Tag Archives: summary

Since my last post…

Isabel’s Skin by Peter Benson (unfinished) 

– some nicely written prose hooked me to begin with, but the storyline was too unconvincing to keep me reading.  If you like sci-fi/speculative fiction, you might be more inclined to give it more of a chance…

Frog Music by Emma Donohue (put aside to return to later)

– I think I will enjoy this; just picked up at the wrong moment.

The Watchtower by Elizabeth Harrower – 4/5

– a strong story of marriage, dependence & independence; not quite what I expected but a good read.

Shall We Gather at the River by Peter Murphy – 2.5/5

– a boy hears a ghostly evangelist on his father’s forbidden radio equipment, and spends the rest of his life trying to recapture that moment (and discovering his father’s secrets).  I really wanted to like it, but despite being a fairly quick read, the story dragged and lacked both wit to enliven the storytelling and emotional engagement to care about the characters.


Mar 2014 Retrospective

What I read in March 2014:

Meeting the English by Kate Clanchy ****
Thoroughly enjoyed this! Reminded me of ‘The Accidental’ by Ali Smith with the central character a catalyst for change within an utterly dysfunctional family unit, but told with a lighter touch, like Barbara Trapido (or Anne Fine/Fay Weldon, without the sharp edge).

Fremont by Elizabeth Reeder ***(3.5)
A pleasant, sweeping family saga with hints of ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ by Laura Esquivel.  The characters were too easily explained by their geography for my taste, but still interesting.

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld ****
Two interlocking stories, present & past unravel.  The contemporary story was not very convincing to me, but the story of Jake Whyte’s past up to the present point was far more interesting, and cleverly constructed (unravelling backwards).


  • Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay ***(3.5)
    Started well & nicely written, but tailed off significantly in the second half.  Two mysteries are presented but neither are resolved.  I don’t mind loose ends in a story but this one just wandered off in a completely different direction (which I didn’t find very interesting).

Feb 2014 Retrospective

What I read in February 2014:

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson *****
How life balances on pinpoint moments, and what happens when circumstances sway one way or the other; the ripple effect.  Wonderful evocation of period & sharp characterisation. My book of the year so far.

Andrew’s Brain by E.L.Doctorow ****
Not at all what I expected & I think not being targeted to the right market. Very readable, very accessible storyline (it’s a love story with a bit of a mystery) whereas the cover blurb makes it seem emotionally disengaged and academic/distant.

The Devil I Know by Claire Kilroy ***(3.5)
 A fairly entertaining read, but ultimately not quite as clever or amusing as I had hoped.


Jan 2014 Retrospective

What I read in January 2014:

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud ***(3.5)
Really enjoyed the back-story and characterisation but was a little disappointed when the carefully constructed, mounting tension tailed off to something of a damp squib.

Mrs Bridge by Evan S. Connell ****
Quiet, subtle, funny, unexpectedly touching.

Read but not reviewed (sorry!)

A list of all the books I’ve read since failing to return to blogging last summer:


  • This House is Haunted by John Boyne ***
  • The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton ***** (my book of the year)
  • Gor Saga: Firstborn by Maureen Duffy ****
  • Born Weird by Andrew Kaufman ***
  • Memory Palace by Hari Kunzru ***
  • Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa ****
  • Heft by Liz Moore ***
  • The Bear Boy by Cynthia Ozick ****
  • Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield ****
  • The Merman by Carl-Johan Vallgren ***


The Reader Returns

After a topsy turvy year (my dad was diagnosed with cancer and sadly passed away), I’m ready to begin reading & reviewing again – although at a significantly slower pace than previously.  Watch this space…

August Retrospective

A thin month this time, for various reasons!  Still, here is a summary of my August reading, with links to reviews:

The Blue Book by A.L.Kennedy – 4/5

Although the style grated in parts, the story was ultimately really good, and well worth wading through the bits I wasn’t so keen on.

How to Forget by Marius Brill – 3.5/5

Not at all what I expected from the jacket blurb, but turned out to be an enjoyable comedy/action romp that would make a great film!

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier – 4.5/5

A re-read from my teenage years, this is still a powerful read for any age, that will give you lots to think about.

The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing – 4.5/5

An intensely disturbing read that is horrific on many levels – how the introduction of one child leads a family idyll to self-destruction. Very keen to read the sequel which gives more insight from the child’s point of view (this one focuses more on the mother).


July Retrospective

(Posted early due to leaving for ‘holiday’ but updated retrospectively with the month’s final books.)

A summary of the books I read in July, with links to reviews:

A Summer of Drowning by John Burnside – 4.5/5

Although I wasn’t immediately captivated by Burnside’s style of writing, by the time I finished reading I was reeling, and my head was so steeped in the atmosphere that I couldn’t settle into reading anything else for a good while longer than usual.  I really want to read this again, already, and discover everything I missed first time around.

Some Kind of Fairy Tale by Graham Joyce – 4/5

Although not a sequel to The Tooth Fairy, it bears a lot of similarities, both in location, ‘type’ of characters and story.  Joyce’s strength is the portrayal of an ambiguity between supernatural and psychological realities, and this particular novel is one of his best.

Bereft by Chris Womersley – 3/5

This story of a man accused of murder as a boy, then returning to the scene of the crime after years away at war, had lots of potential but was ultimately disappointing.

In a Dark Wood by Amanda Craig – 4/5

The first in a phase of re-reads, this month.  Although I found the structure a little televisual, I was ultimately impressed by Craig’s ability to cast an intensely unlikeable man in her lead role but create enough psychological intrigue to keep the reader reading regardless.  Very interesting use of fairy tales as a means of exposition.

A True Story Based on Lies by Jennifer Clement – 4.5/5 

A beautifully dark and simple tale, told with a timeless, storybook feel.  Suffused with magic, lyricism, and disquieting undertones.

Eucalyptus by Murray Bail – 4/5 

An earthy fairy tale and unexpected love story, with the landscape exuding as much character as the people.  I enjoyed this more than on my first reading, about 12 years ago.

The Book of Colour by Julia Blackburn – 4/5 

A carefully exposed story of inherited madness, juxtaposing luscious landscapes of exotic island life with interior dreams and nightmares.

Pobby & Dingan by Ben Rice – 4/5

A short and sweet fable about the power of the imagination.

Snake by Kate Jennings – 4.5/5

An intense, stifling, poetic portrait of two lives trapped in the wrong marriage, and the sweeping, poisonous landscape around them.  Beautifully visual prose creates a story of startling clarity and power.

All My Friends Are Superheroes by Andrew Kaufman – 4.5/5

A wonderful novella about the powers, pigeonholes and pitfalls of everyday life but also a love story as sweet as they come.

Dreamland by Tom Gilling – 3/5

I sought this one out as I love the author’s previous novel (a light historical story, Miles McGinty), but sadly it turned out to be a very forgettable mystery thriller entirely lacking in personality and plot.

The Little Hammer by John Kelly – 4.5/5

Witty, wordy, wandering & playful prose dances around a story of murder, memories and misdirection.

The Waterproof Bible by Andrew Kaufman – 4/5

Lots of overwhelming emotions being dealt with in this successor to All My Friends Are Superheroes – just as likeable and ‘quirky’ and some interesting allusions to spirituality, but ultimately did not throw me any curve balls or make me think twice.

TBR – latest additions:

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson

Has actually been sitting on my bookshelf for a while, but is in danger of being read before too long due to some new discoveries with similar themes/backgrounds that have recently caught my attention.  In this story, Bartholomew Fortuno is one of Barnum’s collection of sideshow ‘freaks’.

The Devil’s Footprints by John Burnside

Not really sure quite how much I want to read this one, but with A Summer of Drowning unexpectedly entering my list of all-time favourites it would be foolhardy not to at least try one of his earlier novels (with the exception of The Dumb House which I read and did not enjoy – despite a promising premise – about 15 years ago).

Among the Wonderful by Stacy Carlson

Another Barnum-based tale of personal transformation.

The Romance of the Thin Man and the Fat Lady by Robert Coover

One of Penguin’s recently issued Mini Modern Classics Series (£3 each), the title of this one says it all.

Dreamland by Tom Gilling

This looks completely different to Gilling’s last novel (Miles McGinty) but I loved that one so much that I must try this one, upon discovering it exists.  More of a thriller, but I’m always trying to find a crime novel that I might like so maybe this one will fit the bill…?

Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett

Another well-reviewed Australian discovery – sounds like a coming-of-age kind of story – this one is not published until the end of August.

Little People by Jane Sullivan

Along with three of the first four titles on this list, there is a Barnum connection in this story of General Tom Thumb as his troupe tours Australia (neatly dovetailing with another of my pet themes).

Mateship With Birds by Carrie Tiffany

From the reviews, I am not certain I will like this one, but I enjoyed Tiffany’s first novel Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living, so I am interested to see how she has developed.  And I loved the cover of this book, so had to splash out on the hardback.

The Habits of the House by Fay Weldon

This was released in June & I can’t believe I’ve only just heard of it!  But as I have a bit of a hit & miss relationship with her (review of Kehua) I will probably wait for the paperback.

The Hanging Garden by Patrick White
The Solid Mandala by Patrick White
The Vivisector by Patrick White

These are on the ‘maybe-maybe not’ pile, and will be largely dependent on how I get on with A Fringe of Leaves.  The Hanging Garden was unfinished at the time he died so already interesting from that perspective.

June Retrospective

A summary of the books I read in June, with links to reviews:

The Taint of Midas by Anne Zouroudi  – 3/5

I have discovered that I don’t find the Mysteries of the Greek Detective series especially mysterious… You might like it for the Greek characters and location but it didn’t do much for me.

Candlemoth by R. J. Elloryunfinished

I honestly gave this my best shot (I got over halfway), but I found I was wading through it so slowly that I was beginning to resent the time it was taking away from the reading of potentially more enjoyable books. I did find the coming-of-age story of the two friends quite readable, but the interspersed primer of American history of the period and the conspiracy theories were not very interesting. It just didn’t hang together for me, and I found the prose to be very generic.

The Light Between Oceans by M. L. Stedmanunfinished but 2/5 

I couldn’t face reading beyond the halfway mark. The prose was so-so but the sense of history was non-existent, with dialogue that didn’t fit the period at all. Mostly, though, I think it was just the story itself that was too sentimental for my taste.

After Such Kindness by Gaynor Arnold – 3.5/5

Based upon the relationship between Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll), and his child-muse Alice Liddell, Arnold offers an interesting perspective and a good story. I was a bit put off by her attempted ‘Carrollisms’, though.

The Tooth Fairy by Graham Joyce – 3.5/5

Joyce is brilliant at portraying ordinary people in the real world, and this is a really good coming-of-age story of growing up in the 60s. Don’t be put off by the fantasy aspect of the Tooth Fairy as the reality versus the psychological origins of the tooth fairy is very much a part of the story. I highly recommend Joyce, if you haven’t tried him before…

The Silent Land by Graham Joyce – 3/5

…but don’t start with this one! I was very disappointed with it – really cliched, I’ve-seen-this-a-thousand-times-before Sunday afternoon fare. And the ‘banter’ between the couple became very grating, very quickly.

On Loving Josiah by Olivia Fane – 4/5

A well-written story, with challenging ideas but – for me more importantly – great characters. The style reminded me of Barbara Trapido (or a less-caustic Fay Weldon). I’m very interested to see what she writes next.

The Last Samurai by Helen DeWitt – 5/5

Although this was a re-read, I think I enjoyed it even more this time around. DeWitt’s style is a sprawling stream-of-consciousness, a witty and wonderful adventure through words, but with appealing characters and great story, too. It’s ages since I enjoyed a book so much!

Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson – 4/5

This is a very fable-ish story told in lyrical, lilting prose – very enjoyable to read but ultimately a little insubstantial.

Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith – 4/5

A wonderful, joyful love story that captures the happiness of Ovid’s original version of the Iphis myth (from Metamorphoses) whilst relating it to utterly contemporary themes. The prose is playful, witty and rhythmic stream-of-conscious style which will not appeal to everyone but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Burning Bright by Helen Dunmore – 3.5/5

A quite disappointing. With the exception of Enid, the characters are never really fleshed out, and although smoothly written and interesting in parts, it has neither the glittering crispness of A Spell of Winter, nor the taut and highly-charged atmosphere of Talking to the Dead.