Review : Le Bal

March 31, 2010

Title: Le Bal
Author : Irene Nemirovsky
Rating : 7/10
Great for : a rainy afternoon

I enjoyed Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise, so when I saw this slim volume peeking out at me from within my library shelves, I swooped it up immediately.   Lo and behold, however, it’s another collection of short stories!  I say “collection”, there’s two – the entire book is only 100 or so pages.

The first  is a sharply written story of a girl who has been continually neglected by a vain, social-climbing mother.  When her mother decides to throw a lavish ball to show off the family wealth and growing social status, the girl manages to exact her revenge in a very satisfactory way.  Great little read, I enjoyed it very much.  The second story is more tragic, following the misfortunes of a devoted nanny following her “family” as they abandon their wealthy lives Revolutionary Moscow and flee to Paris where they live in hardship and poverty.  A very different story to the first, but equally as enjoyable.

If you see this, do give it a try. It only took me a few hours to read.



Title: Madwoman on the Bridge
Author : Su Tong
Rating : 4/10
Great for : being left wanting

Sorry everyone for being MIA for a little while. It’s been a bit of a busy time and I’m still schlecking through Wolf Hall which is taking AGES!  Happily, APoW and I have a new contributor on board (welcome again, Caroline!) so you’re in safe hands. Last week though I went on a quick holiday and, unable to take Wolf Hall with me for falling foul of airline weight restrictions, I took Madwoman on the Bridge by Su Tong.

First off, I wanted to say that it was given to me by a friend who said “I think this is a really good book for you” – should I be offended?!

Anyways, it turned out that the book was actually a collection of short stories set in the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution in China.  They’re written as though they were a collection of snapshots into little incidents in everyday life during a turbulent time.   To be honest, it’s all a bit bizarre and unsatisfying.  I wonder if something was lost in the translation?

Not really my kind of book at all – I couldn’t get my teeth stuck into it.  Happily though, a RISI swap has just landed through the letterbox and yes, you’ve guessed it! It’s a WW2 saga. SO looking forward to that though I wonder if I should plough on with Wolf Hall and finish that first…..hmmmm.


London Word Festival

February 9, 2010

Running from 7 March until the 1st April, the London Word Festival sounds rather darn good being, by its own description: a pioneering, annual celebration of words, text and language; daring in its approach to cross-artform programming, commissioning new work and exploring non-traditional spaces.

With an appearances from Josie Long on her One Hundred Days to Make Me a Better Person quest to Avant! Noir, a night of criminal fiction set in an art deco, velvet auditorium with loads more in between.

Check it out here!

Review : People of the Book

February 5, 2010

Title: People of the Book
Author : Geraldine Brooks
ISBN : 978-0-00-717742-4
Rating : 7/10
Great for : taking yourself into a few different worlds

People of the Book is a historical novel with a bit of mystery worked in.  Hanna Heath is a rare-book restorer who has been called on to restore an ancient Jewish prayer book, a book which slowly reveals mysteries about where its incredible journey through history.

I did enjoy reading this, though I didn’t find it as absorbing as the author’s earlier work Year of Wonders.  Geraldine Brooks has a wonderful ability to draw you into a different time and place and you really get the feeling that she spends a lot of time researching lots of detailed historical facts so she can work them into the story without it feeling false.

Right, I’ve got to go off and scrub the house! I have a weekend guest and things are looking a bit shabby….oops!


Title: The Little Stranger
Author : Sarah Waters
ISBN : Dunno, mine t’was an audiobook
Rating : 8/10
Great for : freaking yourself out slightly!

Read as part of my Booker 2009 challenge.

Booker 2009 shortlister, The Little Stranger, was a first for me.  Having received an iTunes voucher for my birthday and with a long-haul flight coming up I thought I’d download it as my first ever foray into audio bookery*.  I was a bit hesitant, I must admit, that my eyes would feel very lazy or that I wouldn’t get along with listening to a story.

Thankfully, I didn’t really have any major problems at all.  Maybe a large part of that is due to the fact that The Little Stranger is a good book.  Atmospheric, claustrophobic, haunting – it had all the major components of a classy ghost story. What do I mean about a classy ghost story? One that doesn’t rely simply on gruesome imagery or shock tactics.   It reminded me a bit of Susan Hill’s Woman in Black which, if you’ve ever seen the stage production (I’ve never read the book) is one of the most terrifying things you’ll ever see despite there being a lack of gore or things suddenly lurching out at you**.  It’s all about a slow build up of tension, an accummulation of the horrors you’ve built up in your own mind.  The novel is set in the 1940s, in a vast and slowly decaying Hundreds Hall, a very good “haunted house” indeed.  The author has crafted Hundreds beautifully, so it’s practically a main character of the story, and the perfect backdrop for your own imagination to run wild.

Downsides to the book? For one, the ending.  I felt that after investing a lot of time in the story, the ending was rather unsatisfactory.  I had to Google discussion about the novel to find out what was what.   I hate that.  Also, I have a feeling that it was overly long but then I wonder if that’s more to do with the fact that it was an audiobook – it definitely took MUCH longer to listen to than it would have done to read it myself.  I must confess I think I may have enjoyed it more to read, though I suppose there was something delightful in being told a ghost story.  The narrator certainly had the perfect husky, tuneful voice for it.

The Little Stranger was well on the way to getting a 9/10, but it fell at the last hurdle.  I didn’t like the last, say, fifth of the book and so I’ve deducted a point.  Worth a read though. Just not when you’re sitting alone in the dark….bwaahahahaha…


*I know bookery is not an actual word.  🙂

** I went to see The Woman in Black with, amongst others, a 6 foot 4 rugby player who screamed like a little girl throughout. Har har.

The TV Book Club

January 14, 2010

No, team KAPOW won’t be hitting the small screen (alas) but More4/Channel 4 are tickling our brain cells this January with the TV Book Club.  The chat is that it comes from the creators of the Richard & Judy Book Club and the show is presented by a team of celebrity reviewers.  The TV Book Club will be featuring 10 new books starting with my current read (or listen, as it’s an audio book) The Little Stranger (which I’m thoroughly enjoying!).

The first episode is on More4 at 7.30pm, 17th January or on Channel 4 at 12.05pm, 18th January.



Title : The Forgotten Garden
Author : Kate Morton
ISBN : can’t remember!
Rating : 9/10
Great for : helping you hide from a wet and windy weekend

The Forgotten Garden is the second book by Kate Morton, author of one of our previous book group picks, the House at Riverton.  I loved the House at Riverton and this offering certainly didn’t disappoint.

The reader is buffeted backwards and forwards in time as a family saga unfolds.  Why was a little girl abandoned in an Australian port in 1904?  What happened to the relationship between cousins Eliza and Rose, thrown together by family tragedy and family duty?  Who really was the mysterious character of Georgiana, lurking in the past, waiting to be rediscovered?  In more modern times, why was it Cassandra’s grandmother’s dying wish that her granddaughter inherit coastal cottage – a cottage which lies on the other side of the world and no one even knew existed? And just how are all these women linked?

The plot is rich, thick with characters and family secrets though steers clear of the usual brainless melodramatic “family saga” genre.  You get the sense that the historical observations are well researched and while the prose is simple, it’s very effective.  Very juice and satisfying.


The Best of Times

January 9, 2010

Title : The Best of Times
Author : Penny Vincenzi
ISBN : 978-0755320882
Rating : 7/10
Great for : giving you arm ache, making a weekend disappear

I was really looking forward to getting stuck in this book and was slightly disappointed to find the storyline not set against the backdrop of the war, but instead the M4 motorway.  Somewhere in my mind as well, I’m sure Caroline had reviewed this or commented on it somewhere and basically said it was pants, so I trudged through the first 150 pages with that very much on my mind.  In fact the only thing that spurred me on to finish it was the library calling to tell me 7 of my books had come in and I knew I would want to get cracking with one of those.  Cue two nights and one Saturday morning where I whizzed through the remaining 500 ish pages.

It wasn’t bad.  It wasn’t edge of your seat thrilling, but it kept me engrossed.  All centering on people’s lives before and after a massive crash occurs on the M4 motorway and what happens to them.  Slightly unbelievable and all in all nice endings for most people, it was OK.

Now onto the pile of book from the library!

So, it’s that time of year where most of us are making (and already breaking) resolutions.  I’m no different,  a hefty chunk of today has gone into writing a list of 100 things I want to achieve in 2010, all broken down nicely into categories including Random Jolliness and Boring but Necessary and features matters as exciting as “collect up all loose change and take to the bank”  to “be an extra in a fillum” (I’ll leave you to decide which falls into Random Jolliness and which into Boring but Necessary). 

Another category is Stop the Mental Rot and reading features quite heavily – qelle surprise!

Regular readers of this blog will know I have a pretty well established reading niche but in the words of Mr Mercury himself: I want to break free.  I’ve tried to do so in the past, but what IS it about historical sagas that draw me to them as I’m trawling the shelves of my local library?! I swear my librarian even rolls his eyes as I plonk them all down on the counter.

Anyways, this year I have set myself a little mini challenge to shake things up a bit.  I’m going to read all of 2009’s Booker shortlisted nominees at some stage in 2010.  It’s not that big a challenge – there are only six (but have you SEEN the size of Wolf Hall?!).  There, I’ve said it, and I want you to hold me to it.  In fact, I’m quietly excited because they all sound rather good. And I’m going to start by cheating.  I got an iTunes voucher for my birthday and downloaded my first audiobook ever last week for my travels –  it happened to be a book on the 09 shortlist, The Little Stranger.  Is it technically reading? Hmmm…dunno, but I’ll still do a review once I’ve finished listening to it.


P.S.   The shortlist, if anyone is interested is:

A S Byatt The Children’s Book (Random House, Chatto and Windus)

J M Coetzee Summertime (Random House, Harvill Secker)

Adam Foulds The Quickening Maze (Random House, Jonathan Cape)

Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall (HarperCollins, Fourth Estate)

Simon Mawer The Glass Room (Little, Brown)

Sarah Waters The Little Stranger (Little, Brown, Virago)

The Race

January 4, 2010

Title : The Race
Author : Richard North Patterson
ISBN : 978-0330440158
Rating : 8/10
Great for : totally taking over your day

I’ve been a RNP fan for many years and thought I’d read everything he’d written, so was pretty pleased to find another two books by him at the library.

As usual he didn’t disappoint.  The Race centres around the campaigning trail for nominations of a presidential candidate in the USA .  Lots of dirty tricks and scheming as well as a twist in the tail that I didn’t see coming made this book a read I just couldn’t put down until I’d finished.

One of those where I turned the last page and thought, yup, I thoroughly enjoyed that!

Anyone else read RNP?