Tag Archive for book review

The Tots 100 Book Club: The House At Riverton.

I think this book, The House at Riverton, will always have a special place in my heart because it kept me company through the last night I was pregnant with Ben. I took it into hospital and, after a few hours of restless sleep, I woke up at 2am and read it to the end, all those hours suffused with that odd sensation of ‘what will happen to me now?’ that such circumstances produce. Something about the mood of the book sat very well with oddness of being unexpectedly alone in a hospital room at night knowing that everything would change in a few hours and that, whatever happened, it would be huge.

The book sat on my virtual shelf for ages, months, as if it were waiting for the right moment. It is the story of a young housemaid who, In the twilight of her years, is drawn back to her past to relive a life and a story by someone who wishes to tell it. The house, a place of mystery and intrigue and complicated lives and loves and losses looms through the story with great presence, a character in its own right. I grew up in a house which seemed accorded almost as much right and personality as the people in it, so perhaps that pulled another string and made me love it, but I also enjoyed the style; it was unashamedly wordy and picturesque as a novel and very much mirrored the era of the book, the decaying and roaring war years and twenties.

I loved the book for its themes of friendship, loyalty, love, desire and fresh starts, deception, change and growth. For that reason I nominate Josie from Sleep is for the Weak to read it, fiercely loyal friend that she is, worthy of love, first person who knew Ben had been conceived and first blogger to know he was born.

 

 

Book Review #18 A Perfect Proposal by Katie Fforde

Katie Fforde has long been one of the authors I rely on for a cheerful easy read that makes me feel good. I bought my first book of hers, The Rose Revived, when I was at college and it has remained one of fail-safe favourites through the years. Up until a few years ago, I read each one as it came out and always enjoyed them; then there was a period of time when her heroines became women ahead of me in their time line and I couldn’t relate and a couple of novels where perhaps I had read too many by one person and they lost their magic. On reflection, I think that says more about where I was at the time and how my reading changed; I wanted to be surprised more and stretched more and perhaps you shouldn’t look for that in books which are unashamedly chick lit :)

Katie is a friendly soul on Twitter and I’ve been enjoying chatting to her, which motivated me to download some of her back catalogue on to my Kindle. A Perfect Proposal is a return to her ‘young slip of a thing’ characters and, with daughters growing up around me, they are somehow appealing again. It feels like the days of working in cafes might be behind me, but they probably aren’t far off becoming part of household life again and Sophie was believable, if something of a cautionary tale in how not to become a pushover. The story had a flavour of American, New York life to it, reminiscent of some of Jane Green’s novels, which made for a change of scene that was fun and if the love story twists didn’t stun me into gobsmacked silence, there was plenty of familiar ‘oh god, will this work out… is he a rat or a duck?’ to it. The two older members of the cast, around whom the plot revolves to a greater extent, were lovely – I wanted to go and meet them – and I was giggling at the description of a really hideous element to Sophie’s family, who made a cameo appearance :lol:

What I missed for a while in her stories was some of the “let’s do the show right here!” immediacy; I loved the way her original books focused on detail down to ‘clean the boat, make the tea, what the hell am I doing on this side of town with no money?’ – it always feels like I am right in the book when a story is like that, the nitty gritty of problem solving and life all laid out to sink right into. A Perfect Proposal had more of that again and I enjoyed it more for the descriptions of train journeys and trying to find places to stay for the night.

I’m back to enjoying her books again and am now rightly pleased to have several more that I can wile away the Summer on – hurrah for Kindles and Katie Fforde!!!

Book #16: The Hare with Amber Eyes

The is the story of a family, a Jewish family from… well, all over Europe, the Ephrussi family. It tells the story of them across several generations, how they lived and operated, how they lived an opulent and wealthy life, a powerful family across Europe with banks in all the major capitals and fingers in every money making pie. Beginning with Charles, it describes their art collections, their holidays, the delight of having money, being good at making money, being close to painters, poets and artists, being patrons and collectors and a family who could, by speculating with grain and supply and untold wealth, effectively hold a country to ransom in the name of fairness and saving their people.

It is the story of being Jewish, wealthy Jewish, at the end of the 19th and early 20th century and in some ways, it describes perfectly how the Jews of their class provoked such jealousy and hatred. Anti-Semitism was hardly new, of course, but it is a catalogue of how to be disliked. They were a family who wanted to be ‘assimilated’, wanted to live as the French and the Austrians in the countries they moved to did, but they were set apart by not just success, but attitude, effort and their own unique ability to fashion a world around them.

It is also the story of a collection of netsuke, tiny Japanese figures and how they passed from hand to hand, through the generations until they came to the hands of the author.

I found the early part of the book slowish – interesting, but slow. De Waal has a knack for words and brings the characters to life, he has a talent for painting a picture with his descriptions and in the early part I found myself googling for the painting mentioned and discovering that, yes, the one I had in my head from the bottom staircase at school, was indeed the one her meant. I learned a lot, not least why so many Monet pictures are Japanese influenced. I enjoyed it, I enjoyed following hisjourney in uncovering his past, but I wasn’t grabbed.

Then came, in Vienna, the first world war and that caught me; it keyed into something I knew about, bizarrely enough from Chalet School books and I was fascinated by this different view of a war I know about. I raced through it, keen to know they all survived.

And then… and then… with the inevitable crunch of knowing history… the Anschluss. He can’t hide his emotion and his horror at what happens as the Nazi’s march in with planned and premeditated attacked on the wealthy Jews happening within hours, was absolutely gut wrenching. It is, quite simply, horrific to read descriptions of a house you have come to know being pulled apart and people you care for, with all their quirks, being beaten and rendered to nothing. It touched part of me from other books I know and love; the Chalet School in Exile, the proud and desperate characters of those children’s books and the stoical fortitude of the Jewish characters in The Morning Gift by Eva Ibbotson. It was like lifting a rock you know well and finding the slime and creepy crawlies underneath that you knew about but pretended didn’t exist.

I read the second half of the book in a morning, I simply couldn’t leave them in the limbo of being half read. And The Hare with Amber Eyes went from 3 stars to 5 stars in no time at all.

 

Book #15 Love Stories in this Town

For reasons which will become obvious, I read this quickly and with one eye slightly shut to minimise the impact; it became a bit of an honour pact with myself to get through it and prove I could do, without falling apart.

Love Stories in this Town is a collection of short stories, focusing first on a set of people and then on Lola, a girl who turns gradually into a woman. As a set of stories, they are well written, tender snapshots of brief moments in the life of people. It struck me this is exactly what I might like to write – and could write. Whether I could do it well enough to get published is of course a moot point, but as a project it felt like someone starting out in writing and doing a good job of their first project. So from that point of view, very well written and worth reading. I’d go and read more of her later works based on this.

From a personal point of view though, it started with ttc, went on to miscarriage, included infertility, marriages falling apart, fear, childlessness, loneliness, lost babies and even a brain damaged one. So not really one for the babylost :roll:

I do think books should have warnings on them sometimes. I picked up one solitary book in the library last week and it was about a Frederick – even Amelie said the other day that both her current reads have Freddie’s in them.

However, an okay book. Not brilliant or unputdownable but a very solid collection of short stories to showcase an undoubted reading talent.

Book #14 Life from Scratch, Melissa Ford

I’m really quite cross that I liked this; I’m feeling all sucky uppy because of it. The reason? Well the author Melissa Ford, is the owner of the Stirrup Queens Blog which is possibly the absolute default (along with Glow, can you have two defaults?) places on the internet for infertility/loss/associated pregnancy crap. It’s also home of the Stirrup Queen’s Completely Anal List of Blogs That Proves That She Really Missed Her Calling as a Personal Organizer. And you know, I did know about that site and that list, even before Freddie and certainly after, because I intended to submit to her yearly round up – but didn’t. And then her book, Life from Scratch, appeared free on my Kindle one night and I downloaded it and then happened to see a tweet a few days later which meant I realised it was HER book and then I submitted my blog to the list and then I friended her on Twitter and she friended me back because she’s nice and… and… and…

And now I’ve given her book 5/5 on Amazon and I feel like I’m sucking up to the popular girl in class.

Only I’m not. I don’t give away 10/10 or 5/5 easily. To get either you have to pass the read again/have on THE shelf/ recommend to Alison and then some criteria.

Life from Scratch is actually good enough, for me, to do all those things. But it did something else too, something that a book just has to be good for, something a book doesn’t need clever language or even clever ideas for. Something that a person telling their story, or a story with all their heart and soul can do.

It just touched me.

It’s a book about someone who is sad and a little self absorbed, going through a tough time and losing everything. She’s sad because her marriage is gone, she’s sad because she isn’t sure who she is or what she can do. She’d like children, though that isn’t a major theme. She doesn’t quite fit in her family, though she loves them. She’s just a little busy with her own self and sadness and a little blind and trying really quite hard to get back on her feet and not be dumb and to try new things (and new boyfriends) and she gets up and she gets knocked down and then… well… you have to read it.

Of course it also helped that it is a book about a woman with a blog. Heavens, what’s not to like? ;)

I’m not saying this is a brilliantly clever book (sorry Mel!) but it is a brilliantly touching book, especially if you’ve ever sat on your sofa and wondered if you could BE more lonely in a house where the person you love is just across the hall. It’s a brilliantly touching book if you’ve been so sad and so empty and somehow found yourself up and moving the next day. It’s like the book equivalent of not getting out of bed till you actually hate your bed so much you’d rather hoover. it’s the book equivalent of sobbing to Pretty Woman and then getting the hell out on a coach to 5k run.

And yes, knowing enough about the author to know that when she describes the softness of the foot of a child she wishes she was mothering, it is because she has simply ached to have a child, helps. It’s good to read a book knowing the author has been in the depths of where you are instead of secretly grumbling that it ‘isn’t like that’.

It’s a book with depth, and sunken depths, and hope and enlightenment. It didn’t teach me anything new about myself but it reminded me how much I’ve grown.

I guess that makes it a feel good novel.

But it also makes it good enough that it will get out of my Kindle and on to The Shelf at some point too.

*salute*

DBM – you don’t really need to ask. You’ll cry, but with her.

Book #13 The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Amy Tan

Amy Tan has made it so quickly into my ‘favourite authors’ list that I’m reading her books regardless of whether that stops me from getting 60 new authors under my belt this year. I don’t want to wait till next year to read what else she has to offer, I want to read them now.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter is… exquisite. The words to describe it are trite really but none the less true for it. It is moving, thought provoking, maybe life changing. As a story and as prose, it is captivating and as a description of a mother-daughter relationship that is difficult, it struck a lot of chords with me, not all of them comfortable ones.

In brief, it tells the story of Ruth, a first generation Chinese American at a pivotal point in her life. She’s not quite happy, not quite fulfilled and uncomfortably aware she is not fulfilling everything she wishes she were, while all too aware of the edges of her comfort zone. And it also tells the story of her mother, a woman slipping quickly into dementia with a history and a past from the days of 1930-1950′s China which needs to be told so her daughter understand who she is and where she came from.

The story slips between the two time periods effortlessly and the characters really do grow and alter before your eyes. So little happens, yet everything changes, in the way that is so often true of life for all of us. It is not always the wrenchingly big things that alter everything. All the characters, all their foibles and flaws, are recognisable from the teen step daughters to the mothers (many of them) who little the story.

I think it would be impossible to do justice to the book; read it, learn a little more about life in a time British school history lessons ignore, stand beside some women who watched everything change. You will not, I think, be disappointed, not least because, without tying the ends up in a pretty bow, there is a sense of something having been accomplished through communication at the end of it. All the people, imperfect as they are, make some effort and there is some reward for that.

It’s a pleasing thought.

BLM index – not bad. It has a bit of this and that in it, as life does, but nothing so terrible as to pull your heart out.

Book #9 The Observations by Jane Harris

Wow.

My first real riveting read of the year; the first book to make me just want to keep going until it was finished, with as few interruptions as possible. The Observations is the type of book which makes you race to reserve their whole catalogue – I was gutted to discover it is her only novel, but I savoured it all the more for it.

The story is told by Bessy, Irish girl with a murky past and a smutty turn of phrase. She’s young and we join her on the run from a past life, already clearly a young lady who knows how to handle herself. The book is set in the late 1800′s in the north of England, an Irish girl on the run from a shaky upbringing in the slums of Edinburgh/Glasgow or wherever she chooses to say she came from at the time. The complex mixture of race and place neatly avoids stereotyping either of herself or the towns while giving the whole scenario a pleasingly unreal, story world feel. Nothing feels quite real throughout the book, nor does it ever slide into the fantastic either.

Bessy finds herself working as maid for a ‘big house’ that she happens upon, where life is definitely not quite as it seems. her ‘missus’ Arabella Reid, slides quickly from aristocratic and aloof to deeply odd and Bessy finds herself sliding around in the clutches of a woman who is both completely convincingly sane and clearly utterly bonkers. Bessy, young, impressionable and confused from an abusive childhood tries her hardest to be loved and needed but is unable to resist a spiteful prank when her feelings are hurt.

The prank goes wrong and Bessy, like so many damaged children, can only see herself as the soul cause of the results and tries, inevitably, to fix it. She is jealous, loving, sassy and determined, foul mouthed and individual and the story is told cleverly through a first person narrative of her writing up her experiences.

The Observations is nearly 500 pages long; at 250 I was thinking that it was beginning to look as if it had a pleasantly interesting, but not unpredictable end in sight – I was reading it on my Kindle, which gives you less focus on how far through the book you are. When I realised I was only half way through I was slightly stunned; what on earth was left? But then, a quirky take on a ‘maid below stairs, hard luck story’ takes a dramatic and sinister turn. It becomes a thriller, a mystery, potentially a ghost story, a tale of mental health and marriage and dysfunctional lives, a story about village hierarchy and over-reaching ambition blotting out the real truths of relationships and love.

Every time I thought I had a handle on how it was all going to untwist, it took another turn; every time it seemed to be on its way to concluding, another tail end of story would worm its way back to the front. It was, in an unassuming, almost clumsy, far from over-worked cleverness way, quite brilliant.

This book passes the Alison test, it passes the recommending test. It definitely passes the “will I read it or the author again test?” I’d say it is a must read.

9/10 for everyone.

(I’d give it a very mild, you’ll probably be just fine, BabyLostMother warning.)