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5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 06-01-12

There was a lot in this novel - the situation of the Jewish community in Iraq in the 1940s, the struggles endured as a maid coming from a poor background in the Marshes to work in bustling Basra, and the problems of friendships between different cultures and between unmarried men and women.

There are two main charcters, Shafiq, a young Jewish-Iraqi, who starts to feel the effects of anti Jewish sentiment in Iraq as he reaches his teens, and Kathmiya, a beautiful young girl from the Marshes who should be entering into marriage at this age but finds herself shipped off to work as a maid in Basra.
Kathmiya can't understand why she is not getting married like her sister Fathima, and why her father seems to hate her so much. But she makes the best of her life in Basra and works hard.
There she is noticed by Shafiq, who is stunned by her beauty. In this society it would mean certain death for Kathmiya if her friendship with Shafiq were ever discovered and the relationship can have no future.

The other main relationship in the book is between Shafiq and his Muslim neighbour, Omar. Not only are the boys best friends, but the families help each other in numerous ways over the years in a society where such friendships are becoming increasingly problematic.

Jessica Jiji has never lived in Iraq but learned of this time in history from her father who left the country in 1947 as an 18 year old. HIs love for his homeland is reflected in her warm feelings towards this place and time. In spite of all the problems, I felt this affection and became involved in the narrative as it unravelled.

I listened to the unabridged audio version of this book, excellently narrated by Adriana Sevahn Nichols, but I have to admit I struggled with the names of all the secondary characters, which can't be back referenced on audio.
Possibly better to read this than listen to it, but certainly recommended.

We Had It So Good cover art

Thank goodness that's finished

2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 30-11-11

There are only two reasons why I finished this book - because I had to read it for a book group and because it was being narrated to me by the brave Paul Panting on behalf of Audible. It was quite simply, tedious. There was little narrative that grabbed me, I felt the story line was just a tool to allow the author to express her opinions on every major event that has taken place since 1960. We had the baby boom and the contraceptive pill, hippies and LSD, the rise and rise of television, house prices and 9/11. ....And a great deal more besides.
One discussion did interest me - the one about advertising, and one really annoyed me - the idea of 'time', how cliche is that?? The repetition of the idea that the generation represented would never get old was also worn thin by the end of the book.

The main character was the rather unlikable Stephen Newman. He is mixed race, half Cuban, half Polish, and has spent his childhood in America. He is very much an American, however, even once he finds himself living in Oxford and then London, UK. He marries Andrea in order to avoid being called back to the States to fight in the Vietnam war and they progress from squatting students to middle class comfort, with 2.5 children. And that's about as exciting as it gets.

I enjoyed Linda Grant's book about life in Palestine in the post-war era, When I Lived in Modern Times, but this felt like it had been written by another author entirely.

2 people found this helpful

A wonderful collection of stories.

5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 12-10-11

This was a poweful collection of short stories with the general theme of Nigeria and Nigerians.
The stories include interaction between Africans and Whites, integrating with other cultures, Nigerian history, the problems women face under the rule of men and other cultural aspects that make the lives of Africans so different from inhabitants of much of the West.

Having loved Purple Hibiscus but ground to a halt in the middle of Half of a Yellow Sun, I was thrilled to have the chance to read another of Adichie's books. It did not disappoint.
I particularly liked the female slant on the tales and the strong female characters. All in all a very satisfying read and definitely recommended.

3 people found this helpful


2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 31-08-11

Having read and enjoyed Mike Gayle's, Dinner For Two, I had expected a similar light read from The To-Do List. I hadn't expected exactly what the title had warned me - a book about a 30-something guy, attempting to complete a 1277 item to-do list. (Which he must have repeated at least 1,277 times!). The first third of the book was not even about said list - it was about trying to find reasons why he shouldn't actually attempt the list at all!

This was another book that I would have abandoned if I hadn't been listening to an audible version, expertly read by Dave John. Dave just about kept me listening until Mike finally decided he would attempt the list and the book became slightly more interesting.
Assuming that the family members were Mike's true family, then I was left in supreme awe of his wife Claire, who must be the most long-suffering wife on the planet. She put up with her husband's irratic, frustrating, idiotic behaviour with never more than a rolling of the eyes!

On the positive side, the book is a happy book, upbeat, which seems to be a rare enough quality in literature these days. I was also very relieved that he managed to lose his list at one point - because I have never yet to write a list that didn't get lost before completion!
I would consider reading another book by this author, but I'd check that it was a book of fiction before embarking on it.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet cover art

One word - irritating

2 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 30-08-11

I must begin this review with by acknowledging my utmost respect for the narrators, Jonathan Aris and Paula Wilcox, who struggled nobly through the myriad of Dutch and Japanese names that must have been nigh impossible to read in hard copy. Unfortunately, in contrast, remembering all these names, without the ability to backtrack a few pages to check them out, was also impossible, and even half way through the book, there were still numerous characters whose identity baffled me. I think this book will join Wolf Hall as a book that I would never have struggled to complete if I hadn't been listening to the narrated Audible version. In spite of this, however, it was an endurance rather than a pleasure and the final sentance was a relief.

The main part of the book covers just a few years at the turn of the 18th century, when a lowly clerk woos above his station and is rewarded with a 5 year stint working for the East India Company in Dejema, Japan. - A resoundingly successful way of removing unsuitable suitors! This lowly clerk is Dutchman, Jacob de Zoet of the title, and he seems to be pretty much the only honest character amongst a cast of thousands. The intruige and double crossing that he meets on arrival in Dejima made for difficult reading and seemed to be the main feature of the early chapters. Again he chooses an unsuitable love interest, more frustration for the reader.
The middle section introduces us to a shrine inland from Nagasaki, where all is not as it should be. Without giving away too much, all I can say is that this was the more readable part and probably the only section that gripped me at all.
Finally, the British ship arrives, under Dutch flag. Maybe all's fair in love and war but that did seem particularly despicable!
Jacob de Zoet shows his true colours, his final years are rushed through (thankfully) and we can all go home.

3 people found this helpful


5 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 04-08-11

I really enjoyed this touching story of ten-year-old Jamie, desperately seeking the love of his alcoholic father and absent mother. Neither parent is coping well with life after the loss of their third child, a twin daughter, Rose, who was killed five years previously by a terrorist bomb. Only Rose's remaining twin, Jasmine (Jas), has any time for Jamie, but even she has now dyed her hair pink and has a green haired boyfriend.

When Dad gets a job in the Lake District, they move from London, and Jamie has the added trauma of settling into a new school. Only Sunja pays him any attention, but she is a Muslim and "Muslims killed my daughter", as Dad constantly reminds him. Jamie is torn between loyalty to Dad and his friendship with Sunja.

As I listened to the Audible version of this book, read with feeling by David Tennant, I was totally drawn in to Jamie's life and struggles and his gradual understanding of the dynamics of his traumatised family.
I think adults and teens would probably approach this book from different view points but it is an excellent read for both.
Highly recommended and I look forward to Anabel Pitcher's next book.

17 people found this helpful

A great author and well read.

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 26-07-11

I listened to the Audible version of this book, beautifully read by Charlotte Stevens. I wonder if I would have enjoyed it less if I had read the hard copy.

The story is basically that of Alice Fonseca who is 9 years old when we meet her at the start of the book. She is living in Sri Lanka with her parents; a Singhalese mother and a Tamil father. Unfortunately this cross cultural marriage causes problems as Sri Lanka heads towards civil war in 1983. The problems are poiniantly illustrated by the loss of Alice's baby sister who is still-born due to a lack of adequate medical care, soley because the baby's father is Tamil. Alice's mother never really recovered from this event, leaving Alice with only her Grandfather - Bee, as moral support within the family. When Alice and her parents leave Sri Lanka for England and safety, she feels entirely alone.
Brixton Beach is quite a depressing story. In spite of the wonderful descriptions of Sri Lanka in the first half, the general mood of the book is more akin to the correspondingly drab descriptions of life in England in the second half. I would have liked a little more joy in the book.

In my opinion Alice ended up with the wrong man (won't say more for fear of spoilers).
I would also have preferred that the book had not started with the London bombings of 2005 - they could have been more effectively simply added at the end.
In addition, I didn't particularly like Simon and didn't really see the point in the reference to the opera-loving beauty that he saw in his youth and subsequently searched for at future operas.

A good read but overall I preferred Bone China by the same author.

A truly tragic read.

4 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 23-07-11

I have read two of Roma Tearne's previous novels so I was not expecting this to be a joyful read. Even so, the tragedy referred to in the book's blurb occurs so early on in the narrative that it left me reeling, wondering how it could redeem itself. I did manage a few tears of joy at the end but the majority of the book is truly sad. Having said that, I enjoyed it, but then I am a bit of a morbid reader.

43 year old Ria is a bit of a loner following the loss of her much loved father while she was still young. She has inherited his cottage on the Fens of Norfolk, where she is living alone, working as a poet, when she starts to be aware of a presence around her house. She is understandably nervous, given the recent killing of animals and suspicion of illegal immigrants in her area.
Ben is a young refugee from Sri Lanka, having escaped the purging of the Tamils by travelling by lorry via Moscow. A qualified doctor in his home country, he is working as a farm worker to survive.
Ria and Ben form an unlikely alliance, given their different backgrounds and huge difference in age - then the tragedy strikes.

There are other vivid characters who are also introduced: Rias's bully of a brother and his family, Ben's mother, and Eric, an elderly farming man who catches eels in the river at the end of Ria's garden and who has known her since she was a child. It is Eric who holds the whole story together, though at times he is a bit too good to be true.

Tearne is excellent on expatriation and the struggles of the Tamils in Sri Lanka but there is so much tragedy and death in this story, both past and present, that you'd have to be in a strong frame of mind to read it. It is, however, lifted by the vivid descriptions of the harsh Norfolk countryside.

The Audible version was well read by Patience Tomlinson. Unfortunately she read Ben's mother's thoughts with an English accent and then used a slight accent for her spoken word. I would have preferred a native speaker for her voice.

Review for the unabridged audio version.

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 25-06-11

This is a difficult book to review, given that it is based on the life of a poet who lived early last century (1887 - 1915). It is therefore a bit pointless to bemoan the fact that he appeared entierly self-centred and sexually obsessed, presumably that is how he was, but it didn't make for enjoyable listening. This is another audiobook that I may well have abandoned if it had been a regular book.

Rupert Brooke lived a relatively brief life, dying from septacemia from a mosquito bite while on active duty in WWI. He is probably best known for his highly charged war poems.
This narrative is largely told from the point of view of Nell, a ficttional character, who cares for him while he is living at The Orchard, Granchester. It is a flippant time, with Rupert and his fellow Cambridge students, wealthy and without a care beyond boating and sex. It's not all of the heterosexual variety either. Nell becomes just another of his potential conquests, though there does appear to be something meaningful lurking there, if he could ever have a meaningful relationship?
The story is pulled together by a letter sent from Tahiti, supposedly written by Rupert's daughter from his relationship with a Tahitian beauty, Taatamata, wanting to know more of the father she had never met. The letter finds its way into the hands of Nell, one of the many who had fallen in love with Rupert during his brief life. Nell thus narrates what she knew of him and Rupert's own voice fills in the parts she could not have known.

Jill Dawson's prose was faultless, my reservations with the book revolve around the behaviour and character of Ruper Brooke himself; his endless self-questioning and search for sexual understanding became quite tiresome.
The narration of this audio version was excellent, with Patience Tomlinson reading Nell's passages and William Rycroft, those of Rupert. Unfortunately there are some parts where the female narrator reads Rupert's voice and this did not ring true.

1 person found this helpful

Mediocre collection of stories

3 out of 5 stars

Reviewed: 30-05-11

This book, narrated by Catherine Milte, was enjoyable enough, well read, but mediocre. Fine for listening to while doing mundane tasks like the laundry, but sadly, it really didn't do anything more to grab my attention.

It comprised a number of short stories and one novella, two of which were original to the book but the remainder of which had been previously published elsewhere.
Of these, my favourite was the first, Hippy Hippy Shake, a short comment on radical clothing fads, with a clever twist at the end. The other one that stuck with me was Sweet Charity, centring around another dressing disaster, Lola, the outrageously clad granny who runs a charity shop, and her sense of justice.

Unfortunately, not a collection to get excited about.