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.








Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain

What is the difference between friendship and love? Or between neutrality and commitment? Gustav Perle grows up in a small town in 'neutral' Switzerland, where the horrors of the Second World War seem a distant echo. But  Gustav's father has mysteriously died and his adored mother, Emilie, is strangely cold and indifferent to him. Gustav's childhood is spent in lonely isolation, his only toy a tin train with painted passengers staring blankly from the carriage windows.

As time goes on, an intense friendship with a boy of his own age, Anton Zwiebel, begins to define Gustav's life. Jewish and mercurial, a talented pianist tortured by nerves when he has to play in public, Anton fails to understand how deeply and irrevocably his life and Gustav's are entwined.

Despite the melancholic tone that this book has it was a very enjoyable read. It moves along at a very sedate pace and is much enhanced for it.

The sense of Gustav's loneliness, from boyhood to man, is apparent on every page and I was completely engaged with his character throughout. In many ways the story is about Gustav learning to accept himself for who he really is and it takes him a lifetime to do it.

However, there is also a strong undercurrent throughout about how the past influences our present and our future and is never entirely left behind. The character of Emilie is completely defined by her past and we see the impact that that has on Gustav throughout his whole life.

And like the characters in this book, I do not think that I will ever leave my reading of this book completely behind. It has a haunting quality that gets right under the skin of a reader and provides much food for thought. I highly recommend this book and I am not in the least surprised that it has been nominated for so many awards.


ISBN:  978 1784700201

Publisher: Vintage





About the Author:

Rose Tremain's bestselling novels have been published in thirty countries and have won many awards, including the Orange Prize (The Road Home), the Whitbread Novel of the Year (Music and Silence) and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize (Sacred Country); Restoration was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. Rose Tremain was made a CBE in 2007 and was appointed Chancellor of the University of East Anglia in 2013. She lives in Norfolk and London with the biographer, Richard Holmes.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Us by David Nicholls

Douglas and Connie, scientist and artist and for more than twenty years, husband and wife until suddenly, their marriage seems to be over.

But Douglas is going to win back the love of his wife and the respect of Albie, their teenage son, by organising the holiday of a lifetime.

He has booked the hotels, bought the train tickets, planned and printed the itinerary for a 'ground tour' of the great art galleries of Europe.

What could possibly go wrong?

The narrator of this book is Douglas and with whom I connected with from the very beginning. The whole book is narrated by him and therefore, we see only his perception of events but I honestly felt like Douglas was a friend by the time I finished the book as he is a wonderfully imperfect character as so many of us are in real life. The author did a fantastic job of creating a character who I laughed and cried with along the way. 

The other characters are equally well drawn although we only see them through Douglas's eyes but they equally stirred a reaction in me.

The story moves between past and present to enable the reader to understand the backstory of the relationship between the past and present relationship of Douglas and Connie. These transitions are seamless and add much to the story.

I loved the dry humour  and social observations that run throughout this book and which made it very readable. It is not a work of literature and was never intended to be but a great book to sit back and read and relax with. 

I have read and enjoyed most of David Nicholls books and this one did not disappoint in any way. Well worth reading and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2014.

ISBN:  978 0340897010

Publisher: Hodder



About the Author:

David Nicholls is a British author, screenwriter, and actor. A student of Toynbee Comprehensive school and Barton Peveril Sixth Form College, he Graduated from the University of Bristol having studied English Literature and Drama.


After graduation, he won a scholarship to study at the American Musical and Dramatic Academy in New York, before returning to London in 1991 and finally earning an Equity card. He worked sporadically as an actor for the next eight years, eventually earning a three year stint at the Royal National Theatre, followed by a job at BBC Radio Drama as a script reader/researcher. This led to script-editing jobs at London Weekend Television and Tiger Aspect Productions.

During this period, he began to write, developing an adaptation of Sam Shepard’s stage-play Simpatico with the director Matthew Warchus, an old friend from University. He also wrote his first original script, a situation comedy about frustrated waiters, Waiting, which was later optioned by the BBC.

Simpatico was turned into a feature film in 1999, and this allowed David to start writing full-time. He has been twice nominated for BAFTA awards and his first novel, Starter for Ten was featured on the first Richard and Judy Book Club.

Monday, 23 January 2017

The Blue Between Sky and Water by Susan Abulhawa

It is 1947, and Beit Daras, a rural Palestinian village, is home to the Baraka family - oldest daughter Nazmiyeh, brother Mamdouh, dreamy Mariam and their widowed mother. When Israeli forces descend, sending the village up in flames, the family must take the long road to Gaza, in a walk that will test them to their limit.

Sixty years later, in America, Mamdouh's granddaughter, Nur falls in love with a doctor. Following him to Gaza, she meets Alwan, who will help Nur discover the ties of kinship that transcend distance - and even death.

Told with a raw humanity, this book is a lyrical, devastatingly beautiful story of a family's relocation, separation, survival  and love.

It has taken me a few days to process this novel before beginning my review as it is very thought provoking and at times painful to read.

Although longlisted for the Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize it clearly demonstrates the Palestinian view of the conflict and allows the reader to observe the effects that this has on four generations of one family. The characters are wonderfully observed and focus on the strength displayed by the women in this novel. perhaps in a society where the women are seen to play a lesser role. However, in this novel Ms Abulhawa takes her female characters and places them right in the spotlight of this novel and permits the reader to see that it is the women who are the glue that bind a family together.

What this novel does exceptionally well is combine the culture and experiences of the characters alongside a magical realism which adhere perfectly well together. The language is beautiful and on several occasions I slowed my reading just so I could take in the artistry of the prose.

This is an outstanding novel and no matter what the religious or political view of the reader there is much to think about in this novel. There are always victims on both sides of any conflict and this book allows us to see the consequences that conflict has on ordinary people. Without question, this is an exquisitely crafted novel which deals with issues of love, family, fear and ultimately hope.



ISBN:  978 1408865125

Publisher: Bloomsbury

About the Author:

Susan Abulhawa was born to Palestinian refugees of the 1967 war. She is a human right activist and frequent political commentator. In 2000, she founded Playgrounds for Palestine, an organisation dedicated to upholding Palestinian children's Right to Play. Her first novel, Mornings in Jenin, was an international bestseller, with rights sold in twenty-six languages. She lives in Pennsylvania with her daughter.

The website for the Playgrounds for Palestine organisation can be found at: http://playgroundsforpalestine.org/.