Archive for 2013

The Mayan Codex by Mario Reading


Sometimes there are bad books that you read as a guilty read and that's alright. Then there are books that you read that are just plain awful and you feel like you've wasted your time - this is one of them.

This is a continuation of a first book called The Nostradamus Prophecies but is supposed to be able to be read as an individual book. Herein lies the first of MANY problems with this book, the first book story is repeated continually to every new character introduced - thus reminding us regularly, roughly every 25 pages.

Then we get to the characters, ticking every box for Christianity references - there are 12 people who are part of a cult to kill the main character who knows where the Antichrist is going to be born because he discovered, learnt and then destroyed the missing prophecies written by Nostradamus. All these 12 people are freaks of nature exhibiting all sorts of physical deformities with demonic names and they've been brought up to believe they are in the right.

The story starts in France, moves to America when the main character is introduced and then moves to central America where we then start to tick all the boxes in stereotype Mayan legends - pyramids etc. The story even stumbles into telepathy which feels hopelessly and pointlessly added on. The story ends with a jump back into Europe where the Antichrist is going to be born to a gypsy woman and then stops abruptly, for no apparant reason. The story is continued in the 3rd part of the trilogy and I felt totally robbed.

Now, it is a page turner, I accept that as a book it is not meant to tax the brain too much. However, the language was so simple and consisted of lots of short words, there are lots of 'dangs' and 'darn it's' the only swearing is done by the French character and even then it's in French and the description were far too simple - in other words it just REALLY REALLY annoyed me.

The thought occured to me that this is written for a completely different audience than me, I quite honestly thought it was awful and have absolutely no intention of reading the first or third part.

Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D James


To start this I am going to make a bit of a sacrilegious comment: I am not a real fan of Jane Austen. I mean i've read one or two of her books and didn't really enjoy them.

This book, a spin-off of Pride and Prejudice, begins with build-up to a ball, an arrival, a murder, a magistrate investigation and ends with a trial - I don't want to spoil anymore because it is all about the style but all I'll say is that I didn't get who the murderer was!

This is a very clever book written by a lady who is 93. It reads as a Jane Austen novel in language, style and description with a focus on the relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth and the effect of the murder. I started this book expecting not to enjoy it but curious to read it and by the end I was mightily impressed with a murder mystery written in the 18th Century style.

Anyway, it's definitely worth a read and has made me consider re-reading an Austen novel - somthing I was not expecting

The President's Hat by Antoine Laurain


If I am in the mood, a whimsical book is just what I want to read and by golly this was marvellously whimsical and charming.

The story is basically the effects of President Mitterand of France's hat on various sorts of people of various ages. But it raises interesting thoughts about whether the hat has magic powers or whether the hat gives people the encouragement to make the decision to change their lives for the better.

I'll admit the idea of some 'thing' being used as a mechanism to change a character's life is nothing new, but this book translated from it's native French was really engaging (even if it does sag slightly in the middle) and the slight twist at the end made this book just lovely and a thoroughly entertaining read.

Pills, Thrills and Methadone Spills 2: Mr Dispenser


Community pharmacy can be a pretty lonely career at times. It can be a horrendously stressful and pressured environment to work in. It can also be hysterically funny, and those times often make the rest of it worthwhile. In a workplace that is ultimately centred around illness, the pinpricks of hilarity become all the more important.

Its good, then, that someone decided to make a book of all those funny moments that happen in the average pharmacy day. Its even better when they decide to do so twice. Enter the second instalment of Pills, Thrills and Methadone Spills by fellow anonymous pharmacist Mr Dispenser.

Those of us pharmacy types who use (for which read obsessively depend on) Twitter or who read any pharmacy magazines will no doubt be aware of Mr Dispenser, who is a regular day-brightener with his wit and humour. 

Everything Beautiful Began After - Simon Van Booy


I love the way Simon Van Booy uses language, and particularly enjoyed The Secret Lives of People in Love His words sing. But there is a large portion of this book that just didn't work for me.

The prologue is a thing of beauty, and Book One is a heartbreaking joy of beautiful prose and gorgeously flawed characters. Not much happens for most of it, but it's utterly compelling. 

Book Two is where my infatuation began to wane. There was a sudden switch from third person to second person narrative. It grated, because "you" is actually "Henry" And instead of making me feel closer to him, it forced a distance that wasn't there in the third person narrative. 

It might have worked for me if it was just done for the period of the dramatic event that happened at it's beginning - Henry's shock and disorientation reflected in the way I responded to the change in pronoun - but it continued throughout both Book Two and Book Three and I ceased to care. Until Book Four and a return to third person narrative.

I am almost certain that the jarring disconnect caused by the switch of narrative styles was intentional and it's very cleverly done. But it is cold and calculating where the rest of the story is warm and human and incredibly beautiful.

We Need To Talk About Kevin- Lionel Shriver 2003


There But For The Grace Of God Go I.

A strange phrase for me to use to open this review, given that I am an atheist. But I think the sentiment stands. This book is, for me, utterly, completely terrifying, because it is a stark reminder of how my life could have turned out, had I not had the strength and courage to stick with my child-free convictions.

The first time I read this book, I loved it. I was so drawn into Eva's character- her complexities, how she talks, her failings and successes. I could see myself, were I as clever and successful as Eva, writing in a similar style to her. Then those last few pages happened, and they were- unusually- a complete shock. I sat for hours after I had finished it, just processing the cruelty and horror of it. 

I've read it over and over since, and each time it has left me with a creeping cold fear. The last time I saw it was part of the Tyneside Cinema's Book Club, when the film came out, and the discussions were fascinating. Who was to blame for the outcome, why is the outcome so extreme, why why why? People were enthralled by the story, and particularly by Eva. Tilda Swinton was perfect. 

Forbidden Flowers- Nancy Friday 1994


I very much dislike this whole Fifty Shades of Grey fashion that is going on at the moment. This is not  because I am particularly prudish, but instead because I find the whole concept of the craze rather distasteful and patronising. I do not believe that women need to be given permission to be able to admit to enjoying something written about sex, and I don't like how books like this reinforce the belief that to make sex acceptable to women, it needs to be dressed up as a second-rate romance. Furthermore, its utter crap, and in the few paragraphs I have read (out loud, in a dramatic voice, from our office communal copy which has since mysteriously gone missing) I have been driven to distraction by the poor quality, half-arsed writing style of it (denote that she is thinking by writing in italics. Finish every sentence with either Holy crap, Holy Jesus, Holy shit etc etc, because then the reader will know how very innocent she is and will be able to identify with her because we are all delicate flowers)

Anyway, that all helps to put this review of Forbidden Flowers into context. This is a follow up book to My Secret Garden, which I haven't yet read, but I don't think that makes much difference. 

Tropic Of Capricorn, Henry Miller.


Miller's anti-narrative of life in 1920s New York reads like a rude, careering, vent of frustrated ambitions and intelligence; a bad-mouthed On The Road that goes nowhere until after the narrative finishes. There are numerous things that will put a reader off this book: the plot-less, almost stream-of-conscious delivery that gallops along through the chaos of the author's life, the crudity of the language, particularly in reference to sex (this has to be the most uses of the C word in a classic novel I've encountered). Indeed, accusations of misogyny have troubled the book for years, and the casual (at least) attitude toward women and sex may shock some, but perhaps no more than fans of On The Road. Speaking of other books, the contrast of this life style to the more upper class lives of F. Scott Fitzgerald's characters, albeit in the same period and similar area, is considerable. This is a story of raw, rude, visceral, frustrating intelligence trapped in a mundane life of working drudgery. What marks Miller's Tropic books out are his philosophical underpinnings. Miller sees an emptiness pervading America, in every coast, city, street, apartment, room and mind. He loathed and feared the acceptance of consumerism before it became consumerism, rebelling against it in his daily existence, seeing a nation of automatons defined by their pointless consumption. Long before the counter-culture of the 1960s espoused such values, Miller was railing against this creeping emptiness and vowing to never fall to it. As such, he moved to Paris for some years, where the precursor to this novel (Tropic Of Cancer) was wrote and published, detailing his time there in much the same manner as Capricorn. Like On The Road, and Tropic Of Cancer, the writing left me breathless, a tumbling, reckless, thundering storm of intelligence, self demanding, questing and questioning. It is self aware to a painful, self loathing, degree: all too aware of his failings, his cravings, his deceptions and lusts. But at the same time, his expectations and belief in what people can be, what he can be, are the driving force of this restless book.

Love In The Time Of Cholera


Love In The Time Of Cholera is a Nobel Prize winning novel by Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, first published in Spanish in 1985. The book is set in an un-named city on the Caribbean coast over the adult lifespan of the main characters – roughly from the 1880's to the 1930's. It follows the love life of Florentina Ariza, a persistent man of romance, novels and most of all, letters. He falls in love with the other main character of the novel, Fermina Daza, during their early teens; a love that is entirely correspondence and passing at distance at public events. Unfortunately for Senor Ariza (spoiler alert) Ms Daza turns him down and marries a doctor who is prominent in the city. Thus begins the dominant dynamic of the novel – Ariza's decision to devote himself to her, to wait for his opportunity, if he has to wait for her husband to die of old age or accident if necessary. Perhaps surprisingly, Florentina Ariza avails himself of women, sexually and romantically, although he does limit his commitments. As a premise, this might sound like a yawning and protracted essay on unrequited love, and in many ways it is. I found it did swerve dangerously close to a sense of self indulgence, but there is a quality to the writing that never lets the attention drift from the story. It is detailed and clamorous, much like the sweltering days, sticky nights and the fevered passions of the protagonist. Throughout, the novel tests one's sympathies towards the lovelorn Ariza who, despite his total devotion, carries on a life of sexual indulgence that cares little for the feelings and life of those he, effectively, uses. Ariza's archaic, secretive and romantic optimism is established as an opposition to the controlled, dignified and public determinism of Fermina Daza and her husband. As the novel progresses, these two forces and approaches to life each become eroded in the face of time and the impossible progress of age. As time progresses and the characters find themselves aliens in their own city, their own society and to their own bodies, the novel brilliantly takes you from the certainties of their earlier years and their commitments, to the acceptance of time, life and even love. Not an easy novel to get through and appreciate, the style seems almost as monomaniac as the protagonist, but if you can adhere to it as he did you may find a surprising and rewarding denouement.

The Great Sea: A Human History of the Mediterranean by David Abulafia


Let me first make it clear, I love a good historical book. A good historical book with a specific focus in mind, for example Peter Ackroyd's magnificent book on the history of London. This isn't one of them, it might be because I was reading it as a hardback rather than a paperback but it just didn't really grab me completely and utterly but in parts it was fascinating.

A history of humanity and it's growth within the Mediterranean is a hugely ambitious topic to write about. If this book had been about a specific period it would have worked but as an over-arching book it was just too cumbersome for me.

To give an idea, the first 230 odd pages go from 2200BC to 600AD. This is obviously the period that fascinates Prof. Abulafia but took me absolutely ages to get through and I'm sure I didn't understand all the various tribes and groups in this period. Whilst the period from 1830 to 2010 is dealt with in under 100 pages, an equal amount of time per period just doesn't happen and this was probably down to the editing. It just feels out of balance as a history.

Harmonic Feedback - Tara Kelly


Drea is definitely a person.

That might seem like an odd thing to say, but I have felt let down in the past by books with characters who have ADHD/Aspergers/autism. They either fudge the issue by not naming it or treat the character with autism as an issue to be dealt with.

Don't get me wrong, I have got a lot out of those books. But then I am a parent to two children with varying degrees of autistic spectrum disorders and ADHD; I myself have no diagnosis. 

I'm not sure I would want my children to read those books until they are more comfortable in their own skins. Because despite the best of intentions, they "other" them. 

I want them to be able to find books that have a character they can identify with, who's like them: a person whose diagnosis or disability is just a part of who they are. Neither good nor bad. This one fits the bill beautifully. 

On The Road- Jack Kerouac- 1951


"And as I sat there listening to that sound of the night which bop has come to represent for all of us, I thought of my friends from one end of the country to the other and how they were really all in the same vast backyard doing something so frantic and rushing-about"

I find it really hard to construct lists of "All-time favourites". I'm too indecisive, and my tastes shift constantly depending on what mood I'm in. I can fairly confidently say though that if I had to decide on an all-time, top 5 favourite books list, this would be in it.

Two things strike me about people's reactions to this book:

Its a Marmite book. You either love it, and are consumed by it, or it leaves you totally cold and you can't understand what all the fuss is about. I know a lot of people who read it hate the characters and hate spending time with them, and really can't get into the frantic pace of it.

People who love it tend to describe reading it in the same way. When the film came out, I went to the Tyneside Cinema's book club screening of it. In the discussion afterwards, it was amazing how similarly the people who loved it described how they read it. "It hit me like a train" or "I was knocked over by it" or "it was like hitting a brick wall" or "It stopped me in my tracks" or "I read it constantly over two days and I just couldn't stop reading".  My friend Ian says in his Goodreads review: "I tore through it, unable to put it down for two days". I've heard similar things over twitter and in conversation too.

You Against Me - Jenny Downham


 I don't know what I think about this book, only that I was completely caught up in it. 

For a book dealing with the subject of sexual assault, it was surprisingly ... I can't think of the right word ... "calm" is wrong, but the closest I can come up with - My emotions were engaged without ever being overwhelmed; There was a sense of being safely guided through events without ever being protected from them. 

And I loved the way Mikey and Ellie's relationship developed, despite it's Romeo & Juliet overtones. The scene where they escape everything for a day and we see experienced, street-smart Mikey's vulnerability when it comes to Ellie is beautifully done and made me sigh at the memory of that first-love rush, and the feeling of wonder that someone else could feel exactly the same about you as you do about them. Of finding out you are worth something, and more than you dared believe. 

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking, #1) by Patrick Ness


I read this trilogy a while ago now, but it has stayed with me. So I want to share it with you.

This, the first book in the series, made me physically ache with joy, pain, hope and despair. It has the most beautiful, equal relationship at the centre of it between two, well, children really - at least by chronological age. 

The setting is kind of Sci-Fi/Western. The pioneer way-of-life, the fact that these people came together as "settlers" on a new planet, allows for Todd's strange combination of maturity and childishness, practical knowledge and social ignorance. 

In Prentisstown, there are no women, they all died over a decade before the story begins, and "Everyone can hear everyone else's thoughts in an overwhelming, never-ending stream of Noise." Todd's struggles to filter and control the "Noise" - a world of information overload with no escape, no way to filter out or mask the unwanted thoughts and feelings except to try to hide them in plain view by putting out other thoughts to blur the "Noise" you make - made my heart go out to him.

This book found my vulnerabilities and spoke to them. 

Everyone's response to this book will be different. because this is one of those books that tells you as much about yourself as it does about the characters portrayed. Patrick Ness might well become one of my favourite authors because of his ability to do just that.

Partitions- Amit Majmudar 2012


I read this book as part of a book club, but unfortunately I never made it to the book club meeting. I was looking forward to reading it- it fit in quite nicely with my current interest in learning about religions, cultures, and the effects of those of individual peoples' lives. 

It is set in 1947, as Pakistan is created. What resulted was violence, prejudice, and a lot of displacement and upheaval. Religions clashed, pitting neighbour against neighbour, separating families, and causing untold harm.
This is a period in time that I know nothing at all about, so I was eager to learn about the time and setting. 

Majmudar uses a supernatural device to tell the story: our narrator is a ghost. I could have done without this element, and would have been happier with a deceased narrator looking back. It distanced me somewhat from the story- just as i was getting into a human storyline, I was reminded of the ethereal narrator and his ability to swoop to different locations, and I would lose my connection to the story. 

There are plenty of cultural details in the book, but I felt that they sometimes weren't explored deeply enough to satisfy a heathen like me. I found myself thinking "I'll have to google that later", or putting down the book to look up words or cultures which I just wanted to know a little bit more about. 

It is a compelling, human story, and the characters seem real and individual. Towards the end, though, I found the "partition" devices and imagery became a little obvious, and the story became too contrived to seem true. I was left a little disappointed that it wasn't more realistic and earthly.In the end, it becomes clear that neither religion nor class should divide people, and that above all, through horrendous violence and hatred, love and goodness will win out, even in a ragtag, umconventional way.  I think the moral of the story is a worthy, humanist one, but it is pushed too much to the fore, when we should be able to work it out for ourselves. 

This book did, however, open my eyes to an important bit of history that I had no idea about. I'm left wanted to learn more about that time. 

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick


There were bits about this book that didn't sit quite right with me, but there was much that I loved too: 

For the first few pages, I thought Pat was an adolescent. It came as a shock to realise that he was a grown man in his 30s. His obsession with his beloved Nikki and his self-absorbed belief that by improving his body & mind he would get her back made his "voice" that of someone much younger.

There's a moment of insight from Pat, quite early on in the book, that reeled me in and had me caring about what happened to him. His friend was warning him off forming any kind of friendship with his sister-in-law because she is "a little odd":

' Ronnie tells me what he believes is the story of how Tiffany lost her job ... He tells me what co-workers wrote in their reports, he tells me what her boss told her parents and what the therapist has since said ... but he never once tells me what Tiffany thinks or what is going on in her heart: the awful feelings, the conflicting impulses, the needs, the desperation, everything that makes her different from Ronnie and Veronica, who have each other and their daughter, Emily, and a good income and a house and everything else that keeps people from calling them "odd." ' 

What I most liked about this book was the fact that there was no sudden recovery from mental illness, no shying away from grief and pain and the ugliness of casual hate, but always a sliver of hope and openness to the chance of happiness. 

The Book Of Rachael by Leslie Cannold


This book transported me to a different time and place. I was there, shyly standing behind Rachael. I was her shadow and her witness, simultaneously cheering her on and worried for her - for her inability to pretend to be what was expected of her as a woman of that place and time. 

This is a beautifully written story, it's characters fully fleshed out, flawed individuals. 

I fell in love with clever, angry, rebellious Rachael and then fell in love with Judah as seen through her eyes. My heart broke with hers at the injustice done to quiet, obedient Shona. I adored her brother Joshua and father Yosef - both quiet, kind men and honourable in the true sense of the word, rather than the facade of "honour" required by the society and time they inhabit.

I seethed with anger at the injustice that was a fact of life for the women in this story, and cried for Rachael's family - the men as well as the women. I would despair for my two sons if they had to grow up in a society like this.

In short, I loved this book. Read it and enjoy a tale well told. What you take away from it is entirely up to you.

London Belongs To Me- Norman Collins 1945


I bought this book because I loved the title. At the time, I had a boyfriend in London and was travelling to and from the big smoke on a regular basis. I am very much a city girl, and love nothing better than the sight of tall buildings, the sound of distant sirens (actually, they didn't tend to be that distant in the area the ex-boyfriend lived in), and the anonymity of a crowd. So I thought I'd give this a shot, knowing nothing about it whatsoever other than the title. 

London Belongs to MeIt ended up in my tsundoku pile, unread and nearly forgotten about until long after that relationship ended. When I eventually got round to reading it, I was really pleasantly surprised and charmed by it.

Set in 1938, the story follows the occupants of 10 Dulcimer Street, Kennington. I found that Collins' conspiratorial writing style really drew me into the minutiae of his characters lives. It feels like you have a tour guide,  pulling you by the hand into the front rooms of families and whispering all the gossip into your ear.

In focusing on the lives of the inhabitants of just one house, Collins manages to also encompass lots of imagery and themes of the wider community of London at the time. The war hangs over this book like a character in itself, creeping slowly closer to the daily lives of our friends at 10 Dulcimer Street.

Fox Populi- Kate Fox-2013


I know of Kate and her poetry from a couple of stand-up comedy gigs I have been to which she has performed at. She’s always come across as warm and funny and personable on stage.

I was prompted to buy this book after seeing Kate’s one woman show about being child-free. It was a lovely show, if a little strange to hear someone saying things on stage that so closely mirror your own thoughts.

Its been years and years since I actually properly read any poetry, and I was worried that I might have lost the technique and wouldn’t be able to extract any meaning from poetry anymore. But I found this collection accessible and easy to read.

It’s a nice mix of poems, funny and emotional in all the right bits. It’s not too long and not too short, and made me think that I should start to read some more poetry.

My particular favourite poem is “Our Ends in the North”

“On the second day I was on the bus
when there was a bang and all the lights went out-
and there was a chorus,
of “Call this an Apocalypse? I felt nowt”.
and “Grimsby hasn’t looked this good since
the Germans redecorated.”
You’ve got to make the best of things,
Northerners are tough like that
nobody else compares."

I'd recommend it to anyone who maybe feels a bit intimidated by reading poetry, as I did.


Bad Pharma


I recently wrote a review of Ben Goldacre's latest book, Bad Pharma, for Medical Writing, the journal of the European Medical Writers Association. That review is reproduced below.

By Ben Goldacre, published by Fourth Estate, 2012. ISBN 978-0-00-735074-2 (paperback) 448 Pages. £13.99

Bad Pharma is the latest book by the well known anti-quackery campaigner Ben Goldacre, and attempts to explain to us that medicine is broken. Despite the title, he criticises not only the pharmaceutical industry, but also regulators, doctors, academic clinical researchers, ethics committees, and various other players in the world of clinical research. His take home message (I don’t think a spoiler alert is really needed here!) is that we simply can't trust the evidence that we see about the efficacy and safety of drugs in common use.

Leaving Alexandria: A Memoir of Faith and Doubt - Richard Holloway


Recommended to me by Alom Shaha, whose own book Sparkle Wildfire and I review here, this book is just too damn quotable! I fell into the first half of the book as if it was an old friend. 

This memoir reminded me of everything that is good about religion as well as everything that made me reject it. While reading it, I felt intense love for this man whose battles (both internal and external) resonated deeply with me and spoke of a natural tenderness towards all of humanity.

I would love to take Richard Holloway to a quiet, cosy corner somewhere and talk. I have a feeling I could learn a lot about myself and what it means to be truly human from this man.


1222- Anne Holt


I bought this book in a haze in the hours following my marriage breaking down. I needed distraction and to escape, and was clinging onto any activity I could find that had nothing to do with love, or loneliness, or anything similar. This is easier said than done- most of my books and music are about love in some way shape or form, and even the tiniest hint of it was too much for me in those hours and days. When you're trying to avoid love, it suddenly becomes clear that it is rare to find any sort of media that isn't about it.

So I found myself desperately downloading a whole load of books onto my kindle, and trying to desperately ignore the fact that the kindle itself was a reminder. Most of those books I still haven't read, nearly three years on.

I struck gold with this one though. A Norwegian crime novel about the survivors of a train crash who manage to get to a nearby hotel and are then cut off from the outside world by the snow, with an off-duty detective in their midst- what could possibly go wrong?

The story itself is a modern and I think successful take on the classic All-Holed-Up-Together-With-Nowhere-To-Go crime-writing device. Tensions rise, as you'd imagine they would. Although some of the characters are a little stereotypical, this is forgiven as I think the genre allows a bit of leeway and you expect such things in a mindless crime novel.

The protagonist, Hanne, is exactly what I needed at that time. She's an interesting spin on the usual cantankerous loner detective. She's paralysed, antisocial, and more than comfortable with her own company.Whilst there is a bit of an emotional arc to her storyline, its not obtrusive, and I was able to take comfort in Hanne. If she's okay wanting to be on her own, I thought, then I'll be okay too.

I haven't read it- or any other crime fiction, now I come to think of it, since. I'm not sure if I would be able to, as certain images are likely to remind me of how lost I was at the time I was reading it.


The Rats - James Herbert


I have a feeling my next few reviews are going to be entirely James Herbert based!

The Rats by James Herbert is the the first book ever penned by the author. Based in London (like all of JH books I've read so far) where giant mutant rats with a zombie like desire and hunger for human flesh invade, no one is safe.

The Shock Of The Fall- Nathan Filer-Another Review


After hearing good things about this book from Jackie of this parish and others, I downloaded it yesterday.

I thought I'd have a quick scan of the first paragraph, but the next thing I knew I had finished the first chapter and was halfway through the second. I found myself surreptitiously reading snatches of it whenever no one was looking, similar to what Jackie has already described.

I've spent all of today engrossed in it, to the detriment of my flat's cleanliness. I haven't quite finished it yet but I wanted to make sure that I got some words down sooner rather than later.

The Girl Who Could Silence The Wind - Meg Medina


This is a beautiful story of hope, sacrifice and love. The setting, heroine and elements of "magical realism" all reminded me of Isabel Allende's "Eva Luna" only with fewer individual strands in the story and aimed at a younger audience. 

I enjoyed this, but didn't fall in love with it the way I fell in love with Eva Luna. It pales by comparison, which is both unfortunate and unfair to this book. But I can't unread Eva Luna and I can't help my response to it.

The Young Atheist's Handbook: Lessons for Living a Good Life Without God - Alom Shaha


I love this book. It feels like a conversation. There are moments of wry humour that made me grin, some utterly heartbreaking bits that had me in tears and as a whole it is never less than warm, compassionate and intelligent in the discussion of why someone might choose to identify themselves as an atheist and the strange feeling of freedom that comes from accepting sole responsibility for one's own happiness and fulfillment. 

You do not need to be an atheist to enjoy this book, and it would be a real shame if people of faith were put off reading this because the word "Atheist" appears in the title. You also don't need to be young, but the title makes sense in that anyone who is questioning their belief in the god they have been raised with will find understanding and reassurance in it's pages. Reassurance that it is not necessary to have faith in order to live a good life, that atheism does not make you a bad person and that following any religion should be an informed choice, made willingly and not imposed.


Stephen King 11/22/63 - part 1


I'm sure I've been here before.

I used to be an avid Stephen King reader, and I'm glad to see he's back on form.  This book  is every much as classic King as Tommyknockers, It, The Stand, Christine or, my personal favourite, Needful Things.  I'm halfway through and, considering the length of his novels, I'm going to write a review of the first half and then - when I've finished part 2 write a review of that.

Stephen King can be considered at the opposite end of the spectrum from Phillip K Dick.  Phillip K Dick's problem is that whilst he writes amazing ideas into his stories, everything else sucks.  His characterisation is weak, the dialogue is soap opera - but the originality and vision is first rate.  King can't do great ideas, but he can spin a great yarn around any given scenario.  Hence why it's rare to see a King novel translate into a decent film, it's his writing that is so great - not the ideas behind it; and why it frequently feels like there's a big grab bag of old horror plots that King chooses from every six months.

This is emphasised by this being the second time round that he's written a novel about someone who knows the future.  One of the better King movie adaptations was from his 70s novel The Dead Zone, where a coma victim wakes up with  precognition.  This time it's Stephen King's frequent everyone persona - the English teacher and would-be novelist from Maine ("Write about what you know") - who discovers a portal into the past and is able to use his knowledge of the future to change it.

Again, there's strong hints that the ending will strongly resemble The Dead Zone - the protagonist aims to prevent the Kennedy assassination on 22nd November 1963 (hence the title).  So far it would appear he's going to shoot Oswald before he can gun down the president, whereas The Dead Zone culminates with the protagonist attempting to shoot a would-be senator who's later presidency includes him launching nuclear war.

Now I'm only half way through, and there's a number of subplots that are only moderately interesting padding out the 4 years between the character's arrival in 1950s New England and the Kennedy assassination.  And that is annoying me, I'm wishing (despite it being well and thrillingly written) that he missed out these subplots.  King can write great short stories, as his early collections show, but as he's aged his novels get longer and longer without becoming any more jaw-dropping awesome.

But so far, if it's holiday reading you're after - definitely a better alternative to Dan Brown.

11/22/63 is almost certainly available from your local supermarket.  Eternal Walkabout's seedling bonsai tree has just sprouted the second series of branches.

The Shock of the Fall - Nathan Filer


"I'll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name's Simon. I think you're going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he'll be dead. And he was never the same after that."

This is a beautifully accessible and moving (but definitely NOT mawkish) story about mental illness, grief, guilt, love and family.

I read this in a day, stealing moments to sneak in a chapter here, a paragraph there. It was one of those books I didn't want to put down. 

Despite the subject matter, this is not a depressing read. It humanises a condition that is often "monstered" into something to be afraid of, and is by turns poignant, scary, darkly humorous, warm, funny and hopeful.


PS - If you want a more in-depth review, check out this, from our very own Sparkle Wildfire

The Hunger Games- Suzanne Collins 2008


I didn't want to like The Hunger Games. I wanted to be able to maintain an air of sniffy superiority and snobbishness about it. But I have to admit, it drew me in, and I ended up reading and enjoying the whole trilogy.

Its a compelling story, and one which drives you to keep turning the pages, even when- like me- you're a reluctant reader. It really did win me over. However, that's not to say that I found a few major problems with it:

Cat's Eye- Margaret Atwood 1988


I studied this book in school. Well, technically I didn't have to study it for school (I was the only person doing an English Literature AS level in my school, so I was supposed to only do half the texts, but ended up doing pretty much all of them just for fun. I know, I know.) Its funny actually, that most people end up hating the books they study at school whereas the majority of those I studied I've ended up really fond of. At the time of studying it, I had no idea of who Margaret Atwood was, or that the book caused some controversy at the time of its release. Atwood was accused of blowing wide open the concept of the sisterhood that feminism had been building its foundations on.

I loved it immediately. At least, as much as you can love such an uncomfortable read. The detail and colours in this book give it such a sense of truthfulness and realism that it left a deep impression on me. Just like the description of time as a pool of water, sentiments and lessons from it resurface in my mind on occasion. I've read and re-read it many, many times.

The Universe Versus Alex Woods - Gavin Extence


“If you had to relive your life exactly as it was – same successes and failures, same happiness, same miseries, same mixture of comedy and tragedy – would you want to? Was it worth it?” 

How far would you go to help a friend?

Alex is a socially awkward, intelligent teenage protagonist (I have a real soft spot for this type of character) who, aged 10, gets hit on the head with an iron-nickel meteorite the size of an orange, resulting in a memory-robbing coma, epilepsy and sparking an interest in astrophysics and neurology.

The story features a couple of supremely absurd series of events, a slightly dysfunctional yet very supportive mother/son relationship and has at it's heart a friendship between two very different people, who grow to love and respect each other sufficiently to embark on a journey to Zurich which will end with Alex being stopped at customs "...with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the passenger seat, and an entire nation in uproar..."

There was much I loved about this book, and nothing I hated, but it didn't move me as much as I expected it too. It is, however, a book I would recommend as an entertaining, enjoyable, thoughtful and thought-provoking exploration of friendship, literature, science and assisted suicide.


Creed - James Herbert


Creed is the third book I’ve read by James Herbert, the first being The Fog followed by The Rats. He is fast becoming my favourite author! Sadly he died earlier this year but his legacy of books lives on.

I've never written a book review so I’ll just write it how I’d like to read a review.

Basic outline of this book is Joe Creed is a London-based paparazzi who always gets the good shot and is basically hated by everyone as he gets stars in compromising positions all the time. However there is one shot he should not have taken, one which turns his world into a turmoil of devil worship, murder and a bit of supernaturalness!

The main man Joe is actually a likable guy. I did enjoy his character as the love to hate arsehole that he is portrayed as. There's plenty of character development around him so it’s not just another shallow would-be hero.
I do like James Herbert’s writing style, its easy to read and follow and this book is just the same. It’s not dumb by any means though! Enough characters to keep it interesting but not too many to get lost in. I’m a bit thick when it comes to reading and I always seem to forget who people are!  
<Backlight note- Paul is not in the least bit thick, but is just far too modest for his own good>

The book keeps you guessing and for the most of it I was never really sure what was going on- is it supernatural? Is it all an illusion? It all gets very weird at the end and really kept me turning the pages (well swiping to the left on my Nexus 7) It’s not as graphic as the other books I've read, nothing like The Rats that’s for sure. There are a couple of graphic ‘rude’ scenes though, which is not my thing!

I got this book as entertainment while on holiday on the beach and it did just that!

Paul x

I read this book via Google Play

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë


It’s hard to write about classics because it’s all been said before and besides, I don’t have time for essay writing. So I’m not going to go into detail about the politics of the book, how it was perceived in its day or what it has to say about gender relations, morality or God. You’ve probably thought about these things already and if not, that’s what Wikipedia and York Notes are for.

It can also be hard to enjoy classics because it’s almost impossible to avoid spoilers. I’ve never studied Jane Eyre, had never read the book before and hadn’t ever seen any TV or film adaptation. Until I picked up the book, I knew nothing of the plot – apart from the name ‘Mr Rochester’ having a certain familiar ring to it.

The Four Hour Chef - Tim Ferris


I don't like Tim Ferris.  Since he came to fame for writing the Four Hour Work Week he's been fetêd by the on-line geek community, but let's remember what his central thesis is: His week is mostly of no value.  He can play whilst the rest of us, who don't have the luxury of his tricks of being able to out-source his life, have to work because we put 38 hours of value into each 38 hour working week.

Yet in another way, I quite like him, so after watching the publicity he's put out for his new book (in the new trendy and underhand way of publicising - being interviewed for productivity blogs, doing TED talks and so forth) I decided to give his Four Hour Chef book a go.

And actually, it wasn't too bad.  Despite one major cultural problem (I'm vegetarian, he's describing cooking nearly exclusively meat dishes) it was an interesting read to a point.

He starts with his evolving way of learning new skills, which is a decent description of how to strategise and prioritise learning (but is better explained in Josh Kaufmann's The first 20 hours, and you can see his TED talk where he describes it all for free).  Then he moves on to cooking and again it's wonderfully deconstructed so that the complex is reduced to easily learnable and scalable basics.

A sour point is how much of the book is turned over to product placement.  No, I will not be buying the tools he promotes or the wines he recommends from his friends websites.

If you can stomach his overeager personality and his constant demands to use products easily accessible to angel investors in California, then it's well worth a read.

The Four Hour Chef is available from all good UK bookstores, and Amazon.  Eternal Walkabout is a infrequent writer who needs to write more.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry


Author: Rachel Joyce, 2012

This book was recommended to me by a couple of folk on Twitter to fill the book-shaped gap I had after finishing Partitions. It sounded an interesting concept, so I was eager to get reading.

I am a stickler for realism in various things: when I watch action films, I wonder why the scantily clad ladies didn't think to bring a cardi with them, and why they didn't just wear comfy jeans and trainers if they knew they were going to be running about. I demand to know why superheroes seem to think capes are a good idea, when they can easily get snagged on twigs or door handles.

So I was left pretty disappointed with this book. I thought it was idealised to a fault-i wanted it to be gritty and realistic, I wanted to know the grey, grubby, mundane details of Harold's walk and his coming to terms with his friend's cancer.

Which Way To The Nearest Wilderness


I figured I should get the ball rolling, get the show on the road, and all the other cliches for being first in line, albeit with a review that I've already published on my other blog.

Which Way To The Nearest Wilderness- Tricia Springstubb 1984

“I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves.” -Henry David Thoreau 

I was a pretty proficient reader as a child, and I have a vague memory of winning this book for some reason or another from school. I had completely forgotten about it, then for some reason, the title just popped uninvited into my head the other night, and I knew I had to read it again. I managed to find a secondhand copy, which, when delivered, turns out to be an ex-school library copy, still nestled in its plastic cover, and with a label stuck neatly into the front declaring it a gift to the school from the P.T.A. It has that beautiful, musty smell of old books and appears to have been last taken out of the library in 1991. I can't help but wonder by who, and what they thought of it. 



Well hello there,

So glad you could join us. Please do make yourself at home.

We are just awaiting our first review. If you'd like to be one of our reviewers, please email us at

Backlight is a place to ramble on to all who will listen about the latest book you have read. We are a ragtag bunch of anyone who cares about books enough to want to tell someone else about them. Its a place to maybe find a new book you want to read, or

Backlight was started because I often want to review the books I read, and my other blog didn't quite seem to be the place to do it. But because I work and do various other bits and pieces, if I had started up a new blog myself it would have been far too sparse and sporadic to be worthwhile. Then it occurred to me that perhaps there are many people like me, and if we all posted a review whenever we finished a book, we might end up with a fairly regular pattern of posts.

So here we are. Get to know us, and love us, and keep reading books whenever you can.