Sunday, 23 April 2017

The Shepherds Life by James Rebanks #inbetweeny

I took this one on holiday with me as it was Easter, we were staying near a farm that would be lambing and it just felt like the right book for the right setting.

I have no particular love of the Lake District where this book is set, it's a very beautiful place but my heart lies in the highlands where I was staying over Easter. Nevertheless I was really looking forward to reading this true account of life on a sheep farm in Cumbria.

Briefly, the book is set over the period of a year describing the ups and downs of lambing, shearing, selling and wintering sheep with anecdotes and memories thrown in for good measure. I found the book really informative for me a total lay person, Rebanks style was very accessible with the right amount of detail v story telling.

I felt the book at times could perhaps have done with further editing, I'm not totally sure but it seemed as if one or two little stories should have been moved around a page or two to help with the flow and one or two of the points either introduced earlier or laboured over less. It made the book at times feel like it wasn't a cohesive piece of writing but a collection of paragraphs placed together at a later date without someone fully re-reading it.

Reading that back that looks like quite a harsh criticism and it wasn't meant to be, it was just a thought that popped in to my head once or twice whilst reading, not a major flaw and didn't stop my enjoyment of the book as a whole.

I was surprised when the word 'Oxford' was introduced given there was no hint of Rebanks being anything but a farmer and the previous chapters positively scorned school and anything other that farming. The fact that Rebanks is also now an advisor for UNESCO and has visited places I may never see in my lifetime also made me feel a little bit conned. There is no doubt he is through and through a farmer and knows farming inside out but at the start of the book it almost felt like he looked down on or thought city dwellers with their guidebooks and dogs off leads stupid. So for him to voluntarily go to university (and not just any university) just didn't seem to fit. I did feel like I had to justify my life and my love of the highlands (a little bit like I had to with A Gift From Bob) which made me uncomfortable at times.

Despite this however I really enjoyed the book, I loved Rebanks grandfather and the dedication to his father at the end, I loved the tales about his children taking their first steps into farming, the heartbreaks (foot and mouth particularly) and the general trials and tribulations around a declining way of life.

I do recommend this book, even if you're not interested in the great outdoors or farming in general. It's an excellent snapshot of another way of life, the struggles and the kinship and will be staying on my shelf alongside my '40 walks in Wester Ross and Lochalsh'

Left to Die By Lisa Jackson #inbetweeny SPOILERS

I've had this on the bookshelf for absolutely ages and in a concerted effort to get rid (or keep if good) some of the oldies, Left to Die was next on my hit list.

It seemed at first glance to be a typical American cop solves murder case but as time (and pages) went on there were a few subtle changes such as female cops and (spoiler alert) two killers.

I enjoyed Jillian Rivers story and at some points I was genuinely unsure who the killer was. I liked Zane and the way him and Jillians story panned out (although Jillians dream was very random and felt very 50 Shades of Grey as opposed to crime thriller). I was however disappointed by Jillians 'killer' I thought it the weakest part of the book. It was clever and could have been a good twist to have two killers but the reasons behind Aaron's wife suddenly deciding to kill Jillian, who was none the wiser to Aaron's deception and to try to pass it off as a serial killer seemed far fetched.

I liked Regan and her single parent to teenagers issues but thought the attitude towards her social life quite unjust and for her son to go from 'Lucky is not my real dad' to 'I'm off to live with him' too about face. Although I suppose it provides the killer with the perfect window whilst her colleagues think she is sorting her kids...

I was surprised that the killer wasn't captured by the end of the book as didn't realise this was a series. I'm not sure whether I've read a series where the killer remains the same, there are plenty where it's the same cops but one certainly doesn't spring to mind where it's the same killer. It's an interesting concept but, not realising I was slightly disappointed. Especially as I have so many books to read that the chance of me buying and reading the next one are very slim.

I do have a prediction, Regans bit on the side Nate, he is either the killer or will feature more in the next book as he seemed too much of a bit character in this one and I'm sure Regans life will be pulled apart in the next one (Chosen to Die by the way) if she is in fact the star crossed killers next intended.

It was ok but didn't justify the 5 year wait on my book shelf.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Message from an unknown chinese mother Xinran

This was next to read on my bookshelf having been passed to me a while ago from my auntie. It was a thin book which greatly appealed to me following on from SPQR.

As a mother to three girls I found the stories of Chinese women killing their new born baby girls because they were not male absolutely heart breaking. This was a non fiction book and it honestly had me in tears at the thought of all those tiny babies being dumped in slop buckets or smothered by their own mother's.

I did find the structure of the book and the narration slightly weak. The arc of the book just didn't seem to fit right and the random letters at the end made me think it would have benefited from further editing.

There were some horrifically sad sad stories in this book, certainly do not read if you are feeling slightly emotional. I can't say I enjoyed the book (I challenge anyone who does) but don't think it was in depth enough to really provide the platform against the importance of a male heir, the terrible conditions in chinese orphanages and the harrowing fates of the baby girls that it should/could have been.

For that reason I don't recommend it, it left hideous images without the knowledge or impetus to do anything further. I'm left feeling uncomfortable, disturbed yet slightly helpless which is no good to anyone least of all to those poor children.

SPQR Mary Beard

A doorstop of an inbetweeny about the beginnings of Rome written by the very knowledgeable Mary Beard. I knew it wasn't going to be light reading but boy this was a slog.

I've read a fair few historical slogs in my time but at the end of most of them I felt a sense of achievement and that I had learnt something. At the end of this one I didn't feel either, just relieved it was all over. I didn't get the structure of the book and why Beard chose to highlight the points she did. The main stories I knew about Rome, Julius Ceasar, the Colosseum, Nero, seemed to be glossed over with Rome's conversion to Christianity confined to a few pages in one of the last chapters.

I appreciate that Beard came from a purely evidential point of view but the whole 'we can't prove this, we can only guess' became slightly annoying and Beard referred so much to Livy in the first part of the book that I felt like I was reading his book rather than hers. Beard clearly loved her subject and the time she had spent researching was clear to see.

I didn't enjoy the book, I don't feel like I gained anything from it (usually I quote random facts to my husband whilst reading books like this, and I didn't here, not once) and it took bl00dy ages to read. A relief to finish which is never a good sign. Only read if you are really keen.

Big Little Lies by Lianne Moriaty

So this was our second helping of Moriaty having read the most excellent The Husbands Secret last year. We were dead on for the Witherspoon/Kidman tv series as well which was receiving rave reviews so I was really looking forward to reading this months book of the month.

In some ways it was similar to The Husbands Secret - set in Australia, with all women lead characters whose stories interlace along that of their children. Yet it was very different to THS. There was a murder mystery element for a start that kept you guessing throughout the whole book.

Moriaty really has her finger on the pulse when it comes to school parenting politics. I loved reading about the blonde bobs, the class stuffed toy and the etiquette when handing out party invites. Her observations about Facebook, teenage angst and step families were spot on and I loved the 'forgot the family tree assignment moment' (although similar to The Easter bonnet moment in THS?).

I really like how Celestes story unfolded, and how, unusually, she fought back and wasn't just a 'little under the thumb' woman. She was intelligent (previously a lawyer before having the twins) beautiful and rich and to start with gave as good as she got. The counselling sessions she had in which she realised what her husband was doing to her was not ok were really well written as she came to the realisation that he could very well kill her in one of his rages.

I loved Madeline's character and whilst some found her annoying I would happily welcome her as a friend. You know she would have your back and lets face it who would want her as an enemy? In some ways it was Madeline I felt the most sorry for. She seemed to be the happiest at the start yet by the end her marriage seemed to be slightly broken (with Ed being devastated that she would lie and make him lie to protect her ex husband). There is a paragraph on page 440 (I checked) about how she chose to never forgive her ex husband 'he would drive her to distraction for the rest of her life and one day he would walk Abigail down the aisle and Madeline would be grinding her teeth the whole way' I loved that paragraph, perhaps my favourite in the book as I think that is exactly how I would feel if it were me.

I also liked the Abigail/Madeline storyline. I really hoped as I was reading the book that Moriaty didn't give them a happy ending as that just wouldn't have been true to life. They almost did but I think Moriaty pulled it off, just.

I guessed the Saxon Banks twist quite early on. One of the dad's (was it Ed?) mentioned how he hadn't met Perry before and that sealed it for me. I didn't however guess the murderer and whilst I thought the explanation was perhaps the weakest part of the book I wasn't disappointed.

The group really liked the book, all of us which is unusual for us all to agree and most seemed to prefer BLL to THS (sorry but I'm typing on a tablet and its doing my head in). I'm still in the THS camp but I really enjoyed BLL and will happily look out for other Moriatys in the future. We scored it an 8.3

Next book is Nocturnal Animals by Austin Wright

Question of the month Moriaty or Witherspoon, do you prefer the book or the tv series? I've deliberately not watched the series until after the meeting so I can't answer yet but will let you know.