Archive > April 2012

Ten Years On

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Ten Years On, Alice Peterson, book reviewTen Years On is the latest book from Alice Peterson and tells the story of Rebecca and Joe who, as the title might suggest, have not seen each other for ten years. A lot has happened in the intervening years and it is only because of a devastating turn of events that they meet up again.

Rebecca and Joe did not part on the best of terms. They were at university together along with Rebecca’s boyfriend Olly who she later married. They were an inseparable trio until one drunken evening, whilst Olly was ill in bed, Joe declared his true feelings of love for Rebecca. After spending the night together, she is racked with guilt and leaves.


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The Marriage Plot

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The Marriage Plot , Jeffrey Eugenides, book reviewOne woman; two men. Which will she chose? The core of many a Victorian Novel, and also the underlying premise of The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. Eugenides is not a prolific author – the Marriage Plot is his first book for a decade, but his novels are generally worth waiting for and this is no exception. It is an intelligent and humorous book, with many unexpected twists and turns as Eugenides sets out to make a Victorian novel for our age.

Madeleine is the central female character. We meet her as she prepares to graduate, uncertain as to what to do with her life.


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A Tale of Two Indians

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A Tale of Two Indians - Maharshi Patel, book reviewMaharshi Patel is a well-to-do student attending a top US university and spoilt by his successful oncologist father and his doting mother. He is arrogant, selfish and self-indulgent. He likes fast cars and expensive watches not because they’re fast or they tell the time better but because they tell everyone around him just how wonderful his life is. There’s no point being a success if the world can’t SEE how fabulous your life is, after all. When a series of deaths amongst family and friends sends his privileged lifestyle off its axis, Maharshi has a breakdown, fails at his studies and his father threatens to cut him off financially. It’s taken him a while but the realisation dawns that he can’t take his life of privilege for granted. In search of an escape from the life that’s spiralling out of control, he heads to India to spend time with his paternal grandfather in search of truths about himself, his father and his father’s father.


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The Land of Decoration

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The Land of Decoration,  Grace McCleen, book reviewThe Land of Decoration is a first novel told in the voice of a young girl who has been brought up as a member of a religious sect; Grace McCleen is a young writer who was herself brought up in a similar environment, and she is probably writing about things that she knows. Of course, most authors draw deeply on personal life experiences as they write, not surprising since writing about events and circumstances you know is likely to be more realistic and easier. However, sometimes the parallels between events and a novel and the author’s own life seem particularly close – Anthony Powell’s Dance to the Music of Time sequence being a good example – and perhaps that is also the case here. Certainly, the setting of the novel is completely convincing, even if the events are at least partly imagined.


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A Song of Ice and Fire

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Song of Ice & Fire - A Game of Thrones, a Clash of Kings, a Storm of Swords, and a Feast for Crows (A Song of Ice and Fire) - George R R Martin, book reviewIn 2011, a new show began on Sky, called A Game of Thrones. Starring Sean Bean, it looked like an absorbing fantasy epic, yet as with many shows I forgot to watch the first episode and never managed to catch up. Yet the show brought to my attention the series of novels upon which it was based – George R. R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire.

The first novel in the series is A Song Of Ice And Fire. Set in a land called Westeros, known as the Seven Kingdoms, it follows a number of characters through the beginning of troubled times. The main characters are the Stark family, with Eddard, or Ned, at its head as Lord of Winterfell.


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How Good is That?

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How Good is That?  Jane Tomlinson, Mike Tomlinson, book reviewJane Tomlinson was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 27 in 1991. Nine years later in 2000 she was told that the cancer had spread and was untreatable. She was given six months to live. Like many people with a terminal diagnosis she wanted to travel and to create memories for her husband and children to cherish when she could no longer be with them. Unlike most people that urge to travel turned into seven years of performing feats of great physical endurance all over the world to raise money for charities. She competed in marathons, Ironman triathlon events and undertook several long distance bicycle rides including Lands End to John O’Groats, ‘Rome to Home’ (from Rome to Yorkshire) and her final big expedition to cross the USA from the Golden Gate Bridge to Brooklyn Bridge. It’s that final ride which features in this book How Good is that?

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Will

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Will, Christopher Rush, book reviewIn the book Will Christopher Rush brings us a fictionalized autobiography of one of the most famous writers of all time – William Shakespeare.

Biographies can often be terribly boring, academic tomes that find interest only in those who are fascinated by the subjects. Autobiographies can be terribly indulgent works that leave out anything negative about the person. In general, it is far more fun to read fiction. What makes the book Will by Christopher Rush special is that it is a fictional autobiography. What this means is that Rush has decided to get into the head and voice of the most famous writer of all time, William Shakespeare, and write a biographical piece with the narrator being none other than the Bard himself!


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Basic Training

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Basic Training - Kurt Vonnegut, book reviewIn my student days I was a big fan of Kurt Vonnegut – I’m told the term used by his fans is a ‘Vonnenut’. I got hooked by the classic ‘Slaughterhouse 5’ and then worked my way through a load more. I thought Vonnegut was brilliant – right up to the point that I got tickets for a book reading he was due to do at Ottaker’s bookshop in Manchester. I was very excited by the prospect of actually seeing and meeting the man. Then I got the news that the session was cancelled – the great man refused to go anywhere outside London for such events. The respect built up over multiple books was slashed in an instant. Too snooty to head north meant my idol had feet of clay. Perhaps he hated rain and was allergic to Eccles Cakes, who knows, I was young and unforgiving. I didn’t buy another Vonnegut novel for over 20 years.


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Smoke and Mirrors

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Narcopolis, Jeet Thayil, book reviewBefore it even came out, Narcopolis was hailed as the successor to De Quincey and Burroughs, a new opium fuelled haze set in the mean streets of Bombay of the 70’s. The poet Jeet Thayil’s first novel undoubtedly informed with that sensitive use of language that has characterized his poetry. So much is certainly true. The language takes you by the imagination and leads you through the pages like the slow drift of smoke. There is an ‘I’ narrator, Dom Ullis, who like Thayil hails from the South, who escapes after an unfortunate incident in New York to find Shuklaji Street and Rashid’s opium den in Bombay. He discovers piyalis of opium expertly served by the eunuch Dimple who engages with him in intellectual discussion. And when he’s on his flights of opium fantasy, Dom’s language of choice is English.


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The Flying Man

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The Flying Man, Roopa Farooki, book reviewIn a cheap French hotel room in Biarritz a man is writing the letter that will precede his death. He has recently met his son who wants him to return to his homeland of Pakistan and act like a proper old man for once in his life but son and father both know that it’s just not the old man’s style to ever really go back. They’re playing a game – concerned son, disobedient father – and they both know their roles.

The Flying Man of the title is Maqil but he could more accurately be called the Fleeing Man because that’s what Maqil does. He makes his fortune, makes a mess and then makes a speedy exit. There’s always a lover, a cheated business partner, an unhappy victim of fraud, or detectives with uncomfortable questions about his friends and associates on Maqil’s tail.


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The Lady in the Tower

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The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, Alison Weir, book review The Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir bears the subtitle “The Fall of Anne Boleyn”, which tells you just about everything you need to know about the book. Assuming you know Alison Weir is a historian, you will then be able to surmise that this is a historical study of the last months and days of the life of Anne Boleyn, Henry VIIIs second queen.

Henry VIII became infatuated with Anne while he was still married to Katherine of Aragon. For six long years she kept him obsessed with her, refusing to sleep with him until they were married. Finally he broke with Rome in order to take over as Supreme Head of the Church of England, and therefore set Katherine aside and marry Anne.


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Tolstoy

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Tolstoy,  A. N. Wilson, book reviewRepackaged and with a new foreword by the author, A.N. Wilson’s epic biography of Tolstoy is a welcome re-publication. There have been countless works devoted to the Russian author, a man whose colourful life and complex beliefs make for a thoroughly thrilling and entertaining biographical work, but this one stands out thanks to Wilson’s engaging style which presents key periods of Tolstoy’s life against the backdrop of nineteenth century Russia, showing how the prevailing ideas and politics influenced his thinking.

As an introduction to Tolstoy for readers who are new to the subject, this is an invaluable volume; Wilson covers all of the novels as well as Tolstoy’s most important non-fiction writing, and such content, in combination with a selective but nonetheless detailed biography, is illuminating without alienating the newcomer.


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