Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Review: The Tattooist of Auschwitz

The Tattooist of Auschwitz The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A harrowing tale of survival. Similar to the graphic novel Maus, The Tattooist of Auschwitz highlights that surviving the death camps was a combination of luck and determination. While Lale does things - things he's not always proud of - to survive, he is also "lucky" that he has skills useful to the guards. You do wonder how many resourceful "Lales" there were, equally determined to survive, but persished because they didn't have anything the guards required.

Any book about the Holocaust is disturbing but what I found particularly disturbing is the implication that the guards knew what they were doing was wrong but didn't care. Not that's a huge surprise - it's just brings it home that the SS weren't necessarily people with warped ideology; they were people who enjoyed inflicting misery on others,

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Saturday, 17 February 2018

Review: The Little House on the Prairie

The Little House on the Prairie The Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having loved the TV series as a child, I thought this would make for a nice comfort read. But, I was wrong - there's nothing comforting about this book. It's not really explained why "Pa" decides to uproot his family to go West - other than he's got fed up with how busy it is where they were currently living - so the move did come across as reckless, especially considering the numerous dangers the face trying to make a new home for themselves. In fairness to Pa though, he's certainly a handy chap to have around. There doesn't seem to be much he can't build or make himself.

There is a fair bit of blatant racism towards Native Americans - "Ma" comes out with some eye-wateringly shocking things at times. That said, Pa acknowledges that Native Americans have a right to hate the "white man" because they, effectively, keep being pushed from their lands.

I am not inclined to read any the other books from the series but I would be interested in reading a book about these times from an adult perspective - particularly one that considers that the Native American voice.

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Wednesday, 14 February 2018

Review: The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House by Kate Summerscale
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The most compelling thing about this real-life "whodunit" is not who committed the gruesome murder of a small child - it's clear who the main suspect is early on in the book - but how, without the benefit of forensics, Whicher is going to prove his suspicions. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to say that he was not able to (The GoodReads blurbs hints as much); although inspired in his deductions, he is simply unable to offer sufficient evidence to support this theories. Police bungling, snobbery, and Victorian attitudes all conspire against him.

The events takes place when the concept of a detective was in its infancy and it's amazing to think how much changed since then. But, there's an awful lot that hasn't changed - the media deciding who is guilty prior to a trial, making someone a scapegoat, and generally everyone having their own theory.

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Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Review: Stone Mattress: Nine Wicked Tales

Stone Mattress: Nine Wicked Tales Stone Mattress: Nine Wicked Tales by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I didn't enjoy reading this book, I don't think it's fair to blame Atwood. I am just not a fan of dystopian stories or ones that focus on humanity's worst characteristics - two themes that feature predominantly in Atwood's work. It would be, after all, a tad odd to complain about not liking cheese on toast if you are lactose intolerant (which I am as it happens).

For her superb, flawless writing, Atwood deserves five stars. Therefore, the only reason I am giving it three stars is to indicate that it wasn't for me.

I read this book for my book club. If you're London based and are interested in attending, please see: for details.

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Saturday, 3 February 2018

Review: How to Stop Time

How to Stop Time How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This well-written story ponders the question of immortality and how you would cope if you knew you would outlive anyone you loved (and whether or not you should dare to love at all). It's certainly compelling and I'd feel bad about giving it anything less than four stars but I sometimes struggle to like it. I am not quite sure why to be honest.

Firstly, and this isn't Haig's fault, I am bit fed up of reading a male voice. Most of the books I've read so far this year have been by men and/or had male protagonists so I am now a bit desperate for a female voice. Plus, again this isn't Haigh's fault, I've seen the book described as "literary fiction" in some places. There's no way it would be described as that if the author had been female. I think Haig the other day was saying something on Twitter about literary fiction being a meaningless term - which is a fair point - but it's annoying that a book gets a bit more respect because the author happens to be male.

Finally, and this is Haig's doing, I feel a tad manipulated. That the book has been crafted to tick certain boxes about what makes a good book - likeable protagonist you can identify with, interesting idea, and a few profound insights into life. The result is that while I can admire it and can't find anything to criticise, I am not able to say I love it or be that eager to recommend it to someone else.

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Sunday, 28 January 2018

Review: How to be Champion: My Autobiography

How to be Champion: My Autobiography How to be Champion: My Autobiography by Sarah Millican
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I both read the ebook version and listened to the audiobook (narrated by Millican herself) - thanks to a limited offer in which, essentially, you buy the two for £4.

Of the two, I preferred the audiobook. Millican's narration breathed life into what otherwise would be your typical story of self-discovery. This is a great feel-good book one that reminds you that accepting yourself for you who are and not for who you think should be is probably be one of life's biggest challenges at times. Plus, there's a fair bit of justified fury at being criticised for having the "audacity" to be an overweight well-known woman and, worst of all, one that doesn't want children.

One word of warning, Millican (as you probably know if you have seen her stand up) is fairly liberal with coarse sexual language. I personally don't like it - in fact, I was surprised by how much I didn't like it (didn't realise I was that much of a prude to be honest). So if you have a tendency to cringe every time someone refers to their, er, "Lady Garden" in blunt terms, Millican's type of comedy may a bit off putting at times.

Overall, though, Millican comes across as a lovely person. Ultimately, just because her comedy might not be for you, doesn't mean you can't enjoy this book.

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Thursday, 25 January 2018

Review: Tales of the City

Tales of the City Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An utterly fabulous look at the lives and loves of a group of completely dysfunctional of people, who somehow are all loosely connected with each other. Each character - although most border on the caricature in some way - is interesting and has depth. I found quite a few of them to be dislikable at the beginning but I ended up being fond of almost all of them. Even, Brian - whose main goal in life appeared to be get his leg over - was endearing.

Not really a series person, so I am not sure if I will actively seek to read the other books in this series. But if I see one in a charity shop (where I found this copy), I will definitely buy it!

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