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.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Emma by Jane Austen

I'm rereading all of the Jane Austen novels at the moment, it being about 20 years since I last read them all. Watching the occcasional one on a DVD made me feel as though I had read them much more recently!

Emma  by Jane Austen is probably the cleverest of them all in terms of the extent of irony and the characterisation, in my opinion.  Emma is my least favourite 'heroine' of all six novels and I'd imagine that is what Austen intended. Emma is wealthy, young, beautiful and she doesn't need to marry. Although she spends her time matchmaking others, she knows that she can remain a spinster without scorn, she won't end up like the impoverished Miss Bates as she has social position and wealth.  She is the apple of her father's eye and Miss Taylor, now married to Mr Weston seems to view her with favour too. Indeed, the only person who seems to see the true, spoilt, sometime selfish Emma, is Mr Knightley.

There is a cruel humour to it in some ways. Emma tries to matchmake a new friend Harriet Smith with the rector Mr. Elton and persuades her to refuse the marriage offer of Mr Martin, (to Mr Knightley's dismay). When Mr Elton discovers this, he recoils in horror and professes his love for Emma. Snubbed, he reacts angrily and in his turn, he also snubs Harriet at a dance. He departs and returns some months later with a new wife, who is a social snob and she and Emma despise each other.

I think we all know someone who is similar to Miss Bates, not necessarily ridiculed for single status, but someone who talks incessantly perhaps from being nervous.  Reading her garbled speech, a reader can sense the patient understanding of some characters and the irritation of others.  The picnic at Box Hill reveals Emma to be impatient and cruel as she ridicules Miss Bates in front of all her friends and she is held to account for it by Mr Knightley.

Emma also knows that she could have behaved with more kindness and feeling to Miss Bates' niece Jane Fairfax. Frank Knightley behaves improperly towards Emma by pretending he is in love with her although Austen lets him off to some extent as Emma's feelings are not hurt.

The novel ends with 3 happy couples and Emma looking forward to bringing Mr and Mrs Weston's baby daughter to her nephews in the future.

 Emma has plenty in it to make one feel slightly uncomfortable perhaps because we can recognise elements of our own personalities or of those we know, however, Austen's skill with irony, plot and characterisation don't disappoint.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Little House on the Prairie Books by Laura Ingalls

Looking through boxes of books in the attic for a school book sale, I came across all the Laura  Ingalls books I had as a child and reread them all over Christmas. My daughter loves watching the occasional episode of 'Little House on the Prairie' and has started the first book 'Little House on the Big Woods'.

Reading the books as an adult means a much different interpretation than reading as a child. Reading them years ago, I was envious of Laura's adventures as they journeyed across the Wild West. Rereading it now makes me much more respectful of the dangers. Imagine heading off in a wagon into virtually unknown territory with 3 little girls and all you own in the wagon - facing dangers such as wild wolves, hostile Indians and many other perils. Their wants were simple, as a family they wanted to be more or less sustainable and live 'like kings' by killing and eating wild animals. Although things like nails needed to be purchased, they traded items like furs in the early days. Moving back out of Indian country, settling nearer to towns, meant that they became more dependent on suppliers.

Laura clearly had a penchant for storytelling. Telling tales of Pa playing the violin, building claim shanties, being lost in the snow, being chased by wolves, stories of how Mr. Edwards crossed a river to bring them gifts from Santa Claus, when they all got malaria, the personality of Jack their dog, their relationship with other families, the isolation from relations, the hints of Ma's worry when Pa was lost in a blizzard, the relentless cold and survival during the 'long winter', Mary's blindness, Laura's first teaching job and how she realised the importance of a genuine smile, her dislike of Nellie and her romance with  Almanzo.   Yet so much was left out - the death of Frederick (when Laura was young), the birth of  Grace.  Each book picks up in a new area or with a new experience.

What also struck me was how they made so much - such as sewing sheets, sewing all their clothes, making much treasured gifts for each other, using everything from every animal.  The high educational standard was evident too - starting school late yet the difficult words they learnt to spell, the detail in history and geography, the mental arithmetic - has it all been dumbed down in recent years??

Farmer Boy is about Almanzo's boyhood, starting when he was nine and his love for horses and farming was evident throughout. The Wilder family seemed much more affluent than their neighbours and seemed to be well respected. Living in a relatively large house, banking money every year and having the largest stable at the church to shelter their horses in, with the older children going to an academy, they seemed much more wealthy that Almanzo was in later life.  While stories of Laura's childhood recorded the killing of animals for food, Almanzo's childhood seemed to be centred around food - it records what they ate for many meals as well as the hard work involved in using absolutely everything they produced. Creating clothes from the sheep's wool, butter for sale from the milk, jams, preserves, ice.

The stories have such a charm, they are perfect for children to read and I thoroughly enjoyed rereading them too. My set of Laura Ingalls books, as you can see, is extremely tattered and well worn - I was even eyeing up a new set of Little House / Laura Ingalls Wilder Box Set !

Friday, March 22, 2013

Review: This Child of Mine by Sinead Moriarty

This Child of Mine by Sinead Moriarty

I don't tend to read that much 'chick lit', pick one up occasionally, and then I'll read a classic or a crime thriller and then back for a quick read novel again. One of my favourite authors of that genre is Sinead Moriarty.

The novel   sails very close to some delicate issues - teenage pregnancy, drunken behaviour, neglect, infertility, infant mortality, abduction and all their repercussions.  The various events of two families combine when Sophie discovers her unusual tendency to see events and emotions in colours is shared by a famous artist, an artist who lost her child in a sailing accident when she was a toddler, yet she is convinced her daughter is alive, not drowned. Could Sophie be her daughter?  Could Sophie's mother be an abductor? Had she been adopted or abducted? Who were Sophie's parents?

I won't give the game away but the search for the truth has many repercussions - for everyone concerned. It's not a gripping read but it is a page turner and perfect if you're looking for a well written, entertaining read in that genre.

You can buy This Child of Mine online from Amazon

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Harry Potter - the best series of books ever read!!

Harry Potter - I read the first Harry Potter book when I was teaching in a secondary school in Andover, England. I think it was out about 2 years at that time and while I enjoyed it, I decided deliberately that I'd wait until I had kids and could read it to them. I wasn't even pregnant at the time!

I bought the Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7) for my son 18 months ago for his 9th birthday and in August I started to read the first one to him and his sister (aged 7). I really wasn't sure whether they'd enjoy them, if we'd read any more than the first one, if they were going to be 'too dark'.

I started the first one in August and we finished the seventh just after Christmas - that was a lot of reading aloud. Reading 2 chapters aloud took about an hour and a half. The children loved it, at times they would almost be dancing around the room in suspense, wondering what words were going to come out my mouth next. I loved them. My husband is a dairy farmer and he would come in around 8:30 and say 'You're not reading Harry Potter again!'

I'd planned to take a break after the third book 'Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban', having heard the later books became increasingly scary. I remember the night I finished that book, I'd planned to get the children to bed early so I started reading at 6pm, planning to have them in bed for 8pm as I'd a good deal of work to do. They wouldn't let me finish!  I read it while we were having our tea, I read it as they put on their pyjamas and brushed their teeth. My husband was working late and came in at 9:45 as I was reading the last page! I'd hardly any voice left, having read for almost 4 hours. The kids were so wound up it took them ages to go to sleep - suffice to say, it was unputdownable.

They wouldn't hear of taking a break, we had to start the next book the following day and continued to finish all 7. I loved them and would sometimes sneak and read snippets ahead when they were in bed. We also bought the boxset DVD Harry Potter - The Complete 8-Film Collection [Blu-ray] [2011][Region Free] of the 8 Harry Potter movies (oh, I'd have loved to have seen the last one on the big screen) and watched each DVD after reading the book. Even now, if it's a cold and wintry afternoon or the children are home ill from school, they choose one of the Harry Potter films to watch.

Will was 10 last summer and he reread all 7 books in 8 weeks and 6 days!  He fully intends to read them all again this summer and beat his record!  Now, imagine being 10 or 11 and knowing that you can read Harry Potter every night when you go to bed or any wet afternoon - bliss or what?  Both children say that they are going to read Harry Potter to their kids.

Although the writing was scary and dark at times, the children could contain the danger within their own imaginations. Both my kids are fairly squeamish and I know they'd have been terrified of the films if they hadn't read the books first. After all too, the books are always better than the film!  I also liked that the writing of the characters as teenagers was fairly innocent, even old-fashioned in that although boys liked girls and vice versa, all that was mentioned was kissing so it's fine for the younger age group to read.

I couldn't put it down, the children didn't want me to put it down. My son is going to reread it for the third time, I want to reread them too. My husband even got to like it (from hearing me read it occasionally). Harry Potter is a huge hit in this house. I almost wish I'd been a fan when they were being published, I definitely would have queued outside a bookshop at midnight. When I told the children that other kids had had to wait a year or more for the next book rather than starting it straight away, they both said the wait would have been agony.

Enough said - we love Harry Potter and I really can't recommend it enough - buy the Harry Potter Paperback Box Set (Books 1-7) for a 7-10 year old. What my son loves about the box set too is that it is like an heirloom for him now!

Disclosure - the links above are Amazon affiliate links - but I assure you, the review is 100% genuine, if I don't like a book I say it. Every child should read Harry Potter (or even better, every child should have Harry Potter read to them and yes, the adult will love it too)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Book Review: Persuasion by Jane Austen

I haven''t read  Persuasion: Jane Austen  for many years and having read it again, I was wondering why I'd left it so long!  I'm writing a book review of it so you won't leave it, do read or reread. So many people say that Pride and Prejudice is their favourite but I felt this was just as good.
Better in fact, in many ways, as we all know that Elizabeth Bennet ends up with Mr Darcy as Pride and Prejudice is so well known. Even if people haven't read the book, they'll know of the happy ending from the many film versions.
However, Persuasion has that 'will they, won't they?' feeling to it. Anne Elliott was dissuaded from marrying her true love Frederick Wentworth when she was 19, partly because of her family's snobbery and the fact that his future wealth and position was uncertain. She is very close to a family friend who acts as a surrogate mother and is convinced not to marry. They don't meet again until she is 27 and we, the readers, feel for Fanny as we're told she has lost much of her youthful bloom and good looks. She seems to be bullied by her eldest sister and acts as a sounding board to her moaning married younger sister.
The tables have turned by then, Frederick Wentworth has returned from the Napoleonic wars, wealthy and successful. Due to Anne's foolhardy and vain father who has overspent, the family have to lease their home and move to Bath. As would happen, their house is taken by an Admiral and Mrs Croft, of course, Wentworth is Mrs Croft's brother and hence their paths cross again.
As Anne stays with her sister, she and Wentworth end up meeting many times. Nobody knows of their previous relationship and she is forced to listen to people wondering which lady he will marry, she has to watch him flirt with others. However the tides turn when they are in Lyme and Wentworth's attention is caught when she is admired by a stranger. That stranger turns out to be an estranged relation who is Anne's father's heir and when they meet again in Bath, I found myself wanting to shout 'No' as Anne and William Elliot spend more time together.
As we are privy to Anne's thoughts but not to Wentworth's, we don't know whether he still loves Anne or not, until the final chapters.
Will she or won't they? Persuasion: Jane Austen is a love story filled with excellent characterisation, wit, irony and humour.  Do read or reread it - it has just become my favourite of her six novels again.