Posts Tagged ‘Book’

Curiously late

Friday, 28 January 2011
The Curious Incident...

Image by Vasanthakumar via Flickr

NaBloPoMo Jan201128. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Pretty sure I reread this one last summer because I was talking to DH about it. Not that he‘s read it yet, of course!

After leaving it this long, however, I haven’t got much more to say than I did last time. Still funny and plausible and touching without being mawkish. If you haven’t read it yet, then do! (And that applies to my DH too! 😉 )

Time passing

Thursday, 27 January 2011
Cover of "Noah's Compass"

Cover of Noah's Compass

NaBloPoMo Jan2011Memory lapses scare me. Not an experience I like. It’s one of things that puts me off drinking alcohol.

47. Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler

For a book about memory I found this surprisingly unmemorable. Perhaps I should read it again, but I think I’d have to be in a very particular mood to want to do so. Maybe that’s a bit unfair, but I didn’t find this especially enthralling. I certainly didn’t mind finishing it, but it’s certainly not taken on favourite book status either. I really shouldn’t have left so long before discussing it, however, as that certainly isn’t helping my recall.

The characters are not unrealistic. I think the problem was partly that I was interested in where the first chapter seemed to be going, and then it didn’t. And while the twist possibly made for a more exciting story, it still didn’t come across as an exciting novel. Perhaps I should give this another go, as I feel like I’m missing something, and that this should be a book I’d like more.


Wednesday, 26 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011Like Clover, its immediate predecessor in the What Katy Did series (although Katy is barely present in this volume at all), which I discussed a few days ago, this was well read for LibriVox by Elli. I’ve heard this reader on other things as well, and she’s generally very good indeed, with expression and obvious care and understanding for what she’s reading. My two (very minor) quibbles with her reading are that she can be a bit quiet and that a few words are pronounced a little unusually. I’m quite happy to listen to more of her narration, however.

12. In the High Valley by Susan Coolidge

So,  we’re a few years after the close of Clover; the eponymous heroine of that book now having been Mrs Geoff Templestowe a few years, with the third sister, Elsie, having in the meantime married their cousin Clarence, Geoff’s partner in the High Valley ranch. At the start of this book Imogen and Lionel Young are on their way to join those living there. In England they are neighbours to the Templestowe family, and have met Geoff and Clover on a visit the couple made ‘home’. Lionel is back in England temporarily, to bring his sister to the High Valley where he is to become a third partner, with his sister to keep house for him. Unfortunately, she doesn’t rave about America, Americans, or Clover in particular the way those around her do, and she doesn’t quite have the social graces to hide the fact, either. She does her best, but perhaps isn’t quite cut out for rural Colorado

Free Books!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011
Eight Hamodia books

Eight Hamodia books

We just got our prize from a Chanuka raffle, and it’s a nice one. Expect reviews of at least some of these in the next few months.

As for free books for the rest of you, I just learned of new ways to access the cornucopia of material available on Project Gutenberg, Librivox and elsewhere. (I’ve recommended both of those sites here many times before.)

E.C. recently recommended a freely downloadable Kindle application for the PC, which you may find useful for paid products or free ones.

Somehow I missed it three months ago when it apparently started, but is now offering random rateable chapters of Librivox books to listen to. Each chapter has a link to the work’s info and download page so that ifwhen you find something you like you can listen to the whole thing. This seems like a great way to find new audiobooks (the RSS feed of what’s newly published is another), which I believe is the intention, but I also enjoyed just listening to what came up, hitting “Next” if I wasn’t interested in what came up. For me, poetry and chapters of old favourites were best for this, but some new random chapters were good to, even without knowing what came before. (This works better with non-fiction than novels, in my opinion.)

A terrible book with atrocious morals

Sunday, 23 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011As I intimated last night, I’d have given up on this book entirely by about the halfway point, if it hadn’t been for wanting to express what I’ve been feeling about it here. I was hoping it might redeem itself towards the end, but it just kept getting worse and worse.

(I’m not going to hold back on spoilers here, so be warned.)

Cover of

Cover of Daughter of Satan

11. Daughter of Satan by Jean Plaidy

This is the story of a proud woman under a changing set of judgemental religious and other social groups, and yet it’s the morals of the narrative I have a real problem with. From a young girl Tamar is supposed to have enjoyed the power of being seen as the devil’s daughter and thus automatically a witch, and played up to her reputation. However she discovers that she wants love rather than hate, and so starts giving herself over, one way or the other, to men who abuse her and/or those about her:

  • She takes her protector’s admission that he raped her very young mother while dressed up in costume – why her mother thought it was the devil – as part of a ceremonial he didn’t even believe in as a simple explanation of why he has occasionally, most desultorily, attempted to protect her, but as no reason to find any fault in him, and accepts him as her loving father.
  • While for most of the first half of the book she hates Bartle Cavill for physically attempting to rape her, and then twice coercing her into allowing him into her bed by threatening those she loves, she later on decides it’s all okay because she really loves him, even though he continues to have no respect for her feelings. While rape fantasies have a very long literary history, I’m still really not interested, as they make me feel sick to my stomach.
  • She marries a Puritan minister she knows full well looks down on her and wants to ‘tame’ her, in alternating feelings of wanting to obey his principles and trying to show him up.

Beyond the sickening morals of the book, at least as much as the protagonist, who has the excuse of a very weird upbringing in a very charged environment (she and her family are threatened by several literal witch-hunts, which ultimately kill her mother and step-great-grandmother), large parts of the story simply make no sense. Just because it’s a topic I’ve been reading up on, for example, Tamar saves her several-weeks-old-but-near-death baby in one night by unswaddling and washing her, and then taking her to bed to breastfeed on demand all night. I sincerely believe in the importance of breastfeeding, but the storyline is nonsensical: either she has been feeding the baby since birth anyway, or she wouldn’t have the milk to do it (she has older children of three and five, but since they sleep that night simply next to her – but hadn’t been doing so previously – while the baby nurses it doesn’t sound like they’re still nursing to keep up her supply).

There simply seems no point to most of what happens, and no particular conclusion at the end of the book that we couldn’t have had several times before. While some of the emotional vacillation may be realistic for some people we’re given nothing in Tamar’s earlier portrayal to have it seem realistic for her, nor are we given any reason to like Bartle even when he becomes the hero of the hour; he’s still overbearing and emotionally abusive, if no longer physically so to Tamar.

There’s no real depth to any of the characters besides Tamar, and even what seemed interesting about her ends up multiply contradicted by the end of the book. Richard, her father, is possibly the second most developed character, and he never becomes much more than his first description:

One look at him was enough to show him to be a most fastidious man. … He was pale of face, haughty and most elegant; he looked what he was — a mixture of savant and epicurean.

It seems to me that the author simply noticed the 17th century confluence of the naval disputes between Spain and England, the Inquisition and other religious persecutions of Christian denominations other than the nationally established one, and the constant persecution of women generally and anyone who could be accused of ‘witchcraft’, however defined, as well as how that led to the beliefs and practices of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. She is certainly trying to hark towards historical and literary references such as Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and the Salem Witch Trials.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that this book had a lot of potential in its topics. Unfortunately, I hated it, and won’t be keeping it. Nor will I be looking out any more books by the author.

(Hm, I must have forgotten to ever put The Scarlet Letter on the 2009 list or then discuss it on the blog. I certainly listened to it on Craftlit.)

Past and present

Saturday, 22 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011I thought I might have a new book for the reading list and to discuss here already, but I haven’t quite finished it, so here’s another catch-up from 2010. Far less frustrating than that current novel, which I’m literally only reading the second half off to discuss here!

Cover of Frogspawn and Floor Polish

Cover of Frogspawn and Floor Polish

62. Frogspawn and Floor Polish by Mary Mackie

I assumed I must have discussed this book here before, but apparently I actually hadn’t reread it in the past three years. It’s part of a trilogy discussing the author’s experiences living at Felbrigg Hall, a National Trust property her husband Chris Mackie was working at and then managing.

Like the others it is both informative and amusing, with a few laugh-out-loud moments. As a former long-term National Trust member, it’s decidedly interesting to find out more of the behind-the-scenes action, and the lives still lived at these properties we mostly only see as day visitors, trying to get a taste of what went on there in the past.

Despite all my intentions I never did get out to Felbrigg itself, not having any other reason to go in that direction, but I much enjoyed the NT sites in and around London, and previously York, when I was living there. If we lived in the UK I’d probably be a member still.

But back to this book. While I believe all three of the series were written after the Mackies left Felbrigg, this third is the one that’s really set after they left, with much discussion of their later visits back, and reminiscences of their own time there. This makes it possibly more episodic than the others, although I don’t call that a fault.

Well recommended for anyone who enjoys gentle humour, background looks at public places, or National Trust members generally!

Old Friends

Friday, 21 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011It’s nearly a year since I said I wanted to listen to this, but it finally became available on Librivox, and I decided not to relisten to the three What Katy Did books first, since I do know those quite well.

10. Clover by Susan Coolidge

The story didn’t really come back to me from the one previous time I’d read it, but the ending was reasonably predictable (the invalid recovering and an engagement). What was fun, beside learning more of the lives of characters I’d known all my life, was the less predictable middle, with new characters like the irrepressible Mrs Watson. I wouldn’t have minded a bit more depth and detail on the adult topics, but that’s partly because we’re now discussing adults (the youngest character we see more than once is Phil, now well into his teens), whereas this is the continuation of a series for children.

I’m listening to In the High Valley still, so will talk more about this with that one, since I’m low on time right now.


Thursday, 20 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011This was a story book offered by the same person on BookMooch from whom I requested the Dr Seuss and Richard Scarry books discussed yesterday. I hadn’t heard of it before, but am pleased I took the chance on it.

Cover of

Cover of The Well-Mannered Balloon

9. The Well-Mannered Balloon by Nancy Willard

This is the story of James, who gets a balloon one day, and that night discovers it isn’t as well-behaved as his parents imagine…

Published in 1976, the pictures in this aren’t in full-colour; the balloon is portrayed in blue, as on the cover, against otherwise black and white illustrations. It’d probably suit a newish reader, but it’d also be fun to read aloud, with font size used to indicate voice tone, and a small amount of repetition.

A couple of kids’ classics

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011These may not be their absolutely best-known works, but for young children these are authors I just don’t think you can go wrong with! I’ll be scouring Bookmooch for more by them for my little girl. Hopefully by the time she’s really ready to enjoy books we’ll have a selection. (These were the only ones available in country for the moment.)

Cover of Richard Scarry's Things to Love

Cover of Richard Scarry's Things to Love

7. Richard Scarry’s Things to Love

I actually don’t think I’d come across this particular title before, but it didn’t disappoint. Like the other Scarry books I’ve seen (admittedly hardly any in the last couple of decades since my brother got past them) this isn’t a story or even a collection of stories. Instead there’s a theme to the book with a sub-theme on each page or spread, with highly anthropomorphised animals displaying the action or behaviours described or implied in the sentences and short paragraphs on each page. The pictures are bright and cheerful, in Scarry’s distinctive style.

This particular book, as the title suggests, is about people, things and activities young children might love or enjoy, and in the case of the ‘people’ who  should love them back. It’s perhaps slightly ‘old-fashioned’ (the children play croquet, not computer games), but hopefully without sounding too much like an old curmudgeon I don’t mind that – I’m sure we’ll end up with some newer books for DD too!

Cover of "Dr. Seuss's ABC (I Can Read It ...

Cover via Amazon

8. Dr. Seuss’s ABC: An Amazing Alphabet Book

We certainly couldn’t do without Dr Seuss! DH hadn’t heard of Richard Scarry, but I’m pretty sure he’d agree on this one. We’ve actually got the board book version of this, which should mean DD can handle it herself earlier, so that’s good. I have no intention of pushing her, but I’ve heard a few people say this one got their kids recognising letters well under the age of two years. If that happens well enough; if it doesn’t that’s fine too.

Giving In

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011I’m not sure I ever mentioned it, but I hadn’t been going to read this seventh book in the Outlander series. Don’t get me wrong – I think Gabaldon is a great novelist, who writes absolutely engaging stories that are well put together, and historical fiction that shows the extensive research behind it in the best possible way. The things that happen to her characters aren’t always what one would call plausible (time-travel is at the core of them, after all), but they fit together, given the premise don’t stray too far off recorded history, and the protagonists do stay in character. The things they do may still surprise, but there will be a reasonable explanation (even if it’s for someone behaving irrationally). Basically I like Gabaldon’s books a whole lot.

So what’s the problem? Well, given the times, places and events her characters live in and through, there’s a whole lot of violence of all kinds (including emotional and psychological abuse) that happens to them, and since she doesn’t shy away from showing their personal and sexual relationships, there’s a fair amount of sexual violence through the series as well. (Including the Lord John Grey books and stories here, too.) While I completely respect Gabaldon’s reasoning for including such harrowing events and scenes, I had got to the point of deciding I just didn’t need to be reading that any more. So I gave away my copies of all the previous books, this one not having come out yet.

So what changed my mind? Temptation, pure and simple. We made the mistake of going into a bookshop while celebrating DH getting a new (and hopefully better) job, and I saw the paperback. I dithered quite awhile, but gave in to wanting to know what happened to the characters.

Cover of

Cover via Amazon

4. An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon

So, the book. Well, it’s generally up to Gabaldon’s normal high standard. My main quibble would be that she’s brought in quite a few people from way back in the series, requiring a fairly high level of coincidence to bring them together. In at least one such case, the connection is so far only for the reader, since the people who meet Randall-Isaacs didn’t know Black Jack Randall, let alone his various connections to people they do know. Thankfully, considering my issues above, no-one we know actually gets raped in this volume, but there are a fair few violent incidents of greater and lesser emotional intensity, and, rightly, characters are still getting over previous attacks. There’s a large cast of point-of-view and otherwise significant characters (including some new ones of apparent ongoing importance).

This spread of focus since the first book (told in first person from Claire’s perspective) shows us a few battles in a year or two of the US War of Independence/American Revolution from both sides, as well as a variety of lives taking place around that war. As in the other books we get a sense of just how hands on medicine and all aspects of care were in the 18th Century, as well as a reminder of how things have changed even in the past thirty years. It’s intriguing starting to see Gabaldon’s writings get to a time I can remember.

While apparently some people thought book six (A Breath of Snow and Ashes) was the last in the series, there’s little risk of anyone getting that impression here, since there are several rather large questions left open at the end of the book (there is a reasonable amount of resolution within the tale, however). In fact the latest extract of book eight put up on DG’s blog continues directly on from the events in this book.

And now, of course, having sated curiosity for the time being, I have to decide do I keep the book (pretty sure it’d go in a flash on Bookmooch). Stay tuned. You’ll see do I give in further…