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      Important Announcement!   07/28/2018

      Dear BCF members,   This forum has been running now for many years, and over that time we have seen many changes. Generalised forums are nowhere near as popular as they once were, and they have been very much taken over by blogs, vlogs and social media discussions. Running a forum well takes money, and a lot of care and attention, as there is so much which goes on behind the scenes to keep things running smoothly.   With all of this in mind, and after discussion within the current moderator team, the decision has been made to close this forum in its current format. I know that this will disappoint a lot of our long term members, but I want to reassure you that it's not a decision which has been taken lightly.    The remaining moderator team have agreed that we do not want to lose everything which is special about our home, and so we are starting a brand new facebook group, so that people can stay in touch, and discussions can continue. We can use it for free and should be easier for us to run (it won't need to be updated or hosted). We know not everyone has FaceBook, but we hope that those of you who are interested will join the group. We will share the link, and send invites as soon as we are ready to go. Added: We may as well get this going, find us here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/195289821332924/   The forum will close to new registrations, but will remain open for some time, to allow people to collect up any information, reading lists etc they need to, and to ensure they have contact details for those they wish to stay in touch with.    The whole team feel sad to say goodbye, but we also feel that it's perhaps time and that it feels like the right choice. We hope we can stay in touch with all of you through our new FaceBook group.   I personally want to thank everyone who has helped me moderate the forum, both in the past and the present, and I also want to thank every single person who has visited, and shared their love of books.. I'm so proud of everything we've achieved, and the home we built.   Please visit the new section in the Lounge section to discuss this further, ask questions etc.
willoyd

Willoyd's Reading 2017

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Happy 2017 reading Wiloyd. I always look forward to your threads/lists/reviews so shall be stopping by regularly. Hope you have another fantastic year. :friends3:

Edited by Ben

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A wonderfully organized thread, Willoyd!  Love it :D

 

Happy reading, and I'm looking forward to following you through your US States challenge (and others, of course ;)).

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The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera **
 
Prudencia Prim responds to an advertisement for a job for which she is apparently singularly ill-qualified: librarian in a private house, the candidate apparently required to hold no academic qualifications.  She's loaded with them, but manages to be offered the post.  Right from the start the household screams (very politely) its differences to the norm, populated (almost overrun!) with children whose knowledge of the classics and other arts would devastate many a far older scholar ,and headed by a man whose name we never learn, referred to throughout the novel as The Man in the Wingchair.  The village in which the house is situated is equally quirky it seems, if seemingly idyllic in its rejection of so many are twenty-first century's priorities (the rat race!) and the inhabitants' approach to life.
 
Initial browsing suggested this was a rather different book to the norm too - the semi-fabulous plotting looked intriguing and the language had a studied elegance that appealed; I wonder how much of both these stemmed from the Spanish translation, Arturo Perez-Reverte jumping immediately to mind, whilst there was a whiff of Carlos Ruiz Zafon in there too.
 
Actually, I've always found Perez-Reverte a wee bit problematic, his novels (admittedly last read some years ago) strikingly poised but ultimately feeling somewhat superficial, rather too studied. I've been in two minds about Zafon as well - Shadows of the Wind was fine, but The Angel's Game rather overdid it.  I have to admit, Miss Prim left me in rather the same state too. I could not decide whether this was a book which needed to be taken seriously in some places, or whether it was simply an as-light-and-as-thin-as-silk entertainment dressed up to make the reader feel clever.  I don't really know, but, whilst I did enjoy aspects of the narrative, I can't say I ever fully engaged, rather feeling I was looking in to the story from the boundaries, and not certain quite what it was telling me; it almost felt too stylish for its own good. Ultimately this was quite an enjoyable read but one that always felt it was trying to impress rather than include me, and I wasn't overly impressed with what the author was apparently trying to tell me.

 

Later note:  this was written late at night, when I was quite drowsy, and I missed out one key aspect of the novel that did bother me whilst reading.  Claire, in her post below, reminded me, and pretty much hit the nail on the head:  I felt increasingly unhappy as the book progressed about what the author (a woman) was writing about (presumably) her view of feminism and of women's roles.  The reasoning she used just felt twisted.  TBH, I wasn't exactly happy with how she appeared to perceive men either!  I'm still going to leave it as a three-star read, because I was intrigued throughout by it, but the more I reflect, the more uncertain I feel.

 

Later, later note:  Having sat on this, it's a 2-star read.  At the end of the day it was certainly readable, but overall it was disappointing.

Edited by willoyd

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I read The Awakening of Miss Prim a couple of years ago.  At the time, I wrote "on the whole, it was pretty good, but as it went on, I began to have doubts about the message it was giving about women and their role in society, and by the end, I was even more doubtful. In fact, the conclusion was wholly unsatisfactory to me, to such an extent that it has actually spoiled the experience of reading of the rest of the book for me."  I can't remember the details now, but I know I got more irritated with it as I got further into the book! :D

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Actually, Claire, that probably sums up the book better for me too than what I wrote, so thank you for the comments!  I do agree about the message, and about the unsatisfactory nature of the ending, to such an extent, I'm not sure why I didn't mention either in my review - although I was writing this very late at night, and almost fell asleep at one point, so was surprised to see today that what I wrote even made sense!  I'm not sure I was quite as irritated as you, but things definitely made me feel wary.  I've amended my review, mostly with an addendum, to reflect this.

Edited by willoyd

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Trying to cut back on book buying, but I couldn't resist the Blackwell's half price sale, the order for which arrived today - there's always a goodly list in this one.  These were all books on my wishlist:

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
Spitalfields by Don Cruickshank
The Gene, An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yonge
Scandinavians, In Search of the Soul of the North by Robert Ferguson

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Wishing you a very happy reading year Will :) Good luck with the English Counties challenge and all your other challenges. Someone bought me The Essex Serpent for Christmas .. looks like I'm in for a good read :)  

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The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin *****
 
This is the biography of Nelly Ternen, who for many years was hidden from view, and was only after her death in 1914, and not really fully until the second half of the century, gradually revealed as the long term mistress of Charles Dickens.

It's a fascinating piece of detective work, Tomalin attempting (very successfully) to piece together the life of someone who deliberately tried to hide much of it, to the extent that it wasn't until the 1920s that even Nelly's children knew what her life before her marriage to their father (six years after Dickens died) was like - or even that she was in fact over a decade older than she claimed.

In truth it's more than a biography of just Nelly, as the lives of her older sisters, Fanny (who married Anthony Trollope's brother Thomas) and Maria were so closely intertwined with Nelly's that it's almost a group biog of the three sisters. But given that their lives were so dominated by the Dickens relationship, it's that which occupies the bulk of the book. It was Dickens who enabled the secrecy, creating alternative identities and addresses, juggling timetables as expertly as a professional magician, all to preserve the facade created by his early publications of the morally upright family man (an image even his daughter Kate repudiated vigorously), but also to protect Nelly from the opprobrium of (a) being from a theatrical background (apparently tantamount to prostitution in its social status) and (b) being labelled a fallen woman through her relationship with Dickens. Whatever one thinks of his duplicity (compared to the likes of Wilkie Collins, George Eliot and others who were all rather more open about their relationships) - and there were circumstances that made it difficult for Dickens to do anything else once embarked on the relationship -  it did mean that the three sisters were able to sustain 'respectable' lives both during his life and after his death, even if there were costs, especially for Nelly herself.

Tomalin's biography is a thoroughly sympathetic portrait of a woman trapped by the social mores of the time making the best of what the cards dealt her. The level of detail that Tomalin achieves is remarkable given the challenges faced, in particular the volume of documentation deliberately destroyed in covering up. Only once or twice did it feel as if it there were significant holes in the fabric of the narrative, and once or twice where the story felt in danger of becoming a bit of a checklist (on the 2nd s/he was here, on the 4th s/he was there, then on the 5th s/he was back there....). Otherwise, Tomalin really brought the sisters to life.

Nelly Ternan has been portrayed as a conniving schemer, but Claire Tomalin is far more sympathetic to her, and argues her case convincingly. Nelly may not have got everything right, but one is led to understand why she did what she did, and is left respecting and, indeed, admiring the mental strength and perseverance with which she handled the hand she was dealt. I started off reading this biography because I was interested in the life of Charles Dickens; I finished it much more interested in the indomitable lives of the Ternan sisters, and of Victorian women in general. I also finished it with even more respect for Claire Tomalin's biographical skills - she remains a firm favourite.

Edited by willoyd

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This sounds like a fascinating read. Added to the wishlist! 

 

I really must try Claire Tomalin this year, every review I read of her work just intrigues me further. 

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This sounds like a fascinating read. Added to the wishlist! 

 

I really must try Claire Tomalin this year, every review I read of her work just intrigues me further. 

 

She's well worth reading.  I've now read the majority of her books, including the biographies of Samuel Pepys, Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen and now Nelly Ternan, all outstanding.  Am looking forward to Mrs Jordan's Profession, probaby some tie this year.

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How to be Danish by Patrick Kingsley ***
 
I read this as a follow-up to Helen Russell's The Year of Living Danishly. At the time I bought it, I thought it would be a rather more in-depth look at aspects of Danish life, although some of the Amazon reviews warned me that this might not quite achieve this. In the end, they proved reasonably accurate.

How to be Danish is a short book, barely 180 pages, consisting of just seven chapters, each one looking at a particular aspect of Danish 'life'. The author deliberately selects well-known aspects, and attempts to strip away the surface layers to look at what they actually tell us about Denmark. However, as he himself confesses, he doesn't always stick to the theme, and has a tendency to wander down ways that interest him. In effect, we have seven extended essays, where the author follows his wont.

What's here is interesting enough, but it rarely extends beyond the superficial. The chapter on New Nordic cuisine is probably the most in-depth (it is the longest), but sadly that was probably the theme I was least interested in. The chapter on Danish education promised much more, but unfortunately it was horribly thin, although one or two titbits of information suggested that it could have been so much more; The equivalent chapter in Helen Russell's book was far more rewarding. Perhaps the best part of the book was it's heart, the two central chapters on the social welfare system and on immigration, which together started to live up to the book's title.

So, overall, a bit of a disappointment, but Kingsley writes well enough, and I found enough to keep me intersted to the end, so two stars would probably be a bit harsh. It's just that there is the promise of a so much better book that never quite emerges. Two and a half would be fair, so it rounds up to a three.

Edited by willoyd

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The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon ******

I read this some years ago, before I started keeping records, and remember it as an excellent read, without remembering much of the story. Subsequently, I've also read the prequel to this, The Angels' Game, but was left distinctly unimpressed, a diversity of opinion that seems to have been reflected in reviews. Recently, I've found that The Prisoner of Heaven has come to the top of my tbr pile as part of one of my challenges, but given my blankness on the first book's plot, I decided to reread that beforehand. And so, on Friday, I settled down to start it.

48 hours later, with a few diversions for a few bits of real life (including a cinema visit!), I emerged. In the intervening time, I was completely immersed in the world of Daniel Sempre and his hunt for Julian Carax in 1950s, Franco-ruled, Spain. It was simply an absolutely brilliant story with multiple layers of narrative, satisfying detail, and a fistful of involving characters, all of which I felt wrapped up in even when not actually reading. No, it was not a faultless telling, and there were points where Ruiz Zafon's wordsmithery became a mite overblown and seemed rather rambly, whilst once or twice the means by which the plot was moved forward felt somewhat clumsy - for instance the sixty-page letter near the ultimate denoument. However, story tellers should be allowed room to spread their wings a bit, and it never, at least for me, reached a stage where I felt things had gone too far. But then, I'm not bothered for constant plot pushing and enjoy it when writers luxuriate a bit in their language - although I suppose it does depend on how much I'm enjoying their writing in the first place! In this instance, it was a lot - and that letter at least enabled another important narrative voice room to develop.

So, this might not have been technically the greatest novel I've read, but for sheer enjoyment it would be hard to beat. On top of this there is an almost undefinable feel to the book and to the story telling that rubs me up just the right way. It helps, of course, that I've been fortunate enough to have visited Barcelona on several occasions, but I think it's more to do with the parallel timelines (I love that sort of story), the element of mystery, the character of the writing, and the strong streaks of humour that run throughout the story. It's a book with huge character, the sort that I'm a complete sucker for. An easy six stars, the seventieth novel to earn that grade.

Edited by willoyd

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Glad you enjoyed this so much on the re-read, willoyd. Great review. Think I need to get to it again sooner rather than later - like you I loved it. :yes:

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Great review Willoyd. I also loved that book. You've made me want to carry on with the series now - but with the joy of a reread first!

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We read The Shadow of the Wind at my book group, and it was a real marmite book. Some people read the first couple of pages and decided immediately it wasn't for them, while others loved it. I was one of the ones who really enjoyed it, but I've never been inclined to read the prequels/sequels.

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The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell ****

 

My reading group's choice for our February meeting, I was really looking forward to this rather chunky (620 page) book, intrigued to find out whether it matched either of Mitchell's books that I had previously read: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, rated one of my favourites on 6-stars, or Cloud Atlas, a rock bottom 1 star rating.

 

It got off to a cracking start, introducing recalcitrant teenager Holly Sykes, at war with her pub-owning parents over her relationship with an older, distinctly unreliable, man. The book is divided into six long chapters, each almost a short story in its own right, each set in a different decade of Holly's life, successively told from different viewpoints, until the last one, which returns to a previous narrator. We soon discover that, whilst this story initially seems true to life, there are some distinctly odd things going on, not least 'visions' that Holly keeps having, and the reader gradually comes to realise (if they hadn't read the blurb!) that while the real-life aspects continue to develop, the whole story sits firmly in the fantasy genre.

 

For me, anything but a fan of most fantasy, this was a bit of a downer, and is probably the main reason the book didn't in the end rate higher. Indeed, there were several occasions where I contemplated giving up altogether, and they were all dominated by the fantasy elements; by far and away the weakest of the six sections for me was the one where the fantasy came to the fore. Fortunately I didn't, because the thread of Holly's life was definitely worth following. I'm not sure what the book is about, although our understanding of mortality has to be in there, and Mitchell has, in the last section, some pretty strong things to say about the way we are treating our world, but to be honest, I'm not overly bothered, as the narrative was sufficiently strong to keep me on board, even if only just on a couple of occasions, whilst Mitchell's writing is, especially when he's not getting bogged down in fantasy, always eminently readable.

Edited by willoyd

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Hmm, you obviously got on better with this than me.  I like fantasy, but the fantastical elements of this I found tedious.  Like you though, I did enjoy Holly's story.  It was actually my first book by Mitchell, and it's kind of put me off reading any more.

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On 03/02/2017 at 2:35 PM, chesilbeach said:

Hmm, you obviously got on better with this than me.  I like fantasy, but the fantastical elements of this I found tedious.  Like you though, I did enjoy Holly's story.  It was actually my first book by Mitchell, and it's kind of put me off reading any more.

 

I agree with your summary - I think the only point we differ on is that it didn't put me off the book as a whole.

I can recommend The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet - a completely different style, being an historical novel set in 18th century Japan, mostly in the European trading enclave. Not a murmur of fantasy anywhere.

Edited by willoyd

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Oh, that's interesting.  I haven't read much about Japan before and it sounds like an interesting premise, especially with a lack of fantasy.  I'll have a look at it next time I'm in the bookshop.  Thanks :)

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