willoyd

Willoyd's Reading 2017

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Posted (edited)

Soulless by Gail Carriger ****

 

This isn't my usual fare, far from it, but I needed to read a steampunk novel for the Popsugar Challenge this year, and this was the only one of a half dozen shortlist I had selected from various blogs which the library had available, so this is what I landed up with.

 

And, lo and behold, it actually proved an outrageously nonsensical but thoroughly enjoyable read!  Great literature this is not, but it certainly suited my mental state at the time (some light relief from work, pleeeaaaase!).  The author has put together a (for me) distinctly unusual cocktail based on a pseudo-Victorian setting and then mixed in a society where vampires and werewolves live reasonably amicably alongside the 'normal' human population (although there is prejudice, as with any mixed race society), laced it with an intricate set of social and cultural mores in each of the three groupings, and then added a fiery catalyst - the apparently very rare preternatural (soulless) condition of the heroine, which certainly stirs things up as the plot, based around the mysterious ongoing disappearance of members of the vampire community, gathers pace and leads to a suitably heady and typically gory (if rather discretely so) climax.

 

What appealed to me particularly were, firstly, the strong, thoroughly independent, central character of Alexia Tarabotti, and, secondly, the strong streak of humour that runs through the whole story.  The author doesn't take herself, or it appears anything else, at all seriously, but neither does she demean the 'credibility'  of the novel - if there can be any with such a nonsensical narrative.  Unusually for me, I even found myself laughing out loud on one or two occasions!

 

This was, it has to be said, very much the right book in the right place at the right time, and another time and another place and I might have found this rather less involving.  But as it was, it served its purpose perfectly.  I really enjoyed it as a one-off, but, rather oddly, have absolutely no desire to follow it up and read the rest of the series of five books of which this is the first instalment.  For me it did a great job, both in terms of the challenge and in terms of my reading needs at that moment, and I'd rather leave it like that.  However, if anybody is into this sort of novel, the reviews by people with much more knowledge of the genre than me, suggest that this and the rest of the series is definitely worth a try. From my limited experience, I would agree, as long as you don't take the concept seriously!

 

 

Edited by willoyd

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

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Posted (edited)

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

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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. :) 

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Posted (edited)

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

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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.

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3 minutes ago, Little Pixie said:

 

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

 

Definitely!

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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".

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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!

 

 

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Posted (edited)

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

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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 :).

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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!

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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. 

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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!  :)

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Posted (edited)

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

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Posted (edited)

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

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Posted (edited)

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 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 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. 

Edited by willoyd

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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!

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