Thursday, 27 May 2010

In fair Verona.........

We are very glad to say that we are off on holiday tomorrow to Italy. This will be our fourth trip there and we are very much looking forward to some good weather, food and a moment or two of relaxation (we do have a toddler). It's hard to say how much reading we will manage to do but we thought we'd list our holiday reads anyway;

Jess's books

Sacred Hearts by Sarah Dunant – I have already started this and am almost half way through and so far I am really enjoying it. As the book is set in Italy its a good place to finish it.

One Day by David Nichols – A more slightly comic read with a love story thrown in, ideal holiday material.

The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rebunfeld – I doubt I will get to even start to read this but its one of those big books thats been on my shelf for a while.

Chris books

We'll Always Have Paris by Ray Bradbury – A collection of short fiction stories, some science fiction, some not. I loved The Illustrated Man so hopefully this one will go down a treat as well!

The Bible – I never travel without one

Heroes of the Space Marines by various writers – A collection of short science fiction stories from the Warhammer 40,000 universe featuring the battles of the various space marine chapters. A book of mindless fluff, just the sort of thing I like to read on holiday!

We will blog on our return, have a good week.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Why I don't always finish books

Chris will quite often stop reading a book at the drop of a hat no problem. Me? Well I rarely do but this year so far I have stopped reading three books and that's not bad I guess considering I have read around 30 this year so far.

The thing is that none of the books I stopped reading were what I would call 'bad' books and I stopped reading around page 130 on all three. So why did I stop reading them?

Going Bovine – this is a simple case of I just didn't get into it. Sometimes its like that with a book, for whatever reason the book doesn't grab you. Perhaps it was because I have just read The little stranger followed by Rebecca and the jump to a book narrated by a teenager speaking teen-speak was abit much. Or maybe because I don't have much luck with YA books, I practically had to drag my way through the Northern Lights. Or perhaps because I guessed the point of the whole thing within a few chapters? This book has had rave reviews and it was proving to be a quick and easy read, just not for me.

The Wilderness by Samantha Harvey – again another book which has had rave reviews and has been short-listed for prizes so please don't let me influence you on this.

The reason I put this book down at page 120 was simply because I didn't like the main character. The book was narrated by this character who is slowly dying from Alzheimers which is a brave a difficult subject for the author to write about. Having worked in the care industry for many years this was an illness I was familiar with. But the narrator was an A-hole, pre-illness he was a man who had cheated on his wife and was quite a selfish and demanding person. I don't have to like a main character in a book I'm reading but in this instance it made a difference to my enjoyment.

The Rapture – I was quite enjoying this book about a disturbed teenager in a mental institution who can foresee natural disasters. The way she taunts her disabled therapist was quite chilling. But around page 130 I realised I had skim-read the last 20 pages so I put it down.

Do you think I gave these books a fair chance? I did read over 100 pages for each of them but maybe I should have pushed on? I don't really have a 50 page rule or anything but what makes you decide you've had enough and close the book?

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

After Chris's rather scathing review on My Cousin Rachel I feel as if I should now review Rebecca in order to somehow restore the Du Murier balance on this blog.

If I had to sum up Rebecca in one word it would be 'surprised'. I thought I knew what this novel was going to be about and I thought I knew the basic themes to this novel before reading it, It turned out I didn't. I found myself constantly surprised when reading it.

I have seen the Alfred Hitchcock film Rebecca and I vaguely remember it being about a woman who meets an older man in Monte Carlo while working as a paid 'companion' for an insufferable old woman. This man turns out to be Mr de Winter and after a very short romance they marry before going back to his house in Cornwall, England. The young girl is expected to act and be the mistress to this house named Manderley and its many servants. There is however a third person in the marriage, Rebecca, who was Mr de Winter's first wife who drowned in a nearby bay about a year previously. Rebecca seemed to have been loved by everyone none more than the stern housekeeper who seems intent on driving the new Mrs de Winter insane.

The above mentioned was in the book but there was also a lot more. I don't want to give away anymore of the plot in case you haven't read it but I was constantly surprised throughout and some of the twists and turns had me reading with my mouth open. This was a book filled with so much suspense and mystery that even with 20 pages to go I still didn't know how it was going to end.

One of the stars of the book is undoubtedly Manderley itself with his long corridors and its two wings, one facing the sea and the other the rose garden. The morning room filled with the most expensive things in the house, the warm fire in the library and afternoon tea served at half past four. The house and its rooms are used as a plot device a few times during the book and is used in giving us a sense of how lost and out of her depth the new Mrs de Winter feels in not just the house but in her new role as mistress.

I am also surprised that many people see this as a love story, I was therefore expecting one. I am not convinced that Mr de Winter ever really loved his second wife. For a lot of the book he is indifferent to her feelings and only tells her he loves her for the first time at a time when he desperately needs her on his side. If he did love her then it seems to be for her childlike manner in which she gives in to his wishes and lives only to please him. Her name is not given once during the book further adding to her invisibility as a character. For an upcoming fancy dress party to be held at the house Mr de Winter preferred choice of costume for his new wife is an Alice in wonderland dress which I think was significant in how at that time he viewed her. During a evening of revelations Mrs de Winter matures suddenly and Mr de Winter notices;

'It's gone forever. That funny, Young, lost look that I loved. It won't come back again.'

The new Mrs de Winter revels in all this, she seems to genuinely want nothing more than for her new husband to be happy and for her to live for that.

This is in complete contrast to Rebecca who while alive did how she pleased and seemed to live only for her pleasure alone – or did she? We will never know if she was put in a more unfavourable light by Mr de Winter for not conforming to his perfect idea of a doting wife as society expected her to be. Or maybe she really was so cruel and manipulative that Mr de Winter craved someone who was the complete polar opposite to his first wife.

There is quite a bit of melodrama in the book but there is also some symbolism. For example the wing occupied by Rebecca during her life is the wing which overlooks the rough, noisy and unpredictable sea. This is contrasted by the wing occupied by the new wife which overlooks the quiet rose garden.

I'm not sure this book would have been quite so gripping had I prior knowledge of the book but nonetheless the characters and the dark undertones are enough to make me wonder and want to discuss this for a long time to come. Aside from a couple of places when I think I had to suspend disbelieve slightly I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was surprised by it in a very good way.

On a slightly different note, for those of you who have read this book did you notice how much the people ate? It was breakfast of bacon and eggs, lunch which was a three course meal, tea at half past four consisting of sandwiches, cake and crumpets and then dinner which I assume would have been another three course meal. How were these people not as big as houses?

Verdict 5/5

Posted by Jess

This also qualifies for the 1930's mini-challenge hosted at Things mean alot.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Daphe Du Maurier book club choice

I read 'My Cousin Rachel' as part of a book club experiment. Normally I would not entertain such an idea but Jessica said it would be an interesting experience to blog about so I gave it a go.

Philip and Ambrose are two cousins who live together in a mansion in Cornwall sometime in the early 19th century. Philip was orphaned as a young boy and taken in by Ambrose who raised him. The two are very close to each other. Ambrose's health begins to decline so he takes a trip to Europe to aid his recovery. Whilst there he meets cousin Rachel, falls in love, marries her and the two live together in Florence leaving Philip to stew back in Cornwall. When Ambrose turns up dead Philip immediately smells foul play and sets off to Florence to investigate.

I would like to start with the positive aspects of the book. The story was technically well written and the Cornish setting was conveyed effectively. The characters are well developed and I did feel a good sense of who they were and what their motivations were. I felt the language and use of vocabulary was well done and convincing.

Now the negative; I felt the story was dull, predictable and just plain unlikely. The characters, though well put together, were not at all likeable and I found myself not caring what happened to any of them. Both Philip and Ambrose are misogynistic in the extreme and their views on women irritated me a great deal (although I do appreciate this accurately portrays a common attitude in those days) the story itself is not at all plausible and thoroughly predictable.

The main character, Philip, spends most of the book sulking and pouting like a big child when things don't go his way. His spoilt-brat personality ensured I disliked him from the outset and didn't care one jot what happened to him. Initially he hates Rachel and is very hostile and suspicious towards her. He convinces himself she has something to do with Ambrose's death However once he meets her in person Philip soon forgets his dear cousin Ambrose and falls for Rachel (give me strength) I can't say much more without giving too much away. All I will add is that the ending appeared out of nowhere, I was surprised by how it ended but also felt it was rushed and ill thought out.

All in all I wouldn't pick up a Du Maurier book again, it really isn't my cup of tea which in a way I found gratifying since I predicted this would be the case.

Once I've discussed this book with the other book club readers I will post my final thoughts here on the blog.

Posted by Chris

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Purchases, Challenges and books left on the shelf

After practically everyone who commented in my last post recommended Fingersmith by Sarah Waters I decided to listen to you and I have ordered it. This means that I might actually read it within the next couple of months.

I also managed to find and order an old childhood favourite. It is a book made up of short stories where I could quite vividly remember loving the book as a child, but could not remember the name of the actual book. The first story I remembered was about a girl who gets given a necklace for her birthday made up of raindrops. Every year gets given a new raindrop to add to the necklace which also happens to give her a new special power. One of the powers was that she could make the rain fall or stop just by clapping her hands.

Anyway I thought I would have trouble finding this book and decided to try my luck by typing 'girl with a raindrop necklace' in a search engine to see what it could come up with.

As you can see it found it (doh) Ill look forward to re-reading this one.

I also ordered Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell in order to take part in the read-along hosted by A Literary Odyssey in June. Its quite a short book really so just right for a summer read-along. A Literary Odyssey is quite an interesting blog even if you don't want to participate in any of the read-alongs (she is also hosting a Gulliver's Travels one) as Allie is working her way through 250 of the classics which she estimates will take her around 3 years. Rather her than me ;)

On the subject of challenges, I am working my way through all the books I own with around 500 plus pages and I started this with The Little Stranger. I noticed that the older books on my book shelf are all large books. The largest is American Gods by Neil Gaiman but there are a couple of other 600 plus ones sitting there and quite frankly they are bothering me. It isn't a chore for me to read them but I wonder why I have been obviously putting them off? I don't have any deadlines and once I start reading I enjoy a large book I can really emerge myself in but still I seem to leave them there. Does anyone else let a book size influence them when choosing what to read next?

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

The Little Stranger was my introduction to the author Sarah Waters. I love a good ghost story which is what originally drew me to this book plus it was also short-listed for the Man Booker prize.

Dr Faraday, a local village doctor, befriends the Ayres; an upper-class family of three who live in a decaying Georgian mansion. Throw in a dead child and some bumps in the night and you have quite a simple story to fill this book of 500 plus pages.

The book is set just after World War II when many social changes were taking place in Britain. The past few years had seen the decline of the British aristocracy and the break-up of many family estates, at the same time the welfare system was being overhauled and the introduction of the National Health Service (NHS) was shortly to be introduced. The Ayres family represent this decline of the upper classes, living in a huge mansion which they cannot possibly afford to keep. They sit around in one of the few rooms which is heated reminiscing about the parties they used to hold and gossip about past servants who worked there. It put me in mind a little of 'Great Expectations' the way they all sat with the wallpapers literally falling from the walls, surrounded by decay.

Dr Faraday is someone who has very much taken advantage of the loss of social restrictions, he has not come from a rich family but he has managed to go to university and become a doctor. Yet he still looks towards the Ayres family and longs to be a part of that life perhaps because of his insecurity over his poor background. He visits them whenever he can and has aspirations of somehow perhaps living there. He is in denial over the future of this family and the house.

I feel a little let down by this book, it had so much promise but ultimately it fell a little flat. I sympathised a great deal with the Ayres family and with the predicament they found themselves in but I did not feel sorry for them. While they were barely able to afford to heat their mansion and only two servants (gasp!) Dr Faraday was visiting families that were losing children to childhood diseases or other families barely able to afford the medical fees for life saving operations. Honestly I don’t dislike rich people but I think if I had been alive at the time I would have been very much behind the welfare changes being made.

As regards to the ‘ghostly’ element they could be compared to the events in The House on Haunted Hill by Shirley Jackson or the Turning of the Screw by Henry James and any story of that Gothic genre of thriller. I was genuinely spooked out by these books. But I was not even mildly scared by the Little Stranger and I read this while Chris was working nights so I was all on my own. I think the problem here was that the book is read in the first person by Dr Faraday who was not present during any of ghostly encounters which, by the way, did not even start till around page 300. So all the ghost activity is heard 2nd or even 3rd hand which hardly makes for great suspense.

The real talent in this book comes from Sarah Waters writing, I was very impressed. the descriptions of the house and the characters are well crafted. There was a sense of atmosphere as Dr Faraday tries desperately to come up with a logical explanation for everything. My favourite part of the book was at the beginning when Dr Faraday reminisces about his first visit to the house as a child. This summer day scene is built up so vividly of a house full of servants and opulence with all the villagers enjoying themselves in the garden. In the next chapter Dr Faraday gets a shock when he visits as an adult and sees the decline, the overgrown gardens and plaster falling from the walls. This really set the scene for the whole book and I cannot praise the writing enough for this.

There are some excellent commentaries on class in this book but the ghostly element, for me anyway, fell flat on its face. Aside from the last line in the book which I did find slightly chilling. Not a bad novel which was extremely well crafted, I would not hesitate to read any of her other books.

Verdict 3/5

Posted Jess

Monday, 17 May 2010

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford

This is another ‘Read the book watch the movie challenge.

Jesse James is a well known historical figure. He spent his youth fighting in the American Civil War on the side of the Confederacy. During the war he fell in with a band of Guerrillas infamous for committing atrocities against captured Union soldiers. When the war ended Jesse turned to crime and along with his older brother, Frank, formed the James-Younger gang.

Both the book and movie begin at the end of the glory days of the gang. Many of its members have been killed or captured. It is at this time that Robert Ford and his brother Charley join the gang for what was to be their final train robbery. The Ford brothers, inexperienced criminals, are keen to throw in their lot with the gang and prove themselves as capable, dangerous men. Robert (known as Bob) idolises Jesse and is particularly anxious to prove his worth to the famous bandit who was a hero in Bob’s eyes.

Bob was only 19 when he met Jesse for the first time. He had spent years reading about Jesse’s adventures in popular nickel books which portrayed the outlaw as a hero fighting for the values of the South. Bob was a naive youngster brought up on a farm who believed everything he read about Jesse although most of it wasn’t true. When he discovers Jesse is very different from the man he read about it has far reaching consequences.

The film is wonderful; it is one of my favourites. Full of beautiful imagery, well crafted characters and an engrossing story. Brad Pitt puts in one of the most convincing performances of his career to date and Casey Affleck is a brilliant Robert Ford, utterly convincing in every way. The music really matches the atmosphere of the film and adds a powerful element. A narrator appears from time to time which I feel adds a very human element to the film and provides some history and background to the story. In general the feel of the film is one of authenticity and the struggle for survival in harsh times. Great lengths must have been gone to in order to create this movie and it was worth the effort.

As the movie progresses Bob grows closer to Jesse and begins to see his hero in a different light. Slowly it dawns on Bob that Jesse is not a loveable, gun slinging rogue, bravely fighting for the independence of the Southern States but rather a violent, unpredictable, cold-blooded killer who murdered 17 people including innocents who had nothing to do with the money he was stealing.

Bob is probably my favourite character in the movie. No matter how much I think about him I cannot really fathom him. I cannot decide whether he was a nasty, violent opportunist or simply a naive, misled youth who thought he could make something of himself by associating with a famous outlaw. I suppose it is most likely a mixture of both either way I found his story the most compelling.

One aspect of the movie that surprised me is that, to me anyway, it seemed to dumb down the killing and violence executed by the gang. The 17 murders are mentioned but only in passing. On screen Jesse only kills one man; other murders are only hinted at. Jesse does assault other characters but again I never got a real idea of how dangerous and malicious this man was.

The book, written by Ron Hansen, goes into a lot more detail (as would be expected) it explains more of the background of the people involved especially Jesse and Bob’s. I enjoyed the book and it tells much the same tale as we see in the movie. More information about Jesse’s past is divulged and a good deal of what happened after Jesse’s death. Details of the crimes committed by Jesse and his gang are documented and we get more of an idea from the book of what a savage, merciless man Jesse was. We also see another side of Jesse as a devoted husband and father. I was left with no doubt he loved his children.

Oddly enough I feel one of the stories told in the book which most clearly shows the kind of wickedness Jesse was capable of does not involve murder at all. Jesse broke into a church on Christmas Eve and stole all the presents which had been donated by the people of the town to children who had nothing. He gave these presents to his own children. He even stole the Christmas tree.

The story is complex and powerful and well worth both watching the movie and (of course) reading the book!

Verdict; I would give the book 4/5 and the movie 5/5

By Chris

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Adding to my ever growing wish list

I have a very structured way of organising my TBR books. I have about 30 or so on my actual bookshelf as seen here. The rest of my TBR books are on my Amazon wish list of which there are about 100 books (eak) I tend to add books to this list based on recommendations from fellow bloggers or books I read about in the press. How long these books stay on this list before they get elevated to my real-life book shelf depends, sometimes I get them within a week, others have been on my wish list for months.

But of course once I get around to eventually reading them I have completely forgotten where on earth I heard about it in the first place. So just for fun for the last couple of weeks, I have made a note of where I got the idea for adding the more recent books to my wish list along with a link to the original review.

Not all books that have been given 5 stars from bloggers appeal to me and likewise sometimes books which a blogger has found so/so I think sounds like the kind of thing I would enjoy but for whatever reason the following appealed;

The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly found at Caribousmom

An Equal Music by Vikram Seth found at Reading Matters

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon given a rave review at and the plot thickens

The Magus by John Fowles found to day at The literary stew if anyone says a book is one that people either love or hate then I am interested.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout found at C.B James

There have of course been loads of others which I have forgotten over the past few months but thank you to everyone who blogs for constantly bringing new authors and and books to my attention, a lot of which I would never have got to hear about otherwise.

On another note a book arrived today called 'Troll: A love story' now I ordered this after reading about it on someones blog but of course I have completely forgotten who's this blog is. If anyone recognises this then please let me know as I would love to give full credit for finding me such an unusual book.

Posted by Jess

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Top Ten Picks - Books that made you discover your love for reading

We have been featured on Book Bookie's blogger monday here so please check it out for an interview on why we started the blog etc.

Over at Random Ramblings the Top Ten this week is Books that made you discover your love for reading. A title I think with a lot of possibilities. Its also interesting to see that I have chosen a lot more books from my childhood and young adult years whereas Chris has chosen more recent books he has read. But we both have horror in our choices.

So our Top Ten

Chris's List

The Window by Carol Ellis

As a child I was often given things to read but never chose anything myself. The limited time I spent reading was on books for school or books my parents felt I should read. The Window was the first book I read for my own pleasure. I must have been 12 years old at the time. The Window was one of a series of short books called ‘Point Horror’ they were basically horror stories written with children in mind. In all I believe I read at least 10 books in the series, possibly more. I do not remember reading most of them. The Window always stuck in my mind although I have no idea why. One day I shall have to read it again to see how much I remember.

Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

A classic story which I would imagine is known by most people. I studied it in school and I must say it was a book I took pleasure from studying, it was never a chore to read and I believe it was the first work of fiction to really touch me emotionally. Of Mice and Men really showed me that it was possible to learn about life through fiction not just textbooks.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

I was not a child when I read this; in fact I finished it less than a year ago. This story spoke to me in so many different ways, it is a tremendous influence in my life and I often think about it. The ultimate literary triumph of good over ignorance and hatred. No bookshelf should be without it.
Mockingbird is a glorious story that really whetted my appetite for fiction and books in general.

Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is my favourite writer who still inhabits the land of the living. I first read this book on holiday six years ago and have re-read it many times since. The book is a collection of articles written by Bryson talking about life in modern America. It is original, clever and hopelessly funny. It is a book that never fails to cheer me up and has me weeping copious tears of laughter each time I read an article or two. If I was stranded on a desert Island and could only bring one book with me it would be this one.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Those who are familiar with my taste in books will know that I am not a fan of classic English literature. My 21st century brain cannot cope with the endless inflection and prose that seems rife in books from that period. I have attempted numerous ‘classics’ in the past and always fail miserably. The one and only exception to this rule is this book. A true favourite I must have been about 16 when I first read it. I loved it instantly. I find the whole idea of the duality of man fascinating and Stevenson managed to turn it into the most chilling of horror stories. Stevenson never had to resort to buckets of gore or monsters under the bed to frighten the life out of me the struggle for survival of the two main characters and Mr Utterson caught between them used to send shivers down my spine. A true masterpiece I will always treasure and a testament to what skill and a great imagination can achieve.

Jess's List

The secret garden and A little princess by Frances Hodgeson Burnett

I have grouped these two books together, firstly because they are by the same author and also because they both have similar themes. At the time I read these I think I would have said that A little princess was my favourite because I loved books about boarding schools and I remember that the girl in it, Sara had a old fashioned doll which had its own wardrobe full of clothes. I loved reading about that doll.

Frances Hodgeson Burnett was born in England but after the death of her father the family were plunged into poverty and eventually after moving to the states, she wrote in order to help support the family. Its certainly interesting that both girls in the secret garden and A little Princess both lose their parents and then suffer in their new circumstances.

The Vampire Chronicles by Anne Rice

When I was around 15 I went through a real Anne Rice phase when the film, 'interview with a vampire' came out but I was too young to see it. Looking back I'm sure I read these books more for the characters rather than the writing style which I sometimes struggled with.

Forever by Judy Blume

There seemed to be a real Judy Blume craze in my school when I was around 12. I remember there was a heck of a long waiting list at the library for any of her books. Forever stands out because it contained sex. As a result a very dogged eared copy of it made its way around all the girls in my year. Scandalous.

Malory Towers by Enid Blyton

Say what you like about Enid Blyton but I loved her as a child and her faraway books are the first books I can remember reading on my own. I really liked books set in boarding schools and Enid Blyton certainly filled that gap with both her Malory Towers and St Claires books. It was all good natured fun with midnight feasts, studying for those all important exams and important lacrosse matches against rival schools. If I was a child today then I'm sure Harry Potter would have filled that boarding school gap.

The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier

A book read in school by my teacher when I was aged around 10. We didn't study this book or were made to read it aloud to the class. Instead at the end of the school day our teacher (cant remember his name) would read us a couple of chapters. The reason he did this was because another class mate had found it and practically begged him to and the book became quite a favourite with everyone. I read it again a few years ago and thankfully it was still as good as I remembered it.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Tender is the night by F.Scott Fitzgerald

Sometimes reading a book by a supposed 'great' author for the first time, especially a classic author, can be risky. Firstly there's the risk that the prose in the book is written in such a way that makes my modern brain unable to understand it. To a 21st century reader subtle hints and gestures can easily become lost in flowery prose. Then finally there's always a chance I won't be able to understand what all the fuss is about. I can have trouble understanding why a book is a beloved classic or why the author is considered a great?

I have great pleasure (and no small measure of relief) in saying that not only can I understand why Tender Is the Night is considered a great book but also the author F. Scott Fitzgerald. In fact I now know what to go and read; Fitzgerald's other novels. perhaps I shouldn't have started with Tender Is the Night and can now only be disappointed?

The book is first told from Rosemary Hoyt's point of view. Rosemary, a young movie star, comes across Dick and Nicole Diver who live a rather lavish life in the French Rivera and she immediately falls in love with this golden couple. Rosemary follows Dick and Nicole firstly around the French Rivera and then around Paris. She sees first hand how this couple seem to captivate everyone around them, the parties and the close circle of friends all pivoting around Dick Diver. Dick the object of Rosemary's affections seems to have a unique seductive charm which seems to enthral everyone who meets him, heck even I wanted to run off and marry the guy while reading the first part of the book!

The second part is then told from Dick's point of view and takes place a few years on after Rosemary has left. We learn that Dick married Nicole after meeting her in a clinic where she was being treated for schizophrenia brought on by an incestuous relationship with her father. Years have gone by and Dick who used to be an aspiring psychiatrist now no longer has any drive in him and is living off his rich wife's money. This along with the stress of acting as doctor to his wife's illness over the years has taken it toll. The fa├žade that we read about in the first part of the book is beginning to rapidly slip.

A lot is said about the prose in this book and words such as 'beautiful' and 'lyrical' are thrown about when describing it. For me though the pull of this book are the portrayals of the characters and the themes. Perhaps this is testament to the prose which, although beautiful, is also subtle and did not hinder the story or message in anyway.

The real skill in Fitzgerald's writing is the way I felt while reading this. As mentioned previously I wanted to run off and marry Dick Diver in the same way that Rosemary did in the first part, then later when I read the story from Nicole's perspective I felt just as irritated and as tired towards Dick as she did. I did not feel I was being manipulated into feeling these things by Fitzgerald rather that the characters were so well developed I could not help but feel connected to them.

There is an ultimate sadness running through this book. Sadness that these two people are no longer able to communicate, that Dick can no longer help his wife and that they spend their time travelling around Europe in a futile existence. The contempt that Dick and Nicole start to feel for each other is brilliantly written and you can almost feel the hatred sometimes radiating from the page.

'She spoke with such force that in his shocked state Dick wondered if he had been frightened for himself-but the shocked faces of the children, looking from parent to parent, made him want to grind her grinning mask into jelly.'

There is no right or wrong in this marriage. Dick feels he has 'failed' in both his professional life and in his inability to help Nicole. It's very easy to understand how he can become disillusioned and resentful after trying to hold everything together for so many years. Nicole has had a hard start with her father and now has a mental illness which threatens her constantly and she is also, in her own words 'planet to Dick's sun'. With all these factors in place you can see how although it is not their fault this marriage can be destructive. There are other factors but ultimately what almost destroys them is the loss of starry-eyed optimism that comes with youth and leaves with age while regret and disillusionment creep in.

Adding to the feel of the book were also an array of other characters and some observations regarding Europe after the First World War and the superpower that America had become as a result. It's impossible not to regard this book without looking at Fitzgerald's own life, his wife Zelda was hospitalised for schizophrenia and there were affairs on both sides. There was also intense drinking on Fitzgerald's part as there was on Dick's and other similarity's to their marriage and the locations used all feature in the book.

The overall impression that I got was that Fitzgerald really did pour everything he had into this novel with a stunning result. This is not a happy, feel-good book by any means but I did not find it 'depressing' Instead I found it insightful, thought provoking and meaningful.

Verdict 5/5

Posted by Jess

This also qualified for the 1930s mini challenge hosted over at Things mean alot.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain 1942

I’ve always been interested in history, particularly the Second World War. When I was a child it was all about warplanes, tanks and submarines. Now that I’m older it’s still about warplanes tanks and submarines but I also take more of an interest in the more political and unseen aspects of the war.

Imagine my excitement when I stumbled across this tiny book in my local bookstore. At only 6 inches tall and 30 pages long you can easily digest it in 30 minutes. The introduction explains that the book was originally printed in pamphlet form by the War Department in Washington D.C. to be issued to American troops being sent to Britain in preparation for the invasion of mainland Europe (D-Day) the book gives a fascinating glimpse into how America viewed Great Britain and the British people in 1942.

The book is full of headers such as;





When writing a review of this book it is very tempting to quote from it extensively. As a modern British person reading it I can say the content is very funny (although I’m sure it wasn’t designed to be) full of ridiculous stereotypes of the good old fashioned British citizen with a stout stiff upper lip taking German bombs without complaint. However it is often, somewhat disconcertingly, very astute and certainly contains some truths about our characteristics which clearly haven’t changed a great deal in 68 years (which I find comforting)

One of my favourite passages asserts;

“The best way to get on in Britain is very much the same as the best way to get on in America. The same sort of courtesy and decency and friendliness that go over big in America will go over big in Britain. The British have seen a good many Americans and they like Americans. They will like your frankness as long as it is friendly. They will expect you to be generous. They are not given to back slapping and they are shy about showing their affections. But once they get to like you they make the best friends in the world”

The book doesn’t just talk about the people it also talks about the government of Britain, the size and geography, why there are no skyscrapers in London and (of course) the differences between Cricket and Baseball!

It also gives practical information such as what to expect from the weather, how British money works and how to pronounce ‘Thames’ correctly. The book does have the strange habit of referring to British people as 'Britishers' which is an expression I have never heard used before!

One of the most interesting aspects I found was the section about British women. In both Britain and America before the war women were not expected to work or do anything except keep the home clean and raise children. During the war thousands of men went off to fight meaning there was no-one to work any of the jobs previously done by men. Women finally had the opportunity to prove that they could work just as hard and just as capably as men. Not just in factories and offices but also in military roles too. The same thing happened in America but not quite on the same scale. I found this particularly touching since my Great-Grandmother was a WREN during the war. The book makes a point of reminding US troops to respect these women;

"A British woman officer or non-commisioned officer can - and often does - give orders to a man private. The men obey smartly and there is no shame. For British women have proven themselves in this way. They have stuck to their posts near burning ammunition dumps, delivered messages afoot after their motorcycles have been blasted from under them. They have pulled aviators from burning planes...Now you understand why British soliders respect the women in uniform. When you see a girl in khaki or air-force blue remember she didn't get it for knitting more socks than anyone else in Ipswich"

The book does a first class job of providing a clear view into the mindset of the war. Although the book is interesting and entertaining to us today it was first published and issued for a very serious reason; to help ease tensions and maintain relations between Britain and America in a time when Hitler was doing his best to strain the alliance. The book puts a lot of emphasis on not upsetting the local people and says “It is always impolite to criticize your hosts; it is militarily stupid to criticize your allies”

All in all a little gem of a book I often re-read. It never fails to cheer me up. Well worth a read even if you aren’t particularly interested in the war


By Chris

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The Time Travelers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I have been rather slow in picking up The Time Travelers Wife, its been a huge best seller for years and I've seen it constantly on peoples best read lists. In fact this book has been so popular that I knew how the story ended, which I must have picked up from somewhere.

For those of you that don't know The Time Travelers wife follows the story of Henry and Clare and how Henry's time travelling affects both his life and his marriage to Clare. I had heard that this book focuses more on the love story between Henry and Clare rather than the time travelling aspect. I found this to be true but I wonder if the book had taken on a more 'sci-fi' angle, would it have been as popular?

Clare first meets Henry when she is 6 and Henry is 36 in the meadow behind her house. He tells her that he is from the future and that in the future they will be 'friends'. Oh and would she mind awfully leaving clothes out for him in future as he will be visiting a lot. As Henry visits her throughout her childhood and teenage years she eventually falls in love with him so that by the time she does meet him in 'current time' when she is 20 and Henry is 28, she is already head over heels so the relationship is therefore destined to reach its conclusion of marriage.

This novel must have been a headache for Audrey Niffenegger to construct. The book is written in the first person jumping from Clare to Henry from present, past to future. The different chapter headers are therefore titled showing the year and the ages of both Clare and Henry in order to give clarity for the reader. Niffenegger could have let the reader work out the time frame as each chapter started or made the characters clue you in e.g. 'I am Henry and I am 38 in the year 1988' etc. But by spelling out the year and ages of the characters in the chapter header it is less confusing and does not hinder the pace of the story.

In most of the reviews I have read most people warmed more to the character of Clare than Henry, some reviewers were not even completely sure they liked him. I found Henry the more interesting character, he has a much darker side to him which he has developed in order to cope with his time travelling escapades. He can disappear and show up completely naked anywhere so he has had to develop an impressive array of survival skills, most of which has been taught to him from an older Henry. Henry can pick locks, steal and pickpocket rather effectively. Sometimes, even with these skills, he will get caught so he can outrun most people and use his fists rather brutally if the occasion requires it.
I also liked Henry because he had resigned himself to his fate, a scene in the book where a much older Henry teaches a young Henry how to pickpocket I found touching. The young Henry needs to learn this but at the same time the older Henry regrets how he is corrupting himself.
Henry will also use the advantages of time travelling like buying a winning lottery ticket and visiting his dead mother from afar. I certainly found him a more complex character compared to his wife Clare.

Clare reads at first very much like a stereotypical romance heroine with her long flowing red hair, slim figure and being the 'deep thoughtful one' in her immediate family but her character is more developed throughout the book. I especially liked the chapter where she describes that in fact sometimes she likes it when Henry is not there, she can listen to what ever music she likes and can generally do as she pleases, yet she is always pleased when he comes back. Clare for me was sometimes a little 'too perfect' yet incidences like when a teenage Clare asks Henry to scare a fellow high school student who assaulted her, shows her more angry side and also makes you realise how much Clare has had to contend with

Amongst the heartache and tragedy in the book there are also a few comic touches. Clare's revelation that she 'slept with someone else' at first nearly breaks Henry's heart because he thinks she is talking about last week whereas in fact she is talking about something that happened years previous before Henry had even met Clare. The relief that Henry feels when they sort out this little misunderstanding is used to good comic effect.

Niffenegger does a fine job of highlighting the marriage's ups and downs and of their love which although is destined, is also built up over the years by sharing their life together and makes for a very connected and intimate couple. Aside from what I think is some serious padding, this is recommended as an entertaining and moving read.

Verdict 4/5

Posted by Jess

btw I have spelt 'Traveler' as per the book title but I may have accidentally spelt it in parts using the English spelling (which my spell checker prefers)

Friday, 7 May 2010

Top Ten Picks - Favorite Love Stories Of All Time

This week over at Random Ramblings its the turn of the Top ten Romantic stories. Alas this means that Chris will not be submitting anything this week which is no bad thing as I can think of plenty. Romantic books are something which I do enjoy a lot but don't read too many of them, perhaps because I hate anything cheesy so its hard to find romantic books which do not fall into this category. If anyone has any recommendations for me then please leave them in the comments sections and I will be sure to add them to my wish list. Also do read the other entry's in this as there have been some really good suggestions.

1.Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

OK when I quizzed Chris about romantic stories this is the only one he could come up with as he did love the film with Leonardo Dicapio as did I. I did study this in school and while I enjoyed it the story did come very much alive for me in that film. I've seen it a few times now and every-time I watch it I still practically beg Romeo not to drink the poison.

2.Water for Elephants

Not my favourite book in the world but I did like the couple in it. What I liked was that after the drama and tragedy is all over, they manage to live a perfectly nice life and grow old together. I think that's beautiful.

3.The Time Travelors Wife

I only finished reading this yesterday but I knew it was going to be on the list pretty much from page 50. They spend most of the book living quite a normal life just like everyone else which is intercepted constantly by Henry's time travelling. One of the most connected couples I've ever read about.

4.Pride & Prejudice

Well OK this will pretty much on everyone's else's list so I wont say any more apart from, well how could I resist this ultimate I hate you, no I love you couple.

5.The Notebook

I've only ever seen the film and because I have yet to find a blogger who recommends the book over the film, that's how its staying. But the film I loved and thought the two actors playing the lead roles were brilliant.

6.Lady into Fox

OK this isn't a romantic book as its about a lady who turns into a fox while walking with her husband one day. But the reason I put this on the list is because the husband seems determined throughout to keep going with his marriage despite what has happened. He looks after her, feeds her and even continues to share the marital bed. Then when his wife decides she wants to live outside as a fox, her husband still insists on sleeping outside near her den (if its warm enough) and even gets a little jealous when she has cubs with a male fox. Now if that isn't taking your 'for better or worse' vows seriously then I don't know what is!

7.When Harry met Sally

For me the ultimate friends becoming lovers story complete with a new years declaration of love.

8.Sleepless in Seattle

Well Meg Ryan you made it on the list twice, playing the American sweetheart did your career wonders.

9.Pretty woman

Completely implausible, a complete fairytale but I love it. Plus when I was in LA I went into the hotel in the film at the end of Rodeo and used their toilet, this didn't enhance my love of the film its just something I thought I'd share.

10.Lost in translation

It would have been a little gross if the two characters in this film had gotten together but its made all the more powerful because they don't. I remember a TV programme over here got someone who could lip read to try to work out what Bill Murray whispered in Scarlet Johansen ear at the end but unfortunately they could only get half of it.

If your popping over on the blog hop then welcome :)

Thursday, 6 May 2010

A Short Gentleman by Jon Canter

The latest NTTVBG pick to be discussed on Sunday was A Short Gentleman by Jon Canter. This is a very different read to the other books for this club so far as its a more light hearted funny book.

The narrator of this book is a Robert Purcell, a barrister who is the quintessential English Gentleman. Born into a rich household, Robert had a privileged childhood during which he dreamed of one day emulating his father by becoming a judge, gaining a respectable wife and having two children; a boy and a girl. Quite early on in the narration we learn that Robert has committed a crime for which he has been sent to prison and thus his career and personal life has taken a nose dive. We do not learn what this crime is until the end of the book and it was great fun reading about Robert's life going according to plan before completely unravelling.

Robert is not a nice character, he's condescending, pompous, arrogant and a terrible snob. These are aspects of his personality of which he is very proud. So why did I like this book? Well because these attributes meant that the narrator was never 'self pitying' and also because it gave the narration its wit and humour.

'I've inherited my politics from my father. I believe in a free market but I also believe it's the primary duty of a political party to look after the poor. The poor must be fed and clothed and housed, though preferably not next door.'

He seems to be a man who reminisces constantly about a bizarre bygone era. An era which, in reality, probably didn't exist except in the minds of people suffering from a hopeless rose-tinted nostalgia for 'Englishness'.

He came from a time when such questions went unasked. A man could have a mistress and a wife, without the wife asking questions. A man could visit a prostitute once a week, without the wife accusing him of having 'intimacy issues',........A man could have a close male friend, without that friend insisting they walk down the aisle of the Church of St Elton the John.

I don't normally use quotations in my reviews (I consider it far too much effort) but I have here to give you an idea of the humour and narration throughout the book, some of which made me laugh out loud. By the end of the book I don't think I really cared what crime Robert had committed because that wasn't the reason I was turning the pages, in the end I was drawn in by the story which had become quite developed and I ended up warming to Robert if only because the other characters were so much worse but just as hilarious.

Verdict 4/5

Posted by Jess

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Challenges and Awards

I have finally decided to join the 1030s mini challenge being hosted over at Things mean a lot and it’s not just because of the rather attractive button this challenge has. No it’s because my next book is ‘Tender is the night’ by F. Scott Fitzgerald which was published in 1934, I have never read Scott Fitzgerald before so hopefully this book will be a good introduction.

We have been given a couple of awards over the past few days. Firstly the One lovely blog award from the also lovely Cat from Cat-bookmagic.

We also have been given the Oh My Blog! Award from Petty at Pen and Paper.

The procedure, as The Little Flower explains being,

"1. Get really excited that you got the coolest award EVER!
2. Choose ONE of the following options of accepting the OMB award:
(a) Get really drunk and blog for 15 minutes straight, or for as long as you can focus.
(b) Write about your most embarrassing moment.
(c) Write a "Soundtrack of your childhood" post.
(d) Make your next blog a 'vlog'/video blog. Basically, you're talking to the camera about whatever.
(e) Take a picture of yourself first thing in the morning, before you do anything else (hair, make up, etc) and post it.
3. Pass the award on to at least three, but preferably more, awesome bloggers. Don't forget to tell them."

I’m gonna go with ‘Soundtrack of your childhood on this one.

But before I can do this I need to talk about Australian Soaps (yes there is a connection) I don’t know if it is actually the law in Australia but it certainly seems to be. Basically if you were an up and coming actor/actress/singer during the 80s/90s in Australia then you would have been MADE to appear in a soap over there at some point during your early career. The most popular soaps to appear in for these young entertainers would have been Neighbours and Home & Away, but if you weren’t quite beautiful enough for those then there was always prisoner Cell Block H.
I’m rambling; anyway the height of popularity in the UK for Australian soaps was during the 80s when I was only about 10. EVERYONE in school watched them and we would all swap posters everyday of the soap stars. Well during all this many of these stars made a break for Hollywood (the most well known being Guy Peace, Russell Crowe and Naomi Watts – in fact for all you true blood fans that’s where Jason Stackhouse started)
But for the rest of them that weren’t Hollywood worthy they would wash up on the UK shores and then start to bleed our ears with their awful 80’s pop music and thus the connection. Yes when I think of music during my childhood I cannot help but think of Kylie and Jason, the most successful of these. Do I listen to them now? No, in fact I cringe, Kylie may be a bit of a sex kitten now but then she was very uncool with a terrible 80s perm. Do I watch these soaps now? No, not for years.

Ok so I would like to pass these awards to the following bloggers who I have recently discovered.

Book Bookie
BookMarc Blogpants
Learning to Read
the ladybug Reads
This Bookish Life