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!)





The Rosie Result – by Graeme Simsion

28 03 2020

This is the final book in this ‘Rosie’ trilogy about Don Tillman.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Don is just a really likeable character (possibly moreso because the books are written in the first person from his perspective). By this book he and Rosie have been married for over a decade and have a 10 year old son, Hudson. Don has a lot of things he’s learned about social interaction, rules and patterns to keep an eye out for to understand things he might otherwise struggle with.

Early in the book there’s a suggestion from the school that Hudson may be autistic and that they should look into having him tested. Don is not keen on this, but the comment has also been made about him. He leaves his job to focus on Hudson, to try and achieve various targets (numbered, of course) to help him to fit in.

A lot of the book questions autism stereotypes, as well as educating neurotypicals in ways they can better help those with autism feel comfortable – one being checking if their preference is to be referred to as ‘autistic’ or ‘person with autism’! There’s definitely a message in the book about how we always think of ‘unable to feel empathy’ as a symptom of autism, but rarely do neurotypical people have much empathy for them – definitely a few challenges thrown in, which is helpful.

I’ve made this sound like a heavy book, it’s not. It’s funny, warm, and interesting! There’s also a whole plot with Don opening a bar given his interest and skill in cocktail making – it’s an easy read, just has a good message to share along with it.





Noughts & Crosses – by Malorie Blackman

8 03 2020

I remember this book coming out when I was a teenager, I remember loads of people reading it, but I never heard what it was about and never got around to reading it myself. With the coming of the new series from the BBC, I thought I’d finally give it a go, so got myself a copy off eBay and flew through it!

The basic premise is a divided society, where black people (Crosses) have all the power, and white people (noughts) are the downtrodden and oppressed in society. Callum is a nought teenage boy and Sephy is a Cross teenage girl. When they were kids, Callum’s mum worked at Sephy’s house and so they were friends, but as he is one of the first noughts allowed into a Cross school, their friendship is tested. Things progress from there as a group of noughts are trying to form an uprising. It’s a little bit Romeo and Juliet in its nature.

The chapters are narrated alternating between Callum and Sephy, and the book itself covers a few years, so things change a lot, but it’s told really well and keeps you extremely gripped. Technically it won an award for children’s fiction, but it’s definitely not suitable for young children, and the new BBC series based on it is airing at 9pm – there’s plenty of darkness in it!

I’m watching the first episode of the TV series as I write this, so won’t comment on that here other than to say it seems quite different so far!





Normal People – by Sally Rooney

5 02 2020

Some people see a book everywhere and think they’re above it. Not me. I see a book everywhere and think, well, if everyone else is reading it, that must mean it’s good! And so I grabbed this in Tesco a couple of weeks ago. I started it Saturday night and finished it tonight, just under four days – not very like me, but I’ve been off work ill, so I had a lot of time!

There are a few things about this book that are a bit different:

  • None of the dialogue is in quote marks, you just have to work out where they’d go.
  • Each chapter starts by jumping forward in time, anything from a few days to a few months (and on one occasion, five minutes). I guess in that sense it had a bit of a feel of One Day about it?
  • The chapters are written in the present tense, apart from the fact that there’s a lot of catching up on what happened in the meantime which is written in the past tense, so it jumps backwards and forwards quite frequently – tricky to start with but you get used to it by the end.

All these put together mean it takes concentration, but I did find it engaging. It’s not often I can read 50 pages of a book without falling asleep, but I did that on three occasions with this book!

Connell and Marianne start the book at high school, his mum is her mum’s cleaner, she’s a bit of a loner, he’s got a load of friends, and they start sort of secretly seeing each other a bit. As usual I don’t want to give too much away, but as we go through the next few years including university, we follow the two of them and, as the blurb says, they “try to stay apart but find that they can’t”.

[There’s a few occasions in the book which get a little graphic, they’re fairly brief when they do happen, but just a warning if that puts you off.]





Northanger Abbey – by Jane Austen

24 01 2020

Before this I’d read two of Austen’s books, but for a long time hadn’t read anymore. But it’s a new year, and I thought I’d give it a go again – picked a shortish one so it was more manageable, and it turned out it was way more readable than I remembered!

I’ve watched the ITV adaptation several times so I had a good idea of the plot, but didn’t remember it being funny! For example, from the very first page: “Her father was a clergyman, without being neglected, or poor, and a very respectable man, though his name was Richard – and he had never been handsome.”

This is the story of Catherine Morland, who is taken by family friends to Bath and while there meets both the Tilneys and the Thorpes. The first half of the book focuses on the friendships with these, while the second half takes her to Northanger Abbey as a guest of the Tilneys. Catherine has read a lot of Gothic Horror novels and has something of an overactive imagination, which in that environment gets her in a bit of trouble!

I like how Austen on a few occasions in the book takes a breath and talks to the reader; at one point saying how she isn’t going to do something that most novel writers do, at another referring as to how few pages are left and so obviously we’re near the happy ending, and ending with a question for the reader of: “I leave it to be settled, by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience.”

It’s an Austen novel, so you know there’s going to be class, romance, drama, and a happy ending, but it was a good read, I really enjoyed it – the idea of picking up another Austen is less scary now!