Books Read in 2014 – 63. Death Comes for the Archbishop – Willa Cather


Genre: Religious, American History

Narrative style: A series of happenings that involve the same characters but are not connected by an over-arching narrative. Third person.

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1927

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: An epic novel spanning the life of Father Jean Marie Latour as he becomes9780679728894_p0_v1_s260x420 Vicar Apostolic to New Mexico. The novel takes us from the beginning of his career through to his becoming Archbishop and eventual death. 

Reading Challenges: TBR Challenge

Time on Shelf: This is one of the oldest unreads on my shelf. I bought it while at university some twenty or so years ago. I had come across Cather’s name in books on feminist writing and so when I saw it second hand I picked it up. However, I then didn’t really fancy the subject matter, hence it languishing on the shelf for quite so long. 

There is no denying that this is beautifully written. Cather can certainly turn a phrase and for me to have kept on reading this, despite my lack of interest in matters of religion is testament to the strength of her prose. The countryside and the characters are all impeccably described and vivid to the reader. Latour and his assistant and friend, Father Joseph Vaillant, were interesting in their missionary zeal even while I could not share their enthusiasm. Both were based on real men and many of the events were based in reality which only makes it more remarkable.

The main reason I didn’t rate this higher was the structure of the novel. I’m not even sure that novel is the right word. There isn’t one storyline here, no overarching plot but a series of scenes, all as important as the other. This led to a lack of tension and I felt there was no reason for reading on. There were no hints of what was to come and little reference to what had been. It was perhaps like a series of short stories which just happened to involve the same group of people.

While I am not really interested in religion, I am interested in the period of history described and if nothing else, this book has reminded me of that and ensured I will read more about it in the future.

Books Read in 2014 – 47. Let the Right One in – John Ajvide Lindqvist


Genre: Horror, Vampires

Narrative Style: Third person chronological

Rating 5/5 

Published: 2009

Format: Paperbackdownload (14)

Synopsis: Oskar a loner, bullied at school and friendless, is over the moon when he meets Eli, the girl who moves into his apartment block. She seems a little strange but then so is Oskar. However, all is not as it seems and with Eli’s arrival comes a series of strange deaths and uncanny events. Oskar knows she has a secret but could not have imagined the full extent of her story.

Reading challenges: TBR challenge

Time of Shelf: I bought this not long after I watched the film which I really enjoyed. But then I was worried it wouldn’t live up to the film (whenever I read a book of a film, I seem to like it less than the film) so I started to avoid reading it. 

I was a bit nervous starting to read this. Not because I thought I might be scared – I rather hoped I would be – but because I had loved the film so much. (The Swedish original not the American remake.) I had high expectations. What if the book couldn’t live up to them? Well, I needed have worried. This book is amazing in its own right and while I enjoyed it more than the film, the film didn’t lose anything as a result. I could still watch it.

It is almost difficult to know where to start. As with all good horror, this is more than a story about vampires. It’s about good and evil and the very basis of what it means to be human. Eli – or Elias as it is later revealed – has to kill in order to survive ( if survive is really the right word) but is less monstrous than the man who helps her by killing young boys and bleeding them. He is eventually caught out by his own desire for young flesh and when  he becomes un-dead, it is this perversion that drives him to almost destroy Eli in one of the most disturbing encounters in the novel. As a vampire, he represents all of society’s great fears about the potential danger of the paedophile.

By contrast, Eli and Oskar’s relationship is almost innocent. They are both on the cusp of adolescence and their relationship slides between childish and adult. Oskar is more disturbed to discover that Eli is actually a boy (although one that has been castrated) than to discover he is a vampire. She gives him the confidence to stand up to the bullies at school and he gives her a much needed friend. They are both outsiders – the details of their difference are less important than the fact of it.

Where this novel really succeeds is the sense of place that  the reader is given. Like in the best of Stephen King’s work, Lindqvist shows the reader the smallness of his characters’ lives. The small town is suffocating, killing its inhabitants as surely as if it was the monster. And for the ones that are left alive at the end, there is no escape. Only back to the grey, dead landscape of their everyday life.

Having said that, the end of this story is not depressing and you can’t help feeling hopeful for Oskar and Eli. They are the ones that get away and even though one of them is hundred of years old and lives of the blood of others, you hope that they will be happy.


Books Read in 2014 – 46. The Rapture – Liz Jensen


2014tbrbuttonGenre: Madness, Dystopia

Narrative Style: First Person, Chronological

Rating:4/5download (13)

Published: 2009

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: When Gabrielle Fox starts work at a secure psychiatric unit for teenagers, her main concern is coming to terms with her paralysis following a horrific accident. She is understandably vulnerable so that when she meets Bethany, a crazed adolescent who killed her own mother and has visions of an apocalyptic nature, she starts to wonder whether the visions could have some truth to them. 

Reading Challanges: The TBR Challenge.

Time on Shelf. Two years. No reason, just kept slipping to the bottom of the pile. 

I love a good thriller and apocalyptic fiction is always good for that. In that respect, this certainly did not disappoint. It was a roller-coaster ride from the very first moment that Bethany and Gabrielle met. Bethany senses an unique audience in Gabrielle, due to her own vulnerabilities and it isn’t long before Gabrielle is taking the girl’s visions seriously.

It was easy to suspend my disbelief and Gabrielle’s own sense of the ridiculousness of believing Bethany is quite acute. As events progress, there is barely time to draw breath, never mind doubt what is happening. Jensen draws parallels between religion and the notion of the Rapture and believing in Bethany’s more disturbing vision of the future and suggests neither is more ridiculous than the other.

The characters were well drawn. Gabrielle as the destroyed woman, grieving for the use of her legs and the man she lost in the accident is full of insecurities that were easy to relate to. Bethany was at times monstrous but at others sympathetic. The romance between Gabrielle and the physicist that she takes Bethany’s drawings to was convincing and sexy. I’ve never been quite so relieved to discover that a man wasn’t cheating as when he revealed that the subterfuge had been for a completely different reason than Gabrielle had assumed.

The ending is brilliant – a clever take on the Rapture that everyone in the novel is waiting for – but it is also depressing. And, of course, this is as it should be. I’d have been disappointed with anything else but at the same time I longed for things to be different for them.

Books read in 2014 – 37. The Rules of Attraction – Bret Easton Ellis



Genre: Masculinity, GLBT

Narrative Style: Various first person narratives. Chronological.

Rating 4/5

Publication: 1987

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Paul is in love with Sean but is on the rebound from Mitchell. Sean is in love with Lauren but that doesn’t stop him from going to bed with Paul. Lauren is in love with Victor who is in Europe and not communicating. These are the main voices in Ellis’s novel of disconnection and loneliness who recount their many attempts at love and sex. 

Challenges: TBR Challenge

Time on Shelf: About four years. Not sure why – I like Ellis but this just seemed to slip to the bottom of the pile again and again. 

This is a fairly typical Ellis novel. The characters are empty, trying desperately to fill their lives with something – drugs, sex, alcohol – certainly not with what they are supposed to be studying. This isn’t a criticism. I enjoy Ellis’s style and subject matter, just that it is easy to see where this fits before American Psycho and Glamarama. Of course, both of those branch off from this one so I suppose it isn’t surprising.

The main characters are Sean, Paul and Lauren and they get the narrative the most often. The triangle is absurd. Paul is besotted with Sean and describes their time together but if you only read Sean’s chapters then you’d never know about this relationship as he only mentions Paul in passing. In fact, it is almost possible to believe that Paul has the wrong person although some details do seem to be backed up by Lauren. He claims to be in love with Lauren but only because he thinks that she has been leaving love notes for him. Lauren’s motives for sleeping with Sean are uncertain although she is bored and angry with Victor who she discovers is chasing somebody else.

This is typical of the relationships in the novel and of the other characters who get the narrative voice. Everyone is in love with the wrong person. This is a novel about disconnection. Not just between people but with life and with themselves. No one really knows what anyone else is thinking or even comes close to guessing. In fact, more often then not, they have it about as wrong as it is possible to be.

This lack of connection is shown in the way the characters bed hop with about as much thought for sex as any other bodily function. It is no more important than scratching an itch. Even while Sean claims to be in love with Lauren, he still sleeps with her best friend. Also, it is symbolised by the fact that no one seems able to decide on a subject to study. These people do not know themselves so it makes sense that they would be unable to form relationships or settle on a pathway for the future.

This novel is funny in places and Ellis has a superb ear for dialogue so the meaningless student exchanges seem realistic and reminded me of the sort of conversations that you have at that age. Ultimately though, this is a difficult book to read and I found the characters a bit depressing. They have no characteristics, they only have things. And while I know these sort of people exist, I certainly wouldn’t want to spend anymore time than I just have in their company.

Books Read in 2014 – 27. The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas

Genre: Family, Australian Fiction

Narrative Style – A series of third person perspectives from different characters’ points of view. 

Rating 4/52014tbrbutton

Format: Paperback

Published: 2008

Synopsis: At a barbecue in suburban Australia, a young child is out of control. While others look on in horror, a man who is not his parent slaps the child. The repercussions of this act ripple through the lives of all present that day. 

Challenges: TBR Challenge

Time on Shelf: Only about three years. I meant to read it before it was on TV but then I only managed to watch the first episode (not because it wasn’t good but because I was too busy and/or hopeless) and the urgency fell away. I was quite glad not to have watched it as I really enjoyed not knowing what would happen. 

Before reading this, I was interested to see how the issue of child discipline would be handled. This is a emotive issue. If you are seen to disagree with modern parenting methods then you are perceived as some sort of barbarian. But sometimes it does seem that children are being done no favours by parenting methods that give them a choice article-1304653-0AC0591E000005DC-621_233x353about everything but neglect to teach them that sometimes they won’t get their own way. Tsiolkas handles these issues successfully due to the method of giving each person a chapter and opinion. He shows the multi-faceted nature of the issue at hand.

There is not doubt that Hugo is a little monster, still being breastfed at almost four, refusing to play nice and told by his mother that he is the most important person in the universe. Actually, Rosie, his mother was one of the less convincing characters, she was too cliched an earth mother for me and I found her chapter one of the least fun to read. However, this may be due to the distance between myself and this sort of women. She was the sort of person I would never be friends with.

Harry, the person who slapped Hugo was suitably horrible – racist, sexist, violent. After all, even if you might think that child could do with  a slap, there aren’t many of us who would put that into action. Even so, I was pleased that the court decision went his way. You shouldn’t slap someone else’s child but surely you don’t need to take it to the police either.

I enjoyed reading the different viewpoints and trying to understand how different characters came to their decisions about the incident. The story unfolded cleverly and there was always reason to keep reading. The ending pulled together most of the narrative threads and was largely satisfying. The only thing I might have liked was more from the early characters as hints are dropped about them but you don’t actually get to see how they have changed.

When I rated this on Goodreads, I was surprised by the number of negative reviews. There is s something a little soap opera like about this but I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. The issues raised – like those in a soap opera – are pertinent to everyday life. I enjoyed this and will certainly be reading more of TSiolkas’ books.


Plans for this year

I’m bit late writing this. It is now beyond the middle of January and I still haven’t posted my new year resolutions / plans for the rest of the year. Perhaps one of them should be getting myself organised.

In terms of reading, I am doing two challenges this year:

  • The TBR challenge – I’m excited about this challenge for a nu2014tbrbuttonmber of reasons. First of all, it is always exciting to be forced to read books you’ve been meaning to read for ages. One of the books I am reading for this (Death Comes to the Archbishop) has been on my shelf for twenty years. This really is ridiculous. If not for this challenge then I probably would never have picked it up. It becomes far too easy to ignore these books in favour of new and more exciting books. The other reason that this challenge is good is that it does not involve my kindle. It is all books from my shelf. It doesn’t involve buying new books either. This can only be a good thing.
  • The Eclectic Reader Challenge 2014 – I’m looking forward to theclecticchallenge2014_300is challenge for different reasons. I really enjoyed the way it took me out of my reading rut. This year there are even more genres that I don’t usually read so that should be interesting.

In terms of writing, I have a few things I want to do.

  • In terms of reviewing, I am going to try to write a review for every book I read this year, regardless of whether it is for a challenge or not.
  • I have a few final tweaks to Choose Yr Future and then I will be looking for beta readers and hopefully be looking towards publication this year.
  • I am going to try and use writing prompts to write more short fiction and also make more efforts to get what I have written published / entered in more competitions.
  • Finish my current project which hasn’t got a name yet but is about 60000 words long.

So an exciting year hopefully. Certainly a busy one with lots of challenges and lots of fun and hard work ahead.

The 2014 TBR Challenge


Last year, I only did one reading challenge and I managed to do it twice (Eclectic Reading Challenge 2013). So I’m hoping that this year I will be able to do The 2014 TBR Challenge – hosted by Roof Beam Reader –   as well as the Eclectic Reading Challenge 2014. After all, I read 61 books so 24 will hopefully be manageable.

The goal of the TBR Challenge is to read 12 books that have been on your to read pile for more than a year (plus to alternatives in case of getting stuck with on of the 12.) Easy enough as my to read pile grows every year.

Here is my list for the challenge. I’ll link reviews as I go along.Complicity –

1.Iain Banks (1993) (April)

2. Death Comes for the Archbishop – Willa Cather (1927)

3. The Inheritance of Loss – Kiran Desai (2005) (June)

4. The Rules of Attraction – Bret Easton Ellis (1987) (July)

5. The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde (2003) (February)

6. The Rapture – Liz Jensen (2009) (August)

7. Translated Accounts – James Kelman (2001) (March)

8. Let the Right one in = John Ajvide Lindgvist (2004) September)

9. The Distant Echo – Val McDermid (2003) (October)

10. The Flood – Ian Rankin (1986) (November)

11. Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh (1945) (January)

12. The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas (2008) (May)


  1. The Anniversary Man – R. J. Ellory (2009)
  2. Raven Black – Ann Cleeves (1997)