“Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg
This is not bad but it is very particular to Ms. Sandberg’s experience which, I suppose, is fair enough but it’s not everybody’s. One example she gives of women failing to seize opportunity is when they don’t sit at the table but meekly go to the chairs in the row behind. Someone did that to me at work the other day actually and I said to her afterwards, “Why didn’t you sit at the table?” and she said that she was worried there wouldn’t be room. Which is exactly the kind of thing Ms. Sandberg points to so maybe there is some universality there after all. I wouldn’t bother buying the book, if you’ve seen the TED talk. Apparently they’re going to make a film as well.
“The Brightest Star in the Sky” by Marian Keyes
I am quite fond of Marian Keyes. This is not her best work but it’s not too shabby either as my sister-in-law would say. Romantic comedy with a gloomy strip in the middle which reflects the author’s ongoing struggle with depression.
“Death of a Prankster”, “Death of a Sweep”, “Death of a Kingfisher”, “Death of a Dreamer”, “Death of a Valentine”, “Death of a Maid”, “A Highland Christmas” and “Death of a Snob” all by MC Beaton
This is utterly humiliating. I read my first MC Beaton with a sneer of disdain and asked my sister how she could bear to read anything so poorly written. It has since become clear to me that I am addicted and I am likely to read them all. They are all the same: Highland policeman in small area with alarmingly high murder rate is smarter than big city cops. Also has a lovelife in a small way. Has been in his early 30s since 1988 or possibly before. I suspect that if you are Scottish these stories are excruciating. I understand that they have been made into a television series with Robert Carlyle which I am quite pathetically keen to see.
“A Blink of the Screen” by Terry Pratchett
I am a bit Terry Pratchett fan but I wouldn’t recommend this. It is collected snippets from all sorts of places; something he wrote when he was 15, something from the back of a catalogue for a Discworld event, various miscellanea. All a bit underwhelming.
“Mutton” by India Knight
As in “dressed as lamb”. I haven’t read anything by India Knight before and this does have the occasional very funny turn of phrase. It’s about a woman in her 40s and her various romantic entanglements and whether it’s worth the effort (surgery, botox, cosmetic dentistry, living on air) to look as young as humanly possible. Some interesting ideas and good lines but it’s only alright in terms of character and plot.
“The Spinning Heart” by Donal Ryan
I think that everyone in Ireland has probably read this book. It’s the author’s first published work. It is dark and gloomy in a very small town Irish way; think Patrick McCabe or Ardal O’Hanlon’s underrated “Talk of the Town” – not funny at all, despite what you might think. I find this kind of small town Irish gloom a bit claustrophobic and the author’s plotting leaves a bit to be desired; it reads more like a series of short stories than a novel. That said, the writing is amazing and the characterisation outstanding (though rather too many characters). I’m not sure I’ll be rushing back to try book two though.
“Anansi Boys” by Neil Gaiman
This is about twin brothers whose father is a spider god. If this is your kind of thing, this isn’t bad and it’s quite funny in places.
“The Man who Forgot his Wife” by John O’Farrell
Ever since I’ve read “Things Can Only Get Better” by this author, I have had a soft spot for him. That is an outstanding book. It’s a hilarious account of the life of a Labour supporter when the Tories ruled the roost. This book is not hilarious. The plot is clever. Essentially, a man who is divorcing his wife forgets everything and falls in love with her all over again. It is not done in a Hollywood fashion though. It has its moments but the lead character is unbearable, even to himself, as he starts to remember and its hard to care too much or to want the wife to take him back which – spoiler alert – she does.
“The Fifth Wave” by Rick Yancey
A scifi offering which I would not recommend.
“If I Could Turn Back Time” by Nicola Doherty
Just because I am related to the author doesn’t mean it isn’t brilliant. I read it at home while sick in my bed with a cold and it was very enjoyable.
“How I Live Now” by Meg Rosoff
I really enjoyed this book for teenagers set in the near future after a war has cut off communications and food supplies. Our heroine is an American staying with cousins in England and the cultural contrast works well alongside the drama of the invasion.
“Trooper to the Southern Cross” by Angela Thirkell
I love Angela Thirkell but this was a bit different from her usual offering. It was originally written under a male pseudonym. It was based on her experience of travelling to Australia on a troop ship after the war. Not an experience which I think she found enjoyable. She is very hard on the character modelled on her husband and she is quite hard on herself. It makes me think that all of that home counties comedy comes from quite a sharp and, sometimes, unpleasant individual. Worth a read, though while there are comic moments, it’s not exactly a barrel of laughs and is sometimes actively unpleasant
“Bring up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel
I quite enjoyed “Wolf Hall” and I was looking forward to this. I did enjoy it but I thought it was less successful than its predecessor (which was, itself, too long). I felt that Cromwell becomes less and less believable as she crafts him into a modern-day liberal saint. She is too in love with the character and while she can’t be blind to his defects (given that he has been a villain for hundreds of years) she dwells too much on his virtues. She makes him a character out of time rather than of his time. That said, I’m still going to read volume 3 when it comes out.
“Longbourne” by Jo Baker
This is quite a clever concept: the re-imagining of “Pride and Prejudice” from the servants’ point of view. I don’t think that it quite came off. The language was a bit hit and miss and it could be quite anachronistic in places. A quick flick through brings me to “those God-awful public dances” and there are quite a few expressions like that which jar. Well plotted though and certainly an insight into the rather grim lives of servants.
“Labyrinth” by Kate Mosse
I was bitterly disappointed by this book. There was a time when everyone seemed to be reading it and when I saw it in the library I thought it might be enjoyable. It’s a novel about the Cathars set in the present and in the 12th century. It isn’t fish or flesh. It’s certainly not literary fiction but its plot didn’t draw me in and drive me on. It’s mildly interesting on the historical fact front. I had heard of the Albigensian heresy, but I didn’t know much of the detail of the brutal repression. I asked my father (who knows everything) about it and he knew the story of the Dominican who killed everyone in a town, men, women and children and heretic and Christian alike on the basis that “God would recognise his own” which even by the standards of the time was considered memorably excessive. But I wasn’t really in the market for history by novel. Also, I continue to be amused by the automatic reaction that the word Jesuit inspires in the UK (creepy, untrustworthy) as against the automatic reaction here and I suspect in other traditionally Catholic countries (the Jesuits, so intellectual, so well got in the Church etc., having a Jesuit in the family used to mean that you are clever and quite possibly well connected also).
“The Examined Life” by Stephen Grosz
The author is a psychoanalyst and these are case histories. If this is what psychoanalysis is really like then it seems to be making a plausible guess at what triggered the problem and saying that this is the solution. It does not seem very scientific to me. Nevertheless, a very enjoyable and interesting read although it put me right off ever going to a psychoanalyst.
“Dear Life” by Alice Munro
This post is nearly as long as an Alice Munro short story at this stage. I really enjoyed this collection. I had read some of her work in the past and found it tough going but I found this collection drew me back again and again and I was putting aside other things to read it. I am not sure whether her style has changed or whether I like her better now that I am older. These short stories are all sad. They are slices of life and although things happen, that is not really the point. She is superb at drawing characters; not necessarily very nice or appealing characters but convincing ones. She writes beautifully. Well worth a read.
“For Who the Bell Tolls” by David Marsh
A book about grammar from the Guardian’s production editor. Not bad, if you like grammar books which, sadly, I do a bit.
“Delusions of Gender” by Cordelia Fine
This was recommended to me by Town Mouse. It was a brilliant recommendation. If you are busy thinking perhaps there is something in this brain science about difference between men’s and women’s brains and map reading, then this is the book for you. The author goes through the research and unpicks it or points to where it is being used to sustain conclusions which give the researchers themselves palpitations. The conclusion is that the science of looking at brains is in its infancy and we are reading far, far, too much into the limited results we have to date. It’s all done in a thorough and entertaining style. I cannot recommend this highly enough.