Monday, 17 November 2014

Reading Week

Holiday Reading.

Mr Norfolkbookworm and I have just spent a week in the Canary Islands as we set ourselves up for winter by absorbing some more vitamin D, typically of course this year autumn has been splendid and the weather only really broke here just as we went but still a week away was wonderful.

This week also coincided with uni reading week but I'm not actually sure that this meant spend a week reading fiction but as I am up-to-date on the course work I wasn't too worried I'd fall behind.

Instead I spent 7 glorious days reading whatever I fancied and as the weather was good I got through an obscene amount of books - 14 and 2 halves (one I gave up on and one I've still to finish).

In no particular order and with just a few comments rather than reviews the books read were:

The Promised Land - Erich Maria Remarque 
Most famous for his anti WW1 novel All Quiet on the Western Front this is a fascinating book about emigres to America during WW2 and follows one man as he settles into life in New York. This is the first time the book has been translated into English and was unfinished when he died - this gives the book an abrupt ending but it was very good.

The Possibilities - Kaui Hart Hemmings 
From the author who wrote the book and Oscar winning film The Descendents. This was a slight tale of a woman coming to terms with the death of her son and the realisation that she didn't actually know him very well. It was all set in a ski resort and I think that I got more out of this book from having visited Mammoth in California than I would have done without knowing the type of town the book was set in. A slight read that passed the time but that will fade quickly from my memory.

Burial Rites - Hannah Kent 
From the blurb on the back of this book I really thought it wasn't for me but it just goes to show you shouldn't judge a book by a cover.  Set in Iceland in the 1800s a convicted murderess is sent to live with a family while she awaits execution and slowly the tale unfolds.  This isn't a crime story per se but is utterly compelling and an intelligent page turner which I really recommend.

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn 
This has been a huge hit in book and film form and was again not a book I expected to like as thrillers aren't usually my thing but again I was pleased to be wrong. You can't like any of the characters in this book but it is an amazing piece of story telling. Not saying anymore for fear of spoiling it for others yet to discover it.

A Song for Issy Bradley - Carys Bray 
This was a recommendation from two places and I am very pleased that I bumped it up my to-be-read pile. It is a story of a family coming to terms with the loss of a child but the added dimension of the family's Mormon faith.  This isn't a complex story but it is very moving and I found my sympathy changing with each chapter I read. I've read a few books with Mormon protagonists but they were all very negative portrayals - this is far more subtle.

Love Charm of Bombs - Lara Feigel 
This is a non-fiction book that tells the story of WW2 through the eyes of some of the leading writers at the time such as Graham Greene and Rose Macaulay.  I liked the idea of telling the story of the war through writers but thought the conceit was stretched a little with the comparison to the First World War poets.  An interesting read but not a stand out.

Crooked Heart - Lissa Evans

This was an odd duck of a book as it reminded me of a lot of other books but still remained unique.  A precocious boy is living with his guardian at the start of the WW2 but this life comes to an end after her death.  He is then evacuated to St Albans where he is taken in by a lady who sees him as a way to make money.  With his brains and her gumption the two soon get into all sorts of shady business - complicated by her borderline criminal son.  The book was a quick, easy read but slight and never really rose above either a young adult novel or a Mills and Boon.  I liked it but wanted just a little bit more.
A Place Called Winter - Patrick Gale
This ended up being another book with a war setting - WW1 this time - and one of my favourite reads of the holiday.  A family man is forced to leave Edwardian England to avoid a scandal and instead make a new life for himself creating a farm in the wilds of Canada.  This is another book I don't want to say too much about as it unfolds beautifully, for me it was very much like a grown up Little House on the Prairie and as that is one of my favourite series of books for children I loved the entire thing and got fully swept up in the story and characters. This was a book that really came to life before my eyes.

Belzhar - Meg Wollitzer 
Last year I read and loved The Interestings by this author and so looked forward to this a lot and while it was still good I didn't realise that it was a young adult novel and thus found it to be less nuanced and in depth than I was hoping.  After a breakdown Jam has been sent to a boarding school for emotionally fragile teenagers and on arrival finds she has been selected for a special English class with only a handful of other teenagers.  This class only studies one book all semester and the only homework is to keep a journal.  The story does contain several twists and one in particular really surprised me, this is good quality young adult literature but the ending keeps it firmly in that bracket and it isn't elevated any higher.  I'll keep looking for books by Wollitzer but I think she is a better adult writer.

Mac and Me - Esther Freud 
Another WW1 novel here and this time set in a place I know very well - Southwold in Suffolk.  The descriptions of the town and surrounding areas were great but that is about all that I can recommend about the book as it had so many historical inaccuracies I spent most of the time I was reading it growling and looking things up on Wikipedia to find the truth.

Let's Get Lost - Adi Alsaid
This was a sweet teen novel that I enjoyed a lot, a girl on a road trip to Alaska to see the Northern Lights meets lots of new people on the way and changes the course of their lives. It sounds trite and terrible but was in fact very clever and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

The Lives of Stella Bains - Anita Shreve
Another WW1 set book and again one with a plot I don't want to talk about as the discovery is part of the tale.  It is a slight book but mostly believable if a little too reliant on happy coincidences.  A good holiday read but not much more, I still think her best book is The Pilot's Wife.

A tale for the time being - Ruth Oyezeki 
Rebecca has been encouraging me to read this book for a while now and I am glad that I saved it until I had time to concentrate on it as it changes from being a straightforward (almost) time-slip story to a book full of complicated ideas about faith, philosophy and quantum physics.  Utterly brilliant and I can't wait to read more by Oyezeki - a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Europe in the looking glass - Robert Byron

This book was recommended at the Heffer's Classics Day at the start of November and I am glad I sought it out.  It is a mixture of a Patrick Leigh Fermor travel novel and Jerome K Jerome and is full of wonderful lines and descriptions as well as some cringe-worthy moments of pure 1920s snobbery and entitlement. Great fun but a little exasperating until they reach Greece when it comes to life.

The books I didn't finish:

The Rosie Effect - Graham Simison
Earlier in the year I read and loved The Rosie Project and I was looking forward to the sequel, although I wasn't 100% convinced the book needed one.  I should have stuck with my gut instinct as the comedy of the first book became, for me, unbearable farce and so far fetched and uncomfortable that I had to stop reading and I don't think I'll ever go back to it.

Travels with Epicurus - Daniel Klein
This is a book I am reading slowly as it is full of big ideas. Klein is exploring the ideas of Epicurus and other pphilosophers while living on Hydra - the place where people seem to live the longest and happiest lives.  It mixes big ideas and details about the Greek way of life seamlessly and is giving me a new reading list as long as my arm!

Phew - that was a lot of books in a short space of time and now it is back to the Shakespeare and lit crit books for a while!

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