Jump to content
willoyd

Willoyd's Reading 2017

Recommended Posts

5 hours ago, Little Pixie said:

I`ve had Soulless in my `buy at some point` list for aaages. I`m still not sure about ordering it. :lol:

 

I enjoyed it, but am glad I could get it through the library.  It isn't one I would want to keep.

Edited by willoyd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
15 hours ago, willoyd said:

 

I enjoyed it, but am glad I could get it through the library.  It isn't one I would want to keep.

 

Thanks. It helps me make up my mind if you`ve read it and aren`t 100% enthused. :) 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 minutes ago, Little Pixie said:

 

Thanks. It helps me make up my mind if you`ve read it and aren`t 100% enthused. :) 

 

The only books I'm 100% enthused about are those I give 6 stars to - and there's only just over a hundred of those!  4 stars is a good score from me.  It just depends on what sort of reading you enjoy (but doesn't it always?!).

Edited by willoyd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 minutes ago, willoyd said:

 

The only books I'm 100% enthused about are those I give 6 stars to - and there's only just over a hundred of those!  4 stars is a good score from me.  It just depends on what sort of reading you enjoy (but doesn't it always?!).

 

:) And sometimes, you have to be in a particular mood for something, too.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 minutes ago, Little Pixie said:

 

:) And sometimes, you have to be in a particular mood for something, too.

 

Definitely!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sounds very interesting - Steampunk isn't a genre I've read much of, so this sounds like an ideal starting point perhaps. Something that doesn't take itself too seriously would appeal more than something a bit more "heavy".

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
5 hours ago, ian said:

Sounds very interesting - Steampunk isn't a genre I've read much of, so this sounds like an ideal starting point perhaps. Something that doesn't take itself too seriously would appeal more than something a bit more "heavy".

 

It's not my first, but it's close.  I have read Kenneth Oppel's Airborn, the first in a trilogy.  It's a children's book, so is distinctly less heavy on the macabre elements (actually, there are none!), but stronger on the technology.  I really enjoyed it, but wanted to try something aimed at an adult market, simply to see what it was like.  It's the sort of thing that I'll happily pick up in a station or airport if stuck for something to read, but I doubt if I'll be going looking.  More to do with the fact that there is so much else I want to read rather than anything else!

 

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

The Marble Collector by Cecilia Ahern ***

This was the selection for my book club's April meeting, an author whose books I had seen a-plenty but not read any. The story is one of discovery: Sabrina Boggs stumbles across a valuable and extensive collection of marbles amongst her father's possessions as she tries to sort his (and her) life out in the aftermath of his stroke.  Her subsequent investigations reveal a side, indeed a whole life, of her father that she never knew existed, forcing her to readjust her understanding of everything she thought she knew about him, and about herself.

 

There are many aspects of this book that I thoroughly enjoyed.  Ahern alternates her narrator from chapter to chapter, swapping between Sabrina in the present day, and Fergus ranging across his life, sometimes in the present, sometimes in the past. These are put together very neatly, with a network of cross-connections and reveals that link the two narratives together neatly and a regularly satisfying sense of "Oh I see."  Marbles are right at the centre of Fergus's whole being, and the author reveals a fascinating world of so much more depth, beauty and potential interest than one would expect from what most people would regard as a simple child's game - this book amply demonstrates that nothing could be further from the truth, and I love books that so develop my understanding.  Finally, partly as someone who has spent many years fascinated with and wrapped up in family history, I felt a strong degree of empathy with the whole idea of a completely separate existence unimagined even by one's closest relatives, and how close Fergus came on several occasions to revealing his 'true' self, only to be put or cut off at the last minute (even second!) and find himself digging an even deeper hole.

 

Yet, whilst I found myself unexpectedly enjoying this novel (prejudices from previous browsing had suggested I wouldn't!), critical elements didn't quite work for me, nor indeed for the rest of the group (we were largely in accord in our opinions).  Above all else, weaknesses in the characterisation dominated our discussion.  Reading reviews by regular Ahern readers, this book is unusual for her in having a male central character.  Maybe that's the problem, because he never fully rang true for me, although I find it hard to explain why - maybe he's just not sufficiently filled out?  Yet Sabrina never quite makes it to full roundedness either, maybe because, as one reviewer suggested, the author is simply using her as a conduit to her main character.  Whatever, something critical is lacking, and the central characters just don't gel.  And her other characters?  2-d, cardboard cutouts to a man and woman, especially Fergus's brothers, who I never worked out properly and surprised me by their move to the central ground in the later stages.

 

One or two aspects of the plot didn't do the business for me either.  I was particularly jolted out of the rhythm by the marble making scene inserted at a criticial juncture, where the whole premise was so unlikely that it was almost a deus ex machina device.  It was almost as if Ahern had written this episode independently and then needed to squeeze it in somewhere, anywhere. 

 

On the other hand, I never found the book boring or overly slow moving as some reviewers complained, but maybe that was in contrast to previous Ahern books they had read, and this was my first one?  They were probably right, as I do find I prefer my books to be more character orientated and not as focused on plot as many seem to prefer.  Indeed, I developed the distinct impression that I had been lucky to land up with this as my first experience of Cecilia Ahern, as I'm not sure I'd have got on as well with others of hers.

 

Overall then, a lightly enjoyable if not unputdownable read that proved ideal for our book group as it provoked a lively and interesting discussion.  Surprisingly then (as our best discussions usually centre on a book about which we profoundly disagree!) we generally found ourselves in general agreement in enjoying but not enthusing - apart from one member who was more positive.  I certainly feel I know more about marbles at least!

Edited by willoyd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Wow, this definitely doesn't seem like the kind of book you normally read. I'm glad you enjoyed it at least somewhat. I haven't read The Marble Collector, nor had I even heard of it. I have read The Gift by the same author, which is probably quite a different book than The Marble Collector. I enjoyed reading your review, I'm glad you enjoyed the book somewhat :).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, Athena said:

Wow, this definitely doesn't seem like the kind of book you normally read.

 

No, you're right!  It's one of the joys of being in a book group, and certainly creates variety!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When I saw you had read an Ahern I was very surprised, imagine my surprise at seeing it get a 3! :lol:

 

As you say, though, the joys of book club! I have this on my shelf as a gift from someone - I read a few Aherns years ago when I read more chick lit, a genre I very rarely dip my toe into these days unless it comes recommended by someone who knows my tastes, and I couldn't imagine anything further from what you normally read! I found the few I read hit and miss (although the two I did enjoy have predictably been made into absolutely TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE films). 

 

It's one of the reasons this has sat so long unread, but it sounds much more promising than I realised after your excellent review. 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
3 hours ago, Alexi said:

When I saw you had read an Ahern I was very surprised, imagine my surprise at seeing it get a 3! :lol:

I had this same thought myself, @Alexi.  Definitely one of the joys (and sometimes chores) of book club is reading out of one's comfort zone!  :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

One of the group who has read other Ahern books said that this one was very different.  She also described Ahern's other work as 'pure chick-lit'.  Equally, if you trawl through the Amazon reviews (as I did after reading the book), quite a few say this is different to most of her other books.  They said this in disappointment, but from what you say this contrarily may be why I enjoyed it more than you (and I) expected!  Having said that, whatever the content, I liked her actual writing - eminently readable, unlike, for instance, the Ben Elton I tried earlier this year. 

 

 

Edited by willoyd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Some short reviews to bring me back up to date, as I'm now getting a month or so behind:

 

Polly, The True Story Behind Whisky Galore by Roger Hutchinson ****

Does exactly what it says on the tin, proving to be a thoroughly interesting history of the sinking of the SS Politician and its aftermath, from which Compton Mackenzie drew the bulk of the material used in his novel Whisky Galore.  We're off on holiday in the summer to the Outer Hebrides, and this was an essential read for someone who includes Whisky Galore amongst his favourite films.  A shortish read, but plenty packed in.

 

Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence  ****

Read as part of the English Counties Challenge.  Having only Lady Chatterley's Lover to measure Lawrence by,  I was very pleasantly surprised to find this such an involving novel to read.  Whilst Paul, the 'son' (one of two) most focused on, proved an unsympathetic character, and the way he treated the women in his life horribly self-centred, the insight into his thought processes and character development provided by Lawrence proved insistently readable.  I'd definitely read more of his work now.

 

Mallard by Don Hale  ****

An easy and fascinating read, if slightly mistitled.  This was much more the story of the influence of Sir Nigel Gresley on railway history than a book just about one of his most famous engines, although the focus is fairly tightly on the build up to the Mallard's world record breaking achievement.  Indeed, the engine only features in the second half of the narrative.  However, it proved all the better as a book for being written this way.  Having said that, the account of the Mallard's record breaking run was gripping! 

 

Bird Watching With Your Eyes Closed by Simon Barnes ***

Interesting enough book about bird song, and how to go about developing one's knowledge of it in order to improve one's enjoyment of bird watching (or just of being out of doors!).  A bit too gushing for my taste on occasions, and rather too superficial than I had hoped, but then I should have been aware of this possibility given my previous experience of Simon Barnes's books. 

 

Tom Brown's Schooldays by Thomas Hughes ***

Readable enough account of the eponymous boy's youth, focusing on his days at Rugby under Dr. Arnold, but including rather more of his pre-school days than I expected; indeed even when he gets to Rugby, it's more weighted to his earlier years there, and there are some significant jumps in the chronology later on.  Equally unexpected was the small role played by Flashman, as I always thought his bullying of Tom Brown was the central action of the novel - far from it.  Definitely improved in the second half, so worth perservering but I did find the Victorian moralising a little bit wearing on occasion. On the other hand, the account of Tom's coach journey to Rugby for the first time was so vivid as to bring the whole coaching period resoundingly to life - an episode that deserves a place in any anthology of travel writing or of pieces about the late Georgian period.

 

 

Edited by willoyd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

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

(Copied from the English Counties challenge thread)

 

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, 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 obliged to rein back the second part because she she wanted 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: whilst I can't say, at least on a first reading, that I truly enjoyed it, I don't think it an exaggeration to say that I feel as if I've undergone 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 at 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 as this is not a book that lends itself to a quick or superficial read, rather the complete opposite; it pays to really take this one steadily and chew it over.  There is much to think about and much to absorb.  Aside from its length, it would be a brilliant book for a reading group, but even better to study in depth.

 

Later edit: Brackets removed and 5th star confirmed - see two posts below for reasoning. 

 

Edited by willoyd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Great review Willoyd. I had some very similar thoughts that I need to put on paper/keyboard at some point. I actually found it a much more rewarding read than Middlemarch, which I rated, but a much harder read as well - if that makes sense!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 24/05/2017 at 10:06 AM, Alexi said:

Great review Willoyd. I had some very similar thoughts that I need to put on paper/keyboard at some point. I actually found it a much more rewarding read than Middlemarch, which I rated, but a much harder read as well - if that makes sense!

 

Yes, that makes complete sense: a truly great book may require a lot of input, but if it does, it should commensurately reward you.  If it doesn't, then it surely can't be great.  (That's not to say that a great book needs to require a lot of work, or that a book that requires a lot of work has to be great.....!).

 

I don't know about it being more rewarding than Middlemarch - that would make for a really interesting discussion.  I think for me to make that judgement, I'll need to give Mill on the Floss another go, without those inhibitions I talked about.  Also, I really only started to rate Middlemarch so highly after a second read (even if those reads were almost forty years apart! - although that might be because they were so far apart, as I wonder how much I was ready to take in when I first read it for A-levels).  Whatever, I do rank Middlemarch as one of my all time favourites, whilst I'm not quite ready to do so with Mill on the Floss.  Having said that, I'm definitely getting rid of the brackets, and rating TMOTF as 5 stars - 4 really does seem a bit mean in hindsight.

 

In the meantime, I've almost immediately followed TMOTF with another doorstopper - The Old Wives' Tale, which I'm likely to finish either today or tomorrow at the rate I'm now getting through it.  Another outstanding novel on the English Counties list, and one that suggests that Arnold Bennett may well be one of the most underrated writers I've read in a while.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

English Counties Challenge

 

Well, after three and a half years I've finally finished the English Counties Challenge.  Last books was Arnold Bennett's The Old Wives' Tale, a book that epitomised the challenge, being a great read that whilst ranging further afield (Paris during the Franco-Prussian War mainly) was so very much of its place.  Loads of really good reads to remember, one or two inevitably not so much so, but overall a thoroughly satisfying list that includes much of what is best in Engish literature.  A full review of TOWT and the challenge later, but off to make a cup of tea to celebrate!

 

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
1 hour ago, willoyd said:

English Counties Challenge

 

Well, after three and a half years I've finally finished the English Counties Challenge.  Last books was Arnold Bennett's The Old Wives' Tale, a book that epitomised the challenge, being a great read that whilst ranging further afield (Paris during the Franco-Prussian War mainly) was so very much of its place.  Loads of really good reads to remember, one or two inevitably not so much so, but overall a thoroughly satisfying list that includes much of what is best in Engish literature.  A full review of TOWT and the challenge later, but off to make a cup of tea to celebrate!  

 

Very well done.  :)  I don't see me finishing this challenge in 2017.  I loved The Old Wives' Tale.  Have you read any other Bennett books?  :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
2 minutes ago, Janet said:

Very well done.  :)  I don't see me finishing this challenge in 2017.  I loved The Old Wives' Tale.  Have you read any other Bennett books?  :)

 

Not yet, no, although after this one, I certainly intend to. My reading group has got Clayhanger listed for later this year (September meeting I think), so that'll probably be the next one.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Anna of the Five Towns is good. When I reviewed it (2010) I described the writing as being a bit dry, but my reading has evolved such a lot since then that I'd probably find it less so now.  :)  I really ought to read some more too.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Getting behind again, so a fistful of mini-reviews to start to bring me back up to date:

 

The Green Road by Anne Enright **

No doubt in my mind that Anne Enright is by fairly objective measures (if there are any!) a good writer, but I just wasn't engaged by the story's structure or by the characters, or, above all, by the style. In particular, her idiosyncratic use of punctuation started driving me demented as I kept having to go back and reread sentences to work out what they meant, disrupting any continuity in the story.  As one of my book group said, they were really surprised I didn't like this, as they thought it right up my street, so maybe it was partly my mindset at the time (issues at work), but I struggled to do more than finish by skim reading.

 

A Sweet Wild Note by Richard Smyth ****

A personal view on birdsong, but also much about its role in our culture, the science behind it, and so much else.  Very readable and interesting. I particularly enjoyed it as so many of his locations were local and thus familiar to me.  Beautiful cover too!

 

The Old Wives' Tale by Arnold Bennett *****

My last book in the English Counties Challenge, and it proved a cracker.  This doorstopper of a novel focuses in on the lives of two sisters, initially together in Bursley (a scantily disguised Burslem), then two sections considering first one then the other as their lives split and run parallel, one remaining at home, the other in Paris at the time of the Franco-Prussian War, then a final section back in the Potteries.  Arnold Bennett's writing is so eminently readable, and his character development thoroughly three-dimensional.  I was immersed from the word go.

 

Down the River by HE Bates *****

I have to confess that I am not a particular fan of HE Bates's fiction, at least the books I've read up to now - mostly his humorous fiction.  However, this was a completely different kettle of fish.  Bates's description of the world of the two rivers of his childhood, the Nene and the Ouse, was thoroughly captivating.  He paints the picture beautifully.  It's slim enough that I will almost certainly read it again in the near future.  I also loved the illustrations by Agnes Parker.  Brown Toller have done a great job, and I'm definitely going to follow up others in this series of natural history classics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by willoyd

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
14 hours ago, willoyd said:

Down the River by HE Bates *****

I'm pleased to hear you enjoyed this one.  I recently picked up a copy of Through the Woods.  It's an old copy though, and I don't remember whether it's illustrated. 

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

×