Some initial thoughts on Dreams From My Father

I’m now about 60% of the way through Dreams From My Father, by Barack Obama. I very much enjoyed his later book, The Audacity of Hope (oh wait, I can’t link to my review of it because I haven’t written it…) and when I spotted this audiobook available at the library I snaffled it.

The first third or so was very, very interesting. The story of his first 20 years or so – growing up in Hawaii, moving to Indonesia, back to Hawaii again; the coming and going of his father, his mother’s ambitions for him, the racial conflict he faces at secondary school, becoming aware of his mixed identity. So far, so good; well-written with interesting anecdotes and pithy reflection.

We get through university and a job in New York, then he moved to Chicago and became a community organiser, and this bit really lost my interest. I understand much of what he is writing about, and it is clearly and concisely written, but it bored me. Probably because I don’t understand what it was like to be poor and black in 80s/90s Chicago.

He has just moved onto a visit from his half-sister Auma and their father in Kenya, so I’m hoping things will perk up a bit now.

Harry Potter by people who’ve never read it

This is too good not to be shared around the internet.

(I originally found it here)

Book blogging challenges: 2015 edition

I went on a massive challenge binge in 2012 and TOTALLY failed. So I’m setting my sights a little lower this year. There’s a reasonable amount of cross-over in the list below, and I’m keeping a spreadsheet on my computer and individual pages here on the blog.

Genre-based challenges

The Classics Club

This blog started as a pre-wedding effort to read more classic literature. I still have my original list (and the woeful progress I’ve made against it!) – but the Classics Club has been running for a few years now and people seem to be enjoying it, so I’m going to join in.

An actual list of books to be read

The Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge

Mini-Me and I decided to start doing this nearly a year ago and we haven’t made any official progress. So I’m hereby stating my intention to make some progress.

Aussie Author Challenge

Being permanently expatriated by my head rather than my heart, I have a surfeit of Australian fiction on the shelves. Time to get stuck into some of it! Aiming low with this one – just 3 books to start with (Wallaby level). Interestingly the rules are that one author must be male, one female, and one new-to-me.

Reading style/Mount TBR challenges

The Audiobook Challenge

I mentioned that I got an Audible membership for Christmas, and I have access to a reasonable selection of audiobooks through assorted London libraries. And I said I wanted to try to read 10 audiobooks this year… so I’m signing up to the challenge at the “Weekend Warrior” level – 6-10 books.

The TBR Pile Challenge

Pretty much what it says on the tin – 12 books that have been on my shelves for more than a year, plus 2 alternates in case any of those 12 prove impassible. Because of the strange way my books are organised / not organised, I’m actually limiting this to not only books that have been on my shelves for more than a year, but books that I have borrowed from other people that have been on my shelves for more than a year – because that’s the only category (borrowed) that is confined to one shelf!

The Hard Heart Reading Challenge

This is about doing something about those books that have been sitting on my shelves for more than 2 years i.e. since at least 01 Jan 2013. Realistically, the majority of those books have been there since before June 2012 which means they’ve moved house with us TWICE. That’s just silly. I’ll aim to get 6-10 books in this category. And again, probably from the “borrowed” section of the shelf I mentioned above!

The Library Challenge

Perhaps counter-intuitively to the efforts to get the TBR mountain down, I’d like to make a goal to use the local libraries. So again I’ll try for 6-10 books from the library (audiobooks/ebooks definitely count).

Fun

What’s In A Name

This is a long-running challenge and it strikes me as kind of fun. Basically you have the whole year to read 6 books which meet the criteria (particular words to appear in the title).

The Stone Cutter – Camilla Lackberg – 7/10

Another audiobook that it took me most of 2013 to get through (I wasn’t a quick audiobook listener – I listened to this on walking commutes and while gardening, but not much of the rest of the time). This wasn’t my first bit of Scandicrime, but definitely one of my first.

stonecutter

When an 8-year-old girl is found drowned in the harbour, fingers point very quickly at the autistic son of the girl’s neighbour; her grandmother and the neighbour have been fighting for years, and Markus saw Sarah on her last day. Local detective Patrik Hedstrom knows it’s not that easy, but between the gruesome nature of the crime, his newborn daughter’s incessant screaming and his wife’s crippling post-natal depression, he’s really struggling. Meanwhile in the parallel story, simple stone cutter Anders is forced to marry the spoilt daughter of the local business magnate after a romance gone wrong. No amount of love seems to be able to mellow Agnes.

This had all the necessary ingredients for a gripping thriller – plenty of well-developed characters with idiosyncracies, a bleak and cold setting, several turns for the worse, an unexpected death caused by incompetent policing… it really ticks all the boxes.

I had no idea this was part of a series and will, in time, look out for the others, but I don’t feel a need to go rushing out to find them.

I don’t really think the alternate story-line was necessary, it really just interrupted things and while it gave some background to the killer’s motive, it didn’t give enough motive to really justify including it.

Shout-out to the translator: it was very well translated. Enough local detail left to give us a very strong sense of setting, without it ever being incomprehensible. Also well narrated – slightly separated voices for the different characters made it much easier to keep track!

Additional info

Audiobook borrowed from a London library (not sure which one!)
16 hrs and 1 minute in length
Order The Stone Cutter from Amazon* or Waterstones
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

 

A Week in December – Sebastian Faulks – 7/10

(how ironic is it to have read A Week in December in June and be reviewing it in my first week off in… December?)

“Gabriel rested his teacup on a ziggurat of his head of chambers’ upcoming briefs and looked out of the window, down towards the river. Swollen with December rain, it was gliding on beneath the lights of the Embankment…”

week in december

From the blurb: London, the week before Christmas, 2007. Seven wintry days to track the lives of seven characters: a hedge fund manager trying to bring off the biggest trade of his career; a professional footballer recently arrived from Poland; a young lawyer with little work and too much time to speculate; a student who has been led astry by Islamist theory; a hack book-reviewer; a schoolboy hooked on skunk and reality TV; and a Tube driver whose Circle Line train joins these and countless other lives together in a daily loop. With daring skill, the novel pieces together the complex patterns and crossings of modern urban life, and the group is forced, one by one, to confront the true nature of the world they inhabit.

The characters in this are a real mix (as I imagine they are supposed to be). The younger characters (Gabriel and Jenny) are the much more sympathetic ones, just getting on with their lives as best they can while still being just generally nice people. John Veals is a piece of work – clever to make someone so inhuman and remorseless. The examination of Hassan’s life, obsession with Islamic theory, and conflict between his modern London life and what he has been taught was interesting and sensitive. The other characters I had forgotten until I read the blurb, but I don’t remember deliberately skipping through any sections of this book until it hit another character. Faulks does well to keep them all appropriately separated.

So this is the first of Sebastian Faulks’ books that I’ve read – even though I have both Birdsong and Charlotte Grey on the shelves. Sometimes it got a bit fanciful and obtuse, but on the whole, eminently readable while obviously skilful. Plotwise this is so-so; it’s really a character study, I think. There is a certain tension added by John and Hassan’s deeds, and various glimmers of romance here and there, but it’s only really there to give the characters something to do.

And as for the setting: this is so very London. And not just very London, but not tourist London, real, people-who-live-here-and-commute-to-work-here London. The far-flung suburbs with their spectrum of class, the postcode giveaway of household earnings. And it’s London December too – no particularly exciting weather, but grey and cold and a bit dreary but nearly Christmas so people are quite cheery and pubs are overflowing.

Good, but I’m not sure I’ll re-read it.

Additional information
Copy borrowed from The Book Accumulator. Finally I can give it back to him.
Publisher: Vintage Books, 390 pages (paperback)
Order A Week in December from Amazon*or Waterstones
* this is an affiliate link – I will be paid a small percentage of your purchase price if you use this link, which goes towards give-aways and site hosting

Looking back on December, looking forward to January

I read 35 books in 2014. I was aiming for 100 when I started the year, which is obviously ludicrous; I think 35 isn’t bad.

In December, I read 3 books:

The Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy – Vicki Iovine – unconvincing.

The Patron Saint of Liars – Ann Patchett – I read this straight through in one day!

Lizzy and Jane – Katherine Reay – light but really enjoyable.

I totally failed to read or do anything at all for Advent with Alcott. Bad blogging event host.

I also started two books but didn’t get anywhere near finishing either of them: Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay and Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama (audiobook). I’m very close to giving up on the former but really enjoying the latter.

I wrote about my winter TBR a while ago, but specifically in January, I am hoping to read:The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace, One Night in Winter by Simon Sebag Montefiore and The Foundling Boy by Michel Deon. My concentration span is waning so I’m needing to move towards the lighter end of the fiction on my shelves!

Some of the best books from the past few years

As I try to get caught up on all those reviews from the last few years, I’ve been looking at my reading spreadsheet. Thought it might be fun to link to some older reviews of books I really enjoyed! 2013 was a really good year for reading.

Dances with Wolves – 7/10

The Fault in our Stars – 8/10

Quiet – 7/10

Looking for Alaska – 8/10

The Paris Architect – 8/10

Mister Pip – 9/10

The Happiness Project – 8/10

Ex Libris – 8/10

The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls – 7/10

Attachments – 9/10

I am Half Sick of Shadows – 8/10

The People in the Photo – 9/10

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