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Wednesday 27 May 2009

Book news - Man Booker International Prize

I was delighted to see that Alice Munro, the Canadian short story writer has won the biannual Man Booker International Prize.

If you have not yet discovered Alice Munro, do investigate her stories. Always very readable, they often encapsulate as much narrative and characterisation as a novel.

Saturday 23 May 2009

As You Do

by Richard Hammond

Those of you who read my blog know that I have rather a soft spot for Mr. Hammond. And I confess that I bought the book because he wrote it and there’s a cute photo of him on the front. However it is a very entertaining and well written book.

Unlike ‘On the Edge’ which was about his accident and the aftermath, ‘As You Do’ is a behind the scenes look at some of the television projects he has been involved in. Although it reads well on its own, it is helpful if you are a Top Gear fan. But even if you’re not, it’s interesting to see what goes on when the cameras stop rolling. There is a lot about boys being silly, which you might expect I suppose. But this is peppered with a look into the home life and emotional ties of one of television’s most popular presenters. He openly talks about his wife and family, and the effect his being away from home so long can have.

It’s refreshing when someone in the public eye writes something about themselves that isn’t full of ego. The style is easy and chatty, almost as if he was sitting telling you these stories over a cup of tea.

No book is ever going to be to everyone’s taste, and I expect this is no exception. But if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to travel to the North Pole or cross Botswana by car, then this might be up your street.

Reviewed by Claire Potts

Tuesday 12 May 2009

Crossed Wires

By Rosy Thornton

In this novel, Rosy Thornton has created a cast of characters you’ll love so much that you won’t want to leave them behind when you finish the book.

Call centre worker Mina, struggling to bring up her daughter and sister, and academic Peter, struggling to recover from a devastating incident in his life, will have you gripped from the first page. But what made this novel outstanding for me was the way in which the supporting cast was drawn.

There are some exquisite characters in this story. Peter’s neighbour Jeremy who spends his days drawing cockroaches for a living, but can always be relied on in a crisis, his student Trish who obsesses over her dissertation and teaches his nine year old daughters to play cards for money, and Ollie the hermaphrodite dog, are all an absolute joy.

The quirky cast inhabit a world that has been skilfully and beautifully drawn. Throughout the story, descriptive details are lushly filled in, giving the story a background that springs off the page.

Rosy Thornton covers a number of important themes in this novel with a sure touch. Loss, and how people deal with it, is high on the list, but also we have the highs and lows of parenting, the power of coincidence, the pressure to conform and live life by the expectations of others, and the fear and inevitability of change.

I found this novel compelling and emotionally satisfying. I wanted to get to the end to see what happened, but at the same time I wanted not to ever get to the end because I didn’t want to leave the lives of Peter and Mina behind.

The story is intellectually satisfying in a way that reminded me of Kate Atkinson. It is a love story – but it is so much more than that. It is also a story that makes you think.

Reviewed by Helen M Hunt

Saturday 2 May 2009


By Nik Jones

I now understand why Caroline Smailes referred to this book as 'Cinematic'. This is one to watch and I mean that quite literally. I wouldn't be surprised if this book was made into a movie in the next few years.

The main character is most endearingly disturbed. I know such a thing should be impossible but I challenge you to read the book without thinking the same thing...well for the first half of the novel anyway. I blame Nik Jones's skill at luring the reader into initially believing that his main character is simply a diligent worker, confused, obsessive but generally a well intentioned young man.

Eventually his darker side is revealed but by then the reader has already fallen under the spell of his gentle 'mommy's boy' alter ego. By the last chapter he is clearly, irredeemably and unlovably psychotic. Even then Nik Jones still managed to shock me with the ending to 9987, perhaps I am too gullible or perhaps I'm not. You'll have to buy a copy and make your own mind up.

I dare you to spend an evening in after reading this without making sure your doors are locked, windows are shut and curtains pulled tightly together.

Nik’s blog can be found here.

Reviewed by DJ Kirkby