How To Read More Books Every Year Easily

If, like me, you use GoodReads’ annual Reading Challenge feature to track and record your reading goals, you may have noticed that many people are reading over 100 books a year.

That is very impressive and I’m more than a little envious of those numbers.  The reason is that I have a substantial number of books, fiction and non fiction, that I’m hoping to get through in my lifetime.

I say lifetime because at my current rate of 25 books a year there’s no way I could get through my entire TBR list.  I mentioned in a previous post – The Health Benefits of Reading – that I read every night before I go to bed.  The thing is, while I read every day, it’s not long enough to achieve the kind of volume of books I’d like.

Then I found Charles Chu’s article about how to read 200 books a year.  He describes how we can all read 200 books a year if we reallocated the time we spend on social media and watching TV to reading.  He bases his calculations on a reading rate of 400 words per minute and the average non fiction book word count of 50 000 words.

I decided I would look into this calculation for myself to determine the veracity of his claim and get some numbers that are also relevant to fiction readers.

First, I took an online speed reading test.  Chu’s article says the average American reads between 200-400 words per minute.  On ReadingSoft, they describe the average reader as reading 200 wpm on screen and 240 wpm on paper with a 60% comprehension rate.  They describe a good reader as reading 300 wpm on screen and 400 wpm on paper with 80% comprehension.

My result was 209 wpm on screen (25o wpm on paper) with 91% comprehension.  I realised that everybody’s result will be determined by their personal reading style and the type of book they’re reading.  My reading style may not be very fast compared to some but I read for full comprehension and I enjoy taking my time.  Don’t worry about what the average reader is doing.  This is personal so do an online test to get an idea of your own speed for your calculations.

Then I set out to find out about the word count of the average fiction and non fiction book.  Chu’s article talks about 50 000 words for a non fiction book.  A large number of us, though, are reading novels with around 100 000 words or more (depending on the format of the book, this would translate into a 300 page paperback book with 300 words per page).

So, what number of books is it possible to read per year?  I recalculated using an average reading rate of 250 words per minute and an average book of 100 000 words.

If you dedicate a minimum of 60 minutes a day to reading for 365 days you’ll be able to read 55 books in a year.

If that doesn’t sound like much to you remember that you probably read books you’re enjoying faster than 250 wpm and there are going to be books that are both shorter and longer than 100 000 words.  You might also be able to allocate more than one hour to reading per day, which means your books-per-year number could be 100 books or more.

What are your thoughts on this?  With this in mind I’ve decided to allocate a time for reading in the morning in addition to before bed so that I guarantee I get at least 60 minutes of reading in a day whether I fall asleep with my book on my face or not.

At the very least, I hope this inspires you to be conscious of the amount of time you spend reading so you, too, can get to many more books than normal like all those GoodReads super heroes.

Review: Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro was published in 2005 and was a Man Booker, Arthur C. Clarke, and James Tait Black Memorial Prize Nominee.  Though the novel didn’t win any of those awards it is one of Ishiguro’s most popular novels.

Last year I read Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day which I really enjoyed.  I ‘discovered’ Ishiguro’s writing in that book and I liked it so much that I feel I would follow him into any story he wrote.  This is why I decided to read Never Let Me Go.  It felt a natural progression into the works of an author I intend to continue reading.  The thing is, I wasn’t sure what to expect because the blurb, which you can read below, and its mention of boarding school ongoings didn’t really strike me as my cup of tea.never-let-me-go-by-kazuo-ishiguro

“From the Booker Prize-winning author of The Remains of the Day comes a devastating new novel of innocence, knowledge, and loss. As children Kathy, Ruth, and Tommy were students at Hailsham, an exclusive boarding school secluded in the English countryside. It was a place of mercurial cliques and mysterious rules where teachers were constantly reminding their charges of how special they were.  Now, years later, Kathy is a young woman. Ruth and Tommy have reentered her life. And for the first time she is beginning to look back at their shared past and understand just what it is that makes them special–and how that gift will shape the rest of their time together. Suspenseful, moving, beautifully atmospheric, Never Let Me Go is another classic by the author of The Remains of the Day.” (GoodReads)

However, and this is a big however, I had no idea what I was in for.  That blurb gives you absolutely no clue as to the world you are about to step into.  And thank goodness for that.  Not knowing beforehand is key to the surprise, especially together with the way Ishiguro tells this story.

As always, his writing is lovely and his characterisation is spot on.  The pace and the sprinkling of breadcrumbs is well planned.  I can not tell you what this is actually about, of course, because I won’t take the shock of the discovery away from you.  It’s what makes this book.  It’s what contrasts the normalcy of the rest of the story which is an important detail.

Never Let Me Go was a good book.  My advice is read it, without reading any blurbs, articles, or conversations about it.  Don’t let anyone spoil it for you.

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

2016 Etisalat Prize Shortlist

The 2016 Etisalat Prize for Literature Shortlist is out and brings us 3 novels from the African continent.  This year two Nigerians and one South African are vying for the prize.

The Seed Thief by Jacqui L’Ange

the-seed-thief-by-jacqui-lange“Sometimes the thing you find is not the one you were looking for. When botanist Maddy Bellani is asked to travel to Brazil to collect rare seeds from a plant that could cure cancer, she reluctantly agrees. Securing the seeds would be a coup for the seed bank in Cape Town where she works, but Brazil is the country of her birth and home to her estranged father.  Her mission is challenging, despite the help of alluring local plantexpert Zé. The plant specimen is elusive, its seeds guarded by a sect wary of outsiders. Maddy must also find her way in a world influenced by unscrupulous pharmaceutical companies and the selfish motives of others.  Entrancing and richly imagined, The Seed Thief is a modern love story with an ancient history, a tale that moves from flora of Table Mountain to the heart of Afro-Brazilian spiritualism.” (GoodReads)

And After Many Days by Jowhor Ile

and-after-many-days-by-jowhor-ile“During the rainy season of 1995, in the bustling town of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, one family’s life is disrupted by the sudden disappearance of seventeen-year-old Paul Utu, beloved brother and son. As they grapple with the sudden loss of their darling boy, they embark on a painful and moving journey of immense power which changes their lives forever and shatters the fragile ecosystem of their once ordered family. Ajie, the youngest sibling, is burdened with the guilt of having seen Paul last and convinced that his vanished brother was betrayed long ago. But his search for the truth uncovers hidden family secrets and reawakens old, long forgotten ghosts as rumours of police brutality, oil shortages, and frenzied student protests serve as a backdrop to his pursuit.  In a tale that moves seamlessly back and forth through time, Ajie relives a trip to the family’s ancestral village where, together, he and his family listen to the myths of how their people settled there, while the villagers argue over the mysterious Company, who found oil on their land and will do anything to guarantee support. As the story builds towards its stunning conclusion, it becomes clear that only once past and present come to a crossroads will Ajie and his family finally find the answers they have been searching for.  And After Many Days introduces Ile’s spellbinding ability to tightly weave together personal and political loss until, inevitably, the two threads become nearly indistinguishable. It is a masterful story of childhood, of the delicate, complex balance between the powerful and the powerless, and a searing portrait of a community as the old order gives way to the new.”  (GoodReads)

Mr. and Mrs. Doctor by Julie Iromuanya

Mr and Mrs Doctor by Julie Iromuanya“Ifi and Job, a Nigerian couple in an arranged marriage, begin their lives together in Nebraska with a single, outrageous lie: that Job is a doctor, not a college dropout. Unwittingly, Ifi becomes his co-conspirator—that is until his first wife, Cheryl, whom he married for a green card years ago, reenters the picture and upsets Job’s tenuous balancing act.” (GoodReads)

2016 NBCC Award Finalists

The National Book Critics Circle has announced the finalists for the 2016 awards.  They have awarded the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award to Margaret Atwood.  The NBCC awards will be presented on the 16th March in New York.  I’m going to share the finalists for the Fiction category here but follow the above link to see the finalists in the other categories.

Moonglow by Michael Chabon

moonglow-by-michael-chabon

“In 1989, fresh from the publication of his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, Michael Chabon travelled to his mother’s home in Oakland, California to visit his terminally ill grandfather. Tongue loosened by powerful painkillers, memory stirred by the imminence of death, Chabon’s grandfather shared recollections and told stories the younger man had never heard before, uncovering bits and pieces of a history long buried and forgotten. That dreamlike week of revelations forms the basis for the novel Moonglow, the latest feat of legerdemain in the ongoing magic act that is the art of Michael Chabon.  Moonglow unfolds as the deathbed confession, made to his grandson, of a man the narrator refers to only as “my grandfather.” It is a tale of madness, of war and adventure, of sex and desire and ordinary love, of existential doubt and model rocketry, of the shining aspirations and demonic underpinnings of American technological accomplishment at mid-century and, above all, of the destructive impact—and the creative power—of the keeping of secrets and the telling of lies. A gripping, poignant, tragicomic, scrupulously researched and wholly imaginary transcript of a life that spanned the dark heart of the twentieth century, Moonglow is also a tour de force of speculative history in which Chabon attempts to reconstruct the mysterious origins and fate of Chabon Scientific, Co., an authentic mail-order novelty company whose ads for scale models of human skeletons, combustion engines and space rockets were once a fixture in the back pages of Esquire, Popular Mechanics, and Boy’s Life. Along the way Chabon devises and reveals, in bits and pieces whose hallucinatory intensity is matched only by their comic vigour and the radiant moonglow of his prose, a secret history of his own imagination.  From the Jewish slums of pre-war South Philadelphia to the invasion of Germany, from a Florida retirement village to the penal utopia of New York’s Wallkill Prison, from the heyday of the space program to the twilight of “the American Century,” Moonglow collapses an era into a single life and a lifetime into a single week. A lie that tells the truth, a work of fictional non-fiction, an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir, Moonglow is Chabon at his most daring, his most moving, his most Chabonesque.” (GoodReads)

LaRose by Louise Erdrich

larose-by-louise-erdrich

“North Dakota, late summer, 1999. Landreaux Iron stalks a deer along the edge of the property bordering his own. He shoots with easy confidence—but when the buck springs away, Landreaux realizes he’s hit something else, a blur he saw as he squeezed the trigger. When he staggers closer, he realizes he has killed his neighbour’s five-year-old son, Dusty Ravich.  The youngest child of his friend and neighbour, Peter Ravich, Dusty was best friends with Landreaux’s five-year-old son, LaRose. The two families have always been close, sharing food, clothing, and rides into town; their children played together despite going to different schools; and Landreaux’s wife, Emmaline, is half sister to Dusty’s mother, Nola. Horrified at what he’s done, the recovered alcoholic turns to an Ojibwe tribe tradition—the sweat lodge—for guidance, and finds a way forward. Following an ancient means of retribution, he and Emmaline will give LaRose to the grieving Peter and Nola. “Our son will be your son now,” they tell them.  LaRose is quickly absorbed into his new family. Plagued by thoughts of suicide, Nola dotes on him, keeping her darkness at bay. His fierce, rebellious new “sister,” Maggie, welcomes him as a co conspirator who can ease her volatile mother’s terrifying moods. Gradually he’s allowed shared visits with his birth family, whose sorrow mirrors the Raviches’ own. As the years pass, LaRose becomes the linchpin linking the Irons and the Raviches, and eventually their mutual pain begins to heal.  But when a vengeful man with a long-standing grudge against Landreaux begins raising trouble, hurling accusations of a cover-up the day Dusty died, he threatens the tenuous peace that has kept these two fragile families whole.”  (GoodReads)

Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett

imagine-me-gone-by-adam-haslett

“When Margaret’s fiancé, John, is hospitalized for depression in 1960s London, she faces a choice: carry on with their plans despite what she now knows of his condition, or back away from the suffering it may bring her. She decides to marry him. Imagine Me Gone is the unforgettable story of what unfolds from this act of love and faith. At the heart of it is their eldest son, Michael, a brilliant, anxious music fanatic who makes sense of the world through parody. Over the span of decades, his younger siblings–the savvy and responsible Celia and the ambitious and tightly controlled Alec–struggle along with their mother to care for Michael’s increasingly troubled and precarious existence.” (GoodReads)

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

commonwealth-by-ann-patchett

“One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating’s christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny’s mother, Beverly—thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.  Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives of the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond that is based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows up between them.  When, in her twenties, Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, their guilt, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another.” (GoodReads)

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

swing-time-by-zadie-smith

“Two brown girls dream of being dancers–but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, about what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either.  Dazzlingly energetic and deeply human, Swing Time is a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots, about how we are shaped by these things and how we can survive them. Moving from northwest London to West Africa, it is an exuberant dance to the music of time.” (GoodReads)

 

Review: The Dog Stars by Peter Heller

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller is a dystopia novel published in 2012.  It was a 2013 nominee for the Arthur C Clarke Award for Best Novel.  This is another novel that has been on my TBR list since it came out.  dog-stars-peter-heller

Hig somehow survived the flu pandemic that killed everyone he knows. Now his wife is gone, his friends are dead, and he lives in the hangar of a small abandoned airport with his dog, Jasper, and a mercurial, gun-toting misanthrope named Bangley.  But when a random transmission beams through the radio of his 1956 Cessna, the voice ignites a hope deep inside him that a better life exists outside their tightly controlled perimeter. Risking everything, he flies past his point of no return and follows its static-broken trail, only to find something that is both better and worse than anything he could ever hope for.  (GoodReads)

Without intending to I’ve read a few dystopia novels from my TBR list fairly close together.  They all offer something different.  Some offer a view into an alternate world resulting from an idea or technology taken too far.  Others, like this one, aren’t really about an alternate world but instead about the people left behind.

In The Dog Stars the world is still the world we know just without all the people.  There are only tiny pockets of people left alive trying to survive a world without a modern economy.  They’re trying to live in the face of the loss of their loved ones and the comforts of their prior lives.

It’s a lovely book that mostly takes the form of Hig’s internal dialogue or thoughts.  Some people didn’t enjoy the way it was written because of the punctuation and sentence structure.  Honestly, I barely noticed it.  Reading it was like following Hig in his mind and everything made sense.  I enjoyed reading it and it was a different take on the dystopia story.

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

 

Review: The Stranger by Albert Camus

The Stranger is a short novel published in 1942 by famous French author Albert Camus.  Camus was born in Algeria in 1913 and became a philosopher, author, and journalist.  He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1957.

The Stranger was Camus’ first novel and Claire the-stranger-by-albert-camusMessud writes in A New ‘L’Étranger’ that it is “one of the most widely read French novels of the twentieth century…”

This is my first Camus novel which I chose because many speak so highly of it.  I enjoyed the story and I found the character Meursault to be interestingly different.

This book was originally written in French and I happened to read Stuart Gilbert’s translation.  There were parts of the story where the English didn’t feel right to me and I became conscious that it was a translation which I don’t think should happen.  This version left me feeling that I might have been better off reading Matthew Ward or Sandra Smith’s translation.  It doesn’t always happen this way but with this particular novel the translation version you read will definitely affect how you perceive this story and ultimately that is the key to The Stranger.

When you read what others have written about this book you will undoubtedly come across descriptions like wikipedia’s: “Its theme and outlook are often cited as examples of Camus’s philosophy of the absurd and existentialism, though Camus personally rejected the latter label”.  I am not going to pretend to know anything about any of that.

What I can tell you is that the main character, Meursault, comes across as a bit strange.  Throughout the story you get the distinct impression that he does not conform.  He does not follow the norms set out by society about how we should be.  He didn’t seem to me as a bad guy but he didn’t seem to have a moral compass and passed absolutely no judgement on what the rest of society might well deem worthy of judgement.  What I found incredibly interesting about this is the way Camus wrote him.  While he does not subscribe to society’s moral code he did not come across as a bad person but rather a different person.  How society, and you the reader, would deal with a person like this seems to me to be the crux of this story.  And indeed, according to David Carroll in his book Albert Camus the Algerian: Colonialism, Terrorism, Justice, Camus himself wrote in January 1955:

“I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.”

The title of the book points to this also.  Unfortunately, in English the title doesn’t carry across all the meanings as it does in the French L’Étranger.  I don’t speak French but as a foreigner in a Portuguese speaking country I learned early on that ‘estrangeiro’ (and the French ‘Étranger’) means a foreigner, a stranger, and an outsider.  The context determines which meaning is implied.  The story reminded me of this throughout because Meursault is all three; a foreigner in Algeria, an outsider to society, and a bit of a stranger to those around him.

My sentiments are echoed in Sandra Smith’s introduction to her new translation of The Stranger the title of which she has altered to The Outsider:

“In French, étranger can be translated as “outsider,” “stranger” or “foreigner.” Our protagonist, Meursault, is all three, and the concept of an outsider encapsulates all these possible meanings: Meursault is a stranger to himself, an outsider to society and a foreigner because he is a Frenchman in Algeria.”

This quote was taken from Claire Messud’s article A New ‘L’Étranger’ which is well worth reading after you read the book.  Another article that I enjoyed is Lost in Translation by Ryan Bloom which shows how important a good translation is to fully appreciating these seemingly ‘simple’ novels of the past.

I enjoyed reading this short book but choose your translation wisely.

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

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Review: The Circle by Dave Eggers

Eggers’ The Circle was published in 2013 and there was a lot of talk about the book that year.  This story about a young woman who goes to work at a powerful tech company is still pertinent this year, if not more so, given the evolution we’ve seen recently of major tech companies.the-circle-by-dave-eggers

When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in America–even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge. (GoodReads)

Eggers gives us a look at the extremes of living in the digital age.  It asks us to think about how our behaviour and relationships change as we increasingly intertwine our lives with digital tech.

Right now we all know people who are avid users of Facebook, for example, who share most of their lives on their timeline as well as people who either choose not to use Facebook as often or at all.  It’s a personal preference and we respect that.  But what if it was mandatory to share your life on the internet for all to see?  What if your right to digital privacy and anonymity was no longer seen as a right and you could no longer opt out of the online sharing frenzy?

This may or may not terrify you depending on your personal preferences.  As The Circle unfolded and I followed Mae’s journey within the company and their requirements, values, and ideas were slowly revealed I felt a strong sense of foreboding.  I felt an overwhelming sense of how it could all go horribly wrong.  I had a feeling, too, that if the circle were to be completed in the real world, as they seek to do in the book, then a great deal of us would feel very violated.

That was just my response though.  From the way the story is written Eggers passes no judgement one way or the other.  I think when you read this book how you feel as it develops will show if, at the end, you are a Mae or a Kalden.  You are either comfortable with The Circle world or not.

I enjoyed reading The Circle and recommend it.  It doesn’t have the ending that you might be expecting as you read it but I thought the actual ending was pretty terrifying, honestly.  A major film adaptation of this book is set to be released in 2017 starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks.

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

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2016 Man Booker Prize Winner

This year’s Man Booker prize went to The Sellout by Paul Beatty.  Beatty’s novel also won the NBCC fiction prize earlier this year and he is the first American author to win the Man Booker prize since US authors became eligible in 2014.the sellout by paul beatty

The 2016 Chair of judges, Amanda Foreman, commented that: ‘The Sellout is a novel for our times. A tirelessly inventive modern satire, its humour disguises a radical seriousness. Paul Beatty slays sacred cows with abandon and takes aim at racial and political taboos with wit, verve and a snarl.’  You can read more about the author, novel, and prize here.

Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, it challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant.  Born in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens—on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles—the narrator of The Sellout resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: “I’d die in the same bedroom I’d grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that’ve been there since ’68 quake.” Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father’s pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family’s financial woes, but when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that’s left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral.  Fueled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident—the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins—he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court. (GoodReads)

If you missed it you can have a look at the 2016 Man Booker shortlist for further reading inspiration.

Review: The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp

I’ve read a few different books about creativity within the last 2 years written by different types of creatives.  I’ve read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert who is a writer, the artist Austin Kleon’s two books Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work, and most recently The Crossroads of Should and Must by artist Elle Luna.

I’ve enjoyed all of these books and while you might be wondering how many books about creativity you can read before it gets monotonous I’ve noted that every creative has their own way of conjuring creativity and has had different experiences within their various creative fields.the-creative-habit-by-twyla-tharp

“Creativity is not a gift from the gods, says Twyla Tharp, bestowed by some divine and mystical spark. It is the product of preparation and effort, and it’s within reach of everyone who wants to achieve it. All it takes is the willingness to make creativity a habit, an integral part of your life: In order to be creative, you have to know how to prepare to be creative. In The Creative Habit, Tharp takes the lessons she has learned in her remarkable thirty-five-year career and shares them with you, whatever creative impulses you follow — whether you are a painter, composer, writer, director, choreographer, or, for that matter, a businessperson working on a deal, a chef developing a new dish, a mother wanting her child to see the world anew. When Tharp is at a creative dead end, she relies on a lifetime of exercises to help her get out of the rut, and The Creative Habit contains more than thirty of them to ease the fears of anyone facing a blank beginning and to open the mind to new possibilities.” (GoodReads)

Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit is about her approach to creativity as a choreographer.  You don’t have to be interested in dance to enjoy this book because it is firmly centred on her creativity method.  I enjoyed reading the book.  She is smart and interesting and naturally this makes for good reading.  Her approach is completely different from what I’ve previously read.

Her advice is very practical and comes with exercises.  While I didn’t feel the exercise sections were really necessary after reading her chapters, she goes into detail and some of you may well find these sections helpful.  If you’re interested in creativity you will probably enjoy this.

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

 

Review: Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake was published in 2003 and shortlisted for the Man Booker and Orange Prize for Fiction.  It is the first of the MaddAddam trilogy.  The novel is described by the author as speculative fiction and in general as a dystopian novel.

This is the second of Atwood’s novels that I’ve read, the first being The Handmaid’s Tale, and while they are very different in storyline they are similar in that they are both unsettling stories about a very plausible end of the world as we know it.  oryx and crake atwood

Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining. (GoodReads)

The GoodReads blurb describes it as an ‘unforgettable love story’ which I wouldn’t agree with.  This book isn’t about love; it’s about a world of segregation between the haves and have-nots, the ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’, the obedient and the rebels.  It’s what our world could very seriously resemble if we continue on the path of fixating on living in security complexes, on being young and immortal, and on unscrupulously modifying genetics to solve immediate problems.

It’s a bleak and horrifying world which could easily have turned into a horror story but told through the eyes of down-to-earth Snowman we are able to experience this story as if it were completely normal.  He is the perfect narrator for this story and an unforgettable character.

I enjoy reading Atwood’s books very much and look forward to reading more as well as carrying on the MaddAddam adventure.  I did enjoy The Handmaid’s Tale more but Oryx and Crake did not disappoint and I’m happy to have finally read it.  I would definitely recommend this book.

 

lilolia review rating 3 stars good

Review: The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin

The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin is the long awaited final novel of The Passage trilogy.  This epic literary journey began with The Passage followed by The Twelve and now, after a 3 year wait (or 4 years if you read The Twelve right when it was published), draws to a close with a final crescendo in The City of Mirrors.city-of-mirrors-by-justin-cronin

In The Passage and The Twelve, Justin Cronin brilliantly imagined the fall of civilization and humanity’s desperate fight to survive. Now all is quiet on the horizon, but does silence promise the nightmare’s end or the second coming of unspeakable darkness? (GoodReads)

As with the previous two novels, The City of Mirrors is a well written novel of great suspense.  It has its own surprises and yet continues the story of our beloved characters.  It continues to be an epic tale of humanity in the face of extinction highlighting the human heart and spirit.

It is one of the best final books I have read.  It neatly and satisfyingly brings to a close a story that will remain a readers’ favourite for a long time to come.  The Passage trilogy really has been one of those great literary journeys that come along very rarely.

What sets this trilogy apart from others in this genre is its magnificent breadth of story which spans many centuries and Cronin’s undeniable writing skill.  To those who have read the previous novels: you will not be disappointed with this final installment.  And to those who have not yet read this trilogy: you are blessed for you will get to read this epic story from beginning to end without pause.

 

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

 

 

2016 Man Booker Prize Shortlist

The 2016 Man Booker Prize Shortlist is out!  We have already seen one of the shortlisted books win the 2015 NBCC Fiction Prize earlier this year and the only previously Man Booker shortlisted author on the list this year is Deborah Levy (Swimming Home).  The shortlist looks packed with interesting reads.

Chair of Judges, Amanda Foreman, said of this year’s shortlist:

“The Man Booker Prize subjects novels to a level of scrutiny that few books can survive. In re-reading our incredibly diverse and challenging longlist, it was both agonizing and exhilarating to be confronted by the sheer power of the writing. As a group we were excited by the willingness of so many authors to take risks with language and form. The final six reflect the centrality of the novel in modern culture – in its ability to champion the unconventional, to explore the unfamiliar, and to tackle difficult subjects.”

The Sellout by Paul Beatty

the sellout paul beatty

“Paul Beatty’s The Sellout showcases a comic genius at the top of his game. A biting satire about a young man’s isolated upbringing and the race trial that sends him to the Supreme Court, it challenges the sacred tenets of the United States Constitution, urban life, the civil rights movement, the father-son relationship, and the holy grail of racial equality—the black Chinese restaurant.  Born in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens—on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles—the narrator of The Sellout resigns himself to the fate of lower-middle-class Californians: “I’d die in the same bedroom I’d grown up in, looking up at the cracks in the stucco ceiling that’ve been there since ’68 quake.” Raised by a single father, a controversial sociologist, he spent his childhood as the subject in racially charged psychological studies. He is led to believe that his father’s pioneering work will result in a memoir that will solve his family’s financial woes, but when his father is killed in a police shoot-out, he realizes there never was a memoir. All that’s left is the bill for a drive-thru funeral.  Fueled by this deceit and the general disrepair of his hometown, the narrator sets out to right another wrong: Dickens has literally been removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident—the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins—he initiates the most outrageous action conceivable: reinstating slavery and segregating the local high school, which lands him in the Supreme Court.” (GoodReads)

Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

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Sofia, a young anthropologist, has spent much of her life trying to solve the mystery of her mother’s unexplainable illness. She is frustrated with Rose and her constant complaints, but utterly relieved to be called to abandon her own disappointing fledgling adult life. She and her mother travel to the searing, arid coast of southern Spain to see a famous consultant—their very last chance—in the hope that he might cure her unpredictable limb paralysis.  But Dr. Gomez has strange methods that seem to have little to do with physical medicine, and as the treatment progresses, Sofia’s mother’s illness becomes increasingly baffling. Sofia’s role as detective—tracking her mother’s symptoms in an attempt to find the secret motivation for her pain—deepens as she discovers her own desires in this transient desert community.  Hot Milk is a profound exploration of the sting of sexuality, of unspoken female rage, of myth and modernity, the lure of hypochondria and big pharma, and, above all, the value of experimenting with life; of being curious, bewildered, and vitally alive to the world. (GoodReads)

His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

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A brutal triple murder in a remote northwestern crofting community in 1869 leads to the arrest of a young man by the name of Roderick Macrae. There’s no question that Macrae is guilty, but the police and courts must uncover what drove him to murder the local village constable.
And who were the other two victims? Ultimately, Macrae’s fate hinges on one key question: is he insane?
  (GoodReads)

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

eileen-by-ottessa-moshfegh

So here we are. My name was Eileen Dunlop. Now you know me. I was twenty-four years old then, and had a job that paid fifty-seven dollars a week as a kind of secretary at a private juvenile correctional facility for teenage boys. I think of it now as what it really was for all intents and purposes—a prison for boys. I will call it Moorehead. Delvin Moorehead was a terrible landlord I had years later, and so to use his name for such a place feels appropriate. In a week, I would run away from home and never go back. This is the story of how I disappeared.
The Christmas season offers little cheer for Eileen Dunlop, an unassuming yet disturbed young woman trapped between her role as her alcoholic father’s caretaker in a home whose squalor is the talk of the neighborhood and a day job as a secretary at the boys’ prison, filled with its own quotidian horrors. Consumed by resentment and self-loathing, Eileen tempers her dreary days with perverse fantasies and dreams of escaping to the big city. In the meantime, she fills her nights and weekends with shoplifting, stalking a buff prison guard named Randy, and cleaning up her increasingly deranged father’s messes. When the bright, beautiful, and cheery Rebecca Saint John arrives on the scene as the new counselor at Moorehead, Eileen is enchanted and proves unable to resist what appears at first to be a miraculously budding friendship. In a Hitchcockian twist, her affection for Rebecca ultimately pulls her into complicity in a crime that surpasses her wildest imaginings.  Played out against the snowy landscape of coastal New England in the days leading up to Christmas, young Eileen’s story is told from the gimlet-eyed perspective of the now much older narrator. Creepy, mesmerizing, and sublimely funny, in the tradition of Shirley Jackson and early Vladimir Nabokov, this powerful debut novel enthralls and shocks, and introduces one of the most original new voices in contemporary literature.
  (GoodReads)

All That Man Is by David Szalay

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Nine men. Each of them at a different stage in life, each of them away from home, and each of them striving–in the suburbs of Prague, in an overdeveloped Alpine village, beside a Belgian motorway, in a dingy Cyprus hotel–to understand what it means to be alive, here and now. Tracing a dramatic arc from the spring of youth to the winter of old age, the ostensibly separate narratives of All That Man Is aggregate into a picture of a single shared existence, a picture that interrogates the state of modern manhood while bringing to life, unforgettably, the physical and emotional terrain of an increasingly globalized Europe. And so these nine lives form an ingenious and new kind of novel, in which David Szalay expertly plots a dark predicament for the twenty-first-century man.  Dark and disturbing, but also often wickedly and uproariously comic, All That Man Is is notable for the acute psychological penetration Szalay brings to bear on his characters, from the working-class ex-grunt to the pompous college student, the middle-aged loser to the Russian oligarch. Steadily and mercilessly, as this brilliantly conceived book progresses, the protagonist at the center of each chapter is older than the last one, it gets colder out, and All That Man Is gathers exquisite power. Szalay is a writer of supreme gifts–a master of a new kind of realism that vibrates with detail, intelligence, relevance, and devastating pathos.  (GoodReads)

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

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“In a single year, my father left us twice. The first time, to end his marriage, and the second, when he took his own life. I was ten years old.”
Master storyteller Madeleine Thien takes us inside an extended family in China, showing us the lives of two successive generations—those who lived through Mao’s Cultural Revolution and their children, who became the students protesting in Tiananmen Square. At the center of this epic story are two young women, Marie and Ai-Ming. Through their relationship Marie strives to piece together the tale of her fractured family in present-day Vancouver, seeking answers in the fragile layers of their collective story. Her quest will unveil how Kai, her enigmatic father, a talented pianist, and Ai-Ming’s father, the shy and brilliant composer, Sparrow, along with the violin prodigy Zhuli were forced to reimagine their artistic and private selves during China’s political campaigns and how their fates reverberate through the years with lasting consequences.  With maturity and sophistication, humor and beauty, Thien has crafted a novel that is at once intimate and grandly political, rooted in the details of life inside China yet transcendent in its universality.
” 
(GoodReads)

The Health Benefits of Reading

Reading is very much a part of my daily routine.  No matter the day I’ve had or how tired I am, I always read before I go to sleep.  Sometimes I get just ten minutes in before I fall asleep but the important part is that it clears my head beforehand which helps me sleep soundly.  I live by this routine because a good night’s sleep improves the quality of my life.  This is just my experience but here are two more proven health benefits of reading:

Stress Reduction

There’s nothing quite like reading to take your mind off the stresses of your life.  You may already be doing this but if you need some incentive Mindlab International at the University of Sussex completed research in stress reduction which showed that of all the activities you can do to relieve stress (listening to music, having a cup of tea/coffee, taking a walk, playing video games) reading worked the best and reduced stress by 68% and you can do this by reading for as little as 6 minutes.

“Subjects only needed to read, silently, for six minutes to slow down the heart rate and ease tension in the muscles, he [Dr David Lewis] found. In fact it got subjects to stress levels lower than before they started.”

“Dr Lewis, who conducted the test, said: “Losing yourself in a book is the ultimate relaxation.”

You can read more about these findings in this Telegraph article.  If considerable stress reduction in today’s high pressure world isn’t bonus enough, reading has another high value health benefit.

Longevity

Yale University’s recent study ‘A chapter a day: Association of book reading with longevity’, which used data from 3635 people over 50, found that reading books about 3 and a half hours or more per week can afford you the benefit of living longer.

“Book readers lived an average of almost two years longer than those who did not read at all.”

You can read more in this NYT article.  Reading books forces you to clear your mind and concentrate on something other than your day, your to-do list, or your problems.  It requires you to immerse yourself in a conscious and enjoyable activity.  It is both brain exercise and play.  If you don’t already read books daily let the benefits of stress reduction and longevity be your incentive to start a routine that will also bring a great deal of pleasure to your life.  And once you’re hooked, the good news is you have an extra 2 years to read all the books you’ve ever wanted to read but didn’t think you had time for.

Review: Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

I closed this book wondering what the hell had happened.  John Updike described it best in his New Yorker review: “Haruki Murakami’s new novel, “Kafka on the Shore”, is a real page-turner, as well as an insistently metaphysical mind-bender.” It is definitely both a page-turner and a mind-bender!

“Kafka on the Shore is powered by two remarkable kafka on the shore by haruki murakamicharacters: a teenage boy, Kafka Tamura, who runs away from home either to escape a gruesome oedipal prophecy or to search for his long-missing mother and sister; and an aging simpleton called Nakata, who never recovered from a wartime affliction and now is drawn toward Kafka for reasons that, like the most basic activities of daily life, he cannot fathom.  As their paths converge, and the reasons for that convergence become clear, Haruki Murakami enfolds readers in a world where cats talk, fish fall from the sky, and spirits slip out of their bodies to make love or commit murder. Kafka on the Shore displays one of the world’s great storytellers at the peak of his powers.” (GoodReads)

Kafka on the Shore was published in 2006 and went on to win the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel (2006), the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize Nominee for Longlist (2006), and the PEN Translation Prize (2006), among others.

Murakami tells the stories of the two protagonists, Kafka and Nakata, in alternating chapters building us up to the main event in splendid Murakami fashion.  The way is sprinkled with metaphysical breadcrumbs moving you forward in the story, letting you know something extraordinary occurred and will occur.  It is a fascinating read but like his Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World you don’t get clear cut answers.  You must make sense of the mystery for yourself.

I’d be lying if I said I completely understood everything that went on in the novel when I read the last line.  I felt baffled despite having seen many of the breadcrumb details sprinkled throughout the story come together.  I will have to read it again.  On his official website in response to questions about the book Murakami himself recommends reading the book several times to fully comprehend it.

“I suggest reading the novel more than once. Things should be clearer the second time around. I’ve read it, of course, dozens of times as I rewrote it, and each time I did, slowly but surely the whole started to come into sharper focus. Kafka on the Shore contains several riddles, but there aren’t any solutions provided. Instead several of these riddles combine, and through their interaction the possibility of a solution takes shape. And the form this solution takes will be different for each reader. To put it another way, the riddles function as part of the solution. It’s hard to explain, but that’s the kind of novel I set out to write.”

I enjoyed reading Kafka on the Shore and am looking forward to reading 1Q84 which is next according to Jessica’s Book Oblivion post on the best way to read Murakami which I am following.  Having read two of Murakami’s books so far I also recommend reading Hard Boiled Wonderland first before Kafka on the Shore.  Murakami has become a firm favourite of mine for his wonderful blend of the metaphysical and magical realism with ordinary life and people.

Have you read Kafka on the Shore? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

 

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The Art of Tsundoku

Tsundoku is a Japanese word defined as “the act of leaving a book unread after buying it.  Typically piling it up together with other such unread books”.

It is both pleasing and reassuring that the word Tsundoku exists because it just goes to show that I’m not alone in the world.  There are, in fact, people as far away as Japan who have been doing just as I have for so long that there’s an established Japanese word describing the act.  If only we had such a gem in English.

Some, like in this LA times article, would say that Tsundoku is a bit of a problem and would liken it to hoarding.  I, on the other hand, believe Tsundoku to be a fine art.

We’ve all done it.  You go into the book shop for nothing in particular because, naturally, we are drawn to places filled with books.  Browsing turns to buying and the new book gets added to the stack on the bedside table (also commonly referred to as the TBR pile). You don’t start reading it immediately because you’re in the middle of something and maybe you’ve already got something lined up next.  So it waits for you to be ready.  And there you have it – Tsundoku.

The art of it is in the choosing – skilled choosing – because you know your own interests and you will one day get to that book.  You’ll inevitably have days when you don’t have a clear idea of what you want to read next or you’re not in the mood for what you’d planned on reading next and on these occasions I have gone to my shelves and found plenty of unread books some of which have turned out to be favourites.  The art of Tsundoku is knowing your own tastes and knowing what you’ll enjoy reading at some point.

An added advantage is that if you’ve been reading a certain kind of book, going back over your Tsundoku books can help you get into something new and take you in a different direction.

Skillful practice of Tsundoku can actually be a wonderful gift to yourself.  A fabulous surprise.  A grand voyage of discovery.  A certainty that you’ll always have something good to read.  Fear not the ever increasing TBR pile, instead, embrace the art of Tsundoku.

Review: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

The Unbearable Lightness of Being is a 1984 novel hailed by many as a modern classic.  It is set in the Spring Prague period of 1968  and what the characters in the novel describe as a time of Russian occupation of Prague and the Czech Republic as a whole.the unbearable lightness of being by milan kundera

Reading the reviews on GoodReads there seems to be a consensus that the plot and characters in the novel are underdeveloped and that the purpose of this novel is a philosophical one.  I would agree that the plot was lacking but I found the characters and the setting quite interesting.  That’s the part of the book I enjoyed.

What annoyed me was in fact the attempts to make this novel a philosophical one whereby a narrator reflecting on the characters and their circumstances inserted itself into the story and ultimately, for me, just detracted from the parts that made the book enjoyable.  The references to  Friedrich Nietzsche’s concept of eternal recurrence were boring and out of place.  I think if you’re going to use a novel to expound your philosophical ideas then write the story, plot, and characters so that they show us this idea instead of interrupting it to try to squash the idea into it.

I don’t have anything against the philosophical novel but I really need it to be well woven into the story otherwise you might as well write a non fiction piece.  Show me, don’t tell me.  That’s why I read fiction.

The setting and the characters were definitely unique and I enjoyed the perspective.  On a whole I gave the book 2 stars though because upon reading the last page I just felt it could have been done better.  I would love to hear what others thought of this book so if you’ve read it please share your thoughts.

 

lilolia review rating 2 stars ok

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Review: The Dhammapada translated by Eknath Easwaran

The Dhammapada is a collection of the sayings of the Buddha in verse form.  It is one of the most widely read of the Buddhist scriptures and the most essential.  There are many translations but I chose Easwaran’s because of a recommendation – the source of which I can’t for the life of me remember.

“As irrigators guide water to their fields,
as archers aim arrows, as carpenters carve
wood, the wise shape their lives.”
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The Dhammapada is an easy and enjoyable read.  It is full of simple wisdom some of which may seem likeThe Dhammapada Eknath Easwaran common sense but is lovely to be reminded of from the Buddha’s unique perspective.  He has a very simple and down to earth way of delivering essential truths which is the essence of his teachings.

“…the Dhammapada seems more like a field guide. This is is lore picked up by someone who knows every step of the way through these strange lands. He can’t take us there, he explains, but he can show us the way: tell us what to look for, warn about missteps, advise us about detours, tell us what to avoid. Most important, he urges us that it is our destiny as human beings to make this journey ourselves. Everything else is secondary.”
Eknath Easwaran, The Foreword

The Dhammapada is described as a handbook to the teachings of the Buddha but it is Easwaran’s informative introduction on Buddhism and the text that give an extra insight to the seemingly simple words of the Buddha.  I enjoyed reading his introduction and it serves as a great starting point not only for this text but for Buddhism on a whole.

If, like me, you’ve never read any Buddhist texts (or much about Buddhist teachings) this short book of verse is a great place to start, particularly Easwaran’s translation.  The opening verse of the Dhammapada is a profound reminder that our lives are shaped by our minds and we become what we think:

“All that we are is the result of what we have thought:
we are formed and molded by our thoughts. Those
whose minds are shaped by selfless thoughts
give joy whenever they speak or act. Joy follows
them like a shadow that never leaves them.”
2

It happened that earlier this year I read Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, then some weeks later Easwaran’s Dhammapada, followed by The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle which in retrospect could not have been better planned.  I didn’t read them back to back but each prepared me for the next and I think I was able to take a great deal more from each one’s message for having read them in this order.  Obviously you don’t need to read them like this but if you’re interested I enjoyed this reading order.

I enjoyed and recommend reading The Dhammapada.  A wide variety of translations exist but I found Eknath Easwaran’s Introduction a highlight of reading this book.  He has also done translations of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita which I hope to get to at some point also.

lilolia review rating 4 stars great

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2016 Baileys Women’s Prize Winner

The winner of this year’s Baileys Women’s prize for fiction is Lisa McInerney for her debut novel The Glorious Heresies.

Margaret Mountford, Chair of Judges, commented: “After a passionate discussion around a very strong shortlist, we chose Lisa McInerney’s The Glorious Heresies, a superbly original, compassionate novel that delivers insights into the very darkest of lives through humour and skilful storytelling. A fresh new voice and a wonderful winner.”  You can read the official announcement here.

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

The Glorious Heresies by Lisa McInerney

“One messy murder affects the lives of five misfits who exist on the fringes of Ireland’s post-crash society. Ryan is a fifteen-year-old drug dealer desperate not to turn out like his alcoholic father Tony, whose obsession with his unhinged next-door neighbour threatens to ruin him and his family. Georgie is a prostitute whose willingness to feign a religious conversion has dangerous repercussions, while Maureen, the accidental murderer, has returned to Cork after forty years in exile to discover that Jimmy, the son she was forced to give up years before, has grown into the most fearsome gangster in the city. In seeking atonement for the murder and a multitude of other perceived sins, Maureen threatens to destroy everything her son has worked so hard for, while her actions risk bringing the intertwined lives of the Irish underworld into the spotlight . . .Biting, moving and darkly funny, The Glorious Heresies explores salvation, shame and the legacy of Ireland’s twentieth-century attitudes to sex and family.” (GoodReads)

If you’re interested you can have a look at the 2016 Baileys Women’s prize shortlist for some reading inspiration.

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Review: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

American Gods by Neil Gaiman has been sitting on my TBR list for a good long while and for good reason as it’s won a lot of great awards: Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel (2001), Hugo Award for Best Novel (2002), Nebula Award for Best Novel (2002), Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel (2002), among others which you can see on GoodReads if you are not yet convinced.american gods by neil gaiman

“Locked behind bars for three years, Shadow did his time, quietly waiting for the magic day when he could return to Eagle Point, Indiana. A man no longer scared of what tomorrow might bring, all he wanted was to be with Laura, the wife he deeply loved, and start a new life.
But just days before his release, Laura and Shadow’s best friend are killed in an accident. With his life in pieces and nothing to keep him tethered, Shadow accepts a job from a beguiling stranger he meets on the way home, an enigmatic man who calls himself Mr. Wednesday. A trickster and a rogue, Wednesday seems to know more about Shadow than Shadow does himself.
Life as Wednesday’s bodyguard, driver, and errand boy is far more interesting and dangerous than Shadow ever imagined—it is a job that takes him on a dark and strange road trip and introduces him to a host of eccentric characters whose fates are mysteriously intertwined with his own.” (GoodReads)

I’m so glad this book didn’t sink into the oblivion that is the bottom of my TBR list because it is as great as people say it is.  This is the second of Gaiman’s books that I’ve read and I really enjoy his voice and storytelling.  He’s pretty masterful at writing everyday life mixed with fantastical elements and bringing in all together into a highly believable and immensely enjoyable read.

The characters are amazing and the story is full of surprises.  I can’t say much about it specifically without potentially dropping in spoilers for those of you who’ve not read it so I shall remain silent on the details.  Suffice to say that this was a fantastic book which provided me with a few days of fabulous escapism.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a bit of urban fantasy and a really well written story.

 

lilolia review rating 5 stars excellent

 

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