. Still, a lot to discuss when the book club meets again.

scores on the doors

4/10

Lord Lucan My Story by William Coles book reviewLord Lucan: My Story, by William Coles

I found this copy in the second hand area of my Dad’s bookshop, Laurence Oxley’s. After reading John Pearson’s The Gamblers I was taken in by the story of the fugitive who was once a member of the Clarence Club. I’m lucky enough to be able to talk to John about these characters, and was interested to read William Coles’ take on the infamous story.

Lord Lucan: My Story is supposedly written by the infamous murderer, and details a disturbingly possible explanation of the man’s disappearance. The book is fast-moving and hard to put down, and I found myself learning more and more about the events that surrounded the murder of Sandra Rivett.

The story is skillfully peppered with anecdotes and interesting characters, and right through to the very end does not disappoint, sending chills up my spine.

I’d strongly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in real crime stories, and also crime fiction, as it’s a real mixture of both.

scores on the doors

9/10

Currently Reading

My current book of choice is another by Mick Jackson. After so enjoying The Underground Man, I am now nearly finished with Five Boys, which is another triumph.

Mick Jackson Five Boys bookChad Harback the art of fielding book

I’m also soon to read the next London Book Club title -Chad Harback’s The Art of Fielding. Not sure how I feel about this, but apparently it doesn’t matter how much you know about American baseball…

 

Review: The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared

Book Review: Monsieur Linh And His Child

Book Review: The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Through The Window And Disappeared

Jonas Jonasson: The Hundred Year Old… you know the rest

a humble book reviewJonas Jonasson The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Through The Window And Disappeared

I must admit I was taken in by the title and cover, in the window of a book shop as I walked home. I am always impressed with a creative cover, but also the title did exactly what the first line of any novel should – it took me in and left me wanting to know what happens next.

“You might think he could have made up his mind earlier, and been man enough to tell the others of his decision. But Allan Karlson had never been given to pondering things too long.”

The events that follow the centenerian, Allan, escaping from the Malmkoping Old People’s Home are nothing short of ridiculous, and yet so believable within the plot. You are taken through events that could only happen in someone’s imagination, with all the threads meeting at various points, with hilarious consequences. The humour throughout is subtle and yet makes you laugh out loud – these are not full on ‘jokes’, rather comments made which in the context often made me laugh out loud (a trait which in other people I would normally scoff at).

The novel, which turns out to be extracts from a blog written in the ‘present time’, looks back on Allan’s extraordinary life and weaves his personal story with that of the world wars and subsequent events. I love that I actually found myself learning new things through this novel, as it went into detail about world events surrounding Korea, the Soviets and China following WW2. Again, every story is told with such humour and well drawn out characters that I couldn’t help but keep reading.

This is one of those books that I looked forward to opening every day. I even perfected the art of walking to work while reading! I’ve missed three Archers omnibuses as a result of my addiction to this book, which if you know me is quite a big deal…

I would recommend this to anyone looking to lose themselves in an intelligent and funny story about the past, the present and the future.

Books on the Underground

I’ll be leaving this book on the London underground this week, so that other Londoners can enjoy it as much as I did! If you haven’t heard of Books on the Underground, you can read my blog about it here, or follow @BooksUndergrnd on Twitter.