Monthly Archives: July 2013

REVENGE WEARS PRADA by Lauren Weisberger

This is trash. Easy to read and harmless enough but trash nonetheless. And it’s nothing like as fun as THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA. Basically Andy – who now prefers to be called Andrea to reflect her new found professional success – has set up a magazine of her own which covers celebrity weddings.  We catch up with her as she’s due to get married. Then she has a baby and Miranda Priestly, her former nemesis, wants to take over the magazine. Then Andy gets divorced. That’s it. Not much revenge, not much devil and not much Prada. It’s one redeeming feature is I expected nothing less – and you need a bit of contrast to put the good books into context!

I can’t even tag this book as I refuse to add rom com as a category….

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THE DINNER by Herman Koch

The premise of this book really grabbed me – two couples meeting over dinner to discuss a terrible crime that their teenage sons have committed. It took a little while to get under my skin though and I think that might be because it’s a very unsympathetic and dark novel. It also stands out as one written by a man – not something I usually notice or care about . From the parents’ ruthless defence of their offspring to the pretentious restaurant setting, Koch paints the modern world in a deeply unflattering light. As satire it’s almost excruciating though and I barely cracked a smile, just because the behaviour of the characters is so repellent. All the adults are vain and deluded, desperate to maintain  an artificial respectability, and even more desperate to lie about their motives. Frankly the odds were stacked against any of the offspring being decent human beings. There’s a palpable undercurrent of violence running through the book too, which manifests itself in a number of dramatic and more subtle ways, both physical and emotional, and which Koch and his protagonists appear to relish. THE DINNER has been compared to THE SLAP and I think it’s a good comparison – both drew me in unawares but ultimately left me feeling nothing but cold. I just wish the deep and interesting moral questions posed here had been addressed much more sensitively and all of humanity had not been so profoundly and roundly damned.

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ALWAYS THE SUN by Neil Cross

You know how some books make you want to seize the characters by the hand, look them in the eye and urge a different course of action. This is one of them. It’s also contains one of the most unexpected, gut wrenching twists I can recall reading for a long time. Prepare to weep.

Sam is trying his utmost to be a good father to 13 year old Jamie, whose mother died recently. The pair have moved back to the town where Sam grew up, bought a new house that they hope will soon feel like a home, and are determined to make a fresh new start. So when Jamie becomes the victim of bullying at school, Sam is desperate to come to his son’s defence. And yet everything he does just seems to make the problem worse – driving a wedge between father and son. As Sam grows ever more determined to help his son, Jamie grows ever more withdrawn, and there’s a terrible train crash inevitability to the sequence of events that unfolds. Even when things seem to be going well, anguish, hurt and fear are never far from the surface in ALWAYS THE SUN and I think it’s this that saves the novel from what at times is some pretty implausible plotting. Pretty harrowing at times, and the ending could have been less abrupt, nevertheless this is a beautiful book if you are someone who can find beauty in the most unexpected of places.

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FOREST OF THE PYGMIES by Isabel Allende

I discovered Allende’s books for younger readers a few years back on the shelves of my (no longer open) local library. In keeping with her adult fiction, the writing is bursting with magical fantasy and the stories are populated by spirits, as well as rich human characters. In the FOREST OF THE PYGMIES, two young teenagers, Alex and Nadia, travel to Kenya with Kate, an International Geographic journalist who is the boy’s grandmother. They take part in the first elephant led safari, meet Masai herdsmen and have a close encounter with some lions. But it’s once they leave the camp that their real adventure begins, thanks to a catholic missionary that persuades them to take a detour to track down his missing colleagues. When their plane crash lands in the swampy jungle, the international visitors set off on foot and come into contact with a tribe of pygmies who have been enslaved by a corrupt and greedy three headed monster – an evil king, witch doctor and army general who turn out to be one and the same man. Thanks to a combination of their bravery, Nadia’s ability to speak with animals, the talisman Alex was given on a previous adventure and an idealistic belief in the power of good, the teenagers help free the pygmies. It’s a bit of an exotic Secret Seven or Famous Five adventure this, and in many ways is just as old fashioned, but it’s easy to forgive the book’s flaws because it’s so stunningly and seductively written. Besides I loved the Famous Five and the Secret Seven and am very grateful for the opportunity to escape once again, if only fleetingly, into a world where children can make everything right just by being children.

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