Monthly Archives: February 2015

Starter for Ten – David Nicholls

Starter for Ten - David Nicholls

Starter for Ten – David Nicholls

This is my favourite David Nicholls novel so far.

Here’s the blurb …

The year is 1985. Brian Jackson, a working-class kid on full scholarship, has started his first term at university. He has a dark secret—a long-held, burning ambition to appear on the wildly popular British TV quiz show University Challenge—and now, finally, it seems the dream is about to become reality. He’s made the school team, and they’ve completed the qualifying rounds and are limbering up for their first televised match. (And, what’s more, he’s fallen head over heels for one of his teammates, the beautiful, brainy, and intimidatingly posh Alice Harbinson.) Life seems perfect and triumph inevitable—but as his world opens up, Brian learns that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

This was fun – it was light-hearted and entertaining (and there was no tragedy!). There is also a great adaptation. Definitely worth a read if you remember the 80s.

Another review …

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2003/oct/12/fiction.geraldinebedell

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The Book of Life – Deborah Harkness

The Book of Life - Deborah Harkness

The Book of Life – Deborah Harkness

This is the third (and I believe) final installation of this series. I have read the first two (see here and here). I would describe them as a more sophisticated twilight – there are witches, daemons and vampires, a council that wants to keep them all separate and a mysterious Book of Life, which is each ‘species’ claims as a holy book.

Here is the blurb …

After traveling through time in Shadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’s enchanting series, historian and witch Diana Bishop and vampire scientist Matthew Clairmont return to the present to face new crises and old enemies. At Matthew’s ancestral home at Sept-Tours, they reunite with the cast of characters fromA Discovery of Witches–with one significant exception. But the real threat to their future has yet to be revealed, and when it is, the search for Ashmole 782 and its missing pages takes on even more urgency. In the trilogy’s final volume, Harkness deepens her themes of power and passion, family and caring, past deeds and their present consequences. In ancestral homes and university laboratories, using ancient knowledge and modern science, from the hills of the Auvergne to the palaces of Venice and beyond, the couple at last learn what the witches discovered so many centuries ago.

I found this one to be a bit long-winded. I would have preferred a shorter, but faster paced story. Having said that, I did read it in a matter of days – it is a compelling story.

More reviews …

http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2014/07/22/book-review-the-book-life-deborah-harkness/S5syEZWFasR5CDxpPzkuHI/story.html

http://www.miamiherald.com/entertainment/books/article1975975.html

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We Are Not Ourselves – Matthew Thomas

We are not Ourselves - Matthew Thomas

We are not Ourselves – Matthew Thomas

I bought this book while on holiday in Albany. The book seller in Dymocks (who was very charming) raved about it.

Here is the blurb …

Born in 1941, Eileen Tumulty is raised by her Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens, in an apartment where the mood swings between heartbreak and hilarity, depending on whether guests are over and how much alcohol has been consumed.
When Eileen meets Ed Leary, a scientist whose bearing is nothing like those of the men she grew up with, she thinks she’s found the perfect partner to deliver her to the cosmopolitan world she longs to inhabit. They marry, and Eileen quickly discovers Ed doesn’t aspire to the same, ever bigger, stakes in the American Dream.
Eileen encourages her husband to want more: a better job, better friends, a better house, but as years pass it becomes clear that his growing reluctance is part of a deeper psychological shift. An inescapable darkness enters their lives, and Eileen and Ed and their son Connell try desperately to hold together a semblance of the reality they have known, and to preserve, against long odds, an idea they have cherished of the future.
Through the Learys, novelist Matthew Thomas charts the story of the American Century, particularly the promise of domestic bliss and economic prosperity that captured hearts and minds after WWII. The result is a riveting and affecting work of art; one that reminds us that life is more than a tally of victories and defeats, that we live to love and be loved, and that we should tell each other so before the moment slips away.
Epic in scope, heroic in character, masterful in prose, We Are Not Ourselves heralds the arrival of a major new talent in contemporary fiction.

At first I really enjoyed this novel. It seemed to be about so many different things; female emancipation, ambition, american life from the mid to the latter part of the 20th century. However, it descended into what I am calling ‘sick lit’ and I think there should be some kind of warning in the blurb – had I known I certainly wouldn’t have read it. I think Mr Thomas is a wonderful writer and I look forward to reading more of his work, but I don’t want to read about serious and debilitating illness (there is enough of that going around me at the moment).

More reviews …

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/aug/27/we-are-not-ourselves-matthew-thomas-review-novel

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/07/books/review/we-are-not-ourselves-by-matthew-thomas.html?_r=0

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Let Me Be Frank With You – Richard Ford

Let Me Be Frank With You - Richard Ford

Let Me Be Frank With You – Richard Ford

As I really enjoyed CanadaI was keen to read this novel. I haven’t read any previous Frank Bascombe novels and although I am sure it enhances this one if you have read some, I don’t think it is necessary.

Here’s the blurb …

A brilliant new work that returns Richard Ford to the hallowed territory that sealed his reputation as an American master: the world of Frank Bascombe, and the landscape of his celebrated novels The Sportswriter, the Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner winning Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land

In his trio of world-acclaimed novels portraying the life of an entire American generation, Richard Ford has imagined one of the most indelible and widely-discussed characters in modern literature, Frank Bascombe. Through Bascombe—protean, funny, profane, wise, often inappropriate—we’ve witnessed the aspirations, sorrows, longings, achievements and failings of an American life in the twilight of the twentieth century.

Now, in Let Me Be Frank with You, Ford reinvents Bascombe in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. In four richly luminous narratives, Bascombe (and Ford) attempts to reconcile, interpret and console a world undone by calamity. It is a moving and wondrous and extremely funny odyssey through the America we live in at this moment. Ford is here again working with the maturity and brilliance of a writer at the absolute height of his powers.

I would describe this novel as a series of connected short stories (a bit like Olive Kitteridge –  connected by one character). It is set after Hurricane Sandy has devastated the New Jersey shore. Frank often finds himself in situations he would rather not be – visiting his ex-wife, visiting his old house, which was destroyed in the Hurricane, having someone visit him who use to live in his house – and his thoughts while enduring these visits are hilarious – he appears to be the archetype ‘grumpy old man’. This is Frank’s story (and it is a pretty gentle story not much happens), but along the way there is comments on insurance, health care, racism and the treatment of returning veterans.

I am definitely going to read some of the earlier novels.

More reviews …

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/nov/09/let-me-be-frank-with-you-review-richard-ford-frank-bascombe-enters-dotage

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/03/arts/richard-fords-hero-returns-in-let-me-be-frank-with-you.html?_r=0

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Us – David Nicholls

Us - David Nicholls

Us – David Nicholls

I have read One Day and seen the adaptation of Starter for Ten (the book is in my to be read pile). I had seen this in the book store a few times, but finally decided to buy it while on a trip to Melbourne – I thought it would be a fun and light travel read.

Here is the blurb …

‘I was looking forward to us growing old together. Me and you, growing old and dying together.’
‘Douglas, who in their right mind would look forward to that?’

Douglas Petersen understands his wife’s need to ‘rediscover herself’ now that their son is leaving home.
He just thought they’d be doing their rediscovering together.
So when Connie announces that she will be leaving, too, he resolves to make their last family holiday into the trip of a lifetime: one that will draw the three of them closer, and win the respect of his son. One that will make Connie fall in love with him all over again.
The hotels are booked, the tickets bought, the itinerary planned and printed.
What could possibly go wrong?

This novel has some fun moments – Mr Nicholls is a great comedic writer and he creates fabulous family dynamics. I must say (without giving away any spoilers) that I was disappointed by the ending. Does ‘literary fiction’ always have to end badly? Anyway, that is not a criticism about the writing I just want a happy ending! It is a well-written and witty novel with great characters (who have the occasional pithy one-liner). It would be a great movie – although I still want my happy ending.

More reviews …

http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/oct/01/us-david-nicholls-review-fiction

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/04/books/review/us-by-david-nicholls.html?_r=0

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