Saturday 14 November 2015

Bird - Crystal Chan

Guys! We have good news. We Sat Down has a new blogger!!!!!!


Hello everyone. I’m Courtney, and I'm new to blogging

I’ll start off by telling you a bit about me. I am moving to the UK from South Africa. I love music. I play the euphonium, which none of you have probably ever heard of until now. I like sports, anything to release energy is fun. I read a lot of fiction but I do read the odd factual book every now and then. My aunt and cousin are bloggers on ‘We Sat Down”. I just hope my blogging is as good as theirs. 

That’s pretty much all I have to say as an introduction, so I hope my reviews are useful and encourage you to read them and enjoy them as much as I did.

My first review is on the tremendous book, Bird by Crystal Chan:

Bird is about a girl, Jewel, whose brother died because of her grandfather. Her grandfather killed her brother, John, and never spoke again. Her parents ignored her for most of her life after this tragic event. She was a shy, lonely soul who needed some excitement and happiness in her life. That all changed, when….................she met John.

This book has a beautiful cover, beautiful content, beautiful story line and a beautiful ending. So all rounded, this book is rather beautiful.

Publication details: 2013, Tamarind, London, hardback
This copy: from the publisher


Welcome, Courtney, we're delighted to have you here; a new voice! I'm sure your blogging will be quite as 'good' as ours. I liked Bird a lot too, so maybe you and I have similar taste? 

But Courtney isn't really a stranger to We Sat Down as she's guested in the past. Here's another review that Courtney did for us a couple of years back: North of Nowhere. And here's an interview she did with the author, Liz Kessler.

Tuesday 4 August 2015

Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Review by M

Here's the fuzzy lead up to why I read Half of a Yellow Sun in the first place, and my mixed but hopeful expectations for it:

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Purple Hibiscus is one of those books that has a special place on my shelves. I read it during a period when I was reading little fiction and not making note of my thoughts about that which I did read (other than the piles of non-fiction, of course!). Consequently, I remember little of what Purple Hibiscus is about other than that my enduring response to it is similar to the one I hold for Tsisti Dangarembga's Nervous Conditions (both are about teenage girls in African countries). In short, Ngozi Adichie had earned a place in my reading heart. But then I tried reading Americanah, her most recent novel and the main character's internal whining jarred too much with me, and I left it unfinished and disappointed. But then someone from Booktrust told me how much they'd loved Half of a Yellow Sun, so I kept a wary eye out for it, curious as to whether it would be another Purple Hibiscus, an Americanah, or something else for me.

It was definitely more Purple Hibiscus, so I'm very happy and would recommend this novel to a variety of people.

Three things stood out most for me in Half of a Yellow Sun. - I learned something, I enjoyed the storytelling/plot over character (I know!), and yes, there is something about the writing (or structure) that jars with me a little.

The story is set in 1960s Nigeria, just before and during the civil war and the establishment of Biafra. Yes, I'd forgotten about Biafra (and Ngozi Adichie raises an eyebrow or smiles wryly inwardly), so I learned quite a bit from the plot, which often pleases me. For example, the title of the book is taken from a symbol on the Biafran flag. I'm sure I never knew that.

The plot became the page turner for me, and I read this novel for long uninterrupted periods over a few days - which is the first novel of the five I've read this year that has had that effect on me. Either I've reached a turning point or that's saying something about Half of a Yellow Sun. At least, it's saying that the novel tells a good story: that of love and human relationships within an extended family/household, and civil war.

Characterwise, the narrator and the novel moves back and forth among its main characters: Ugwu (the houseboy), Olanna (the long suffering beauty), Kainene (the ugly twin), Odenigbo (Master and revolutionary lover), and Richard (white man writer in Africa). Ugwu, for me, is by far the most charming of the characters. Olanna is a character who doesn't feel 'right' to me and I'm starting to think that Ngozi Adichie's main female characters are always going to have this effect on me. But, that thought doesn't sit true with Purple Hibiscus, whose main character is female. Interestingly, too, Ugwu and Kambili (Purple Hibiscus) are both teenagers. Perhaps then, I like Ngozi Adichie's characterisation of teenagers but not female adults. I'd have to reread Purple Hibiscus to get to the bottom of that one.

Structurally, I wasn't overly keen. The novel moves back and forth between the early and the late 1960s. The middle of these periods turns on two points: Biafra and war, and personal relationship troubles. Often I feel that this is done for no other reason than to introduce suspense. The novel does this but annoyingly it also 'spoils' some of the plot by telling me what happens before the story has reached it natural course (yep, for once, I'm plumping for a more linear tale!). There's also a strange device that occasionally tags the draft of a novel onto the end of chapters. The strange thing about this is it's written by the narrator and not the 'author'. For me, it obstructs the flow. I understand that Ngozi Adichie is making a political point about who should tell which stories but the whole of Half of a Yellow Sun does this anyway.

A last and, for me, interesting observation: sexual references are littered throughout the novel. Far more than I remember reading in other novels for a long time. This, perhaps, says more about the other novels that I've been reading rather than the amount of sex in Half of a Yellow Sun.

Most of this review sounds quite critical, more so than some of my other reviews. Maybe it just had more personal bite for me, and maybe I like that because it's the novel I've enjoyed reading most so far this year.

Publication details:
This copy: My own; Fourth estate, 2014

Tuesday 14 July 2015

Why I'm not reading Go Set A Watchman

For months, the question a few people have asked me is 'Are you going to read Harper Lee's new book'? On hearing that Go Set A Watchman (GSAW) was some sort of sequel or prequel to To Kill A Mockingbird (TKAM) and that there was controversy around its publication, my alarm bells started ringing.

TKAM is one of my favourite novels. I recently re-read it and enjoyed it far more than I did when I was at school. This is partly because it's a novel legendary in its stand alone character and it is symbolic of much that is very personal to me, its reader. A bit like an impressionist painting, for me, it artistically captures a moment. While the characters are very much alive for me, I've locked them in that moment and tied them to TKAM's form. And so, I didn't particularly wish to visit a story about Scout in adulthood. And, on hearing snippets from naughtily early reviews about a different characterisation of Atticus, I was quite certain that this was not somewhere that I wanted to go in my fiction reading.

My gut instincts were calmly saying ' No, I'll not read it,' but my curiosity and raised sense of excitement at the huge publication promotions, meant that not having a copy of this brand new GSAW made me feel left out. This side of me was screaming, "Go read it now!'

But the gut instinct niggled and then, a review out today and some critics who criticise the other critics and readers, pulled me back and out of the hype. GSAW is a novel that was rejected for publication and was then reworked into TKAM. In terms of novel development, GSAW is a draft in the publishing (or writing) process. From this perspective, it may be wonderful for literary theorists and students of literature. But, in this instance, my curiosity as a reader doesn't stretch that far, and for now, I'm sticking with the original legend. In my head, To Kill A Mockingbird is as real as fiction gets.

Thursday 2 April 2015

The True Face Revolution: Dream Boldy

True Face is a new non-fiction book from author, Siobhan Curham. It's an interactive self-help and exploratory guide that will get teens thinking (so says Little M (15) who has been reading an advance copy ). It's all about how you think and feel about, and see, yourself in today's social media frenzy world and in the future. It's full of advice and 'quizzes' (a bit like the ones a life coach might get you to do). It publishes in the UK today and I'd keep a look out for it if I was you.
One of the things Siobhan talks widely about is the importance, the freedom and even the courage to dream boldly.  Here, Siobhan shares an exercise that gives you a taste of what True Face offers. And there's a website too - Siobhan is building up an ambassadorial revolution!
Over to Siobhan.


In True Face I talk a lot about the importance of dreaming boldly. But how can we make our dreams a reality? 
The following exercise is taken from True Face and it’s one I did way back when I was still dreaming of becoming a writer. I’d like to point out that at the time I had no contacts in the publishing world, I’d dropped out of uni, I’d never attended a writing class and I was a young mum. So if it worked for me, it can definitely work for you!
Take some time when you know you won’t be interrupted. Sit or lie somewhere comfortable, with a notebook and pen handy, then close your eyes and relax. 
Picture yourself in five years’ time. 
  • How old will you be?
  • Where would you like to be?
  • What would you like to be doing?
  • Who would you like to be with?
In this dream world anything is possible, so if your inner voice starts saying things like: ‘you could never achieve that’, please just ignore it. For the purposes of this exercise, anything is possible.
Once you’ve got a basic idea of how you’d like your life to be let’s get a bit more detailed.
Picture yourself waking up in your dream life five years from now and slowly take yourself through your dream day.
  • Where are you living?
  • Who are you living with?
  • Where do you work?
  • What do you do for fun?
Dream boldly, remembering that anything’s possible.
How do you feel, living this dream life?
Really enjoy getting into these feelings.
Imagine the places you go to and all the different things you do throughout your day.
Then, when you’re ready, open your eyes and jot down everything you can remember.
When I first did this exercise I was living in a flat above a chip shop in London with a new baby. I’d never had a word published and I was on maternity leave. As the youngest of my friends to become a mum, I was feeling slightly down and isolated.
My five-year goal was to be living in the countryside with a book deal.
When I got more detailed about it, I added in a lunch with a big group of friend, a dance class and an evening stroll somewhere scenic.
It seemed so far from where I was to where I wanted to be, the enormity of my dream was daunting to say the least.
But the joy of this exercise is that it breaks things right down.
So, if your five year dream seems impossible to get to from where you are right now, don’t panic.
In your notebook, write a new title: ONE YEAR DREAM
What could you realistically achieve in the next year towards your overall goal?
When I did this I realised that I could realistically try to get an article and short story published so I made that my goal.
Once you’re clear on your one year goal, break it down even further.
What could you realistically achieve towards that one year goal in the next month?
I made my one month goal to write the first draft of a short story.
And, if you like, you can break it down even further than that, asking yourself what you could achieve in the next week and the next day.
By breaking our dreams down like this, we create manageable stepping stones. And with each stepping stone we cross, we become more confident and our five year dream looks more possible.
This is exactly what happened to me.
Within a year, I’d had a handful of articles and short stories published.
And within two years, I’d got my first book deal.
I’m writing this blog post from my home in the Hertfordshire countryside (nowhere near a chippy!), earlier today I went dancing and had lunch with friends and True Face is my tenth book to be published, with another couple to follow soon. This is what happens when we dream boldly; our reality can exceed even our wildest dreams!

To find out more about True Face please visit: 

Saturday 14 February 2015

UKYA Extravaganza: Dawn Kurtagich

Welcome to our stop on the UKYA Extravaganza blog tour where Dawn Kurtagich, author of the forthcoming YA novel, The Dead House, is our guest.  UKYA Extravanagaza is one of the first big author organised events outside of London and the home counties. Well done to author Kerry Drewery for spearheading it. And now to Dawn who you can meet alongside 34 other YA authors in Birmingham on 28th February. 

And look, there’s a heart on the UK cover: just as well it’s Valentines Day (though Dawn is really a writer of creepy, spooky and psychologically sinister YA fiction!). 

Left: UK cover; Right: US cover

Because The Dead House isn’t out in the UK ’til August (& we haven’t read it), here’s what Dawn says about it (nothing quite like whetting an appetite on Valentine’s, is there?): 

THE DEAD HOUSE is a twisty little book full of half untruths and a broken girl who doesn't exist.

Three students: dead.
Carly Johnson: vanished without a trace.

Two decades have passed since an inferno swept through Elmbridge High, claiming the lives of three teenagers and causing one student, Carly Johnson, to disappear. The main suspect: Kaitlyn, “the girl of nowhere.”

Kaitlyn’s diary, discovered in the ruins of Elmbridge High, reveals the thoughts of a disturbed mind. Its charred pages tell a sinister version of events that took place that tragic night, and the girl of nowhere is caught in the center of it all. But many claim Kaitlyn doesn’t exist, and in a way, she doesn’t – because she is the alter-ego of Carly Johnson.

Carly gets the day. Kaitlyn has the night. It’s during the night that a mystery surrounding the Dead House unravels and a dark, twisted magic ruins the lives of each student that dares touch it.”

Dawn Kurtagich sporting 'Watson'
And now here’re a few things you probably never knew about Dawn:

WSD: "I wrote a letter to my love and on the way I dropped it." To whom would you write and where would you drop it? 

Dawn Kurtagich: Hm… I'd want a very clever homing pigeon to find it and fly it to my love (so he'd think I had all kinds of mad Cinderella skills). Either that, or I would hope it could find its way to someone who really needed it.  

WSD: What book would you recommend someone else read on Valentine's Day and why? 

DK: I make no secret of the fact that I am a big fan of Juliet Marillier's work. Her Daughter of the Forest is definitely the most romantic book I have ever read (I've linked to the Goodreads page if you want more info). A little magic makes it even better. I love this book because of Sorcha, the main character. She is so strong, but so alone. Everything is taken away from her, yet she has strength enough to try and get it back, and it nearly costs her even more. Then, after all she's been through, she has to give up the person she loves most. It's beautiful. It's romantic in every way, with a capital "R"—and a fictional medieval Ireland? Yes, please. A second really good choice is Spirit Fox by Mickey Zucker Reichert and Michelle Wingert. Very readable. For YA: Anna and the French Kiss. CUTE!

WSD: Apparently your accent is a bit of a hodge-podge (welcome to my world!). What places might we detect in it?

DK: It is! You might detect an English accent, a little South African, a little American and possibly a little Australian. Though, when my Canadian friend comes to see me, I take on her lilt, apparently! Growing up in so many places means that I can't really answer the question "where are you from?" very easily. It's a problem. A very interesting problem! 

WSD: Why is orange your favourite colour?

DK: I’d say that orange is definitely one of my favourite colours—it's a colour for passion and warmth. But my favourite is a very specific type of green. Green is the best colour, anyway. The end. ;)

WSD: How and why did your hat get named Watson?

DK: Watson named himself. You'll need to ask him why... (though he's a cheeky bugger and may evade questions with more questions). He even makes an appearance in The Dead House!

The Dead House is forthcoming from Orion/Indigo (UK) and Little, Brown Books for Young Readers (US) in 2015. 

Wednesday 21 January 2015

The Children Act - Ian McEwan

Review by M

On the whole, I consider myself an Ian McEwan fan and am readily willing to give his novels a go with the expectation that I will become ensconced in them. The Children Act was no exception to this.

A short novel, The Children Act is about a high court judge working in family law. Ironically, we meet her just as her husband has an affair. While she struggles with this internally she must, or chooses, to simply carry on with her legal workload as if nothing has happened. The reader is given some lengthy insight into her cases, many of which revolve around child custody and dilemmas over interpreting what is best for the child in line with the actual, legal Children Act. The bulk of the story really focuses on an interesting case of a seventeen year old Jehovah's Witness who is resisting a blood transfusion.  This element of the novel held my interest and attention for hours and is the element that I remember most (I read it a few months back), and I would recommend the novel to other readers simply for this aspect. The final section of the novel was a disappointment. It felt rushed, and much of it seemed improbable to me.

Overall, I enjoyed this novel. McEwan's writing is smooth and makes for a quick and compelling read. I may have read it in close to one go.

Publication details: 2014, Jonathan Cape, London
This copy: digital review copy from the publisher

Monday 19 January 2015

This Should Be Written In the Present Tense - Helle Helle

Review by M

Hands up - of course I was going to read a novel by an author called Helle Helle. And I was also predisposed to expecting it to be a little different from everything else I was currently reading, and not least because it's been translated from Danish.

The story is about Dorte who has just moved in to a little house near a railway station not too far from Copenhagen where she is at university. From the first few pages, the tone is cosily friendly but boom, it throws a few jaggedy bits in and the reader is left questioning exactly what has or has not happened, or even is happening, and lots of whats and whys steer the novel. This is not sci-fi or fantasy, but much more about inner psychologies.

This short novel follows the everyday details of Dorte's unexciting life and I found it strangely compelling - perhaps because her life seemed so at odds with everything I expected she would do. Personally, I'm not sure if this is because of the writing or because of differences between continental Europe and Britain. My engagement with this novel was similar to my responses to some quietly gritty/raw French cinema.

This Should Be Written In the Present Tense definitely lived up to my expectations; it's a quiet and strangely surprising novel that mostly made me smile.

Publication details: Harvill Secker, 2014, London
This copy: digital review copy from the publisher

Catalyst - S.J.Kincaid

Review by Little M

Catalyst is the third and final novel in S.J.Kincaid’s Insignia trilogy. Starring Tom Raines as the main character, in his last year training for the Intrasolar Forces, Tom is on a mission to stay out of trouble and save the world at the same time. However, staying out of trouble seems to be proving difficult. With his friends Vik, Wyatt, Yuri and his plebs he discovers horrific schemes involving the Spire (training centre) and the globe.
Many third novels in trilogies seem to be a disappointment for many, some leave questions unanswered and others, theories unexplained. Contradicting this is Catalyst. Kincaid ties up the story with no loose ends and unanswered questions. For some it could be disappointing but personally I thought it was ended beautifully. It left the reader able to imagine how the society will continue with a little guidance.
Over all three novels Tom Raines has progressed as a character. Firstly he has grown up, although he still possesses the troublemaker traits; he has grown from being a boy, not fully understanding his potential, to a young man who is capable of most unimaginable things such as “break through the impossible”.
This has been one of my favourite series I have read and I fully recommend it to most teens and some adults too. However, it does contain many “teenage” events or thoughts so may not suit adults. It is most definitely suitable for both boys and girls so neither should be put off by any aspect.

Publication Details: Hot Key Books, London, published in the UK in 2014 (US 2014).

This copy: Paperback copy received for review from Hot Key Books.

The Dog - Joseph O'Neill

Review by M

The Dog was longlisted for the Man Booker 2014.

I never thought I'd ever sympathise with a Dubai-based westerner, but The Dog proved me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and would especially recommend it to anyone who's ever/never worked/lived in or visited Dubai or who wrestles with moral dilemmas and ethics. Anyone who likes ink stamps or letter seals may well enjoy this too.

The narrator and main character is an American lawyer wallowing in the aftermath of a newly broken romantic relationship and has taken a very cushy looking job as a lawyer to a super-duper rich Lebanese family based in Dubai. The plot follows his related trials and tribulations, with some very drawn out internal debates (some readers may find these sections tedious but I quite enjoyed reading them).

Threaded through this plot are a series of interconnected master and servant relationships, as our naive narrator comes to realise. The realisation about the extended metaphor of the dog - for me (and perhaps for the narrator too) - was at times funny (sometimes very) but over-ridingly sad. Oh, what a loveable but frustrating character O'Neill has created.

The direction of the plot is slightly predictable, which adds to the sense of frustration, although the ending was not what I expected - though very plausible.

A review in The Guardian suggested that The Dog is too similar in many ways to O'Neill's earlier novel Neverland. I haven't read Neverland but I enjoyed The Dog so much, I'm happy to search out some more-of-the-same or even better in his other work.

Publication details: Fourth Estate, 2014, London
This copy: digital copy for review from the publisher

Sunday 18 January 2015

The Guest Cat - Takashi Hiraide

Review by M

A few years back, I thought I didn't like reading detailed descriptions in fiction. On the whole, I probably still don't, but sometimes.......The Guest Cat is one of those times. It's a little book and almost all of it is concentrated on minutiae that make for something far bigger than is immediately anticipated; poignantly uplifting.

Set in Tokyo, a writerly couple of thirty somethings live in a rented cottage just off what they call Lightning Alley: the descriptions of their residence and the light are something to marvel at in themselves. A stray cat wanders in from the alley and becomes something of a guest in the couple's quiet and thoughtful lives.

The Guest Cat is a little book about the surprising and growing intensity of unlikely attachments. It is immediately and quietly alluring, moving at a slow outward pace which defies the rate of thought and change of mind that besets the protagonist.

Originally published in Japanese, The Guest Cat won the Kiyama Shohei Literary Award. This English edition was translated by Eric Selland.

Publication details: Picador, 2014, London, paperback
This copy: for review from the publisher

Books read in 2014

Books Read in 2014 - by Little M

1. Crown of Midnight - Sarah J Maas (finished 2 Jan 2014)
2. Blood Family - Anne Fine (finished Feb 2014)
3. All the Truth That's in Me - Julie Berry (finished March 2014)
4. Hostage Three - Nick Lake (finished March 2014)
5. The Bunker Diary - Kevin Brooks (finished March 2014)
6. Allegiant - Veronica Roth
7. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak (finished 3 May 2014)
8. The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion (finished 8 May 2014)
9. We Were Liars - E Lockhart (finished 17 May 2014)
10. Rooftoppers - Katherine Rundell (finished 29 May 2014)

Little M has started her own, separate book blog called Manchee & Bones. She'll be listing there from now on!

Books read in 2014 - by M
1. A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini (finished 8 Jan 2014)
2. Bird - Crystal Chan (finished 26 Jan 2014)
3. Hostage Three - Nick Lake (finished 4 Feb 2014)
4. Alex As Well - Alyssa Brugman (finished 19 Feb 2o14)
5. The Bunker Diary - Kevin Brooks (finished 6 March 2014)
6. The Wall - William Sutcliffe (finished 7 March 2014)
7. Kindred - Octavia E Butler (finished March 2014)
8. Close to the Wind - Jon Walter (finished 3 April 2014)
9. Bone Jack - Sara Crowe (finished 5 April 2014)
10. The Year of the Rat - Clare Furniss (finished 15 April 2014)
11. Jamaica Inn - Daphne du Maurier (finished 21 April 2014)
12. The Lowland - Jhumpa Lahiri (finished 9 May 2014)
13. The Vacationers - Emma Straub (finished 13 May 2014)
14. We Were Liars - E Lockhart (finished 14 May 2014)
15. Em and the Big Hoom - Jerry Pinto (finished 16 May 2014)
16. The Book of Unknown Americans - Cristina Henriquez (finished 18 May 2014)
17. Flambards - KM Peyton (finished 20 May 2014)
18. The Edge of the Cloud - KM Peyton (finished 21 May 2014)
19. Wide Sargasso Sea - Jean Rhys (reread; finished 31 May 2014)
20. Station Eleven - Emily St John Mandel (finished 14 June 2014)
21. J - Howard Jacobson (finished 28 August 2014)
22. The Dog - Joseph O'Neill (finished 7 September 2014)
23. Dear Committee Members - Julie Schumacher (finished 12 September 2014)
24. This Should Have Been Written in the Present Tense - Helle Helle (finished 15 September 2014)
25. The Children act - Ian McEwan (finished 16 September 2014)
26. The Guest Cat - Takashi Hiraide (December 2014)

Ha! This list will be very telling when it's looked back on in years to come. Just another page in my diary.......

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler

Review by M

Shortlisted for The Man Booker Prize 2014; winner of the 2014 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction

Some novels resonate closely with me for various reasons, and this novel is one of them. As a whole, it engulfed me. Despite some annoying elements, I loved it and won’t be surprised if it stays for a very long time on my ‘list of ‘favourite’ novels.

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a novel about family relationships (and their difficulties), but it specifically explores questions about our humanity, our being, and ethical choices. The way it does this is directly via the plot (which I think is unusual and refreshing) but I’m not saying much more on this because of spoilers. 

Told in the first person by Pearl, she starts her story in the middle when she is making her way through university. She speaks directly to her readership as she takes them back and forth as she finds the courage to tell the beginning and some of the end of what happened to the brother and sister who left her family when she was just a young girl.

Fowler likes to keep her reader guessing but thankfully it is not too long before she introduces the big twist which puts the plot onto a level that goes beyond the everyday of ‘ordinary’ family lives. I’d suggest steering clear of reviews on this novel if you want to savour the impact of the twist when you read the novel. It really put me completely beside myself.

This is a wrenching and thoughtful read, delivered mostly with a light tone that works surprising well (given the subject matter). The annoying elements, for me, were: the character of Harlow (I could have done without her though I see how she makes Pearl think about her own ‘essential’ being); a bit too much tension; and I’d have preferred some of Pearl’s research to have been included as an appendix.

I suspect fans of Margaret Atwood (especially perhaps Cat’s Eye), Ann Patchett and Maggie O’Farrell will thoroughly enjoy this novel. Highly, highly recommended and definitely one to be discussed - but not online for fear of spoilers.

Publication details: 2014, Serpent’s Tale, London, paperback

This edition: gift from Little M