Saturday, 30 November 2013

The End of the Year Read-A-Thon: Sign-up


Fine, I'll admit it - when it comes to blog events that my blog friends are taking part in, I have no resistance and am weak and suggestible.  If Hanna, Ellie, Katie and Bex have signed up to this read-a-thon, it must be a Good Thing and I have no real choice but to tag along.

The End of the Year Read-a-thon is the genius idea of Jenny and Dana and is a relaxed affair kicking off on 9th December and wrapping up on 22nd December.  Two weeks of reading, blogging and tweeting while the nights get chillier and darker and generally perfect for reading in?  No brainer.

Aside from making sure I keep up with the A Tale of Two Cities read-along that Bex is hosting and that I signed up for earlier this week, my goals for the read-a-thon will be to get through some eBooks.  I currently have a Sony eReader (Colin) but he's three years or so old and is getting a little slow and has crashed once or twice recently, which is not the best.  I have asked for a Kindle Paperwhite for Christmas (because I'm sorry but Kindle books are the cheapest eBooks and I am not made of money, sadly) and I want to get some of the books that I own ePub format read before the Kindle arrives (hopefully) and I get distracted by having a new gadget to play with.  (Sorry, Colin!).

Top of the list at the moment (which will almost certainly change before and/or during the read-a-thon):



There's no way I'll get through all of these but I'd like to read at least two in addition to A Tale of Two Cities.

I'd like to take part in a few of the challenges too and generally get caught up on some blogging.  I'll be posting about my efforts and tweeting as @LitAddictedBrit using the hashtag #ReadingCram.

Want to get some reading done before the mince pies, turkey, mulled wine and general Christmas merriment absorb your every waking minute?  SIGN UP HERE!

Friday, 29 November 2013

Review: 'Brave New World' by Aldous Huxley

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Far in the future, the World Controllers have created the ideal society. Through clever use of genetic engineering, brainwashing and recreational sex and drugs, all its members are happy consumers. Bernard Marx seems alone harbouring an ill-defined longing to break free. A visit to one of the few remaining Savage Reservations, where the old, imperfect life still continues, may be the cure for his 
distress...

Huxley's ingenious fantasy of the future sheds a blazing light on the present and is considered to be his most enduring masterpiece.

Review

I love the idea behind Brave New World and the moral issues it throws up, which I think are increasingly more relevant despite the book originally having been published in the 1930s.  Love it.  You might be forgiven for thinking in a few paragraphs time that I hated reading the book but I didn't.  Some of the writing is witty and there's a tongue-in-cheek feel about a couple of the characters' attitudes but, for all of its cleverness, there was just something about the book that didn't have me dying to pick it back up whenever I put it aside.

I may be opening myself up to accusations of stupidity but I can only assume that there was something about Brave New World that I just wasn't getting.  To me, it felt like a short story pushed way beyond its strength.  I'll keep saying it just so that I don't sound like I'm moaning constantly but there are some solid theories behind this but very little character development or much in the way of a discernible plot.  I don't need my novels to be all action and snappy dialogue but I do expect something that will keep me wanting to turn the pages.  If I wanted to read an essay on sociology, the perils of dictatorships and/or the pitfalls of excessive genetic engineering, I would.

There appears to be a focus on Bernard Marx as the resident malcontent.  Dissatisfied with perfection, Bernard is marginalised for complaining in a world where there is ostensibly nothing to complain about.  Other than serving to highlight the fact that perfection might not be all it's cracked up to be, there is nothing to Bernard's character that I could identify with or was developed.  I understand why I would be unhappy in the civilisation of Brave New World but Huxley never managed to mention why Bernard was unhappy. Why Bernard was much of anything, to be honest.

There was a little more to Lenina, Bernard's (at times unwilling) companion.  Lenina is much more a product of her society and subscribes to many more of its ideals than Bernard does, even while she resists the simplicity a little bit by scandalously engaging in monogamy.  The connection between the two, though, is shaky at best.  I know that I sound like I'm going round in circles but it isn't that the concept is off or that the writing is weak, it's that I didn't enjoy reading about the characters or the society; it was more like looking at a photograph of strangers in some exotic location.  Interesting but not very engaging without context.

After the first half and the bulk of the exposition on the modern society was done, I wasn't sure that I was interested in where the story was going.  The contrast between Bernard's world and the Savage Reservation was a bit too obvious but the addition of Linda and John was welcome.  The Directors talk readily about the repulsion they feel about the past and how promiscuity and drugs are the ways forward but there's no back story as to why those attitudes in particular are the way to salvation.  Why were the Directors so compelled to remove freedom of thought and replace it with obedience?  Perhaps it's supposed to be obvious and the evils of modern society are reason enough but I think part of my disgruntlement was because there just weren't enough reasons to believe in the alternative reality.

The best bits about Brave New World are the bits that have nothing to do with Bernard, Lenina, drugs or the Savage Reservation.  They're the bits where you're left wondering if you would give up freedom and independence for almost guaranteed happiness.  Or whether happiness is really everything and whether it would even be worth anything if it was subliminal messaging from birth that gave it to you...
"Actual happiness always looks pretty squalid in comparison with the over-compensation for misery.  And, of course, stability isn't nearly so spectacular as instability.  And being contented has none of the glamour of a good fight against misfortune, none of the picturesqueness of a struggle with temptation, or a fatal overthrow by passion or doubt.  Happiness is never grand."
Overall:  I can't fault Huxley's ideas but I think the execution leaves a little to be desired. Brave New World is a relatively small 229 pages but seems longer; I'd hesitantly recommend it for its social commentary and fascinating political points but not for its qualities as a rip-roaring read.  Take from that what you will.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished:  15 June 2013
Format:  Paperback
Source:  Bought
Genre:  Classic; Dystopian fiction
Pictured Edition Published: by Vintage Classics in December 2007

Thursday, 28 November 2013

A Tale of Two Cities: A Read-Along

Confession time: Despite having been educated in England for my entire school career, I have only ever read one book by that famous national treasure of ours, Charles Dickens.  Yes, you've guessed it; the one that I've read is A Christmas Carol.  Everything else that Dickens has written intimidates me for reasons that I couldn't tell you.  Probably concerns about verbosity and/or dullness?  Something like that.

We were also forced to over-analyse some of Great Expectations at some point while I was in high school (for those in the US, when I was somewhere between 11 and 15), although I couldn't tell you exactly when.  I think a combination of it being read aloud by a host of disinterested teens and the inevitable "But what do you think Dickens meant by placing that comma there?" discussions killed the experience for me and I've never strayed in Dickens' direction since. 

It's time to fix that.

Bex at An Armchair by the Sea is hosting a read-along during the month of December that I'm being brave and joining.  Off the back of my recent read-along success with The Moonstone, I'm kind of into the whole read-along idea as a way of encouraging myself to read more classics.  My Dad did recently read A Tale of Two Cities and sung its praises all the while.  Being a wimp, I added it to my mental "must read" list and then moved on.  I have it on good authority that the story is gripping and that the writing isn't all rambly and about some kind of workhouse.  We'll see, I suppose...

The schedule looks like this:

December 1st - 8th: Beginning of Book 1 - end of Book 2 Chapter 9 (first 15 chapters of the book)

December 8th - 15th: Book 2 Chapter 10 - end of Book 2 (chapters 16- 30)

December 15th - 22nd: Book 3 - end (chapters 31 -45)

See?  Perfectly manageable!  I'll be posting at the end of each section and will keep up with everybody else as I'm going on Twitter as @LitAddictedBrit using the hashtag #DickensinDecember

Go on, SIGN UP HERE!

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Review: 'Dark Places' by Gillian Flynn

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars


Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.

The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details–proof they hope may free Ben–Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club… and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.

Review

What is it with Gillian Flynn writing books I love about people I hate?!  When I read Gone Girl earlier in the year (review here), I was taken aback by how obsessed with a book I could be when it required me to spend time amongst characters that I would want nowhere near me in real life.  Dark Places gave me exactly the same feeling; a feeling in my gut that everything was wrong but that putting the book down would be even worse.

Libby Day is the survivor of an attack that saw her mother and two sisters murdered, apparently by her brother Ben.  Rightly so, probably, Libby isn't exactly a well-rounded and balanced lady.  Living off the tail-end of donations made by the public in the wake of the family tragedy that have meant that she's never had to work a day in her life, Libby is self-centred, morbid, socially awkward and struggling with depression. Descriptions of characters don't get much more accurate than Libby's description of herself on the first page:
"I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.  Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it.  It's the Day blood.  Something's wrong with it. I was never a good little girl, and I got worse after the murders...I was not a lovable child and I'd grown into a deeply unlovable adult.  Draw a picture of my soul and it would be a scribble with fangs"
The strange thing is, though, even while I was repulsed by some of her actions and found her maddening at times, it seemed to fit. I would rather spend time with a character that really does feel like the product of her circumstances than someone who is pleasant and delicate in spite of having a quite obviously traumatic past.  Libby does develop as a character but in a way that is so painfully realistic that I ached for her to find any kind of resolution.  Because this book isn't only about who killed the Day family.  It is about that but it's also about trauma, depression, guilt, trust and recovery.  It's unbelievably compelling reading as a mystery but it's also utterly devastating as a story about a family's final few hours.

Aside from Libby, I also really liked the portrayal of Ben.  Believed by a group of crime groupies to be wrongly convicted, there's a whiff of martyr about Ben occasionally, which I would usually find a bit irritating.  What's clever (and kept me guessing for most of the book) though is the marked difference between the incarcerated Ben of the present day and the unruly teen of twenty-five years earlier.  I'd read all day about miscarriages of justice without batting an eye but what really kept me glued to this book was that I had no clue whether Ben was guilty or not.

Dark Places shifts perspectives for each chapter, with the narrative alternating between Libby in the present day and various members of her family twenty-five years earlier.  I'm not always sold on mixing up timelines and narrators but Flynn manages it perfectly.  The narrative set in the past moves along at just the right rate to stop the slightly dawdling narrative in the present day from getting stale or from ploughing on through too many hints at the past without delivering the goods.  Discovering the truth "as it happens" in the past also removes the need for any awkward turn around from Libby and her inclination towards repression and avoidance.

I read about two thirds of this while waiting for and travelling on various modes of transport on our way back to the UK from the US and the last third or so curled up on my sofa a little while after we'd got back.  The revelations come at just the right pace and whenever I thought I had a handle on what was happening, I was shown just how wrong I was not long after.  I don't know what it is but there's something about the way Flynn spins out a mystery that I just find incredibly difficult to disentangle myself from.

Overall:  If you're one of those readers that might say anything of the "I didn't like x because I just hated the characters" ilk, this probably isn't a book for you - the people are vile.  If you can get past that and you've either heard about Gone Girl and want to try something by Gillian Flynn that isn't labouring under months of hype or have read Gone Girl and are wondering if Flynn's other novels will compare, Dark Places is definitely, definitely worth a few hours of feverish page turning one gloomy evening.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished:  11 October 2013
Format:  eBook
Source:  Bought
Genre:  Thriller; Mystery
Pictured Edition Published: by Phoenix in June 2010

Sunday, 17 November 2013

New Arrivals (for which OTHERS are to blame)

When I first started out on this whole blogging adventure, I honestly never thought that I would make actual friends.  I don't know what I hoped for but I think best case scenario in my mind was that people would occasionally read the words I laboured over and that I would get to "talk" to other people that were as in love with all things page-based as I was.  Going beyond that to meeting people in real life never, ever entered my head.  Because I was a fool.  It turns out that after spending years of rambling at each other on blogs that meeting up in real life is super easy and when Laura and Bex made the epic journey up to Leeds on Tuesday to meet Ellie, Hanna and me, it was easy peasy to settle down to the highly important business of buying some (64...) books as though we'd been hanging out as a "fivesome" for years.

As Bex pointed out, there are distinct advantages to being later in the line of people posting about the same event.  If you want the super detailed, very organised version, check out Ellie's post.  And if you want the perspective of a Southerner on proceedings, go for Laura's post.  I would obviously have told the long version of the story but if you happen to follow Ellie, Laura, Bex AND me, you probably don't need to read four different accounts of how we ate at the fabulous Trinity Kitchen (my burrito was delicious...) or how Hanna and me WIN at plotting book shopping routes that minimise traipsing for all involved.  I will, however, take a moment to post one of the less flattering of my attempts at capturing us all.  I am eternally grateful to the other ladies for not posting this because I look like a complete banana in the bottom left corner BUT Hanna's look of disdain is too perfect not to put out into the world and at least because this is my blog I tell you not to worry and that I do not look like such a plonker.  Also, I can 100% confirm that I have a face.  Everybody was very relieved about that.

L-R: Me, Disdainful Hanna, Laura, Ellie and Bex :)
I intended to have a bit of a blow out because my book buying has been sorely lacking recently because of the moving and the not having of the internet. I didn't perhaps intend to buy *quite* as many as I eventually did but...well, shopping with other people who have SO MANY recommendations is a high risk strategy.

Here's the pile...

Whoops, indeed
Let's browse through it from top to bottom (with links to the books on Goodreads, a promise which I will probably come to regret but will plough on with regardless).  Agatha Raisin and the Busy Body and Agatha Raisin Hiss and Hers by M.C.Beaton were spots by Hanna in The Works, accompanied by a taunt about my love of books that are also read by grandmothers the world over.  Cosy mysteries are a weakness of mine :| There was a scary moment where it looked like where books had been replaced by Christmas shizzle but fret not, they were just tucked away at the back.  I managed to collect two sets of 3 for £5 in about 10 minutes, which is very silly behaviour.  ANYway, on with the pile.  Next up is The Demon King by Cinda Williams Chima because I seem to have a vague feeling that it has been recommended to me but can't remember by who or when...The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh just sounds good and *may* have also been generally positively discussed somewhere on the internet.  Something Rotten by Jasper Fforde is the fourth Thursday Next and I've read (and obviously loved) the first and second and got the third from Hanna for my birthday this year so hurrah for the next one.  I would also have got the fifth but stupid The Works had a different edition to the rest of the series that I have so no, thank you.  Last up from The Works was Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne that Blonde Ellie (formerly Ellie Bookshop) was ambivalent about but I remember Ellie Bookworm liking about (I think?) and that's enough for me.

WHEW!  Next up was a random charity shop purchase, Christmas at the Cupcake Cafe by Jenny Colgan.  I haven't read Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe but I assume that at some point over the next month or so I will crave something festive and this will fit the bill.

I flipping love Waterstones in Leeds. It's beautiful and has three floors of glorious books, including an astounding fantasy section.  I seem to have hit up the YA fantasy more than anything else but there were also plenty of Penguin English Library editions to feed my new PEL edition addiction.  Crown of Midnight by Sarah J. Maas because I can only ignore rave reviews for so long and Hanna convinced me that I needed it.  The first in the series managed to lose itself lower down the pile but it's there.  The Ghost Hunters by Neil Spring was completely random. It has a cool cover and was on a Buy One Get One Half Price table at just the right time.  I've never heard of it but it looks awesome and creepy so...*shrugs* 

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen was the first of my PEL indulgences that you can barely see because it's kind of blending into Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell.  This was the only book that I actually knew that I wanted when I set out on Tuesday morning and the one that I nearly missed...thank goodness Bex found it, mis-filed though it was.  Then we have Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas hiding Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.  Last up (PHEWF!) are Red Glove and Black Heart by Holly Black which match the edition of White Cat that I have.  The new covers are gross so I've been looking for these lovely ones for a while.

HOW DO I CHOOSE WHAT TO READ FIRST?!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Moonstone Read-Along: The Interval #readWilkie

It's that time, friends.  Time to break away from The Moonstone for just long enough to scribble down why you love it before getting straight back to trying to muddle through the mystery of that Indian diamond that everybody seemed to love so much until it had been stolen.

If you haven't read The Moonstone yet, please heed this spoiler warning. This post will ramble about the first half of this TERRIFIC book and there will be minor spoilers ahead.  In a fortnight, there will be a read-along wrap up and then a few weeks (months) after that, I might get round to reviewing it "properly" and telling you all about why you should read it.  You could save yourself some time by just reading it, because it's super!  Remember, MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!  Ok?

What's going on?


SO, the first half of The Moonstone sees a huge brilliant-but-for-its-flaw diamond get ruthlessly (and bloodily) stolen by a British captain (captain? I'm not sure and my copy is elsewhere so we'll stick with captain...) and brought back to England as a souvenir. Everybody thinks that the original thief is a bit of a bad egg and refuses to speak to him  while he's alive but are happy to put aside their differences on his death so that they have no real difficulty in inheriting huge ass diamonds from him.  Handy!  Miss Rachel Verinder is the lucky heiress and the fun starts with the arrival of the Moonstone in Yorkshire. 

Some character love...

I think if anything is clear from the #readWilkie shenanigans on Twitter, everybody has a lot of love for Gabriel Betteredge.  I don't really know what I expected from Wilkie as an author but I didn't expect him to be witty and, let's go all out, funny.  I started the First Narrative a little wary.  I don't read as many classics as I feel as though I ought but every time I do read one, I realise that they aren't scary and put on Earth to make me feel stupid but can be charming and rewarding; I expected to like The Moonstone but didn't expect the laughs.  Betteredge is the kind of man that I would find offensive in real life.  The kind of man you still come across in the professional world that look sideways at women in the workplace.  And yet I find Betteredge's brand of sexism amusing...I posted some of my favourite early quotes in my introduction post and have been wry smiling and chuckling to myself over his appalling traditionalism and offensive musings on the foolishness of women ever since.  Plus, the man is wise: ""Whatever happens in a house, robbery or murder, it doesn't matter, you must have your breakfast"  His little asides and "Remember this!" warnings are adorable and I am more than a little keen to get hold of Robinson Crusoe so that I can "take a turn" myself...Who'd have thought that a cantankerous, fickle, sexist old man would turn out to be one the funniest narrators I've come across in years?!  Fine work, Wilkie.

Opinion seems to differ a bit more on the doubtlessly inestimable Drusilla Clack.  She had a tough gig, to be fair, following up Mr Betteredge's narrative but it took me a couple of chapters to get into her narrative.  For some reason, excessive piousness is more irritating to me than gender discrimination...who knew?  Now, though, I can't help but admire how clever Wilkie's writing is - mocking someone (or type of someone, I suppose) by writing from their perspective is pretty brilliant however you look at it.  Plus, the bit where irrepressible Miss Clack is creeping around stowing tracts and books in secret locations?  Hilarious. Oh, ALSO, her little jibes at Franklin Blake are spot on.  

I also have a lot of love for Sergeant Cuff and was getting mighty peeved about people lamenting his actually being good at his job.  I love his pre-occupation with roses, his (reluctant?) love of Betteredge and his oh-so-cool reaction to meeting Roseanna Spearman.  More Cuff, please.

General fan-girling...

All in all, I'm just a huge fan of the first person style, the fact that the narrators are actually talking to you as the reader and the way that their perceptions colour what you get to know. I know that part of why this book is regarded as highly as it is is because of its manipulation of readers while they're being led through the story by different narrators.  We've had a peek of that in Miss Clack's grumblings about Betteredge and the differences in how they portray each other is adding a really good twist to what is already a great book.

Things I am dying to know:

1.  WHERE IS THE MOONSTONE?!  Seriously, though.  There have been a lot of pages and plenty of pointing to facts that I should remember for later but no real closing in on the blasted thing.  To be honest, I can't help but agree with Hanna, who pointed out that nobody really seems to care a great deal about actually finding it.  If somebody gave me a diamond worth £20,000 and then somebody stole it, I would not be firing the person who is trying to help me find it just because he insulted someone I liked.  I imagine that I would like £20,000 more than I like my feelings unhurt.  Just saying, Verinder family...

2.  Will anybody realise that Rachel is not very nice?  There's much loving of the impetuous Miss Verinder and I couldn't tell you why. I'm sure she is very pretty and that's nice but she also happens to be quite the madam and rather rude (although when it comes to Miss Clack, I can see why...sorry).  There are far too many people (Betteredge, I am looking at you!) that seem to think things like "She has her flaws but I'm the only one that is allowed to see them/point them out because I am able to ignore them because of  her otherwise being magnificent".  Stop being stupid.

Miscellaneous nonsense...

I googled "The Moonstone" to see whether there were any film versions that I hadn't heard of and it turns out that there's a computer game version.  Because I find them quite amusing, I'll leave you with the illustrations of the main characters...


No.  Just no.
Join us in a couple of weeks for the WRAP-UP when we will all hopefully be rejoicing over the finding of the Moonstone and the general fabulousness of Mr Collins! 

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

RIP VIII: The Aftermath

 

I was super excited about RIP VIII back at the beginning of September, despite having a life-long aversion to anything that relates even remotely to things going bump in the night. I think that what blogging is teaching me is that I am very impressionable when it comes to anything bookish. Actually, though, I read some really good books that fit in perfectly with the gloom and general rain and increasing darkness of September, were masked by sunshine in the US and then gave a good run up to Hallowe’en. Being a sheep has its advantages!

I signed up to read 4 books and thought I’d struggle. At the time, I was enthusiastic but sceptical. A book every other week that was written with the heebie jeebies in mind? Sounded a bit like a recipe for landing myself in therapy, to be honest. And YET! And yet, and yet and YET. I read five whole thriller-y books in the two months so I win. It’s six if you count the cosy tale of murder by quiche but I’m not because I could have read that in the house on my own in the dark with Dracula round for tea and I wouldn’t have been scared of it. Of Dracula, probably, but not the deathly quiche…

I’ve only managed to get to reviewing one of these, because I’m a bit naff when it comes to reviews these days but I’ve included ratings (out of 5) to prove to you that I’ve really read them…ALSO, I don’t have the internet at home after our move yet (but will have after this weekend!!) so forgive the two week delay in rounding up, please!

THE BOOKS


The Carrier by Sophie Hannah (4 stars) – I was persuaded to read this by random posters advertising it in Leeds train station (because of the aforementioned bookish impressionability…) and it turned out to be a terrific example of British crime fiction. There’s a certain dry tone and a liberal use of sarcasm that make it just feel so English that I couldn’t help but love it. It isn’t super action-packed but it’s a tangled mystery with some great characters so it worked for me!

The Never List by Koethi Zan (3 stars) – the only one of my reads that I managed to review…read that review HERE. The short version? It was ok.

The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan (4 stars) – a kind of zombie-based post-apocalyptic/dystopian novel that reminded me quite a lot of the film The Village. I thought I’d burned out on YA but this one was a lot better than most and didn’t make me feel all grumpy and old. I think because the characters behaved much more realistically and weren’t all gung-ho about zombies or romance or their life-or-death plight. Definitely a series I’ll carry on with at some point.


Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (4 stars) – Proof that Gone Girl wasn’t a one off and that Gillian Flynn excels at making me love reading about characters I hate! I didn’t fall quite as much for it as I did for Gone Girl but it was still excellent and I read it in a couple of days so all good.

Bellman and Black: A Ghost Story by Diane Setterfield (4.5 stars) – I’ve seen a *lot* of negative reviews for this but I was a huge fan. It was a kind of quiet, atmospheric book and the writing was some of the best that I’ve read in a long time. I think that most criticisms might be stemming from the fact that Setterfield hasn’t tried to re-do The Thirteenth Tale and has gone with a much more subtle story. After the action of her debut, I can understand that Bellman and Black might not have the fireworks that some readers were hoping for. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I preferred her second novel but I definitely enjoyed it and will be raving about it at some point before the year is out!

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M.C.Beaton (2.5 stars) – Books like these are my guilty pleasure. As Hanna kindly pointed out yesterday, they are exactly the kind of book that are loved by grandmas the world over but they’re cute and inoffensive and easy to read and fun so…I still read them. Even when I get infuriated by the often nosy and interfering amateur investigators, I read them. Agatha Raisin was about as much of a busy body as it was possible to get and I totally guessed the murderer but I bought two of the later books yesterday so…yeah, cosy mysteries are my literary weakness.

THE FILM

Films are where I stop being brave.  In a fit of courage, I ordered the recent adaptation of The Woman in  Black from LoveFilm and persuaded Boyfriend that I'd read the book and, although it was a bit ghoulish and creepy, it wasn't absolutely terrifying and I was pretty sure that we would be ok spending our Sunday evening watching the film. What. A. FOOL!  The film doesn't exactly follow the book so I was a bit wrong-footed and confused at first.  Then the middle came and I was extremely freaked out - it wasn't the sinister aspects of the story itself that was scaring me but the loud noises and horrid sound effects and disturbing music and...well, ARGH!  My eyes at least read at a pace that they can absorb horror in and throwing it into my face with loudness is just...no, thank you.  By the end, I was more-or-less permanently behind my cushion and then befuddled by the changed ending that doesn't really find with the book at all...all in all, not a great foray into the world of horror on the screen and one that convinced me that at least in one respect, I'm still a hopeless wimp.  Phew!

Monday, 4 November 2013

Review: 'Perfect' by Rachel Joyce

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

In 1972, two seconds were added to time. It was in order to balance clock time with the movement of the earth. Byron Hemming knew this because James Lowe had told him and James was the cleverest boy at school. But how could time change? The steady movement of hands around a clock was as certain as their golden futures.

Then Byron’s mother, late for the school run, makes a devastating mistake. Byron’s perfect world is shattered. Were those two extra seconds to blame? Can what follows ever be set right?


Review

The end of the year is closing in and I’m still super behind on reviews so I’m now frantically scrabbling back through my recently read books list to pick out my favourites and make sure they get proper attention before I go off merrily into 2014 and forget all about them. It’s been a good few months in reading terms so there are plenty of fantastic books to choose from. Perfect easily made the cut.

The story follows Byron in the lead up to and wake of the addition of two seconds. At first, I was convinced that as well as obviously highlighting the pursuit of perfection, this was also about the tragedy of coincidence. Two seconds earlier (or “two seconds less”, I suppose, depending upon how you look at it) and Byron’s mother might not have made the mistake that brought Beverley, local Council estate resident, crashing into their lives, bringing turmoil with her. And it is about those things but it’s also about class, growing up and mental illness.

Byron and his mother are “upper class”. I was worried at first that tackling class issues would make the book clumsy but using Byron as the narrator actually works. Writing a novel from the perspective of a child is a tricky business. A lot of the time you end up either with a child that occasionally speaks with the voice of an adult or a story that is stunted by being limited to the experiences and perceptions of a young person. I can only think of Room by Emma Donoghue (review here) off the top of my head where the device really added something to the story. With Perfect, Joyce manages to strike just the right balance between childish naivety and observation so that it’s painfully obvious to readers that his mother is struggling to maintain the “perfect” veneer that she has worked so hard to establish and that she is being mercilessly manipulated by her new “friend” Beverley. Byron doesn’t pick up on the nuances of behaviour and language that suggest one class rather than another but his accurate observations make understanding the other characters more than he does easy. There were one or two moments where I was a little annoyed by everybody’s blindness but they were few and far between and I wouldn’t say that it spoilt much for me. I was more or less happy to put their ignorance down to wilful head-turning to avoid noticing the dark spot on their otherwise perfect lives, though, and was enjoying the juxtaposition of Byron’s elegant, repressed mother and the brassy, oh-so working class Beverley as seen through the eyes of a sensitive child too much to really care.

As always with a split narrative, I preferred one strand to the other. That isn’t to say that one was stronger than the other; just that, for me, the stand out chapters were Jim’s. They were strengthened by the overall story but I could have read a book just about Jim. Jim has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and sees everything against the backdrop of his routine. The characters in Perfect feel so alive and have such depth that they’re the kind of characters that you half believe might actually be walking around somewhere. If I could track Jim down and help him, I would. What is really powerful is how Joyce subtly weaves in some devastating indictments on mental health care in the 1970s. Jim is fragile and vulnerable after spending years within various facilities, suffering through treatments that it’s hard to believe were ever thought to be helpful, before being reintegrated into society when his hospital was closed. It does a brilliant job of really highlighting how disorientating that must have been for so many people, particularly those that didn’t have anyone else to turn to for support, and how woefully poor care for those genuinely suffering from debilitating conditions was even in relatively recent times.

But even while I really liked the plot and ideas, it was Joyce’s writing that really has me clamouring to write something (anything!) about this book that might persuade you to pick it up. I’m pretty sure that Rachel Joyce could write a shopping list and it would be wonderful, insightful and would have my heart aching for a happy outcome for…the milk? Ok, let’s stop with the analogy there...There aren’t many authors I’ve come across that can turn looking for something on the pavement into a couple of paragraphs that are so adorably romantic that even after sitting here and having them up on my screen for pretty much the entire time I’ve been writing this review (a while…), I still can’t help but “Awwww” every time I read them (even after omitting the name of the lady in question to avoid spoilers!).
He will not share a lift with [her]. They will not go for a drink. He thinks briefly of how she fell still when she talked about losing things, how she watched and said nothing while Paula shouted. It was like meeting [her] in completely different, light summer clothes.

Jim wonders if she had mislaid something on the pavement after all. And then it occurs to him that if she did, he would like to spend forever finding it” [Page 159, eBook edition]

Overall: A brilliant choice for the run up to Christmas or for buying as a Christmas gift – you might not believe me when you start out (or until the final few chapters, if I’m being honest…) but the ending is just one of those where I’m pretty sure it’s impossible not to close the book and feel all warm inside and teary outside. I own The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and will definitely be reading it if it ever gets unpacked.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Date finished: 1 September 2013
Format: eBook
Source: Received from the publisher via NetGalley - thank you, Doubleday!
Genre: Literary fiction
Pictured Edition Published: by Doubleday in July 2013

Coming up soon in the frantic end of year review scramble: The Humans by Matt Haig; The Universe Versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence and Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield

Friday, 1 November 2013

#readWilkie - LET'S DO THIS!

It's here.  The Moonstone read-along hosted by Ellie @ Lit Nerd is HERE!  Yes, I did only sign up a couple of days ago but I have been looking forward to starting ever since.  It helps that the edition that I'm reading is the super cute, mysteriously covered in teeny tiny cutlery Penguin English Library version...

Bad photograph; super cute book

I started this morning by eagerly bounding onto the train (sorry, other train users!), gingerbread latte in one hand and copy of The Moonstone in the other and getting started.  I read 28 pages.  I know, hold me back!

From what I've read, though, I'm pretty sure that I'm going to really like The Moonstone at least as long as Gabriel Betteredge is narrating because he says things like this...
""...Nobody knows as much as you do, Betteredge, about what went on in the house at that time.  So you must take the pen in hand and start the story..."

If you are curious to know what course I took under the circumstances, I beg to inform you that I did what you would probably have done in my place.  I modestly declared myself to be quite unequal to the task imposed upon me - and I privately felt, all the time, that I was quite clever enough to perform it, if I only gave my abilities a fair chance" [Page 16, PEL edition]
And this...
"We were not a happy couple, and not a miserable couple...How it was I don't understand, but we always seem to be getting, with the best of motives, in one another's way.  When I wanted to go upstairs, there was my wife coming down; or when my wife wanted to go down, there was I coming up.  That is married life, according to my experience of it.  After five years of misunderstandings on the stairs, it pleased an all-wise Providence to relieve us of each other by taking my wife"  [Page 21, PEL edition]
Early feelings are very good indeed.  Bring on the next 592 pages, please!!

I'll next be checking in here on 16/17 November but in the meantime, I'll be tweeting about my Moonstone/Wilkie exploits as @LitAddictedBrit.

Then there'll be more tweeting (which may or may not be about Wilkie and/or The Moonstone, depending on whether or not I've finished the book by then) until I hopefully-maybe-probably post a review or some general final thoughts on 30 November.

If you want to be even more last minute than me (for which you will earn my undying respect, which I know you want), grab a copy, snap its picture and then pop over to visit Ellie HERE and get stuck in!