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Willoyd's Reading Log 2012

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Yes, it was (hilarious, I mean!). For me, it was soooo bad it was very funny.

 

From some of the emails knocking around, there are certainly one or two who are enjoying it. As to going back - it would be a very boring world if we all thought the same, and the whole point behind a book group is to discuss/debate - the quality of that will be a bigger factor for me. If it was all looking the same, I'd be worried, but the list of books over the next few months looks really varied. I'm really looking forward to it. After all, it does me good to read the odd book that I dislike, and climb outside the box I usually read in - makes the rest more enjoyable if nothing else, but also helps me refine my perception of what makes a good book. Have to say though, that this is a strong candidate for the worst book I've ever read.

 

I like the idea of joining a book group & often take up book recommendations from people on the forum but i have such a huge TBR mountain of my own that i feel i have to shrink it to a more manageable size before i sign up to something which might mean buying books that i dont want to read . But i look forward to hearing what you think of the other book choices Willoyd :smile:

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I read My Family and Other Animals a few years ago (it was potentially going to be one of our texts for coursework when I did GCSE English as a mature student, but sadly it was overruled by the majority (far younger than me!) who chose Of Mice and Men instead because it was 'thin'! :roll: ). Not that I minded - I enjoyed that one too! I actually enjoyed the flowery prose, but I can also see why it would grate after a while. I haven't read anything else by him though. The BBC did an adaptation of it one Christmas not long after I read it, which I seem to recall was pretty good.

 

I read a few James Herberts when I was a teenager. I won't be touching Ash with a barge-poll now though! :giggle2:

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. , who just happens to be this ravishing beauty (raven-haired - so we are told several times) who he realises (in a psychic insight into his predestiny) he's going to be involved with in some way.

 

I have often had such "psychic insights" when meeting beautiful women however when nothing happens I am forced to rename them "wishful thinking" ;)

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I like the idea of joining a book group & often take up book recommendations from people on the forum but i have such a huge TBR mountain of my own that i feel i have to shrink it to a more manageable size before i sign up to something which might mean buying books that i dont want to read .

I did wonder too, as my TBR list is huge as well, but I have really wanted to be able to discuss and share books with others face to face for some time (we discuss many things in the staffroom at work, including TV, life the universe and everything, except reading, which hardly anybody else seems to do to any great extent). Forums like this are great, but there is still nothing quite like that, so that I would take the plunge and see how it goes. I'm optimistic, given the amount that I read (average about a book a week) that I can handle the monthly book group choice whilst still keeping my own reading going. And you never know, they may occasionally coincide (in fact they do for the next two months, with The Help and David Copperfield scheduled).

 

I read a few James Herberts when I was a teenager. I won't be touching Ash with a barge-poll now though!

To be fair, this does seem to have been a particularly unfortunate choice: reading the Amazon reviews, even James Herbert fans seem to be queuing up to pan this book - there are more one-star than 4/5 star reviews, which is really unusual! However, I'm no great fan of horror - absolutely the opposie in fact (although loved Dracula) - and don't see me in a rush to try any others.

 

I have often had such "psychic insights" when meeting beautiful women however when nothing happens I am forced to rename them "wishful thinking" ;)

LOL!

Edited by willoyd

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The Pinecone by Jenny Uglow ******

This is the biography of Sarah Losh, a remarkable woman who was a wealthy landowner living in Wreay just south of Cumbria, responsible for, amongst other things, the amazing church of St Mary in the village, regarded by Pevsner as the finest Victorian church in Cumberland, foreshadowing as it does the works of Ruskin, Morris, and the Arts and Craft moment by half a century.

 

The problem with putting this biography together is that almost all the primary documentation to do with Sarah Losh is no longer available (although Uglow is optimistic that the main set of papers will turn up one day). As a result, the author has had to piece together her life story from a wide range of other sources, turning this to her advantage in the process, as the book is about so much more than just the indomitable Miss Losh, bringing to life the village, society at the time, and the widespread and absolutely fascinating Losh family, prominent industrialists in Newcastle (responsible for the invention of manmade alkali), and on familiar terms with many prominent Victorians, including the likes of Wordsworth, Coleridge, the Stephensons, and the pre-Raphaelites. The range of research is formidable, and yet the author wears it all very lightly, writing in a straightforward but highly engaging style, pulling all the threads together to create a thoroughly sympathetic, coherent, picture of both the woman and her world. Uglow's books are rarely doorstoppers, and yet she seems to pack a huge amount in. I really do want to know about her subjects, and find myself wishing I could have known the individuals concerned. As that is impossible, Uglow's books are the next best thing.

Edited by willoyd

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Hmm, this sounds like a good one. I will look it up and it will most likely end up on my ever growing Wishlist. Not sure if I should thank you or curse you! :o:giggle2:

 

Edit: Curse you it is! Just added it to my Wishlist.

Edited by wordsgood

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City of Fortune by Roger Crowley *****

Over the past five or six years, the second or third weekend has been reserved for a flying visit to Venice for the annual orienteering street race - possibly the best there is! Each year, I tend to find a related book. Quite often it's been one of Donna Leon's Commisario Brunetti series, but this year I packed Roger Crowley's history of the Venetian rise and decline as a naval empire, City of Fortune. It might not have been fiction, but it had all the hallmarks of a good story: an involving plot, characters brought to life all set in the dramatic and beautiful setting of the Eastern Mediterranean! This is the real strength of this book: the author has obviously picked on a good story to tell, but it still needed bringing to life, which is what he manages to do, vividly, so much so that I found myself willing characters on, and wishing for an ending that history told me just wasn't going to happen! At the same time, though, it's well founded - unusually for me I enjoyed the contemporary quotes and references which added rather than simply filled up space, and not just narrative: the author's clear sighted, thoughtful analysis, particularly in terms of the longer term decline stands out just as prominently, and is probably what I will remember the longest. Crowley's previous books have been well received, and it's no surprise to me that reviews of this one have been so positive. I'm certainly going away to put Empires of the Sea and Constantinople on my wishlist!

Edited by willoyd

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Reading notes for 20th Novemer

Following City of Fortune on Saturday, reviewed above, have got stuck straight in to Christine Falls by Benjamin Black (pseudonym used by John Banville when writing his crime fiction). First hundred pages down fairly rapidly, and proving to be solidly enjoyable, in spite of an unpromising setting (IMO!) - 1950s Catholic Dublin, and all the angst at the time surrounding babies born out of wedlock. Banville's writing helps compensate though.

 

Have now started with both my new book groups - indeed Christine Falls is reading for one of them this month, and am enjoying both. Interesting to see how differently they operate - one a new group set up by the local library service (the Chrstine Falls group), the other a group of friends still in the early days of the reading group, willing to take on another reader (we're reading The Help this month. Am going to try and keep going with both (ironic that I couldn't find a group for months, then two popped up in the space of a couple of days).

 

Have largely restricted book buying for the moment to a string of Kindle Daily Deals, having been too busy for much else. They include:

 

Time's Echo - Pamela Hartshorne (today's deal)

Findings - Kathleen Jamie

For Your Eyes Only - Ben MacIntyre

The Potter's Hand - AN Wilson

The Butterfly Isles - Patrick Barkham

Madensky Square - Eva Ibbotson

Bradley Wiggins: Tour de Force - John Deering

Sightlines - Kathleen Jamie

The Dinosaur Feather - Sessel-Jo Garzan

The Lighthouse - Alison Moore

 

None more than £1.40 and just too tempting!

Edited by willoyd

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I did wonder too, as my TBR list is huge as well, but I have really wanted to be able to discuss and share books with others face to face for some time (we discuss many things in the staffroom at work, including TV, life the universe and everything, except reading, which hardly anybody else seems to do to any great extent). Forums like this are great, but there is still nothing quite like that, so that I would take the plunge and see how it goes. I'm optimistic, given the amount that I read (average about a book a week) that I can handle the monthly book group choice whilst still keeping my own reading going. And you never know, they may occasionally coincide (in fact they do for the next two months, with The Help and David Copperfield scheduled).

 

 

 

I'm a member of the book club at the local library, and although there's been a couple of clunkers, I've discovered a few new writers I really liked. There have also been times when the book picked is one that's already on my tbr, which gives me an added incentive to read it. I agree too, that its nice to be able to really discuss books and reading in person, as well as online. At work, there's not many people who read a lot - in fact I often get teased about the amount of reading I do!

 

I hope you enjoy The Help - I thought it was fantastic :)

Edited by Ruth

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Thanks Ruth, all that's good to hear.

 

I've heard loads of good things about The Help. Hope it lives up to the billing!

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Christine Falls by Benjamin Black **

 

Set primarily in 1950s Ireland (with a late excursion to Boston), Quirke is a pathologist in a Dublin hospital. Prompted by suspicions over his fellow doctor and brother-in-law's doctoring of a post-mortem report, he finds himself investigating the death of the subject, Christine Falls. It leads him not only into the machinations of what appears to be some sort of baby-farming/transport scam, superficially aimed at helping unmarried mothers in a country and time where abortion and illegitimacy can have devastating consequences, but which might have something more sinister about it, but also into a re-examination of his relationships with his family, or at least those with his adopted family and his dead wife's, as he has none of his own.

There is no doubt that Black, or to give him his real name, John Banville, can write: he manipulates the language beautifully, evoking characters and settings with great skill. However, given that this is advertised as crime fiction, he does seem to have some way to go on plotting for this genre. It's slow to get going, clunky in places, with one or two complete non sequiturs (which completely turn the story round in a rather unsatisfying way). After about fifty pages I thought I was settling into something outstanding, after another hundred or so I was getting a mite restless, and after another hundred (two-thirds through), I was, frankly, rather bored. The denouement was so predictable that even I could see it coming a hundred or so pages out. Almost by way of contrast, a couple of other loose ends were tied up in such a cliched way, I have to admit I was taken by surprise, simply because I really didn't think someone of the author's repute could be so obvious.

Banville is obviously more interested in characters than plot, and it was partly his development of these which grabbed me for the first quarter or so of the book. On the whole, I enjoy, indeed prefer, character driven fiction. The plot weaknesses could as a result have been quietly slid into the background and I could have still come out lauding the book loudly. Unfortunately, however well developed they are, not one of the characters here garnered any sense of caring, sympathy or indeed interest from me. Instead, I felt I was reading a novelised version of some sort of milder piece of mis-lit, with some gratuitous misery thrown in for good measure Of any sense of any postive view of life there was none, all the characters disliked each other, they all obsessed about themselves, and all seemed utterly miserable about how their lives had turned out (even though, or perhaps because, it was their decisions that had led them there).

All in all, the book exuded greyness; the cover was grey, the atmosphere was grey, the characters were grey. And if greyness equates to dullness (which it does here), then the plot was grey too. Truly, this was the real Fifty Shades of Grey!!

It wasn't a bad book - the quality of writing alone ensured that. It's a book that I'm sure some readers will love, and I can understand why. But for all the reasons above, it proved, particularly after such a fine start, to ultimately be a disappointment, one that I really only finished because it was a book group read.

 

Later note: I wasn't alone: the book group was pretty much unanimous in its dislike of the book, mostly for the same or similar reasons. The only point of dispute with the above, was that a good number of the group didn't think it was well written, with too much repetition (e.g. how often did we need to be told that Quirke was a 'lumbering giant'?). I levelled similar criticism at Ash, but seemed to have missed it his time until pointed out to me.

Edited by willoyd

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The Help by Kathryn Stockett **

 

This book came massively rated by virtually everybody I know who had read it - praise and recommendation indeed given the demanding nature of some of them. I was therefore absolutely poleaxed to find myself after 150 pages or so wondering whether I was going to make it to the finish. I did, but only because it was a book club choice, and I wanted to be able to talk about it next week!

 

The author's style is certainly very readable, and it was easy to make inroads quickly. However, as a result, it became even more quickly apparent that the plot was travelling down some well worn tram lines (the big reveal, that pie, was a good example of its predictability), and that all the characters were fairly obvious stereotypes: stoic black maids, bitchy bullying white women bar one secretly liberal maverick who rides, well not quite to the rescue, but not far off. As for the men? Well, they're all pretty much cardboard cut-outs, when they appear at all. This was very much a book about the women..

 

I also had some doubts about the way the book was written, in particular the way accents/dialect were ascribed to the black characters, but the whites (from the deep South, remember) apparently spoke Queen's English. Stockett writes about this and other issues surrounding the subject material (not least a modern day southern white writer's efforts to portray the plight and character of southern Blacks in the 1960s) in an afterword. I can accept the latter - novelists do this all the time - but the way she differentiated niggled throughout.

 

The 400 or so pages thus passed relatively quickly, even if I spent the second half champing at the bit to be somewhere else: However, I reached the end with somewhat of a sigh of relief, and a real sense of puzzlement as to why it had been heaped with such praise. I was less surprised to learn how many publisher's rejections (sixty) it had received.

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Will

I had the same opinion of The Help after reading it . I kept thinking it must be terrific . If I were letter-grading ,it , it'd get a B minus .

Ok, but room for improvement.

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You don't seem to be having much joy with your book club choices Willoyd :smile: I loved The Help when i read it maybe it's a book which appeals more to women than men, i seem to remember Books Do Furnish A Room had much the same opinion as you.

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You don't seem to be having much joy with your book club choices Willoyd :smile: I loved The Help when i read it maybe it's a book which appeals more to women than men, i seem to remember Books Do Furnish A Room had much the same opinion as you.

Possibly, although the other man in the group loved it. Whatever I thought, we had a brilliant discussion, which did ameliorate my opinion a little. That's the real point: I'm not overly bothered about whether I like the book or not, but do want something that will make us think, and it certainly did that on several fronts. I'm also trying books I wouldn't have otherwise, even if not totally successful in terms of enjoyment.

Edited by willoyd

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The Lighthouse by Alison Moore ***

 

Futh is on the ferry en route to a week long walking tour around the Rhine, recovering from the separation with his wife. He has an odd and somewhat hostile experience at his first hotel before setting out ready to return for his last night in a week's time, having had an equally odd (and almost equally hostile) experience at the home of someone he met on the boat. The rest of the work sees chapters on his experience and reflections alternate with those focusing on Ester, landlady to the first hotel (in Hellhaus), whose own marriage seems moribund, and who pretty much makes herself available to every passing male in spite of her jealous husband.

 

Spartan, lean, almost minimalist, the novel focuses strongly on Futh's thoughts and reminiscences of his childhood and marriage, in which he was left both by his mother when she walked out, and later his wife (well, she didn't strictly leave, but the effect has been pretty much the same). He mulls over both, and as thoughts are recycled, so the picture becomes more and more detailed. It also gradually becomes clearer as to how he has landed up as he has.

 

What transpires is that Futh is a somewhat pitiable character - pretty pathetic at almost everything he undertakes. Even the walk he undertakes sees him land up with badly blistered feet, sunburn (including on his feet!), and lost. Whether one is supposed to sympathise or not, I'm not sure. I found him rather unsympathetic.

 

There are many threads and themes running through this book - for such a slim volume it packs a huge amount in - and the whole is superbly pieced together. If you like your reading thought provoking, this could be right up your street. However, in spite of all that, I came away somewhat disappointed.

 

Firstly, and perhaps a little unfairly, I had expected the setting to play a greater role: surely one doesn't send one's central character off on a Rhine walking tour needlessly, but in fact this story could have been based anywhere - the setting was almost completely irrelevant. Not a problem unless one was expecting otherwise. I have to admit, I found the Rhine idea unecessary. I also found one or two key moments rather unconvincing, especially the finale: I kept thinking that this just wouldn't/couldn't have happened this way. And as for Futh himself - he just became more and more irritating with his bumbling incompetence.

 

Overall, the book proved very clever, but not awfully appealing. It was short and easy to read, but once again, I found little to empathise with, other than the frustrations of both mother and wife (I think I'd have left both father and son in their positions).

Edited by willoyd

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Transgressions by Sarah Dunant ****(*)

 

I'm a bit of a Sarah Dunant fan, having devoured her Hannah Wolfe series, and currently enjoying working my way through her Renaissance historical fiction series. Different enough in style they may be, but this is as different again, being a tense and in places quite tough psychological thriller.

 

Elizabeth has recently split up with her long term boyfriend, Tom, living in their jointly bought house on her own. She notices a valued CD has gone missing. Other things start to move or feel not quite right, gradually undermining Elizabeth's thin veneer of post-split self-confidence, the whole situation being exacerbated by the tenor of the rather brutal detective novel that Elizabeth is translating from the original Czech, a book that seems to be gradually becoming entwined with her own life. Not certain herself as to quite what is going on, Elizabeth finds it harder and harder to convince others that she's anything other than reacting badly to the split with Tom.

 

Whilst told in the third person, this is a story very much viewed from Elizabeth's perspective, and Dunant gets deep inside her head: it's easy to see why others would regard her as a bit wild, but we see that she is being thoroughly rational, and yet increasingly (justifiably) unnerved, even scared. Even when we get to find out what's going on, and her actions seem superficially completely mad, we can see that they are anything but - or maybe they are mad, but the author makes them sound credible? Whatever, this book depends very much on Dunant's character development, and Elizabeth is very humanly complex, contradictory, and for me totally believable,although as a man I had to take some of the feelings and attitudes developed by the author on trust. After several books where the characters have appeared to have been largely unsympathetic, stereotypical, or even completely devoid of interest, it was wonderful to at last come across a character who I could both believe in, and care about. As a result, the tension ratcheted up all the more as the story progressed, making this book almost completely unputdownable.

 

Having said that, there were parts of the book where I really don't quite know what to make of where the author took the story; without wanting to give any of the plot away (and this is a book where you do not want to know much more that I've already said), I found it quite challenging morally and ethically. But I also liked that; this was a book that, whilst being an out and out thriller on one level, on another it was thoroughly thought-provoking. Given that I'm not normally a thriller fan, this, made Transgressions so much more worthwhile reading, especially when coupled with Dunant's highly readable prose and complex character development.

 

 

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Spell It Out by David Crystal ***

 

A history of how English spelling developed by one of the big guns of language history. This may sound as dry as dust, but is actually a fascinating subject, one that really emphasises the scavenger nature of the English language. I found it particularly interesting how spellings of words seem to have been deliberately changed by scribes, printers and others to try and make spellings more understandable and memorable, whilst having precisely the opposite effect!

 

Unfortunately, it also got a bit 'listy' as a book: loads of examples, which whilst useful, gradually lost me and got in the way of the narrative. I'm not certain how else the author could have handled it, but by the end I was skim reading chunks as my mind gradually glazed over in the face of the stream of words.

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Ooh, thanks for the review, Willoyd. I have Spell it Out on my wish list. I love books about the English language and have several by David Crystal on my TBR pile.

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The Return of John Macnab by Andrew Greig ******

 

I initially picked up Romanno Bridge, but decided that I needed to reread this first as RB follows on almost immediately from it. I'm glad I did: I remember this as a favourite read, and was anything but disappointed. ROJM is a modern day take on the classic adventure story by John Buchan, but Andrew Greig brings his own political text and sense of poetry to the task, very much creating his own story. Reading the Amazon reviews, it doesn't quite work for some, but for me it gels perfectly: a genuinely exciting adventure led up by hugely sympathetic characters in a landscape which Greig obviously has a huge affinity with, written so that I spent several hours transported to one of my all-time favourite parts of the world- this was read in just two shortish and one extended sitting. Even the Scotch came out (single malt, of course!), but the warm glow was very much provided by the author! No, this isn't a 'great' piece of literature, but it earns its place in my favourites list simply by being such a good fun, very human, read. Ironically, I enjoyed it so much, that I think I need a short rest before tackling Romanno Bridge, just to make sure I enjoy it sufficiently for itself - give it a few days whilst I divert to something else.

 

 

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The Spire by William Golding ***

 

In terms of pure writing, The Spire is superb: Golding's lyricism, sense of place and characterisation totally wows me, and there were times in this story of the obsessive determination of fourteenth century Dean Jocelin to see through the building of a huge spire on his cathedral (believed to be modelled on Salisbury) where this proved as good as anything I've read to date.

 

However, even though I love the stream of consciousness writing of the likes of Virginia Woolf, there were also times when I was left completely bemused, unable even to to remotely follow what was going on, as the narrative appeared to take off on another flight of abstraction. I can handle this happening occasionally, but my overriding feeling on reaching the end was of relatively brief windows of clarity interspersed by complete obfuscation, or a sequence of dark tunnels, emerging every now and again into the open air..

 

Having read the Wikipedia entry for the book, which cleared up a number of points for me, I reckon that this is a book that will requires some study for me to get the most out of it. At this initial stage though, it's one where I am uncertain as to what I feel about it - it always felt like a 5/6 star read, but because of the gaps, it so far has not really grabbed me sufficiently to rate it at that level: technically superb, but yet to prove itself to me as a novel of that order.

 

A small coincidence: this was my 49th book of the year; two years ago, my 49th book was another William Golding novel: Lord of the Flies. They are the only two Goldings I have yet to read.

Edited by willoyd

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At this time of the year, the books tend to come thick and fast - Christmas is my usually my big holiday for reading - so reviews will likely be fairly snappy and short.

 

The Sea Detective by Mark Douglas-Home ****

Crime fiction a cut above the usual fire, with an interesting twist in that the main protagonist, Cal McGill, is a PhD oceanography student, an expert in tides, currents and wind conditions at sea, using his skills to predict or calculate where floating debris (including human body parts) will come ashore.

The plot is based around three disparate threads - child sex trafficking from the Indian sub-continent, a mystery surrounding the death of Cal's grandfather on a naval trawler in WW2, and an investigation into where a series of severed feet washed up on Scottish shores are coming from - which the author weaves into an intriguing and satisfying whole, populated by a range of characters about whom I'd love to read more in the future.

 

Romanno Bridge by Andrew Greig ***

The sequel to The Return of John Macnab, the two novels forming a continuous thread. Even if the stories are completely different, there are enough continuity issues that John Macnab needs to be read first. This is a thoroughly enjoyable, solid read, but whilst Greig's lyricism still shines through, the story doesn't hold together as well, and the book suffers somewhat in comparison. The author introduces a harsher element in the form of a psychopathic villain, whose viciousness, whilst being successfully scary, doesn't quite fit into the overall scheme of things for me. I also felt my credulity being stretched just a bit too much on occasions. I do love Andrew Greig's writing style though..

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