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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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Love of Country by Madeleine Bunting *****
 
Madeleine Bunting makes a series of journeys, spread over six years, through the Hebrides, where she examines the interaction between these 'outer' islands and the the main island of Great Britain. Starting off, almost in prologue, on Holy Island (not strictly part of the Hebrides, her book wends its way northwards with successive chapters on Jura, Iona, Staffa, Rum, Eriskay, Lewis and finally St Kilda (in which she also visits the Flannen Isles). Each chapter focuses on points of contact (or influence) between that island and the British 'mainland'. Thus, Staffa looks at the Victorian perception of the picturesque and the sublime as influenced by the island (e.g. Turner's painting), Rum at the colonialisation of the island and how it reflects the land development in the Highlands, Eriskay at the Jacobites (this is where Charles Stuart landed), Lewis at the Clearances, and so on.

Bunting writes about some substantial topics, but her touch is always light, and she has mastered the art of saying much in relatively few words, perhaps reflecting her journalistic background - this book is only just over 300 pages but feels far more substantial. Her aside, for instance, on the influence of John Smith (buried on Iona) taught me so much about the New Labour movement and recent politics but was only a couple of pages.  Other topics take up more space, or are even woven as threads into the narrative, such as the depth of the relationship between people and land, and how the conflict between that and Anglo-Saxon/Lowland attitudes to property both led to so much of the tragic history of these islands.   The hoarding of property by the super-wealthy at the expense of the rest of the population sounds a familiar theme, proving there's nothing new in history.  Maybe we could learn something from this today, but somehow I doubt that we will.

It may be for someone who already knows the Hebrides that she hasn't a lot to say that is new, and that it's a bit superficial (as suggested by one Amazon reviewer) but as someone who has only made a couple of brief visits to Hebridean islands, I felt I had much to learn from this book. It was a riveting read, and has certainly persuaded me that a Hebridean visit is long overdue - but then I think that was the object of this, a Christmas present from OH, all along!

Edited by willoyd

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Now this sounds like my kind of book.  More of a summer book for me though, so I'll add it to my wishlist and I think it'll make up some of my holiday reading later in the year, although I might have to wait for it to come down in price a bit first, as it's still in hardback and even the Kindle edition is over £11 - that's the benefit of a wishlist though, so I hopefully won't forget it when it does come out in paperback and the price drops!

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Now this sounds like my kind of book.  More of a summer book for me though, so I'll add it to my wishlist and I think it'll make up some of my holiday reading later in the year, although I might have to wait for it to come down in price a bit first, as it's still in hardback and even the Kindle edition is over £11 - that's the benefit of a wishlist though, so I hopefully won't forget it when it does come out in paperback and the price drops!

 

Or the library?

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Or the library?

 

No, I don't take real books on holiday, just my Kindle, and my library service doesn't support Kindles for their ebook loans, so I'll have to just wait until the paperback comes out and the Kindle prices drops with it.

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No, mine doesn't either.  All to do with the proprietary formats used by Amazon I think (although, as I understand, the Kindle can read one of the main formats, mobi, well enough - but I'm no expert).  I'm just rediscovering my local library, so am just starting to get my head round what they do and don't offer.

Edited by willoyd

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Visited library earlier today, and my next reading group choice had arrived Two Brothers by Ben Elton.  They warned me that it was already reserved, so I decided to get going on it this afternoon, in spite of being in the middle of Lorna Doone.

 

OMG!  It was AWFUL!!  Where was his editor?  The worst bit was the dialogue which was horrendously stilted and out of time, but the rest of the writing was little better, full of crude exposition (more tell not show!), clunky description, ("The sky that lowered over the young couple as they stepped out on to the icy pavement was so dark and so grey that it might have been forged from iron in the furnaces of the famous Krupps foundry in Essen and then bolted above Berlin with rivets of steel" - and that's on the second page!), cliches, and a desperate desire to TEACH us the history (it seems that Elton's incessant on-stage shouting has carried over to his writing).

 

To cut a long story short (I can use cliches too, and this is not worth a long diatribe!), I lasted about 50 pages (and that took several deep breaths), realised that I was barely a tenth into what was rapidly becoming a major exercise in reading self-flagellation, and gave up.  Much as I'm committed to my reading group, I just couldn't read any more of this unutterable drivel, especially when I consider how much great reading there is out there still to be read.  What I do have, though, is a significant contender for the Duffer of the Year award - it's certainly worse than anything I read last year.  I think the last time I felt this rude about a book was when somebody chose James Herbert's Ash for our group back in 2012.  At least whoever has reserved Two Brothers after me will be getting it a bit earlier than they might have anticipated.

 

Anyway, back to Lorna Doone (he says with a sigh of relief, as soft as the gentle on-shore breezes formed of an evening by the rising thermals of the famous Sahara desert in Africa, cooling the land that had spent all its daylight hours roasting in the full glare of a sun forged in the white heat of the creation of the Universe - or some such! ).  

Edited by willoyd

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I'm sorry you had such a bad experience! Good on you for abandoning the book. I sometimes feel that a book you're not enjoying, can take all the fun out of reading. I hope Lorna Doone will be lots more enjoyable to you :).

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I love all of your lists at the beginning of your thread, Willoyd! The US states challenge particularly appeals to me, not least because many of the books on your list are already on my TBR pile, so I wouldn't have to go out of my way to acquire more books!

 

I loved your review of The Invisible Woman and I've added it to my wishlist. :) Also loved your review of The Shadow of the Wind, which I've read and loved.

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Thank you for the lovely comments. 

I'm keen to get stuck into that American list, but feel obliged to complete the English Counties Challenge first - no requirement to, but I have this feeling I'd never quite get around to doing so otherwise. But I'm definitely looking forward to stretching my reading into those (for me) lesser known quarters, the English Counties list being much more familiar territory.

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Your review of Two Brothers made me laugh - I've read a few of his books and found them very hit or miss; mostly miss. I probably gave him more chances than I would most writers, as I was s fan of his comedy back when he was a stand-up, so I felt I owed it to him. The final straw for me was Blind Faith, which seemed not content with making a point, but hammering it home continuously. I've not bothered with any of his since, and on the strength of your review, I won't be bothering with this either

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Yes, I've read a couple before, and the earlier ones were better. Way back, I think I quite enjoyed Gridlock, but didn't think much of The First Casualty (didn't finish that either).

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Visited library earlier today, and my next reading group choice had arrived Two Brothers by Ben Elton.  They warned me that it was already reserved, so I decided to get going on it this afternoon, in spite of being in the middle of Lorna Doone.

 

OMG!  It was AWFUL!!  Where was his editor?  The worst bit was the dialogue which was horrendously stilted and out of time, but the rest of the writing was little better, full of crude exposition (more tell not show!), clunky description, ("The sky that lowered over the young couple as they stepped out on to the icy pavement was so dark and so grey that it might have been forged from iron in the furnaces of the famous Krupps foundry in Essen and then bolted above Berlin with rivets of steel" - and that's on the second page!), cliches, and a desperate desire to TEACH us the history (it seems that Elton's incessant on-stage shouting has carried over to his writing).

 

To cut a long story short (I can use cliches too, and this is not worth a long diatribe!), I lasted about 50 pages (and that took several deep breaths), realised that I was barely a tenth into what was rapidly becoming a major exercise in reading self-flagellation, and gave up.  Much as I'm committed to my reading group, I just couldn't read any more of this unutterable drivel, especially when I consider how much great reading there is out there still to be read.  What I do have, though, is a significant contender for the Duffer of the Year award - it's certainly worse than anything I read last year.  I think the last time I felt this rude about a book was when somebody chose James Herbert's Ash for our group back in 2012.  At least whoever has reserved Two Brothers after me will be getting it a bit earlier than they might have anticipated.

 

Anyway, back to Lorna Doone (he says with a sigh of relief, as soft as the gentle on-shore breezes formed of an evening by the rising thermals of the famous Sahara desert in Africa, cooling the land that had spent all its daylight hours roasting in the full glare of a sun forged in the white heat of the creation of the Universe - or some such! ).  

 

I remember quite liking it. :D:blush:  Having said that, I probably skimmed through it quite quickly and didn't take note of the dialogue, just the storyline itself, which kept me entertained. However, a much better recent one of his is Time & Time Again. I really loved the concept of that one.

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That's the most annoying thing - the concept of the books are great - it's the execution that (for me) let them down.

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Lorna Doone by RD Blackmore ***

 

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 certainly 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 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 unknonw), 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 pleased 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 good choice for the list.

Edited by willoyd

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The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler ****

 

It is December 1941, in the days immediately after Pearl Harbour. A small group of young women come bursting through the door of Anton's Grocery Store, seeking first aid for one of them, Pauline, who has foolishly jumped off a moving tram and hurt herself. The son of the owner, Michael, leaps to their assistance, and it is immediately obvious that this is a case of love at first sight. The rest of the novel is the story of their relationship through the twentieth century, landing up eventually in the early noughties.

 

The book has an interesting structure: each chapter a snapshot of a particular incident or significant period in their lives, with the only continuity provided by contextual information, an age, date or anniversary provided at some stage, perhaps a comment that "we've been married X years." Otherwise the reader is left to work things out for themselves how it fits together - it's not difficult and, for me, added to the interest (others would find this intensely frustrating I'm sure!). It does mean that some bombshells just happen to get dropped into the narrative at some points, which can be quite unnerving, but even that sort of works for me - Tyler is good at incorporating this without the reader feeling that this simply exposition.

 

This is my first experience of Anne Tyler's work and, whilst it's been more critically received than some of her other novels, I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a story of the meeting of two opposites, and the consequences of that. The Anton family (it's no secret that Michael and Pauline marry - that's the title!) is, largely as a result of this disparity, rather dysfunctional, and you do get the feeling that things often work out in spite of rather than because of their efforts - and sometimes they don't work out! It is basically a character study, but a study of the character of a relatioship rather than of one individual.

 

Tyler has a thoroughly readable style - there's almost a feel of a modern-day, American, Austen about her. Her language is never complex, but clear and precise, with none of the starkness of leaner writers. I'm not sure I particularly liked either Michael or Pauline (and cerainly not their children), but one still cared for them - they are all humans, making the best of what they have, or at least trying to. This may be my first experience of Anne Tyler, but I am it's not my last - she's definitely a writer I want to explore a bit more.

Edited by willoyd

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Interesting to read your review of the Anne Tyler book, as my reading group read A Spool of Blue Thread last year but I missed the previous meeting and hadn't picked up the book so I didn't read it myself, however in the discussion, most people were lukewarm about it at best, with some who didn't even want to finish the book.  I've often picked up her books in the bookshop, but I've always ended up putting them down.  I realise that I'm quite often the lone voice for enjoying a book from the group (and vice versa at times!) so I haven't let it put me off, but I might wait to see what else you read by her and see if there's a good book to start with. :)

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Interesting to read your review of the Anne Tyler book, as my reading group read A Spool of Blue Thread last year but I missed the previous meeting and hadn't picked up the book so I didn't read it myself, however in the discussion, most people were lukewarm about it at best, with some who didn't even want to finish the book.  I've often picked up her books in the bookshop, but I've always ended up putting them down.  I realise that I'm quite often the lone voice for enjoying a book from the group (and vice versa at times!) so I haven't let it put me off, but I might wait to see what else you read by her and see if there's a good book to start with. :)

 

I've got Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant as the book for Maryland in my US States Challenge.  However, I'm not really going to get going on that until I've finished the English Counties list, and there's still four big ones to go on that!  Having said that, I'm not really sure why I've put off starting the US list, other than I don't want to get diverted, which is awfully easy for me. I also have A Spool of Blue Thread on my Kindle, so there's no real excuse!

Edited by willoyd

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The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon ****
 
Fairly slim sequel to The Shadow of the Wind. In it we learn more about Fermin's background, with a fair fraction of the book set in the Montjuic Castle prison. There's a strong streak of humour in these books, but they are just as equally black, and Zafon doesn't pull any punches as to the horrors committed in the Spanish Civil War.

Much of the writing is up to the standards of The Shadow of the Winds, but the quality of mystery, whilst interesting, doesn't quite reach the same heights, not surprising really given that the book is barely half Shadow's length - there just isn't the room given Zafon's discursive style to fully develop the complexity achieved in the earlier book. I do actually wonder about the position of Prisoner in the series - is it just set up to maintain continuity between Shadow and the prospective final novel, a bit like The Two Towers and The Order of the Phoenix felt to be primarily books setting up the final volumes of the Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter sequence respectively. Equally, there is a slightly unfinished feel to Prisoner - too many obvious loose ends.

Having said that, I thoroughly enjoyed this: unlike The Angel's Game it wasn't bogged down in implied magic, staying firmly on the 'real' side of the fence, whilst there was more than enough in terms of the quality of writing and questions posed by the narrative to keep me reading through to the absolute end. Indeed, I'm really looking forward to the next volume, due to be published in English some time in 2018. In the meantime, this is a worthwhile sequel to read as a follow-up to The Shadow of the Wind. Just don't expect too many questions to be answered just yet.


 

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Sounds like a female version of Josephine Tey's Brat Farrar.

I have Josephine Tey on my list of authors to try (specifically I've been looking at The Daughter of Time after studying Richard III in English Lit A Level as a mature student), but Brat Farrar sounds good too.  :)

I've copied the above from the thread where I was searching for a book in case you didn't see my reply.  I found the book, but I don't think it's something I will read, however after I posted my reply about wanting to read a Josephine Tey, I looked on Audible and Brat Farrar is narrated by Carole Boyd - who did such a great job with South Riding, so I might give it a try.  :)  Thanks.

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I've copied the above from the thread where I was searching for a book in case you didn't see my reply.  I found the book, but I don't think it's something I will read, however after I posted my reply about wanting to read a Josephine Tey, I looked on Audible and Brat Farrar is narrated by Carole Boyd - who did such a great job with South Riding, so I might give it a try.  :)  Thanks.

 

Glad you sorted that one out - I know how frustrating that sort of question can be! Thanks you for reposting here - I may well have missed it, as that is a part of the website I don't go to that often. I do agree about Carol Boyd - she's one of my favourite audiobook readers.  I just wish she'd done a bit more of the sort of book I read.  Her reading of South Riding was superb, and kept me gripped throughout.

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I had a look to see what else she'd narrated after finishing South Riding, but when I clicked on Classics they were nearly all abridged, and she also does a lot of Josephine Cox, which are really not my type of book!

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Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly *****

 

The book upon which the film is based. Whilst both cover similar material, the role of African-American women human 'computers' in the development of NASA (and its predecessor, NACA - National Advisory Committee on Aerospace), the two are quite different in style. The film is shown as the story of a trio of friends working for NASA in the early 1960s as the USA is trying to catch up (and overtake) the Soviets in the space race. It makes for a great story (Hidden Figures is one of my favourite films of the year to date), but accurate history it is not.

 

The book, on the other hand, is the history. Starting in the war years, it tells of the increasing importance of this group of women, and the ways tht they broke through both racial and gender barriers in a state that was so committed to segregation that it was prepared to close schools (and the education system) down rather than accept Federal rulings that they must be integrated. Whilst the film is probably true to the spirit of the history, it is definitely fiction, including the prominent scene of Al Harrison (a fictional character made up from around three real-life people) smashing the 'coloureds' toilet sign (the whole issue of the coloured bathroom being half a mile away happened to Mary Jackson, not Katherine Johnson, anyway, and not in such a dramatic fashion).

 

As history, the narrative is perhaps rather more impersonal than the film and, because it covers so many more women than just the three in the film, it is rather more removed from the action. However, Shetterly still manages to bring her subjects to life, whilst her respect for what these women achieved, and how they achieved it, shines through (to that extent it can't be regarded as objective history!). She does have to move backwards and forwards between characters a bit, and the core of the history covers around a quarter of a century from the mid-war years to the end of the sixties, but I found that she had organised it such that I never really lost track of any of the threads.

 

Whilst some reviewers have found the transition from film to book (the commonest direction) hard, I found it fascinating. One has to accept that films have to be heavy compromisers, more so certainly than a book. So, whilst enthused by the film, it was good to read about the history on which it was based, and to see quite how the director had manipulated the historical material to create such an inspiring story. If he'd stuck to the history, it would have been fine as a documentary, but it was never intended to be that. As it is, book and film complimented each other - but I'm glad I read/saw them this way round.

Edited by willoyd

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While Flocks Last by Charlie Elder ***

 

This is the story of the author's attempts to see the whole of the UK Red List (most threatened) of birds in one year.

 

I don't really know what I expected of this book, picked up on a whim in our local charity shop. Being a keen birdwatcher, I can understand the motivation, and was intrigued at the prospect. It certainly achieved some of it - I could certainly empathise with some of his frustrations and joys! However, whatever those expectations were, it didn't really live up to them. Interesting enough, and worth reading to the end, but I put it down with a nagging sense of something unsatisfying.

 

I think it's partly because of his style. Too many authors portray themselves as keen but bumbling amateurs - is this the infamous British self-deprecatory sense of humour? Bryson (yes, I know he's American!) does this on occasions, Tim Moore all the time (which is one reason why I hate his books), and it's obviously a popular approach given these authors' sales; they are matched by many others (especially in travel books), but I can't abide it: this self-deprecating humour thing is all one big act, and it reads as utterly false and insincere. Fortunately, Charlie Elder doesn't overindulge this, but there is still that streak running through it.

 

I was also somewhat bemused at some of his journeys. Yes, go to the Scottish islands for corncrakes, or the Isle of Man for hen harriers, but why travel all the way to Scilly to see song thrushes for goodness' sake (there's one singing in my garden as I write, and it's suburban Yorkshire!)? On the other hand, I loved the way that he set up the journey to the islands and put all that time aside to see the corncrakes, but then stumbled over them within minutes of arriving at his accommodation - yet he spent so long chasing down other birds. That's so typical of the birdwatching experience (and one of the reasons it can be so much fun, and rewarding!).

 

I enjoyed some of the insights and discussions the birds, population trends, and conservation. I was somewhat envious of his ability to tap into professional expertise with such apparent ease - and the opportunities that provided him with, visiting sites etc not normally available or publicly known, which, to be honest, made me wonder quite what sort of achievement this was. I admired the toleration of his family, who were obviously not soul-mates when it came to this particular hobby.....

 

In all, I finished the book (and it was worth finishing) with somewhat mixed feelings. On balance though, whilst it had interest, I felt it was an opportunity lost; it was a bit too lightweight for me, and ultimately left me with the question, which came first, the book or the challenge? The book itself went back to the charity shop.

Edited by willoyd

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The Crime at Black Dudley by Marjorie Allingham **

 

This was the first in Marjorie Alligham's series of books featuring the detective Albert Campion.  I gather he wasn't intended to be the main 'hero', but, after the book's publication, her publishers felt that she should develop his character rather than persisting with this book's main protagonist, the pathologist George Abbershaw.

 

Published in 1929, this book reeks of the period.  I also felt that it was stuck in that period too, and had not worn well.  Whilst the plot lines may have been original at the time (I don't know whether they were or not, but hope so!), they now felt very tired and hackneyed.  From start to finish, it was stuffed full of stereotypes and cliches, and the deus ex machina device at the end was amongst the most contrived I think I've ever come across. I can see why the Campion character was the one Allingham's publishers wanted to develop - he was certainly more interesting than the intensely dull Abbershaw, but his quirkiness did little to alleviate the tedium.

 

All in all, I found this book dispiritingly disappointing, and even though I'd bought the next volume in the series, I couldn't bring myself to read it, and dispatched both books to the local charity shop forthwith.  Being generous, this may have just about earned 2 stars, as at least I managed to finish it.

 

Edited by willoyd

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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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