Archive > March 2012

The Blasphemer

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The Blasphemer (Black Swan) - Nigel Farndale, book reviewA lot is happening in The Blasphemer by Nigel Farndale, probably too much for my taste – a few less plot lines and a little more depth would have made for a better book. Nonetheless, this is an interesting novel with an ambitious approach which makes for a good holiday read. There are two main story lines which are interwoven. The dominant story focuses on academic Zoologist Daniel Kennedy, a prominent atheist with a television series and a developing public profile who is about to undergo a crisis in almost every area of his life. As the novel starts it seems that everything is going his way – he is on the verge of promotion to a Professorship, his television series is becoming increasingly popular and he is planning to propose to his long term partner after taking her on a surprise holiday to the Galapagos islands.


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India Modern

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India Modern: Traditional Forms and Contemporary Design, Herbert Ypma, book reviewHerbert Ypma is a design guru and the man behind the popular ‘Hip Hotel’ guides. If Herbert says it’s hip, the world listens to this arbiter of fashion. Herbert was born in the Netherlands which is pretty ironic given how rubbish Dutch hotels tend to be but fortunately for the world of fashionable accommodation, his family moved to New York when he was six years old. I have a bunch of his hotel guides though I must confess I don’t really use them very much tending to find them attractive eye candy rather than usable guides. So strong is his association with the hotel trade that I was quite surprised when I realised that he had edited this book, Indiamodern – Traditional Forms and Contemporary Design which is published by Phaidon.


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The Art of Fielding

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The Art of Fielding - Chad Harbach, book reviewThe Art of Fielding by Chard Harbach is a big novel, in length and ambition. It was apparently ten years in the making, and along with a fine story it contains a considerable amount of intellectual ambition. Best to deal first, though, with a question which may well be in the mind of readers from outside the baseball-playing world – will I enjoy and understand this novel even though I know nothing about baseball? It will certainly help if you understand at least the basics of baseball – without this knowledge you can still enjoy the book, but you will undoubtedly struggle a little with some of the key sections. And those parts which deal with baseball games, especially near the climax of the story, are very well written and rather exciting.


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The Man Who Forgot His Wife

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The Man Who Forgot His Wife by John O’ Farrell, book review“Lots of husbands forget things: they forget that their wife had an important meeting that morning; they forget to pick up the dry cleaning; some of them even forget their wedding anniversary. But Vaughan has forgotten that he even had a wife. Her name, her face, their history together, everything.”

When you pick up a book called The Man Who Forgot His Wife, you can be pretty confident about what you are going to get: a story about a man who has forgotten his wife. If that book happens to be brightly coloured and authored by John O’Farrell (a writer who claims “Spitting Image” amongst his many credits) then you can be pretty confident that you are going to get a comedy.


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Michael Tolliver Lives

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Michael Tolliver Lives by Armistead Maupin, book reviewBack in the late 80s I got hooked on Armistead Maupin’s series ‘Tales of the City’ which followed the lives and loves of a group of friends and neighbours living in San Francisco. I was perhaps a little late to catch the craze since the first six volumes had been completed before I had even picked up the first. Published between 1978 and 1989 they were almost Dickensian in style with their short snappy chapters and serialised format, bouncing between a cast of very different characters and responding quickly to the zeitgeist. The series straddled an era when ‘The City’ was at the heart of a rapidly growing and deeply frightening series of events; the first occurrences and rapid spread of AIDS and HIV infection in San Francisco’s gay community.


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Tower

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Tower, Nigel Jones, book reviewWhen it comes to historical buildings, there are few with quite so much pedigree as the Tower of London. It has stood through so many years, so much history, that the past is almost literally seeping from its walls.

With a long-standing interest history, particularly the Tudor period, Tower by Nigel Jones was definitely a book for me. “An Epic History of the Tower of London” it was subtitled as – perfect, I thought, all this wonderfully fascinating history presented through its relationship to the Tower. Construction began under William the Conqueror in the 1080s, and throughout the centuries the Tower has been a fortress, palace, jail, torture chamber and zoo.


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When You Were Older

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When You Were Older, Catherine Ryan Hyde, book reviewWhen You were Older is the fabulous new novel by Catherine Ryan Hyde. Set against the backdrop of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, it tells a poignant and moving tale of family and prejudice. I loved this book from the moment that I first picked it up and I hardly wanted it to finish.

Russell Ammiano should have died on September 11th 2001. In fact he would have died had it not been for the phone call that informed him of his mother’s death and the need for him to return home to his home town in Kansas to sort out care for his mentally disabled older brother, Ben. Taking that call prevented him getting to his office in the twin towers for the scheduled 8.30 am meeting.


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The Snow Child

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The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey, book reviewThe Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey is a retelling of a fairy tale, based on a traditional Russian Story. This may not sound very exciting, but the writing is magical and the characters compelling and believable, so that as a reader I felt completely drawn into the Alaskan winter and the lives of Jack and Mabel and their friends. There are moments of great sadness but also passages which are uplifting and exciting. The author lives in Alaska, and I am sure that she is writing about an environment which she knows and understands. Because she inhabits this place, she enables the reader to inhabit it as well.

The core of the story is well known – “There once was an old man and woman who loved each other very much and were content with their life except for one great sadness – they had no children of their own”.


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The Afterlife with Sunglasses

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The Wednesday Soul: The Afterlife With Sunglasses  by  Sorabh Pant, book reviewThis is a fairly unique romp through the afterlife with criminals, philosophers and spiritual leaders thrown in for good measure. The book begins with the death of Nyra Dubey, taser wielding vigilante, the feared Delhi Belle who stalks eve teasers in the night and appears out of nowhere to claim vengeance. However, death claims her, much to her annoyance and those in charge of the afterlife records are not quite sure whether she committed suicide or not. So she’s classified as ‘a Wednesday soul’ – souls in Pant’s fantastic world belong to days of the week with Sunday getting the highest ratings.

Nyra is annoyed, out for vengeance and still armed – to discover how her taser works out of the living world is a feat of entertaining gymnastics.


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11.22.63

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11.22.63 by Stephen King, book reviewIt is often said that people can remember exactly where they were when they first heard the news of John F Kennedy’s assassination, so shocking was the thought that the President could be shot in public, in broad daylight. But since then, many may have come to wish that their location on that fateful day was in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, so they could have somehow stopped the presidential motorcade or prevented Lee Harvey Oswald entering the now infamous Texas School Book Depository. So many, in fact, that the prevention of this assassination has become something of a recurring fantasy within science fiction; off the top of my head I can recall Dr Sam Beckett quantum leaping into Lee Harvey Oswald and the Red Dwarf crew inadvertently becoming the suspected second shooters on the grassy knoll. However hackneyed such a premise may be, though, I am a sucker for a good time travel story and when the great storyteller that is Stephen King sets out to tackle just this idea in 11.22.63, I couldn’t help but read it.


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Rape: A Love Story

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Rape: A Love Story, Joyce Carol Oates, book reviewIf you’re looking for a controversial title, for a book that you’d maybe not want to open on the bus or the Underground for fear of raised eyebrows, then look no further than Joyce Carol Oates’ 2006 book Rape  a Love Story. It’s one of the most uncomfortable and stomach-turning titles I’ve seen in a long time and not a book that I felt I wanted to leave lying around. It’s the sort of title that makes you imagine horrifying scenarios of dysfunctional human relationships. I felt ill at ease about having it in the house, I didn’t want to have to explain why I would have such a horrible-sounding book in my collection so I wanted to read it pretty much as soon as it arrived. The title raises far too many questions – not least whether it needs some punctuation between the first and second words to stop it looking rather aggressively like a command rather than a description. Indeed it’s only the cover that doesn’t punctuate; once inside it’s clearer that the intention is Rape: a Love Story.


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The Man Who Rained

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The Man Who Rained by Ali ShawThe Man Who Rained is a second novel by Ali Shaw, who previously had considerable success with The Girl with Glass Feet. Both novels are modern fables, telling a magical story with the aim of imparting some moral message about life. The Man Who Rained is, as its title suggests, about a man (Finn) who is weather personified. It works as a romantic fairy tale, but like many fairy tales has more serious intent. The central image of this book is lightening – in more than one place Shaw tells us that lightening does not just strike, it is a connection made in secret between the earth and the storm. Lightening is a metaphor for falling in love at first sight and in this book the weather is an extended metaphor for the turbulence and unpredictability which can lie within other people.


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