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Posts from the ‘Joint reviews’ Category

Bailey’s 2016 Short List Review: Girl at War Sara Nović


Two joint reviews in a row! Book Worm and I are on a roll. Were we more aligned on this book? Keep reading to find out. Read more

1001 Book Review: Cloudsplitter Russell Banks



Book Worm and I review Russell Banks’ epic tale of the Brown family and we disagree. See what we thought of the book and let us know with whom you agree. Read more

Featured Author: Ian McEwan

ian mcewan.jpg

This month’s featured author is an author who has 8 books on the 1001 list (across all editions): Ian McEwan. Keep reading to see our thoughts and let us know which are your favorite McEwan novels.

McEwan was born in 1948 in England to Scottish parents. His father worked his way up the army to rank of major and as such Ian and his family lived all over the world including East Asia, Germany, and North Africa. McEwan’s early works were characterized by their dark quality and as a result he was given the nickname Ian Macabre. The British Literature Council had this to say about his early works:

McEwan’s early pieces were notorious for their dark themes and perverse, even gothic, material. Controversy surrounding the extreme subject matter of the first four works, which are concerned with paedophilia, murder, incest and violence, was exacerbated by their troubling narrative framework, the way in which conventional moral perspectives are disrupted or overturned, the reader frequently drawn into prurient involvement with the characters. McEwan’s perpetrator-narrators draw us into complicity with their crimes, whilst his victims seem strangely collusive in their own exploitation and destruction.

His later works are considered to be considerably less dark but many explore the impact of extraordinary events in the lives of ordinary people.

His novels have received much critical acclaim. The Times featured him as one of the top 50 British authors since 1954 and he has won more awards that can fit in this brief bio. His books have been nominated for the Man Booker Prize six times, wining the prize in 1998 for his novel Amsterdam. The Comfort of Strangers, Black Dogs, Chesil Beach, and Atonement were all shortlisted for the Man Booker Award and Saturday was longlisted for the award.

You can read more about him on his website and in this Paris Review article.

List of published novels (as of March 9, 2016):
First Love, Last Rites (1975)
In Between the Sheets (1978)
The Cement Garden (1978)
The Comfort of Strangers (1981)
The Imitation Game (1981)
Or Shall we Die? (1983)
The Ploughman’s Lunch (1985)
The Child in Time (1987)
Sour Sweet (1988)
The Innocent (1990)
Black Dogs (1992)
The Daydreamer (1994)
Enduring Love (1997)
Amsterdam (1998)
Atonement (2001)
Saturday (2005)
On Chesil Beach (2007)
For You: The Libretto (2008)
Solar: (2010)
Sweet Tooth (2012)
The Children’s Act (2014)

Jen’s Thoughts: I have only read two books by McEwan: Atonement and Saturday. I had been wary of his books precisely because I don’t love the macabre and I was turned off by some of the reviews I’d seen of books like The Cement Garden. However, I loved Atonement. In fact, I was the love it reviewer for a love it or hate it feature that we did on this book about a year ago. Unfortunately, I did not love Saturday. While brilliantly written and an excellent concept for a book, I personally found it somewhat dull. There were moments that were great but my main reaction to the book was one of boredom. Since I have only read two of his books, I don’t feel overly qualified to guide you through which books to read. So I will leave it to Book Worm to be your guide.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: I have read 6 books by McEwan and I can honestly say they have all been completely different from each other in terms of style and content. That is the sign of a gifted writer. Of the 6 I have read, my favourites were Atonement (just thinking about that ending still brings a tear to my eyes) and Enduring Love closely followed by The Child in Time and Amsterdam. Unlike Jen I actually enjoyed Saturday yes some sections dragged (how many pages do you need to devote to a game of squash) but overall I liked the concept of following a person for 24 hours to see what happened to them and how they reacted to it. My least favourite book is On Chesil Beach. I found the storyline to be slightly weird, the relationship to be unbelievable, and the ending just miserable. This is not one I would recommend.

McEwan has a real gift for storytelling and for capturing all the different aspects of a character and what it is that drives them and makes them who they are. He is also happy writing from multiple perspectives including different sexes and social backgrounds as well as different points in time.

As each of the books I have read are so different to the each other my advice to readers would be if you have read 1 McEwan book and not liked it try another one as you might love it.

We want to hear from you! Which books of his have you read? Which were your favorites and least favorites?


A Fine Balance

a fine balance

It’s been a while since both Book Worm and I have given the same book 5 stars. We are both fairly stingy with our 5-star ratings. So when a book comes along that gets 5 stars from both of us, we get very excited to share it with you. See why we thought it was so good and let us know if you loved it too! Read more

1001 Book Review: Solaris Stanislaw Lem


Solaris by Stanislaw Lem
Published in: 1961
Reviewed by: Book Worm  and Jen
Rating: ★★★★
Find it here: Solaris

Synopsis from Goodreads: A classic work of science fiction by renowned Polish novelist and satirist Stanislaw Lem.

When Kris Kelvin arrives at the planet Solaris to study the ocean that covers its surface, he finds a painful, hitherto unconscious memory embodied in the living physical likeness of a long-dead lover. Others examining the planet, Kelvin learns, are plagued with their own repressed and newly corporeal memories. The Solaris ocean may be a massive brain that creates these incarnate memories, though its purpose in doing so is unknown, forcing the scientists to shift the focus of their quest and wonder if they can truly understand the universe without first understanding what lies within their hearts.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: 4 stars. I read this book after having watched the George Clooney film and I have to say the book is 10 times better. It is a deeper, more philosophical exploration about what it means to be human.

While the book is classed as a sci-fi classic, it reads equally as well as a study of guilt, obsession and sacrifice. That is not to say there is no science in it, there is, a lot. Some readers may be put off by the detailed description of the ocean and the way it behaves especially the long detailed descriptions of the kind of structures it makes. This wasn’t a problem for me as I enjoyed seeing what the author imagined an alien mind could come up with.

The first person narrative gives the story a creepy, edgy kind of feel, it also means that everything we are told comes from one source which means that source can be questionable. This technique works well to convey the isolation of the space station, the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped in one place with no communication with the outside world it also suggests the way the mind can play tricks on you.

I would recommend this to those who enjoy sci-fi and weirdly those who like a good romance.

Jen’s Thoughts: 4 stars. I have often made the claim on this blog that I generally dislike science fiction but perhaps that is because I have read the wrong books (I often wonder if Robert Heinlein has biased me against all science fiction). I really enjoyed Solaris for many of the reasons Book Worm mentioned above. I actually liked the movie which I had seen prior to reading the book although admittedly my tolerance for bad quality movies is quite high. While I may be a snob when it comes to books, I will pretty much watch and enjoy all movies. Yet as Book Worm writes above, the book was superior in all ways to the movie.

Solaris was a very engaging, intelligent, and well-written book. It is described by many as philosophical science fiction and it raises issues about what makes us who we are. It is a book that blur the lines between reality and hallucination bring us to question the very nature of our perception. Maybe it’s no wonder that I liked the book despite it being in the science fiction genre. Lem was never really part of the science fiction establishment. Philp K. Dick accused him of being a communist agent and he was booted out of the Science Fiction Writers Association (Wired magazine, 2002). Lem himself wrote that science fiction was a “whore, prostituting itself with discomfort, disgust, and contrary to its dreams and hopes.”

As Book Worm has warned above, the book is filled to the brim with scientific digressions that at times can be quite dry. These digressions serve a purpose in building the backdrop to the book but they are fairly extensive and may be off-putting to those who don’t like this element in their science fiction books. That said, I enjoyed the book and found it quite thought-provoking. It was a creepy read.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: Solaris

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? 

The Worst Books We Read in 2015

thumbs down

So we have done our top 10 best books of 2015 and I (Book Worm) felt it was then only fair to share our worst books of 2015. See which books made our list of worst books we read in 2015. Read more

1001 Book Review: The Scarlet Letter Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
First published in: 1850
Reviewed by: Book Worm & Jen
Find it/buy it here (free on kindle): The Scarlet Letter (Dover Thrift Editions)

Synopsis from Goodreads: Set in the harsh Puritan community of seventeenth-century Boston, this tale of an adulterous entanglement that results in an illegitimate birth reveals Nathaniel Hawthorne’s concerns with the tension between the public and the private selves. Publicly disgraced and ostracized, Hester Prynne draws on her inner strength and certainty of spirit to emerge as the first true heroine of American fiction. Arthur Dimmesdale, trapped by the rules of society, stands as a classic study of a self divided.

Book Worm’s Review:
Set in a Puritan New England town in the 1640’s, this is the story of Hester Prynne, a woman who has committed adultery and bears a child. As punishment she is forced to wear a scarlet letter A on her clothing. While she lives with her punishment and her sin, she refuses to name the child’s father — something that she will eventually come to regret for his sake.

What I enjoyed about this book was the portrayal of how a religious community treats a sinner. By accepting her sin and punishment, Hester becomes separate but accepted by the people she lives with. I liked the way Hawthorne portrayed the different ways of living with guilt and these ways can affect the health of a person.  The father is easy to guess, but his discovery is not the book’s primary concern.  Instead, it is to show how father and mother dealt with their sin seperately and what it cost them both individually and as part of a close knit community.

A good read!

Jen’s Review:
I first read the Scarlet Letter in middle school and remember liking it quite a bit. When I looked at my Goodreads rating I had given it 4 stars. This year I listened to it rather than read it. Perhaps this was a mistake because I found it very dry and my mind was constantly wandering. The archaic language further reduced my engagement.

There’s no question that it was an influential book that highlighted the problems inherent in Puritan morality. Hawthorne wrote about the nature of evil, sin, morality, and personal growth and identity. His books were psychologically complex and his portrayal of women was ahead of his times. Hester Prynne is perhaps one of the best-known female protagonists and is considered by many to be the first heroine of American fiction. You can find an interesting article about some of the history behind the Scarlett Letter and Hawthorne’s America here.

It’s probably unfair of me to rate it 3 stars based on the audio version and maybe I should just let my 4-star rating from my first read be one that counts. It is on several lists of best books including the 1001 list and The Guardian‘s 100 best novels. I am guessing that almost everyone has read this novel since it’s on many school curriculums in the U.S. It’s a very short story so if by some miracle you haven’t read it, you should try it out of your self. You can find it for free on Amazon (or a number of other places including project Gutenberg): The Scarlet Letter (Dover Thrift Editions)

Have you read the Scarlett Letter? When did you read it? What did you think about it? Check out the 2015 movie trailer below.

1001 Book Review: Catch-22 by Joseph Heller


I may well be the last person on earth to read this book but I’m going to write up this review in case any of you are contemplating a reread. Find out what we thought of it and let us know what your opinion of the book. Read more

1001 Book Review: The Shadow Lines Amitav Ghosh


Once again BookWorm and I find ourselves at different ends of the spectrum in our opinions about our latest 1001 read. Find out what we thought and let us know which one of us is more in line with your views about the book. Read more

1001 Book Review: The Blind Owl Sadegh Hedayat

the blind owl

We initially wanted to feature this book for banned book week, but unfortunately we were not able to complete it in time. The Blind Owl is considered perhaps the most famous literary work of 20th century Iran. It was written in the late 1930s and was originally published as a limited edition that was banned from publication in Iran. Find out what we thought about the book. Read more