Red Birds by Mohammed Hanif

redbirdsThis book, with it’s flashes of brilliance and thorough weirdness is hard for me to rate. It is the kind of book that Booker judges love. Clever, ridiculously funny in parts while it’s utter grimness makes it not amusing in the slightest. There is no doubt that the author is a master of metaphor and the writing is engaging, particularly in the beginning and end but I found myself having to re-read parts to figure out whose voice I was reading.

Ellie is a pilot whose plane has come down in the desert while he is on a bombing run. He is starving, dying of thirst and reflecting on his relationship with Cath his wife while he slowly runs out of life. Mutt is a dog, fed up with the treatment he receives, he has headed out into the desert to die and comes across Ellie much to his annoyance. Next up is Momo, a teenage boy who arrives to collect Mutt and who is convinced that Ellie is stealing his dog. Ellie eventually convinces Momo to give him a ride to his village which turns out to the be the refugee camp that he was supposed to be bombing in the first place. So far so funny! But it is the kind of funny which is tinged with tragedy, threat and sorrow. The characters you meet will each have so many sadnesses as they deal with the realities of life under threat by the very armed force that supposedly keeps them safe. It is lies upon lies and weirdness galore.

I loved the final chapters of this book but the middle section was like a metaphysical journey where I was never quite sure what I was reading. I guess that was intentional, this book takes you on a journey into a world seldom seen, these people are forgotten in so many ways.

I didn’t love this book but I think it is clever and interesting and I’m glad I chose it. It is a reminder that war is much bigger than the battle at the frontline.

Thanks to Bloomsbury and Netgalley for giving me access to this book.


Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D Schmidt

jupiterThis is an absolute gem of a book. I loved the characters from page 1, I shed tears at the terrible things that had happened to Joseph in his young life, I desperately wanted things to be ok for him. This tiny and completely perfectly formed novel is one I meant to read ages ago but didn’t quite get to, I’m so pleased I’ve read it now. It is the story of Joseph who has been removed from his abusive father, sent to prison due to something terrible that he did to a teacher because a kid gave him drugs and he went crazy. He loved a girl and fathered a child and now he is being fostered by the kindest family you could ever meet. But Joseph is so damaged it seems like he might never thaw from the angry, het up, damaged young man he has become. His foster brother desperately wants to melt him and over time you see the relationship between the two boys develop over a shared love of cows and the trials of going to school in the most miserable climate you can imagine.

Gary D. Schmidt does place so well, you feel so much for these people living in this miserable cold, you feel the skin on their fingers freezing and their breath turning to ice crystals. You feel the warmth of the animals and your emotions are tugged and pulled at the beautiful sparse writing. Crikey this is good!

If you are a high school librarian and you haven’t read this and don’t have it in your collection you are missing a gem. Buy 3 copies and share this with your reluctant readers, your country kids and your teachers.

And look!  Molly made a book trailer for it.

A Superior Spectre by Angela Meyer

spectreParts of this book I just loved completely, other parts I found myself skimming through. It is such an interesting mix of historical fiction (the parts I loved) and science fiction (the parts I had problems with) and the meshing of these two so distinct storylines was well done but at times too confusing and strange. It certainly is well written, almost lyrically written in parts. The observations of nature and the wildness of Scotland through the eyes of Leonora were stunning, the book is worthwhile just for this. And, you can hear that there is a but coming.

So, you’ve got Jeff who has scurried off to the west of Scotland to die, he takes with him an automaton who will take care of him he believes, he also has a device which enables him to live life through the eyes and mind of another person, he should only enter their life 3 times but of course, he can’t help himself and he spends a lot of time being Leonora, a young woman who lives on a farm with her father. You have an alternating story line, firstly through Jeff’s eyes as he examines his life, loves and losses. Then you have Jeff, living Leonora’s life, her beginning of fondness for the Laid, the relationship of her father and his new wife and Leonora’s struggle as she is swept away to Edinburgh to the care of her thoroughly weird aunt.

There is a lot going on. And remember you’ve got alternating paragraphs. It almost feels like you have two side by side novels, which I guess was the goal. I wonder if this rather good author tried to do a bit much. Having said that it is engaging, the tech is clever and well thought out. Maybe it is Jeff, I just couldn’t care about him. He seems like a pillock and I always find it hard to read a character I don’t like. On the other hand I loved Leonora, I hated what Jeff was doing to her and I was really invested in her survival.

All in all it is complicated and at times totally fabulous, I’ve dithered about writing this review and how many stars I’d give it, I’d love to hear someone else’s opinion of it, I see the reviews below are very mixed, and I guess that might make it a really good novel, people are polarised, for me it is half way there.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for this book.

How Dogs Think: What the World Looks Like to Them and Why They Act the Way They Do by Stanley Coren

dogsAs a new dog owner, I’ve been interested in books which talk about dog training and thinking. This one has been really interesting. I liked the detail, although at first I thought I might have chosen something a little bit dry, it isn’t that way at all. There are lots of examples and anecdotes to keep you reading and to clarify the scientific points being made.

Stanley Coren is a psychologist and he applies his knowledge to dogs by looking at the various senses they have and using that as a basis to look at the behaviour they exhibit. I learnt so much from this book, about breeds and the generalisations we apply to them which are often not actually based on any evidence. I loved hearing about dog physiology especially about their paws and whiskers. As I have a dog which needs grooming, I’m really not keen for him to lose his whiskers anymore! They are removed as a standard part of the ‘making him look gorgeous’ process, but he needs them to help him navigate the world. There is so much in this book, and a lot of it is about assumptions and things we think we know about dogs and quashing the inaccuracies. A lot of it is about training and the ways dogs learn – or don’t learn. I enjoyed learning about the different methods in which dogs are trained and the thoughts about how dogs might be useful to us in the future when we train them to do even more for us.

I learned so much about the way my dog uses his senses and where his behaviour has come from. The things that have been passed down to him from his ancestors and why he does some of the things he does. This book was a great read, I highly recommend it if you are new to dogs or are even just interested in learning more about your dog.

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

tinmanI’ve been savouring this book and eking it out so that it wouldn’t finish too soon. It is a warm and moving account of love. The kind of love that exists in so many places but isn’t talked about. The kind of love that is furtive and therefore more passionate than if it were openly expressed. It is love in the round, between husbands, wives, friends, lovers, family all interconnected and beautiful in it’s own ways.

One of the most wonderful parts of the book is the scene where Gile’s mother wins a paining in a raffle. She chooses the painting of Van Gough’s sunflowers despite the fact that her husband is horrified at her choosing a painting over a bottle of whiskey which is the other raffle option. This is the first time we learn of the bullying nature of Gile’s father and the first stand made by his mother. The story of the sunflowers runs through the book, creating constant links back to this moment.

It is a book with sections told by different characters. First you meet Giles, working nights at the car factory where he has spent his working life, polishing out the dents in the cars and desperately sad after the death of his wife Annie. But Giles reflects back to the friendship and relationship he had with his mother and most poignantly with Michael his childhood friend, the moment when they became more than friends and then when life intervened and he married Annie forming a three way bond between Annie, himself and Michael which was strong and beautiful but which was always bound to be difficult. Michael loves both Giles and Annie. Giles is alone now after Annie and Michaels deaths and he looks back on a life full of love but now so lonely. His lonely life is beautifully portrayed.

Michael has been bought up by his grandmother, a woman he had hardly met when he has to come and live with her. They become wonderful together. Michael and Giles become firm childhood friends and then go to France on holiday and their relationship is taken to the next level. Michael looks back on his life, with Giles, with Mabel, with G (what he calls his lover) as he dies slowly and painfully of Aids and of his relationship with another patient in the hospital. For me the most moving part of Michaels story is his journey to Arles the place of the sunflowers in Van Gough’s painting. A place where he mourns for everything that is lost from his life.

This is so moving and beautiful, I am so looking forward to see what Sarah Winman writes next, When God was a Rabbit was a glorious read. I think this author just gets better and better.

Herding Cats by Sarah Andersen

herding catsIf you were a young person who was interested in making your way in the illustration or comic world, I think this book would be a great asset.  There is a section at the end of the book which will give you handy heads-ups and ideas to make your quest become easier.

Sarah Anderson’s cartoons are gentle, sweet and self-depreciating. The cutsie style belies the depth of the cartoons, they are utterly sweet and at the same time often utterly disarming and poignant. I’ve been following her work on Facebook for some time and have thoroughly enjoyed reading her work.  To have this lovely book full of them is great.

I love the way she ties the love of animals with loneliness and often, wouldn’t we just want the uncomplicated company of a furry being for all the things we need, this is what she does, she harnesses this feeling and draws it perfectly in simple but sharp squares.  Sarah describes the feelings of growing older in a world with expectations perfectly, she could be one of my kids! It is tough out there in the world, having all those grown up expectations, of yourself but also other people expecting certain behaviours from you. I love that Sarah’s musings are in comic form, so accessible and so perfect for how we all feel some of the time.  A lovely treasure of a book.



Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

gnomonYou need to be match fit for a Nick Harkaway, you need to prepare for massive vocabulary, difficult concepts, layer upon layer of story and get yourself ready to be taken on a trip where you don’t have a map and you just have to surrender yourself to the captain of the journey and trust you will get there in the end. Usually this works really well for me, but sadly not this time. I just couldn’t get into it. I did love the complicated words, I liked the main character, but I got horribly confused. I wound myself in knots trying to get through this, then I walked away. I have loved all the other books I’ve read by this author, I knew what I was getting into, but I just couldn’t make it to the end.