Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte and Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte (the book that wasn’t reviewed!)

We had a choice of two books to kick off 2017. Wuthering Heights, as one of the group really wanted to read it and Agnes Grey the alternative as most of the group had already read Wuthering Heights and weren’t bothered about reading it again.

Turns out only one person read Wuthering Heights for the meeting and was bitterly disappointed by a) the lack of anything happening and (mostly) b) Heathcliff. I think visions of a brooding Aidan Turner were expected. Poldark Heathcliff is not!

Wuthering Heights was therefore swiftly glossed over and Agnes Grey was put forward. It’s a very thin book which was refreshing given that most books of this era I believe are too wordy. Pretty much all of the group were able to read it quickly which always gets bonus points from me.

I read Grey off the back of David Copperfield and Bess of Hardwick so was slightly put off at the thought of having to read another similar book but the lack of pages really helped. I enjoyed the book, it was gentile if predictable but again the lack of pages worked here to its credit. You didn’t feel as though you were wading through 500 pages just to get to the ending you picked out on page 203.

I did wish it had lingered slightly longer on Greys experiences of being a governess, a different angle when so often the lead character is a lady who does very little but attends balls and sits practising the piano until handsome if unattainable Lord identified on page 203 is suitably snared. I would happily have read more detail, in fact would have read a whole book on this subject should it have continued. Instead the two boy pupils were packed off to boarding school never to be seen of again and we were left with a lead character taking country walks and attending church (well she was a governess not a Lady so ball attending was out of the question).

It is quite easy to criticise the book however I found it comforting and above all enjoyable. Here is the tale of a heroine who, despite her family's wishes, ventured off in to the unknown to carve out a living for herself and when it didn’t work brushed herself off and tried again. She persevered even when her pupils were positively horrible and she didn’t complain. Not a bad message to have in a book and for that it got my vote.
It averaged a 6.8 out of 10.

Next book is When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Bess of Hardwick: First Lady of Chatsworth - Mary S Lovell

I read this straight after David Copperfield and although I enjoyed David Copperfield I was concerned that going from one doorstop to another with a notes section amounting to about 50 pages might be too much. As a biography it certainly was the most factual book I had read in a while however where many biographers fail Lovell succeeded in presenting dates and facts without being tedious or dry.

Lovell was clearly on Bess's side showing her as a caring, generous, shrewd business woman and why not? Evidence was presented to back this viewpoint which opposes the perhaps more established portrait of a hard hearted, calculated, money grabbing woman who only married for financial gain.

Even though I consider myself relatively well read on the Tudors I learnt so much both about the era and of Bess herself. I want to see Chatsworth House and Hardwick Hall and I'm not a 'visit old houses owned once upon a time by a now dead person' sort of girl (I'm turning an old person, help!). Did you know she was related to Georgiana Cavendish the Duchess of Devonshire who in turn was the great great great great aunt of Princess Diana? – Keira Knightly/The Duchess for any of you Hollywood fans out there.

I had actually read Philippa Greggory The Other Queen about Queen Mary's imprisonment and didn’t twig that Bess was the same person. The books are completely different, one being more story, the other a bibliography but I liked both the same. After all what is history but one persons interpretation of events, some more embellished than others? Having said that I did find this a refreshing change to my standard historical novels and I enjoyed the central character not being royalty. The royals (and there were a few) were merely side characters, Bess was the star of the show from start to finish.

I do think the book could have been slightly shorter and it did take a while to read but it was really well researched about a topic the author was passionate about that was punctuated with so much more than dates bringing the people and the time vividly to life. Worth a try if you are thinking about reading a bibliography for the first time but be warned it does take a little effort.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Big Review of the Year 2016

Sorry, sorry, sorry its 13th January already and this far in people couldn't care less about what happened last year but a Big Review we have always had and a big review we will always have (13 little days and only a lunch hour to squeeze in 12 books will get in my way.)

We kicked off with A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Taylor. 7 out of 10
I have to confess I had forgotten all about this one and before I read back my review the words 'house, family and American' were all that jumped out at me. The characters lacked inner monologue which whilst being very true to life left the reader feeling like they were reading without a purpose as nothing ever went further than skimming the surface.

Februarys book was For Whom The Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemmingway. 3 out of 10
This was chosen following on from Mrs Hemmingway being reviewed the previous year. The difficult language (I obscenity in the milk of your____ ) made it hard to follow and very little actually happened. Looking back however despite it being almost a year since I read it I can remember it well - the cave they lived in, the forest, the planes flying over the valley - as opposed to A Spool of Blue Thread or even some books coming later in this review where I grasp at remembering anything.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro was next up. 5.5 out of 10
Very Tolkein esque with much debate about how memory makes us who we are but it lacked the lightbulb moment (anyone got what it was about yet) and fantasy never goes down well with the group.

The very lovely A Man Called Ove - Fredrick Backman was Aprils book. 8.6 out of 10
I cried (so did others in the group), I loved it (as did others). Read it

The Versions of Us - Laura Barnett came next. 7 out of 10
A literary Sliding Doors that was filled with an overall sadness and grief. Most of us found it difficult to keep track of the different versions and the many characters but it set it's self out as different from its competitors.

Locally based In a Dark Dark Wood - Ruth Ware was Junes suggestion. 5 out of 10
Point horror for adults that ended up only loosely being set in Northumberland. As one of the group so excellently put it "shit, entertaining but shit"

The eagerly awaited Go Set A Watchman - Harper Lee followed with a 6 out of 10
It was written before To Kill A Mockingbird and was hard to follow at times but there were glimmers of the masterpiece that would follow. Loved Scout's pregnancy, hated the changed Atticus

One Night in Winter - Simon Sebag Montefiore. 7/8 out of 10
Loosely based on a true story illustrating how quickly the truth can be twisted. It was really 2 books in 1 and was disappointed at the end in relation to the 'first' book. However the message - love in its many many forms survives was a good one and much preferred than the message in The Versions of Us. New scoring system gave it a 7 and an 8 mean, mode and median

A blast from the past Judi Blume with In The Unlikely Event came next and I cant find a score for this one - anyone??
A surprise hit for me, skipped about between characters but I loved it and found the plane scenes genuinely tense.

The Axemans Jazz - Ray Celestin was Octobers book. 8 out of 10
This book split the group. I was firmly on the 9 out of 10 side and the second book is now on my shelf waiting to be read. Excellent front cover.

The Aftermath - Rhidian Brook followed with 7 out of 10
Really split scores on this book (5-9). I found it predictable with too many characters and issues being squeezed into too few pages. It was also very forgettable - I couldn't remember reading it until I re-read the review and this was only from November.

We rounded off with The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay. 5/6 out of 10
An Agatha Christie style whodunit set over Christmas. Better than last years offering but only just

Overall not a great year for the books we reviewed, we did however follow a stonking year (2015) so was always going to struggle.

The Highest scoring book of the year goes to...... A Man Called Ove (very well deserved).
Axeman's Jazz came a close second however really split the group unlike Ove which consistently had high scores.

The lowest scoring book of the year was............ For Whom The Bell Tolls - it tolled for Hemmingway (see what I did there? Sorry!)

The most forgettable book of the year.............. Aftermath
Yes I didn't remember A Spool of Blue Thread however considering Aftermath was only read 2 months ago and I am already forgetting it speaks volumes

Book of the year..................................................................................... OVE of course. It is lovely, touching, grumpy, sad and one that will stay on my bookshelf for a long long time.

So that's 2016, let's make 2017 a literary smorgasboard of fantasticalness.

Happy New...... yeah yeah I get it, 13th, I will shut up now.