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…

Ben, in the World by Doris Lessing

DATE FINISHED: September 4th, 2012 

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  At 18 years old (looking twice his age) Ben has left home, and is seeking his own place in the world. He has always been ‘different’, and although he has learned (for the most part) to contain his instinctive impulses, he is becoming increasingly desperate to find more people like himself, somewhere he can belong in a world he simply doesn’t understand. Although he meets several people who accept him as he is, for various reasons their refuge is short-lived and instead his life is manipulated by people he knows he cannot trust yet still cannot evade. After being used to carry drugs to France, Ben finds himself in Brazil where he appears to be a highly sought prize by scientists at a local research centre, but also ever closer to the promise of more ‘people like him’…

THOUGHTS:  Ben in the world is a different Ben to the one introduced in The Fifth Child. Read more of this post

August Retrospective

A thin month this time, for various reasons!  Still, here is a summary of my August reading, with links to reviews:

The Blue Book by A.L.Kennedy – 4/5

Although the style grated in parts, the story was ultimately really good, and well worth wading through the bits I wasn’t so keen on.

How to Forget by Marius Brill – 3.5/5

Not at all what I expected from the jacket blurb, but turned out to be an enjoyable comedy/action romp that would make a great film!

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier – 4.5/5

A re-read from my teenage years, this is still a powerful read for any age, that will give you lots to think about.

BOOK OF THE MONTH:
The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing – 4.5/5

An intensely disturbing read that is horrific on many levels – how the introduction of one child leads a family idyll to self-destruction. Very keen to read the sequel which gives more insight from the child’s point of view (this one focuses more on the mother).

 

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