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Ruth - 2014

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Great reviews! The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is on my wishlist.

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Great reviews! The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is on my wishlist.

 

Hope you enjoy it :)

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Cuckoo, by Julia Crouch

 

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Polly is Rose’s oldest friend, so when Polly’s husband Christos is killed in a road accident, Rose doesn’t think twice about inviting Polly and her two sons to stay with Rose and her husband Gareth, and their children.  But soon after Polly, with her wild ways and dangerous habits moves into Rose’s carefully ordered life, things start going wrong.  As Rose watches her own world starting to fall apart, she realises one thing – now that Polly is there, it’s going to be hard to get her out again.

 

I thought this psychological thriller was pretty good.  It was certainly fast paced, with lots of twists and turns, and I found it hard to put down.  The characters were well drawn, although none of them was especially likeable.  I did find myself rooting for Rose at the beginning of the story, but about halfway through I got exasperated with her reactions to certain events.  Gareth was difficult to like, although there was a backstory which went some way to explaining his moods, and Polly was so selfish and thoughtless that I was amazed that either Rose or Gareth could stand being in her company for more than a couple of days.

 

The story is told in the third person, but from Rose’s point of view, which added to the suspense, especially as events took a firmer hold on her, and she became a more unreliable narrator.  I did think some of the phrasing was a bit clunky (a particular example was, “A dull nausea, like the smell of new carpet, began to seep into her toes…”  Is the smell of new carpet particularly nauseous?!) but overall it did not detract from the action, and certainly did not stop me from reading faster and faster as I got towards the end, because I was eager to see how things turned out.

 

There were a few loose ends and unanswered questions at the end of the story, but the major plot line was resolved, although not in the way I had hoped for.  However, I would recommend this book to fans of thrillers – it’s exciting and tense enough to be devoured in just one or two sittings, and I look forward to reading more books by Julia Crouch.

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Great review! I've got this one on my wishlist.

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Great review! I've got this one on my wishlist.

 

Thanks - I hope you enjoy it.  The author has a few other books out now (although I think Cuckoo was her debut novel), so I might have to look for some of them :)

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Moranthology, by Caitlin Moran

 

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Caitlin Moran writes a regular column for The Times newspaper, and this book is a collection of those columns (almost 80 of them in fact).  They cover a very wide array of subjects – Moran’s childhood in Wolverhampton, late night conversations with her husband, the Eurozone crisis, the welfare state, Ghostbusters, and celebrity weight loss, to name just a few.  There are also some longer columns where she reviews/discusses some of her favourite TV shows, including Sherlock and Doctor Who, or where she describes a day spent with stars such as Lady Gaga, Keith Richards and Paul McCartney.

 

Just as the subjects of her columns vary widely, so does her tone – some of the columns have an air of melancholy, some are humorous, and some are angry.  Obviously, people’s enjoyment probably depends on their level of interest in whatever subject is being written about, so there were a few columns which I found, if not exactly unenjoyable, not particularly memorable or engaging (sorry, but I’m not interested in Moran’s holidays, not because the places she writes about aren’t interesting or beautiful, but because she focuses so much on how they affect her personally).  Occasionally she comes off as trying a bit too hard to be funny or quirky, but for the most part -and especially with the lighter hearted columns – her writing makes for enjoyable reading. I wish she didn’t write about so much about politics – it is a fascinating subject and I enjoy reading about it, but not in this kind of three-page-essay format.

 

So there were a few things about the book that didn’t grab me, but with a collection of columns on a wide variety of subjects, that is almost bound to happen.  If I sound negative, I should point out that many of the columns really did make me laugh out loud, and on a personal note, I did enjoy her mentions of Wolverhampton, because it is also the town where I grew up.  Moran is clearly a clever and witty writer, and quite frank about her own life (including her past drug taking, and her weight issues).  I’d like to read more by her, but I would prefer a book which stuck to just one or two main themes, as this one felt rather scattered, but that made it a good book for dipping in and out.

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Great review Ruth, i've heard Moran interviewed on Radio 4 & she came across as an interesting person she certainly had an unusual upbringing. Have you read How To Be A Woman, that's on my wishlist.

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Great review Ruth, i've heard Moran interviewed on Radio 4 & she came across as an interesting person she certainly had an unusual upbringing. Have you read How To Be A Woman, that's on my wishlist.

 

I have the audiobook, which is narrated by Caitlin herself, so I'm looking forward to listening to that at some point.  I've heard lots of good things about it; most reviews suggest that it is a better read than Moranthology :)

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Kiss Me First, by Lottie Moggach

 

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Leila is a lonely woman in her early 20s.  She is smart and resourceful, but when it comes to social skills, or any kind of a social life, she is sorely lacking.  Her mother has recently died due to complications from Multiple Sclerosis, and it is clear that she and Leila had a close, almost suffocating relationship.  Leila finds solace in an internet site called Red Pill – a forum for philosophical debate and discussion, run by Adrian Dervish.  Leila is flattered when Adrian contacts her directly and asks for her help in an unusual project.  He has a friend called Tess, who is desperate to commit suicide, but wants to spare her family and friends the pain of dealing with it, so the idea is that Leila will learn all about Tess’s life, history and relationships, and after Tess “checks out,” Leila will maintain an online presence as Tess (updating her Facebook, answering her emails etc.) to keep the truth of Tess’s death from those who know her.

 

The story is told in flashback, with Leila narrating.  Some time has passed since Project Tess (as Leila refers to it), and Leila is now at a commune in Spain, trying to work out what happened to Tess.  However, the main bulk of the story revolves around Project Tess, and I don’t want to say too much about the specifics, for fear of revealing spoilers.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and was really drawn into the story.  Naturally the idea behind Project Tess seemed ludicrous – how on earth was it going to work long-term?  Surely her family would want or expect to see Tess at some point?  However, as the story is told from Leila’s point of view, her own solutions for dealing with such problems are explained.

 

Leila was very well drawn, and I alternated from feeling sympathetic towards her, to being frustrated, and at times incredulous – not at the storyline, but at Leila herself.  She is a mass of contradictions – being so naive in some ways, but in other ways perfectly describing situations and people with cringe-inducing bluntness.  And she did make me wince, literally so in one particular scene in a bar in Shoreditch, in which I felt totally embarrassed for her.

 

The book does obviously touch on the subject of someone’s right to die, but is more detailed in its exploration of how people behave online.  Near the beginning of the story, Leila talks about how people she went to school with behave on Facebook, and many of things she notes are amusingly familiar.  The question of whether it is right to assist, either directly or indirectly, someone who wants to kill themselves, is an obvious theme, although Leila does not question herself with regard to her own beliefs.

 

I thought the book was beautifully written, and flowed easily.  As well as Leila, Tess was also a very believable character, and was brought to life (no pun intended) by both the author, and Leila, posing as Tess.  If you like psychological dramas, and don’t mind reading about a cast of largely unlikeable people, then I would definitely recommend this book.  It gets five stars from me for sheer enjoyment, and as this is Lottie Moggach’s debut novel, I look forward to reading more by her in future.

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That sounds like a very interesting and different premise! I'm glad you enjoyed this book, great review :).

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That sounds like a very interesting and different premise! I'm glad you enjoyed this book, great review :).

 

Thanks :)  Yes, it was very interesting, and did make me think about the issues raised.

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Howard's End Is On The Landing, by Susan Hill

 

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Author Susan Hill was looking for a book in her house one day, and ended up coming across others which she had read and loved, or intended to read but never got around to, or some which she had read and wanted to read again.  As a result, she decided to not buy any new books for a year, and to only read those books which were already in her house.  What follows is a journey through Hill’s bookshelves, where she talks about which books and/or have inspired or moved her.  She uses these examples as a starting point for relating anecdotes and memories about her life, and about the authors who she has met.

 

I have read two novels by Susan Hill, and while I can’t say I actively disliked them, I also can’t say that I was blown away by them, so I wasn’t sure what to expect from this non-fiction work.  However, the premise really appealed to me – and has inspired me to at least consider doing the same thing – so I thought I would give this a try, and I was pleasantly surprised.  I enjoyed Hill’s reminiscences, and her musings on such subjects as items which fall out of books (presumably used as a makeshift bookmark) and the importance of an interesting title, or why new books are often published first in hardback, when they have not really earned that right.  (It makes sense when you read her view, even if you don’t agree!)

 

Definitely an enjoyable and uplifting read, and one I would recommend to all fellow bibliophiles.  As I mentioned, this book has made me think about doing the same thing myself, and not buying any new books for a year.  Hill was successful, but I don’t know if I would be – but what a wonderful idea, to really get to know the books on your shelf, to rediscover old loves and maybe find some new ones.

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Would totally agree with you on Howard's End is on the Landing.  Funnily enough I was talking about it to with one of the staff in Waterstone's earlier today - I had just bought Andy Miller's recently published book A Year of Reading Dangerously - a similar premise I think, except he's coming from doing hardly any recent reading, and trying to kickstart it again.  So he starts with The Master and Magherita, and Middlemarch!

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I thoroughly enjoyed reading Howard's End is on the Landing too, and then remember reading huge chunks of it out loud to my partner, as we have some similar tastes in books, and it warranted a whole evenings discussion!

 

I like the idea of not buying any new books for a year, but I'm not a big re-reader - the books have to be very special, or I have to have not liked them when I read them when I was younger and think I need to give them a second chance - so I can't see myself ever doing something like this, unless I somehow wind up with a huge pile of unread books for some reason. :)

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Great review, I'm glad you enjoyed Howard's End is on the Landing. I really enjoyed it too when I read it.

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Great review, I'm glad you enjoyed Howard's End is on the Landing. I really enjoyed it too when I read it.

 

Yes, it made me want to explore my own bookshelf more, and discover some of those books which I know are tucked into a corner somewhere :)

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The Never List, by Koethi Zan

 

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After a traumatic childhood experience, best friends Jennifer and Sarah create the Never List – a list of things which they must never do, in order to stay safe.  Despite all their good intentions however, they are abducted, and thrown into a three year long nightmare.  The book opens thirteen years later, with Sarah still suffering from the effects of the ordeal.  She never leaves her apartment, never has physical contact with people, works from home, and has no friends.  However, the man who abducted her and Jennifer is being considered for parole, and Sarah needs to make sure that he doesn’t get it, so she decides that the only way to secure her future is to revisit her past.

 

When I started this book, I thought I was going to really enjoy it.  The first few chapters throw you headlong into the story at break-neck speed, and it seemed to pave the way for an intense psychological thriller.  In fairness, it does keep up the quick pace all the way through, with plenty of twists and turns, and in many ways, was a quick and easy read.

 

Unfortunately though, I ended up feeling a bit frustrated by both the story, and the main character.  At the beginning of the story, Sarah is suffering from severe paranoia and phobias, but she seems to overcome them so quickly, that it is just not believable.  To assume that a woman who is too scared to even leave her apartment (even when she orders food in, the doorman to the apartments has to bring it to her, rather than the usual delivery person) is suddenly feel able to drive miles, and jump on planes, all in a matter of a few days, just felt inconsistent.  In fact, most of the main characters seemed to act in an entirely inconsistent manner.

 

I had my suspicions about what was going to happen at the end, but there were a couple of twists I didn’t anticipate – and it’s always nice to be surprised when reading a thriller – but I did feel that the final denouement was a bit tangled up, involving a few characters that didn’t really serve much purpose in the story.

 

The book did have some good points and there were some genuinely tense moments (and it’s certainly had some rave reviews) but I think it was probably just not the book for me, with some of the themes, such as torture and rape, feeling particularly disturbing.

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Kiss Me First sounds really interesting - I have added it to my wishlist.

 

As for Howard's End is on the Landing, I often think I should attempt something like this - like Chesil, I'm not a big reread er but I have a TBR that would keep me going for nigh on three years reading at current pace so it's definitely something I could attempt...but would I have the willpower?

 

Spoiler: no.

Edited by Alexi

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Great reviews, Ruth!  I really like the sound of The Never List.

I have Howard's End is on the Landing, unread.  :blush2:

 

I started out this year with the intention of not buying anymore books till I'd read lots more of what we already have.

Didn't work out that way.  :doh:

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Kiss Me First sounds really interesting - I have added it to my wishlist.

 

As for Howard's End is on the Landing, I often think I should attempt something like this - like Chesil, I'm not a big reread er but I have a TBR that would keep me going for nigh on three years reading at current pace so it's definitely something I could attempt...but would I have the willpower?

 

Spoiler: no.

 

I hope you enjoy Kiss Me First when you get to it. The premise sounds a bit crazy - how on earth would you realistically be able to do such a thing? - but that point is addressed.  It was really gripping, and I'm definitely going to buy any future books by Lottie Moggach.  Incidentally I discovered that she is the daughter of Deborah Moggach, who wrote The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  

 

I'm with you on the willpower thing  :smile:  I don't reread too much either, mainly because I feel guilty reading something I've read before, when I have so many unread books sitting on the my shelf.  But I've started to keep a list of books I want to reread at some point.  The only one I've reread a number of times is To Kill A Mockingbird.  It was the first 'grown up' book I bought for myself when I was about 14, and I just loved it.

 

Great reviews, Ruth!  I really like the sound of The Never List.

I have Howard's End is on the Landing, unread.  :blush2:

 

I started out this year with the intention of not buying anymore books till I'd read lots more of what we already have.

Didn't work out that way.  :doh:

 

Thank you :) Howard's End is on the Landing was sitting unread on my shelf for, literally, years.  I was a bit underwhelmed by a couple of Susan Hill's novels, so I put off reading this, but then ended up loving it.  (Although, despite being inspired to try the same thing for myself, I have already bought some books since reading it  :blush2: )

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How To Be A Woman, by Caitlin Moran

 

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Caitlin Moran describes how she grew from an unconfident, awkward teenager into a happy and successful woman, using her own experiences as starting points for expounding her views about a variety of subjects – all to do with being a woman (obviously), what it’s like to be a woman, and how the world treats women.  She describes herself early on as a “strident feminist” and reminds the reader of this throughout the book.

 

I had high hopes for this book, having heard so many good things about it, but within about three chapters, I was ready to throw it up against the nearest wall.  However, by the time I reached the end of it – once I start a book, I have to finish it, no matter how much it’s annoying or boring me – I realised that I did enjoy certain parts.  The book is a collection of Moran’s own personal opinions, some of which I agreed with and some of which I didn’t.  That didn’t bother me; after all, it’s good to hear different opinions to your own.  What did bother me though was the way that Moran seems utterly dismissive or scornful of anyone who doesn’t hold the same views.  It seems at times as though her opinions are outright facts, and if you don’t agree with them, you’re wrong.

 

I didn’t like the way she was apt to say things such as there were no funny women at all between Dorothy Parker and French & Saunders, or that women have “done f— all” for the last hundred years.  Really?  REALLY?? And there are contradictions too – in one chapter, Moran explains why she hates strip clubs, why they’re the scourge of the earth, and bad for women in general.  But a few chapters down the line, she is happily off to a sex club with Lady Gaga, where Gaga ends up wearing just a bra, knickers and fishnets.  Moran also dislikes music videos where women prance about wearing next to nothing.  I agreed with all her points, until she explained why when Gaga does it, it’s okay, because it’s not provocative or sexual, rather it’s part of some feminist agenda.

 

I’m not overseen on the overly jokey, make-a-witty-comment-about-everything type of narration, but when Moran becomes more serious, I enjoyed reading what she had to say.  The chapter on overeating made some serious points, and was clearly told from personal experience.  There is a chapter on abortion where the author describes her own decision to have one, and gives her reasons behind not just her personal choices, but her beliefs about the subject in general.  I agreed with her points, but whether you agree with her or not, she was eloquent and sincere.

 

The penultimate chapter was also very enjoyable, and made some pointed comments about why women feel the need to go under the knife or the needle to look eternally youthful.  If Moran had maintained this more balanced and reasonable tone throughout the rest of the book, I think I would have enjoyed it a lot more.  I liked her sentiment that people should be proud of being feminists, and that equality is good for everyone, but I think maybe style is just not for me.

 

Generally I’d have to say that this was a very mixed bag for me.  Some parts I liked a lot, some unfortunately really annoyed me.

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Interesting review! It's a shame you didn't enjoy the whole book. I really don't like it either when people look down on others because their views are different from their own.

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Ruth - enjoyed your review of How To Be A woman, my eldest daughter recently bought this for me so when i manage to wrest it off my teenage daughter who has grabbed it first i'll see if i feel the same way about it as you  :smile:

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Would totally agree with you on Howard's End is on the Landing.  Funnily enough I was talking about it to with one of the staff in Waterstone's earlier today - I had just bought Andy Miller's recently published book A Year of Reading Dangerously - a similar premise I think, except he's coming from doing hardly any recent reading, and trying to kickstart it again.  So he starts with The Master and Magherita, and Middlemarch!

 

I nearly bought A Year of Reading Dangerously, the other week :)  No doubt it will end up on my shelf at some point.  On a side note, The Master and Magherita was a really fascinating read for me - I can't say that I enjoyed it all the way through, but I certainly found it absorbing, and it's on my 'to be reread' list.

 

Interesting review! It's a shame you didn't enjoy the whole book. I really don't like it either when people look down on others because their views are different from their own.

 

No, I just found her attitude about that to be quite annoying.  I thought at one point I was going to hate the whole thing, but I ended up enjoying some of the chapters at least.

 

Ruth - enjoyed your review of How To Be A woman, my eldest daughter recently bought this for me so when i manage to wrest it off my teenage daughter who has grabbed it first i'll see if i feel the same way about it as you  :smile:

 

I'll look forward to your thoughts :)  Several reviews I read of it also mentioned that Tina Fey's 'Bossypants' was an excellent read covering much of the same themes, so I might look out for that.

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The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Clayborne Carson

 

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At the request of the family of Martin Luther King, Jr., King Scholar Claybourne Carson used Stanford University’s vast collection of King’s essays, his speeches and interviews with King, to construct this book, which tells the story of King’s life, with particular attention on his work for Civil Rights and equal opportunities for black Americans.  Each chapter focuses on a specific time, campaign or incident, and describes not only the events taking place, but King’s own determination to keep going, the difficulties that he faced – both emotionally and physically – and the reasoning behind his actions, including his absolute determination that the campaign should be non-violent.

 

I found the book thoroughly absorbing.  King was clearly an eloquent man with a passionate belief in justice for all, and this comes through on every page.  I knew about the man and his life prior to picking up this book, but reading his thoughts in his own words was still very enlightening.  I was full of admiration for a man who knew that his work put him in physical danger and indeed saw friends and colleagues die for the cause, who felt sometimes that he was fighting a losing (non-violent) battle, who encountered differences of opinion even within his own campaign, but yet refused to give up striving for what was right and fair.

 

Clayborne Carson has done a wonderful job of using King’s writings to build a clear chronological narrative, and it was often heartbreaking, but never less than inspiring to read.  I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.  

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