Sunday 31 July 2011


We're off on our American honeymoon tomorrow!  First port of call will be Las Vegas for four days, where we are going to do all of the tacky things plus have a guided airplane tour of the Grand Canyon.  After that, it's a flight to Houston, Texas to start our Deep South adventure!  We are hoping to visit Houston, New Orleans, Jackson, Memphis, Nashville, Atlanta and Birmingham (although not in that order!). I'd love to get to Savannah too but think that will be pushing it. I have my Sat Nav all programmed and ready to go.

I'm really excited because even though I've been all over Europe, I've never been outside of the continent I was born in.  I'm nervous about driving on the wrong side of the road, but sure I will get used to it with time.  I think the heat will be a big shock (we're at around 19C here at the moment, highest summer temps usually 25C) but hopefully we'll have an amazing time.

I'm taking my laptop so will probably update this blog if the places we stay in have wi-fi connections.  However, it will be travel stuff and hopefully photos rather than book reviews and there won't be any regularity to it.  I also won't have as much time to devote to reading and commenting on your blogs as I normally would, but that doesn't mean I don't care anymore! Be patient though, normal scheduling will resume in September.  Any submissions to the Literary Blog Directory won't be looked at now until September, so again be patient.

See you all in September :)

Saturday 30 July 2011

The Long Song by Andrea Levy

Small Island was one of my favourite reads of 2010, so I was very excited to get my hands on Andrea Levy's most recent book, The Long Song.  It tells the story of July, a Jamaican slave born to a Jamaican field hand and white overseer.  Kept as a lady's maid to a plantation owner, her world is soon turned upside down by the violent slave riots and eventual freedom.

Unfortunately, this is one of those books that I wanted to love but just couldn't.  I can't think of anything I disliked about it but it just didn't click with me - maybe the curse of high expectations?  I liked the format of July setting her story down for posterity (with the interference of her publisher son), and I especially liked the way it was written with Jamaican inflection; I could almost hear July in my head.

I think part of the problem was that I couldn't connect with any of the characters.  Levy clearly showed how awful slavery was and it's impact on everyone, and I liked how she explained how the big events affected individuals but I just didn't care about the individuals.  So I had a feeling of detachment as I read the book and didn't feel a strong urge to pick it up once I had put it down.

Verdict: An interesting idea, but I'd recommend Small Island over this one.
Source: Owned, paperback
Score: 3 out of 5

Friday 29 July 2011

I'm Married :)

What a great day!  Just as everyone said it would, it went by very fast but was totally relaxed and stress free.  Will post some more photos before going on honeymoon on Monday :) 

Tuesday 26 July 2011

I'm Getting Married Tomorrow!

I'm getting married tomorrow folks!  This morning will be spent doing all those last-minute bits then I'm having some pampering with my Mum and Sister this afternoon.  Then tomorrow, it's the big day :)

Normal scheduling will be disrupted for some time!

Monday 25 July 2011

Complicity With Evil: The UN In The Age of Modern Genocide by Adam Lebor

Everyone knows that, after the Holocaust, the world swore 'never again'.  Countries came together to form the United Nations, an institution with one of it's founding principles the prevention of another genocide.  The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed and ratified by member states.  But things didn't exactly work out to plan - three genocides later (Bosnia, Rwanda, Darfur), Adam Lebor asks in his book what exactly went wrong.  Why did the UN fail to act, despite knowing exactly what was going on?

This is a well researched yet still easy to follow book.  Lebor has interviewed all of the major players in the UN at the time of all three genocides and followed the exhaustive paper trails.

The central argument is whether people can be guilty of all the deaths through inaction.  If someone knows a genocide is occuring, has the power to stop it and does not, are those deaths on their conscience?  Lebor gives the following reasons as to why the genocides were not prevented:

*The UN is overly obsessed with neutrality, and this prevents it from acting when it needs to.  For example, when Bosnian Muslims were being slaughtered in Srebrenica, some in the UN argued against striking against the Bosnian Serbs (the perpetrators of the genocide) as the Muslims had once been involved in a civil war.  During the Rwandan genocide, Rwanda actually had a seat on the security council and could therefore derail any interventions!  In a genocide, the UN should not be neutral.

*Bureaucracy - It takes so many people to make and authorise a decision that often it was too late.  Bureaucracy was taken to ridiculous measures too; a request to bomb approaching Serbs in Srebrenica, saving the lives of thousands of Muslims, was rejected because it was filled in on the wrong form!  It wasn't even passed up to the relevant superiors.

*The permanent members of the security council do not make things easy.  Russia and China often threaten to veto any intervention and the US, UK and France are hard to win round.

*UN peacekeepers should automatically be authorised to intervene if they witness genocidal acts or human rights violations, rather than submitting a report and waiting for agreement (which often comes too late).

Lebor also makes a good case against isolationism.  I know lots of people thought and think 'It's going on in another country, what has it got to do with me?  Let them sort their own problems out.'  But that's just not possible in the world today.  Some of the Bosnian Muslims who experienced the western world looking away as they were raped and slaughtered, turned to Al Qaeda.  Three of the September 11th hijackers were Bosnian Muslims radicalised after the genocide.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in power politics, or the UN in particular.  Samantha Power's A Problem From Hell is a better general introduction to the three genocides.

Verdict: Good expose of humanity's failure to act in the face of atrocities.
Source: Owned
Score: 3.5 out of 5

Sunday 24 July 2011

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day by Winifred Watson

I've wanted to read this Cinderella story since discovering it through 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die.  Set in 1930s London, stuffy, prudish, moralistic governess Miss Pettigrew is sent to the wrong house for a job application and ends up swept up in the decadent world of Miss LaFosse, a nightclub singer who drinks and has several lovers on the go.  Over the course of the novel, Miss Pettigrew learns to enjoy life and become less sensible, whilst Miss LaFosse learns to become more settled.

This was a cosy, charming read.  It's my first experience of a Persephone book and I was very impressed with the publishing quality - smooth paper, gorgeous cover and delightful little illustrations set throughout.  It was also the perfect size and weight for comfortable reading.  I can see why people collect Persephone editions!

The two female leads were fully formed characters that jumped off the page, and I liked that their friendship was the main focus of the book, rather than their romantic entanglements.  However, the secondary characters (especially Miss LaFosse's lovers) seemed to blur into one for me, and I found it hard to keep track of them as there was not much interesting or distinct about them.  I was more attached to the way Watson wrote 1930s London than the way she wrote some of her characters.

I did enjoy the format of the book - each chapter was another chunk of time from the day and I liked that the whole book was only one day.  I know a film has been made of this book (although I've not seen it), and I can see why as the structure of it does lend itself easily to film.

But unfortunately I didn't love this book as I had hoped to.  Maybe it's because I've heard a lot of hype about it and my expectations were too high, but it was easy for me to put this book down and I didn't always want to return to it.  I can't quite put my finger on why.

Verdict: A charming, cosy, Sunday afternoon read.
Source: Library
Score: 3.5 out of 5

Friday 22 July 2011

I'm Getting Married in Four Days!

Yes, that's right, four days!

School finally finished for the summer today so I'm free to sort out all of the last minute bits.  Things are pretty much organised, I just keep thinking of more to do!  I'm  excited but it hasn't really sunk in that it is so close.

Then in nine days I'm going on a road trip across America and I can't wait!  I've had a tough year in lots of ways and I need the celebration and holiday at the moment.  There is still lots to organise for the honeymoon (VISAs being at the top of the list, itinerary not far behind), but the wedding is priority number one right now.

If you're married, I would love to hear your engagement/wedding/honeymoon stories :)

Wednesday 20 July 2011

Rape: A Love Story by Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates is one of those authors who has been on my to-read list for a while but something has always stopped me from reading her.  So I was pleased to be able to pick up a copy of the short novel Rape: A Love Story from my library.

Teena Maguire and her twelve year old daughter Bethel are walking home from a house party when they run into a group of neighbourhood men they know.  While Bethel hides, Teena is repeatedly and brutally gang raped and then left for dead.  The story is really about what happened afterwards, and society's attitude towards rape and rape victims.

Whenever I've read about rape statistics, I'm always shocked at the low conviction rates and appalled at the attitudes that some express, that can be blatantly victim blaming.  Joyce Carol Oates sums all of this up perfectly in her novel by putting society's views in italics as a contrast to what actually happened to Teena.  Some think she deserved it because she was wearing a short skirt, or because she was a widow who actually dated, or because she was out late at night.  Others think she was making it up and actually consented in exchange for money, despite all of her injuries.  They resent Teena for telling the truth.  Under pressure from a community in which the rapists are also peoples friends, sons and brothers, Teena retreats into herself and finds recovery near to impossible.

The bit that really struck a chord with me was how Oates described the rape taking over the identity of the two women - Teena would also be 'that woman from the boat house' and Bethel 'that girl, Teena Maguire's daughter'.  At school, Bethel is bullied by the relations of the rapists and called the daughter of a whore.  Oates perfectly illuminated society's views without making it too obvious for the reader - something that must have been hard to pull off.

Verdict: A short but powerful read about an important issue.  Contains graphic scenes of gang rape.
Score: 4.5 out of 5
Source: Library

Sunday 17 July 2011

Genocide: My Stolen Rwanda by Reverien Rurangwa

During the Rwandan genocide of 1994, Reverien Rwangwa was hacked with machetes and left for dead with all 43 members of his family solely because he is a Tutsi.  One of his attackers was a man who they thought had been a friendly neighbour but who was Hutu.  Reverien survived both this initial attack and further machete attacks which left him without an eye, his hand was severed at the wrist and his nose became detached from his face.  After making it to a hospital in which Tutsi victims waiting for treatment were being slaughtered by Hutus, he was flown out of the country by a charity and began treatment.  Over the following years he struggled to come to terms with what had happened to him and how normal life could ever possibly continue.

I've read lots about the Rwandan genocide before, and would recommend both Romeo Dallaire's Shake Hands With the Devil (written by the UN commander for Rwanda) and Samantha Power's A Problem From Hell (which covers all genocides, not just the Rwandan one), but this is the first time I've read such a personal account and it was harrowing to say the least.  It was as impossible for me as for Reverien to understand why or how anyone could attack others in that way, let alone in a coordinated effort.  The biggest question I had throughout reading the book was - how can you ever live normally after that?  and the answer was that it is almost impossible.  Reverien became consumed by hate and grief and found it impossible to come to terms with the genocide.

The hardest part for me to read was not the attacks, but the section where Reverien goes back to Rwanda.  He comes across his attacker, still living in the same house and going about the same job as if nothing had happened.  When he lodges a complaint, he receives death threats and is eventually forced out of the country.  No one wants to talk to or acknowledge a survivor as it makes the whole thing real.  The amount of collective looking away and not wanting to accept that anything bad happened was astonishing.  The vast majority of perpetrators were never tried or imprisoned, and if they were the sentence could be as short as only three months.

This book shows a side of humanity that we would all like to pretend doesn't exist, but I think it's important to face it and remember.  I would definitely recommend this book.

Verdict:  Harrowing but worthwhile.
Source: Library
Score: 4.5 out of 5

Saturday 16 July 2011

The Gilded Chamber by Rebecca Kohn

I have a weakness for historical fiction - I love losing myself completely in another time and place.  The Gilded Chamber is a retelling of the story of the Jewish festival of Purim, where Queen Esther saves her people from slaughter.  Born as Hadassah, she is living with her cousin Mordecai (to whom she is betrothed) when she is forced to enter the harem of King Xerxes of Persia as a desirable virgin.  By keeping her Jewish identity secret and appealing to the King, she eventually becomes his wife.  When the King comes under the influence of his advisor Haman, Esther risks her life to save the Jewish population.

This book was a mixed bag of strengths and weaknesses.  The main strength was how realistically the female characters and the life of women in this time were portrayed.  The sections about the harem rules and rituals were fascinating, and Kohn did a good job at showing how life was hard even for a Queen, let alone a lowly dancing girl.  The writing was smooth flowing and descriptive, meaning that I could imagine myself in Ancient Persia.  It was also a hard book to put down.

But there were weaknesses too.  Esther's great love for Mordecai went unexplained and therefore it was hard as a reader to understand why she loved him for all of that time.  The male characters were very one-dimensional, especially Haman, who had the potential to be a much more nuanced villain.  I also did not enjoy the flashbacks that Esther would experience whenever a traumatic event happened as I felt they interrupted the narrative flow right when something interesting was going on and I wanted to find out what would happen next!

Verdict: An interesting retelling of a biblical story.
Source: Library
Score: 3 out of 5

Thursday 14 July 2011

The Radleys by Matt Haig

The Radleys are a stereotypical, suburban, middle class British family.  They listen to radio four, attend book clubs, discuss golf during dinner parties with their equally middle class neighbours and make lunch the evening before going to work.  But they have some oddities - they can't go out in the sun without sunblock, a vegetarian diet makes them ill and son Rowan keeps getting a funny skin rash ...

This darkly humorous book from Matt Haig is a new take on vampire novels.  There's no romance, abstinence or glamour here, it's just normal people that happen to be vampires and are faintly embarrassed about it enough to hide it from their children.  In fact, the vampire plot at times takes the back-seat to the more literary-type themes of unhappy marriages, self-denial, corruption in the police and isolation.  The Radleys are vampires, but the book isn't just about that.

When daughter Clara is attacked, her vampire impulses break through and this blows open the Radleys carefully constructed world.  Clara and Rowan must deal with being completely different from who they thought they are and brother in law Will is drafted in to help deal with the aftermath of the attack.  A 'practising' vampire, he causes many family tensions to surface and the marriage between Helen and Peter comes under pressure.  Rowan also gets the chance to get his own back on the bullies that have been making his life miserable.

I very much enjoyed reading this book and loved all of the satirical elements of it.  The first half, where the Radley children realise they are vampires, was more enjoyable than the second, which became just a tad Jerry Springer like with Will and Helen.  The Radleys was well written and had a fast pace, making it hard to put down.

Verdict: A new take on the vampire myth, well worth a read.
Source: Owned
Score: 4 out of 5

Tuesday 12 July 2011

200 Followers Giveaway Winner!

Thanks to all who entered my 200 followers giveaway, I had a really good response.  I chose the winner using and it was....

Number 29
Michelle at Bookworm Family

She chose People of the Book.  Congrats!

Sunday 10 July 2011

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

Despite all of the hype about Atonement, On Chesil Beach is the first Ian McEwan book I have ever read.  It's more of a novella and tells the story of Florence and Edward on their wedding night in 1962.  Despite being very much in love, they have never broached the subject of sex and both are anxious for different reasons - Edward has performance anxiety and Florence is repulsed by the idea of sexual contact.  As the night goes on, the effects of their lack of communication become clear.

I loved this little book.  It was one of those books where not much happens and the characters are very ordinary, but McEwan has a real gift for observing emotions and human relations.  Whilst reading I felt as though I was inside the heads of both Edward and Florence, but especially Florence.  Weighed down by concern about how she 'should' act and behave, Florence can't help but make things worse for herself;

"She seized his hand and led him towards the bed.  It was perverse of her, insane even, when she wanted to run from the room, across the gardens and down the lane, onto the beach to sit alone.  But her sense of duty was painfully strong and she could not resist it.  She could not bear to let Edward down." p33

"Sex with Edward could not be the summation of her joy, but was the price she must pay for it." p9

McEwan wrote simply, but somehow managed to pack more emotional impact into this short book than some authors manage in much longer works.  I found myself rooting for Florence and Edward, and wanting to reach into the book and shake them when they were failing to communicate.  It wasn't a happy book, and McEwan seemed to highlight how easily happiness can be dispersed and how emotions (especially pride) and events can get in the way.  I could feel the awkwardness and emotions radiating from the characters.  It was also nice to read a book in which sex was treated realistically, rather than over the top and always perfect.

Verdict: Go and buy a copy!
Source: My bookshelf
Score: 5 out of 5

Tiny Library

Click on the picture to find out more or sign up for the literary blog directory.

And don't forget to enter my 200 Followers Giveaway!
Last day is tomorrow, Monday 11th July.  Closes at 9pm GMT.

Thursday 7 July 2011

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

In nineteenth-century China, women in the Hunan province developed a secret code, nu shu, for communicating with each other.  Kept away from work and politics, forced to spend their lives in the women's chamber with bound feet, they used nu shu to talk honestly about their lives.  After her own feet are bound, Lily forms a latong relationship with Snow Flower, a girl born on the same day as her, a friendship that is supposed to last until death.  But as their fortunes and lives change, Lily finds that her friendship contradicts what her new family would want.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan transported me back in time completely and utterly. I could hear the sounds of the paladins coming down the street, see the wonderful sights and smell the food.  Lisa See didn't overuse description or adjectives, but managed to evoke the time period.  She also captured how isolated and distinct from the rest of the world this part of China was, at times I felt as though I was reading about 15th or 16th century life, not 19th century life.

She also did a good job describing the horrors of footbinding.  Having already read Wild Swans, I thought I knew all about footbinding, but it is described in graphic detail in this novel.  The descriptions were vivid and just reading them made me wince - feet broken intentionally?  Blood and pus?  Constant agony?  It's hard for us in modern times and different cultures to appreciate exactly what about having bound feet would make a woman sexually appealing, but then I'm sure the same will be said in the future about many things we find attractive.

I felt that the first half of the book was amazing, but that the pace trailed off as soon as Lily and Snow Flower settled down into their marriages.  It was much more fun reading about them growing up, their family rituals and their negotiations for marriage.  There were also one or two anachronisms that did jar a bit - at one point Lily 'swept up the trash' and after a novel full of 'bed business' she suddenly 'had sex', a word choice that didn't seem to fit with the Chinese reserve at all.  I think I noticed these more because I'm a Brit reading the American version.

Verdict: A journey back in time to a very different place, well worth a read.
Source: Won from Maria at To Read, Perchance to Dream (many thanks!)
Score: 4 out of 5

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Tiny Library

Apologies for my slowness in updating the directory this week, I've had a lot on at week (end of year reports!).  When I finish updating we'll have 40 entries!  Click on the picture to find out more or sign up.

And don't forget to enter my 200 Followers Giveaway!

Monday 4 July 2011

200 Followers Giveaway!

As regular readers of my blog will know, I'm not really into giveaways.  However, I so pleased at having reached the milestone of 200 followers that I've decided to do one anyway!  The lucky winner will receive one copy of a book that I have read and loved since starting this blog.  The choices are:

People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman

Small Island by Andrea Levy

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

*International giveaway, but you must live somewhere the Book Depository ships to.
*One entry per person.
*You do not have to be a follower or publicise this giveaway, although obviously I would love either.

Giveaway ends Monday 11th July, 9pm GMT.  I will contact the winner by email, and they will have 48 hours  to respond with their mailing address.  If they don't, I will select the next winner using

Fill out the form to enter!

Sunday 3 July 2011

Life at the Bottom by Theodore Dalrymple

Theodore Dalrymple is a British consultant psychiatrist who works both at an inner city hospital and in a prison.  Life at the Bottom is a collection of essays about what he describes as the 'underclass' of British society - people without jobs or good education or stable family lives.

As you can guess from the way he labels them 'underclass', Dalrymple wasn't exactly an objective observer.  I'm sure his views come from decades of experience with thousands of patients but he came across as overly pessimistic.  He didn't seem to realise that as a psychiatrist, he would naturally see the patients that most need help i.e. those that are not responsible, functioning members of society.  From these patients, he has drawn big conclusions that aren't always true.  For example, he makes a lot of statements about the education system that as a teacher, I know are false.  If he has fabricated and exaggerated in that area, it's reasonable to think he would have in others too.

Putting his bias aside, Life at the Bottom was pretty depressive reading.  Dalrymple's main argument is that what is holding people back is not poverty or lack of opportunity, but ideas and attitudes.  And it did have a ring of truth - there are schools where your life would be made a misery if you do well in lessons, and families without aspiration, into their third generation of unemployment.  You absorb the values and attitudes of those you grow up with, and those attitudes can be a big brake on success.

In one essay, Dalrymple describes the experience of foreign doctors who come to do a year's placement in the NHS.  At first they are amazed at how well everyone is looked after, and at how no one is allowed to go hungry, sick or cold.  But as time goes on, their attitude changes as they see a poverty of ambition rather than a material poverty.  Dalrymple contrasts this with the poor he saw when he worked in Africa, who took pride in always trying to better themselves.  I do think too many people have poverty of ambition, in all sections of society, not just in the 'underclass'.

I will say that benefits and the sections of society that Dalrymple describes are an area I feel unsure of, politically.  I used to have very clear cut liberal views but experience has clouded that a bit.  Life at the Bottom hasn't made it any simpler, but it was interesting to read such a strong Conservative position.

Verdict: Interesting and a good conversation-starter
Source: Bought for my kindle
Score:  3 out of 5

Tiny Library

The Literary Blog Directory is now up to 30 blogs!  Thanks again to everyone who is taking part or publicising.  Click on the picture for blogs to read, more information or to sign up.

Friday 1 July 2011

Literary Blog Directory is Active!

Tiny Library

The literary blog directory is now open!
Click on the picture above to be taken to the directory, where you can find lots of lovely blogs and the sign-up sheet if you want to be added to the list.

This has been a learning curve for me already.  I've had a few YA blogs and blogs about children's books wanting to sign up, which surprised me because it is a directory for literary fiction and contemporary adult fiction.  To keep it that way, I'm only adding blogs that meet this criteria.  Sorry if you added your details but are not in the directory, it's nothing personal about you or your blog, it's just that you don't fit with what the directory is about.

There are 15 blogs listed already, which I'm amazed at.  I'm pleased that there is a good mix of blogs I was already following and new blogs.  Looking at all your favourite literary book choices has made me realise how much there is out there I still want to read!  I'm also glad that I included the 'about' section rather than making it a straightforward list of links, it's much more interesting to look at because of it.

If you are in the directory, please check that you are happy with your entry and then grab the button from the right hand side of my blog.  If you follow any new blogs because of the directory, let them know about it.  

All publicity posts and comments very much appreciated.