Archive > October 2013

Big Brother

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Big Brother, Lionel Shriver, book reviewGiven how much I have admired Lionel Shriver’s other novels, it perhaps surprising that it has taken me nearly six months from the publication date to read her latest release, Big Brother. Spurred on by an engaging interview she gave at this year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival, I eventually picked it up and have just finished devouring the novel. Devouring being the key word. Shriver’s books are known for tackling difficult questions and controversial themes, and this one is no different: what would you do if your big brother became morbidly obese and you were the only person he could turn to for help?

Anyone who has ever seen a picture of Shriver may well wonder what she can possibly understand about the subject; she is a very slender woman, who apparently exists on one meal daily and a strict exercise regime. Yet, lurking in the background of her success and slimness there lies a terrible heartache.


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The World is a Wedding

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The World is a Wedding, Wendy Jones, book reviewThe World is a Wedding by Wendy Jones is the follow-up to her first novel, ‘The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals’ and picks up where that first book ends. I’ve not read the first book but I didn’t feel I was missing out or failing to follow the plot by not having previously ‘met’ Wifred and his ex-wife Grace.

The book is set in Narberth, Wales and in central London and the year is 1925. When the book begins, Wilfred is thinking about what an extraordinarily lucky fellow he is to have a good business, to have just married his sweetheart Flora Myfanwy and to have had a second chance after divorcing Grace. It will be some time before readers will get the full low-down on what went wrong with their marriage, and I’m not sure how much of Grace’s trials were revealed in the first book.


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The Cat’s Table

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The Cat's Table, Michael Ondaatje, book reviewMichael Ondaatje (author of “The English Patient”), has a distinctively unique style to his writing. His literary voice could best be described as poetic and fluid that is also highly accessible. This comes through in all his writing, giving his work a deceptively simplistic feel, while remaining evocatively beautiful. However, he also likes to surprise his readers in the way he constructs his books, and each one is a bit different from his others. For instance, his last two novels, “Anil’s Ghost” and “Divisadero”, are almost conventionally structured. But others of his works, his latest novel included, are put together more like series of vignettes with lines of disjointed dialogue or poetry, not all of which follow a direct timeline. While this may sound like it could be confusing, Ondaatje’s artistry is in that the reader never feels like they aren’t totally sure of when and where the action is taking place. And this he does with the language alone, without any superfluous background information or details.


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Counting One’s Blessings

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Counting One's Blessings,  William Shawcross, book reviewCounting One’s Blessings: The Selected Letters of Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother is edited by William Shawcross, whose official biography of the Queen Mother was published in 2006.This volume begins the Queen Mother, then Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, was a young girl, and continues until a few months before her death in 2002.

The Queen Mother was a prolific letter writer throughout her life, from her childhood to her time as Duchess of York, Queen Elizabeth, and finally the many years as Queen Mother. She wrote to friends, family, acquaintances, people who worked for the royal family, and people she admired. These letters must have been like a treasure trove for Shawcross while he was writing his biography, and now he has been given permission to publish this volume of them.


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The Kingmaker’s Daughter

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The Kingmaker's Daughter, Philippa Gregory, book reviewThe Kingmaker’s Daughter is the fourth novel in Philippa Gregory’s Cousins War series, which opened with The White Queen, the title of the recent BBC adaptation. Each novel tells the story of one of the women at the heart of the Cousins War, which we know better as the War of the Roses. The Kingmaker’s Daughter is the story of Anne Neville, daughter of the Earl of Warwick, one of the key figures throughout the war.

The Earl of Warwick has no son, only two daughters, Anne and her sister Isabel, and so he uses them as pawns in his schemes and attempts to control the power of the throne. Anne is confused by the family’s always changing loyalties, having been taught as a child to call Margaret of Anjou “the bad queen” and then finding herself being married off to her son when her father changes his loyalties from York to Lancaster.


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The Beginner’s Goodbye

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The Beginner's Goodbye, Anne Tyler, book reviewYou’d think the quiet lives that Dorothy and Aaron led would end uneventfully. Then came the storm that caused a tree to fall through their house, killing Dorothy. After Aaron moved in with his sister, Dorothy started coming back from the dead. As she shows up more and more, Aaron finds he’s looking not only at their relationship, but his whole life. And this includes his destroyed house, his disabled body, his relationship with his bossy sister and his job in the family publishing business. This is The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler.

Anne Tyler is famous for taking the most ordinary and forgettable types of people and turning them into to extraordinary and unforgettable characters.


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Seven for a Secret

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Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye, book reviewI have said before that one of the hallmarks of a properly done historical novel is the presence of maps, diagrams or family trees before the story itself begins. Such inclusions imply thorough research and that the author has taken care to help place the reader more comfortably within the historical context; unfamiliar locations, countries that no longer exist and complex, intertwined family relations become clearer and more easily navigable with such inclusions. Lyndsay Faye’s latest book, Seven for a Secret, opens with an offering of two and a half pages of selected “flash terminology”, the street slang of 1840s New York, to prepare the reader for the historically authentic speech used by her characters. I liked it.


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Thanksgiving

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Thanksgiving by Ellen Cooney, book reviewPatience was a newlywed, pregnant with her first child on that cold November morning of 1662. When she went outside in search of her husband, she saw a turkey fly into the oak tree in her yard. The fateful killing of that bird ended up being something to be truly thankful for. It also was where the legend of the Morley family of Massachusetts began. In Ellen Cooney’s novel Thanksgiving she follows the Morley women over 350 years, using their ancestral home and the food they prepared for this holiday as the focal points.

This story of the Morley family women unfolds like a flower coming into bloom. As the years go by, we learn how the house grows in shape and size.


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