Friday, 30 December 2011

Washington Square by Henry James

I was pre-warned that Henry James is not an easy writer to get on with and his style is not to everyone’s taste. To illustrate this point, here is the first line in the book; “During a portion of the first half of the present century, and more particularly during the latter part of it...” Oh dear I thought, but I carried on undaunted and I really enjoyed the book.

Set in 19th century New York Catherine Sloper lives with her wealthy father and aunt. Their lives are not remarkable, indeed Catherine is considered dull and plain by her well meaning but sometimes callous father that is until she is courted by a young man named Morris Townsend. Townsend doesn’t have a penny to his name and is suspected, by Catherine’s father, of being after Catherine’s inheritance money. To balance out the cold, cynical suspicions of the father Catherine’s aunt (a stupid, meddlesome woman) sides with the young couple and views Morris through romanticised rose-tinted glasses; fantasising that he is the son she never had.

The story is entertaining, gripping and easy to get swept up in. The characters are brilliant and I found it impossible not to feel personally involved with them. I often found myself giving little cries of surprise or elation whilst reading it (resulting in strange looks from passers by) but it is a story that really sucks the reader in and fires up the imagination. The drama of it all kept me on the edge of my seat.

Highly recommended and not at all difficult to get on with.

Final verdict 4/5


Thursday, 29 December 2011

The year in (a short) review 2011

Over 2011 I finished more or less 73 books, I also read a lot of various short stories and a couple of novellas I didn’t bother to count.

I did make a note of the nationality of the author of every book I read just for a bit of fun. Going by my reading habits I knew it was always going to be close between the Americans and English for the top spot and the English just about got there. I’m surprised at the amount of books by German authors I managed to read and am even more surprised that the French did not make an appearance or that the Irish did not feature more. I think I’ll do this again next year.

Looking over my favourite books this year and the classics like Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights and Gone with the Wind have been the most memorable ones for me but then I guess books like these are classics for a good reason. Next year I’m probably going to read a lot more classics and possibly some quite old books like Gulliver’s Travels or Robinson Crusoe. Chris is also trying his best to get me to read Ulysses or some such nonsense.

I have some lovely collections of books sitting on my shelf, quite a few of the penguin clothbound classics and the Penguin decade’s books. They look very pretty sitting there but I have read very few of them so this year I would like to prioritise those more, but who knows what comes my way in the meantime.

Thankyou to everyone who have organised very nicely any read-alongs that I have participated in over the year, you guys get me through books I would have never have picked up otherwise on account that I am lazy.
Happy new year everyone and here’s to a good one.

Posted by Jess

Sunday, 18 December 2011

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

It’s an odd book this one. If I had reviewed it and rated it the moment I finished reading it I would have given 5/5 easily. But it has been a number of weeks since I did read it and I’m now not so sure. One thing is certain however, I would recommend this wholeheartedly.

The novel is made up of a series of characters, each with their own chapter. These characters are all connected in some way and as the lives of the characters proceed so does time and times a goon and will get you eventually, which isn’t the most original idea really. But the execution is brilliant; I found it to be touching, inventive and rather entertaining. The chapter laid out in the style of a PowerPoint presentation was the one I found the most moving and also made this novel a joy to read on the kindle.

Despite the abundance of characters and the locations ranging from San Francisco to Naples, the story and threads all come together at the end making for a satisfying conclusion.

However while I loved it at the time I read it, a few weeks on I am struggling to remember much about it which isn’t a good sign. It’s not one of those novels that has lingered on the mind, I think I pretty much stopped thinking about it the moment I put it down. Why this is I’m not sure but something here was missing. I would still recommend this as it is very well done. However I would be interested if anyone else has had this experience with another book.

Rating 4/5

Posted by Jess

Friday, 16 December 2011

Quaker Writings An Anthology, 1650-1920

The Religious Society of Friends (more commonly known as Quakers) is a very unique religious group with a long history. Originally formed in England during the 1650s Quakers immediately faced censure, accusations of blasphemy, imprisonment and, in extreme cases, execution by the intolerant religious establishments of the time. The reasons for this treatment ranged from the questioning of scripture to the refusal to swear oaths, address magistrates by titles or fight in wars.
As the title suggests the book is a collection of essays and letters written by such famous Friends as George Fox, William Penn and Margaret Fell (to name a few) over a period of almost three hundred years. Despite the introduction to this review the book is not all about persecution, far from it. Although some of the letters were written by Friends from inside prison cells the majority of the book celebrate the religious convictions of Friends and speak about their faith, beliefs and practices.

One thing that is very obvious from reading the book is that Quakerism has changed since its original creation over three hundred years ago and I’m not going to go into whether or not I think that’s a good thing. The book paints a wonderful mental picture of early Quakerism with much talk of Christ which is sometimes missing from more contemporary Quaker writings.

The book isn’t without its downsides; I had particular trouble appreciating the writing style of William Penn, however considering the age of some of the writings by and large it is easy to get on with. Also I am unsure as to why the author only included letters written up to 1920 and not any more recent offerings.

This is an excellent book for someone who is interested in Quakers and wants to learn more about their roots particularly the beliefs and practices of early Friends. Personally I found it deeply inspirational and will definitely be re-reading it.

Final verdict 5/5

By Chris

Saturday, 10 December 2011

We Need to Talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver

If someone was going to compile a top ten list of perfect book club books (which I’m sure people have) this would surely have to be in the top three.  It’s the kind of novel that you want to immediately discuss with other people. So it’s a great thing that Tea Time with Marce is hosting a discussion on We Need to Talk about Kevin.  Even if you reviewed this ages ago it worth popping your link over on the discussion post.
The novel is made up of the letters sent from Kevin's mother (Eva) to her estranged husband Franklin; they document her memories of Kevin throughout his life, and also her visits to him in prison where he is sent after shooting a number of his classmates. The novel attempts to tackle many issues on parenthood and ends up asking far more questions than it manages to answer. The main question has to surely be, was Kevin born evil or was he a product of his upbringing and his mother’s feelings towards him? Was he a product of nurture vs. nature?
I’m surprised at how much of a page turner this novel proved to be. It was not always the difficult, deep psychological read I expected, sometimes it did not quite read as a thriller but certainly it was plot driven at times and I could certainly see why it has proved such a bestselling if uncomfortable book.
Eva proved a fabulously unreliable narrator; was Kevin really like that as a baby or just Eva’s perception? At first Kevin is described very much like Damien from the omen which I simply could not believe so I found myself questioning Eva’s version of events constantly throughout the novel. I didn’t find myself questioning at the end why Kevin did it but more about the belief in redemption.  I do believe there are crimes that cannot be atoned for but when the end of Kevin’s punishment for his crimes relies heavily on his redemption, Eva is in a position where she is forced to somewhat forgive.
I would recommend this, it might not always be what you expect but it’s worth reading with an open mind and who knows, you might love it or you might hate it but it’s unlikely you will remain indifferent.
Posted by Jess