And The Mountains Echoed – by Khaled Hosseini

25 10 2020

I think I set my expectations too high for this book. Having just read The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns and reading this as a follow up, I was expecting greatness, but I guess there’s a reason it didn’t end up on all the ‘books you must read’ type lists that the other two have. It probably wasn’t that bad at all, just comparatively!

The thing I found most odd about it was that the story alluded to in the blurb is over very quickly, and the book jumps through different people’s stories who have maybe been mentioned as an aside in a previous persons story, to the point that you get pretty far removed from the original but then sometimes it jumps back to one more central, but then goes off to someone else who was mentioned before. I just found that most of the time, I found that I just wanted it to get back to the point, and then the ending was relatively predictable from very near the beginning. There were some decent enough stories in it, it just didn’t felt like it flowed properly at all. It also varied throughout between present and past tense, and first and third person. All very odd.

I feel this has been very negative, but as with most books, there were still bits that would normally make me turn down the corners (but it was a library book so I had to settle for taking a photo on my phone!).

  • “When you have lived as long as I have, you find that cruelty and benevolence are but shades of the same colour.”
  • “She said there was comfort to be found in the permanence of mathematical truths, in the lack of arbitrariness and the absence of ambiguity. In knowing that the answers may be elusive, but they could be found.”
  • “In my experience, men who understand women as well as you seem to rarely want to have anything to do with them.”
  • “Beauty is an enormous, unmerited gift, given randomly, stupidly.”
  • “James Parkinson, George Huntington, Robert Graves, John Down. Now this Lou Gehrig fellow of mine. How did men come to monopolise disease names too?”
  • “I should have been more kind. That is something a person will never regret.”





Hope Never Dies – by Andrew Shaffer

3 10 2020

I bought this book as a gift for a couple of people a year or two ago, it sounded hilarious and like it would suit their tastes, and then this year I finally got a chance to try it! The thing that made me get it as a present, was the last paragraph of the blurb:

“Part action thriller, part mystery, part bromance, and (just to be clear) 100 percent fiction, Hope Never Dies imagines life after the Oval Office for two of America’s greatest heroes. Together they’ll prove that justice has no term limits.”

If that doesn’t sell it, I don’t know what will!

I finally picked it up now as with the election coming up, it felt timely. Joe Biden narrates the book, and does occasionally ponder on if he’d ever run for office again, but mostly the book is digging into the death of his favourite Amtrak (train company) conductor in suspicious circumstances.

This was by no means great literature, but it was a fun read if you’re looking for something light and escapist!





Elizabeth Is Missing – by Emma Healey

22 09 2020

The final book in the stack from Mum!

Before I read this, I knew it was about a woman with dementia who was convinced her friend was missing. What I didn’t know was that she narrates the book.

I’ll be honest, I really struggled with the first few pages as I adjusted to it – it was almost upsetting to read stuff that is so familiar and close to home, from the perspective of the person who is confused. You can feel her deteriorating through the book, which is tough, but laced with humour as well.

Once I got used to the style though, it was an excellent book – the narrator suffering from dementia is such a clever idea. Maud switches between struggling to work out what’s currently going on (other than being sure that her friend Elizabeth is missing, there’s a note in her pocket that says so), and flashing back to when she was a child and her older sister went missing. Essentially it’s two stories being told in parallel, but one reliably, and one not.

I guess it’s really a mystery book, and that’s what had me hooked, trying to work out what’s happened in her past, and what on earth is going on in her present. It really was a good read, I read it in seven days, crazy fast for me!

It turns out that there’s an adaptation of it on iPlayer at the moment, so hoping to watch that this week, trailer below!





A Thousand Splendid Suns – by Khaled Hosseini

15 09 2020

Having really enjoyed The Kite Runner, I jumped straight on into this one, which while not a follow on story, is the next book Hosseini wrote, and is equally well spoken of.

Both books follow roughly the same time period of 1970s to the early 2000s, and are probably equally miserable, but while the two books are not technically linked, it’s very easy to contrast the two:

  • The Kite Runner really focused on the lives of boys and men in Kabul, the centre of this book was the female characters.
  • The Kite Runner covers escaping from Afghanistan and life outside it, but this mostly stays in the midst of it.
  • From a more technical perspective, The Kite Runner was told in the first person, but this is third person (and 50 pages before the end switches from past to present tense).

The first quarter of the book we meet Mariam who lives with her mother in a shack outside a town called Herat, and learn what brings her to Kabul and follow through her backstory. The second quarter we move on to Laila, who had a mention in Mariam’s story as the baby of a neighbour, but they haven’t really overlapped; again we hear her backstory up to the point where her and Mariam’s worlds collide. That brings us to the last half of the book, where we see their relationship and their struggles together.

Just like his first book, he manages to share a miserable story in a brilliant way which is so readable. It also feels really educational, I learnt a lot about the geography and history of the area. This book feels like you get more of the history than the previous one as most of the book stays in the country.

A couple of my favourite out-of-context quotes:

  • “Mariam set about cleaning up the mess, marvelling at how energetically lazy men could be.”
  • “Rasheed regarded the Taliban with a forgiving, affectionate kind of bemusement, as one might regard an erratic cousin prone to unpredictable acts of hilarity and scandal.”





The Kite Runner – by Khaled Hosseini

5 09 2020

The next book in the pile I borrowed from my mum is The Kite Runner, I picked it up because it’s always listed on those lists of “books to read before you die” etc, which normally means, it’s quite good!

I was warned before I read this that it’s not a cheerful book, both by friends who’ve read it, and by the quotes on the front cover: “devastating” and “heartbreaking” are pretty stark! And the warnings were right, it’s not happy, it’s a miserable book, but that doesn’t mean it’s not very good! In fact, partway through the book one of the characters says something which I think sums it up: “Sad stories make good books.”

The story follows Amir as he grows up in Afghanistan with his friend Hassan, through his escape to America when the country is invaded, and to when he has to one day return. At some points it just feels like a book of one awful thing after another, in fact, when I was 70 pages from the end I was on the phone to my mum and said how there was probably time for something else horrible to happen, and I wasn’t wrong!

But for those of you who are put off by this, I will reassure you that it does end on a hopeful note, and it was one of those books I just couldn’t wait to pick up again each time I wasn’t reading it. Normally at night I read a fall pages and can’t keep my eyes open, but one night I was reading this til 1am, definitely addictive!





The Chrysalids – by John Wyndham

24 08 2020

My mum cites this as her favourite book, so it was about time I gave it a read – she lent me her copy.

It was published in 1955, but these days would probably be put in the dystopian category that has become so popular. Living in a place called Labrador, it’s a fairly simple existence since Tribulation happened, but there is an idealism within society that if anyone or anything isn’t completely perfect (think extra finger, slightly misshapen crop of corn), then it is to be destroyed. There is a community on the Fringes of those who’ve been outcast, and further out than that, the badlands.

Our narrator, David, is a ten year old who has a mutation that isn’t visible, he can communicate with “thought shapes” with a handful of others who have the same ability. Because it isn’t visible, he hasn’t been shunned, but he knows it’s only a matter of time before they’re discovered.

I started the book unsure if it was a children’s book or grown ups, but it’s definitely a grown up book, it gets pretty dark!

The thing I don’t quite get, after reading the entire book, is why it’s called The Chrysalids… I googled and got some suggestions, but it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense to me!

Oh, and one more thing, they don’t have the letter Z in their alphabet, but this is only mentioned a good way into the book, and the temptation to go back and reread and see if they used any words using the letter Z before that was huge, but I’m a slow reader so decided against it!





The Color Purple – by Alice Walker

14 06 2020

One of the key things I’ve got out of the BLM awareness the last couple of weeks is the need to educate ourselves better. There have been various books recommended, and this was on a fiction list I saw early on (which I can’t find anymore), and it had been sat on my shelf for a long time, and so it seemed a very sensible time to pick it up.

The book is written as letters, initially from the main character, Celie, to God, (though later on this varies a bit and includes letters to and from her sister). Through these letters she essentially tells us the story of her life as a black woman in the American Deep South between the world wars, and of those around her.

It’s not been the easiest book to read, but for a broad variety of reasons:

  • Because she’s talking to God, there’s a lot of assumed knowledge! She talks about people without explaining who they are, and it takes a fair bit of focus to work out what she’s on about at times, particularly at the beginning when everyone she talks about it new to you.
  • No quote marks for dialogue!
  • When Celie is writing (so, for most of the book), it’s written in the dialect she spoke in, the author has referred to this as “black folk language.” It very quickly becomes normal, but was a bit of an adjustment at the start.
  • Time seems to move along without explicitly telling us. By the end of the book I’d say 30-40 years have passed, but it’s not at all easy to see this happen. Someone might refer to how they now have three more children than when you last saw them, or that someone you thought was a kid is nearly as tall as the adults. Hard to keep track of so I just sort of let it happen!
    A quote which just felt so true of life, especially right now: “Time moves slowly, but passes quickly.”
  • Finally, some of the actual content is upsetting, and could be triggering for some. On page one alone, Celie, aged 14 is violently raped by her Pa.





Little Fires Everywhere – by Celeste Ng

2 06 2020

Yes it’s another of those books that’s been everywhere and then adapted for TV. But my theory is, there’s got to be a reason it’s been everywhere and that someone’s put money into making a screen adaptation. It’s gotta be good.

The Richardsons live in an overly planned suburb of picture perfect houses where everyone seems to live picture perfect lives. Mia and her daughter Pearl arrive to rent a small home owned by the Richardsons, having moved house every few months of Pearl’s life and don’t quite fit in with the ideal, but Pearl quickly forms friendships with the Richardson children.

The book starts with a rather dramatic incident, and then flashes back a year to show us how things got to that point. There are back-stories to be discovered, one of which takes a good 50 pages to tell when we finally get to it!

It’s set in the late 90s, which gave some lovely nostalgic moments.

It turns out, yes there is always a reason books go viral (is that a thing? books going viral? oh well, you know what I mean), because it’s a story that grabs you and keeps you interested.





Murder on the Orient Express – by Agatha Christie

25 05 2020

I had always assumed that Agatha Christie books would be a bit stuffy and high brow, and hard work to read. My goodness I was wrong – not that it’s trashy, not at all, but I just read a book in a week, I was completely gripped!

We cover the sleeper carriage of a train which departs from Istanbul and gets stuck in a snowdrift on the same night that someone is killed (this is hardly a spoiler, it’s a murder mystery!), and given that the detective Poirot is already on the train, we work through his investigation, with all it’s twists and turns.

In all honesty, I was completely won over just by the contents page – as a maths and data brain, the structure to this is just beautiful. To some, the idea of this could be off-putting, but don’t worry – even with all it’s organisation, it still flows as one continuous story.

The other thing I really and truly loved about this book was how it helped you keep track of everything going on. There are a lot of characters, a lot of things happening, and so at points in the book we are provided with a labelled map of the train carriage, a timeline of the events we know so far (because Poirot wrote it down to be ‘neat and orderly’, a recap of what we know of all the suspects so far, and a list of questions we still need to answer. I found I had the corner of each of these pages folded down so I could refer back to them easily. It’s just entirely useful!

I hadn’t seen the film, so had no idea what was going to happen, but what was interesting was that while my copy of the book has the film poster as it’s cover (see below), all the characters looked totally different in my head (my Poirot was, of course, David Suchet). I had imDbed to work out who was meant to be who – but that didn’t help at all!

I really want to see the film now!





The Eve Illusion – by Giovanna and Tom Fletcher

19 05 2020

I was a huge fan of Eve of Man when it came out two years ago, but due to the gap between the two books, had forgotten a lot of the plot when it came to this! It turns out, the first couple of chapters help recap what was happening in the last couple of chapters, but given that I couldn’t remember how they got to that point, I decided to do a full re-read of Eve of Man, firstly to get me up to speed properly, and secondly, to just enjoy the full story running together. I haven’t re-read a book in a long time as my “to read” list is always so long, but it was a really nice experience 🙂

A third narrator is added to the story in this book, so as well as Bram and Eve, we now have Michael, who we briefly met in the first book, but we see much more of now. It’s a fun way to tell a story, and fortunately as I binged it, it wasn’t too confusing, but on the occasions I did pick it up mid chapter, I did have to flip back to see who was talking!

Avoiding spoilers (though maybe not of the first book) the story continues as Eve and Bram leave the tower, the only place she’s known, and join the Freevers in their hideout. It was another really gripping read, crazy twists I never saw coming, good people stuff, and I thoroughly enjoyed it! As it’s part of a trilogy, it of course left on a massive cliffhanger again, and I can’t WAIT to see how this is going to resolve!

(That said, I do have a couple of technical questions about one of the plot points, and if anyone else has read it, please let me know so we can discuss!)