Saturday, 28 September 2013

The Reading List # 2

It’s time for the second instalment of things I’ve read recently, and these four books were random library selections. They are all fairly easy reads – not particularly long and with a fast-paced story. Here goes:

Told in Silence, Rebecca Connell

The main outline of this story is that Jonathan and Violet marry young, and at the point of the story Violet finds herself a widow at just 21. The book is split into three parts:

Part 1 - Told by Violet, flitting between the present and the time before Jonathan’s death. There are beautiful passages on the idea of loss, but it trips along fairly quickly.
Part 2 - Told by Harvey, Violet’s father-in-law, looking back at Jonathan’s life and featuring a few revelations.
Part 3 - Told by Violet, who discovers events discussed in part 2 and her world is shattered.

All-in-all, this has a good storyline and moves quickly. The time jumps are slightly stilted to begin with, but once you know the characters the story begins to tell itself.

The Clever One, Helena Close

I can’t get over how much the cover of this reminds me of a Judy Blume book, did anyone else used to read those? The story is simple, and possibly a little silly: Maeve is 16, her older sister is pregnant to a horrible man, so Maeve decides to get rid of him. There are multiple themes of family, alcohol, drugs, prison; the family and their friends are a fiery group. There are some sweet relationships that develop through the course of the book, and the narrative voice of Maeve is convincing. The final act of revenge was well-described, although I wanted to hear more of the aftermath.

The thing that spoilt this story for me was the ridiculous amount of swearing. I don’t mind swearing in a book – when done right, it can add so much to a character. However, this book tried far too hard to be controversial, as if making characters swear a lot would suddenly make them more believable.  It ended up sounding immature and a bit desperate. It’s a shame, as certain characters did have potential, but this just ruined the effect of the book for me.

The End of Everything, Megan Abbott

Lizzie and Evie, aged 13, are best friends, and then Evie goes missing. This is where the story begins, and I’m not going to say any more as I don’t want to give anything away! What I loved about this book was how developed and believable all the relationships were: father/daughter, sister/sister, friend/friend. Lizzie tells the story, and it is narrated in a convincing 13 year-old voice. It is packed with careful observations, but is fast-paced and full of story. A great little read!

The Book of Tomorrow, Cecelia Ahern

This is a real trashy book: full of story, easy to read, and not hard work in any way. Sometimes, that is exactly what you need. Tamara and her mother move away to stay with her aunt and uncle in the middle of nowhere, and she finds a blank diary. Every day, this diary fills with a page of her own writing, narrating what is to happen the following day. This sets off various mysteries, hunts, and huge family secrets are revealed. It has all the ingredients for a good story, and it’s great for an escape after a busy day. The writing and the story didn’t blow me away, but it was a good read and kept me turning the page.

So there we are: fast stories, easy reads, and perfect for curling up with on a lazy weekend. Coming up in the next reading list post, I’ve already read a couple of brilliant books I’m looking forward to sharing, so stay tuned!

What have you been reading recently?

Sophie x

Friday, 6 September 2013

The Reading List #1

I have always been an avid reader, and a fast one, meaning I have always waded through huge piles of novels. Unfortunately, my degree called a temporary halt to that. Yes, I was doing an English literature degree, but there was so much course reading that reading for pleasure just wasn’t an appealing option once I had finished my work each day. Some of the things I read for my course were fantastic, but reading to a deadline, in the knowledge you will have to discuss it in a seminar, changes the reading experience completely.

Now I have graduated, I finally have the hours to get back to reading properly, and so have decided to do mini-reviews on here each time I’ve completed about 4 books. There will be a complete range of novels, from romance to science fiction to award-winners to classics; there is never much logic in my reading lists! I’m always looking for new things to read, so do let me know any suggestions!

Harvesting the Heart, Jodi Picoult

I’m a huge Jodi Picoult fan, especially of her novels featuring court cases on moral issues – her research is just astounding. This offering is about a couple, Paige and Nicholas, and their son, Max. Paige is struggling with motherhood and runs away for a period of months to find her own mother. Meanwhile, Nicholas has to care for their son, and continue his work as a cardiologist whilst addressing his feelings for his wife. The novel, in Picoult’s signature style, is narrated by both Nicholas and Paige, and features chapters reflecting back on their meeting and entire relationship, as well as the developing storyline.

This wasn’t one of my favourite Picoult novels – I far prefer the court case stories – but it was a beautiful look at relationships and the role of each figure within a family. Nicholas in particular was a well-developed character. However, I did find elements, such as the relationship between Paige and her mother, slightly far-fetched, and these ruined the overall impact of the story.

From Essex to Chelsea with Love, Millie Conway

I was looking for total trash here: an easy read, simple characters, and nothing too taxing. That’s definitely what I got. Every cliché from the world of reality television, romance and celebrity is present in abundance, and everyone is a caricature. Talli is working at her mother’s Chelsea events company, planning the wedding of Edwina, who is producer on the hit show Lovin’ Essex. As expected, romantic sparks fly between Talli and Zac, the stereotypical Essex man who is dating Kiki, the diva star of the show.

This couldn’t have been much more predictable, and every name and scene made me cringe a little, but sometimes you do need a read like this for complete silly escapism. There were a couple of elements that suggested they may have become more interesting, such as the fraud and arrival of the drug-dependant mother, but these were simply brushed over and ignored. A great choice if you want simple entertainment without any effort.

The Picture Book, Jo Baker

This book covers one century and four generations, beginning in the First World War, and spans periods of huge social change. It had all the ingredients to be a good read. The chapters open with dates, almost like a journal, but the jump between years still often felt a little awkward, and I found myself having to look back to the start of chapters to check if I was still in the same generation or not. These jumps forward seemed to come at the wrong time, and felt quite stilted. I also have to say that the names were silly and unnecessary: William, Billy, Will and Billie? Variations of one name to prove they’re all related? This was trying to be clever, but instead just looked a bit try-hard.

The first section, with William away at sea during WW1, was brilliant. I empathised with the character, his story was well-developed, and I was hooked. Unfortunately, after this section, the three other generations were only dwelt upon for a short period each. There was no time to get to know those later characters, and there was no reason for their focus to be so short. It felt as if just as the new episode began, the author got bored of that period and decided to jump ahead twenty years to try and be clever. This novel is also written awkwardly in the present tense, which I find only works in very specific styles. It had potential, but I definitely wasn’t a fan!

Americana, Don DeLillo

I read a DeLillo book at university, which I didn’t enjoy, but my tutor urged me to give his work a second chance. That was my mission with this. David Bell works in television, and is the epitomy of the American Dream. The novel follows his journey to understand himself and his country, and it is very, very American. It sums up a real ‘moment’ in American culture, when a new breed of working man was emerging, and features some stunning descriptive passages.

However, sometimes the thoughtfulness went too far. The scenes in David’s workplace were long-winded and featured inane conversations with work colleagues which were incredibly dull and added nothing to the story. These sections bored me, and it got to the point where I really had to force myself to read on. I gave DeLillo a second chance, and his work just isn’t for me.

These weren’t the best four books I’ve read, as you can probably tell. However, I’m already well on my way to being ready for the next post, which has a couple of brilliant new discoveries.

What have you been reading recently?

Sophie x
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