Thursday, March 20, 2014

52 books in a year

I'm doing occasional books reviews over at my Irish Farmerette blog now but it's more so blogs about farming. Do call over and connect with me over there.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Review of Gone Girl

I was looking forward to reading Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, seeing it on the bestsellers list for some weeks and enjoying crime, I thought I would enjoy this thriller. And I did - to an extent. It's a difficult review to write without giving away too much of the plot but I'll try not to include any spoilers. Meet Amy and Nick who have been married for five years and both seem to be experiencing the 5 year itch. On the day of their 5th anniversary, Nick returns home to find his wife vanished, blood on the floor and signs of a struggle. With the absence of any other suspect, he becomes a main suspect for his wife's murder but with the absence of a body, the police aren't making any arrests.

We get to know each character in turn as the book delves into Amy's past and Nick's present. As the book goes on, their relationship is shown to be flawed, their personalities are explained by their interactions with friends, with parents and with Nick's twin sister.
The book is well written in that my sympathies for each character changed as the book went on. As it concentrates so much on Nick and Amy, you are almost forced to like one or other of them at different times. However, I found it hard to like either of them and I suppose rather than liking them in turn, I had some sympathy for each character in turn. The only character I actually had some regard for was Go, Nick's twin sister in that I felt most sorry for her.
In the end, we see that many of the characters get their comeuppance in one way or another, they may try to persuade themselves that they are happy but it's pretty evident they are not.
The book has some serious messages about marriage and relationships - how people can manipulate each other, how people can make plans and yet be scuppered, how love can become a selfish hate and how love and hate can actually be very close emotions.

It is a good book and yes, I'd recommend it but I'm not so sure I would ever reread it. It's very different to a crime novel as in with crime novels, we are usually as much in the dark as the detective and only find out who the killer is after the detective has worked it out. In Gone Girl, we know more than all the characters and hence, we, the readers, can feel more powerful with our knowledge and yet are powerless to do anything but are manipulated just as much as the characters as our emotions change towards the characters.

Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green Gables was the choice for this month's bookclub. Although I had read it as a child, I could barely remember it and for some reason, never realised there is a whole series of the Avonlea books. Written in 1908, this book has a certain country charm. Although it is seen as a book for children, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Anne is adopted at the age of 11 by an ageing brother and sister who actually wanted to adopt a boy to help them on the farm. Anne arrives instead and her stay looks like it might be short-lived. However, given the title of the book, we know that Anne will stay.
Anne is an exuberent, intelligent, imaginative and creative child. She enthuses about the beauty of nature and to many readers over the decades, Avonlea must seem to be heaven on earth as the changes in the seasons are described with magnificent detail.   Perhaps because of the lack of attention, she chats incessantly and the speed of her speech is emphasized by the length of the passage and the lack of punctuation.  She daydreams and is one of those children who tries to do good but mishaps seem to happen from putting liniment in a cake to dyeing her red hair green.
Anne grows increasingly close to her adoptive parents. Matthew deliberately stays out of her upbringing seeing it as woman's work considering she is a girl yet he clearly wants to ensure she is happy and content, even noticing that puff sleeves are almost essential for girls her age and arranging to have a dress made for her. Marilla is stricter initially and doesn't find describing her love for the child to be easy but slowly you can see that while they help Anne's lot, she also brings so much to their lives.
We follow Anne's adventures from the age of 11 to her leaving school and passing examinations. Her hard work ethic and intelligence are shown as is her stubbornness and her unwillingness to forgive Gilbert Blythe for calling her 'carrots' - this is emphasized by their academic competitiveness. Considering it was written in 1908, it is good to see schooling and academia being seen as important, even though it is an expensive luxury for some. Some parents see it as unnecessary for girls too and various viewpoints are put forward.
I'm going to suggest this book to my daughter in a year or two, it will be interesting to see her take on it. Plus, now that I know there is a full collection of Anne of Green Gables with 12 books in the collection, I think it will have to be a birthday present for one of us sometime soon. I want to know what happened to Anne, if she married Gilbert, if she became a teacher, if she had children, if she continued to live in Green Gables and stayed as creative, fun-loving and imaginative.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Review of The Chastitute by J B Keane

The Chastitute by J B Keane is a play which although extremely funny, is also poignant and sad.  The term 'chastitute' is a man who is not in holy orders and yet is celibate. The Chastitute is this play is a John Bosco, a bachelor farmer in Ireland, in his 50s and desperate for female company. It is not just sex that he desires, it is having someone to share his supper table with and talk to.
Like many other farmers of his generation, he didn't have the funds nor the social skills to secure a wife when he was younger. Looking after his mother until she died too meant that he was less desirable to other women as a potential husband.

The Chastitute would be a funny play to watch - from John Bosco's escapades with a prostitute, his reflection on his unsuccessful courtships such as being left holding a string of rosary beads, his conversations with his matchmaker and another villager who attempts to matchmake but fleeces him, his uncertain attempts to court his new housekeeper.  Nevertheless, it reflects a Ireland of isolated and lonely bachelors, men for whom a lost love had departed for the bright lights of a city, for work and another potential husband.  Men who, by their own admission, were past their best and dreaded another couple of lonely decades.
Has much changed over the decades? Not if the recent film Pilgrim Hill is to be believed.
It certainly is a reflection on Ireland, both sad and humourous. Go and see it if you have a chance and if not, give it a read.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Review of Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Our latest bookclub choice, Plainsong by Kent Haruf, was a lovely read. It reminded me of Steinbeck's writing somehow. Set in a small town Holt in Colorado, it has a timeless feel to it and yet feels like it is set in the 60s. The book centres around a few main characters - two bachelor brothers in their sixties who live 17 miles from the town, a young girl who falls pregnant and is disowned by her mother, Tom Guthrie who is a teacher at the secondary school, his two young sons, his wife undergoing depression who moves away and another teacher Maggie Jones. The plot serves to tie these characters together in one way or another during the course of the novel. As with all small towns, everyone seems to know each other's business and there are undercurrents of tension and of fear as well as neighbourliness and support.

The plot is fairly simple and moments of tension are rare. However, when they did occur, I could feel my reading speed up until I knew the characters were okay again, at least for the moment.  The language is beautiful and makes reading this novel such a pleasure - it almost seems musical and lilting. I was initially slightly irritated by the absence of punctuation marks around the speech but got used to it quickly and their absence seemed to add to the flow of the language.  The descriptive passages are long and speech is brief which seems to also symbolise the brevity of speech amongst the characters. It seems as they get to know each other better that speech becomes less necessary and the same goes for the reader - we don't need their speech as much - the beauty is in the quality of the imagery. The 2 older brothers in particular have a lovely attitude, they seem to take life one day at a time, respect nature and only plan ahead when it is necessary. I also liked their reflections on nature, on birth and death, their love for the land and their animals as well as their growing regard for a young pregnant girl.

There's two more books in the series and I'm looking forward to reading both of them Eventide and Benediction, both of which deal with characters in the same town in years to come.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Holes by Louis Sachar - A brilliant book for boys

My son was reading this book as a class book in school. When he first brought Holes  by Louis Sachar home, I'd read about 80 pages of it and thought it rather a strange book for a class book. Telling the story of a young boy Stanley who is sent to a detention centre for a crime he didn't commit, an extremely harsh detention centre in a hot desert area where the boys spend every day digging colossal holes, looking for something that is of great importance to the female Warden. The Warden seems to terrify everyone, she seems to know everything and seems cruel and ruthless.

Will seemed to enjoy it immensely and bringing it home today to use for his homework, he was saying they had finished it in school and they were all looking forward to watching Holes on DVD, starring Sigourney Weaver, I presume she is the Warden.  I decided to finish it and once I got into it again, I couldn't put it down. I was wondering how the school children had managed to only read it chapter by chapter.  Reading about how they are treated cruelly, harsh punishment meted out, friendships striking up between boys, Stanley teaching Zero to read and discovering his mathematical abilities, the tension grows as Zero runs away. Is he dead?  Stanley also runs away and their adventure starts. This is where tales of their ancestors, of a 'Calamity Jane' style woman Kate Barlow's past, a treasure, all come back to play and tie events together.

This is the perfect book for boys, aged 10-14 especially if you're having difficulties getting them to settle to read a book. It has enough tension and violence to keep them interested, the characters being mostly male will help them to empathise, and the sense of adventure is gripping.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

The Harry Hole Series by Jo Nesbo

I love reading crime novels but just don't get the time to read that many. One of my favourite crime authors is Jo Nesbo and his Harry Hole series - if you haven't read any yet, it's a great series to get into and would make a great gift for someone who loves this genre.

I had thought The Redbreast: A Harry Hole Novel was the first but it was the first to be translated into English. The Bat is the first of the series and was translated some months ago. It is good but not as gripping as the others, you can tell it is a first novel I guess.  The Cockroaches is the second but as far as I know it hasn't been translated yet. There are 8 in total with Phantom being the last.

The novels are set in Norway, yet another successful crime series from a Scandanavian author. Each novel can stand on its own as the main detective, Harry Hole, delves deep into yet another murder, battles with alcohol, disobeys orders from his superiors, is threatened with suspension, falls in love, misses his true love Rakel and her son and in the end, solves the crime but is scarred in some way, be it the loss of a co-worker, the breakdown of a relationship or a battle with alcohol. The series has an underlying story line of suspected corruption in the police force which isn't fully solved until the last couple of novels.

Some of the books  are quite gruesome. We may not know the character well enough to be badly affected when she or he is slaughtered but yet the descriptions can be gruelling to read at time. I think the most gruesome (and perhaps the best) were The Leopard and The Snowman .

Phantom is hte last novel in the series, I was a little disappointed in the ending initially but when I thought about it, it was left open enough to not be twee and had plenty of surprises as well as disappointments. Having read the full series, part of me wanted a happy ever after but although it is fiction, it perhaps reflects life more than we would like it too.