September update

Started but not finished:

  • Wreaking by James Scudamoremay go back to this later
  • The New Countess by Fay WeldonI enjoyed the first in this series; the second was a little sillier; the third failed to engage me at all
  • The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dickerhated the style of writing, ridden with cliches, and without any sense of flow. I hope it was just badly translated. Really wanted to read & enjoy this but could not face the thought of sitting through so much unexceptional prose.

Read:

  • Ace, King, Knave by Maria McCann – 4.5 – Wonderful characters and sense of period/place. Thoroughly enjoyed this tale of revenge and redemption beneath the facade of respectability.  The very end didn’t quite work for me, but in retrospect did give further food for thought.  Very similar in style/feel to Fingersmith by Sarah Waters.
  • The Coincidence Authority by John Ironmonger – 3 – On one level, this reminded me of Barbara Trapido, with the far-flung relations, and coincidences which overlap their lives.  But the overt focus on the natural coincidences lessened the impact of the story for me, and the central love story didn’t convince me. Not a bad read, but not the best, either.
  • The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Theriault – 3.5 – Another book in which I felt the translation lessened my enjoyment, but as it is only a short novel, I was able to read through it.  I love the concept of the relationship built through haiku but did not feel empathy for any of the characters.  The plot was a little contrived and unbelievable, but I was glad I read to the end, which added a different perspective (still a contrivance, but one I felt worked, within the context).

Oct edit:

  • The Confabulist by Steven Galloway – 4/5 – I’ve read a lot of fiction about magicians (The Prestige, Carter Beats the Devil, The Manual of Darkness, to name but a few) so a lot of the background knowledge of the genre wasn’t new to me, but I still found plenty to enjoy.  Although the ‘twist’ (if it was supposed to be such) could be seen coming a mile off, the story is nonetheless far subtler than I first imagined; and the conspiracy theories which emerge are not a ‘selling out’ to mass market thrillerdom but merely a symptom/embodiment of the title’s confabulism.  The author keeps the style of writing simple, so that it does not intrude on the story being told.  All in all, a very good read.

Since my last post…

Isabel’s Skin by Peter Benson (unfinished) 

- some nicely written prose hooked me to begin with, but the storyline was too unconvincing to keep me reading.  If you like sci-fi/speculative fiction, you might be more inclined to give it more of a chance…

Frog Music by Emma Donohue (put aside to return to later)

- I think I will enjoy this; just picked up at the wrong moment.

The Watchtower by Elizabeth Harrower – 4/5

- a strong story of marriage, dependence & independence; not quite what I expected but a good read.

Shall We Gather at the River by Peter Murphy – 2.5/5

- a boy hears a ghostly evangelist on his father’s forbidden radio equipment, and spends the rest of his life trying to recapture that moment (and discovering his father’s secrets).  I really wanted to like it, but despite being a fairly quick read, the story dragged and lacked both wit to enliven the storytelling and emotional engagement to care about the characters.

Mar 2014 Retrospective

What I read in March 2014:

Meeting the English by Kate Clanchy ****
Thoroughly enjoyed this! Reminded me of ‘The Accidental’ by Ali Smith with the central character a catalyst for change within an utterly dysfunctional family unit, but told with a lighter touch, like Barbara Trapido (or Anne Fine/Fay Weldon, without the sharp edge).

Fremont by Elizabeth Reeder ***(3.5)
A pleasant, sweeping family saga with hints of ‘Like Water for Chocolate’ by Laura Esquivel.  The characters were too easily explained by their geography for my taste, but still interesting.

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld ****
Two interlocking stories, present & past unravel.  The contemporary story was not very convincing to me, but the story of Jake Whyte’s past up to the present point was far more interesting, and cleverly constructed (unravelling backwards).

APRIL SO FAR…

  • Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay ***(3.5)
    Started well & nicely written, but tailed off significantly in the second half.  Two mysteries are presented but neither are resolved.  I don’t mind loose ends in a story but this one just wandered off in a completely different direction (which I didn’t find very interesting).

Feb 2014 Retrospective

What I read in February 2014:

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson *****
How life balances on pinpoint moments, and what happens when circumstances sway one way or the other; the ripple effect.  Wonderful evocation of period & sharp characterisation. My book of the year so far.

Andrew’s Brain by E.L.Doctorow ****
Not at all what I expected & I think not being targeted to the right market. Very readable, very accessible storyline (it’s a love story with a bit of a mystery) whereas the cover blurb makes it seem emotionally disengaged and academic/distant.

The Devil I Know by Claire Kilroy ***(3.5)
 A fairly entertaining read, but ultimately not quite as clever or amusing as I had hoped.

 

Jan 2014 Retrospective

What I read in January 2014:

The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud ***(3.5)
Really enjoyed the back-story and characterisation but was a little disappointed when the carefully constructed, mounting tension tailed off to something of a damp squib.

Mrs Bridge by Evan S. Connell ****
Quiet, subtle, funny, unexpectedly touching.

Read but not reviewed (sorry!)

A list of all the books I’ve read since failing to return to blogging last summer:

2013

  • This House is Haunted by John Boyne ***
  • The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton ***** (my book of the year)
  • Gor Saga: Firstborn by Maureen Duffy ****
  • Born Weird by Andrew Kaufman ***
  • Memory Palace by Hari Kunzru ***
  • Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa ****
  • Heft by Liz Moore ***
  • The Bear Boy by Cynthia Ozick ****
  • Bellman & Black by Diane Setterfield ****
  • The Merman by Carl-Johan Vallgren ***

 

Tell Me Everything by Sarah Salway

tell me everything, sarah salwayDATE FINISHED: August 2nd, 2013 

RATED: ***

SYNOPSIS:  From an overweight girl collapsed in tears at a cafe table, Molly becomes a girl with a sparse bedroom above a stationery shop, where she works for Mr. Roberts who likes her to climb a ladder while he holds her ankles and she tells him inappropriate stories about her life (which she has to embellish, not having led quite the life he imagines). It’s an odd kind of deal, but at least she has a roof over her head, a ‘boyfriend’ who likes to think he is a secret agent, and the possibility of a future. But whatever stories she tells to re-shape it, will she ever leave her past behind?

THOUGHTS:  Molly is a curiously naïve character, surrounded by equally curious co-conspirators in her story: are they caricatures of the fat girl, the hairdresser, the librarian, the shopkeeper, the oddball in the park, or is there in fact more to all of them than first meets the eye? Molly tells and re-tells her own story, high on the transformative power of creation, but her new life is slowly building a momentum of its own, transformations occurring within and without her.

Of course there is more to each of the characters than there first seems…but none of them feel real even so. Each transformation seems a little too contrived, a little too much of a plot device. It’s a story about storytelling and how we can create our own narratives in life – at the same time I felt there wasn’t quite enough depth to sustain this as a novel, and might have worked better condensed into a short story. Although likeable, it didn’t quite dig deep enough or push far enough to be completely satisfying.

FOLLOWING ON:  Salway’s light touch worked better for me in her first novel, Something Beginning With. This reminded me strongly of something else I’ve read but is currently escaping me – will return to update, when I remember!

Habits of the House by Fay Weldon

habits of the house, fay weldonDATE FINISHED: August 1st, 2013 

RATED: **** 

SYNOPSIS:  During a stay in London’s Belgrave Square, the Hedleigh family suddenly find themselves on the brink of bankruptcy, due to an unfortunate investment gone awry, not to mention a variety of gambling debts courtesy of the Earl… The daughter of the house is an ardent feminist and has declared herself out of the marriage market, so the only thing for it is for the charming but ineffectual son of the family, Arthur, to pull himself together and marry money – quickly!  The Countess and her maid work both together and against each other to bring about a ‘happy’ union with a visiting heiress (with a scandal in her past); but will Arthur’s preference for laid-back living and his sister’s horror at his mildly amoral proclivities scupper the grand plan to save the family?

THOUGHTS:  A comedy of manners both above and below stairs, I thoroughly enjoyed this period romp. Read more of this post

Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville

sarah-thornhillDATE FINISHED: July 26th, 2013 

RATED: *** 

SYNOPSIS:  Set in Australia a generation beyond its first convict settlers (a story told in Grenville’s The Secret River), Sarah Thornhill and Jack Langland grow up knowing that they belong together. But their families’ pasts turn out to be inextricably intertwined with the present and the couple is forced apart by circumstances beyond their control. Sarah settles for marriage to a good man she does not love, but her story is far from over…

THOUGHTS:  Told from Sarah’s perspective, I felt as a result that there was a lot missed out of this narrative.   Read more of this post

The Reader Returns

After a topsy turvy year (my dad was diagnosed with cancer and sadly passed away), I’m ready to begin reading & reviewing again – although at a significantly slower pace than previously.  Watch this space…

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