26 September 2011

Review 41: Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman (Man Booker Shortlist)

Pigeon English is the story of Harri, a Ghanian boy who has recently moved to London with his mother and older sister Lydia. They have left behind his father, grandmother and baby sister Agnes as they couldn't afford the plane tickets in one go. They live in a flat in a neglected tower block in inner city London and the book opens with the stabbing of a local boy. People being 'chooked' is part of normal life and they play 'suicide bomber' in the playground. Kelman was inspired by the murder of Damilola Taylor and the parrallels are clear throughout.

The boys killer is unknown and Harri and his friend Dean decide they are going to track the killer down so they can earn the police reward and buy a new bike. Their inept attempts at working it out include a stake out of a fast food van and trying to collect fingerprints using sellotape.

21 September 2011

Review 40: The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (Man Booker Shortlist)

The Sense of an Ending is the first novel from the Man Booker shortlist that I've read and I was drawn to it primarily because of its beautiful cover, so it definitely wins points for having the best cover design on the shortlist. Barnes is the bookies favourite to win and when the shortlist was announced the judging panel claimed it as Barnes' best work, which considering he has already been shortlisted several times does seem to bode well for his chances. I will get back to you once I've read the others...

The Sense of an Ending is the story of Tony Webster as he looks back on his life and is a contemplative look at memory, life and death. He recounts his schooldays and his frienship with Adrian and his first relationship with the complicated Veronica.

19 September 2011

Review 39: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This is the first 'classic' that I have tried to review and it's pretty challenging. What do you say about a book has been talked about so much and is so loved by people all over the world? To Kill a Mockingbird was recently voted the UKs favourite book on the World Book Night website. To make matters harder, I pretty much agree with the generally held opinion on this book; its a lovely, engrossing, and thought provoking book with wonderful characters in Atticus and Scout.

Everybody knows the story. I knew the majority of the plot before I started reading this. It was a book that I have always felt like I should read and have in fact let people assume I have read by not correcting them. A pitfall, if you can call it that, of being a librarian is that people assume you have read everything. Particularly classics.  Anyway I can know knock one more off the list. To Kill a Mockingbird: Check.

16 September 2011

Review 38: What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn

What Was Lost is a strange book. It's not very lengthy, it has characters that range from quirky to unappealing and you are never quite sure where Catherine O'Flynn is taking you next. These could very easily be criticisms of a lesser book but in O'Flynns capable hands they are most definitely positives. What Was Lost begins in the 1980s with the story of 10 year old Kate Meaney who lives with her grandmother and spends her time conducting private investigations around the local shopping centre. The book then abruptly turns to the story of Lisa and Kurt, 20 years later as they work in the same shopping centre as a music store assistant manager and security guard respectively as we find out that Kate disappeared and has never been heard from since.

The book is totally engrossing, I came to the last ten pages or so as my train pulled into Euston station and I ended up standing on the platform having to finish the book before I could put it away and continue with life. It is unusual in its structure, its character and its story and wonderful because of that. I also enjoyed that it was set in Birmingham, as that is where I currently live, as whilst the shopping centre is fictional it is easy to imagine what O'Flynn is describing and Kate's home is also familiar - I found myself picturing a row of houses with a newsagents on that I drive past every day on the way to work.

12 September 2011

Review 37: Sky Hawk by Gill Lewis

Sky Hawk is the story of Callum who discovers an osprey on the land near his familys farmhouse in Scotland alongside the granddaughter of the local recluse, Iona. The first half of the novel deals with Callum's attempts to keep the osprey a secret and dealing with comments at school from his classmates over his friendship with Iona.

I read this book on the recommendation of a colleague and because of the rave reviews when it was published. Unfortunately I found this a book of two halves. I found the first half incredibly difficult to get through, I read it occasional page by occasional page as despite reviews claiming it was unputdownable I struggled to get involved at all. However, around halfway through the book there is a big event and from then on the book is exciting, moving and charming.

10 September 2011

Man Booker Prize Shortlist

The Man Booker Prize shortlist was announced on Tuesday and after my next review of a young adult book I've just finished I'm going to be reading the six shortlisted books over the next six weeks before the winner is announced on October 18th. I'm running a shadowing group with some of our sixth formers at school and am really looking forward to getting stuck in, I think it looks like a really promising shortlist with a lot of different kind of books there.

The shortlist is:

Julian Barnes - The Sense of an Ending (Random House)
Carol Birch - Jamrach's Menagerie (Canongate Books)
Patrick deWitt - The Sisters Brothers (Granta)
Esi Edugyan - Half Blood Blues (Serpent's Tail)
Stephen Kelman - Pigeon English (Bloomsbury)
A. D. Miller - Snowdrops (Atlantic)

5 September 2011

Review 36: The Memory of Love by Aminatta Forna

The Memory of Love is a moving and thoughtful story of love in Freetown, Sierra Leone but none of the relationships are your traditional hearts and flowers romances. There is the manipulative Elias who is in love with his friends beautiful wife, Saffia. There is Kai who was in love with Nenebah before the civil war began when everything changed. And there is Adrian, the English psychologist who despite his wife and child at home falls in love with Mamakay the freespirited African woman who will only tell Adrian the minimum about herself.

Forna was nominated for the Orange prize for this book and I can see why. I had previously read and thoroughly enjoyed the winner, The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht but I think that this book compares favourably with that and would probably by my favourite of the two as has a similar theme of many interlinked stories but manages to be much more cohesive as well as more emotionally engaging.