The last few months have been a bit of a blur for me. I’ve spent a lot of time away from home and when I have been back it is chaos because we’re having a lot of work done on our house. We’ve basically knocked down all the internal walls and restructured everything. This means I’ve been without electricity (and a kitchen or anywhere to sit!) a lot of the time and so I’ve found it difficult to blog. The end is now in sight, so hopefully things will get back to normal soon. Reading has also been at a slower pace, but I’m sure it will pick up again once the dust has settled!
I’ve read (or tried to read) all the books currently in my sidebar so will be reviewing them when I get the chance. I’m afraid I haven’t got any other reading plans at the moment – I’m just going to grab whatever takes my fancy!
The Rabbit Back Literature Society is a book that I’d seen lots of praise for on Twitter so when I received an unsolicited review copy of the new paperback release I was interested to see if it would live up to the hype.
The beginning of the book was excellent and I was immediately intrigued by the strange story of books within a university library which began to change slightly, containing different plot elements to their original. The initial feel of the book reminded me of Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, but unfortunately the plot changed into something more weird and unbelievable – containing many elements I struggled to enjoy.
There were hints of brilliance in this book, but the occasional excellent piece of writing only seemed to expose the ordinariness of the rest of the text. It’s hard to know if this was a result of the translation or whether the choppy text was present in the original Finnish version.
Ella found it difficult to stay away from papery dust of the library for any length of time. Even now, as she approached the place with the problematic Dostoevsky in her bag, she was overcome with the same veneration she’d felt as a child. She had been the kind of child you find in every library, lugging around stacks of books. Once, when she was sick in bed with pneumonia for two weeks, the librarian had called at her house to ask if everything was alright.
The central character was Ella and I found that she was well drawn, but the rest of the cast were vague in comparison and I often got them mixed up – a problem exacerbated by the large number of characters. As the book progressed I became frustrated by it. The plot became increasingly unrealistic and I didn’t care about what was happening to the characters. The introduction of “The Game” marked the start of my problems with the story and I’m afraid nothing failed to interest me as much as the initial chapter.
The large number of positive reviews from the science fiction & fantasy corner of the blogging world make me think this book is more suited to those who love that genre. I suspect I missed some of the references to other books in this cannon of literature and I didn’t enjoy the mystical elements as much as others. If you’re the sort of person who is happy to be led along strange paths, suspend your disbelief, and enjoy dark fable-like tales then this is for you.
Five words from the blurb: Florida, swamp, dangerous, life, survival
The Yearling won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1939. I hadn’t heard of it until I stumbled across a mention of the author in a Florida guidebook, but as I always like to read books set in the places I’m staying I ordered a copy for my holiday. I’m not sure if it is more famous in America, but it certainly deserves more attention than it currently gets.
The Yearling is a vivid portrayal of one family struggling to survive in the wilderness in a time before the luxury of electricity or running water. They are continually at risk of starvation, but they must also battle with the elements and the local wildlife. Rattlesnakes lurk in the undergrowth, wolves try to steal their animals, and bears occasionally come too close for comfort. The story was quite simple, but the adventure of their everyday lives captivated me.
The clearing itself was pleasant if the unweeded rows of young shafts of corn were not before him. The wild bees had found the chinaberry tree by the front gate. They burrowed into the fragile clusters of lavender bloom as greedily as though there were no other flowers in the scrub; as though they had forgotten the yellow jessamine of March; the sweet bay and the magnolias ahead of them in May. It occurred to him that he might follow the swift line of the flight of the black and gold bodies, and so find a bee-tree, full of amber honey. The winter’s cane syrup was gone and most of the jellies. Finding a bee-tree was nobler work than hoeing, and the corn could wait another day.
I loved everything about this book! The descriptions were vivid, bringing the swamps of Florida to life with an incredible accuracy. I may be biased because I read the book as I was visiting places similar to those mentioned, but that is the joy of picking perfect holiday reading material!
The characters were brilliantly drawn – I felt a deep emotional connection to them all and found myself involved in a rollercoaster of emotion as I willed them to survive. I was particularly impressed by the way the different generations were given their own set of values and characteristics. The interactions between them all felt incredibly realistic and I understood why they reacted differently to the situations they were presented with.
The ending was especially good. I won’t spoil anything, but the underlying messages were impressive and I will be thinking about them for a long time to come. The coming-of-age aspects of this book make it particularly good for teenagers and I think this would make a great addition to school reading lists.
There weren’t really any negatives for this book, but some people might find the scenes of hunting and animal butchery disturbing. I found them fascinating and loved the detailed descriptions of this almost-lost way of life.
Overall I can’t fault this book. It was perfectly paced, contained some of the most realistic characters I’ve ever come across and combined these with wonderful descriptions of the natural world. It’s the best book I’ve read so far this year. Highly recommended.
Have you read any books written by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings?
Five words from the blurb: chocolate, boutique, French, town, church
Chocolat is one of those books that everyone seems to have read, but I hadn’t even seen the film. This meant I was pleased when someone from my book group selected it for our next discussion. Chocolat tells the story of Vianne Rocher, a newcomer who decides to open a chocolate shop in a small French town.
Everyone else in my book group enjoyed Chocolat, but unfortunately it didn’t really work for me. It was a fast paced read, but it lacked depth. The characters were difficult to distinguish from one another and the setting was so vague that it was hard to tell where/when it was set.
The book also seemed to wage a war on the church, hinting that religion was evil and chocolate good. I’m not religious so wasn’t offended by these sections, but I struggled with the simplicity of the arguments. The best stories don’t pit good against evil, but instead show that there are shades of grey in everything. This was all too black and white for me.
Much of the plot was also a bit far fetched. I often struggle with magical realism and although this book didn’t venture far into this genre I still found the implausibility of some scenes difficult.
On a positive note – the description of chocolate manufacture were wonderful – they made me so hungry!
Protected from the sun by the half-blind which shields them, they gleam darkly, like sunken treasure, Aladdin’s cave of sweet clichés. And in the middle she has built a magnificent centrepiece. A gingerbread house, walls of chocolate- coated pain d’epices with the detail piped on in silver and gold icing, roof tiles of florentines studded with crystallized fruits, strange vines of icing and chocolate growing up the walls, marzipan birds singing in chocolate trees…
I’m interested to see how the film handles these subjects, but it seems as though I’m in the minority in not loving this one.
Five words from the blurb: author, hire, famous, shadowy, glamorous
Andrew Crofts is a successful ghostwriter. He has published over 80 books, many of which have been best sellers. I agreed to review this book because he has had a fascinating career – working with celebrities, world leaders and ordinary people who’ve lived extraordinary lives. Unfortunately the nature of his work means that many of his clients deny his existence and much of his past is shrouded by confidentiality agreements.
Writing a book in someone else’s voice allows the ghostwriter to abdicate responsibility for anything that is said. The release from that responsibility compensates for the inability to express your own views. In one way it makes it easier to tell a story dramatically and to introduce readers to the personality of the subject, but it is also an act of cowardice, a way of hiding behind the mask. It makes it much easier to express outrageous opinions, to justify shocking behaviour, if you are using someone else’s voice and letting them face any hostile responses that might come from readers.
Crofts is clearly a talented writer. His story was engaging and packed with a light humour that made it a joy to read. Unfortunately this book was ruined by the secrets. I became frustrated by the repeated introduction of interesting scenes which could not be completed because they might give away the identity of the client. Personal details about interactions with a ghost writer would have been interesting, but this book rarely got further than an initial greeting with an unnamed celebrity.
The book also had a fragmented nature. Most chapters were only a couple of pages long and seemed more like introductions to potential novels (each of which would have been great) than stories that could stand up on their own.
There were lots of interesting little snippets of information about life as a ghostwriter, but I’m afraid the confidentially agreements ruined this book. Such a shame as I think Andrew Crofts has had one of the most diverse and exciting lives I’ve ever come across.
Five words from the blurb: Miami, domestic, drama, scandal, disappointment
I bought this book to read in Florida, but unfortunately being in this book’s setting didn’t add to its appeal. The writing was nothing special and the characters were so ordinary/flat that I didn’t care about them. Recommended to those who enjoy relationship based reads of a lighter nature.
Nine Parts of Desire by Geraldine Brooks
Five words from the blurb: women, Middle East, veils, research, intimate
Fascinating insight into the lives of women living in the Middle East. Much of this book feels dated, but I learnt so much that this didn’t matter. Recommended to anyone who’d like to learn more about Islamic women.
Fourth of July Creek by Smith Henderson
Five words from the blurb: social worker, American, wilderness, family, conflicts
I loved the first half of the book in which we see a social worker performing his difficult, but rewarding work. The writing was outstanding – Henderson has the rare ability to make even the simplest scenes spring to life. Unfortunately I lost interest towards the end. It became more of a police procedural thriller and much of the initial intimacy was lost. Recommended to anyone who appreciates good writing.
Orfeo by Richard Powers
Five words from the blurb: music, research, police, hysteria, audience
Fantastic writing and wonderfully original concept, but as I’m not very knowledgeable about music I felt that much of the wisdom of this book went over my head. If you’re a fan of music, particularly classical, then you’ll love this.