All words in red denote a link which when clicked should open up another window.

Monday, 30 December 2013

In Between the Sheets by Ian McEwan.

My version published by Picador

Book Review Rating ♥♥♥

This is a collection of seven short stories by Ian McEwan from 1978. The main theme that runs through the book is sex. The sexually activity is within the spectrum of kinky and depraved. However, it could also be looked upon as pornographic but without the titillation. What I mean by that is that most of the sex is suggested but not always described in great detail. But, it could be construed as pornographic simply due to whom and what is described as having the sex. There is sex between a man and a mannequin; between a woman and an ape and the wet dreams of a man that involve a pre-pubescent girl.
I tried so hard to not use the following adjectives to describe the book; ‘dark’ and ‘disturbing’ as I am sure they have been used many times to describe this set of short stories. However, it is almost impossible not to use the afore-mentioned adjectives as they perfectly describe two major aspects of the book.
I believe the book reflects Great Britain during 1977 and 1978. The country was beset with strikes, IRA bombings, political unrest, the ‘Winter of Discontent’ was just around the corner, the gaining popularity of the Conservative party, (The Thatcher era was only a year away), and women’s palpable fear of the Yorkshire Ripper. There is one story in the book of a dystopian future set in Great Britain. But attitudes to sex in the seventies were a bigger threat.
The seventies are seen by many historians as the decade that saw an explosion of promiscuity, abortion and pornography. The pill became widely used in the seventies and so it appeared as if everyone was having sex with anyone. Sex became recreational rather than perfunctory. But of course this sexual promiscuity had a dark (there is that word again) element; abortion, women scared to say no due to peer pressure or not wanting to appear repressed, increased illegitimacy and women losing their sense of autonomy. Many novels of the seventies depicted sexual violence such as ‘A Clockwork Orange’ by Anthony Burgess.
In Ian McEwan’s book of short stories the stories depict most of the male characters as unable to differentiate between lust and love. The male appendage for most of the male characters does most of the thinking leaving the brain in neutral like so many idling cars: the engine is running but the car is not moving.
In Between the Sheets is a perversely envisioned account of sex and in the male of the species. The stories articulate the era of the seventies and also resonate in the 21st century with the growth of the internet and continuing sexualisation of women and in particular young girls.

Number of Pages - 127

Profanity - None

Sex Scenes - Yes (Graphic)

Friday, 13 December 2013

Wake by Anna Hope

Published by Random House

Book Review Rating ♥♥♥

The plot is set during five days in November 1920, from 7th to the 11th, Armistice day. One storyline is the circumstances that led to the creation and interment of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey. The account is fictional but is based on actual events. The second strand to the novel is the story of three women, Ada Hart, Evelyn Montfort and Hettie Burns. All three women have been affected by the Great War either having lost someone or had a loved one return home but are mentally or physically ‘broken’.
‘Wake’ is a very competent, well written book that lovingly portrays five days in the lives of the three women and the family and friends around them. The main protagonists are well developed fully rounded characters and one gets a sense that the author has lived and breathed their lives for some time. The dialogue is character driven, each word and sentence is crafted in such a way as help one understand who the character is beyond their actions.
However, one cannot say the same for many of the secondary characters; Ada’s husband, Hettie’s friend Di and Rowan Hind. (Rowan Hind relates a harrowing tale of his time in the trenches in the fields of France and the author creates the scene so well that one can almost feel the mud underfoot. But, his character is underwritten and under utilised).
These and some other characters are one dimensional and one gets the impression that the author had spent so much time developing the main protagonists that she didn’t give enough time to flesh out the minor characters.
The main problem with the book is that it falls to often  into a well of clichés and stereotypes and as such that it comes across like so many Romance novels.  You have Evelyn who lost her first love and has withdrawn from life and love. You have Hettie the not so attractive best friend to a beautiful girl who has found a rich man. Then you have Ada who has lost her son and has also withdrawn from life. The denouement to Ada’s story is ridiculously saccharine and contrived. The words of advice she is given that change her life reads like the clichéd homilies vomited by those loathsome American life coaches one sees on TV.
One gets the impression the author wrote this only for the female reading population. Why would she have all the main characters female? There are no memorable male characters and each of these is damaged mentally or physically. What would have raised it above the norm would have been having one of three main characters male, a father who had lost his son. I am sure there must have been widowed fathers who had sons fighting in the war.
The author’s telling of the events that led to the creation of the tomb of the Unknown Soldier is sublime and there were times where I was distracted by my desire for the story to return to this strand of the novel to the detriment of the rest of the storyline.
 One has to remember this is Anna Hope’s first novel and can certainly be described as a valiant attempt. But much of it is written monochromatically it lacks any subtle nuances or depth or underlying themes and because of this it is doubtful one would return to the book to re-read it.

First Line - Three soldiers emerge from their barracks in Arras, northern France.

Memorable Line - They are very small bundles. these cannot be bodies. Theses are just scraps of things, they look like little more than rags.

No' of Pages - 336
Profanity - None
Sex Scenes - Yes but not graphic

This is an advanced copy obtained through Netgalley. 

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Q & A with Denise Mina

A few weeks ago I wrote to all five judges of the 2014 Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction. I sent 10 questions in the hope that they could find the time in their busy lives, (even busier now with having to read 150 books for the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction), to answer a few of my questions. Today, I received an email from Denise Mina, crime writer and playwright, who has given up some of her time to answer ALL my ten questions. I cannot thank her enough. I am very touched she took the time to do this. Thank you Denise.
The Q & A is posted on my other blog at

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Candide, or Optimism by Voltaire

Published by Penguin Classics

Book Review Rating  ♥♥♥

Candide is a third person narrative that can be seen as a piece of travel writing, a fable or a parable. What it most certainly is, is a satirical piece of writing that though written over 250 years ago it still has relevance today. To be more precise it is indirect satire which allows the readers to draw their own conclusions. It also allows Voltaire to disavow the words written. This is made clear by Voltaire not putting his name to the novel until some eight years later even though most readers were fully aware who had written it.
The themes of the Candide are large, the hypocrisy of religion, the corrupting power of money and the folly of optimism.  Candide explores them all in detail within what should really be considered a novella.
The edition I read is part of the Penguin Classics series, translated and edited by Theo Cuffe and has an introduction by Michael Wood, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. As with all the Penguin Classics series that I have read this is a superb edition. This edition includes a chronology, a map, notes on the text and names plus various appendices. Unless you have a good working knowledge of the 18th century then the notes are a must. With Candide being a satire than one needs to know the history of the period the book is set to understand what is being satirized.
In the midst of the novella is a love story; the love of Candide for Cunégonde, the Baron’s daughter. When the Baron discovers Candide’s love for his daughter he is driven out of the castle. While trying to make his own way in the world he meets his tutor from his days at the castle, Pangloss. Pangloss informs him that Cunégonde is dead as are everyone else at the castle after it was attacked. From there Candide and the various companions he meets on his travels encounter an egregious series of events; an earthquake, the Inquisition, murder, rape, a shipwreck and many others.
 Candide fights to maintain his optimism and Pangloss tries to maintain his belief that “everything is for the best in this best of all possible worlds.” Throughout the novella Voltaire is ridiculing the cosmic complacency and optimism that is expressed by philosophers of the day.
The book is an intellectual, philosophical and religious journey through the period of the Enlightenment in what became known as the ‘long’ eighteenth century.

The novella moves a hectic pace which can leave one feeling breathless. The chapters are short and strangely each chapter has a heading which conveys the events that will occur in the chapter so ruining much of the novella’s suspense. The novel’s hectic pace was remarked on by the playwright Lillian Hellman who wrote the libretto for the operetta of the book for the stage; “the greatest piece of slap-dash ever written at the greatest speed.”

First Line - "Once upon a time in Westphalia, in the castle of Monsieur the Baron von Thunder-ten-tronckh, there lived a young boy on whom nature had bestowed the gentlest of dispositions."

Memorable Line - '"Do you think, said Candide, 'that men have always massacred one another, as they do today? That they have always been liars, cheats, traitors, ingrates and brigands, as well as weaklings, shirkers, cowards, backbiters, gluttons, drunkards, misers and social climbers, in addition to being bloodthirsty, slanderous, fanatical, debauched, hypocritical and downright stupid?"'

No' of pages - 155
Sex scenes - there is some semi-graphic details involving rape
Profanity - none
Genre - satirical novella