Thursday, 21 September 2017

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Isma is free. After years spent raising her twin siblings in the wake of their mother's death, she resumes a dream long deferred - studying in America. But she can't stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London. Or their brother, Parvaiz, who's disappeared in pursuit of his own dream - to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters' lives. Handsome and privileged, he inhabits a London worlds away from  theirs. As the son of a powerful British Muslim politician, Eamonn has his own birthright to live up to - or defy. The fates of these two families are inextricably, devastatingly entwined in this searing novel that asks: what sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

A contemporary re-imagining of Sophocles' Antigone, Home Fire is an urgent, fiercely compelling story of loyalties torn apart when love and politics collide - confirming Kamila Shamsie as a master storyteller of our times.

Hidden between the monotone covers of the UK edition of this book lies a real gem. It is an original, thought-provoking and memorable story which deals with the contemporary issue of radicalisation.

Ms. Shamsie has created characters that are utterly believable. Five distinct character voices are woven together to produce a rich tapestry of atmospheric detail that a lesser novelist would not have attained. I have previously read novels where this multi narration merely makes for a disjointed telling of a story. However, with this book the method enhances the reading experience as each character adds a different dimension to the story.

Added to that a twist in the story at the very end and which contributes to a fine novel that I am certain means that this book will remain at the top of the bestseller list for a goodly while.

Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017 this is an outstanding example of writing at its best and has elevated the author to one of my favourites. I have every intention of reading more by the very talented Ms. Shamsie.


ISBN: 9781408886779

Publisher: Bloomsbury Circus

About the Author:

Kamila Shamsie is the author of six novels: In the City by the Sea (shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize): Salt and Saffron: Kartography (also shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize): Broken Verses: Burnt Shadows (shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction): and most recently, A God in Every Stone, which was shortlisted for the Baileys Prize, the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, Three of her novels have received awards from Pakistan's Academy of Letters. Kamila Shamsie is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was named a Granta Best of Young British Novelist in 2013. She grew up in Karachi and now lives in London.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

Dr Eitan Green is a good man. He saves lives. Then, speeding along a deserted moonlit road in his SUV, he hits someone. Seeing that the man, an African migrant, is beyond help, he flees the scene. It is a decision that changes everything. 

Because the dead man’s wife knows what happened. When she knocks at Eitan’s door the next day, tall and beautiful, he discovers that her price is not money. It is something else entirely, something that will shatter Eitan’s safe existence and take him into a world of secrets and lies.


Waking Lions is a gripping, suspenseful and morally devastating drama of guilt and survival, shame and desire.


This beautifully written book is one that will stay with me for a long time. It is slow paced and packed with detail and deserved to be savoured rather than read at speed.

The book deals with some serious issues; identity, betrayal and morality. It closely explores the theme of self identity through the main character, Eitan, and through his pre-conceived ideas of how he would react in any given situation and which leads the reader to the same state of self-examination. This is a book that is about self-awakening to the problems of others outside of our own comfortable existence and the author sensitively examines both larger issues and the minutiae of the lives of her characters.

I thought this was a fantastic book and I am not surprised that it won The Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize 2017. I highly recommend it and I will certainly be reading more by this author.

ISBN: 978-1782272984

Publisher: Pushkin Press

About the Author:

Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (Hebrew: איילת גונדר-גושן) was born in Israel in 1982 and holds an MA in Clinical Psychology from Tel Aviv University. Her film scripts have won prizes at international festivals, including the Berlin Today Award and the New York City Short Film Festival Award. Her debut novel, One Night, Markovitch, won the Sapir Prize in 2013 for best debut and is being translated into five languages.

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Victorians Undone by Kathryn Hughes

Biographies will give you all the facts of their subjects' lives, but what they can't do is explain what it was like to be them - to fight for breath against the constriction of a whalebone corset, or attempt to eat with decorum despite the encroachments of a particularly bushy beard.

Nowhere is this more true than Britain in the nineteenth century. For while we like to think of the Victorians as prudishly detached from their unruly bodies, the fact is that they were just as subject to the tyrannies of their flesh as we are today. Now, in Victorians Undone, the major award winning historian and biographer Kathryn Hughes reveals what it was physically like to be a nineteenth century man or woman through a close examination of five famous, controversial or curious Victorian body parts.

Through her eyes we encounter Lady Flora Hastings's swelling belly, which sparks a scandal that almost brings young Queen Victoria's reign crashing down. We run our fingers through Charles Darwin's beard in an attempt to understand just what made men start sprouting whiskers in the 1850's. The novelist George Eliot, meanwhile, is proud that her right hand is bigger than her left, so why is her family so desperate to suppress this information? We learn how the Pre-Raphaelite painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti takes his art in a revolutionary new direction, thanks to the bee stung lips of his secret mistress, Fanny Cornforth, Finally, we meet Fanny Adams, an eight year old from Hampshire whose tragic physical dissolution has come down to us in the phrase 'Sweet Fanny Adams'.

Based on a treasure trove of new archive material, groundbreaking in its methods and frequently very funny, Victorians Undone is a wholly original approach to life writing. You will never think of biography - or Victorians - in quite the same way again.

I do not read much in the way of non-fiction but I was tempted by this book when I saw that it dealt with often overlooked aspects of Victorian attitudes.

Clearly well researched through a variety of sources Ms Hughes presents anatomical references relating to well known people of the Victorian era in a way that is both intelligent and entertaining. I particularly enjoyed the section on Fanny Adams and how her name came to be part of everyday language both then and now.

Although Kathryn Hughes is an academic this book does not read as an academic text. It is a very easy and engaging read which I recommend to anyone interested in history.

ISBN:  978 0 00 754836 1

Publisher: 4th Estate

About the Author:

Kathryn Hughes is the author of award winning biographies of Mrs. Beeton and George Eliot, both of which were filmed for the BBC. For the past fifteen years she has been a literary critic and columnist for the Guardian. Educated at Oxford University and with a PhD in Victorian Studies, she is currently Professor of Life Writing at the University of East Anglia and Fellow of both the Royal Society of Literature and the Royal Historical Society.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Set in Yeongdo, Korea in 1911 in a small fishing village on the banks of the East Sea, a club-footed, cleft-lipped man  marries a fifteen year old girl.

The couple have one child, their beloved daughter Sunja. When Sunja falls pregnant by a married yakuza the family faces ruin until Isak, a young Christian minister, offers her a chance of salvation: a new life in Japan as his wife.

Following a man she barely knows to a hostile country where she has no friends and no home, Sunja's salvation is just the beginning of her story.

Spanning eight decades and four generations, Pachinko is an epic tale of family, identity, love, death and survival.

Things have been fairly quiet on the blog recently. I have done lots of reading, the weather has been wonderful and somehow, I have been lacking in opportunity to write reviews. However, this book has stirred me from my summer slumber and I want to share my thoughts on it with you all.

I have read few novels set in either Korea or Japan (the exception to the latter being Haruki Murakami whose work I adore) and I have honestly never considered how difficult life was for those who made Japan their home. Racial prejudice is the overriding theme of this book and as such, makes this a very relevant read as the experience of the characters could be transposed to anywhere in the world where racism exists today.

The characters are wonderfully evoked in this novel and the author has a very acute sense of detail in her descriptions of them. Their history and cultural background were vital to my understanding of them as individuals and I was completely engrossed by the four generations of this family.

My one minor criticism is that the ending felt rather hurried and I wanted to know more about some of the characters. For a book that was so character focused I felt that the previous level of detail fell away. However, this did not distract from my enjoyment of this superb novel.

Despite serious themes this book was an easy read with beautiful prose and I am glad to have read a book which taught me something new. Anyone who enjoys historical fictions will love this book and I highly recommend it.



About the Author:

Min Jin Lee is a Korean-American author and journalist. Her debut novel, Free Food for Millionaires, was one of the 'Top 10 Novels of the Year' for The Times, NPR's Fresh Air and USA Today. She has written for the New York Times, Conde Nast, The Times, Vogue and the Wall Street Journal amongst others, She wrote Pachinko whilst living in Tokyo, and now lives in New York with her family.

Friday, 9 June 2017

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult

For seventy years, Josef Weber has been hiding in plain sight.
He is a pillar of his local community.
He is also a murderer.
When Josef decides to confess, it is to Sage Singer, a young woman who trusts him as her friend. What she hears shatters everything she thought she knew and believed.
As Sage uncovers the truth from the darkest horrors of war, she must follow a twisting trail between terror and mercy, betrayal and forgiveness, love - and revenge.

Throughout this book there is a story within a story coupled with the different voices of the main characters. This is seamlessly done and all comes together perfectly.

At times it was harrowing to read as all books dealing with the holocaust are. However, Ms Picoult treats her characters and subject matter with an intelligent sensitivity which made me want to read on in this excellent novel. In fact, I slowed my reading at times, partly in order to allow myself to process some of the shocking scenes in this book and also because the characters were easy to engage with and I wanted to spend the time getting to know them.

Well researched and written with great care, Ms. Picoult has created a novel which is heartbreaking yet redemptive and deals with difficult issues. Thought provoking and meticulously considered, this book has the capacity to stay with me for a long time after reading it.
ISBN:  9781444766660
Publisher: Hodder Paperbacks



About the Author:


Jodi Picoult is the author of twenty-three novels, including the number 1 New York Times bestsellers Leaving Time, The Storyteller, Lone Wolf, Between the Lines, Sing You Home, House Rules, Handle with Care, Change of Heart, Nineteen Minutes, and My Sister’s Keeper

She studied creative writing with Mary Morris at Princeton, and had two short stories published in Seventeen magazine while still a student. Realism - and a profound desire to be able to pay the rent - led her to a series of different jobs following her graduation: as a technical writer for a Wall Street brokerage firm, as a copywriter at an ad agency, as an editor at a textbook publisher, and as an 8th grade English teacher - before entering Harvard to pursue a master’s in education. She married Tim Van Leer, whom she had known at Princeton, and it was while she was pregnant with her first child that she wrote her first novel. She lives in New Hampshire with her husband and three children. 

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

The year is 1869. A brutal triple murder in a remote community in the Scottish Highlands leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae.

A memoir written by the accused makes it clear that he is guilty, but it falls to the country's finest legal and psychiatric minds to uncover what drove him to commit such merciless acts of violence.

Was he mad? Only the persuasive powers of his advocate stand between Macrae and the gallows.

Graeme Macrae Burnet tells an irresistible and original story about the provisional nature of truth, even when the facts seem clear. His Bloody Project is a mesmerising literary thriller set in an unforgiving landscape where the exercise of power is arbitrary.

I thoroughly enjoyed this unusual thriller and am excited by this author. It was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016 and won the Saltaire Fiction Book of the year for 2016 and deservedly so.

Written entirely through the documents presented for the case we are able to view the events from multiple viewpoints which I felt added an enormous amount to this story. I do not recall reading any other book presented in this format and the originality of it gave it an unexpected authenticity.

I was completely gripped by this book and did not want to put it down. Well researched and beautifully written it brings a fascinating period of history into sharp view and enables the reader to understand the wider social and political society in which the novel is set.

All through this I had to remind myself that it is a novel as the realism is startling. The atmosphere is so cleverly evoked which, bearing in mind, the book reads as a series of legal documents is extremely clever.

I can't praise this novel highly enough as I loved every word. I think anyone with an interest in history or crime thrillers would really enjoy this book. Do give it a try and let me know your thoughts.

ISBN:  9781910192146

Publisher: Contraband

About the Author:

Grahaeme Macrae Burnet was born in Kilmarnock in Scotland and now lives in Glasgow. Previously he lived and worked in Prague, Porto, Bordeaux and London. He has an MA in English Literature/Film Studies from Glasgow University and an M.Litt in International Security Studies from St Andrews.

He likes; Georges Simenon, George Orwell, Crime and Punishment, Madeleine Bourdouxhe, Edna O’Brien, Samuel Beckett, Sparklehorse, Violent Femmes, Starships by Nicki Minaj, Johnny Cash, bars, Taxi DriverCabaret, donkeys, slow-cooked pork belly, the Applecross Inn, the smell of low tide, existentialism, karaoke, the word ‘buzzard’.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Effia and Esi: two sisters with two very different destinies. One sold into slavery and one a slave trader's wife. The consequences of their fate reverberate through the generations that follow. Taking us from the Gold Coast of Africa to the cotton-picking plantations of Mississippi; from the missionary schools of Ghana to the dive bars of Harlem, spanning three continents and seven generations.


Yaa Gyasi has written a miraculous novel - the intimate, gripping story of a brilliantly vivid cast of characters and through their lives the very story of America itself.

Each chapter alternates between the lives of the two sisters and their decedents, with each new chapter being devoted to the following generation and alternating between Ghana and America. It was an interesting way to present the lives of seven generations of family and suggested more a series of vignettes than a cohesive story. However, this is greatly aided by the family tree at the beginning of the book which enabled me to keep track of the different characters and I would have been a little lost without it.


Although, this fast progression through the generations took a little adaptation on my part as the reader, I ultimately enjoyed seeing the characters overlap. For example, where we may have been following a character in their early life she/he then reappears in subsequent chapters through the story of her/his child or grandchild; a technique which gave the novel cohesion and continuity.


It would not surprise me if this book becomes a staple of the school curriculum in years to come. Not only does it tell the story of the horrors of slavery but it is beautifully written and has much to teach us all.  For a debut novel this is a fantastic achievement and I am sure that Ms. Gyasi is a rising star in the literary world.

ISBN: 978-0241242728

Publisher: Viking

 About the Author:

Yaa Gyasi was born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. She is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop where she held a Dean’s Graduate Research Fellowship. Her short stories have appeared in African American Review and Callaloo. Homegoing is her debut novel.