‘The Sense of an Ending’

This is the first book that I’ve read by Julian Barnes and if I’m honest, I’m not completely sure how I feel about it. It was interesting to read this shortly after finishing Before I go to sleep because in both books, memory plays a key role. Our protagonist is Tony, a normal, unremarkable man who finds himself nearing the end of his life and reflecting on various events…you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking that this doesn’t exactly grab the imagination but the seemingly simple narrative is complicated by an unexpected suicide and Tony’s unreliable memory…

The first half of the book moves very swiftly through Tony’s life and doesn’t faff around. The second half of the book takes more time to try and piece together Tony’s disjointed memory…I found that my reading pace matched the narrative throughout…I flew through the first half and suddenly Tony was an old man! I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of school life and feel that this sentence sums up the school lives of Tony and his friends…

 “…the girl drought of gawky adolescence together, trading in affectations, in-jokes, rumour and wit.”

While at school, the gang of four (previously three until Adrian Finn joins the clique) bumble along quite contently…then a short while after leaving school, they hear that Adrian has committed suicide and Tony and the other boys drift apart…Years later, Tony receives a letter from a lawyer which throws things into disarray and Tony finds himself reliving events from 40 years before and being in that situation that we all hate…remembering times when we’ve said something in youth that we now regret or even doing something in haste that we’ve forgotten about…but are faced with the consequences of, years later.

I’d describe this as a kind of, casserole of a book…a slow starter where a lot of things happen at the outset but then not a great deal happens throughout, but what does happen is important to the protagonist and the narrative. If you take out the mysterious suicide and related events…this book deals quite nicely with the themes of time and memory and there are lots of elements that we can empathise with, even if we aren’t nearing the end of our lives…the moments of childish confusion at school, saying things in haste that we subsequently regret and also, Tony embodies the fear that we all have of finding ourselves aged and wrinkled without having made the impact on life that we had aspired to do as children…the fear that we will grow old and regret not making enough of our lives…

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‘Before I go to sleep’

Holy Moly!!!!

I was completely unprepared for this book! It was recommended to me by a colleague who had listened to the audio book on Radio 4 and I was intrigued! So, having a kindle…I bought the book there and then and began reading it on my way home that night – wow! Now, I always go on about loving crime fiction and finding it hard to be surprised by books…this completely blew that out of the water! I kept thinking that I knew what was going to happen, only for it to be completely shattered! It’s quite hard to put this book into a genre but I’d go for psychological thriller fiction?

What I also love about this book is that it is S J Watson’s first novel, which gives budding writers (like me…yes I’ve been very lazy recently…) a burst of inspiration! As I write this, the novel remains at number one in the book charts!

Anywho, this is another book that has done remarkably well in the charts for good reason! It is a cracking read! Our protagonist is Christine Lucas, a 47 year old amnesiac who wakes up each day convinced that she is a twenty-something at the start of her life. Each morning, her memory is wiped clean from the night before…now, I think you must have already realised that there is A LOT more to the novel than this ‘50 First Dates‘ – esque narrative. As the plot develops, Christine finds that there is a lot more to her life than she knows or is being told…

This book focuses heavily on the concept and importance of memories and how they define us. We never think about what would happen if we couldn’t remember things, whether we’d still be the person we think we are, whether we would still feel the same way about loved ones…for Christine, she must learn who she has become every day and who her husband is! Ben has to tell her who he is, who she is and explain about the accident that caused her to lose her memory and effectively, her life. Another theme that takes centre-stage in the novel is the issue of trust…how do we really know who we can trust? So the two themes interweaving throughout the novel make for a tremendously exciting read!

At the start of the book, she receives a phone call from Dr Nash, who has apparently been working with her to try and retrieve her memories over the past few weeks…he tells her that she has been writing a journal in order to try and retain memories, which he currently has in his possession. She agrees to meet him and collect the journal and on the very front page in her handwriting are the following words:

“DON’T TRUST BEN!”

Dum dum dummmmmm!

As the novel progresses, the horrors that Christine faces everyday become more and more terrifying, you find yourself willing her to remember, pleading with the author for Christine to remember what has happened and what is happening but this moment seems less and less tangible as the narrative develops.

This is a fantastic chilling read and is really quite haunting as both a novel and a concept! I couldn’t put it down! I’ve recommended it to so many people already but will continue to do so! I’m really looking forward to reading more from S J Watson in the future!

‘War Horse’

With all the publicity surrounding the film and various colleagues talking about the play, I just had to read War Horse before I saw either of them. Fortunately, having a kindle means that if I finish a book before I expect to…I already have another one ready to start! This is why I finished Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on the same day as starting Bossypants – a strange mix, I can tell you!

Anyway, I am currently making my way through a paperback copy of The Chalk Girl but as I was travelling to see my Grandad this weekend, I didn’t have room in my bag for it. So, I started War Horse and was quite surprised at how short a novel it was! I thought it would be a huge book that I could dive into on my way back to London but I actually finished it on my way to Surrey.

Michael Morpurgo’s book is a wonderful read! Although I knew the plot (vaguely!) from the trailers…they didn’t really scratch the surface of the narrative. This book is a touching story of love and friendship, set against the harshest background available…war.

Told from Joey (the horse)’s perspective, at the outset we learn how he came to be Albert’s horse…unlike other books that are from one perspective only (*cough* Room *cough*), this is absolutely enchanting! Soon after settling into life on Albert’s family farm, the country is ripped apart by war and Albert’s father sells Joey to the Army.

What follows in the narrative is a tale of courage, bravery and unfaltering love. If you haven’t yet read this, but you are planning to go to the play at the National Theatre or are checking out Spielberg’s film…please try and read this first. It is a short novel but it is truly a delight to read!

‘Room’

This is another book that I’d been recommended countless times…from friends who I don’t even normally talk about books with…so I thought I’d give it a go…

I know there has been a LOT of hype over this book…and I know it won the Man Booker…

…but I didn’t enjoy it! I quite liked about 30% of it (thanks Kindle!)…but it was uncomfortable reading, more so than any crime novel I’ve read. I found it very fast-paced and I was (somewhat reluctantly) being pulled along with the storyline, right up until they escape. After which point, I found it really hard to read…although it was quite nice at first that it was told from Jack’s perspective, this soon grated on me and it would have been nice to switch perspectives between Jack and Ma. There were just lots of this book that I found irritating…I think it’s a really interesting book, but I felt quite distant from the characters, maybe this was a stylistic ploy to remind us that they are in the room and we are out of the room or to try and reflect the isolation onto the reader but…I just didn’t really like it.

I also think that maybe we shouldn’t have been told that they escape in the synopsis, this might have added to the tension when this happens…it was quite annoying that this happened at more or less exactly 50% of the way through the book…because it does make you wonder, well, where is it going now?! Where can it go now?! I also found myself not particularly warming to the character Ma, I had empathised (as much as one can) with her throughout the first half but as soon as they escaped, I found her very hard going…

Anywho, I’m glad that so many others liked it and it is definitely a unique book! It’s just not for me…

‘Bossypants’

After reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I was keen to jump genres completely and choose something very different…so I read Tina Fey’s autobiography Bossypants.

I love Tina Fey, I think she’s fabulous and funny, or is that fabulously funny? Both I think!

Her autobiography is also fabulous! I was smiling, chuckling and smirking most of the way through! The book whizzes us through various times in her personal and professional life with humorous anecdotes, useful wisdom and enthusiasm to pick yourself and try again if things don’t go your way. The honesty of her writing meant that you can actually hear her reading it out in your head and you can empathise with her on various occasions and relate her experiences to your own.

She writes a lot about being a woman in quite a male-dominated world but without the feminist rants that you get in so many books…which I found really interesting as although so many things have changed and evolved, so many have not…also, it’s not strictly autobiographical in style…it focuses more on a number of topics that Fey has an opinion on (i.e. Photoshop, breastfeeding etc…), with autobiographical moments interwoven.

This book will obviously be of most  interest to people who like Tina Fey and/or the shows that she’s worked on/written…but if you love American television shows and films and appreciate comedy, this is definitely worth a read!

‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’

I avoided this book for a while…because in ‘One Day’ style, EVERYONE was telling me to read it and I decided to try and avoid the hype…The other reason I was avoiding it was that I read Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman first and got really into the Harry Hole series and Nesbo was declared “The new Stieg Larsson”…so I didn’t want to just suddenly jump into the Larsson trilogy…

However, as a crime-book lover, I couldn’t wait too long! After receiving a kindle for Christmas (thank you parents!), it was the first thing I downloaded. I realised quite quickly just how easy it was to buy books on the kindle…and bought about 10! I’ve now discovered that I can put books that I am desperate to read, in a wish list – frankly, a brilliant idea! Now I have about 20 books in said wish list…which is fine by me!

Anywho, so I started reading the first in the trilogy, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and was instantly hooked! I powered through this book in about 4 days and I didn’t guess the ending! Which, as you might know from reading my review of The Snowman and the other Harry Hole books…is a big thing! I usually guess the plot/murderer/motive of the books at about 70% of the way through…but just like Nesbo a few months back, Larsson fooled me! I realise I’m very late on the uptake on this one…I realise that most people have read all three of these books now but let me just say…WOW! What a corker!

The book begins at the end of a trial, at which financial reporter Mikael Blomkvist is found guilty of libel…it becomes apparent that his professional life is crumbling around him…parallel to this, we meet Lisbeth Salander, a quiet, unassuming genius who works as an investigator. Soon the two lives interweave over the case of a missing girl. The two work together to try and solve the case for an old gentleman who is desperate to find out what happened to his granddaughter Harriet, nearly four decades ago. In true crime fiction style, it turns out that there’s much more to this than a missing person’s case…oooOoooh!

Fast-paced, gripping and chilling! This is a fantastic book and I look forward to reading the others!

‘The Understudy’

Another cracking book from the author of One Day David Nicholls! This hilarious book tells the story of Stephen C McQueen…an understudy to Josh Harper – the 12th Sexiest Man in the World. Not only does Stephen have an unfortunate name but he barely sees his daughter, he has a tiny flat and he pays the bills with small parts in TV programmes and random children’s films…he also plays a dead person quite well apparently…basically, it is fair to say that things aren’t going tremendously for Stephen but they are going brilliantly for Josh Harper…you spend the whole book hoping that Josh will fall down the stairs or something…just so Stephen can catch a break!

This book cleverly tells the story of the underdog…whilst humorously proving that just because you want something to happen, more often than not…you can’t just get it at someone else’s expense. Nicholls has the ability to transform the ‘everyman’ character into the leading man and it is refreshing to read this book as we’ve all had those moments where we’ve misunderstood what someone has said…and then ended up with egg on our faces…we’ve also had those moments where we wonder why we bother pursuing our dreams just to have them shot down.

I’ve literally just been recommended ‘Starter for Ten’, another David Nicholls book…which I’ll be adding to my pile very soon! He seems to have a real knack for creating realistic characters that we can all relate to and I really enjoy reading about them. I urge you to pick up a David Nicholls book and have a read, even if you’re trying to avoid the hype of One Day, you should still give them a chance! You might be surprised!

‘The Last Kestrel’

Dear reader…I have committed the ultimate book review blog faux pas…I forgot to review a book that I’d read…and also forgot that I’d read it!

The thing is, I really enjoyed The Last Kestrel by Jill McGivering! It is a brilliant book for fans of A Thousand Splendid Suns and To the end of the land! I feel truly awful for forgetting about it!

Unlike the two books mentioned above, this book shows the conflicts in Afghanistan from two perspectives. The first is the story of Ellen Thomas, an experienced war correspondent, determined to find out who murdered her friend Jalil (a translator) and the second narrative thread belongs to Hasina…a strong-willed Afghan woman who discovers that her only son Aref is part of an underground fighter movement and despite the tragedy and horror around her, is determined to protect him whatever the cost. The two lives interweave “with startling consequences for them both”…

This is a wonderful, although harrowing read and you can tell that McGivering has a lot of experience in journalism and foreign news correspondence, which adds to the quality of the writing style.

‘The hand that first held mine’

After reading The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox and The Distance Between Us I have been desperate to read another Maggie O’Farrell book…and I definitely wasn’t disappointed in The hand that first held mine!

Feeling claustrophobic in the countryside…Lexie Sinclair escapes to London after meeting the suave, mysterious Innes Kent…a magazine editor who (reluctantly at first…) introduces her to the bohemian world of post-war Soho. She becomes incredibly independent, learns to be a reporter and learns a lot about art. Suddenly, she finds herself pregnant and decides to have the baby on her own…

Running parallel to the Lexie storyline is the story of a young painter called Elina who is nervously shuffling through the first few weeks of motherhood, while her boyfriend Ted keeps having flashbacks to memories that he cannot understand. As the stories develop, jumping back and forth in true O’Farrell style…a connection between the three characters is revealed, making this yet another wonderful book by the author.

This is a truly gorgeous book! I loved the descriptions of Soho, the tender, heart-breaking narratives, the characters…I found myself simultaneously inspired by Lexie’s character and by O’Farrell herself! Lexie for her independence, courage and stubbornness…and O’Farrell for writing yet another fantastic book, which has made me believe that I may be a published writer one day…as long as I’m persistent and passionate about it.

A wonderful book – read it! You won’t be disappointed!

 

‘The Devil’s Star’

Right, as you can probably tell…I haven’t read these in order AT ALL! But the next Jo Nesbo I read was The Devil’s Star (a.k.a. Harry Hole #5) and I don’t even mind if I sound like I’m obsessed with Nesbo because it’s better to be obsessed with a great crime fiction writer than something strange like…erm…trains?

Anywho, apologies to anyone who may be obsessed with trains…I’m pretty obsessed with fizzy sweets (a certain supermarket’s ‘Fizzy Fangs’ in particular…damn the ‘3 for £1’!!!)…

This book was interesting because most of the other Harry Hole books always feel like they’re set in cold places…well, especially The Snowman…*shudder* and The Devil’s Star begins during a sweltering summer in Oslo. Harry is assigned to the case of a woman who was found murdered in her own flat, one finger has been cut off and a tiny star-shaped red diamond has been placed behind her eyelid…well it wouldn’t be a Nesbo book without a bit of gore!

What is good about this book is that it focused quite a lot on Harry’s intuition. He is partnered with a man called Tom Waaler whom Harry suspects, murdered his partner in addition to running an arms smuggling ring…”but he seems like such a good guy” – is the attitude of everyone else but I feel that I’ve read enough Nesbo books to trust in the rogue detective…feel free to make up your own minds though! Anyway, Harry is determined to prove that he is right about Waaler, while solving the mysterious crimes simultaneously!

Another cracking mystery book for lovers of suspense!