Monthly Archives: April 2012

THE OLIVE READERS by Christine Aziz

I started this book last weekend when I was in Castleton with some old friends. Our shared history is political direct action so this novel about  corporate control and a clandestine group fighting for freedom and justice felt very apt. The future Christine Aziz has created is very believable, especially the way in which companies control each and every natural resource including water, the way those in power behave and the way that human nature means some people just accept what is happening and others believe in something better. The characters are believable too – motivated by love, family loyalty and duty, as well as revolutionary fervour! Yet the  revolution when it comes is deeply disappointing. The Olive Readers of the title want to discover and share the secret of how to make water, thereby ending the corporate stranglehold  that has made one company so powerful.  They also want to end the way that the past has been wiped out, books destroyed, people uprooted and only the company’s version of history allowed to survive, except in a handful of underground libraries. In Jephzat, the book’s heroine and daughter of former environmental campaigner and leader Maya, the readers find someone who can help them realise their plans and unite the population. The trouble is this doesn’t feel very revolutionary. The climax is more concerned with the spirituality and deep ecology than political freedom. The adoration that Jephzat attracts suggests that hierarchy and privilege will continue in the new society. And too many fundamental questions remain unanswered for me to feel entirely satisfied by this book, despite some interesting themes and ideas.

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Filed under drama, sci-fi

MEMOIRS OF AN IMAGINARY FRIEND by Matthew Green

It’s hard to know where to start with what is so special about this book – perhaps with the fact that it’s like nothing else I have ever read. Budo is Max’s imaginary friend and essential to helping Max, aged 8, cope with the real world. Together they navigate challenges like the school bus, Tommy the bully and mysterious adults, both friends and foes. Because Max has imagined him so, Budo can explore the world on his own and this allows him to find out things that can help Max, as well as bringing him into contact with other imaginary friends and the chance to learn about the reality of his fragile existence. Indeed, the emotional heart and power of this book is in Budo’s discovery that some day, perhaps very soon, Max might no longer need him – and then Budo will cease to be. As the story unfolds and Budo is brought face to face with the chance to protect Max from great danger by helping him find the courage to deal with the world alone, this moment comes much closer. There’s some wonderful examples of how confusing the adult world is to children and lovely moments such as when Budo learns that what he thought was the I See You at the hospital is in fact the ICU. The simplicity of the writing is perfectly matched to Budo’s voice but doesn’t detract from the emotional intensity – and at times adds to it. This book made me cry, made me laugh, made me think and made me hope. Above all it made me really appreciate my friends. What more could you ask for?

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Filed under comedy, drama, fantasy

DEFENDING JACOB by William Landay

Not blogged for a while as been super busy but that hasn’t stopped me reading and this book I absolutely devoured. It’s difficult to say what’s so good about it without giving away too much but part of the appeal is that you never know for sure if Jacob of the title is guilty or not of murder – and whether a jury will find him so. It’s packed full of ethical dilemmas and whilst it reminded me at times of a Jodi Picoult novel, this is mostly far grittier. The story is told by Jacob’s father, a lawyer named Andrew Barber, who hands over the case to a colleague but whose insight and experience means he cannot let go completely. The relationship between him and his teenage son is typical in many ways but there’s another dimension introduced when we learn about Andrew’s own father and their history. The way that both his parents respond to the allegations made against Jacob is incredibly honest and the fact they have doubts about their son makes this book stand out. It’s all very believable too – from the news coverage that essentially puts the whole family on trial to the role played by social media, and from the impact the murder has on the whole community to the domestic details that reveal a family struggling not to fall apart. There’s an amazing twist at the end as well, which completely knocked me for six!

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Filed under drama

BLOOD, BONES & BUTTER by Gabrielle Hamilton

This book is marketed as a cook’s memoir and, as I would expect, it has lots of examples of how the author’s life has been shaped by food. Most  interesting are the chapters which chart her early encounters and memories of food as an excuse for socialising, something that bring people together – and which she seeks to recreate when she opens her restaurant, as well as being the language she relies on to develop relationships with her husband’s family in Italy.

There’s some lovely political stuff in here too – at one point the writer recalls a time when terms like locally grown, artisanal and organic were unnecessary, because all our food was automatically like that. Then there’s her musings on the role of women in the food industry, a profile of an unorthodox marriage and a portrait of someone fighting hard to juggle career and family.

At times the chapters felt a little disjointed and I was not always gripped by the ups and downs of the writer’s relationship with her husband or mother. However, her feisty personality shines through almost as much as her love of food and it was always fascinating to read how she approached new challenges. Above all this is a book about passion and determination – both of which I set great store by and which Gabrielle Hamilton seems to have in bucket loads. I will probably never make it to New York but if I do I’d love to eat at her restaurant, Prune.

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Filed under biographical, factual

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP by SJ Watson

This is creepy. Brilliant but creepy. Christine’s short and long-term memory have been damaged by what she has been told was a hit and run car accident. Every morning she wakes up not knowing who she is and has to learn anew what has happened to her, only to forget again once she has slept. However, thanks to a dedicated young doctor she learns to keep a journal and gradually starts to access her memories – be they instinctive things like how to make a cup of tea or to touch type, or discovering what has happened to her. The doctor encourages her to write in a journal then calls her each day to explain who he is and where to find the journal. This gives Christine the chance to build up a picture of her past, rather than having to start again with each new day.

Her husband Ben, with whom she lives, is patient and seemingly understanding of the horror that is Christine’s existence. Yet as the story begins we learn she has warned in her journal that he is not to be trusted.  As we read the journal alongside Christine one day, including all the lies Ben has told her, we too begin to question his motives. But is what she has recorded written out of paranoia, delusion or prescience? 

BEFORE I GO TO SLEEP gripped me from page one and with its themes of trust, freedom and reality is much more than your average page turner. As I said, brilliant, disturbing and more than a little creepy.

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Filed under drama, thriller

THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR by Allegra Goodman

A book about someone who collects books, and books about cookery at that – what’s not to like?  In fact this is more about the impact that the cookbook collector of the title has on other people’s lives than about himself, but it is beautiful, sensual and, unlike ON GREEN DOLPHIN STREET, I cared deeply about the happiness of the main protagonists, sisters Jess and Emily. It’s very much a book of its time – dot.com bubbles, environmental activism and the September 11th terrorist attacks all play a central role.  At times the novel is a bit busy, with too many characters, many of whom don’t add much to the story, other than as people who seem to get collected in much the same way books and other items are collected. And there are some ethical issues that are not really developed satisfactorily, for example around spyware, religion and excessive wealth.  But overall THE COOKBOOK COLLECTOR deserves the inevitable food metaphors – it’s delicious and I devoured it!

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Filed under drama, love story

ON GREEN DOPLHIN STREET by Sebastian Faulks

I read this years ago and it left me cold – I didn’t like any of the characters and I kept waiting for something to happen (I seem to remember I was on holiday and in blockbuster mode). This time round I did like it more, or at least I appreciated it. Frank, Mary and Charlie are still not massively likeable – there is something distant about them – but they act true, are consistent and I was better prepared for the story to be led by them rather than events. This means we gain incredible insight into their every emotion but the result is that I find all 3 to be rather self obsessed. The price to be paid for such detailed mapping of their internal lives also means that the characters’ external lives pale by comparison, with the impression none of that matters quite so much – and yet it does. Essentially this is a story about a love affair and the choices people make, about duty and about the pull exerted by different kinds of love. It is also very much about time. The central woman character desperately wants the passing of time to be suspended and at moments of intense sadness or joy feels it is but, as is underscored by the final scenes of the book, she soon understands that time does not stand still. Moreover, there is nothing we can do to prevent that from happening nor can we avoid the changes that time brings try as we might.

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Filed under drama, love story, Uncategorized