Sunday, 31 October 2010

October Book Review

The Forgotten Garden – Kate Morton

I’ll admit that there was a touch of the book snobbery that went on between myself and this book. Sometimes we all succumb to it and although I have no idea how it ended up on my bookshelf (I tend to suspect The Times/WH Smith book of the week offer for all random purchases on my shelves) I eyed it with some suspicion for quite some time, thinking that it wouldn’t be “My type of book.”

So it was quite nice to be surprised really when I got going with this book and found myself thoroughly absorbed in the story. It tells the story of three women from each generation and their discovery to find out who they are and where they came from, both genealogically and spiritually.

I have to admit that at certain points along the way it felt like the book was really too long and could have been cut down a margin, but it wasn’t that much of a turn-off, and the love story that appears at the end felt a little clunky and actually unnecessary, I would have been more impressed if things hadn’t been so formulaic. Nonetheless, this was a good read and I will be keeping my eye out for copies of The House at Riverton, now that my snobbery has been abolished.

We Are All Made of Glue – Marina Lewycka

I read A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian years ago and loved it and have been meaning to read Two Caravans but have just never got around to buying it (strange seeing just how many books I do get around to buying).

I didn’t love this as much as Tractors (yes that’s right, I can’t be bothered to type out the title again). It has the same kind of warmth and humour in it and I enjoyed reading it but it just didn’t rock my world really. Mrs Shapiro is a wonderful character and really the most likeable person in the book – I think where it fell down was that I couldn’t muster up enough feelings towards the main character, Georgie Sinclair. She’s kind of a sap to be honest and even when she’s not being a sap I just couldn’t care enough about her.

Mrs Shapiro is Georgie’s elderly neighbour – living in a massive crumbly old house with a plethora of cats – and when she has an accident, she names Georgie as her next of kin. Georgie then has to go into battle to defend Mrs Shapiro’s right to live in her house against foes such as social services and hungry estate agents, but on the way begins to discover more of Mrs Shapiro’s past.

It was good, it’ll just never get read again if you know what I mean.

The Piano Tuner – Daniel Mason

I think Jill might have recommended this to me a long while back and I saw it in a charity shop and picked it up for a couple of quid. I like getting hardbacks for not much money, I feel like I’ve beaten the system somehow.

Slightly wimpy piano tuner Edgar Drake gets summoned by the army to travel to Burma to tune a rare piano. The piano belongs to an eccentric Surgeon-Major, Anthony Carroll, who has succeeded in bringing peace to the warring Shan states but is a law until himself.

The book tells the story of Edgar’s journey across from misty London to the jungles of Burma and into the arena of Carroll, who may, or may not, be all as he seems.

The pace of this book is slow. S.l.o.w. Perhaps this was purposely to reflect the slow journey he makes across to Burma (we don’t meet Carroll until half way through the book) or perhaps it’s just a slow book. Who knows.

And whilst you’re wading through the book and wondering if it’s ever going to end, it suddenly shoots off into the distance and the last 50 pages of the book race ahead like some kind of whirligig, leaving you struggling for breath behind it, saying “Whaaaaaaat? What the hell is happening here?” And it continues at this breakneck speed right up until the very surprising end when you go, “My god. Did I enjoy that book or not?”

I’m still not sure to be honest. I felt like I was in a constant battle with Mason, begging him for just a little bit more information. I’m all for having to use your imagination at times in fiction but this was just too hard, I felt like things just never got explained and Wimpy Edgar’s wife back at home never gets a look in poor woman.

Strange would be my overall verdict but kind of worth reading, especially for the ending.

Superfreakonomics – Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner

It seems probably pretty standard that I would like this book. I have the degrees and all but I promise you don’t have to an economics geek to appreciate this book and it’s bigger brother, Freakonomics. You don’t have to understand economic principles at all (good thing given that I’ve completely forgotten everything I’ve ever been taught) but you do have to be fairly nosy. Nosiness is an advantage because you will have to natural thirst to try and figure out why people behave in the way that they do.

I had a minor complaint with this book however. It’s a pitfall I guess when you have a suddenly massively popular book like Freakonomics that no-one really saw coming. I got a whiff when I was reading this one that they were trying just a little bit too hard to impress us with their ‘freaky’ ways. Freakonomics was good because it made you chuckle a bit, with Superfreakonomics they have deliberately set out to rock the boat – the subtitle of this book is “Global Cooling, Patriotic Prostitutes and why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance” – see what I mean? Deliberately provocative.

But actually if you take that last bit about suicide bombers, this is actually a couple of pages at the end of what is actually an incredibly interesting chapter about behavourial economics and database and profile building. I know they have to hook people, hence the reference about suicide bombers but in a way things like irritated me. But I guess that’s possibly the snob in me.

I love it though, I’m bound to, I’m clearly biased, but it’s honestly and funny, clever and most importantly, easily digestible book which will make you consider the world just slightly differently.


Book of the month has to be Superfreakonomics I’m afraid. Entertaining and educational? Yes please! Although please check out Freakonomics as well because I actually kinda preferred that one.

I’m also thinking that I maybe need to look back over the winners of each month and perhaps come out with a Book of the Year. (Yes I am thinking that far ahead.) Thoughts?


  1. Oh, I do like Freakonomics. But what self-respecting geek doesn't? ;)

  2. I liked Superfreakonomics, but Freakonomics was better. I have a whole collection of those sort of books though.

  3. I've not read any of the above but I do have Kate Mortons 'The House at Riverton' on my to read pile.
    I've just fineshed 'The Help' by Kathryn Stockett, which I loved have you read it??
    Em xxx

  4. I've just been given a copy of The Forgotten Garden. I know I've read one of her books already but don't know if it's this one or the Riverton book - probably not a good sign that I don't remember it enough to know which one it is! Ah well, I'll give it a read anyway.

    Freakonomics is also on the to-read pile. Anything by Marina Lewycka definitely won't be though! I HATED Tractors - dear god, what a tedious read it was.

  5. Hmm, maybe I should pick up Superfreakonomics. I enjoyed the first book but felt that he really only had the drug dealer data to make it anything out of the ordinary and that the other chapters were less interesting. Also I struggled to get over the fact that the author was clearly such an arrogant obnoxious tw*t. Actually, I've talked myself out of it. Bother. I'm going to have to stick with The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet which is the most tedious book I've ever ever stuck with. By miles.

  6. Book of the year sounds like a plan -I always enjoy your book reviews - you make them many other book reviews bore me... (and that is good praise coming from someone who once worked in publishing and dealt with book reviews on and off). You also impress me with how much you have read...if only i could read faster... but i'm a snail...alas! xxx


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