Reading Challenge 5/12
This month's reading list has been an interesting one. Lots of the books I had reserved at the library have been starting to come in, I've had the pleasure of reading books written by friends and I've read some more that I've been sent to review, which have been excellent. However, the dominant feeling I've come away with at the end of the month is that this has been the month for books that made me think. I haven't read anything that is outwardly designed to be deep and meaningful, but lots of the books have made me pause for a moment to consider. It might have been questions I didn't want to answer or it might have been events or people I was unaware of or had a limited understanding of, but it's been a very thought-provoking selection this month. Some examples:
The Chain: would I be prepared to kidnap someone else's child to save the life of one of my own?
The Rosie Result: how far should we expect non-neurotypical people to learn to adapt to 'our' world and how far should we be prepared to adapt to 'theirs'?
The Lying Room: would I protect my child if I suspected them of murder?
The Mill On The Floss: how much of the progress we have made in the feminist movement is actual change and how much have is merely a perception?
The Five People You Meet In Heaven: what does happen when we die? Does it matter?
The Clocks In This House All Tell Different Times: how far should we excuse people's poor behaviour because of their circumstances?
Sophia - Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary: how much of what I learned about the British Empire at school is actually true?
Maisie Dobbs: how damaging to a true understanding of the after effects of WW1 are the portrayals of the jolly Tommy in the trenches and the return of the troops as heroes?
May Book Total: 27
Overall Challenge Total: 139/150
May Book Reviews
A Christmas To Remember – Anton Du Beke (third installment in his Buckingham Hotel series continuing the story of Nancy, Ray and their friends. This series started out as a simple tale of romance and dancing but has developed into something with far more depth as the world moves towards World War Two. This is surprisingly good for a celebrity author and I look forward to each new release. Can’t wait to see what WWII brings for the characters.)
A Summer of Second Chances – Carol Thomas (not saying anything about this one as it’s one of my review books and I’ll be doing a full review on 6th June. I did enjoy it though!)
The Rosie Effect – Graeme Simsion (I did enjoy this but I found I had less sympathy with Rosie in this one. Whilst I understood her concerns, I felt that she gave up on everything far too easily and if she’d been truly concerned about the baby, she would have modified her own behaviour accordingly. Don Tillman is still a legend though.)
One Day – David Nicholls (a thoroughly romantic book that packs a couple of absolute sucker punches. The second book in a row to make me cry. A wonderful book, but not in the least bit like I expected it to be. Took me completely by surprise and I absolutely loved it. It has humour, it has warmth, it has depth, the characters are flawed but utterly loveable. A masterpiece of a book.)
The Web They Wove – Catherine Yaffe (not saying much about this as I’m officially reviewing it for the blog tour on 4th June. All I will say is that I thoroughly enjoyed it. It did exactly what a thriller should and I couldn’t put it down.)
The Chain – Adrian McKinty (Book Club for this month. Interesting concept for a plot. As some reviewers have pointed out there are a few ‘yeah right’ moments, but it’s an engaging read with a few moments of real tension.)
The Lying Room – Nicci French (an interesting link to The Chain in that they raise the same question – how far would you go to protect your child? Would you cover for them even if you thought they might be guilty of murder? Exciting thriller with a slightly disappointing ending.)
The Scapegoat – Daphne du Maurier (interesting read, but I was left vaguely disappointed with the ending. It was probably closer to what would have happened in real life and definitely fit the characters’ likely actions, but it wasn’t how I wanted it to end!)
Passing Clouds – Helena Nwaokolo (I’ve already done a full review of this book here. Thoroughly enjoyable read.)
The Clocks In This House All Tell Different Times – Xan Brooks (a deeply disturbing book centred on the emotional, physical and psychological aftermath of WW1. It takes the reader beyond the image of the cheerful Tommy and even beyond that of the rat-infested trenches of WW1. It considers the question of what happens when heroes come home and the answer is not necessary a palatable one. It was brutal but brilliant and completely compelling.)
Mary Anne – Daphne Du Maurier (another of her books based on real life events. I admit I knew nothing about the scandal of 1809 involving the then Duke of York and the sale of army commissions by his mistress Mary Anne Clarke. Nor did I have any idea that Mrs Clarke, through her daughter was an ancestor of the author. Whilst this is commonly acknowleged not to be her best work, it’s still an entertaining read. The main character is brought vividly to life and her motivations are understandable in a way that perhaps doesn’t come across in the more factual accounts of the scandal. Worth a read for its historical insight.)
The Children Act – Ian McEwan (another thought-provoking read about guilt and how far we are responsible for the unintended consequences of our actions. Short but very good.)
Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng (everyone seems to be talking about this book or the TV series on my FB feed at the moment. Approached it cautiously because of its popularity, but it didn’t disappoint. Tackles some tough issues in a sensitive way, but there were occasions where characters didn’t seem to react as forcefully as I might have expected under the circumstances.)
The Rosie Result – Graeme Simsion (I loved the 1st book, was less convinced by the second, but Simsion was back on form with this one. It highlights the issues surrounding the labelling of non-neurotypical people, including the ways to refer to things like autism. Is someone autistic or are they a person with autism, for example? Different people give different answers and this is played out beautifully. Thoroughly satisfying conclusion to the Rosie series.)
The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra – Vaseem Khan (recommended by a friend when I was looking for something ‘different’ to read. Thoroughly entertaining and enjoyable light read. Not quite intense enough to be classed as a thriller, but certainly suspenseful at times. A good dose of comedy scattered throughout though and I’d be interested in reading others in the series.)
Birds of a Feather – Jacqueline Winspear (I love that the Maisie Dobbs series doesn’t shy away from the effects of WW1 and this centres around a misguided occurrence during the war that has huge consequences for the women involved and so many others as well. We also begin to see that Maisie herself has not left the war as far behind as she would like to think.)
Pardonable Lies – Jacqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs 3. A reminder of how attitudes have changed in the last 100 years and also of how important the work of organisations like the SOE have been. For me, the plot felt more akin to WW2, but only because I hadn’t realised (in retrospect, this was quite naïve) that there were undercover agents in WW1.
The Lady In The Lake – Raymond Chandler (My friend Ron – who did the MA with me and whose wonderful short story you may have read in the Spring Issue of Makarelle – is in the process of writing a series of fabulous stories featuring Mr Lemon, an unassuming private detective. I adore these stories and Ron recommended I read some Chandler as he’d been inspired by his books. This was my first foray into the world of Marlowe and I’ll definitely be returning there in the near future. It was quirky and dry and I loved it.)
Messenger of Truth – Jacqueline Winspear (murder disguised as an accident, a famous painter, dodgy dealings that might not be so dodgy after all. All the ingredients of a good crime novel with some post WW1 psychology thrown in as well. The more I read in the Maisie Dobbs series, the more I love them.)
Among The Mad – Jacqueline Winspear (harrowing look at the psychological impact of WW1 on the men who served with a nod to the physical manifestations of that impact, something not often referred to when shell shock is used in fiction. There is a far greater depth to these books than just crime.)
The Mill on the Floss – George Elliott (another classic that made me cross because of men’s attitude to women. Women are more than capable of making rational decisions for themselves; they don’t need to be instructed to become part of a quarrel they have no interest in, simply because their male relative believes they should; they have the right not to be made to feel guilty for saying no to things. If this is truly semi-autobiographical then my respect for Mary Ann Evans has increased dramatically because she rose above these attitudes to forge her own path in life.)
One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel García Márquez (another that's been on my 'need to read' list for a number of years. Wasn't quite sure what to expect from it, but it was an interesting read. I found it quite difficult to keep track of all the characters with the same or similar sounding names and some of the behaviour they exhibit is decidedly odd. However, whilst I'm not sure it deserves Salman Rushdie's description of 'the greatest novel in any language of at the last fifty years' it's certainly worth persevering with the names and reading the whole book!)
Rosie Goes To War – Alison Knight (I’d talked to Alison about this book when she was trying to help me work out what the issues were with my own YA series, so when I finally got the chance to read it, I was thrilled. I love the concept and it’s definitely set up for a series. I think what I loved most about the plot was how we got to see the development of the older characters and visit them in their youth. It reminds the reader to look at their own elderly relatives and remember that they too were young once!)
Sombrero Fallout – Richard Brautigan (recommended by my husband after he heard it being discussed on Radio 4. It’s… different. An oddly structured book with an equally odd plotline. I can’t say that I ‘enjoyed’ it, but I’m glad I read it. It’s worth reading, just for it’s unusual nature. After all, it’s not often that a sombrero falls from the sky for no apparent reason and an entire town ends up dead or injured!)
The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom (beautiful book. The concept is that when you die, you meet five people who have had an impact on your life. Their task is to help you understand your life and come to terms with it. By the end, I was in tears. If ever you wondered what your place in the world was, this is the book to read. Just glorious.)
Sophia: Princess, Suffragette, Revolutionary – Anita Anand (discovered this through Between The Covers I think. Not a character I’d ever heard of before, but she led a fascinating life caught between her upbringing and the realities of her situation and the differing attitudes of her family members towards the British Crown and it’s control of the Raj. I learnt a lot and it certainly took me on another step towards a better understanding of Britain’s role in its Empire. I know we looked a little bit at some of the negative parts of the Empire at school but although Henry says it is now a more balanced view, I still think there could be so much more taught about some of the darker aspects of our history as a nation.)
Favourite Book Of This Month?
Any of the Maisie Dobbs books could easily have been this month's choice. However, in the end I settled on The Five People You Meet In Heaven because as well as being well-written, it's such a gloriously heart-warming book. People don't often stop to consider the impact they've had on the lives of others and it's so easy to dismiss ourselves as unimportant because we've led normal, everyday lives. As a society (and as a species I think) we often get so caught up in the idea of a big picture and the impact some people have on a grand scale, that we end up believing that unless we are a Nelson Mandela, a David Beckham or a Bill Gates, we can't make a difference to the lives of others. I don't believe this is true. Whilst we may not be able to make the same global splash as figures like this, collectively we can. One small act of kindness that the perpetrator sees as 'nothing much' might make all the difference in the world to the person on the receiving end. A text asking 'are you okay?'; an inexpensive gift left on a doorstep; an email saying 'thank you' can all make someone's day so much better. They're not huge acts of philanthropy, but it's so important that we do these little things because we never know how much it might mean to the other person. Little things can and do make a massive difference to people and this book buys into that idea in such a positive way.