Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Gustave Flaubert (author of Madame Bovary)

Since I am about to embark on a Madame Bovary read-along hosted by Nonsuch Book I decided to look briefly at the life of its author Gustave Flaubert. This is something I quite often do when reading classic novels as I find that having an understanding of the author's life and when they wrote it helps put the novel into context.

Flaubert was born in 1821 in France and began writing from a very early age. In 1840 he went to Paris to study Law but decided he didn't like it and dropped out. His first finished work was completed in 1842 and was a novella entitled November which was about a young boy and his relationship with a courtesan

He completed Madame Bovary in 1850 It took him 5 years to write. The government immediately tried to charge Flaubert and the publisher for immortality but was acquitted. Madame Bovary has stood out from among his works due to the realist and more truthful view of life which inspired future writers. The book is set at a time when there was a great rise of power among the bourgeois middle class which Flaubert detested. According to Wikipedia, the reader should therefore view the passages of the book where the country French customs are detailed as social criticism.

Flaubert never married instead seeking long-lasting friendship and travel companions. He certainty didn't have this attitude when it came to his sex life however and enjoyed both male and female prostitutes which he was very open about in some of his travel writings. These exploits resulted in him contracting syphilis in Beirut and for most of his life he suffered from various vernerial diseases. Nice. It's just as well he didn't marry really as a case of the clap does not make a good wedding gift.

Flaubert died in 1880 at the age of 58 from a cerebral haemorrhage.

Well it'll be interesting to read a book which has a style which inspired future writers such as Kafka but it seems that Flaubert could certainly give Madame Bovary a run for her money in the naughty behaviour category.

Posted by Jess

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Nocturnes by Kazuo Ishiguro

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall is a collection of short stories with music as a major theme running throughout. Each story features musicians who are unable to reach their full potential due to life’s niggling obstacles like looks, money or relationships and yet it is also music which sparks the friendships formed in each of the stories.

Each of the stories reads like a snapshot of a bigger picture and there is even a reoccurring character who appears in two of the stories. The other reoccurring themes within the stories are relationships at breaking point and the unease of fame.

The book therefore benefits from being read as you would a novel rather than dipping in and out as you might with traditional short stories. I did fill a little unfulfilled however and I would have liked to have seen a couple of the stories expanded a lot more. They were very well written in a similar dreamy style to Never Let Me Go but I'm not sure this style suited the short story format as much as the novel one.

Would I recommend this? Perhaps people who are more experienced with short stories would be able to comment on this one better but I preferred this authors novel.

Verdict 3/5

Posted by Jess

Monday, 27 September 2010

Asterix The Gaul

I don't often read graphic novels but the few I have read I have enjoyed. Some people do not consider graphic novels to be serious reading material and I can see their point but at the same time I think it is fun to read them from time to time and they sometimes have a surprising amount to offer.

The Asterix comic books are a good example of this. First published in France in 1959, there have been 34 books to date, the most recent written in 2009. There have also been 11 films (animated and otherwise) and several video games. There is even a theme park in Paris! Asterix books have sold 325 million copies worldwide.

In Asterix The Gaul we are introduced to Asterix; a hunter from Roman occupied Gaul (modern day France) The whole of Gaul is under Roman control with the exception of Asterix's small village. This is due to a magic potion brewed by the village druid (cheekily named, in a stroke of pure genius, 'Getafix') which gives the Gaul warriors superhuman strength for a limited time. Asterix has all sorts of adventures but spends most of his time beating the tar out of Roman soldiers after consuming the magic potion. This isn't to say the books are particularly violent and the fighting is always akin to the sort of Tom and Jerry 'saucepan in the face' slapstick children find hilarious. There is no blood and gore which is refreshing and certainly no cursing. All the characters in Asterix books carry swords but seem to prefer to use their fists (which is probably just as well!)

This isn't just a kids book. There is adult humour too, some of it tongue-in-cheek, sometimes satire, sometimes plays on words but always witty and good natured. A good example is the Roman centurion named 'Crismus Bonus'

All in all I found the book to be great good natured fun and I can easily see how the books could become collectable, they are very nicely put together and the illustrations are wonderful, clearly a lot of time and care went into drawing them. Although I'm no expert I have been confidently assured that the French to English translation is first class and very accurate.

Final verdict 4/5


Sunday, 26 September 2010

Paper Americana (and a request for suggestions)

Some of you may have noticed that lately I have been mostly reading and reviewing classics(just looking at the sidebar under 'Jess is Reading' confirms this).

Well I have been concentrating on classics but more specifically American Classics. I'm not sure why but I have always been drawn to American Classic literature a lot more than English or French etc. I guess because it excites me, I relish the prospect of reading Steinbeck or Wharton far more than the prospect of reading Dickens or Bronte.

I have decided to embrace this and I enrolled on a American Literature course (its not a qualification but purely for fun). The first session was last week and featured The Scarlet Letter and the course ends in March with Faulkner. For this course I'll be reading around 15 American Novels which includes authors such as Hemingway, Updike and Plath but I also want to add my own reading list to run along side this until March(ish).

I have come up with a rough list of additional American novels which I will read and includes authors such as Melville, Twain and Crane but its also a list which contains more modern writers such as Toni Morrison and McCarthy. I don't want to get bogged down with endless classics so I have also added some quite recent books such as The Hours and Olive Kitteridge which were Pulitzer prize winners.

There is now an additional page on the blog titled 'The American Project' which I haven't finished yet but will eventually contain all the books I will read during this time in the date order that they were published. This isn't a 'challenge' and as such I do not have a deadline or a set number of books I have to read, I'll keep going with it until I get bored really.

So that's my reading plan for the next few months and I wanted to ask if anyone had any suggestions for me? The suggested books can be either old or more recent but must come under what you would consider either an American Classic or be what you would consider to be a great American Author. Please don't assume I am knowledgeable in this area, I had no idea who Richard Wright was until I read Black Boy and I didn't know what a 'beat' writer was until I recently read On the Road. So any suggestions (even if you think its an obvious one) are most welcome.

Posted by Jess

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Forbidden Planet

One of my favourite science fiction films is 'Forbidden Planet' made in 1956 starring Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis and a young Leslie Nielsen. Of course the special effects were naff and the acting a little cheesy but I remember seeing it as a child and being both thrilled and terrified by the inspired 'Monster from the Id'

Imagine my excitement when I discovered there was a book written in 1956 to be released in conjunction with the film and that there are still copies around today!

Forbidden Planet is set in the future on the distant planet of Altair IV; a desert world many light years from Earth. 20 Years previously an expedition was sent to Altair IV from Earth but was never heard from again. At the beginning of the film the space cruiser C57D arrives on Altair IV where the crew find Dr. Morbius, the sole survivor of the original expedition, who has discovered the technological remains of an ancient alien race which lived on Altair IV thousands of years earlier. All is not well on Altair IV as Morbius warns the crew to leave the planet at once before a deadly planetary force, which was responsible for killing the members of the previous expedition, returns to kill them.

To begin with the book is very dated however, unlike the film, it hasn't aged well. The book is poorly written and disjointed, a different character from the story narrates each chapter which means the book doesn't read smoothly and the reader has to re-adjust to the different character's individual style and viewpoints which can be confusing.

The content of the book is inherently sexist; when the sex starved crew of C57D discover Morbius has a young daughter the highly trained and disciplined spacemen, who are supposed to be the best of the best, turn into dribbling lecherous perverts attempting to seduce the hapless girl at every turn (which even borders on creepy since she is described as 'like a child' due to her naivety)

Sadly the wonderful spirit of science fiction adventure captured in the original film is not present in this book at all which was a terrible disappointment to me, especially as copies are rare and I had to go through some expense to get my hands on a copy.

One reason this book will stick in my mind is that it is the only book I have ever read where swear words are stared out! It happens more than once! Bizarre

Final verdict 2/5


Friday, 24 September 2010

In the Miso Soup by Ryu Murakami

What a roller-coaster this book was.

Kenji is a taxi driver/tour guide for the sex district in Tokyo. If your visiting the city and you want someone to show you the best sex clubs/prostitutes etc. with a translator then Kenji is your man. When an overweight American called Frank hires Kenji for three nights over new years eve, it soon becomes obvious that Frank has murderous desires on his mind. What follows is a descent into evil and murder.

The picture of Tokyo that the author paints is a vivid one and he uses the guide Kenji to great effect as he also 'guides' the reader around the sex district and how large parts of it operate. The conversations between Kenji and Frank are quite compelling and its interesting to see sometimes how Frank knows more about Japanese culture than Kenji and Kenji knows more about some aspects of American culture. There is a lot of commentary on modern travel and life and Kenji muses on the loneliness among the American business travellers he guides (although it has to be said that the kind of Americans Kenji comes into contact with are going to be lonely to a certain extent.)

There is some quite shocking violence in the book but sometimes I found the violence a little too over the top to have realistic impact. The majority of the book follows Kenji as he become more suspicious of Frank who is an unnerving character. Unfortunately the book loses a little momentum during the second part but at only 180 pages it manages to fit a lot in there.

Would I recommend this? If your up for the violence and you want to try this particular Japanese writer then its be a good place to start.

Verdict 3/5

Posted by Jess

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Black Boy by Richard Wright

Published in 1945, the autobiography of Richard Wright Black Boy was originally going to be told in two parts. The first part chronicled Richards upbringing in Mississippi and his eventual realisation that in order to make something of himself he needed to leave the south. The second part of the book followed Richard in Chicago as he establishes himself as a writer.

Just when Black Boy was going to be published, the book was picked up by the Book of the Month club (which was the equivalent of the Oprah Winfrey book club today.) But the Book Club would only accept the first part of the book and this is how the book was originally published. Today you can buy the full version of Richards life in the south and the north but for some reason my copy only contains the first part of his life in the south.

Born in 1908 I am sure you can imagine the kind of life that a black boy born in Mississippi at that time had, and you'd be right. The book starts in a very dramatic way when Richard accidentally burns down his family home and then we follow his childhood as he deals with his father leaving, poverty, racial hatred and his family forcing their religion on him.

Wright is an incredibility talented writer and he attempts to explain how he has turned out the way he has and why he ultimately had to leave the south in order to pursue his dreams as a writer. He explains how the culture in the south at that time among black people forced him to behave in a certain way in order to avoid being noticed or lynched and how attitudes and nervousness towards white people were ingrained from a very early age (with good reason). All this meant was that he was unable to truly be himself within the communities that he lived in.

“Although they lived in America where in theory there existed equality of opportunity, they knew unerringly what to aspire to and what not to aspire to. Had a black boy announced that he aspired to be a writer, he would have been unhesitatingly called crazy by his pals.”

This is a brutal book in places but it is also incredibility compelling, warm and funny and of course this doesn't make the south at that time look good. Even when Richard does meet a non racist white man, he is still suspicious and nervous and cannot wait to get away from the man purely because of the way that he has been conditioned. His own family constantly give him beatings in what they see as his own good and in an attempt to make him learn to adapt to a white-dominant black-subservient society.

Its a beautifully written book and I think this passage perfectly demonstrates this as well as showing how Richard explains why he had to leave.

"Not only had the southern whites not known me, but more important still, as I had lived in the South I had not had the chance to learn who I was. The pressure of southern living kept me from being the kind of person that I might have been. I had been what my surroundings had demanded, what my family – conforming to the dictates of the whites above them had exacted of me, and what the whites had said that I must be. Never being fully able to be myself, I had slowly learned that the south could recognize but a part of a man, could accept but a fragment of his personality, and all the rest – the best and deepest things of heart and mind – were tossed away in blind ignorance and hate".

Would I recommend this? Absolutely, this is now one of my favourite books. Aside from it being a well written and thought provoking book, it also tells the story of racial tensions in that south at that time from a black boys perceptive. But try to get the full version as I have only read half the story.

Verdict 5/5

Posted by Jess

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

My new kindle arrived today!

Look what arrived for me today (not my actual kindle just a random picture of one)

Ah yes the Kindle. There are a lot of electronic readers out there (less of a choice in the UK though) so why the Kindle? This wasn't a quick decision, I don't make quick decisions on things this expensive. I have been talking about a kindle and other readers for months now (and driving Chris mad with it) A couple of times I have even gone to buy one but then changed my mind at the last minute to do some more 'thinking about it.'

Thinking about it I have, I have looked up the reviews and feature for all of the readers out there but for some reason I always came back to the kindle.

Why an electronic reader at all? Its a good question. I'm not a 'gadget' person particularly, my mobile is the most basic pay-as-you-go model and I have never owned an mp3 player. But a kindle I can really make use of.

I read a lot of classics and these are either free on the kindle or very cheap (I just downloaded the latest 2010 translation of War and Peace for 0.74p) I also buy the odd brand new hardback and these are a lot cheaper when buying the ebook edition.

Plus there's the instant download. No ordering online and waiting, instead its downloaded in 60 seconds.

But will this 'replace' books for me? My plan is that my first point of call for any book will be my library then ebook so hopefully no it will not replace books for me. Also I like 'collections' or special edition books which I certainly can't get from an ebook. All the kindle should do (if goes according to plan) is save on storage space and save me a bit of money in the long run.

Once I've finished playing with it and have read a whole book on it I will give a further update.

Oh and even though Chris has teased me by saying that when the end of the world comes he won't lend me his trustworthy paper books for either reading or for precious fuel while I morn the loss of electricity, I have still promised to let him read a book from MY kindle.

Posted by Jess

Monday, 20 September 2010

I'm Not Scared

I'm Not Scared is the story of Michele; a young boy who lives with his mother, father and sister in a poor farming community in southern Italy. One day Michele and some friends stumble upon an old abandoned house which Michele has to enter as part of a forfeit for losing a race. Once inside the house he finds something that changes not just his life, but the lives of the community around him, forever.

The book is technically well written, moves along at a nice pace and keeps the reader guessing what will happen next. Characters are well developed and the conversations had between the children are very believable.

From what I had heard about the book I was expecting to be scared by it. A quote from The Observer newspaper confidently asserts the book “Sucks you in like The Blair Witch Project” I cannot see where this comparison came from as the book is really nothing like that horror movie at all. It wasn't frightening or even particularly suspenseful. The story itself is almost completely unbelievable and really makes little sense. I couldn't understand why Michele never reported his discovery to the police or why the whole town seemed to be involved in some way. There were dozens of questions raised in the book, most of which were never answered. The characters were, without exception, unlikeable and their personal situation was difficult to empathise with.

Towards the end I couldn't wait to get it finished so I could read something else. A very disappointing read.

Final verdict 2/5

By Chris

Sunday, 19 September 2010

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton

The Custom of the Country was originally published in 1913 and tells the story of Undine Spragg, a girl who uses her beauty and ruthlessness to attempt to ascend New York's social ladder before she moves to Paris and paves her way there.

This was my first Edith Wharton novel, my only previous experience with Wharton was the film version of The Age of Innocence at which I got quite annoyed (why didn't he go up to her apartment at the end!)

But back to The Custom of the Country. Undine Spragg is a fascinating character, she only has one ambition in life which is to get to the top of whichever society she happens to find herself in. She is so fixated on this desire that she is completely oblivious to everything else around her. In order to achieve her rise to the top she spends a lot of time trying to marry the right man. If the 'right' man turns out to be the 'wrong' man or she has gone as far as she can using her current husband, well she can always get a divorce.

Undine one is one of the most despicable and selfish characters I have ever read about. She does not have her own opinions or views but rather she adapts to the opinions of which ever social crowd she is attached to which leads to some quite witty moments in the book.

Near the beginning of the book, Undine receives her first New York dinner invitation and she then spends a good page and a half pondering how she should reply and what paper she should reply on..

"She had read in the Boudoir Chat ….that the smartest women were using the new pigeon-blood notepaper with white ink.. It was a disappointment, therefore to find that Mrs Fairford wrote on the old-fashioned white sheet. It gave Undine rather a poor opinion of Mrs Fairford's social standing".

To really demonstrate how Undine's mind works however was summed up in one line for me. Undine is in Paris when she receives frantic letters from her husband begging her to come home as the doctors bills for her sons illness was larger than expected and they cannot afford her lifestyle in Paris, after pondering “Was it her fault that she and the boy had been ill?” She comes out with this corker,

…...”and as she leaned back among the cushions disturbing thoughts were banished by the urgent necessity of deciding what dress she should wear.”

Moments like these made me chuckle but as the book went on, Undine became more and more loathsome and the people ruined or hurt in her wake (including her own little boy) became too numerous and almost became tragic.

I think the book is pointing the finger at people like her who only care for money, status and beauty, yet will always chase what they can't have, she is a caricature of those type of people. But its also a sharp look at the changing fortunes of people with money at that time.

I am reading Madame Bovary in October and I'll be interested in comparing these two women.

Would I recommend this? Yes, I found this an enjoyable read with a main character that was so despicable I couldn't look away. However if you have not read Edith Wharton before then her books The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence are more famous so you might want to start with them.

Verdict 4/5

Posted by Jess

I am becoming addicted to read-alongs

I have a rule when it comes to read-alongs, I only sign up for them if the book in question is on my TBR list. I love read-alongs, the books which are picked for these tend to be books I find intimidating due to their size/prose/author etc. Read-alongs tend to be spread over a month or longer so that I can read the books slowly without interrupting my normal reading pattern, and there is something to be said for reading these books along with other people who are all in the same boat.

The problem is that there are a lot of read-alongs coming up which contain books that I really want to read.

First up is Madame Bovery which is being hosted over at Nonsuch Book during October. I have always wanted to read this and am now more interested since reading Edith Wharton's The Custom of the Country.

From Nonsuch Book again there is Dr Zhivago which is being read over November. This is a book I have always wanted to read and will be my first Russian book.

Hosting a read-along of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay is English Majors Junk Food. As the deadline for this one is October 18 then this is the one that I will probably have to opt out of.
Edited to say: This read-along has now been extended to 1st November so you have over a month to read this one.

Also being read over November/December is Midnights Children hosted over at Bibliojunkie. I admit that most of the reason I want to read this is just so that I could say I have – and I don't care if that's wrong.

If you are feeling adventurous then Dovegrayreader is hosting a year long read-along of War and Peace. You can either read one chapter a day or 100 pages a month. Or you can just do your own thing.

There are loads of other read-alongs being hosted in the upcoming months I am sure but there are the ones which I would like to do if I can. If there are any others then leave a comment and I'll add it to the post in case anyone else is interested.

Posted by Jess

I would like to add The Princess Bride read-along hosted at Chrisbookarama and starts at the beginning of october.

I did read The Princess Bride many years ago and it really was such a fun read and I recommend it.

Baja Greenawalt's Cozy Book Nook is hosting quite a casual read-along/discussion on Jane Austens Emma. Even if you have already read it then do pop along as they are interested in your views!

There is a monthly read-along hosted at Thelittlereader If you don't want to read a huge classic then this might be ideal for you as they tend to focus more on contemporary fiction with this months read-along being Half of a Yellow Sun.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Ghost Light by Joseph O'Connor

I have Star of the Sea at home but when I read the review of Ghost Light over at Reading Matters I decided to make this my first foray into Joseph O’Connor’s writing.

The novel follows Molly Allgood a once acclaimed star of the Irish stage who was engaged to the Irish playwright John Synge at the time of his death. Although these were real characters, the story has taken many liberties with the facts so I read this as I would a fictional book (which I believe is the intent).

Molly in the present is in a sorry state. She is an alcoholic, living in poverty in London and she dwells on her love affair with Synge and her fall from grace. The novel gives flashbacks to her time with Synge which is written in a way that provides flashes of bitter-sweet moments which mean so much to Molly rather than a straightforward dialogue. Couple this with the 2nd person narrative and this becomes difficult book to get into. One of the chapters is written in the form of a letter to a newspaper from a man complaining about an Irish drunk he saw in central London who the reader knows is Molly, and another chapter is written in the form of a humours Irish play.

Despite humour radiating sometimes from Molly, this book as a general atmosphere of despair and sadness especially when this is contrasted to her younger days as a young women in Dublin with her whole life ahead of her. The character of Synge himself is seen through Molly's eyes and we see a man who is ill, dying, aloof, capable of extreme tenderness and yet evades the question of marriage. The parts where his staunchly religious family deny her access to her funeral and make her 'sell' his letters to them are truly heartbreaking and yet Molly has survived.

I read this book quite slowly and despite being under 300 pages it took me much longer to read than I normally do but it is superbly written and I liked where the book took me.

Would I recommend it? This is not a fast paced plot based book and not what I would describe as an 'easy' read, but if you want to read a beautifully written book at a measured pace then I would highly recommend this.

Verdict 4/5

Posted by Jess

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Fahrenheit 451

I often avoid hype when it comes to books (and movies etc.) unfortunately I had heard of this book long before I had the desire to read it. Widely lauded as one of the most important works of science fiction as well as Ray Bradbury's greatest triumph. It would be an understatement to say I was a little intimidated when I picked it up.

Fahrenheit 451 was banned in some parts of the US during the Cold War period for containing some mild curse words and seemingly advocating Bible burning. (It is one of life's delightful little ironies that a book about censorship and book burning should be banned) of course the book never advocated any such thing but the book banning club never look at these things without prejudice.

The basic story is straightforward enough; Set in a society where learning is frowned upon and the population mill through life endulging themselves all day long. The main character is Guy Montag; a fireman, but not in the traditional sense. Bradbury's firemen don't put fires out, they start them with one despotic aim; to destroy books forever. Why? Reading books is strictly forbidden by the government on pain of death. When Montag rescues a book from a burning house and goes AWOL from the fire service his life begins to spin out of control. It isn't long before Montag is literally fighting for his life, forced to go on the run, a fugitive from the law.

Fahrenheit 451 is one of the most poignant and powerful books I have ever read. I would go as far as to say anyone who loves books should read this, even if they don't like science fiction. In truth it is hardly science fiction at all but just ordinary fiction set in a alternate future which contains a warning of the very real risk of this kind of thing happening on a large scale. It is a short book and only took a few days to read. I believe someone who loves books can't fail to find this chilling, moving and ultimately full of hope. A true ode to freedom and literature and just plain wonderful storytelling you don't find every day.

I don't usually put quotes from a book in my reviews but this is one of my favourite from the book:

“Most of us can't rush around, talking to everyone, know all the cities in the world, we haven't time, money or that many friends. The things you're looking for, Montag, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book”

Final verdict 5/5

By Chris

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

BBAW Day 3: Unexpected Treasures

Day three of BBAW is asking us to share a book or genre you tried due to the influence of another blogger. Well I can think of loads of books and different genres I have read because of the influence of other bloggers. But do you think I can remember the books or the blogger from where I got them from? Er nope.

So I will talk about challenges. I have to admit that when I first saw all these challenges popping up on other blogs I was quite cynical and couldn't work out why people would sign up to so many of them. Until of course I found a few that really appealed to me and I found myself becoming very quickly hooked.

The first one I ever signed up to was The 1930s challenge hosted over on thingsmeanalot. I read Tender is the Night for this one and quickly followed it with The Great Gatsby. F Scott.Fitzgerald is now one of my favourite authors ever and although I may have gotten around to reading these books eventually, I'm very glad the challenge inspired me to read it so quickly.

Next was the Daphne Du Maurier challenge hosted at book-a-rama (which is still running till April 2011) For this one I only had to read 3 Du Maurier books, an author which was new to me. So far I have read four and have no plans for stopping.

The fourth Japanese Literature Challenge hosted over at Dolce Bellezza inspired me to pick up Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro who again had become a firm favourite author of mine. At the moment I am being traumised by reading In The Miso Soup for this one.

Of course the Read the book, watch the movie challenge hosted over at Ready when you are, C.B is a very popular one and I have really enjoyed reading the other participants posts on this. So far we have contributed ten of our own.

So what have I learnt from participating in the above (aside from not to be so cynical). Well I have read an author I might not have picked up otherwise and read books which I have always thought 'I'd get around to one day' alot quicker. But I have also enoyed reading other bloggers post their entries and its nice to be part of that and to be able to comment on it. I also have to say that I'm grateful to the bloggers that host these things, it looks like alot of work.Who knows, maybe one day I'll be inspired to host my own ;)

Posted by Jess

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

I'm the king of the castle by Susan Hill

This book looks at the cruelty that other children can inflict on each other and goes against the adult thought that if you put two children of the same age together they will always ‘get along’. Of course similar themes were explored in Lord of the Flies, but I’m the King of the Castle takes place under less strenuous circumstances within the confines of the family home.

Edmund is an 11 year old boy who lives alone with his father after the death of his mother some years previous. Because his father is lonely himself and because he worries about his son becoming isolated, he arranges for a live in housekeeper and her 11 year old son Charles to live with them. Edmund is not happy with this arrangement and greets Charles with a note on his arrival stating ‘I didn't want you to come here'. What follows is nothing short of systematic bulling which quickly starts spiralling out of control.

The author has managed to quite accurately describe the feeling of claustrophobia and the menace of the house in which the boys live. The British countryside that surrounds it becomes sinister as the mist rolls in and the only birds around seem to be big black crows. The isolation and fear that Charles's experiences are felt and you despair of his situation just as he does.

Of course you may well be wondering where on earth the parents are in all this and it’s a good question. Well both parents are too busy wrapped up in their own lives and are too busy making eyes at each other to really see what’s going on. If this sounds a little far fetched to you then I’ll refer you to the passage below between Charles and his mother;

'There are plenty of things of things for you to do, I know, plenty of games to play.'
'I want to go out'
'That isn't very thoughtful, is it? Edmund cannot go out. I wonder if you really are so selfish as to forget that?'
'He doesn't want me to stay with him all the time. He doesn't want me at all.'
Don't argue Charles dear, I'm sure you would want some would want to see a friend.'
'He isn't my friend.'
'Perhaps you would like to take up Edmund's drink dear.' For she had decided simply to ignore it, this silly, persistent talk about their not being friends. That was the way boys behaved, it was a phase.

You see how Charles's mother is just not listening to her own child. I’m sure we can all as kids remember moments when our parents ‘didn’t listen’ and throughout the book this is done in a realistic way that you begin to feel Charles's anger and frustration at his situation.

The ending is shocking but I cannot see how it could have ended any other way. Sometimes things like this don’t just ‘blow over’ as the parents in this book seem to think it will.

Would I recommend this? This is not for the faint hearted and it certainly won’t cheer you up but it’s chilling and frighteningly realistic. If you liked the sound of this book then let me refer you to my review of The Children of Dynmouth which was written in the same decade and also looks parental neglect and the cruelty of children.

Verdict 4/5

Posted by Jess

The Greatest Love Story of all time?

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte has been voted ‘the greatest love story’ by over 2,000 readers according to this article here.

I haven’t read Wuthering Heights so I can’t comment on the choice, although I did once watch the film with my mother whereby we spent much of the film going ‘WTF, who are these horrible people’.

If I was going to vote I would say Romeo & Juliet but being a miserable sod I haven’t read that many romantic books to judge on the overall top 20. Are your favourites in this list? What would be your top love story?

The top 20

1 Wuthering Heights Emily Brontë, 1847
2 Pride and Prejudice Jane Austen, 1813
3 Romeo and Juliet William Shakespeare, 1597
4 Jane Eyre Charlotte Brontë, 1847
5 Gone with the Wind Margaret Mitchell, 1936
6 The English Patient Michael Ondaatje, 1992
7 Rebecca Daphne du Maurier, 1938
8 Doctor Zhivago Boris Pasternak, 1957
9 Lady Chatterley's Lover DH Lawrence, 1928
10 Far from The Madding Crowd Thomas Hardy, 1874
11 = My Fair Lady Alan Jay Lerner, 1956
The African Queen CS Forester, 1935
13 The Great Gatsby F Scott Fitzgerald, 1925
14 Sense and Sensibility Jane Austen, 1811
15 = The Way We Were Arthur Laurents, 1972
War and Peace Leo Tolstoy, 1865
17 Frenchman's Creek Daphne du Maurier, 1942
18 Persuasion Jane Austen, 1818
19 Take a Girl Like You Kingsley Amis, 1960
20 Daniel Deronda George Eliot, 1876

Posted by Jess

Monday, 13 September 2010

Troll A Love Story by Johanna Sinisalo

Hows this for a synopsis – a gay photographer nicknamed Angel living in Finland comes home one evening drunk after being rejected by a man he has fancied for sometime, he notices that some kids are kicking a small troll outside his apartment and he decides to take the little fellow in (despite it being illegal to keep a wild animal) and nurse it back to health. Oh because Trolls were discovered in 1907 and although rare are accepted as part of Northern Scandinavia’s wildlife. If you then throw in Angels complicated sex life (forget love triangles, how about a love rectangle) and his increasing sexual and protective attraction to the troll as it grows up, you have yourself one very quirky book.

There are several narrators throughout which change with each chapter which are typically 1-3 pages short and interwoven throughout are academic writings, Poems and stories on Trolls.

This is a very quick read and proves rather intriguing and it’s certainly different. Yes it is a love story of sorts but certainly not in the conventional sense and there are some funny moments as Angel adapts to living with a Troll which poos on his floor and eats live guinea pigs.

But rather than having the feel of a fable or fairytale, the book looks more at relationships and what drives the characters attractions. It looks at how some of the characters will use sex for their own gain, play with the power within their relationships and the reader sees how the Troll is not the only kept ‘pet’ in the book.

Would I recommend this? Its funny, sweet and sometimes downright gross and disturbing but its certainly interesting and says a lot more than it first appears to.

Oh and in case you were wondering, there is no 'sex scene' between a man and a Troll (considering the Troll is a juvenile it would just be all kinds of wrong.)

This book is also known under the title Not Before Sundown.

Verdict 3 ½ stars

Posted by Jess

BBAW - the first blog I discovered

Book Blogger Appreciation Week starts today!

The idea is to celebrate all the wonderful book blogs out there in the blogosphere through a series of posts during the week. As we are a new blog the post today is “For those you new to BBAW, what was the first book blog you discovered?”

Well like a lot of bloggers I read a lot of book blogs for quite a few months before starting my own (it was Chris’s idea) and I can remember the first one I came across.

I used to hang around on a few book forums and it was on one of these that I ‘met’ CarinB from littlebookish by participating in a couple of ‘book of the month’ reads. When I first visited littlebookish, CarinB happened to have just signed up to C.B.James’s read the book watch the movie challenge which led me to his blog Ready When You Are, C.B. and introduced me to all his featured blogs on his sidebar. So if you were on C.B.James’s sidebar around last January then you were possibly one of the first blogs I visited and is how I entered the world of the book blog.

So a long winded story but please do check out the above blogs if you have not already as they are completely different and both feature some very interesting posts.

posted by Jess

Sunday, 12 September 2010

The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne

This book seems to be a firm favourite within the American education system as quite a few Americans have told me that they first encountered this one in school. I think the only reason I was aware that this book was considered one of the great American classics was because my father had mentioned on quite a few occasions that he really enjoyed reading this in school. My father was educated in California during the 60s and The Scarlet Letter has proved to be one of his more memorable reads from high school. I read this knowing nothing of the story just that it had something to do with Puritans and that ‘the Reverend’ did it.

Well I have to admit that my heart sank as I dragged myself through the first 63 pages of the first chapter. The book does not begin with the story of the Scarlet Letter but rather the story of the narrator which threw me slightly. The unnamed narrator describes his job at a custom house in Salam, his work colleagues and finally he describes a small bundle of papers in which appears a rather ornate scarlet badge of the letter A. The papers contain the story of Hester Prynne and the circumstances as to which she was made to wear the letter on her breast and the narrator decides to write a fictional account of The Scarlet Letter.

As I have said, I struggled through this first chapter and the reason is is because of the writing. For some reason I found myself wading through the quite heavy prose regretting that I had ever picked up The Scarlet Letter. However once I have got past this first chapter and onto the actual Scarlet Letter story the narrative suddenly became much easier to read, the chapters shorter and I started to very much enjoy reading it.

The story I found to be an interesting one. Hester (who is a women which again threw me – surely that’s a mans name?*) was sent to Boston ahead of her husband who remained in Europe on the understanding that he would eventually join his wife. After a few years go by, Hester becomes pregnant and gives birth to a baby girl named Pearl which sends shockwaves through the Puritan community and is where the story begins. After much deliberation the towns’ elders decide that as punishment, Hester should be made to wear a Scarlet Letter upon her breast thus drawing attention to her ‘sin’. Hester is a strong type who accepts her punishment and refuses to name the child’s father even after considerable pressure to do so.

Around the same time as Hester is beginning her punishment, her doctor husband shows up to find his wife pregnant and shunned from society. He asks his wife to not reveal his identify and he then proceeds in ingraining himself into society with the sole purpose of finding the child’s father and exacting his revenge. As the years go by this man becomes quite an odious character whose sole purpose of living is to cause misery and pain.

Making up this trio is Pearl’s father the Reverend Dimmesdale who is a weak and at times quite a hypocritical character. He considers Hester to be more ‘free’ because everyone knows her sin while he is forced to privately carry the burden of his. Yet of course he will never reveal his sin because of his human weakness which is in contrast to Hester, at one point he even blames Hester for his misery. Yet he is also the most complex character in the novel, in one scene Hester goes to the governor’s house in order to confront her accusers because there is talk that Pearl might be taken away from her in order to give Pearl to a less sinful guardian. In a gripping scene where Hester is forced to uncharacteristically beg for her child it is the Reverend Dimmesdale who steps up and convinces the other elders that the best place for Pearl is with her mother.

The strength of this novel lies very much in the characters and I enjoyed trying to work out their intentions. Even little Pearl who as a child could have been neglected in the book, proves an enigma throughout and is constantly asking probing and insightful questions. The novel itself builds up the tension to a very public conclusion which kept me riveted, and the themes of sin, human nature and identity have had me mulling over the novel in my mind since I read it.

Would I recommend this? I am sure that since this is a book that is read in schools it is packed full of symbolism (yes I noticed the Rosebushes) but as an adult reader encountering this book for the first time, without the use of a teacher to guide me, I found this a very rewarding and gripping read.

“Mother,” said little Pearl, “the sunshine does not love you. It runs away and hides itself, because it is afraid of something on your bosom. . . . It will not flee from me, for I wear nothing on my bosom yet!”
“Nor ever will, my child, I hope,” said Hester.
“And why not, mother?” asked Pearl, stopping short. . . . “Will it not come of its own accord, when I am a woman grown?”

Verdict 5/5

Posted by Jess

* I have since been informed by Zoe from Playing by the Book that Hester is a common girls name in the Netherlands (thanks Zoe!)

POSSIBLY the oldest LENDING library in England

Its funny how you discover things on your own front doorstop. When my local county did a heritage day where they opened all the churches and historic buildings to the public I went along to my local church as I heard they had quite a special library.

Cranston library is a tiny library composing of one room above the church vestry. The library was opened in 1701 by the vicar of the church Andrew Cranston who wanted his local parishioners to have access to books which could further their knowledge.

Although there were libraries operating in England long before this, you were unable to take the books out of these libraries. Because books were so precious you would only be able to look at the books within the libraries themselves and quite often these libraries would chain their books to the shelves to prevent people taking them away. Cranston library however allowed parishioners to take the books home which gives the library its little claim to fame.

The curators of the library were really nice and helpful and answered my questions cheerfully despite the fact that I was holding a very wriggly 22 month old at the time (my son chooses his moments he really does.) The collection of books numbers around two and a half thousand and was mostly accumulated between the years 1701-1708, its an snapshot of what the vicar thought his parishioners should be reading at that time.

In the way of literary fiction, there are some books by people like Milton and Shakespeare but mostly the collection is made up of two thirds religious text and the rest are factual books on subjects like history and geography.

The staff there showed me a record book which dates from 1701 and shows the records of every book taken out by whom and for how long right up until 1920 when public libraries came into operation and Cranston library was no longer needed.

Today the library still lends out books to academics and universities around the country, they mentioned Oxford university for example have had a book out for over a year now.

The library has not moved from the tiny room it occupies since its opening in 1701 and the books were only moved during WWII for safety reasons. The library has managed to stay in tact because Andrew Cranston set up a board of trustees to secure its future after his death, at this time there were 44 trustees and there are 9 trustees today (one of whom told me today that 44 is a ridiculous number.)

It was a lovely place to visit and was wonderful to see the staff there being so enthusiastic.

Posted by Jess

Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Shining by Stephen King

For those who have never heard of it 'The Shining' is a paranormal horror story made famous by the movie of the same name starring Jack Nicholson. The story is set almost exclusively inside the Overlook Hotel in Colorado. Every winter the Overlook is cut off from the outside world by heavy snow. The hotel cannot be left unattended during this period and must be looked after by a resident caretaker. Jack Torrance, a down-on-his-luck ex teacher, moves into the Overlook for the winter with his wife and five year old child, Danny. Danny has 'The Shining' a kind of psychic ability that allows him to see into the future. The Overlook has a dark and violent past and it's not long before strange things begin to happen inside the abandoned hallways and rooms. It gradually becomes apparent that the restless, maniacal spirits inhabiting the Overlook want the Torrance family dead and will go to chilling lengths to achieve this.

Before I begin to air my views on the book in earnest I feel it is only right to point this out; Jack Torrance is an arsehole. He is an arsehole at the beginning of the book and he was an even bigger arsehole at the end of it.

Sorry about the cursing but I just had to get all that off of my chest! In Jack Torrance Stephen King has, in my opinion, created one of the most infuriating, unlikeable characters in literary history! Conversely he also created Dick Halloran; one of my favourite characters from fiction.

A miserable, paranoid, violent, dishonest, cruel, self-pitying, bullying, wife and child abusing alcoholic with serious anger-management issues! I took an almost instant dislike to him and continued to dislike him for all 500 pages of the book!

It is not long before the evil spirits in the hotel begin to methodically chip away at Jack's already dwindling sanity by manipulating his deep held paranoia and weakness for alcohol to convince him to murder his family. Frankly, It doesn't take much convincing and, if left to his own devices, he might well have murdered them anyway even without the spirits intervention.

Stephen King writes too much in his books. I have no doubt at all that this book could have been 150 pages shorter and still been a good read however, in King's usual style he gives his characters too much back story. Despite this I did enjoy reading the book, kept at it and never seriously considered putting it down. The story is excellent, even if not entirely original (See 'The Haunting of Hill House' by Shirley Jackson) and the moving hedgerow animals truly chilled my blood on more than one occasion. The insanity of the Torrance's situation is truly claustrophobic and frightening but it didn't help that they were all so irritating. I did like the ending and felt it was the best way the book could end.

Ultimately I enjoyed this book and it certainly doesn't put me off Stephen King but it does make me look at his work with perhaps a more sceptical eye than I did before.

Final Verdict 3/5

Posted by Chris

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

The Island by Victoria Hislop

While making my way through The Scarlet Letter recently I decided to pick up something easy to read alongside. I had already read Victoria Hislop’s second book The Return so decided to pick up her first book, the best-seller The Island.

The novel is set on the real Island of Spinalonga off the coast of Crete during the 50s when the Island was still being used as a leper colony. Before a cure was eventually found Greece sent many of its Leprosy sufferers to Spinalonga where the disease was able to be contained. Although the sufferers were cut off from their family and would die on the Island, many of them did have a better quality of life here than they would have had on the mainland. Previously to the opening of Spinalonga as a leper colony, sufferers would often live in the areas caves. At least on the island they received food, water and social security payments. The novel follows a family living on nearby Plaka and their ties with the Island over generations.

Well The Island starts off EXACTLY the same as The Return, a twenty something woman in a bad relationship goes to the country of her mothers birth in order to find out more about her family history and to unearth the reasons why her mother is secretive about her past. In The Return it was Spain and in The Island its Crete.

The author has a wonderful story to work with here and the story races along at breakneck speed throughout, sometimes at the expense of character development. The characters themselves are not fully rounded and I found many of them to be two dimensional. One of the daughters in the main family Anna for example is portrayed as selfish and wild and she therefore spends all of the book doing selfish and wild things without any explanation of her motivations and other sides to her character are not shown. Its not long before this novel started reading like a bad soap opera, a very predictable badly written soap opera.

So why did I keep reading? Well its a very easy lazy read for starters and although I feel as though the impact of Leprosy on the community was not fully explored, there was a lot of describtion of the disease and of the community on Spinalonga. It was the subject matter overall which kept me reading rather than the characters or the storyline.

I noticed that Under Their Skin by Dinah Lee Kung also deals with the theme of Leprosy and was published in the same year as The Island. I'm asuming it got overshadowed somewhat by The Island. I have added this one to my wish list but has anyone else read it?

Would I recommend it? If your after an easy love story based with some interesting history then yes, but dont expect anything of substance.

Verdict 2/5

Posted by Jess

Monday, 6 September 2010

My reading time-line

I thought it would be fun to do a time-line of the kinds of books I have read from my mid-teens. Its quite weird to see which books sprang up in my mind depending on the era and also which books or genre I remember not liking. So without further ado........

Aged around 14-16 Two types of genre that I remember reading while in school and they were the point horror books (remember them) which I think pretty much all my friends collected so we could then swap them. The plot of these books was almost always the same, a group of teenagers would go to an isolated cabin/funfair/beach and one by one get killed off by predictably the main heroines ex-boyfriend.

The other type of book that me and my friend Sarah had a thing for were Mills & Boon books. Ah yes the books which are always in stock at your local charity shop. Perhaps it was the predicable romance we fell for, or perhaps being curious teenagers we were just interested in any saucy bits we could find within the pages; I'll leave you to decide which appealed.

Aged 16-20 – I'm not too sure what happened during my late teens (nothing too tragic) but for some reason I dumped the romance completely and focused my full attention onto horror. But point horror books could no longer cut it for me so I seeked out Stephen King, got an obsession with Anne Rice and got grossed out by James Hurbert. No I was not a goth.

Aged 20 – around 27 – I turned my back on Horror and it was during this period that I was more open to different types of writing and genres, I tried out quite a range here. I would quite often wander into a bookshop and just buy whatever took my fancy and read quite a few best-sellers this way like The Secret History and Memoirs of a Geisha. I also read authors from Mary Wesley to Maeve Binchy and read some downright weird stuff courtesy of Will Self and The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks.

But what didn't I like? Well I read my fair share of chick-lit during this time and although some were funny and entertaining they did nothing for me and the fact that I cant remember a single title that I read during this period is testiment to this. I also read quite a few English classics and although Austin was OK and I enjoyed Hardy, I couldn't get through books by Dickens, Bronte or Collins.

Now – Well I wish I could say I am more diverse in my reading choices today but I think I am fussier now than I was in my early 20s. Most of my book choices come from recommendations from other bloggers and I certainly read more now than I ever did. I read a lot more translated works and I am not so much intimidated by more high-brow writers, I am more willing to 'work' at a novel now. Perhaps because of the blogging influence I am more interested in the various literary prizes and am looking forward to viewing the Booker short-list tomorrow.

In terms of the classics, well I do read my fair share but I have noticed that I veer very much over to the classic American writers. Perhaps this is because of my failure with the few classic English writers I tried before? I'm not particularly bothered about this, aside from Henry James, I have thoroughly enjoyed reading the American classics I have read and will read authors like Hemingway, Twain, Melville and Faulkner throughout the upcoming months.

The Future? - Well I would like to read more foreign classic fiction especially from the Russians and French. I would also like to read more Japanese contemporary fiction and fiction from other English speaking countries aside from the UK and the USA. Maybe I'll even stick a horror book back into the mix ;)

If you do your own time-line please let me know as I would love to read it.

Posted by Jess

Sunday, 5 September 2010

A visit to the Globe Theatre

Me and Chris have walked past the Globe Theatre on the bank of the Thames dozens of times but had never gone in. A few years after it opened I was doing a geography project in the area (cataloguing how the buildings in the area are used if you were interested) and I popped my head in one of the big double doors as something was being delivered and this was closest I had gotten to the interior until last weekend.

Well we finally parted with our cash and went in, unfortunately we did not go to see a play being performed but we did have a very nice guided tour. Please excuse the naff photos, I forgot my camera and had to take pictures on my phone and my phone is a very basic model.

The current Globe is a reconstruction of the original globe theatre (which originally stood nearby) and was where Shakespeare's plays were performed (along with plays written by other writers). Back then most of London was controlled by the Puritan Christians and anything fun like gambling, dancing, singing and plays were banished to more dubious areas. The Globe as well as hosting plays would have also served as a bear pit, brothel and gambling house.

There was an extremely high turnover of plays and often actors for the parts were hired on the day. Actors were either only given their lines or someone backstage would whisper the lines to the actor allowing for no rehearsal time. Costumes were rarely used and all female parts were played by male actors. To stand in the 'pit' and watch a play would cost you 1 penny and the plays were extremely popular apart from times when there was an outbreak of Bubonic Plague.

Alas the Globe burnt down when a cannon used in one of the plays set fire to the thatched roof (no one was killed) and although it was rebuilt the Puritans came along in 1644 and spoilt all the fun when they pulled it down boooo hissssssss.

The new Globe Theartre was opened in 1997 after much fund raising from the American director Sam Wanamaker and is the first Thactched roofed building in London since the great fire in 1666. In order to stand in the 'pit' nowadays costs £5 but as the average play lasts around 3 hours and you are not allowed to bring anything in the way of seating I can't say I fancy that much. However the rest of the seating is mostly made up of simple wooden benches unless you want to pay for the most expensice seats where you get a chair. According to the guide the best place to be during the play is the pit as the actors mingle amounst the crowds and use all avaliable exits as entrences.

The Globe has seating for 587 people with and an additional 700 places in the pit which is about half the size of a shakesperean audiance (dam these modern health and safety rules!) More information on seeing a play can be found here.

It turned into quite an interesting day and was far better than its neighbour the Tate Modern.

Posted by Jess

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Mary Anne by Daphne Du Maurier

An historical offering now from Du Maurier as her novel Mary Anne is an account of her real life Great-Great Grandmother which lead a slightly turbulent life as the mistress of Frederick Augustus, the Duke of York and Albany.

In order to put this into historical context, Frederick’s father was ‘mad King George III’. If you’re not too sure who George III was, he was the King of England when America got its independence.

The book begins with Mary’s humble beginnings in London, her disastrous marriage and her eventual climb to the top where she becomes a mistress to various high profile men before coming to the attention of Frederick, the Duke of York. Frederick pays for a nice house and provides her with an income which is too small for the life Mary Anne has become accustomed to. In order to raise extra funds she ‘sells’ favours. Frederick was commander-in-chief of the army so if you wanted to be promoted, you could give Mary Anne a few hundred pounds and she would then fix it with the Duke. Unfortunately after a few years Mary Anne is effectively ‘dumped’ by the Duke for someone else and loses her home and possibly her children’s secure futures. Then when the Duke is called, accused of accepting bribes Mary Anne is called to testify.

This is quite an interesting life that Du Maurier has to work with here and it starts off very exciting as Mary Anne starts her rise from humble beginnings and survives anyway she can. This for me was the best part of the book and I found her beginnings and her marriage to a man who gambles away all their money very interesting. This woman surely must be admired for leaving her husband during those times and attempting to make her own way with three children in tow in a very male orientated world.

Unfortunately the last 100 pages of the book is court scene after court scene and it’s not written in a particularly exciting way and I have to admit I skimmed over quite a few of these pages. There are also countless male characters introduced here some of which are friends and some foe, but I got completely muddled here with who was who.

The character of Mary Anne could have been more developed as she come across as very feisty and determined most of the time, but when it came to her accepting bribes etc she was suddenly depicted as a victim and was presented as this being the only way she could survive. I would have liked to see her take some responsibility for some of her actions. I did find out that this book was originally intended to be a play and was going to be written for Du Maurier’s lover Gertrude Lawrence and is who the book is dedicated to. Unfortunately Gertrude died before the play was written and so instead took the form of a book which might explain some of the lack of character development.

On reflection though I found this a largely enjoyable book about an interesting life.

Would I recommend this? If you like your historical fiction and don’t mind court scenes then yes.

Verdict 3/5

Posted by Jess

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Room by Emma Donoghue

Out of all the books on the Book longlist 'Room' appealed to me more than the others.
Jack, a young boy, lives with his mother in a room 12 feet square Jack is perfectly happy with his life in Room; he plays imaginative games with his mother, they exercise and watch TV. The book begins with Jack’s fifth birthday, as he gets older he naturally becomes more curious. His mother tells him that the fictional world he sees in TV is all around them and that 'outside' isn't just space but a place where other people live.

Most of the reviews I have read so far have been very positive and the reviewers have loved this book, I’m not going to disagree with them. Given the subject matter this is a surprisingly easy read yet still gives the reader plenty to think about and carries emotional impact.

The book is told through the eyes of 5 year old Jack which is not as irritating as it sounds. Some parts made me chuckle such as the typically childish things Jack comes out with that we can all relate to. What I think was very clever was that some of the games and conversations that Jack describes have more meaning to the reader while to Jack they are just harmless games. An example of this is the game which Jack and his mother play every afternoon which involves both of them standing on the kitchen table and screaming as loudly as they can while banging pots and pans. Jack doesn't understand that this is more than just a game...Scenes like this allow the reader to fill in the blanks and gives another layer to the narration.

One reason I was personally grateful for the young narrator is that the book was not as depressing or as grim as it would have been if told through the mother’s eyes. If the book had been told through the mothers eyes then this would have been a very different kind of book but as Jack is naïve and also shielded from some of the more frightening realities in his world so the reader is also shielded. This is not to say that the book glosses over some of the more harrowing issues as it doesn’t, but it does mean that the book can focus more on the relationship between Jack and his mum rather than have a misery memoir full of imprisonment and rape.

My only minor quibble with this book is one of the events towards the last third of the story where I feel as though one of the characters did something I think was out of character. But this is only a minor tiny little quibble which I won't discuss since it will spoil the story for those who haven't read it yet.

Would I recommend this? Yes, although I found this quite a thoughtful book there were also some quite tense and exciting moments and I loved it.

Verdict – 4 ½ stars

Posted by Jess