Book Review – The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

How I came to buy this book

JoannaCannonReadingI bought The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon at a book reading event that was held at my local Waterstones. Joanna was interviewed by Tom Bromley who Teaches a Faber Academy course that Joanna attended.

The event was a great opportunity to hear about how Joanna had progressed through the publishing process and what inspired her to write her first book. Events of this kind are immensely interesting to me as a reader and a writer. I also found the event interesting as it was the first time I have met other book bloggers. So, Hi to Shaz and Jackie Law at NeverImitate. I’m on a slightly different quest to them and am obviously not as experienced in the ways of book blogging at the new book end of the market! (See my book list for details…)

Anyway, I came away from the evening having had a great time and with a signed copy of the book in my hand. I had not read any reviews and barely knew the synopsis. Everything I knew about the book I had gleaned from the hour or so of the reading event. I tend to prefer things like this as I can make my own mind up without other people’s opinion getting in the way. Without further ado, here is some of my thoughts and opinions on The Trouble with Goats and Sheep!

The book and Me

thetroublewithgoatsandsheepbookcoverThe book starts on 21st June 1976, which happens to be only a few weeks after my birthday. I know everyone says that the summer of 1976 was hot, but it was great to read something set in THAT summer. Chapters in the book are dated, and this triggered thoughts of my Mum and Dad doing what you do with a baby. There are so many events that occur concurrently across the world and you only ever see the ones that directly affect you. As I was having my nappy changed, events similar to those in the book were happening in another place under the same baking sun.

I will also mention here that I really liked the blue of the cover. It fits the book perfectly and because it’s a hardback, you see an edge of colour in your peripheral vision as you start and end each page. It feels like the colour of the summer of 1976…

Tense and Person Prose…

First off in the prose section I would like to mention tense and person! I really liked the way that Joanna has written events in the present of the book in past tense, third person. Memory chapters are written in present tense first person. This works really really well because memories are always internal and subjective, and you remember what you experienced (first person present tense.) It is such a powerful tool that I am amazed I have not seen it in any other book, at least I don’t remember reading it… This tense and person change also provided a very obvious but non intrusive way to stay in touch with what part of the story you were reading 1967 or 1976.

Efficient Prose

During the reading event, Joanna talked a little about “tight” prose. I also had a short conversation about it with her as she was signing my book. I used to wish that I could write a book with an absolute minimum number of words, to evoke a reader’s own imagination and to intrude on that as minimally as possible to direct the story. This is of course a fool’s errand. To take so much away from a story misses the beauty of the prose that keeps you reading and keeps invoking similes in your memory.

Joanna has succeeded in her aim, and I found the writing to be relaxed, effortless and still succinct. At the same time it was also very evocative. There were however times when I think the prose was almost too full or too efficient. I didn’t always get time to savour the depth of what was being painted for me.

This tightness of prose also led to some interesting descriptive passages. Some brilliantly realised:

On Libraries “It smelled of unturned pages and unseen adventures, and on every shelf were people I had yet to meet, and places I had yet to visit.”

And in some cases, slightly odd:

“…the thread of the carpet, worn down by heavy conversation.”

How does conversation ware down a carpet??

Anyway, the odd oddity aside, Joanna’s writing style was brilliant and beautiful. The whole book is told in a way that allows the reader to pour their own experiences into it. A lot of references don’t need to be interpreted, but depth is provided if you take your time. It’s like when “Ron swears” in Harry Potter. My son at 8 had a completely different lexicon for this and a different expectation of hour Ron would use his.


I had some trouble sticking with this book at times, and it took me a while to realise why. This is a brilliant book but it is not an easy book to read. I have already said that the writing is very good, and the general themes are all well realised and well paced, so what is my problem? The book is written around people and relationships and how they react to various problems for example; marriage issues, heat, the miss-understanding of children and people who can not accept differences in race and personality. This means that there is a lot of unspoken suspicion and social menace throughout the book. The reality of people I suppose! I found this tension quite hard to read for any length of time, even though I was enjoying the main thrust of the story.

Then, from nowhere Jesus arrives (He moves in mysterious ways!) and it was lovely to read this section because everyone pulled together. Well, almost everyone. I’m not going to go into the religious aspect of the book too much. It’s there, it’s a device and a good one at that. All to soon Jesus has gone and the tension returns.

Anyway, suffice to say that it was the tension that I was not comfortable with. It was definitely a tension that needed to be there for the story, and as I said, it was a story worth reading.


Rating: 8/10


Book Review – Magician’s Gambit by David Eddings

2015-04-04 08.55.45Right, no messing about in this review. This is a good book. It is the 3 part of The Belgariad Quintet and comes after  Pawn of Prophecy and Queen of Sorcery. Read those reviews, then continue the reviews a bit more for this book! I am still very much engaged with this story and really want to get onto the 4th book soon. Just not got much more to add at the moment. 🙂

Rating: 7/10

Book Review – Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings

2015-04-04 08.55.19Here is a quick book review of Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings. I’m keeping it short because I’ve recently read Pawn of Prophecy; the first of the series and this really is a continuation. I’m also progressing at fair pace with The Year of Reading Dangerously. I wouldn’t say quickly, as I have been side tracked with my book list, and I have been continually tweeting about various aspects of #tyord. Andy Miller hoped that the book would speak to me. It has and it is. Anyhoo, I really enjoyed Queen of Prophecy. I’m not going to rate it as highly as The Pawn of Prophecy, but it is none the less a very competent sequel.

This instalment of the quintet is more your quintessential fantasy travel diary than the last book. As you know, I liked David Eddings writing style, so the book remained readably even thought little of any import happened for most of it. In amongst the travel, bedding down, the feeling of being followed and the occasional intrusion of a king or a Grolim: tension built nicely. I spent quite a bit of the book wondering why it was called the Queen of Sorcery, hoping that I would find out. Suffice to say that the build up is worth it and Aunt Pol really is a queen of her particular art.

This second book sees the main character Garion in a more grown up role. There is a bit more sexual content in this book, but it is kept relevant to the characters wo fand is in no way too much for the target audience i.e. teenagers and not middle aged men… It is actually quite subtly written sexual tension and I thought it was perfectly balanced and well done.

There are a few further issues that I had with the book and I will end with them in a list; because that is easier and quicker than proper writing and I want a cup of tea:-

  1. In the first book, it annoyed me that names are sometimes very similar. By page 5 my whinge was usable again: Grolim = evil priests, The gorim of the ulgos = good. I’m pretty sure that these were mentioned in the first book as well, but I noticed it in this one, so that’s where my whinge is being applied.
  2. I struggled slightly with in the first book too. Even though David Eddings is capable of writing in empathy of the thoughts and actions of a young teenager, there is a very polar interaction with Garion from a lot of the other cast members.Everyone had treated Garion like a 10 year old until right at the end if the book when everyone switches their views and he is suddenly meant to be able to function as an adult, taking responsibility for actions that he was essentially forbidden to do a matter of pages before! This may be dodgy writing, or if the benefit of the doubt is given, it may be that these things are written from the perspective of Garion?
  3. To add to the slightly clunky “it wasn’t done on purpose” argument above:-
    • Poll is too prim
    • Garion is slightly too moody and not quite clever enough to see what is going on, but he is very well written as a teenager, confused in a confusing world.
    • Ce’Nedra is too volatile and flips from happy, playful and sexy to upset and offended too quickly.

In conclusion. I liked it. It has some flaws, but they are acceptable as the build up, story and characters are able to carry you through 🙂

Rating: 7/10