Sunday, 31 May 2015

#am reading Us

Author: David Nicholls

Tags: #trains #wanderlust #art

Discovered: New in paperback this week at the local library (big fan)

Where read: (in part)The Deaf Cat, Rochester with a de-caff flat white.

What's the story?
Husband and father Doug plans an ambitious make or break holiday in an attempt to save his marriage to Connie and to restore his relationship with teenage son Albie. Doug’s vision to salvage his family life is to re-create the classic ‘Grand Tour’ of old by criss-crossing Europe visiting leading art galleries from the Louvre and Museo del Prado to The Rijksmuseum. 

The Word's Shortlist view:

You have to admire Doug’s spirit. As a staid and decorous bio-chemist, the effort put into planning and investing in the family Grand Tour is first class when, almost inevitably, his enthusiasm is not shared with either Connie or Albie.  

The travelogue aspects of this book are brilliant and you can expect to experience a good deal of Wanderlust throughout. Combine this with scenes crossing Europe by train and this book will have you filling a suitcase full of novels* and booking a Eurostar ticket before you’ve finished the final chapter. Why didn’t publishers Hodder & Stoughton do a deal with Eurostar on a discount coupon?

Nicholls writing style is accessible and laid-back which makes US a straight forward novel to dip in and out of. The diary or blog style structure, rather than conventional chapters, is ideal for reading in short bursts but means that you’re never completely absorbed in the characters. This could be the trouble with Doug (boring, wholesome and parochial)being the narrator versus Connie (pretentious, affected and ephemeral) or Albie (mollycoddled, rebellious and overblown).

The book just about avoids a cliche ridden conclusion. There is always a worrying inevitable resolution to family dramas but US, whilst playing safe, does avoid falling in to this trap with Doug growing into a late blooming renaissance man.

Read on board a speeding train for maximum enjoyment.

*Obviously consulting The Word’s Shortlist before you do

Tweet of the week:

Serious wanderlust + reading list = need some train journey inspiration @EurostarUK @Voyagessncf_com

'That book guy', tweeting mainly about fiction and reading but with occasional sidebars into art, Japanese culture and architecture

Monday, 25 May 2015

#am reading Sputnik Sweetheart

Author: Haruki Murakami

Tags: #japan #greece #unrequitedlove

Discovered: Working my way through the Murakami canon

Where read: (in part) Old Town, Margate, Kent.

What's the story?
Sumire is a bookish and awkward student desperately in love with Miu, a woman 17 years her senior. Sumire's college friend K looks on longing for Summer to return his wasted affections. When Sumire disappears whilst working as personal assistant to Miu on a Greek Island K travels from Japan to find her and bring her home.  

The Word's Shortlist view:
Sputnik Sweetheart is a short and simple story, by Muramaki standards, which was published in between his more famous classics The Wind up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore. Slender though the book may be this novel still manages to pack all the typical Murakami elements.

The title of the book refers to the loneliness and isolation of an orbiting satellite and illustrates the key themes of the story well. Both K and Sumire are trapped by a deep unrequited love that Murakami's curt and confined writing style perfectly captures. Murakami tends to write with male narrators so the two female protagonists, Sumire and Miu, are refreshingly different. After Dark also features strong female leads.

The reason I return again and again to Murakami is the way he captures characters and places in a fictional world that is both recognisable and alien simultaneously. The more you read, the more compelling this world is and the more you understand the fanatical global following Murakami generates. This novel may just leave you with more questions than answers but could be the perfect introduction to the genre and ideal pre-read before weightier tomes like IQ84.

Tweet of the week:

I'm about $3.7m short to buy this house  @GuardianBooks #gatsby

'That book guy', tweeting mainly about fiction and reading but with occasional sidebars into art, Japanese culture and architecture

Sunday, 17 May 2015

#am reading The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

Tags: #gonegirl #domesticnoir #train

Discovered: Where have you been? This title has been hard to miss since late last year

Where read: (in part) Rose Cottage, Puddle Lane, Bonsall

What's the story?
Rachel travels in to London everyday in the same seat on the same train and fantasies about the 'perfect' couple she spies on when the train stops at a particular signal. Quickly fantasy turns to suspense as Rachel gets caught up in the lives of the couple she idolises but where does the fantasy end? Rachel is a flawed character whose drinking and erratic behaviour lead to questions about the authenticity of her as narrator.

The Word's Shortlist view:
The Girl on the Train is a page turner and to that extent you should believe the hype comparing the novel to Gone Girl. As a slice of 'domestic noir' Paula Hawkin's book delivers on all genre points (female viewpoint, suburban crime, adult relationships and recognisable settings). 

The writing style is very accessible and the homely settings are instantly recognisable as demonstrated in the title of the book which directly (cleverly) reaches out to one of the largest and most prolific markets for paper-back books. The switching narrators; Rachel, Anna and Megan, tell the story from three different angles which is where Hawkins is most successful. Naomi Wood’s Mrs Hemingway adopts a similar technique.

For me The Girl on the Train is missing a likeable character, someone to root for and drive you to the end of the story. What’s more, the female characters lack depth - all we really see is their obsession with their boyfriends/husbands. With the pace slowed down to allow for more character development this would be a great novel. That said, its a crowd pleaser and anything that means office banter turns to fiction is a winner for me.

Looking for your next thriller? Try Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng,

Tweet of the week:

Spent a enlightening morning browsing the crooked shelves of @scarthinbooks #peakdistrict #bestbookstores

'That book guy', tweeting mainly about fiction and reading but with occasional sidebars into art, Japanese culture and architecture

Sunday, 10 May 2015

#justread Kolymsky Heights

Author: Lionel Davidson

Tags: #philippullman #coldwar #siberia

Discovered: The window of Daunt Books in Marylebone

Where read: (in part) Ozone Coffee, Leonard Street, London

What's the story?

This cold war spy thriller is set in the freezing tundra of Siberia, one of the most impenetrable places on Earth and home to a top secret Soviet research base and laboratory. The story follows our all adventure protagonist Jonny Porter whose verve and unique native Canadian background provides the perfect linguistic and cultural disguise to infiltrate the high security Soviet base. Classic spy fiction.  

The Word's Shortlist view:

Kolymsky Heights is a page turner from the very off, a secret message in a cigarette package sent to an Oxford professor and a complete preserved Mammoth carcass turning up in Siberia - this is thriller fiction at its most compelling. Porter's journey across the Arctic Sea from Japan to Russia is a masterclass in spy fiction. Davidson invests so much attention in the detail that every aspect of the story is completley believable the only trouble is that the pages and pages of detail can, at times, hold the narrative up. At times I was actually willing the characters on. 

At times this novel is brilliant but at other times boring. My guess is that fans of the genre (Le Carre et al) will delight in the pace but for the rest of us this feels a bit like committing to a 12 episode box set just because the pilot episode is so good. Still, I'll always be grateful for Daunt books for continuing to showcase old and new fiction at its very best. For more wonderful bookstores see the tweet of the week below.

Looking for a thriller in similarly freezing surroundings? My moneys on Arne Dahl's Bad Blood

Tweet of the week:

Weird and wonderful worldwide – in pictures

The Word's Shortlist


'That book guy', tweeting mainly about fiction and reading but with occasional sidebars into art, Japanese culture and architecture 

Monday, 4 May 2015

Essential Bank Holiday reads...

Colorless Tsukuro Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Stay up with me by Tom Barbash

Mrs. Hemingway

Author: Naomi Wood

Tags: #Hemingway #poolside #summerreads

Discovered: Marylebone Train Station (after missing my train)

Where read: (in part) waiting for the next train

What's the story?: 

This novel follows the literary career of one Earnest Hemingway through the lives of his four wives Hadley, Fife, Martha and Mary. The story moves from from the Cote D'Azur to Key West like flicking through the pages of Time Magazine or Vogue as Hemingway's career moves from war journalist to literary sensation changing his lovers as often as his flannel trousers.

The Word's Shortlist view:

This is a light and enjoyable read perfect for the pool or beach side. Strong female characters and glamorous locations will no doubt mean this book sells by the bucket load at airport bookstores. The star of the story is Mr Hemingway himself and the highlights are the chapters devoted to the Hemingway's summer vacations with F Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. An entire novel could have been devoted to their jazz, gin and bridge marathons.

Anyone, like me, interested in Hemingway as a writer will be mildly disappointed - the trouble with the first person narrative from each wife is that Earnest is kept at a distance. That said, as a man who existed in the relationship mire between ex-wife and future wife we actually see much more of the man through his lovers.

For an equally strong female lead, the word's shortlist recommends 'The Miniaturist'

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