Thursday 30 January 2014

Lazy Days (Loe) / Exile (Ejersbo) - mini reviews (translated fiction)

Reviewing has kind of spiralled away from me in the last few months, but there are a few books I have read during this time that I wanted to highlight as being particularly stand-out and worth mentioning:

Erlend Loe - Lazy Days (Goodreads)

My love for Erlend Loe's books - and my general impatience at waiting for English translations (*has not yet learnt Norwegian*) - is no secret here, and Lazy Days does nothing to dampen either love or impatience. This is a short book, and the language is often sparse, with one-page chapters in places. It is also characteristically funny, often in rather bleak, blackly comedic ways, and strangely optimistic, despite the fact that the book focuses on one man's faltering marriage, his strained relationship with his family, his hatred of holidaying in Germany (where the book takes place) and his obsession with Nigella Lawson. (Odd, to read this book at a time when Nigella and her ex-husband were all over the news, as protagonist Telemann muses on their marriage at length.) The Nigella obsession is where a lot of the humour comes from (although for me, the funniest part involves his wife's toothbrush and Telemann's seeming determination to be ever-so-slightly annoying at every turn). It is difficult to explain to appeal of Loe's books, but for me this was as joyful to read as his other novels, and it's good to see his books popping up in bookshops more and more in their great Head of Zeus covers.

Jakob Ejersbo - Exile (Goodreads)

Another translated piece of fiction, this time the Danish novel Eksil (Exile), by the late author Jakob Ejersbo, who died before he saw the publication of the Africa trilogy, of which Exile is the first installment. It follows the lives of European ex-pats and wealthy Africans living in Tanzania, privilege rubbing up against poverty, in a society where corruption and apathy are rife. The main focus is on schoolgirl Samantha, who is dealing with a father eyeballs-deep in shady business deals, a sister who wants to get married so she can escape their family, and a mother who has moved back to England. Stuck at boarding school, Samantha is bored, rebellious, and without responsibility, spending her time drinking, doing drugs, experimenting sexually, and trying to inject some excitement into her life. The sense of disaffection is reflected in the writing style, and the ending is both shocking, and delivered in a deliberately flat way, that sums up the overall feel of the book - a kind of bleak inevitability hanging over the events, which are often related in quite a detached way. The book deals with belonging, and not belonging, and the fear of falling between the two places - a place that Samantha is in danger of landing.

Friday 10 January 2014

This Was The Year That Was: 2013

Every year, Goodreads manages to lure me in with that most simple of reading challenges: how many books can you read in a year? I set my target at 40 for 2013. As of today (December 30th), I have read 79 (although Goodreads claims 80, because I couldn't help but rate a terrible book that I DNFed).

2013 has been a pretty big year for me, not least because it was the year that I finished my PhD, became a "Dr." (a Ross Geller "Dr.", not a Gregory House "Dr."), got a job doing the thing that I have been wanting to do for at least the last 10 years, and survived the inevitable madness that comes with doing all of those things. At the beginning of the year I wasn't sure I'd have time to read four books, let alone forty, but all good procrastinators need a hobby, and this happens to be mine, so...

This might go some way to explaining why Bibliotekit has been so quiet over the last few months, but I wanted to do an end-of-year round-up, and hopefully mention some of those books that I haven't yet had chance to review. I'm using Jamie's End of Year Book Survey, as I've enjoyed reading other people's over the last couple of weeks. So, here goes!

1. Best Book You Read In 2013?

Adult fiction: Sisterland, Curtis Sittenfeld
YA fiction: Life in Outer Space, Melissa Keil
Non-fiction: I Feel Bad About My Neck, Nora Ephron

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?

Three Cups of Deceit, Jon Krakauer - one of my favourite authors, but the book never grabbed me like his others. And The Hive, by Gill Hornby - sounded like a great premise, but very disappointing.

 3. Most surprising (in a good way!) book of 2013? 

The Dinner, by Herman Koch - a Dutch novel about four people at dinner in a restaurant, which turned out to be one of my favourite books of the year.

 4. Book you read in 2013 that you recommended to people most in 2013?

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, and Be Awesome, by Hadley Freeman.

 5. Best series you discovered in 2013?

I didn't read more than one book in an individual series at all this year (except for re-reading Harry Potter), but those that I am tempted to go back to: the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan books by Val McDermid, and the Divergent series, by Veronica Roth.

 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2013?

Probably Gillian Flynn, as I read and enjoyed all three of her novels this year. I'm also excited to see more from Natalie Whipple.

7. Best book that was out of your comfort zone or was a new genre for you?

I don't think I ventured too far out of my comfort zone this year, but I did read Misery by Stephen King, and I don't normally read much horror.

8. Most thrilling, unputdownable book in 2013?

 Gone Girl again!

 9. Book You Read In 2013 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?

I am not much of a re-reader, but high on the list would be Doppler by Erlend Loe, and Lola and the Boy Next Door, by Stephanie Perkins.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2013?

11. Most memorable character in 2013? 

Charles Pooter from Diary of a Nobody. Mostly for the bath of paint.

 12. Most beautifully written book read in 2013?


13. Book that had the greatest impact on you in 2013? 

This is shared between three non-fiction books I read: Be Awesome, I Feel Bad About My Neck, and The Purity Myth.

 14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2013 to finally read? 

Probably the two Ira Levin novels I hadn't read: A Kiss Before Dying and The Boys from Brazil.

 15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2013?

"In the evening, Cummings unexpectedly dropped in to show me a meerschaum pipe he had won in a raffle in the City, and told me to handle it carefully, as it would spoil the colouring if the hand was moist.  He said he wouldn’t stay, as he didn’t care much for the smell of the paint, and fell over the scraper as he went out.  Must get the scraper removed, or else I shall get into a scrape.  I don’t often make jokes." - George Grossmith, Diary of a Nobody

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2013?

 Longest: Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire, J. K. Rowling (re-read); Grimms Fairy Stories
Shortest: Voice of the Violin, Andrea Camilleri

 17. Book That Had A Scene In It That Had You Reeling And Dying To Talk To Somebody About It? (a WTF moment, an epic revelation, a steamy kiss, etc. etc.) Be careful of spoilers!

Gone Girl had a ton of these moment, when I was dying for other people to have read it so I could talk about it.

18. Favorite Relationship From A Book You Read In 2013 (be it romantic, friendship, etc).

Romance: Fiona & Seth from Transparent, by Natalie Whipple; Tris & Four from Divergent, by Veronica Roth; Michael & Ben from Michael Tolliver Lives, by Armistead Maupin.
Friendship: Tony & Carol from Wire in the Blood, by Val McDermid; the guys from Life in Outer Space, by Melissa Keil.
Family: Harriet and her family in Geek Girl, by Holly Smale.

19. Favorite Book You Read in 2013 From An Author You’ve Read Previously

Doppler, by Erlend Loe. Runners up: A Kiss Before Dying, Lola and the Boy Next Door, Nemesis by Philip Roth.

20. Best Book You Read In 2013 That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else:

 A few have already been mentioned, so I'll say Persuasion, by Jane Austen, as recommended by a friend of mine.

21. Genre You Read The Most From in 2013?

Probably crime/thriller, although quite a good mix this year!

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2013?

It was all about Four (Divergent), until Seth (Transparent) came along.

23. Best 2013 debut you read?

Two I have mentioned a lot here - Life in Outer Space and Transparent - and I will add to that Emily Gale's Steal My Sunshine.

24. Most vivid world/imagery in a book you read in 2013?

Jakob Ejersbo's Exile does an amazing job of bringing the lives of international ex-pats in Tanzania alive.

25. Book That Was The Most Fun To Read in 2013?

My Mad Fat Diary, by Rae Earl.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2013?

Life After Death, by Damien Echols.

27. Book You Read in 2013 That You Think Got Overlooked This Year Or When It Came Out?

I would love to see Erlend Loe's books get more recognition, as I wait patiently for more to be translated into English!

Sunday 10 November 2013

Showcase Sunday #34

A few books to share this week, starting with some library finds that were a reward for working all day in the library on Friday - nothing better than being surrounded by books you know you can take home!

Showcase Sunday is hosted by Vicky at Books, Biscuits and Tea.

Spoiled college students and Ellis' trademark darkness.

Currently reading this - the atmosphere is fantastic, and reminiscent of Donna Tartt's The Little Friend in some ways.

An Argentinian novel that will be a late contender for my 2013 Translation Challenge.

I also picked up a few things for my Kindle:

A Finnish novel that looks at the period during which Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union, focusing on the stories of two women.

A very short read - I am a big fan of Krakauer's writing, so I was left wanting more, but a nice slice of investigative journalism.

My third King novel - after a so-so reaction to Duma Key, and a DNF for Black House, I decided to give this a go in the Hallowe'en sale.

Recent reviews

Review: Miss Pym Disposes, Josephine Tey

Miss Pym Disposes

Josephine Tey

Arrow, 2011 (1946)

This will be quite a short review, partly because it's a few weeks since I finished this book, and partly because it just didn't really do much for me one way or the other. I have been recommended Tey's books on the basis of my enjoyment of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers and the like, but this just didn't blow me away.

In superficial ways, it reminded me a little of Gaudy Night by Sayers, mostly because of the setting in a competitive all-girls' school in which students and staff live in close proximity. (My review of Gaudy Night is here.) The end of the year is upon the students, who have final exams and gymnastic demonstrations to work their way through. The murder comes very late in the book, and the majority of the novel is given over to Miss Pym, visitor and outsider, who has some background in psychology and is able to muse on the various dynamics unfolding around her.

Miss Pym's observations are interesting, and Tey is good at deft characterisation, which occupies much of the book as the characters are scrutinised and picked apart by the unexpected visitor. Unravelling the mystery wasn't too difficult, although there are a few slight twists and turns to keep you guessing. I didn't mind the slow build-up, probably because boarding school stories were always a favourite of mine, and this was like a slightly sinister Malory Towers in places, but if you're looking for a crime novel, I would look elsewhere (and if you're looking for boarding school intrigue with some psychology and crime thrown in, I'd go back to Gaudy Night).

Overall rating: 5.5/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Review: One Step Too Far, Tina Seskis

One Step Too Far

Tina Seskis

Kirk Parolles; Kindle edition, 2013

An apparently happy marriage. A beautiful son. A lovely home. So what makes Emily Coleman get up one morning and walk right out of her life – changing her name, holing up in a grotty house in North London, taking a dead-end job where she won’t be found. Has she had a breakdown? Was it to escape her dysfunctional family, especially her malevolent twin Caroline who always seemed to hate her? And what is the anniversary that looms, threatening to force her to confront her past? No-one has ever guessed her secret. Will you?

The cover of One Step Too Far is a row of familiar orange-striped train tickets, and the opening chapter reveals why: Emily Coleman, on the surface a happy, successful, enviable woman, has left her old life behind in pursuit of self-inflicted disappearance in London. Why Emily has left is the central mystery of the book: all the reader knows is that something has happened that has caused Emily to turn her back on her marriage, her family, and her job, desperate to forget or erase the traumatic events that have led her here.

The book switches between Emily's current life as she attempts to reinvent herself in London, finding a home and a friend and a job, all under her new identity, and events from the past, that focus heavily on Emily's relationship with her troubled twin sister Caroline. If Emily had it all, then Caroline was always second fiddle, a source of tension, aggravation, and anger for her twin.

Seskis doesn't give much away, and that's the key hook of One Step Too Far - it promises a twist in the leagues of Gone Girl, and it delivers a decent blow when the twist finally comes. The writing was taut and fast-paced, and I spent a fair amount of time wondering how long Emily could possibly get away with her disappearance and dual life.

It is a strange, less than realistic event that finally provides the catalyst for the events of the novel to fall into place, but this fades into the background when the story begins to unfold and your attention shifts to how Seskis has pulled off the central piece of deceit. When the novel starts to piece together the truth, and the reader is on the other side of the twist, the novel seemed to lose pace a little bit - there were a couple of subsidiary 'twists' that just dragged the story on unnecessarily. Overall, however, One Step Too Far is a gripping novel, and worth the read.

Overall rating: 7.5/10

Book source: Bought from Amazon.

Thursday 31 October 2013

Review: Transparent, Natalie Whipple


Natalie Whipple

HarperTeen; Kindle edition, 2013

Transparent is a fun, cute page-turner that renewed my faith in YA. Fiona is on the run from her mob boss dad, who has been using Fiona's unique powers for his own less-than-savoury power plays. Fiona is invisible, even to herself, and in escaping a life of crime with her mother, she ends up in a non-descript small town in Arizona, experiencing the day-to-day ups and downs of high school life.

The back story was minimal, but enough to establish the crucial points: to combat radiation, pills were given to the population during the Cold War - pills that caused mutations in the DNA of certain members of the population, resulting in special abilities: whether that be strength, the ability to fly, manipulation, voice-throwing, imitation, or, in Fiona's case, the ability to disappear. Transparent is set in the south-west United States, where the territory is ruled by warring mob bosses, Fiona's father among them.

Fiona's invisibility might be useful to her dad, but it's unheard of in any other human, making Fiona both unique and strange to her fellow classmates, most of whom avoid her. Whipple does a great job of revealing Fiona's insecurities, and although Fiona was quite often angry, this seemed more like a reaction to her less-than-stable life and the constant fear she had of being found by the less merciful members of her family. Her developing friendships with Bea, Brady and Seth were well done, and it was nice to see Fiona gradually start to relax into herself.

The romance element was part of the story, and I liked how it wasn't set out in a straight line - there was some confusion and some transferring of affections which made it a little bit less predictable than it could have been. As YA boys go, Seth will go down as one of my favourites, for being both grumpy and lovely all at the same time. (And special mention to Miles, in the hot brother category.)

Though there were some action sequences, and the tension did build as Fiona tried to keep her family safe, for the most part Transparent is about friendship and trust and finding yourself. It's quite a light read, but with a lot of fun moments and enough spark to keep you hooked until the end.

Overall rating: 7.5/10

Book source: Bought from Amazon.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Showcase Sunday #33

So, it's been a while since I posted any updates here, mostly because life has been pretty crazy. I have a new job, as well as my old job, and although I've managed quite a bit of reading the blogging has taken a bit of a slide. I'm hoping to get some reviews up over the next few days and hopefully review some of the (very good) books I've read lately!

This week, I bought one book - Epivision: Volume 1, by Matthew Thompson, the next book in the Domino Galaxy series. (You can read my review of the first book, Twin Spirit, here.)

One really good book I finally got around to reviewing was The Boys From Brazil, by Ira Levin. I have read Levin's four big novels this year and loved them all.

I also read and reviewed Divergent, by Veronica Roth, along with the other ladies in the Catch Up Club - this was our third book choice since we started up, and definitely my favourite of the bunch so far.

Looking forward to catching up with everyone!