Sunday, 19 July 2009

31. Karen Armstrong - Through the Narrow Gate

What a powerful book! Ms Armstrong’s writing is beautiful even when what she must describe is not. She does not spare herself in this chronicle of her years as a nun but neither does she spare the Church or the Order of which she was a part. I found the narrative equally disturbing and enlightening. It was disturbing because I have certain character traits in common with the author and enlightening because she has found an alternative way forward. I look forward to reading the next instalment of her autobiography and shall look out for her other works.

Monday, 13 July 2009

30. Khaled Hosseini - A Thousand Splendid Suns

I bought this book fully expecting something very like The Kite Runner. In fact, I don’t think I bothered to read the blurb on the back page beyond ‘By the author of The Kite Runner.’ Having read it – both book and back page – I am a little disappointed.

Mr Hosseini’s main characters in this book are female – Mariam and Laila – while those of The Kite Runner are male. I’m never very sure about male authors writing female characters and I’m sure that speaks volumes of my own prejudices. In my eyes, Mr Hosseini struck perfection in The Kite Runner. This time around, however, he has just missed the mark and I can only attribute the slippage to those female characters.

The story is engaging and exquisitely plotted. The first shift from Mariam to Laila left me feeling a little lost but actually sits well within the overall structure of the book (so do read past this). Some of the scenes are brutal but, I think, each was necessary in this retelling of Afghanistan’s story, from a woman’s point of view.

The overall, lingering effect is one of sadness. I have, however, been educated as well as entertained and I think that this is likely Mr Hosseini’s intention.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

29. Donald Zochert - Laura

This was a fascinating account of Laura and her family which, I believe, holds to the truth. I feel great love for the characters Mr Zochert has introduced me to and wish, once again, that I could know them in person.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

28. Debbie Macomber - 16 Lighthouse Road

This is the second Macomber book I’ve read and I enjoyed it rather more than the first. 16 Lighthouse Road is the first of the ‘Cedar Cove’ series and chronicles a year in the life of Olivia and her friends and family. I found the beginning of the book a bit tedious – there was a lot of telling and not so much showing – but I soon found myself so enchanted with Ms Macomber’s skilful characterisation and nimble plotting that the pages flew by. I’m already looking forward to the next instalment.

Monday, 22 June 2009

27. Martin Meredith - The State of Africa

I’m feeling very proud of myself for having read this book. As one reviewer said:

“The State of Africa is a heavy book, but it is light reading because it is so unfashionably straightforward.” Wall Street Journal

To be honest, I’m not even very sure why this book is in my library or why it survived the cull. I’ve nearly given it away unread on several occasions. I felt intimidated by its size and unsure of my ability to understand the content – or even be particularly interested in it. I like history but not modern, international history. I’ve studied politics and didn’t enjoy it. And I tried economics in my first year of University and changed courses after the first tutorial.

Mr Meredith chronicles the past 50 years (1955 – 2005) of African political and economic history in a manner which I found captivating. It’s not that I enjoyed reading about famine and genocide – I didn’t and remain haunted by some passages – but his approach in following the ‘Big Men’ who shaped modern Africa (for better or for worse) and the quality of his writing have created a page-turner that also serves to educate. It is to be hoped that the book reaches a wide audience who, perhaps, like me start reading without really knowing why.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

26. Andrea Busfield - Born Under a Million Shadows

The cover of this book reminds me strongly of The Kite Runner but the story it tells is different. Ms Busfield’s is a grittier Afghanistan, seen through the eyes of Fawad – an 11 year old boy whose family is scarred forever by the Taliban. Fortune smiles on Fawad and his mother, however, when she finds work as a housekeeper for an Englishwoman named Georgie and with whom Fawad promptly falls in love.

This is much more than a romance novel, however. Ms Busfield’s characters often adopt the tone of lecturers as Fawad and the reader learn more about Afghanistan. At first, I found this rather irritating – if I’d wanted to read non-fiction I would have done so – but I was soon so immersed in the lives presented to me that the pages turned easily and I’m sorry now to have finished and to be leaving them behind. Ms Busfield has tied up all the loose ends very neatly and without, I think, leaving herself space for a sequel but I do hope this is not the first and the last book we shall see from her.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

25. Micca Campbell - An Untroubled Heart

I really chose this book because I loved the cover – the content was incidental. It is an exhortation to Christian women to live free from anxiety and fear and, as I have mental health problems and live with anxiety, I thought I would find it very relevant. It’s a shame I didn’t but I don’t blame Mrs Campbell in the least.

In this book, she presents the promises of God and suggests that the reader stand on those promises using faith to battle fear. I read the promises and wished I believed them. At this moment, however, I don’t. And my anxiety is too amorphous to be answered with a Bible verse, however well-chosen. So, this wasn’t really the right book for me and, to be perfectly fair, I doubt that I am quite the target audience.

Mrs Campbell’s writing is bright and clear, warm and friendly. She also speaks with great authority having gone through her trials and found her God. I think this would be a great book for any Christian woman who needs encouragement to step forth fearlessly in her day-to-day life.

Monday, 8 June 2009

24. Kathleen Y'Barbo - Golden Twilight

I found myself reluctant to read this book when it found its way to the head of Mt ToBeRead. I’m really not in the mood for Christian fiction or romance books and this promised (and delivered) both.

The first part of the novel is a bit disjointed – Where did Fiona get her medical skills? How’s she paying for college? These questions are never really answered. Of course, it doesn’t really matter but I’m someone who likes the facts to be accounted for. It’s only a short book and the writing style was pleasant so I decided to continue.

I’m glad I did. The second half of the book is much improved and, as Ms Y’Barbo wove her web of romantic mystery, I found myself well and truly sucked in. Yes, there are gaps in the narrative. No, there’s no good description of people or places. But, ‘What happens next?’ was constantly on my mind as the pages turned.

I may not seek out more from this author but I do owe her the debt of a pleasant afternoon.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

23. Anne Graham - Womanhood Revisited

When I saw this book in the shop I mistakenly thought it was written by Billy Graham’s wife. It’s not – Anne Graham is a Pastor’s wife, certainly, but she’s a British lady. I’ve since remembered that Billy Graham’s wife’s name is Ruth. But I digress.

Mrs Graham writes well and, although I didn’t agree with all her sentiments, I enjoyed reading her, carefully researched, book.

She opens by giving biographical accounts of the women in her family and then looks at the way religion and philosophy have changed over the years. She then moves on to women in the Bible before looking at the lives of women today – as they are and as she thinks they should be.

This is an anti-feminist book and I found some of Mrs Graham’s claims about feminism alarming. I struggle too with her picture of what a woman’s life ‘should’ be like when I compare myself to her ideal. Having just finished the book, I’m left with a feeling of unease and a lot of ideas to think through. I have a feeling that this was Mrs Graham’s intention and, therefore, the book has done its work.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

22. Roger Lea MacBride - Little House on Rocky Ridge

I was excited to read this next instalment of the Ingalls-Wilder family’s story, if a little apprehensive – how could Mr MacBride possibly do justice to such well-loved characters?

The first half of this book was a rather disappointing re-telling of the journey from South Dakota to Missouri which Laura covered in On the Way Home. I wonder whether it was really necessary for Mr MacBride to make such a thorough work of this when we already have Laura’s own account? Beside this, the MacBride version lacks sparkle and immediacy.

Once the Wilders are at their new home, however, my enjoyment grew as I read and I’m now looking forward to reading the rest of the series. My criticism is that Mr MacBride focuses strongly on events rather than characters. In fairness, it’s possible that Laura does also but, as the reader is already engaged by her own character as shown by the events she relates, one does not notice. I will be interested to see if the characters are developed further as the series progresses. I very much hope that they are.

Sunday, 31 May 2009

21. Jon McGregor - If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things

I was persuaded to read this book by two friends as we all wanted to discover the nature of the ‘terrible event’ alluded to on the back cover. However, I don’t feel I drew the short straw in having to do the actual reading - it was a breathless delight I would have hated to miss.

It’s a little difficult to tell you what the book is ‘about’ as few of the characters are named. Basically, there are two narrative strands. The first is tied to one street of a city on a hot, summer’s day. There’s an injured man caring for his daughter. Students are returning from a party. A young man reaches for eye-drops. A family gets breakfast. The characters are identified as ‘the man from number twenty-two’ and, at first, it was hard to remember who was who. I soon realised that who lived in what house wasn’t really important though and found my way through the text by virtue of each character’s unique identifier – age, moustache, illness.

The second strand visits one of the street’s residents at a point in the future. She has moved away. She’s lost touch with friends. She’s lost. And it’s really impossible to say more without spoiling your reading – and I do heartily recommend that you read this book for yourself.

Mr McGregor’s writing is beautiful and reminded me of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient in tone and pacing. I seemed to float from one scene to the next, from one narrative to the next as he drew me inexorably onwards to that terrible conclusion. There is a ‘terrible event’. But you will have to find out about it for yourself.

Sunday, 3 May 2009

IB - Anne Graham - Womanhood Revisited

Title:  Womanhood Revisited
Author:  Anne Graham
Publisher:  Christian Focus
ISBN:  1857926854
Price: £7.99

The Back of the Book: Why do so many full-time mothers and homemakers feel inferior to career women?

Why do women feel they need to be more like men to be seen to be successful?

We have had over 35 years of feminism attempting to right the many wrongs of an immoral, patriarchal society. After a generation of discord and the removal of any preconceived gender roles the question has to be asked where are we now, and where are we going?

In her book Anne Graham suggests it is time to revisit the perfection of creation where woman was created for and from man - equal in value yet different in purpose, to live in co-operation and not competition.

This is a controversial book in the light of feminist teaching on the subject, but the author uses history, scripture and personal experience to make her case.

Why I Chose This Book:  I am intrigued to read something by Anne Graham having seen her much lauded by other authors whose work I've enjoyed.  To find her writing on the subject that interests me really sealed the deal - even though I don't like the cover!

Saturday, 2 May 2009

IB - Micca Campbell - An Untroubled Heart

Title:  An Untroubled Heart
Author:  Micca Campbell
Publisher:  David Cook
ISBN:  9781434767974
Price:  £9.99

The Back of the Book:  Replace your fear with faith.

Today's world is anything but secure. We live in unstable times filled with conflict, economic uncertainties, and moral collapse. And because life is so unpredictable, fear and anxiety can become a daily reality.

Micca Campbell knows all too well the unpredictable nature of life As the twenty-one-year-old mother of an infant son, her world was shattered when she lost her husband in a tragic accident. Reeling from her loss, Micca feared for her future and struggled to overcome her aching loneliness. Yet in her darkest moment, God began to teach her His remedy for our deepest fears.

Now Micca presents a woman's guide for living a carefree, worry-free life. Micca explors the anxieties of every woman's heart - from insecurities, to finances, to marital challenges, to raising healthy children. With her distinctive southern flair and casual humor, Micca shares remarkable insights for becoming free from fear. You'll be encouraged to lay down your worries, trust in your heavenly Father, and embrace a life marked by peace and joy.

Why I Chose This Book:  I battle anxiety on a daily basis so I'm always interested to try new ways of managing it.  Plus, I really liked the cover ...

IB - Tom Cox - Under the Paw

Title:  Under the Paw
Author:  Tom Cox
Publisher:  Pocket Books
ISBN:  9781847391834
Price:  £7.99

The Back of the Book:   For years, Tom Cox might have seemed like a regular sort of bloke - a lover of late nights, rock music and beer - but he had a dark, furry secret.  tom was a cat lover.  For a while, he kept his passion in check, but then he met Dee, his moggy-loving soulmate.  He left London and his job as a rock critic behind and he and Dee, her cat Janet and three new kittens moved to a remote part of Norfolk, thinking their cat madness had reached its limit.  They were wrong.

In Under the Paw, Tom records the chaos of owning seven of the most charismatic, idiotic and duplicitous cats in the country.  On call round the clock for multiple sets of whiskers, Tom encounters death, depression, flying fur and the first human sentence spoken by a feline.  And then there is the heartbreaking story of The Bear, his oldest cat:  a 'painfully sensitive' survivor moggy who may or may not be an evil genius.

Why I Chose This Book:  I was looking for the second book for the offer I took up yesterday and saw the cat on the cover.  What more can I say?

Friday, 1 May 2009

20. William Anderson -Laura Ingalls Wilder

This is the first biography of Laura that I have read and I have to confess to being a little apprehensive about it – I love the ‘Little House’ books and didn’t want to be disillusioned by another author telling me that they are fairy stories. But I’ve found out that they are not! In addition to filling in the gaps of Laura’s life, Mr Anderson explains that Laura wanted the books to be autobiographical and accurate in their retelling of historical facts.

Although parts of this book were very sad, it was still an enjoyable and formative read and, I think, a good bridge between the children’s books that Laura wrote and the more serious side of history.

IB - Andrea Busfield - Born Under a Million Shadows

Title:  Born Under a Million Shadows
Author:  Andrea Busfield
Publisher:  Transworld
ISBN:  9780552775632
Price:  £6.99

The Back of the Book:  The Taliban have disappeared from Kabul's streets, but the long shadows of their brutal regime remain ...
In his short life eleven-year-old Fawad has known more grief than most: his father and brother have been killed, his sister has been abducted, and Fawad and his mother, Mariya, must rely on the charity of family to eke out a hand-to-mouth existence. But despite their struggles, Fawad's love of life never fades. Then Mariya finds a position as housekeeper for a charismatic Western woman, Georgie, who Fawad discovers is caught up in a dangerous love affair with the infamous Afghan warlord Haji Khan. At first resentful of Haji Khan's presence, Fawad learns that love can move a man to behave in surprising ways. But even the powerful Haji Khan can't protect Fawad from the next tragedy to blight his young life, a tragedy so devastating that it threatens to destroy the one thing he thought he could never lose: his love for his country.

Why I Chose this Book: Quite simply, I needed cheering up and paperbacks were 2-for-£7 in ASDA. I chose this one because it presents itself similarly to The Kite Runner which I loved. I hope I won't be disappointed!

Thursday, 30 April 2009

19. Mimi Spencer - 101 Things to do Before You Diet

I came to this book looking for an emotional boost to my dieting efforts.  Unfortunately, Ms Spencer’s world is so different from mine that I didn’t get much out of large chunks of the book and, indeed, I nearly gave up half-way through.  Perhaps I’m not the target audience?


Ms Spencer is a fashion editor who also has well-formed views on the food and diet industries.  She advocates the idea that women (and, presumably, men) should ‘get real’ about their bodies, adopt healthy, natural eating practices and keep active.  All of this, I understood.  Being a fashion editor, she also wrote a lot about fashion and clothes and shoes.  And that’s where I got lost.  Basically, she has tried to point the reader towards fashion tricks that will flatter a natural figure and help the wearer to feel good about herself.  Unfortunately, my knowledge of and interest in fashion just isn’t up to the job.  I also found that many of the references to ‘A listers’ flew away over my head before I could try and decipher their meaning.


That said, this was still a motivating read which I’d recommend to women with a few pounds to lose – and an interest in fashion.

IB - Yann Martel - Life of Pi

Title:  Life of Pi
Author:  Yann Martel
Publisher:  Canongate
ISBN:  184195392X
Price:  £7.99

The Back of the Book:  After the tragic sinking of a cargo ship, one solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the wild, blue Pacific. The only survivors from the wreck are a sixteen-year-old boy named Pi, a hyena, a zebra (with a broken leg), a female orang-utan ... and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger.

The scene is set for one of the most extraordinary works of fiction in recent years.

Why I Chose This Book:  Someone mentioned that I might relate to one of the characters.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

IB - Colette Harris & Theresa Cheung - You Can Beat PMS!

Title:  You Can Beat PMS!
Author:  Colette Harris and Theresa Cheung
Publisher:  Thorsons Element
ISBN:  0007154259
Price:  £12.99

The Back of the Book:  What do you associate with PMS?

Bloating? Fatigue? Clumsiness? Mood swings? Tender breasts? Disturbed sleep? Sugar cravings? Irrational crying? Forgetfulness? Acne? Weight gain?

If this sounds like you, it needn't for much longer. women's health experts Colette Harris and Theresa Cheung have got together to help you put an end to all your PMS symptoms, so you can feel fit, healthy and happy all month long. all you need to do is follow the 12-week PMS plan and make some simple but permanent lifestyle changes.

* Your PMS symptoms explained - the latest scientific research.

* Clear and easy-to-follow week-by-week plan.

* Nutritional action plan and tasty recipes.

* Enjoyable exercise and other vitality boosters.

* Stress-management techniques to solve mood swings.

* Case studies and real-life stories from fellow sufferers.

Why I Chose This Book:  There's really only one reason for reading a book on PMS:  you (or someone you know) suffers from PMS.  I'm not sure I'll actually do the 12-week plan but I'm hoping to find some knowledge to help me understand my problem  and lots of practical suggestions to help with That Time of the Month.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

IB - Imran Ahmad - Unimagined

Title:  Unimagined
Author:  Imran Ahmad
Publisher:  Aurum
ISBN:  9781845133252
Price:  £7.99

The Back of the Book:  Part Bend it Like Beckham, part Adrian Mole, Unimagined is the hilarious memoir of a Muslim boy born in Pakistan, who moves to London aged one and grows up torn between his Islamic identity and his desire to embrace the West.  Imran recalls his childhood in a series of vivid snapshots:  outrage as deservd victory is snatched away from him in the Karachi Bonnie Baby contest; bitterness as he is tricked out of his collection of Tarzan bubble-gum cards by junior con artists; the heady taste of early success in the Metropilitan Police schools quiz; joy at passing the entrance exam to the local grammar school; uncertainty as he seeks to become a doctor (like all good Asian boys); bewilderment as he tries to learn about girls at university; and shock at experiencing racism in its many forms.

Unimagined is the endearing sotry of a Middle England everyman who just happens to be Muslim.

Why I Chose this Book:  I nearly deleted this book without purchasing a copy when it came to the top of my wishlist as I'm generally more interested in the experience of women than men.  However, I'm fairly sure I'd added it in the first place after a very enthusiastic review on a friend's blog so I did buy a copy.

Monday, 27 April 2009

IB - Dava Sobel - Longitude

Title:  Longitude
Author:  Dava Sobel
Publisher:  Fourth Estate
ISBN:  1857025717
Price:  £5.99

The Back of the Book:  Longitude is the dramatic human story of an epic scientific quest.  The 'longitude problem' was the thorniest dilemma of the eighteenth century.  Lacking the ability to measure longitude, sailors throughout the great ages of exploration had been literally lost at sea.

At the heart of Dava Sobel's fascinating brief history of astronomy, navigation and horology stands the figure of John Harrison, self-tuaght Yorkshire clockmaker, and his forty-year obsession with building the perfect timekeeper.  attling against the establishment Harrison stood alone in pursuit of his solution and the £20,000 reward offered by Parliament.

Why I Chose this Book:  I grew up reading Alexander Kent's Richard Bolitho books and have a lingering interest in sailing ships so, when I encountered this book on Radio 4, I decided I'd enjoy it.  As I now have a copy I'll soon find out if I was right.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

IB - Tove Jansson - The Summer Book

Title:  The Summer Book
Author:  Tove Jansson
Publisher:  Sort of Books
ISBN:  0954221710
Price:  £6.99

The Back of the Book:  A literary gem from the creator of the Moomin books.

Why I Chose this Book:  I love summer and, really, that's enough of a reason.  And the cover is such a gorgeous shade of blue.  But I'm sure I saw it reviewed - last summer, maybe? - and that's how it found its way onto my wishlist.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

IB - Edna O'Brien - The Country Girls

Title:  The Country Girls
Author:  Edna O'Brien
Publisher:  Phoenix
ISBN:  9780752881164
Price:  £6.99

The Back of the Book:  It is the early 1960s in a country village in Ireland.  Caithleen Brady and her attractive friend Baba are on the verge of womanhood and dreaming of spreading their wings in a wider world; of discovering love and luxury and liquor and above all, fun.

With bawdy innocence, shrewd for all their inexperience, the girls romp their way through convent school to the bright lights of Dublin - where Caithleen finds that suave, idealised lovers rarely survive the real world ...

Why I Chose this Book:  I think I saw it reviewed somewhere.  Having read the back of it, I'm not sure it's my cup of tea but I shall give it a go.  Alternatively, it shall gather dust for a while before being sent off to find another reader!

Monday, 20 April 2009

IB: Roger Lea MacBride - Little House on Rocky Ridge

Title:  Little House on Rocky Ridge
Author:  Roger Lea MacBride
Publisher:  HarperTrophy
ISBN:  0064404781
Price:  US$3.95

The Back of the Book:  The journey continues ...

Once a long time ago a little girl named Laura Ingalls lived in the Big Woods of Wisconsin, in a little house made of logs. She grew up and wrote nine books about her childhood - the famous Little House stories. Laura had a daughter of her own named Rose, who gre up in the Oark Mountains of Missouri, also in a little house made of logs. Little House on Rocky Ridge is the beginning of Rose's story, which starts where the book The First Four Years ends.

Laura, Almanzo, and Rose say good-bye to Ma and Pa Ingalls and Laura's sisters. In a covered wagon containing all their possessions, they make their way across the drought-stricken Midwest to the lush green valleys of southern Missouri. The journey is long and not always easy. But there is so much to do and see as the landscape changes along the way.

The end of this journey marks a new beginning for the Wilder family: a new home and the promise of hard work, but also of wondrous discoveries and adventures to fill a childhood.

Why I Chose this Book:  I couldn't just choose the fiction or non-fiction strands of the Little House tale and, on the fictional strand, this was the next logical place to go.  Mr MacBride knew Rose Wilder Lane, Laura's little girl.  In fact, she left him the rights to the books and all her papers when she died.  This book is marketed as fiction rather than blurring the boundary between fiction and autobiography as the previous Little House books do - I remember having discussions on their genre with a very persistant teacher in HIgh School! - but I am looking forward to it no less for that.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Run and hide

Providing the island has a well-stocked library and internet access I'm perfectly content, thanks. In fact, I'd probably run and hide if I saw a ship on the horizon and heading our way!

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

IB: William Anderson - Laura Ingalls Wilder

Title:  Laura Ingalls Wilder
Author:  William Anderson
Publisher:  Collins
ISBN:  9780060885526
Price:  US$6.99

The Back of the Book:  The Real-Life Laura.  From her pioneer days o the prairie to her golden years with her husband, Almanzo, and teir daughter, Rose, Laura Ingalls Wilder has bcome a friend to all who have read about her adventures.  This behind-the-scenes account chronicles the real events in Laura's life that inspired her to write her stories and also describes her life after the last Little House book ends.

Why I Chose this Book:  I decided, after reading the last of Mrs Wilder's books, to start reading about her and this was the first biography that popped up on Amazon.

Monday, 13 April 2009

18 - Robert Louis Stevenson - The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde

I’ve listened to this book via the ‘CraftLit’ Podcast over the past couple of months. I last read it at University so it’s been a while. I’m sure the ending was different so I’m wondering if Mr Stevenson wrote to conclusions? That said, with the very creepy ending I recall, I wouldn’t have chosen to reread it but I’m quite pleased with the ‘new’ closure.

This is the first CraftLit book I’ve heard all the way through and I was very impressed with Heather Ordover’s analysis of the text. She allowed me to feel part of an English study group without sounding like the English teachers I remember from my school days. She doesn’t dumb down at all, despite podcasting for the crafty rather than the literary community, but instead explains each point clearly. The whole is peppered with her observations about her life and crafting endeavours and sealed into a very enjoyable whole. Her voice is easy on the ear as was that of Dr Jekyll’s narrator.

Ms Ordover’s tagline is: ‘If your hands are too busy to pick up a book, at least you can turn one on.’ While she is thinking of crafting, I think I’ve found the perfect companion to a spot of housework on a sunny afternoon.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

IB - Amitav Ghosh - Sea of Poppies

Title:  Sea of Poppies
Author:  Amitav Ghosh
Publisher:  John Murray
ISBN:  9780719568978
Price:  £7.99

The Back of the Book:  On an old slaving ship named the Ibis, fate has thrown together a motley crew of sailors, coolies and convicts, including a bankrupt raja, a French runaway and a widowed opium framer.  As their old family ties are washed away, they come to view themselves as jahaj-bhais or ship-brothers.  Set against the backdrop of the Opium Wars, this unlikely dynasty is what makes Sea of Poppies so breathtakingly alive - a masterpiece from one of the world's finest novelists.

Why I Chose this Book:  I saw this reduced to half price in my local bookstore last week and resolved to buy it as soon as I could as I've enjoyed Mr Ghosh's previous books so much.  I think The Hungry Tide is one of the best books I've ever read - I can still recall the atmosphere it created in my mind and it's been years since I picked it up.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

IB - David Ebershoff - The 19th Wife

Title:  The 19th Wife
Author:  David Ebershoff
Publisher:  Black Swan
ISBN:  9780552774987
Price:  £7.99

The Back of the Book:  For the first time in six years, Jordoan returns from California to Utah, to visit his mother - in jail.  As a young boy he was expelled from his family's secretive polygamous Mormon sect.  Now his father has been found shot dead in front of his computer, and one of his many wives - Jordan's mother - is accused of the crime.

Over a century earlier, Ann Elia Young, nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, second Prophet of the Mormon Church, tells the sensational story of how she battled for her freedom from her powerful husband, to lead a crusade to end polygamy in the United States.  Bold, shocking and gripping, The 19th Wife expertly weaves together these two narratives in an enthralling epic of love, family, murder and faith.

Why I Chose this Book:  This is another wish-list book.  I'm attracted to the religious and historical elements of the blurb, rather than the murder-mystery thread.  It's quite a tome and looks like it will be a very satisfying read.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

IB: Eliabeth H Winthrop - December

Title:  December
Author:  Eliabeth H Winthrop
Publisher:  Sceptre
ISBN:  9780340961438
Price:  £7.99

The Back of the Book:  It's December in New England, season of snow, log fires andhappy family Christmases.  xcept not for the Carters.  Eleven-year-old Isabelle hasn't spoken for months, countless experts have given up on her, andher parents are at their wits' end.  Gnawing away at them is the thought that it must be their fault, and that their daughter's life might be ruined for good.  Something has to give ...

In this superbly wrought novel, taut with tension, Eliabeth Winthrop portrays a marriage beginning to crack under pressure and a girl whose attempt to control her universe locks her into self-imposed silence.  Wholly involving and ultimately uplifting, this is the work of an exceptionally talented young writer.

Why I Chose this Book:  It's been on my wish-list for a while.  As a troubled teen, I can remember resolving not to speak ever again so I'm intrigued to read this author's treatment of the subject.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

IB - Mimi Spencer - 101 Things to do Before You Diet

Title:  101 Things to do Before You Diet
Author:  Mimi Spencer
Publisher:  Doubleday
ISBN:  9780385616102
Price:  £12.99

The Back of the Book:  Ways to eat, Ways to cheat, What to wear, What to ditch.

Discover the secrets that really will mak a difference to the way you look and feel about yourself.

If you think it's time to free yourself from the tyranny of thin, this sassy, funny and practical book by style guru Mimi Spencer is for you.

Like your ideal best friend, she'll help you realise your thinner self without all the depressing self-denial, guilty weigh-ins and faddy food plans of conventional diets.

Mimi will help you mae the most of what you've got, and see that the woman you are now is just as fabulous as the woman you want to be.

Why I Chose this Book:  Basically, I'm trying to lose weight and I could use a boost.  I loved Neris and India's Idiot-Proof Diet.  Let me be clear - I loved the book.  The diet didn't do it for me.  I followed it slavishly for a month.  I lost 5lbs the first week and then 0lbs, 0lbs and 0lbs.  I'm now on SlimmingWorld which I know from experience does work for me (when I stick at it).  SW offers several different eating plans and I've been trying the newest one with little success.  So I feel the need for a Neris and India-style boost while returning to the eating plan that does work.

The Waterstone's Card

I've got a Waterstone's loyalty card. I've buy books from there most months (and, let's be honest, often several times a month). For the past wee while they've been asking, 'Do you have a loyalty card?' and it was only today that I had the wit to say, 'No. How do I get one?' So I've now been furnished with a nice, shiny, new piece of plastic. And I'm telling you about it because it really does seem rather good ...

With the card, one gets:

  • 3 points per £1 spent.
  • book reviews by email.
  • competitions.
  • special offers.
  • free 'Books Quarterly' magazine.
  • 'the chance to read and review books before they are published.'
  • double points and bonus points offers.
  • eco points if you don't take a carrier bag.
Hmmm ... now which of those options has me all excited?  Well, Books Quarterly because I've been looking for a bookish magazine.  But, really, it's the 'read and review' bit.  And, hey, 3 points per £1 can't be sniffed at.

Monday, 6 April 2009

IB: Kate Williams - Becoming Queen

And so here begins a new feature at Not Just Reading. 'IB' stands for 'Incoming Book' and these entries will let you know what I'm adding to Mt To Be Read and, most importantly, why! So, without further ado, please meet today's purchase:

Title: Becoming Queen
Author: Kate Williams
Publisher: Arrow Books
ISBN: 9780099451822
Price: £7.99

The Back of the Book: Becoming Queen tells the astonishing story of Queen Victoria's passionate youth, her bitter struggle with her mother - and how her life was shaped by the death of her forgotten cousin Princess Charlotte, the queen who never was.

In a dramatic tale of secrets, sexual repression, and endless conflict, Kate Williams reveals an energetic and vibrant woman, determined to battle for power. She also documents the Byzantine machinations behind Victoria's quest to occupy the throne, and shows how her struggles did not end when the crown was finally placed on her head.

Why I Chose this Book: First, I have to confess that I shouldn't really be buying books at all. I live in a house which is absolutely full of books and I really do want to read all of them so I can't just give them away. I'm surrounded by boxes of books as I type and there are more stacked on the floor and on my desk for which there just isn't room in the boxes! But don't you think that sometime you just have to buy a book? Or two?

It is family tradition that I always give gifts of books. Birthdays, Christmas, high-days and holy-days, if a gift is required then I give a book. This is a clear case of treating others as one would wish to be treated although I'm not sure the gifting of books is quite what Jesus had in mind. Anyway, how can I enter a bookshop and take out my purse without falling victim to temptation?

Anyway, today I needed a gift to send to my sister (in hospital with possible appendicitis) and, as any booklover would, I found what I wanted for her (Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street) and then began browsing. I actually found it rather difficult to find a book today - and that's not like me at all. I was about to pay for the McCall Smith and leave the shop disappointed when I spotted this title on the '3-for-2' table. I've recently become interested in reading more (auto)biography and historical non-fiction but I'm wary of choosing anything too challenging which I'll abandon within the first chapter. But this book seems about the right level and I'm interested in the Victorians so it seemed like a good idea. I'll let you know if I was right when I've read it!

Sunday, 5 April 2009

DNF - Joyce Meyer - The Confident Woman

My confidence is not my best feature and I've found some of Mrs Meyer's other books helpful so I was rather pleased when this one came to the top of Mt TBR. After 50 pages, however, I laid it aside. Mrs Meyer appears to see a woman's confidence through a lens of whether or not she has been abused and, having set the scene for that with some information about her own experience, she launched into a long discussion on whether or not women should preach. Let's just say we have different views. I could live with that. But I fail to see the relevance of the discussion to the purpose of the book. Instead, it seems that Mrs Meyer was on a personal soap-box and using this book to answer her critics. That'\s not something I'm very interested in reading so I stopped.

17. Zoe Heller - Notes on a Scandal

This was a re-read for a BookGroup I'm hoping to attend next month.

I'm worried by how strongly I identify with Barbara. She's a spinster who, at the beginning of the book, lives alone save for a cat to whom she is devoted. I am a spinster who is devoted to her cat. I do hope that there the resemblance ends.

Barbara is a teacher who, by her own admission, has few friends. She does, however, form a relationship with a new teacher at school. Ms Heller writes with Barbara's voice as she narrates this story of relationships.

Sheba, Barbara's new friend, is found to be having a sexual relationship with one of the school's pupils and this is played out against the backdrop of her relationship with Barbara. Additional information is supplied in the sub-text of Barbara's own relationships and the relationships within Sheba's family. Ms Heller handles the shifts in perspective seamlessly, drip feeding the reader just the right amount of information to build suspense, but leaving one tantalised by unanswered questions at the close of the novel.

This book has been made into a 'major motion picture', according to the cover. I'm not sure I want to see it though. Ms Heller's characters are still strongly alive in my imagination and I suspect they will remain so for some time. I think it might be best to leave them undisturbed a while - the capacity for a film to 'get it wrong' is huge!

Saturday, 4 April 2009

16. Laura Ingalls Wilder - West From Home

I’m sad to have come to the end of Laura’s writing but that didn’t spoil my enjoyment of this last selection. West From Home is a collection of letters, discovered and published after the deaths of both Laura and her daughter, Rose, which Laura wrote to Almanzo while visiting Rose in San Francisco. It was an exciting time. The completion of the Panama Canal was being celebrated by ‘The Panama-Pacific International Exposition’, there was war in Europe, electricity and motor cars were in evidence and Laura was just beginning, under Rose’s tutelage, to write and earn money by doing so. It was lovely to meet this happier, adult Laura after the travail of The First Four Years and On the Way Home.

I’m not torn between reading Rose’s story as written by her Executor, Roger Lea MacBride (who edited West From Home), investigating a series of books captioned ‘The Caroline Years’ which I assume contain something of Laura’s mother’s story, or moving into other biography of the Ingalls family and history of their times.

15. Barbara Hughes - Disciplines of a Godly Woman

I bought this book at the Catholic bookshop rather than the Christian bookshop in Glasgow and therefore assumed it would be a Catholic look at womanhood. It’s not. The author is an evangelical Christian and writes from this viewpoint.

Barbara Hughes is the wife of a Pastor in the US and, in this book, shares a wealth of experience. She looks at the various aspects of ‘submission’ in each of her chapters and includes a further study section for each area. I was particularly interested in her treatment of the single (as opposed to the married state) which, as a single woman, I found quite liberating. I’m used to books which hold marriage in such high regard that the single vocation is a very poor second and only useful for providing the world with missionaries! Thankfully, that is not Mrs Hughes’ view.

This isn’t a book for the new Christian. I would be more inclined to recommend it to someone who is a few years on in her faith and looking to go deeper. The ideals Mrs Hughes examines seem far out of my reach but, nonetheless, I shall hang onto this book and explore the further study sections at my leisure.

What Your Initials Say About You

I came across this fun little meme over at The 160 Acre Woods.

You Are Accepting and Open

When You Are Comfortable:

You are enthusiastic and flexible. You are open-minded. You prefer to learn from others... not judge them.

People see you as kind and cooperative. You are very supportive when friends are down on their luck.

When You Are At Your Best:

You are ambitious, and hard-working. Adversity allows you to shine. You resourceful and able to make due.

People see you as honest to the point of bluntness. But they always know that you'll be fair. You have the good intentions.

When You Are in a Social Setting:

You are a hyper, restless person. You need to keep busy, and you always are willing to take charge in life.

People see you as energetic and motivating. You inspire people to be the best they can be.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

DNF - Shulamit Lapid - Valley of Strength

I’m really disappointed by my failure to read this book as it’s the first I’ve snagged from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer programme. I think I made a poor choice and this book is intended for a different reader. I found it depressingly dull and political and entirely lacking in the homely, farming, family life that I expected. Clearly I have read too much Laura Ingalls Wilder, but when I saw that this book was about living on the frontier of Israel at the turn of the century I settled down for a version of the Little House books with a slightly different setting.

If a reader were really interested in the history of Israel then I would recommend this book. For me though I was glad when the cat knocked it off the table and lost my place thus giving me permission to stop and choose something else from my shelves.

14. Mohsin Hamid - The Reluctant Fundamentalist

I’m still working out how to take this book. On the one hand, it is clumsy and naive, and on the other it’s a very clever look at international relations with touches of romance and insanity.

The book is narrated by Changez, a young man from Pakistan. He attends Princeton in the USA and builds a life as a high-flying executive. He meets a young woman with whom he falls in love. And then things change.

The reader is cast in the role of an American visiting Pakistan. Changez joins you as you sit at a café in a marketplace. And, over the course of the afternoon and evening, he tells you his story. He is very polite and, I think, socially inept. His story is fascinating even though, at times, he offends you. Throughout the narrative there are hints and signals that something in this situation is very wrong. And then Changez wraps up his story while you walk back to the hotel. And we come to the end of this slim volume with many (perhaps most) of our questions left unanswered.

Clumsy and naïve? Clever and compelling? I’ll add that question to the list.

Monday, 23 March 2009

13. Frances Osborne - The Bolter

I didn’t have any expectations about this book, save that I assumed it was fiction. It isn’t – it’s a biography of the five-times-divorced Idina Sackville – and, as such, I’m not sure I’d have picked it up if it wasn’t the March read for the Waterstones’ bookgroup. I don’t usually ‘do’ biography although I realise I’ve not long slogged my way through Dickens and I’m loving the Laura Ingalls Wilder books. The Bolter has made me think that, perhaps, I should ‘do’ more biography.

Frances Osborne is the great-granddaughter of the infamous Idina who, as the blurb on this book says, ‘scandalised 1920s society’. This isn’t just the story of Idina – interesting though that was. Osborne has done mountains of research and, therefore, is able to write about class, society, war, morality and history with an authoritative and pleasant voice. I now a lot more about English society, Kenya, both World Wars and Idina Sackville having read this book and I’d recommend that anyone with an interest in these subjects read it too.

Thursday, 19 March 2009

12. Laura Ingalls Wilder - On the Way Home

In this book, Laura chronicles the little family’s journey from De Smet to Mansfield, Missouri where they plan to finally settle. With an opening and closing by Laura’s daughter, Rose, we are quickly immersed in Laura’s thoughts and experiences as she travels – and it is a journey not without its heartache.

Monday, 16 March 2009

DNF - Simone de Beauvir - The Mandarins

I started this book about a week ago and, after 40 pages, found myself so reluctant to read it that I was avoiding reading altogether and watching TV instead! It’s a long time since I’ve abandoned something without reading at least 50 pages but the thought of another 10, closely-typed pages of depression is more than I can bear. I haven’t met any interesting characters or situations in this book and really cannot find any reason to continue.

11. Michael Francis Pennock - The Seeker's Catechism

This little book does exactly what it says on the tin by presenting the facts of Catholic belief clearly and concisely.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

10. Laura Ingalls Wilder - The First Four Years

I’m very sorry to have come to the end of the ‘Little House’ series and put off reading this little book for that reason. In it, Laura tells of the deal she made with Almanzo – if farming didn’t work out for them after three years then they’d give up and do something else. That isn’t quite what happens and Laura’s life is full of things going wrong and things going right during the first four years of her married life.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

9. Richard Yates - Revolutionary Road

In this powerfully evocative book, Yates tells us the story of April and Frank – a young couple living in the suburbs. Their characters are fully drawn and very memorable while other characters and lightly sketched. Full of tension, this novel had me sitting on the edge of my seat all the way to the end …

Thursday, 5 March 2009

8. Peter Ackroyd - Dickens

I really struggled with this book throughout February but I’m glad I finished it. Apparently, this is an abridged version of the original text. As it runs to 570 pages I’d hate to see the original!

Ackroyd provides a blow-by-blow account of Dickens’ life from cradle to grave. He also includes quite a lot of analysis of Dickens’ writing and tries to show how the author’s life shaped his work. There were times when I felt he made rather a large leap from known fact to supposition and didn’t back up his theory with much evidence. I think this bothered me more because the book reads like an academic text and I, therefore, expected the content to live up to that standard.

In all, this is an interesting, if heavy, book which does exactly what it says on the tin.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009

7. Steven Galloway - The Cellist of Sarajevo

I didn’t expect to enjoy this book nearly as much as I did. Mr Galloway paints us a picture of Sarajevo during the siege of the 1990s. We see the city through the eyes of three very different people each of whom gives a subtly different perspective. The result is an incredibly atmospheric book which really made me think about war and how it effects ordinary people.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

6. Beverley Shepherd - Created as a Woman

This short book is based on Ms Shepherd’s series of Inspiring Women Bible notes of the same name. In it, she expands on her themes of creation, the Fall, redemption, predestination, transformation and glory. The text is a very easy read although there are questions at the end of each chapter for further study.

5. Beverly Lewis - The Shunning

I’ve read some Beverly Lewis before and was pleased that in this one she has kept to ‘normal’ English except in the dialogue between the Amish characters. I really don’t like to read colloquial language and have set aside some of her other books because of this.

This book is the first in the ‘Heritage of Lancaster County’ trilogy and tells the story of Katie who is all set to marry the Bishop when she discovers a secret about her birth. What happens next is devastating and will lead to big changes for Katie and her family.

In this book, I suppose Ms Lewis is asking questions about the role of nature or nurture in the way people live. She seems to side with nature whereas I would favour nurture and so there were elements of the story that didn’t sit well with me. That said, this is the opening of a trilogy so who knows where we’ll end up?

Katie and her family are engaging characters, although I did sometimes feel a little exasperated by them, and I will look forward to reading the next instalment.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

4. Joyce Meyer - Start Your New Life Today

I saw this book some time ago and eventually bought a copy when I was at a particularly low ebb. I have previously resisted Meyer’s approach of managing negative emotions and thought that, perhaps, I was now willing to hear her. Well, I’ve read this book from cover to cover so I can now honestly say that I’ve tried. Her premise is basically that one can manage one’s emotions by a mix of positive thinking and willpower. I suspect she would deny this but that’s what it sounded like to me. If only it were that easy!

The book is divided into short chapters (each only three pages, at most) and that made the narrative choppy and difficult to follow although it did facilitate reading on the run. Each chapter followed essentially the same pattern – Ms Meyer would introduce the topic, give examples from her own life and then exhort the reader to do as she had done to gain victory over whatever.

For me, the most interesting and motivational chapters were those at the end of the book which dealt with the physical self and therefore addressed sleeping, eating, exercising and drinking water. As Ms Meyer has already produced a very good book on physical health they seemed ancillary to the main text but at least their inclusion meant I got something from my reading!

All in all, I was very disappointed with this book although I’m glad I persevered and finished it. I’ve now heard Ms Meyer on the subject of emotions and know that her approach is not for me.

Monday, 19 January 2009

3. Laura Ingalls Wilder - These Happy Golden Years

I am so enjoying my re-read of this series. In this volume, Ms Wilder covers the years in which she starts to teach school (at 15) until her marriage to Almanzo (at 18). Simply told, the stories of everyday life in town and in the country are wholesome and healthy. Each character, place or event is richly and honestly described and I find myself, once again, regretting that I am nearly at the end of the series.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

2. Fr Michael Seed - Thinking of Becoming a Catholic?

This is a very friendly little book in which Fr Seed briefly outlines the process of becoming a Roman Catholic.

Tuesday, 13 January 2009

1. Audrey Niffenegger - The Time Traveler's Wife

Track book at

I was charmed by this book when I first listened to it as an abridged audio book and have now read the unabridged, print version for the Glasgow Women’s Library book club even though I will be unable to attend the meeting. My first encounter with it was long enough ago that I remembered the gist of it but not the salient points (like the ending) and, if anything, I enjoyed it more this time around. I remember feeling a bit lost the first time until I had a feel for how the book works.

This is the story of Henry and Clare. Henry is a time-traveler and first meets Clare near her home when she is six and he is an adult. Ms Niffenegger allows both characters to tell their own stories, writing always in the first person but switching perspectives. Thankfully, each change is clearly signalled in the text and the reader is advised in each section of the date and the age of the person speaking.

I usually avoid sci-fi and fantasy books and so was not much attracted to this tale of time-travel when I first heard about it. I also had some concerns about child abuse. However, Ms Niffenegger is not writing so much about time-travel as about love, death, childlessness, growing up, friendship, truth and loyalty. She deals with each of these large, difficult issues with great compassion and sometimes with humour.

Henry and Clare are the most fully developed characters. Neither is all good or all bad and they, therefore, seem very human and real to me. Other characters, such as Gomez, are painted with strong, bold brushstrokes which avoid caricature. The scenes are richly described and emotions run high throughout the book. There were times when I could really picture what was happening to such an extent that I nearly forgot the world around me – that hasn’t happened since I was reading as a child.

This book made a deep impression on me. I hope Ms Niffenegger writes more but this book will be a very hard act to follow.