Books Read in 2022 5. Ridley Road – Jo Bloom

Genre: Historical fiction, Romance

Narrative Structure: Third person, Chronological

Published: 2014

Rating: 3/5

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: When her father dies, Vivien moves from Manchester to London, hoping to catch up with Jack Fox, a man who came to visit her father just before he died. Vivien quickly gets a job in a hair salon but there is no sign of Jack. Then she sees him at a fascist rally when she believed him to be Jewish. He explains to her that he is undercover in Colin Jordan’s organisation in order to find evidence that they are training men to fight.

Time on shelf: Quite a recent purchase. I bought it after the TV series which I enjoyed.

I was really looking forward to reading this. I had enjoyed the BBC series, last year. It was fast paced and about interesting events in British history that I hadn’t heard about before. However, I didn’t enjoy it nearly as much. Sometimes it barely felt like the same story.

I could list all the differences between the book and the TV program – for example, Vivien has lost both her parents in the book but in the TV program, they are very much alive – but to a certain extent, there are always such differences between these sorts of media. A bigger problem was the pace. It was very slow to start. There are a lot of details about Vivien’s move to London and her grief for her father. I was constantly waiting for things to really get going. Maybe if I had not watched the TV series I would have had more patience but I was expecting to get straight into the action.

This wasn’t helped by the fact that I found Vivien a bit insipid. She was obsessed with Jack. The sections of the book from her point of view are centred on a hairdressers with gossiping women and many descriptions of fashionable outfits and haircuts. I wouldn’t have categorised the TV series as a romance but a lot of the book definitely is.

Jack’s sections were better. The difficulty for him, as a Jewish man, being in a fascist organisation was well captured and he was a more rounded character than Vivien. There was also more action and the pace was more lively. I would have liked more of this side of the story and less of the romance and I think I see why they changed it for TV.

The subject matter of the book is interesting. The rise of fascism and the 62 Group fighting back was not something I was aware of. However, the romance elements, for me, took attention away from this and didn’t really add anything to the story. For once, the TV show was better than the book.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books I Enjoyed But Haven’t Mentioned On My Blog

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

Today’s top ten is quite hard as I have mentioned an awful lot of books on my bog over the years. Here are some which I may have missed. I’m not sure why I haven’t written about them. They are all brilliant books.

  1. Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood
  2. Exquisite Corpse – Poppy Z. Brite
  3. In Cold Blood – Truman Capote
  4. The Chocolate War – Robert Cormier
  5. The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
  6. How Late it was How Late – James Kelman
  7. It – Stephen King
  8. Spider – Patrick McGrath
  9. The Things They Carried – Tim O’Brien
  10. The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

TBR Challenge: Books Read in 2022 4. The Lost Language of Cranes – David Leavitt

Genre: LGBT, Literary Fiction

Narrative Style: Third person from a number of view points. Largely chronological

Rating: 5/5

Published: 1986

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Rose and Owen have been married for a long time. Their relationship first comes under pressure when they are told they have to buy their apartment or move out. They are unsure whether they can afford it and put off making a decision. Their son, Phillip, is in love for the first time so decides the time has come to come out to his parents. This causes problems for Owen who is struggling with his sexuality – he spends his Sunday afternoons in a gay porn theatre – and makes Rose realise some of the issues in her marriage.

Time on shelf: I’ve had a physical copy of this book for about two years but it has been on my reading list since I did my MA in the 90s.

Reading challenge: TBR Challenge 2022

I first came across this book when I took a module for my MA on Narrative and the Deviant Body. The Lost Language of Cranes wasn’t on the reading list but I came across it in my reading and added it to my very long TBR list. I can’t believe it took my this long to read it. Especially as it was a very good read.

At the beginning of the novel, Owen and Rose are a long married couple in a rented apartment in New York that they have lived in for years. They have to either buy up – which may cause them financial difficulties – or move out of the family home. Both ignore this as far as they can probably because if they start to examine things too closely, they will see the issues within their marriage. Owen spends every Sunday afternoon in a gay porn theatre while Rose carefully doesn’t ask where he was been. They willfully refuse to see each other clearly. Early in the novel, Rose meets Owen in the street on one of these Sundays and they are like two strangers. While she starts to question where he has been, she still doesn’t ask.

Their only son, Phillip, is in love for the first time. Elliot, the object of Phillip’s affections doesn’t want to be in a committed relationship. Phillip is insecure and, as a result, comes across as needy. He is unable to relax and appreciate his relationship without analysing it and worrying about the end of it. Like Owen, he is not entirely comfortable with his emotions although he is more comfortable with his sexuality. His parents don’t know he is gay, at the beginning but as he is now in a relationship, he wishes them to know. When he does tell them, it rocks their marriage even further.

Leavitt’s prose is a joy to read. It is elegant and exact. Owen, Rose and Phillip are all well drawn and it is possible to feel empathy for all three of them even when they are opposed to each other. Even though Rose doesn’t react well to Phillip’s coming out, Leavitt allows the reader to understand her position. I wanted the best for all three characters even though this is clearly impossible. For Owen to be happy, Rose and their marriage will be destroyed. Owen’s situation is heart breaking – in a particularly poignant moment, he phones a sex line and then starts to weep down the phone – as he is torn between his desires and how much he would hurt his family. When Owen eventually does leave, it doesn’t feel particularly triumphant – he seems as broken as Rose – but at least there is hope for the future.

At the end of the novel, Phillip is starting a relationship that is more equal and more real than his relationship with Elliot. Brad has been his close friend for a long time and they have the trust in each other than was missing in Phillip’s relationship with Elliot. They kiss passionately for the first time before Phillip has to go to his father who has just left home. This could be seen as representing a more open and accepting future for gay men.

This is the best book I have read so far this year and I’m going to say, it will be hard to better. It was moving and compelling. I couldn’t put it down. I will certainly be investing in more of Leavitt’s books.



Books Read in 2022 – 3. Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee – Meera Syal

Genre: Chick lit, Indian Lit, Family

Narrative Style: First person and third person sections from various points of view.

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1999

Format: Paperback

Synposis: Chila, Sunita and Tania have been friends since school. Now, Tania is a documentary maker, Sunita is married with two children and Chila is about to marry Deepak. They are as close ever until Tania makes a documentary about modern Indian life staring Chila and Sunita and their friendship falls apart.

Time on shelf: This was inherited from my husband’s aunt, six years ago. I’ve been meaning to read it for ages but it kept getting overtaken by newer purchases.

This book was largely as I expected it would be. Syal paints a clear picture of what it is like to be Indian in Britain at the end of the twentieth century. It is well-observed, at least as far as the events and emotions generated by them go. The prose is easy to read and the plot was easy to follow. For all that, at times it annoyed me.

The main issue I had with this novel was the switching between viewpoints. I don’t mind multiple narrators and, in fact, the first person sections were largely successful. When in third person mode, however, Syal tended to jump between points of view quickly – often after only a paragraph or two – and I found that a little disorientating. It didn’t help further the plot, just made it seem chaotic.

The characters seemed a little one dimensional at times and sometimes slipped into stereotype. The men existed merely as foils to the women and were little developed beyond that. I did enjoy the difference between generations and the way the three women tried to live up to their parents expectations while also fulfilling their own wishes. However, I found Chila’s naivety irritating and unbelievable and Tania remarkably insensitive. Sunita was probably the most favourably drawn but even then I wasn’t 100 percent convinced by her transformation from mother to fun-loving feminist.

Having said that, I did enjoy reading it. At times, it was laugh out loud funny, at others it was heartbreakingly sad. I’m not a big fan of chick-lit so, perhaps inevitably, it was never going to be the perfect read for me. It did keep me gripped but I wished that Syal had settled for fewer point of view changes.

Books Read in 2022 – 2. Sunburn: The Unofficial History of The Sun in 99 Headlines by James Felton.

Genre: Cultural Comment, Humour, Politics

Narrative Style: Informal, chatty

Published: 2020

Rating: 4/5

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: James Felton dissects 99 headlines from the Sun newspaper and discusses how they have influenced their readers to think in a certain way. Or is it that they move to fit in with what their readers think? It’s hard to say.

Time on Shelf: Not very long. I knew when I bought this that I would read it pretty quickly.

My mother was a Sun reader. No matter how terrible the paper got, she remained loyal to it. She was a reasonable woman most of the time but occasionally, you would hear some comment about care in the community, for example, or Hillsborough and you’d think that came straight from the Sun. I found it really depressing that she kept on reading it no matter how awful it got. As a result I was curious to see what Felton would make of it.

As the title suggests, Felton takes 99 headlines and discusses how horrible / prejudiced / prurient they are and what it suggests about The Sun’s readers. It includes famous headlines such as Gotcha during the Falklands War, Freddie Star ate my Hamster and Fly Away Gays and We Will Pay during the AIDS crisis. I was familiar with some of these headlines and stories but I wasn’t prepared for how horrible it would be to read them one after another. The blatant homophobia of the way The Sun reported the AIDS crisis was horrific, featuring stories about a clergyman who said he would shoot his own son if he ever caught it, was far worse than I remember (I was in my teens at the time). It was hard reading through them all together and I had to keep putting the book down and think of something nicer.

If you are familiar with Felton’s Twitter game, then you will recognise the style here. Sardonic, dark humour runs through this non-subtle analysis of the Sun’s headlines. (I’m not criticising. There is no way to discuss these headlines in a subtle way.) Mostly, he describes the story, offers a small amount of analysis and moves on to the next one. It wasn’t the most satisfactory style. By the end, I was longing for a bit more depth.

Overall, I’m glad I read this book. It’s hard to say I enjoyed it because it was such a horrible experience at times. Worthwhile if your interested in politics and how the media go to where they are today.

Top Ten Tuesday – 10 New to me Authors I Discovered in 2021

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

I did quite well last year for reading new authors so I’ve picked the best ones to share.

  1. Jews Don’t Count – David Baddiel – An exploration of anti-Semitism and why it doesn’t seem to be taken seriously enough. 4/5
  2. All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr – An interesting spin on a war novel involving a blind girl and a model of Paris 4/5
  3. Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng – Shaker Heights seems perfectly peaceful but the arrival of Mia, artist and single mother, turns things completely on their head. 3/5
  4. Mysterious Skin – Scott Heim – A dark and disturbing look at the effect of sexual abuse on the lives of two young boys. 5/5
  5. The Buddha of Suburbia – Hanif Kureishi – A bildungsroman that chronicles the sexual awakening and social difficulties of Karim Amir. 4/5
  6. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy – John Le Carre – Classic spy story with plenty of twists and turns. 4/5
  7. How Not To Be Wrong – James O’Brien – O’Brien charts his personal journey of learning how to change your mind. 5/5
  8. All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque – The heartbreaking classic of German schoolboys who sign up and fight in the first world war. 5/5
  9. The Plot Against America – Philip Roth – What would have happened if the US hadn’t joined the second world war? A disturbing look at the possible outcome. 5/5
  10. The Nickel Boys – Colson Whitehead – A hellish look at the reform schools of the 1960s. 5/5

Books Read in 2022 1. Bleeding Hearts – Ian Rankin

Genre: Thriller

Narrative Style: Alternates between first person and third person.

Published: 1994 (Under the name Jack Harvey)

Rating: 3/5

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Michael Weston is a sniper and paid assassin. He asks no questions and just gets on with the job. However, this time someone has tipped off the police and he is nearly caught. Michael needs to investigate who gave him the job while also evading the police and a private detective named Hoffer who works on the behalf of the family of a previous victim.

Reading Challenges: TBR Challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader

Time on shelf: About ten years. I remember buying it in a charity shop because I was interested in reading a Rankin novel that wasn’t a Rebus story. However, as I was working my way through the Rebus books at the time, they always took precedence.

This started well. The story starts right in the middle of the action. Weston is in position, waiting for his victim who is about to appear from the hotel across the road. He makes the hit and the police arrive far too quickly. Weston then has to escape – something he does by hitting himself in the head with a rock and then phoning an ambulance which comes extremely quickly once they realise he is a haemophiliac. That was an unusual angle and made the story exciting from the first.

Weston’s sections are written in first person and I liked that we were being made to side with a character who was ostensibly the bad guy. I was keen to know who had set him up and how all the pieces fitted together. For all he assassinates people for money, he isn’t a nasty character. He tends to keep his distance from people or at least he tries to.

The main foil to Weston’s character is the private detective, Hoffer. He is supposed to be the good guy but it is impossible to like him. He is sexist and obnoxious. In fact, I think Rankin may have overdone it with his lack of redeeming features as he became something of a caricature. I found myself more and more irritated with him. He is never far behind Weston and his unpleasantness made it easier to root for the assassin.

There is love interest for Weston in the form of Belle, the daughter of his arms dealer. She was clearly supposed to show that women can be interested in guns and can be tough and sexy. She is in love with Weston and they fall into a relationship. I found this a bit unnecessary. Weston keeps trying to leave her behind. She refuses to be left. It gets a bit tedious after a while.

The plot is intriguing. Weston discovers that the hit is linked to a cult called Disciples of Love who have links to some US government agencies. As he investigates further, the group become more and more sinister. As with the Rebus books, Rankin’s plotting is tight. This was the most successful aspect of the book. Very satisfying.

Unfortunately not everything was so successful. Hoffer has the opportunity to kill Weston but suddenly has a fit of conscience which didn’t ring true. I wasn’t really convinced by some of the smaller characters – Spike, Weston’s friend in the States, for example. The dynamic between Michael and Belle was annoying. Ultimately this was an okay read but nowhere near as good as the Rebus books.

Top Ten Tuesday – Books I didn’t get to

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This weeks Top Ten Tuesday is 2021 Releases I Was Excited to Read But Didn’t Get To. However, as I don’t read many current books, I’m going to change it slightly to books I didn’t get to last year. I had aimed to read 45 books last year but I only got through 37 so there were a few I missed.

  1. Emma – Jane Austen. I faced down Middlemarch and Far From the Madding Crowd last year and I just couldn’t face another classic.
  2. The Thief of Time – John Boyne. Not sure why I didn’t read this one. I’ve enjoyed the other novels by Boyle I’ve read.
  3. The Long Call – Anne Cleeves. I watched this on the TV and it was okay but not great so I put off reading it.
  4. David Copperfield – Charles Dickens. Another classic I couldn’t face.
  5. Girl, Woman Other – Bernadine Evaristo. I read The Testaments last year and had intentions of reading this as it was joint booker winner with the Atwood.
  6. Just Like You – Nick Hornby. This was a new release but I’m not sure why I bought it as I seem to like Hornby less with each book.
  7. The Institute – Stephen King. I must admit the length of this is putting me off. I’m sure that once I pick it up, I’ll get through it quite quickly but it’s just making myself pick it up.
  8. Live by Night – Dennis Lehane. This has been on my TBR for far too long. I’m not sure why I haven’t got round to it yet because I enjoyed the other books I have read by him.
  9. Pies and Prejudice – Stuart Maconie. I didn’t read much non fiction last year and this is one that I intended to read but didn’t get to.
  10. Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel. I put this on last year’s reading list because a lot of people have recommended it but I’m not sure I actually fancy it.

TBR Challenge 2022

After a year free of book challenges, I’ve decided to do the TBR challenge hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader. I really like this challenge because it doesn’t require me to buy any books or to read genres I wouldn’t normally go anywhere near. It’s a straightforward read the books you have challenge. As such, here is my list.

  1. Have You Eaten Grandma – Gyles Brandreth
  2. The Long Call – Anne Cleeves
  3. Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
  4. Ananci Boys – Neil Gaiman
  5. Outliers – Malcolm Gladwell
  6. Live By Night – Dennis Lehane
  7. The Lost Language of Cranes – David Leavitt
  8. More Tales of the City – Armistead Maupin
  9. Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell
  10. Bleeding Hearts – Ian Rankin
  11. The Kitchen God’s Wife – Amy Tan
  12. The Two Towers – J R R Tolkien

Alternates:

  1. Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  2. The Princess Bride – William Goldman

Top Ten Tuesday – Most Recent Additions

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January of 2018. It was born of a love of lists, a love of books, and a desire to bring bookish friends together.

This weeks top ten – Most recent additions to my book collection.

I’m trying not to buy books as I have so many books that I haven’t read. However, people often give me Amazon vouchers or book tokens for my birthday / Christmas so I have bought some lately. Also, I do tend to buy books on my kindle as they don’t take up physical space.

  1. Blood and Guts in High School – Kathy Acker (1984) I’ve been meaning to read this since university – which is thirty years ago now. Not quite sure why it had taken so long to purchase a copy.
  2. The Origins of Totalitarianism – Hannah Arendt (1951) Another one that I’ve been meaning to read for a while. It has never felt more relevant to be reading about this subject.
  3. Ridley Road – Jo Bloom (2014) I bought this after the TV series which was very good but also after reading Jews Don’t Count and The Plot Against America and deciding I needed to read more Jewish fiction / non fiction.
  4. The City and the Stars – Arthur C. Clarke (1956) I’m trying to read through some classic science fiction and Clarke seems about as classic as you can get.
  5. House of Glass: The Stories and Secrets of a Twentieth Century Jewish Family – Hadley Freeman (2020) I read Freeman’s column in the Guardian and am curious to know more about her life and about life in a Jewish family.
  6. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress – Robert A. Heinlein (1966) More classic science fiction.
  7. The Lost Language of Cranes – David Leavitt (1986) I’ve read Leavitt’s biography of Alan Turing and enjoyed it so I thought I’d give his fiction a go.
  8. A Perfect Spy – John Le Carre (1986) I’m not a massive fan of spy fiction but I enjoyed Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy last year so I’m giving Le Carre another go.
  9. Shuggie Bain – Douglas Stuart (2020) I’ve been trying to read Booker Prize winners and this sounded particularly good.
  10. The Midwich Cuckoos – John Wyndham (1957) I love Wyndham.