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October Summary and Plans for November

The colder weather of the last month encouraged me to spend more time inside, curled up with a book, and so I read more than twice as much as I did in September. Overall they were a fairly mixed bag, but the majority were entertaining enough to satisfy me. I’m currently enjoying half term with my boys and so don’t have time to write reviews, but I’ll let you know about all the books I’ve read once the schools have gone back.

Book of the Month
In Defence of Dogs: Why Dogs Need Our Understanding

Books Reviewed in October:

In Defence of Dogs by John Bradshaw 

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng 

So Big by Edna Ferber 

Arcadia by Lauren Groff 

The Creator by Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir 

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Swimming Home by Deborah Levy 

The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman 

The Portrait by Iain Pears 

Plans for November

I plan to take part in German literature month organised by Lizzy and Caroline. I’ve already read The Cow by Beat Sterni and am making good progress with The Swarm by Frank Schätzing. I may try to squeeze in another German book before the end of the month too.

I also hope to read most of these:

The First Century After Beatrice by Amin Maalouf

A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway

The Testimony by James Smythe

The Human Part by Kari Hotakainen

Jerusalem by GM Tavares

The Cook by Wayne Macauley

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

I hope you have a wonderful November!

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My Life in Books

Today I’m taking part in My Life in Books over at Stuck in a Book. Head over to Simon’s blog to see me talk about my favourite books from the past and try to predict who I’m paired with. 

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1920s Classics Pulitzer Prize

So Big by Edna Ferber

SO BIG By Ferber, Edna (Author) Paperback on 22-Aug-2000 Winner of 1924 Pulitzer Prize

Five words from the blurb: Chicago, society, Illinois, farmers, ideals

Selina Peake, the central character in So Big, is one of the strongest women in literature. After the death of her father, a gambler who always looked for the most exciting things life had to offer, Selina moves to Illinois to become a teacher. This rural community is very different from the high society life she led in Chicago and Selina must work hard to survive. Life isn’t good to Selina and she has a string of problems, but she copes with them all, despite the disapproval of a society who believe women should not work outside the home. Selina was a groundbreaking character for the time and nearly a century on it is still possible to admire her courage and resilience.

I wasn’t convinced I’d enjoy a story about Dutch farmers in Illinois, but Selina was an amazing character and I fell in love with her. The plot felt quite slow, but on reflection an amazing number of events occurred in Selina’s life. The writing was wonderful and apart from having to get the dictionary out a few too many times, I had no complaints.

The main theme of the book was encouraging people to live life to the full and that money does not bring happiness – topics which are just as relevant now as they were back then. I loved the advice given to others throughout this book:

“The more kinds of people you see, and the more things you do, and the more things that happen to you, the richer you are. Even if they’re not pleasant things. That’s living. Remember, no matter what happens, good or bad, it’s just so much” – he used the gambler’s term, unconsciously – “just so much velvet.”

This is a wonderfully rich story that can also be taken as a guide to the important things in life. Recommended.

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The thoughts of other bloggers:

Exquisitely crafted and lovingly plotted, it is story that is worthy of the Pulitzer.  Caribousmom

Selina is one of the most powerful and memorable characters I’ve ever read. The Book Nest

…infused with meaning not found in many books. Musings

Categories
2012 Non Fiction Recommended books

In Defence of Dogs by John Bradshaw

In Defence of Dogs: Why Dogs Need Our Understanding

Five words from the blurb: dogs, research, psychology, behaviour, life

Last year I became a dog owner for the first time. Since then I’ve been reading a large number of books on dog ownership and training. This is the best by a long way and the only one I feel able to trust entirely. John Bradshaw cuts through the old wives tales and takes a scientific approach to dog psychology. He compiles data from a large number of research projects to understand the way dogs think and how we can help them to lead happy, stress-free lives.

The book begins with looking at the way dogs have evolved and how this can be used to understand the bonds they form with humans. It goes on to explain the differences between our interactions with them and the way they behave with other dogs. Body language, the way their brains function and the relative power of the senses are all investigated with regular reference to scientific studies. The book also explains theory of mind and which emotions dogs are capable of feeling.

I was surprised by the number of commonly held beliefs that have no basis in fact:

It is remarkable, given how unformed a puppy’s personality is at eight weeks old, that breeders rely so heavily on puppy behaviour as a way of predicting the grown-up dog’s eventual character. ‘Puppy tests’ carried out at seven or eight weeks of age, before the puppy leaves its breeder, are still widely believed to have this predictive potential. Yet this is the precise age at which puppy’s behaviour is most malleable. Numerous scientific studies have failed to find any validity in ‘puppy testing’ as a predictor of future character. 

It doesn’t give specific advice on training, but anyone armed with the knowledge contained in this book will be able to ensure their dogs understand them and know what they are capable of learning.

I loved this book. It contains a wealth of information and lots of little facts that I can’t help sharing with friends and family. Some of the detail may be too much for the casual reader, but as a scientist I loved the way it didn’t shy away from some of the more complex subjects.

I think this is the most important reference book a dog owner could read and I strongly encourage you to get a copy.

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Categories
2012 Books in Translation

The Creator by Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir

The Creator Translated from the Icelandic by Sarah Bowen

Five words from the blurb: dolls, thief, salvation, loneliness, understanding

The Creator is an unusual novel about two people, each with their own set of foibles. Sveinn makes sex dolls in a workshop at his home and Lóa is struggling to cope with her daughter, who is suffering from an eating disorder. This unlikely couple meet when Lóa’s car breaks down in front of Sveinn’s house and he agrees to help her fix it.

The Creator is beautifully written, but quite hard to classify – at first it feels like a complex crime novel, but it develops into a character study that focuses on loneliness and belonging.

The book is narrated alternately by Lóa and Sveinn, which means the reader gets to see everything from both perspectives. At times this device was cleverly utilised, but it also meant that the plot was sometimes repetitive.

Lóa and Sveinn were wonderfully complex characters and I connected with both of them. At times the plot wasn’t very realistic, but their reactions to events always felt honest and believable.

When she managed to open her eyes she noticed that the light had altered since she laid her head on the pillow. The afternoon had engulfed the morning like an invisible avalanche of snow. Sweat held her hair fast to her neck, hunger rumbled round her belly and an uneasy memory of the morning’s events lay in ambush behind every thought.

Don’t be put off by the sex dolls – this book isn’t sleazy or filled with sex. I found myself appreciating the skill and patience needed to create these life-like sculptures, which seemed to be used for companionship more than anything else in this book.

My only complaint is that the plot seemed to fizzle out towards the end. The power of the first few chapters was never repeated and I occasionally lost interest in the slower paced scenes.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who enjoys literary novels that peek into the lives of dysfunctional people.

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Categories
2012

Two Mini Reviews

The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman

Five words from the blurb: Australia, lighthouse, childless, baby, keep

The Light Between Oceans is set in a remote lighthouse off the western coast of Australia. It is here that a young childless couple live with the grief of being unable to produce a living child. Their lives change when a lifeboat washes up on the shore. It contains the body of man and a tiny baby, which they decide to keep and pass off as their own.

The simple fact was that, sure as a graft will take and fuse on a rose bush, the root stock of Isobel’s motherhood – her every drive and instinct, left raw and exposed by the recent stillbirth – had grafted seamlessly to the scion, the baby which needed mothering. Grief and distance bound the wound, perfecting the bond with a speed only nature could engineer.

I initially loved this book. The story was fast paced, gripping and emotionally tense. Unfortunately things went downhill as the book progressed. The pace slowed in the middle section and it became predictable and overly sentimental. I think this book would have been better if the plot had been condensed and about 100 pages removed.

Overall this was a light, entertaining read, but it didn’t have the depth to really satisfy me.

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The Yellow Birds

The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

Five words from the blurb: Iraq, war, graphic, memories, hero

The Yellow Birds is described as a novel, but it is more like a series of short stories, all based around the experiences of one soldier in the Iraq war. The author, Kevin Powers, served in the US Army in Iraq during 2004 and 2005. His first hand experience is obvious as the scenes are as powerful as they are graphic.

When the mortars fell, the leaves and fruit and birds were frayed like ends of rope. They lay on the ground in scattered piles, torn feathers and leaves and the rinds of broken fruit intermingling. The sunlight fell absently through the spaces in the treetops, here and there glistening as if on water from smudges of bird blood and citrus.

This book reminded me of The Things They Carried – it even shared some of the repeating rhythms. Anyone who loved O’Brien’s book will find a lot to admire in The Yellow Birds, but I found it shared a lot of the same problems. I longed for more connection between the stories and I wanted a plot instead of just snapshots of individual scenes.

There is some powerful writing within this book, but it just felt like an Iraqi version of The Things They Carried and didn’t give me any new insights into the horrors of war.