Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Island Madness by Tim Binding

Island Madness is set on the tiny island of Guernsey, a British Island that is actually right off the tip of France. This book is set during the German occupation of the island during WWII. Used as a vantage point for the Germans, as well as a prime smuggling location the locals and the occupiers live side-by-side with the enemy.

As the book started I thought that this novel was going to be about the changes to the society caused by the occupation; the French prostitues brought over to service the men, with lines of men running up the street, the young local women whose parents turn a blind-eye to their daughters affairs with the enemy, knowing that this will keep their daughters well fed, the local men and women breaking the law just for real butter or BirdsEye Custard Powder. But soon a local girl is murdered and a who-done-it unravels.

The pace of the book, the twists and turns and tangled relationships kept me well entertained for the day, but I was never enthralled by the novel. It was of overly long paragraphs and a setting and people I just couldn't picture. This is the dark side of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

I'm carrying on with the TBR Dare I'm now up to book 7 of the 25 that I pledged to read. I have to say that it is making me look at my TBR pile in a new light. One of my friends - with a much much smaller pile than me - has put hers in order of the date they were written, she takes one from the top of the pile then the next one from the bottom, ensuring that some of the others get read. I'm still trying to work out how to tackle mine, I'm trying a world tour idea at the moment but I'm not sure how successful this will be. Having said that you may see a few French books popping up in the next few weeks!
Have you a way to tackle your tbr pile? Or do you just read as you please?

Sunday, 23 January 2011

The Sunday Salon: If I wasn't being a good girl...

I'd have brought the following books this week.

The Idiot by Dostoevsky. I'm reading two Russian books at the moment, and quite fancy a Russian theme running through the year but only have one on the tbr stacks. This one caught my eye not just as its one of those that if you're doing the Russians (sorry for the bad English, I've been watching and reading Educating Rita at school), you should have tackled; but also because it's translated by Pevear and Volokhonsky whose translation of W&P I'm loving.

The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy. As above, because I'm loving W&P and want to read the Russians. But also because of the Oh-so-pretty cover. The Penguin Great Loves series all have lush covers.

And finally,

Indian Killer by Sherman Alexie, because I want a good YA to take with me for the flight to New York (4 weeks today I'll be there!!!), I have many on my shelves already so I should read those, and rely on the Alexie audiobook that I have on my trusty old iPod.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Youth by J.M Coetzee

Only my second 1001 book of the year (with an aim of 40 I should be aiming for one every second or third read not leaving 5 books in between).
Coetzee is one of those authors I have a mixed relationship with, I hated Disgrace and disliked Amsterdamn but then really enjoyed Waiting for the Barbarians, and Elizabeth Costello I think I've read but I'm not 100% sure, so I went into Youth with some trepidation.
Youth is actually the second in a semi-autobiographical trilogy, but I didn't know that till I was half way through. However, I didn't feel like I was missing out too much as a rough sketch of his childhood was provided as I read through.

Youth follows John, a mathmatics student with more interest in poetry and saving up enough money to escape South Africa. When he finally escapes to England life is not what he imagines, the long hours, cold people and cold weather lead him to a life of seclusion. As well as his life in England and his love of poetry, we learn much about his desire for a woman. He seems to pick up along the way a number of unsuitable women (who all drop their pants immediately), he barely gets them back to his room before he and they have decided that it's all a bad idea, but it continues.

The novel had a really mellow feel to it, despite dramas, upsets and loneliness he accepts the world and the tension never builds. And, this creates a nice easy read, but one that is likely to leave me not remembering much, if any of the novel in a months time.

The Sunday Salon

At the moment I'm participating in two read-a-longs both of which have Sunday reading goals, so my Sunday's have changed and are no longer wallowing in laziness with one novel but trying to have read the right amount of pages and make some type of constructive comment.
This morning - after marking and housework - I finished off the section of War and Peace I needed to get read and later on I'll be reading the next 3 chapters of Bleak House.
I'm enjoying both books, and really enjoy the discussion that entails - especially in the War and Peace group as people pick up on funny things (Tolstoy's obssession with female lip hair!) but also discuss the historical and social context.
Do you participte in read-a-longs? Know of any good read-a-longs coming up?

I'm not a New Years Resolution kinda girl, mainly because I'm always setting myself resolutions throughout the year, and secondly because January is a bad time of year for starting stuff - the weather is rubbish, and I don't want to eat healthy/excercise/learn new things - I just want to hibernate.
However I did set myself a goal of 15 books that I wanted off my TBR mountain before the end of 2011. 10 fiction and 5 non-fiction.
1. Court on the Air (a book I requested through bookcrossing ages ago and still haven't read).
2. Tender is the Night
3. The Sound and the Fury
4. Arthur and George
5. The Tapestries
6. Les Miserables (All five have been on mount tbr for over 3 years)
7. Tsotsi (the kids study it at school yet I still haven't read it).
8. David Copperfield (a non-reading ex read this while travelling and made me promise to read it asap - that was a year ago)
9. Jude the Obscure
10. Don Quixote (both books I feel as a lit graduate I should have read, and both have lingered for 3+ years on the pile).

1. Wild Swans (a bookcrossing book I've had since 20070
2. Wall and Piece (I love Banksy and should do more than just look at the pretty pictures)
3. An Age of Wonder (brought not this christmas but the one before, it looks good, so should have been read ages ago).
4. A Human Being Died That Night (I loved Eva's review and keep saying I should read more non-fitcion, plus it's real skinny).
5. The Shory History of Nearly Everything (because my knowledge of pretty much everything is teeny or non-existant, and the only way I'm going to understand the Big Bang Theory - plus others - is if Bill Bryson explains it nice and simple).

Hopefully in the next year these will be ticked off the pile, reviewed and some sent to other readers.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

The Duppy by Anthony C. Winkler

My first read for the Caribbean Reads Challenge was The Duppy. This novel set in Jamaica tells the tale of Baps a character who dies in the first line of the novel. This starts off well with a funny episode where he watches his housemaid and gardener stealling his money from his body while he watches (he was a harsh boss and starts getting really miffed when they take Christmas, Easter, New Years etc bonuses, bonuses he would never have paid in his lifetime) then the maid props her sticky feet upon his head while she waits for the doctor to arrive.
After this he travels to a Jamaican heaven, with no fluffy clouds and laziness but plenty of sex, food and gossip. Gradually he becomes friends with God.
This book is meant to be a tongue in cheek look at heaven, Jamaican men and their opinions, and started off well, in fact I enjoyed a good 120 pages of the book. Then, I'd just had enough; the joke had gone on too long and I started feeling that it was just simply silly. I scanned the last 50 pages just to get it finished. Having said that on goodreads this book is rated four stars, where I would only give it one.
For a positive review of this book please see here

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Anything But Ordinary: The Nine Lives of Cecile by Cecile Dorward

I started this book way back in December, then it managed to get left at home over the Christmas break and has been sadly waiting to be picked up all this time.
Cecile Dorward is an ecentric old lady who spent her later years (60+) travelling the world in her Land Rover.
The book is separated into her 'nine lives', starting with her childhood living in that limbo of 'people with money' who actually have very little money when you look past the grand house and the society they keep. We then follow her through her first job as one of a company of famale decorators, early marriage and then on to har travels. The travels start at first in a canal boat exploring the bywaters of England. But as she gets older the journeys get more adventurous, taking her across the world, including driving overland from Australia to the UK.
When I first picked up this book I loved it and quickly read the first two-thirds. She was ecentric, daring and an original. Although she has a strange obssession with her lack of sex. I'm not sure if the fact I hadn't picked up the book in a good three weeks had an effect, but the last part detailing her journeys around the world alone seemed to suddenly lack excitement. It annoyed me that the last 20 years of her life, and the most adventurous years were crammed into such a small space, and we wasn't given a huge amount of description of the places she travelled and the people she met (apart from the overly amourous men!), it suddenly felt like she had lost interest in telling her story. Still I am glad that I read it, and would give it a strong 3 stars.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I've been saying to myself for the last few years that I should really reread more, but then I always get distracted by those new unread books sitting on the shelf. So this year I'm going to try some rereading, especially of books that I read in uni and didn't really get the time to appreciate.
I thought I'd start off with a real classic which I first read whan I was 16, Pride and Prejudice was probably my first 'classic' and it was a great introduction to the canon.

A quick plot summary for anyone who has managed to miss this: The Bennets are 5 sisters living in Regency England all in search of a husband. The two sensible sisters, Elizabeth and Jane are hindered by their silly younger siblings, inadequate parents and relative who are just mere lawyers and not aristocracy! At a ball Elizabeth meets the rude obnoxious Mr Darcy and Jane the lovely Bingley. After this the novel is about the way these two relationships play out and a whole bunch of wonderful other stuff.

This is my third or fourth reading of the novel and I've seen a few filmed versions so the story is pretty much already set in my mind. What I loved about this rereading was looking at the way that Austen unraveled the relationships, the twists and turns that they took. And also the knowledge of the comments that Elizabeth makes when we know her future. Along with this is the whole Regency feel; the balls and dinners, the country walks and endless journeys, the dresses and letters - all things pretty much lost in the modern art of finding a man.

Elizabeth's family in itself produce an interesting study, although you do wonder how Elizabth's sensibility, Jane's niceness and Mary's intellect developed with such a silly mother and disinterested father.

I'm now tempted to dig out the BBC boxset and indulge over the next week or so, plus Mr Darcy coming out the river is a great way of banishing the blues caused by our miserable weather!

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Short Story Sunday and a Novella

Last year I barely read any short stories, like poetry and plays short stories are something I love but they tend to get abandoned in the crush of big old novels.
I'm aiming to read more, and hopefully post each Sunday about one. There did use to be a Short Story Sunday feature but I can't find anything up to date so I'll just keep myself company.

'The Daughters of the Late Colonel' by Katherine Mansfield
The death of their dictatorial father leaves Josephine and Constatine lost and bewildered. Not from sadness, but from merely knowing what to do. Every adecision they need to make, every action they take is laboured with fear of the father. Would he approve? Will he hate them?
Motherless and unmarried the girls have been ruled by a tyrannical father and maid, friendless and unworldly the young women are orphaned in a world which they barely know.

I really enjoyed this short story, I wanted to shake the girls and give them some bravery and strength.

'Anthem' by Ayn RandLast night I managed to knock a novella off the tbr pile, and one perfect for the dystopia challenge.

Anthem is set in a world in which children are brought up in a centre rather than with their families, taught only the basics at school and then assigned a work placement for life. The main characters in this novella discover an unknown place, a place linked to the time before. They sneak to this place as often as possible, discovering not just the thrill of doing what is not allowed but also the thrill of knowledge and discovery. For the first time they are able to think for themselves - just so long as no one finds out.
Written in first person in a series of reflective journal entries we gradually see the constraints of the society, as well as the things that are gradually being learnt, things we take for granted.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Surfacing by Margaret Atwood

First up Happy New Year, hopefully this one will bring love, happiness and laughter for everyone. Having gone to bed at 10.30 last night (damn cough was just too annoying!) I had a clear head and plenty of time to read today.

Surfacing kicks off my attempt to tackle more of the 1001 list this year. Margaret Atwood's 'The Handmaid's Tale' is one of two books that sent me to university to study literature, I've since then read and loved about 6 of her books. This one I've been avoiding as I'd heard it had bad reviews, but it was sent to me so I thought I should really give it ago.

The main character (who I think remains nameless - I sure can't remember her name and have scanned and can't find it), travels with her new boyfriend and two new friends back to northern Quebec, in search of her missing father. She grew up on a tiny island inhabited by just her family, now on the island she must search for clues of her father.
The novel sounds like it'll be full of clues and answers but in reality the trip home is for her a way to find herself. Her friends are shallow and the boyfriend quiet, all they add to the trip is a mode of transport and people to be amused.

For me I never felt like I could connect to any of the characters, the main character is pretty emotionless through most of the novel, she never seems interested in finding her father, and the novel is more of a description of the things they do to fill the day. Then all of a sudden there is this bizarre ending, which just left me wondering what was going on.