I came along from Goodreads to keep reading some reviewers I enjoy. Thought I'd register and see what the site is like.


Doppler - Erland Loe

Doppler is a nice man who falls off his bike and bangs his head. This combined with the death of his father leads him to see the error of his ways and he attempts to escape from a consumer lifestyle that he feels, and at times is quite literally beating him about the head. So he moves into the forest with an elk calf called Bongo for company.

The book itself is a lovely little hardback with striking cover art. Head of Zeus’ tagline about an elk being not just for Christmas doesn’t actually relate to the story, but I think we can forgive a relatively new publisher from seeking to get the most out of a December release.

While reading, I found a few similarities with The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, the escape from the grind of everyday life and how one man’s plans can be derailed by the intrusion of others, but whereas I felt Harold Fry didn’t work, with Doppler’s quirky and humourous style it had far more resonance.

Doppler can’t always escape his niceness, despite his bang on the head. Even with his selfish outlook he does sometimes think of others. After all who hasn’t been so fed up with children’s DVDs before that we’ve given them away? Even in a scenario of complete silliness, the scene where he clears his house of his son’s collection rings true and manages to be very funny.

It’s the style of the book that makes it work. In other, perhaps more serious novels, Doppler’s actions and the reaction of those around him would seem ridiculous (how does he survive on a bit of smoked meat and Toblerone?), but here it all works well. It’s a quirky, funny and thoughtful book and as Doppler moves deeper into his anti consumerist lifestyle, you can’t help but root for him. Even if you do feel a bit sorry for his wife.

Waiting for Sunrise

Waiting for Sunrise - William Boyd

Vienna, 1913. Lysander Rief, a young English actor, walks through the city to his first appointment with the eminent psychiatrist Dr Bensimon. Sitting in the waiting room he is anxiously pondering the particularly intimate nature of his neurosis when a young woman enters. She is clearly in distress, but Lysander is immediately drawn to her intense beauty. Back in London, 1914. War is imminent, and events in Vienna have caught up with Lysander in the most damaging way. Unable to live an ordinary life, he is plunged into the dangerous theatre of wartime intelligence – where lines of truth and deception blur with every waking day. Lysander must now discover the key to a secret code which is threatening Britain’s safety, and use all his skills to keep the murky world of suspicion and betrayal from invading every corner of his life. Moving from Vienna to London’s West End, from the battlefields of France to hotel rooms in Geneva, Waiting for Sunrise is a plot-twisting thriller and a literary tour de force.

Not my words. I first read a short story collection by William Boyd. A friend lent it to me on holiday and all I could tell you now is that it featured a lot of sex. I really enjoyed Any Human Heart and Restless very much. Stories that have stuck with me and which struck a chord somewhere. I also read Ordinary Thunderstorms a while ago but couldn’t tell you anything about it now. A nothing of a book.

And that is kind of how I feel about Waiting for Sunrise. I know I won’t remember much about it in a few weeks’ time. Yes, it sets a nice scene but that’s about it. It’s not a bad book, but nor is it a good one. Africa, Vienna and spy type activity seem to be Boyd’s main interests, but few times does he mange to get things exactly right.

What is it this story meant to be? Is it a spy novel? If it is, it needs an editor to chop about a third of it and speed things up. The Vienna section is ponderous and slow. You could get to the point and introduce the necessary elements in much quicker time than Boyd does, introducing us to characters and situations that don’t need to be here. If it’s a ‘literary tour de force’ you could remove a load of the second half of the novel and just set the thing in a Vienna on the brink of war. Referencing Freud (an unnecessary meeting), obscure operas and the streets Rief walks without needing a spy by numbers story

If we wish to follow the blurbs focus, it doesn’t work. Things he could touch on, he lingers over. Things he could linger over, he touches upon. Many characters come and go, most of them not needed. The main ‘romance’ really adds nothing. The spy element is muddled and too much is crammed in for my liking. Was he under pressure to deliver a novel to the publishers?

It isn’t a bad story. The places and period are vivid and well imagined. But this is a tale that you can’t really warm to. One that feels unfinished and rushed.

I can’t say I liked it. Nor can I say I hated it. Again, like Ordinary Thunderstorms it’s a story I’m sure I’ll forget the details of quite quickly. Still, it passed the time well enough.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter - Tom Franklin

Silas Jones is a lone law enforcement officer in small town Mississippi. Twenty years ago a teenage girl disappeared on a date with Larry Ott, Silas’s one-time friend. Back then the law couldn’t prove Larry guilty, but the whole town has shunned him ever since. Now the town’s peace is broken when another young woman goes missing, and the town’s drug dealer is murdered. Larry is left fighting for his life with a bullet in his chest and the past’s hidden secrets come sharply into focus.

With the book having won the 2011 CWA Golden Dagger, I was expecting a straightforward crime novel. Instead Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is a taut, gripping examination of loneliness, prejudice and secrets. Franklin creates a Mississippi that is as humid as it is vivid. His dialogue is uniformly excellent, with each character coming to life on the page. There is a lot packed into the 316 pages, but it’s tight and well handled and the story doesn’t slacken off at any point.

Despite the CWA sticker on the front (which was one of those irritating things that didn’t peel away easily – not good), the crimes aren’t the focus of the novel. Lesser writers would have perhaps dealt with the abductions with relish, going into a forensic level of detail. Franklin avoids this completely and the book is all the better for it. It’s the characters and their pasts that are the focus here. The character of Larry and the suffering he encounters throughout his life are so well realised, you can’t help but wonder at Franklin’s own upbringing. The Halloween scene in particular, is wonderfully heart rending (if such a thing can be classed as wonderful).

There are a couple of negatives. The ending is a little too saccharine for my liking. I would have preferred it to end a chapter or so earlier as it would have stayed true to the rest of the feel of the story. Also there are a couple of points in the story where you see the big reveal coming a mile off. However, rather than groaning out loud, Franklin’s build up is so good, by the time the events arrive, they almost feel natural. Natural enough to let them go, anyway.

Overall, Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter is an excellent book, a couple of plot niggles aside. The writing is excellent throughout and will warm you through the winter nights.

We, The Drowned

We, the Drowned - Carsten Jensen

We, The Drowned begins in 1848 when a crew of Danish sailors sets sail from the town of Marstal to fight the Germans (as a part of the First Schleswig War). Among them is Laurids Madsen, who after falling to earth with a bump (literally) promptly escapes his hometown into the anonymity of the high seas. As soon as he is old enough, his son Albert sets off in search of his missing father. Plagued by premonitions of bloodshed, he returns to a town increasingly run by women – among them a widow intent on liberating all men from the tyranny of the sea. We, The Drowned spans four generations, two world wars and a hundred years, tracing the fate of Marstal and her inhabitants.

I don’t often like seafaring books. To me they bring back memories of a near empty library with a few battered Alexander Kent and Patrick O’Brian books and scary old ladies. They always featured a novice taking to the sea – mainly in order to explain the various types of rigging, ship and cannon on board, all in excruciating detail, all at the expense of a story, and usually for people that already know all that stuff anyway.

It was to my surprise then that I fell in love with We, The Drowned. From the beautiful cover art to the map inside, it draws you in before you even start reading. And when you do you’re in for a treat. Wise, humourous and breathtaking in scope, you don’t just enjoy one rollicking adventure, you live through hundreds. You’re there with the schoolboys playing pranks on their teachers across the generations, you’re sailing through the tropics during the golden age of trade sail and you’re thrust into the brutal convoy warfare of World War Two. You even sit by the hearth with the women left behind, waiting for bad news as they struggle with raising their children – playing father more than mother on many occasions. All of this works so well due to the clever inclusive narrative style Jensen uses. Probably my favourite trick since The Book Thief.

Jensen’s writing (and huge credit has to go to the translators) is superb. It touches upon nearly all of your emotions as you move through this epic tale. There are so many stories within the story that weeks later I still find myself recalling many of the characters and their tales that I’d thought I’d forgotten. Although some parts of the book may have you looking into how you might go about joining the Merchant Navy, Jensen does not shy away from showing you the brutality and harshness of a life at sea.

Yes it is long, and some people have said it sags somewhat in the middle (when we spend most time in Marstal rather than away at sea), but I’m afraid I don’t agree. The story, fundamentally, is about Marstal and its relationship with the sea. Even when her people are leagues away, Marstal is always close to their hearts, as much as they try to pretend otherwise.

Before I Go To Sleep

Before I Go To Sleep - S J Watson

Before I Go To Sleep had a few decent set pieces and a couple of excellent bits of suspense, but that isn't enough to make a good book. I've given it two stars for these small glimmers of decent writing, because there really isn't much else to recommend. It's on the cusp of a 1.

The dialogue is terrible. None of it is believable and towards the end of the book, with time running out, Watson commits the cardinal sin in my eyes - he adds a lot of 'wrapping-up-plot-holes' speeches, which always serve to highlight a writer's failings throughout the rest of the novel.

The second part of the book, the key part, I'd suggest, was bloated, boring and repetitive - I appreciate that the protagonist has amnesia, but I don't. A better author/editor could have made that section of the book a lot shorter and kept it going along at a decent pace.

I didn't like any of the characters at all; none of them felt like real people. Soap opera cliches, except soap opera characters have a bit of depth to them. The main character, Christine, doesn't have many likeable traits so you aren't left rooting for her or even caring what happens to her. All the characters also spend a lot of time letting out 'animal howls from deep within' and other such delights, which you don't often see around Crouch End, I'm told. I wouldn't like to spend a lot of time in their company, let's put it that way.

The ending was laughable. After however many pages of boredom, to cram the action into that tiny bit of book was ridiculous. The outcome (which I won't spoil) was just complete tosh.

I feel that a stronger writer could have made something slow burning yet deeply unsettling and creepy with this idea. I'd imagine that's why the film rights were snapped up as a screenwriter thinks he could do a better job. I hope he does. However, in this guise we're left with a slow, tedious novel with paper thin characters a rushed and ridiculous end.



Pure - Andrew Miller

I enjoyed Pure a lot. It's no a rip roaring adventure, or something in which a lot happens. It's a slow moving novel in which we see one man's actions move towards the conclusion set out at the beginning of the story, albeit along a twisting path.

Along the way we meet the colourful and strange residents of the small area of Paris in which he works and how they aid and impede his progress. The story doesn't stray far from one or two key locations and with a lesser writer I'd argue that this could have been problematic, but here it works well.

The book is beautifully written and captures the age excellently. I enjoyed the nods towards the soon-to-arrive 'terror' but was glad that it didn't overwhelm to book.

If you take it as it is and don't expect blood, guts and non stop action, it's a great read.


Edit - For those of you in the UK, the Radio 4 Bookclub episode about Pure is HERE

All My Friends Are Superheroes

All My Friends Are Superheroes - Andrew Kaufman

Short and enjoyable, though Kaufman's superhero references wear a bit thin fairly quickly and don't always work, to my mind at least.

Still, worth a read.

The Forgotten Legion

The Forgotten Legion: (The Forgotten Legion Chronicles No. 1) - Ben Kane

Recipe for a Ben Kane book: add in lots of violence, hot women (who will be subject to big dollups of mysogyny/prostitution), a druid/seer and a barbarian warrior. Mix together and throw in to a turbulent period in Rome's history. Crowbar into the narrative tedious descriptions of ancient weapons and armour and how they were used, as well as lots of swearing, et voila! Your very own Ben Kane book.

Forget The Forgotten Legion or Spartacus you too are now a 'historical' author.

As other reviewers mention, there are many better options out there.

The Humorist

The Humorist - Russell Kane Dull. Not particularly amusing or interesting. The problem with a character who lacks empathy is that you have to be a very good writer to make them likeable in any way. Kane is not a very good writer and I was bored of Benjamin White by about page 30. After a few more pages of Kane's torturous similes that don't work and his overly long sentences moving nothing forward, I wanted to put this book in the bin.

Despite the blurb going on about his "First Class Honours Degree", and job as a copy writing manager, which seems a rather crass way to market someone as a legitimate author (perhaps the story should be the focus of the marketing spiel?), this just seemed to be a bit of pointless navel gazing about comedy by a comedian. There's a lesson in there somewhere for people who think their job is interesting enough to base a book on. To many people, it isnt.

At no point did I feel attached to any of the characters or the story and I'm afraid I can't recommend it.


Wonder - R.J. Palacio

I was given this by a work colleague who told me it was being touted as "The New 'Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime'" here in the UK. Not really the type of book I'd normally read, but I thought I'd give it a go. I'm glad that I did.

The story follows August Pullman, a boy born with terrible facial deformities, as he begins his first year in school, having been home schooled up to this point. We read about his struggles to fit in and how his life and needs have impacted upon those around him.

Palacio writes well. I thought most of the characters were believable and the incidents in the book seemed to ring true. The narrative is also very well handled - just as I was getting a bit tired of Auggie's narrative voice, other characters were brought in to give us their perspective, which worked brilliantly.

My one issue with the book is the ending. I like happy endings as much as the next person, don't get me wrong, but this felt forced, cheesy and rushed. Palacio had spent so long building the story and the characters, we could have reached the same resolution in another, more understated way. Maybe it's my cynical Britsh side coming through, but it felt like those old American shows where every episode ended with the gang laughing and the credits rolling, no matter what had happened. It was a bit too "USA, USA" for me.

Either way, despite that this is a funny, touching book and definitely worth a read. I gave my mum my copy when I was finished and she ended up being late for work as she couldn't stop reading it. She's never late for work. If that's not an endorsement for this story, I don't know what is!

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce

I started it and enjoyed the premise, but I felt it failed to live up to expectations as it went along. A bit of throw-away fluff really, which is a shame as I felt it had real potential.

The story dragged and became confused. The same things seemed to repeat themselves (people all have stories of their own to tell, the kindness of strangers). The plot twist was heavy handed and not particularly surprising and I didn't particularly care about any of the characters in it after a while. The dog was the best one of the lot! All in all it passed the time and was perfectly readable, but I wouldn't insist that anyone had to read it. A missed opportunity, I feel.

The Bomber

The Bomber - Liza Marklund I've read another Liza Marklund book (Paradise), but it was so instantly forgettable I've not added it to my shelves here. I wish I hadn't read this one either.

Scandinavian Crime is hot right now and there are some excellent authors being translated into English. Liza Marklund is not one of them. In Anika Bengzton she has successfully created one of the most irritating, cold and unlikeable characters I've ever had the misfortune to follow across a few hundred pages.

Anika is, like, a totally independent woman, yeah? But she's also totally vulnerable, like a blind baby monkey or something. She hates her mother and blames her for her failings as a person (the mother seemed perfectly pleasant if you ask me!), but she's ok actually because she loves her Gran. If my daughter spoke the way Anika does to her mother when it's decided to put her Gran into care - she'd be going out the window face first.
If she worked in most offices she'd be sacked - she's rude and unpleasant and is quite happy stiffing an anonymous source, potentially ruining their life to get what she wants. And yet whenever she finds herself in serious danger, we are supposed to feel attached to her and concerned for her safety. I wish one of these terrible criminals she regularly becomes involved with would just kill her and make us all happy.

The Millenium Trilogy had journalists. So does this. Except it describes the minutiae of working for a newspaper to intensely tedious levels. No job is so exciting that we care about how it works at board level. I'm being serious. It's self indulgent crap. I'd read a business book for that kind of thing.

I can't comment on whether all this is just poor translation and I'm doing Ms Marklund a disservice, but if an author is desperate to talk about their work, there are ways to make it tolerable, perhaps through dialogue and a decent editor you can, you know, imply certain things and leave in the important bits without boring us to tears? I really don't want to spent nearly 100 pages (in total) having my hand held while a really boring narrator takes me around their office and introduces me to some of their colleagues as they pick the crumbs out of their beards and fill in an excel spreadsheet. I read for fun, not to go to sleep!


Snowdrops - A.D. Miller

A.D. Miller used to work in Russia. I know this because his character, Nicholas, can’t stop telling me about being an Englishman in Russia. But not in an interesting way. In a really dull and patronising way. It grated almost immediately.

As for the book itself, it’s less than ok. Slightly below average. The set-up that brings the characters together is stupid and it just carries on from there. How did they pick him out? How did they know he was such a drip and therefore an easy target?

Nick is the kind of boorish person you’d have to listen to at the table behind if you made the terrible error of heading into a gastropub in North London. All his friends would be gathered round ignoring their medicated children destroying the place while he holds court on the Russian soul and their air of melancholy now that he’s back from his year-long working jolly. Meanwhile his wallet and phone would be gone because he’s just so oblivious to everything other than himself.

The rest of the characters are one dimensional caricatures (The Cossack, anyone?) and we really don’t learn anything new about the dark side of Russia - it’s been pretty well documented in recent years and while I'm not arguing that Snowdrops needs to be unique, it's too bland to stand out from the non-fictional accounts, which are far more interesting.

The only plus point for me was the story’s resolution. I did actually find that fairly chilling and quite well done.

It's just a shame about the rest of it.

The Forgotten Soldier

The Forgotten Soldier - Guy Sajer

One of the most powerful books I have ever read.

It brings home the horror and chaos of war like no other book I've come across.

It's a book that alters with the reader age and experiences - I first read it at 16 and loved the descriptions of war and the 'action', whilst still feeling shocked.

I read it again at 19 and couldn't believe that the person going through these terrible things was the same age as me.

I read it a third time at age 28 and was horrified that people that young had to experience and suffer these experiences - I'd imagine reading it as a parent or grandparent is even more powerful.

Every time I open this book, it still has the power to shock or to speak to the reader in a way I hadn't felt before. Life affirming stuff.

Currently reading

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West
Dee Brown
The Second World War
Antony Beevor