Category Archives: Literary Fiction

Book Review: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

This novel has been on my ‘To read’ list for a long time, and the only reason that I have only just read it is that eternal problem of ‘too many books, too little time’.  I am sure that fellow voracious readers will fully understand that problem!

Unlike some modern classics, The Kite Runner not only lived up to its reputation – for me it completely smashed it, and quite simply is one of the very best books I have ever read.

For those of you who don’t know the story, or who haven’t cheated by watching the film first (shame on you ;-)), The Kite Runner is set in Afghanistan and the USA and tells the story of 2 young boys growing up in Kabul in the 1970s/80s during a time of great conflict, both externally with the Russian invasion, and internally with having to cope with class and ethnic divide.  Mention the word Afghanistan in the modern world, and most people will probably immediately think of war.  Although there is war in the book, from the Russian invasion and the emergence of the Taliban in the 1990s, there is also great description of the lives and traditions of ordinary Afghan people, which makes it all the more heartbreaking to think of the pain that has been inflicted on them over many years, from many different forces.

I really felt transported to the streets of Kabul, fully immersed in the sights, sounds and tastes of the boys’ childhood.  The story itself was so powerful and intoxicating to me that every so often I had to physically put the book down and remind myself to breathe.  This book is just so staggeringly beautiful, and destined to become a classic novel of our times.  I simply cannot wait to read Hosseini’s subsequent novels, and have already places and order at the library for A Thousand Splendid Suns.


The Literary Owl rating: 10/10 (if there was a higher score than that, I would give it!)

Read with: Lots and lots of high-quality tea.



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Book Review: The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

The Age of Miracles

“It was, at the beginning, a quite invisible catastrophe”

When Julia wakes up one Saturday morning following a sleepover with her best friend, she has no idea of the disaster that will change her life forever.  This ‘quite invisible catastrophe’ is the slowing of earth’s rotation, which means the 24 hour day is gradually getting longer until day becomes night and night becomes day.  It is against this backdrop that Julia must face that painful transition from childhood to teens.  Everything changes for her, from her family stability to her friendships; her confidence to her perceptions of the adults around her.

The Age of Miracles is a heartbreaking, unique coming-of-age story that was just utterly sublime to read.  It was easy to imagine the slowing actually happened and it really made me think about how we would cope in that situation in terms of international political response and the effect it would have on our relationships and day-to-day lives.  I could definitely identify with Julia’s feelings of loneliness and isolation, and it was interesting to imagine whether her relationships would have been different without the outside force of ‘the slowing’ or if the changes were an inevitable part of growing up.  I definitely think it was the right decision to have a young girl as the protagonist rather than focus on an adult perspective.

I don’t usually read reviews of a book once I have read it, but I happened to come across some when I searched on Google to find out whether The Age of Miracles is going to be made into a movie.  I was happy to find out that it is, to be directed by Catherine Hardwicke, as it could be such a glorious movie in the right hands.  I picture an atmospheric masterpiece, similar in style to 2011’s Another Earth.  Anyway, back to books!  One review I saw was critical of The Age of Miracles from a sci-fi perspective, but for me it simply isn’t a sci-fi book, and if it had been marketed as that then chances are I wouldn’t have read it, as sci-fi is not a genre I tend to seek out.  Yes there is a science-fiction element in the book, but ultimately it is Julia’s coming-of-age story that is at the heart of it, and this is done superbly well by Karen Thompson Walker.  It is certainly one of the best debut novels I have ever read, and it left me with a lump in my throat, (and okay maybe a few tears were shed too).  I look forward to what is next from this wonderful author.


The Literary Owl rating: 9/10

Read with: your favourite childhood sweets to help reminisce about the trials and tribulations of growing up.

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Book Review: Keeping the World Away by Margaret Forster

Keeping the World away Margaret Forster

Published in 2006, Keeping the World Away is a fictionalised account of a real painting and the women whose lives it touches.  The novel opens with the story of the painter herself, early 20th century artist, Gwen John.  The painting, of a corner of her attic room in Paris, then passes from creative woman to creative woman through the 20th century up to the present day.  The lives of these women are very different, but they all share a desire to find a place of their own that reflects the tranquility of the space they see in the painting.

Before reading this book I confess that I hadn’t heard of Gwen John, but I think this lack of prior knowledge probably enhanced my reading experience because I had no pre-conceived ideas about what her life would be like, and I enjoyed learning about the artist and her painting as the book progressed.

I think the reason that this book caught my eye in the library was the title: as a self-confessed introvert I feel the need at regular intervals to keep the world away and retreat into my own head and my own physical space.  For this reason the book, and some of the characters in particular, really resonated with me.  My husband and I currently live with his parents, and they kindly let me commandeer the rarely used attic space to use as my creative space.  I spend part of most days up here, surrounded by art and craft supplies; books; photos and quotations on the walls.  Up here I can focus, and be creative purely for creativity’s sake.  If anyone wished to know the ‘real me’, I would just show them this room and say “This.  This is me”  One of the quotes that stood out in the book:

“Quickly, she finished the floor and closed the door on the newly clean and tidy hut.  Leaving it, she always felt reluctant, whether she had been working well or not.  It was her place…..Strange, she thought, how a room, and in this case just a makeshift room, could take on an atmosphere.  There was little in it that was purely personal except for her paintings, no belongings or furnishings that reflected her own personality, and yet the hut felt like hers.  It was her.”

This was the first Margaret Forster novel I have read, and I certainly enjoyed reading it enough to want to seek out her other books.  Being partly based on historical fact gave the book an extra interest, and the fictional lives of the characters were believable and moving and will stay with me for some time.  I am also keen to find out more about Gwen John and her art, and think a print of ‘A Corner of the Artist’s Room in Paris’ would fit well in my own creative attic space.


The Literary Owl rating: 7.5/10

Read with: a glass of French red wine, in a space of your own.

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Book Review: The Ruins of California by Martha Sherrill

This review was first published on 60litres during the summer of 2011

There is nothing better than reading a book set in the place I am travelling.  This California-based book was even more special than that, as I bought it from the famous City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco.  As well as falling head-over-heels for the bookstore, I am in awe of the beauty of this book.  Set in the 1970s, it tells the story of Inez, raised in the suburbs by her flamenco dancer-turned-Real Estate Agent mother.  Taking centre stage in her life, and the story, is her bohemian father, Paul, who lives in San Francisco, refusing to conform to society’s norms.  He has clear flaws, and certainly couldn’t be accused of being a responsible father, but you can’t help but admire his stance on issues such as money not leading to happiness, and the freedom of individuality.  As well as the complex and interesting characters throughout the story, the book details a fascinating snapshot of life in the supposed carefree 1970s.  It’s story of relationships, family, and the trials of adolescence and finding one’s place in the world.  Having read the book, it is now ready to be passed to a book exchange, as I always do while travelling, but I am having trouble in passing this one on as I am waiting for a book exchange I feel is truly deserving of this masterpiece!

The City Lights Bookstore, San Francisco


The Literary Owl rating: 4.5/5

Read with: A (very) large glass of Californian rosé wine


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