Thursday, 30 September 2010

September Book Review

I’ve been looking forward to and dreading this post in equal measure. Looking forward to it in that this month has been so much better than last month’s terrible month for books, but dreading it because a week on holiday meant I plowed through quite a few babies this month.

I will try and keep these brief, as there were 5 books read this month.

Salem Falls – Jodi Picoult

I have a stockpile of these books because Culture Friend lent me a load an age ago. I just can’t read them all in one go though, I’ll start to convince myself I’m living a life of mystery and subterfuge. I am trying to battle my way through them though, I’ve had them for an embarrassingly long time.

I liked this one – Picoult goes a little bit edgy with her story about a man recently released from prison after being accused of statutory rape, trying to start his life over again, only to be accused for a second time by a group of teenage girls. Oh and they happen to be practicing witchcraft. Yeah I know.

I did like this one, I got very carried away with it and all kinds of theories about how it was going to end. I was wildly wrong though, mainly because I overshot quite a bit, I went pretty dark with my predictions and found myself disappointed when they turned out not to be true. The main ‘twist’ you can see coming from a million miles away though.

I feel bad because I still continue to kind of dismiss Picoult a little bit and never bother buying her books, but I haven’t read one of hers yet that I haven’t enjoyed and I think she needs to be applauded for covering a whole breadth of scenarios – from dying children to the Amish to rape convicts. Good work Ms Picoult.

Nocturnes – Kazuo Ishiguro

I have a confession to make. I really don’t like short stories. I can’t explain why, I just never enjoy them, I either find them irritating because they end before things have really got going or they’re just incredibly abstract as the author attempts to write a good story in very few words.

I picked this up by accident. I read Never Let Me Go a long time ago and it’s continued to haunt me ever since (and there’s a film due out this year apparently). I saw this and picked it up and it wasn’t until it finally got plucked off the bookshelf that I realised I’d bought a collection of short stories. “Bleurgh.” I thought to myself.

How wrong was I? Each and every story is so beautiful – each a love story but not your schmaltzy kind of love, real love warts and all, black and white and all the grey areas in between. Ishiguro must be quite the master at writing short stories, none of his books are great tomes that you struggle to lift off the shelf, and these stories didn’t feel unfinished and didn’t drive me demented as I tried to understand what they meant, instead leaving me with a pleasant glow and a wish to sit down and read them all again.

Remarkable Creatures – Tracy Chevalier
I have far too many books unread on my bookshelf and so I farm them out to people that I can trust not to destroy them before I’ve had a chance to read them. Sometimes I forget I’ve lent them out – as I did with this one when Culture Friend passed it over the table while we were out to dinner – “Oooh this looks good” I said. “Babe, it’s yours” she replied.

Moving on...

I’ve only just figured it out but Tracy Chevalier’s modus operandi is to take real life people/things and spin a tale of fiction around them. Earlier in the year I read The Lady and the Unicorn which was inspired by a tapestry. There’s the famous Girl with a Pearl Earring which I’ve yet to read and this book concerns real-life lady fossil hunters, namely Mary Anning (working class fossil hunter) and Elizabeth Philpot (middle class spinster whiling away her time finding fish fossils) who strike up a friendship when fossil hunting on the beaches of Lyme Regis. Ladies didn’t fossil hunt in those days you know, it was quite the scandal and Remarkable Creatures tells the story of how Mary and Elizabeth learn from each other, against the wider backdrop of history and society.

AWeek in December – Sebastian Faulks

I love the Faulks you know. He can’t do much wrong in my book. (Apart from Human Traces which really...did.....drag.....on.) How I managed to miss this bad boy I’ll never know but hurrah for The Times £2.99 book of the week a WH Smith (why yes I do keep them in business) who brought it to my attention, just before I set off for France. Perfect timing.

It does what it says on the tin. Taking place over seven days, you become immersed in the worlds of several characters, whose lives all intertwine throughout the book. It’s all very Of The Time – there’s a young radicalised Muslim, planning a terrorist attack, a nasty greedy hedge fund manager, a teen smoking too much dope watching a reality TV programme where people with mental health issues battle for a place in an institution, a tube driver spending too much time on an online game, among others.

The amount of research Faulks must have done is incredible – especially regarding the financial aspects of hedge funds. I’ll be honest, they completely baffled me, I had no idea what he was going on about but I don’t know if that was intentional – was he showing how messed up and tricky to understand it all was or was I really supposed to come away with a deep knowledge of hedge funds?

This book absolutely blew me away, I was completely captured and could not put it down, much to the annoyance at times of my Dad who I think saw it as a rival to the many sightseeing tours he had planned for me.

The thing that potentially worries me though is that this book is so consumed with pop culture that it might not stand the test of time. If you read it now you will love it and you will understand and shake your head and laugh ruefully at all the bits which reflect modern society. If you threw it at someone in 50 years time would they do the same? I don’t know that they would. The brilliant thing about this novel is that it does make sense to you, you can relate to it. Even I picked up on a small thing that I thought was a little out of date – the young Muslim is contacted over the book’s version of MySpace – I thought this a little odd, we all know that MySpace died a death a long while ago. However at the end of the book there’s a small word of thanks from the author and it gives the dates between which he wrote it – when he started writing this book there was a small thing in its infancy. Facebook. It doesn’t get mentioned at all which I suspect is because Facebook wasn’t on his radar when he began writing this.

Or maybe I’m being picky.

I loved this book. And I mean, loved it.

Corduroy Mansions – Alexander McCall Smith

Oh how I rejoice that I took this book away with me. Perfect to read when you have long bouts of travel ahead of you. Especially long bouts of travel that mean you end up missing your train back to Hull and having to wait for an hour and a half in London Kings Cross train station, with little tears sliding down your face because you’re very tired and just want to get home before 11.30pm.

I love the McCall Smith. He writes books which are ridiculously easy to read. I’m a huge fan and can’t really say anything bad about him.

Just one small criticism though...

This book worked for me on many levels because it was easy to read, had funny little characters and tiny little chapters because it originated as a column in The Observer newspaper. But. It’s just kind of the same thing as 44 Scotland Street which was easy to read, had funny little characters and tiny little chapters because it originated as a column in The Scotsman...see where I’m going.

I mean it’s good but it’s basically the same thing set in England. It’s not even a little bit different.

It’s a good job I like him really.


And now for the winner:

One Week in September – it just has to be, although it is very closely followed by Nocturnes.

Edited to add: I'm a moron and thank goodness Mooncalf isn't because she managed to spot that I called Sebastian Faulks' book One Week in September, instead of A Week in December, despite having a picture of the freakin' book in front of me. Apologies, I had September on the brain. And I'm a moron.


  1. I may just go out and buy Nocturnes now. I quite like short stories.

  2. I'm glad you thought the same about Corduroy Mansions as I did. I love AM Smith, but this book didn't really do much for me.

    I haven't read Faulk for such a long time, I absolutely loved Girl at Lion Dor, Blackbird and Charlotte Grey (so much better than the movie). Thanks for the recommendation regarding One Week in Sept - I'll stick it on my extremely long list of books to read.

    You must read Girl with a Pearl Earing - I loved it as I did, The Lady and the Unicorn.

    I'm doing quite well with my reading at the moment. I whizzed through The Other Boleyn Girl and now I'm onto My Enemys Cradle by Sarah Young.

  3. I still haven't got round to doing any book reviews on my blog lol..! I love looking at what other people have been reading, I have never heard of ay of these authors apart from Jodi Picoult (does that make me very uncultured lol?!)...

  4. Argh! Too much to catch up on here...just glimpsed the toads below and I really need to jump in the shower...will be back again soon I suspect!

    You've sold One Week in September to me...though I'm being mega slow with my reading right now so it will probably not get a look in year?! At this rate... or until I stumble upon it on someone's bookshelf and get to take it away for free (I like free books better than bought ones!)

    As for short stories - I know what you mean - but there are some wicked ones out just have to look. Magic for Beginners is a set of short stories that I adore...they are a bit quirky but if you ever fancy another stab at a set...anyhoo...

    be back soon! xxx

  5. You've read almost as many books in September as I have all year! Really intigued by Ishiguro from your description, another to add to the list!

  6. One Week in September...

    Is it anything like A Week In December?


  7. Hello right back at you! What a great blog - I'm following :) Thanks so much for the lovely comments.

    So glad that someone shared my thoughts on Corduroy Mansions. My AMS-loving friend hasn't read it yet so I've had no-one to discuss it with. I did love it but it's just so very very similar to the Scotland Street series and not as good (probably due to a lack of Bertie).

    I find I can only cope with minimal amounts of Picoult at one time. I can't cope with so much gloom, no matter how gripping it is.

  8. I wouldn't worry hon I forget what the name of the book is while I'm reading the blinking thing. :D

    You need some cake to go with all that book reading ;)

  9. Ooh, Nocturnes sounds great. And I keep hearing good things about Jodi Picoult but haven't yet picked up one of her books. Your ambivalence hasn't helped! Odd how sometimes you enjoy a book but still struggle to say good things about it, isn't it?


Go on. Say something. You know you want to...