Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
willoyd

Willoyd's English Counties Challenge

59 posts in this topic

You must be almost finished with the challenge now!  I'm hoping to get to 36 by the end of September, but I have to admit, some of the books left for me are ones I'm more reluctant to read. 

 

Sorry to take so long to reply - been snowed under with the start of the academic year and not been here very much if at all the last week or so.

 

I've read 39, so just 9 to go.  Most of those left are predominantly chunky classics, so will take some time to get through even though I'm looking forward to them (Mill on the Floss, Lorna Doone, Sons and Lovers, Tom Brown's Schooldays, Old Wives' Tale) - probably not ones to read one after the other.  I'm currently rereading Mansfield Park, which, whilst it's not my favourite Austen (in fact, it's my second least favourite, just in front of Northanger Abbey), is still an enjoyable read.  Swallows and Amazons  will be OK and a reasonably quick read, although I know it so well that it seems a bit pointless rereading other than for the challenge.  Otherwise the only reread will be Dracula (which I haven't read for sometime, so will almost be like a new read), and the only one I'm actually not looking forward to is Set in Stone

 

As Janet says, Another Place is definitely not a war story.  Not quite what I expected from the blurb either, which was a slight disappointment as that appealed.  Mainly a modern day story, looking at the various stresses and strains operating in a modern day family where the parents have both had previous marriages and children from those relationships.  A relatively straightforward read, but one that left me wondering slightly what was the point of it.  I'd agree with Janet's rating.

Edited by willoyd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Finished Mansfield Park.  Struggled a little bit earlier on simply, I think, because I was reading in too small chunks.  As soon as I settled down to read it 'properly', I found myself loving it,it became near unputdownable, and I rattled through the last half.  Not my favourite by some way (that remains Sense and Sensibility, with Emma very close behind), but still better than the best that most authors achieve.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I haven't updated this thread for a while now, but have, since the last update, finished two more volumes in the challenge:

Set in Stone - Robert Goddard (Rutland) ***
Dracula - Bram Stoker (North Yorkshire) ***

As can be seen from the gradings, neither really set my world alight, although they were perfectly decent reads. I didn't expect much more from the former, but was surprised at the latter, given that it was a reread and I remember rating it more highly last time round. This time, though, it rattled along well enough for the first two-thirds, but then seemed to stumble somewhat during the scenes in London, with far too much unnecessary dialogue and padding, before picking up pace again as it moved towards a suitably satisfying climax.

Having said that, it joins The Day of the Triffids in being, at least for me, the most questionable county books to date. At least there were some pages set in North Yorkshire (around thirty), but th county's presence was both brief and not particularly central to the novel. Another time, I'd opt for All Creatures Great and Small.

With these read, I've now completed 42 of the 48 books.

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome ******
 

Book #43 in the challenge (review copied from book blog thread).

 

This series has long been the gold standard of my childhood reading, although I remembered this first one as being a wee bit episodic, preferring later books in the series, e.g. Winter Holiday, We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea, and Secret Water. Unlike some of the others, I don't think I've reread this one since my teenage years, so approached it with some trepidation as part of the English Counties challenge.

In the event, I needn't have worried, as I rapidly and effortlessly slipped back into a world that feels so real, but now bears little resemblance to modern life (our loss). Far from feeling too episodic, the plotline was clear and strong, with sub-plots neatly overlapping to create a strongly cohesive whole. Ransome's writing is never complex, but nor is it simplistic, whilst his characters, slightly hidebound on occasions by 1930s gender sterotyping, are realistic and individual. I particularly enjoyed some of his internal monologues where the characters and their youthful perceptions, certainties and uncertainties, came to the fore. It may seem somewhat incredible to some modern readers as to quite what the children get up to, but that's more a reflection on modern life than the reality of what could be achieved in earlier years - I certainly remember having similar freedoms. A rock solid 6 stars.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

Lorna Doone by RD Blackmore ****

 

Book #44 in the English Counties challenge.  (copied from my book blog thread)

 

Phew - that was a chunky one! I read this veritable tome as part of the English Counties Challenge (Somerset), and it certainly took its time. Written in the 1860s, Lorna Doone is an almost stereotypical Victorian adventure, written from the perspective of the main protagonist, yeoman farmer John Ridd. His family lives on the northern edge of Exmoor, the neighbourhood blighted by the outlaw Doones, robbing and plundering far and wide. He accidentally meets and falls in love with a child of the family, Lorna Doone, who, whilst a member of an outlaw family, is also way above him in social station, and the story develops into a classic tale of frustrated love and adventure at the time of the Monmouth rebellion.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed most of the book. It is mostly a reasonably easy read, if somewhat wordy and full of detail - a classic Victorian trait which I actually enjoy. However, on this occasion, I do have to admit that it does drag a bit in places and I found myself on several occasions getting slightly frustrated at yet another windy diversion from the main plot, or an unnecessarily complicated plot device that moves the story on, but in ever such a cumbersome manner. However, by the end, I felt really satisfied with having made the journey, and, unlike some, thought the ending a good one.

 

Lorna Doone has, apparently, never been out of print (unlike other RD Blackmore novels, which are virtually unknown), and was an American student favourite apparently. It's good, but it's not that good, and I can think of a dozen other Victorian novels that I would go back to before this one, but that's partly because of the quality of what there is available! I am certainly delighted to have read it, a book that I've always meant to get around to but never have (especially as my parents lived in the area for several years), and it's one of the most redolent books on the English Counties list when it comes to sense of place - Lorna Doone positively reeks of the moors of Somerset. A great choice for the list.

Edited by willoyd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome ******

 

Book #43 in the challenge (review copied from book blog thread).

 

This series has long been the gold standard of my childhood reading, although I remembered this first one as being a wee bit episodic, preferring later books in the series, e.g. Winter Holiday, We Didn't Mean To Go To Sea, and Secret Water. Unlike some of the others, I don't think I've reread this one since my teenage years, so approached it with some trepidation as part of the English Counties challenge.

 

In the event, I needn't have worried, as I rapidly and effortlessly slipped back into a world that feels so real, but now bears little resemblance to modern life (our loss). Far from feeling too episodic, the plotline was clear and strong, with sub-plots neatly overlapping to create a strongly cohesive whole. Ransome's writing is never complex, but nor is it simplistic, whilst his characters, slightly hidebound on occasions by 1930s gender sterotyping, are realistic and individual. I particularly enjoyed some of his internal monologues where the characters and their youthful perceptions, certainties and uncertainties, came to the fore. It may seem somewhat incredible to some modern readers as to quite what the children get up to, but that's more a reflection on modern life than the reality of what could be achieved in earlier years - I certainly remember having similar freedoms. A rock solid 6 stars.

 

Thanks for that great review, Willoyd. Reminded me that it's a book I've always meant to read but had forgotten about.  Been mulling over what to read next, and this'll be just the ticket!  :)

Edited by poppy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

On 04/03/2017 at 2:10 AM, poppy said:

Thanks for that great review, Willoyd. Reminded me that it's a book I've always meant to read but had forgotten about.  Been mulling over what to read next, and this'll be just the ticket!  :)

 

Hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Edited by willoyd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

Two more books completed in the past month towards the challenge:  Sons and Lovers (Nottinghamshire) and Tom Brown's Schooldays (Warwickshire).  I enjoyed both more than I expected.  My only previous experience of DH Lawrence was Lady Chatterley's Lover, a book I so disliked that I just couldn't bring myself to read it for the challenge when it was selected as the Nottinghamshire choice.  Tom Brown surprised me in that I expected it to be dominated by the relationship between Flashman and Tom Brown, but in fact the former was a relatively minor player, only appearing for barely 30-odd pages, whilst Hughes's portrayal of Rugby School, under the leadership of Thomas Arnold, was much more positive than I anticipated.  I'm a bit behind on my reviews so hope to link in to them when I finally get around to completing them.

Edited by willoyd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot ****(*)

 

I've read just two of George Eliot's books before, Silas Marner and Middlemarch.  I rated both, and whilst I had a few minor reservations about the former, Middlemarch was an easy 6-stars, and probably amongst my top dozen books ever.  However, knowing a little about the nature of The Mill on the Floss, I didn't approach it with quite the sense of anticipation that I would have done otherwise.  Reading it confirmed some of my uncertainties, or rather this knowledge definitely inhibited my appreciation of what is, I am sure of, an outstanding classic.

 

Claire (chesilbeach) wrote in her review about the differing feelings she had towards the two sections - childhood and adulthood - and I can only concur.  One introduction I read (Bel Mooney?) talked of how Eliot felt she had to rein back the second part because she had felt she needed to put so much into the first half.  Ironically, that reining in, for me at least, made for a much more engaging narrative.  Maybe because it was a bit leaner and perhaps less self-indulgent??  The childhood section did, after all, closely follow Eliot's own, and maybe she was a mite too close to it to know where to draw the line?  I don't know, but whilst I stuttered for almost three weeks through the first three hundred pages, the last third or so flowed beautifully, and I read it in just two sittings, completely wrapped up in it all.  In that time, Maggie Tulliver proved her position as one of the great heroines in fiction - at least in my eyes! 

 

Funnily enough, now I know precisely what happens at the end, I feel I can read the book again in the future in a much more 'liberated' way.  I do intend to, as even when struggling, I absolutely loved Eliot's writing.  Whilst she does on occasions go off on a typically Victorian philosophical ramble (Middlemarch is peppered with these!), her writing is otherwise a model of clarity and descriptive precision.  Her characters are some of the most vividly drawn and real to life that I have enjoyed, and they are thoroughly human in their contradictions and foibles.  One chapter in particular, when we see a completely different side to Mrs Glegg, after all that had gone before, summed up for me perfectly the strength of Eliot's understanding of  human character.  Equally so, when she writes about people as a mass - the chapter where Mr Kenn struggles against the tide of St Ogg's opinion is absolutely spot on.

 

I find it really hard to give The Mill on the Floss a rating.  I know that I have read a genuinely great book, but I can't say, at least on a first reading, that I truly enjoyed it, yet I do feel as if I've had one of my strongest reading experiences for some time.  One part of me wants to say 3*, but I really do feel that would be a disservice.  On the other hand, I don't yet feel ready to rate it a 5* or 6*.  4* is a compromise, but still doesn't feel worthy enough.  Hmmmm.  Well, for the moment, call it 4*, and put a fifth in brackets.  When I come back to it, who knows, but I'll certainly need plenty of time!  In the meantime, I don't feel I've written half as much about the book as I should or want to, but I'll call it a day for the moment!  A brilliant book for discussion, indeed to study in depth but one would need more room than I've got here.

 

 

Edited by willoyd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0