African literature

David Olusoga’s reviews

David Olusoga is fast becoming one of my favourite BBC presenters (though David Attenborough will always have my heart). Olusoga presented the excellent two part series on Britain’s Forgotten Slave Owners in 2015, showing how after slavery was abolished the legacy continued in the compensation paid out—not to the erstwhile slaves but to their “owners”—and in the underlying prejudices that became embedded in the culture. Brilliant documentary, watch it if you can.

His latest documentary is a review of African literature in the English language. It’s called Africa Turns the Page: the Novels that Shaped a Continent.

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A Trio of Sophies & The Silence of Snow – book reviews

Two books by Eileen Merriman

Get hooked onto Eileen Merriman for some fast, compulsive reading. These are page turners, books for which you need a “Do Not Disturb” sign on your door. Believe me, Merriman will disturb you enough. Don’t worry about the categorisation, read the YA books, too.

I first dipped into Merriman’s writing with A Trio of Sophies. Young adults must be into pretty dark stuff these days. The main character, Sophie, is a school girl with two other Sophies in her group, but there’s nothing Sweet Valley High about them. Plenty of rocks below those schoolgirl smiles. The main theme is a teacher/pupil power imbalance, a subject that probably could use talking around before giving this to your teenage daughter.

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The Dickens Boy – book review

The Dickens Boy, by Tom Keneally

Definitely my book of the year so far. I’m a Keneally fan (since Schindler’s Ark all those years ago) and a Dickens fan with a keen interest in Victorians and colonial history and here’s The Dickens Boy with all that wrapped up in a gloriously written novel. Keneally is a master storyteller with characters I can really care about and a honesty that makes me believe that everything here could be true (and quite a lot of it seems to be). Just goes to show you don’t need clever literary devices or pretentious language to write a captivating book, you just need to tell a bloody good story.

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Hell Ship—book review

Hell Ship by Michael Veitch

This is a book club book if you are a group of readers with a fanatical interest in the minutiae of colonial immigration in the 1850s. In which case, I salute you. Invite me along to join you, sometime.

Veitch, though, might be a bit much of an enthusiast, even for me. The cover and title promises a book set on the high seas but there is way more than that. Most of the detail is of the societal conditions and politics behind the immigrations: the Wakefields, the lure of colonial wool and gold, the Scottish clearances. There is a full chapter about the Birkenhead emigration depot in Liverpool where the passengers collected before departure and the last quarter of the book covers the crisis in immigration that followed the ship’s arrival in Port Phillip and its quarantine.

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The Bell in the Lake – book review

The Bell in the Lake, by Lars Mytting

Norway, 1880. So cold a woman leaned against a wall in church and froze to death, her skin stuck to the wall. No wonder my ancestors left. I love stories like this that are so atmospheric you need to wrap yourself in a blanket to read them.

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Blokes & Books

Book recommendations for the guys

There are mostly blokes in my book club. We’ve been a good unit for years now, meet bi-monthly in our homes. We’re vaguely kept on track by Roy. It’s a different vibe to the women’s book clubs I’ve been to. There is no chatty gossip or confidences but we know we can count on absolute trust and life support from the group if required. We meet, sit outside or in depending on the season, wine is poured, and the host might say why he chose the book before we do a round robin and back to the host to lead a discussion. There is little talk about writing style, not much on character or theme, but lots of talk about the subject of the book in a wider context.

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Tidelands – book review

Tidelands, by Philippa Gregory

Apologies to those who were relieved when I recently announced I’d come to the end of my Philippa Gregory phase. Here we go again. I got a note from my wonderful local bookshop  (Wardinis, since you ask) when online orders were allowed and thought this latest looked looked the perfect lockdown book. Delivered and gobbled. I have no desire to binge on Netflix in lockdown but I could re-read every Philippa Gregory on my bookshelves and be happily entertained for a few weeks, in a mindless-but-it’s-still-history sort of way.

Tidelands is a very readable book. Typical Gregory, meticulously researched setting, lots of truth in the detail and flights of ridiculous fancy to drive the story along. Continue reading “Tidelands – book review”

American Dirt – book review

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

The book opens with a mass-shooting at a family gathering in Acapulco, Mexico. Luca, eight years old, is in the toilet. His mother, who has been waiting in the corridor, bundles him into the shower enclosure and “is clinched around him like a tortoise shell”.

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Pachinko – book review

Pachinko, by Min Jin Lee

Pachinko does exactly what a good book should; it takes you somewhere else and shows you the world through different eyes. A story has to make normal to us what may seem strange, and to explain the world enough so the reader understands the observations without the narrator being too “telly”.  This is hard to do across a cultural divide but in this epic story, Min Jin Lee gives us full immersion.

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Lenny’s Book of Everything – book review

Lenny’s Book of Everything, by Karen Foxlee

I was up at 3am crying this morning. I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep and I thought I’d read a quick chapter of Lenny’s Book of Everything, ended up finishing the book and bawling my eyes out. Some books do that to you. This is one of them.

Audience-wise it’s a cross-over book, equally for teens and adults, about a young girl’s world. The voice is so honest and appealing, I can’t imagine anyone starting to reading this and not want to sit down with Lenny and hear her story. She is totally engaging.

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