Sunday 30 October 2016

Summing Up Sunday 30th October 2016

Beautiful, calm, quiet, relatively Autumn weather.

The trees are as colourful as  they have ever been, and  there's not been anywhere near a frost yet, so that particular belief about what causes leaf colour intensity seems to be wrong.

J went to the Pudding Club in Mickleton,  N Cotswold's,  with good friend Huw,

and on the way back, met A and E at Westonbirt Aboretum. It was probably the most busy day of its year, but the trees were splendid, marvellous, magnificent.

Friday 28 October 2016

26 Books: A Book By An Author You Love

This would have ben number 7 for Bringing up Burns.

'Flight Behaviour' by Barbara Kingsolver (J):
(read February 2015)
I'm writing this review some time after I read Flight Behaviour, and I am a little surprised that I gave it full marks, as I think it is less good than The Poisonwood Bible. And that may be, as I find often the case with an author that I love, that if they are consistent, what is exciting and wonderful about the way they write the first time, is less exciting with repetition.

That said, I read Flight Behaviour twice, once several years ago, and more recently when it came up in our book club, and I found myself defending it against those who saw it as mainly for the purpose

of proselytising Kingsolver's ecological message. So what? (unless one doesn't agree with that message about the danger of climate change, or unless her story doesn't work because she bends it to this purpose).

It's a VERY good story, with well drawn characters, living out their believable lives with real human families and their impossible difficulties, and at the same time living through a small scale environmental catastrophe (or is it: read to find out).

Once again, some of Kingsolver's characters are strongly motivated by Bible Christianity, and some of the others find this behaviour objectionable. Some of these Christians are rigid and mean, and others aren't. Does Kingsolver herself have these issues in her immediate family, or is modern America so full of this type of Christianity that it's always relevant?
The only thing missing from this book that I appreciated about The Poisonwood Bible is that element of understanding a piece of history. There is nothing about fairly recent West Virginia (or wherever it's set, somewhere near there I think) that I now feel enriched for understanding.

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo (E):
 I really love Michael Morpurgo; he was such a beloved author of mine as a child. I lapped up his books, particularly the ones set in the Scilly Isles that are so familiar to me. Since War Horse is now his most famous book and I hadn't read it (it came out after I was a bit older) I really felt I needed to read it. I'd love to see the stage production (I think it's still on, though not at the National anymore), as the feedback from that has been phenomenal. 

Anyway, onto the book.

Actually, I was really disappointed. It's hard to say this because: 1) I love Michael Morpurgo; and 2) it's difficult to go against public opinion. Everyone loves War Horse (well, I'm sure it's not everyone), but it just didn't work for me. There were too many fast changing characters, so as each one was passed by (or had passed on), there hadn't been enough time to become emotionally attached to them. I felt like: 'oh, that's another one.' It was a stream of drudgery through WWI with each character (apart from Joey) making a brief exit and entrance. There weren't really any other main characters, except from Albert but he didn't have all that much 'screen time' because the middle of the book was centred elsewhere.

I'm disappointed. I wonder if this is something that has come with age; maybe Morpurgo's other books are like this as well, but it didn't feel so when I was younger? Maybe I've read so much in the intervening time that this style just isn't emotionally engaging enough anymore. I don't dare to read my old favourites. I'd still like to see the stage play, but not in such a burning desire sort of way anymore.

It's sad, but maybe, Michael, I've just grown out of you. I miss you.

Tuesday 25 October 2016

The Man Booker Shortlist

So, today's the day! Tonight at 9:30 (I think?) on BBC 4 there is the Man Booker Prize Giving and we will found out which book won. Tense! Will we get our preferred winner? We will see.

First, let's see who all the judges are this year:

Amanda Foreman (Chair): is ab award-winning historian and bestselling author 
Jon Day: works at King's College as a critic and lecturer, specialising in modern fiction
Abdulrazak Gurnah: previously shortlisted for theBooker Prize-shortlisted, professor at Kent uni 
David Harsent: University of Roehampton creative writing producer, poet, won 2014 T.S. Eliot prize 
Olivia Williams: starring in a National Theatre’s production of Harley Granville-Barker's Waste, actor.

I searched for a long time and none of the photos
of all the judges together load properly, so here is the chair: author and
historian Amanda Foreman.

So, an author, a critic and lecturer, another author and previous Man Booker nominee, poet and an actor. Good well rounded bunch; but I wonder what they're looking for - it always seems to be something different to us!

Onto the books, in no particular order:

A: Wild stuff! It took me a couple of graunchy starts to get into this but it is clever, witty and very American. The protagonist is black and has a bizarre upbringing and early experience which brings him to the conclusion that returning to slavery would be good for the black race in America, and this is then challenged in the Supreme Court. Great idea with some funny descriptions of early psychological experiments but not a book that gave me much pleasure to actually read because of the density of the writing. I can see how as a book in English it is really unusual so for that reason can see why its nominated. I'd be interested in talking about the humour...

J: probably witty, certainly informative on what it may feel like to be an African American, but too full of references I couldn't understand to be enjoyable, so ultimately boring. See full review here.

E: definitely witty, although quite difficult to read! The premise is completely insane and I'm not sure how the characters measure up in terms of reality. Another reason it was hard to read was the sheer amount of slang, specifically American ghetto slang. I gave up looking things after a while, but here are a few examples: druthers, bottle of bumpy-face, skrilla, pendajo, tchotchke, bromide... In the end it was better just to keep reading and sort of work out from the context of the word. The central protagonist is black and decides to bring back racism to his small (not) town. Dark, witty humour. I can see why it made the shortlist as there is such a lot to potential talk about the writing. Not really my sort of book, but still a contender and a good one. 

A: The setting and the language of north of Scotland was wonderfully evocative of the sounds and sense of the tradition of my childhood and holidays but the story was brutal and ultimately very very sad.  The other interesting thing was that it was surprisingly un suspenseful and didn't really draw me in with the discussion about the jury verdict. However a clever device to have a set of found documents about a distant ancestor to tell the story. I'd be interested in whether other people found it the compelling read I thought it was meant to be or did I miss the point? 

E: Not my kind of read normally, but it's great to branch out. What really didn't draw me to it was the fact that it was a memoir written by the accused, but then there was so much legalese and other things at the beginning, which mildly bored me. The account itself was more interesting. The fact that Macrae committed the murders in indisputable, but was he in sound mind? This seems like a much more modern concern. He's brought up in terrible circumstances but does that excuse him? ('He then brought my sister's head down towards the table and struck it repeatedly against the surface.') It interested me to a point, but it wasn't compelling despite the competent writing.

J: I haven't finished this one, but so far I find the main character unconvincing, and the whole situation too painful. Straightforward competent writing, not particularly interesting.

AA pretty good book although very bleak. It's the story of a young woman living with an alcoholic and bullying father in a state of complete torpidity and boredom. In to this comes Rebecca, who becomes a beacon of some kind of change to Eileen and she follows her on a macabre and ultimately untruthful and disordered set of actions which bring  the story to a conclusion. The striking thing about it was the clever way the past and future of the main character were revealed just through the telling of their story set in the present of a week. No fancy flash backs or parallel stories. It has a huge sense of foreboding and disaster and tension but until the final thrilling event happened I hadn't any idea of what it was actually going to be. Very clever writing although some of the descriptive writing was clunky at times. Is it good enough to win - not sure what everyone would think? 

E:  Well, this doesn't tick the normal Man booker boxes! - it's easy to read, it's not in some other language, you don't need to have a dictionary to read it, it's not 800 pages long ... It is pretty dark, but not what I would considerate be 'literary.' and it's a very quick read! It's nice to have some shorter books amidst the huge tomes. Eileen, set in the 1960s, is the central protagonist (Eileen Dunlop) is in a dire life position; but she is writing from far on in the future, seemingly as an elderly woman. We know she survives the novel: 'This is the story of how I disappeared.' The story unfolds, pretty grimly. My problem with this book, I suppose, is what makes it stand out? It's one of the fast-expanding genre of women thrillers. It's a good, quick, enjoyable and easy read, but I don't see what makes it stand out. I think what made it was the writing: Moshfegh writes very well indeed but I don't see it as a winner. See full review here.

J: Well written, very atmospheric, not finally convincing or important enough.

A: Also interesting. It's the story of nine different men, away from home and its security and satisfaction with self and life, at different ages of their life. Although it's a different man and situation in each story I didn't feel cheated that the story didn't go on with them. However I'm overwhelmed by its sad and dismal portrayal of man or human-hood, despite being well written and clever in its language and structure. Not sure it's really polished or crafted enough to win. So does everyone feel the same or am I just overly swayed by the dismalness.?

E: I was really interested to read this from a female perspective because this is definitely all man is, not as in humankind. It doesn't paint a pretty picture; if this is what man is, then the key components are pettiness, huge egos, and need for sex. 't is comprised as nine short stories, each with entirely different protagonists, which immediately rang bells with me as being 'not a novel.' But who am I to judge that? The characters get gradually older, starting at the tender age of 17 (makes me feel very old!) right up to the ninth man who is in his sixties. They're from all over Europe: France, Budapest, briefly Oxford, Germany, Poland Geneva... I definitely enjoyed reading about the differing cultures. But, what does make it a novel? I suppose it's the connections between their stories. They're all men, and not particularly attractive characters: the first seven are absolutely obsessed with sex and have numerous affairs. As I said before, a pleasant picture is not created. Perhaps Szaly is commenting on the fact that nothing ever really gets better?

J: Well written, clever in the way the chapters linked but not quite clever enough to fully carry it off. Trivial.

E: As A said, this is mesmeric. The heat and the alcohol make the book feel like a sort of haze. Sofia and her 'disabled' mother go to Spain to seek out another quack cure for this mysterious ailment. No one sees through the complete fraud of this except the medic's daughter, Elena Ferrante, and, to some extent, Sofia herself: 'How was my Mother to drive with no feeling in her legs?' I really enjoyed this odd novel actually: skilfully written, chaos of the plot with the exploration of Elena's sex life and friendship with a girl she meets, and the clearly hypochondriac Mother. A potential winner? Not sure. Don't know which parts are real and which aren't.

J: Good fun, dreamy in a way that worked, very atmospheric, no pace, no direction, and very well written in an unconventional way that I enjoyed.

A: Interesting. Mesmeric and definitely hot with a feeling of waves of heat in the setting, the chaos of the plot and the exhausting and incomprehensible heat of the emotions. It is the story of a daughter accompanying her mysteriously ill mother to a Greek island clinic and doctor... Not a waste of trees for me, as (AJ) declared, but a clever and sketchily spare emotional drama played out in maddening heat. Not a winner for me either but I can see that it might grab others. I wonder whether it seems unreal to other people? I'm  not sure it's very believable but does that matter? 

E: There are a number of stories going on here: Ai-Ming in present day Canada, getting used to her cousin Li-Ming who has come directly from the Tianneman Square protests. What different lives they have lived. It is a story of fathers and daughters very much I would say. Ai-Ming has to learn to forgive her father, and Li-Ming has to learn to understand hers. What Thien has done is weave this complicated and very political plot with seminal Chinese moments, and yet brought it down to a personal level.It has inspired me to learn a lot more about China during the cultural revolution and beyond; it leaves me just gagging for more.Similarly, the amount of music there is in this book: a lot of Bach, some Shostakovich, some Profekiev. The writing was superb; horrific when needed, but not over the top. Thien's dialogue is particularly well crafted. I could've kept reading and reading. As a non-linear story, it was confusing at times, but it's worth working through it. I feel privileged to have read it. Superb. My Booker for 2016. See full review here.

A: And the best was last and I won't finish it before the Booker announcement but for me this gets the prize. I was absolute memorised by this book from its very start. The confidence and wonderful imagery of the writing just held me securely as I set out on the journey and I'm enjoying the meandering story telling. The flash back type structure seems to work well although I'm  writing down the names of the people and all their different incarnations and relationships to keep track. I love the multiple descriptive Chinese names of the characters, the evocation of music and the clever descriptions that juxtapose images in the way poetry does to help you grasp a new way of seeing things. I'm not sure where the story leads although it's already hinted at the future and I feel very held in the prospect of the journey.  Did everyone else find it lived up to its promise? It's a  complex of tales so I wonder if that distracts? 

J: Beautiful, clever, moving, informative, gripping. Clearly the winner!

So there we have it: we have a winner - but will the judges agree? We'll find out tonight on BBC4 at 9:30 tonight, hope to see you there!

Monday 24 October 2016

26 books: A Book with a Female Herione

This would have been number 13 in Bringing Up Burns 2015.

'Life after Life' by Kate Atkinson (A):
(read January 2015)

I really liked this book and I'm sure it will provoke tons of discussion as there is so much to remember and work out how it all fits together. I'm guessing that I will have missed nuances of connection that would become clearer with conversation with the book group.

It's a profoundly clever idea to write multiple versions of a life, muddle them all around and then
present them with the amazingly melodramatic yet evocative darkness falling at the end of each life . I think it illustrates how our lives are so random and what actually happens to us is just the culmination of a series of minor possibilities. It also makes life feel completely inconsequential in some ways: there was just a seconds difference between Ursula not being alive and her actually surviving so many times. Despite this very clever contrivance this device doesn't dominate the book. Often when authors get hold of a clever idea in terms of structure it's completely overwhelming and I didn't feel this was the case here. The human stories of these possibilities of people were very compelling and the description of life during the hardship of the wars seemed somehow very real. I loved the Hitler story as somehow being the best you could possibly do with your life in some way.I did wonder how conscious Ursula was of her lives. At the end this concept comes in in a more forceful way. I wondered whether any of the stories were then meant to be in any sense about real people or real things, and maybe we all create our own reality in our own terms.

All very interesting.

'The Miniaturist' by Jessie Burton (E):
(read July 2015)

I got this book from my Mr B's Reading Spa - thank you Mr B's and Emma!

In Burton's self-assured debut, The Miniaturist, we are swiftly introduced to Nella Oortman, and eighteen year old just married in Amsterdam. She is not greeted by her wealthy husband, Johannes Brandt, but instead finds the house with only his sister, the maid and a black man servant. When she finally meets Johannes, he is distant, and spends little time with her; his sister Marin is puritanical and disinterested with Nella, and there seem far too many secrets contained in this household. And that's without even mentioning her 3000 guilder wedding present: a cabinet-sized replica of their house...After a slightly rocky start – I didn't get into it as quickly as with many novels – this caught my attention. I liked Nella, I liked Cornelia, and I grew to like Marin, Otto (Toots), Hanna, Johannes, and most of the other characters in fact! I really wanted to know what was going to happen to them; the characters propelled the novel forward.
What could have been a rather banal story of a young bride in Amsterdam, struggling with her husband's 'defects' (I won't spoil it), was much more than this. I thought it was going to be a purely historical novel, but as the drama unfolded it became more than this. I loved the gradual nudging towards the supernatural. The cabinet, a seemingly patronising wedding gift, becomes central. The initial package from The Miniaturist seems fairly innocuous, but as each parcel arrives it seems more and more sinister. Or is it? Is the Miniaturist warning Nella, or is she the puppeteer pulling the strings?I loved this ambiguity. This was the stroke of real originality and intrigue in Burton's novel; what does it all mean? The gradual unfolding of Johanne's secrets, of Marin's (his sisters) secrets, the servants', The Miniaturist's... it's compelling almost in a horrific way. It isn't a horrible book; you don't go away with negative feelings, but it must be said that a lot of horrible acts are committed. It is haunting, as opposed to horrible. The historical side is very interesting as well as the supernatural: I learnt much more about trade in the seventeenth century, as well as a glimpse of prejudice and superstition on a personal level. I enjoy historical novels that do not ram facts down your throat; this is 'show don't tell' at its best.

There are flaws, of course. Of the three main mysteries, the first two could have been predicted. And the third is left untold... it's frustrating. It also suffers a little from being too gentle, and a lot of the potential emotional complexity isn't unravelled enough. We need to see the feelings, feel them with the characters. There were many points were I feel Burton had missed opportunities to further develop her writing, and the story.There are some lovely lines in the novel, including the notes from the mysterious Miniaturist, but I will leave you with what is, in my opinion, the most beautiful – and revealing – line:
'I love you. I love you. From back to front, I love you.'

J: Ancillary Justice by Ann Lecki

I haven't read a "spaceships and star troopers" type SciFi for a long while, and so was a bit doubtful when the wonderful Emma from Mr B's bookshop in Bath recommended this one. 

It is brilliant! Complex, with a slow revealing not just of the plot, but also of the world in which it is set. There are too many names, most of them unpronounceable, and that does slow my reading down. That's no different to reading Tolstoy or any other Russian and my policy for years has been to skim on past, refusing to worry who it is we are talking about now, as if this is a good author, I will find out quite soon enough. That works very will for Ann Leckie.

The two main devices, that of having all the characters female, and quite a few of them, including the principal, as not-human, is brilliant. One is left guessing what it means to be reading about the inner thoughts and motivations of women who are in very unusual roles for women in literature (a lot of it is quite violent and very active), and then to have the added layer that they may not really be human/single entities/biological at all. But then they are (human, that is), or perhaps more than human, in ways that matter.

Go, Ann Leckie! I hope the rest of your series follows this up as well. 

Saturday 22 October 2016

The Man Booker Long List

Whew, a bit late this year - wrote this up a while ago, but it's taken a while to post. They've already announced the Short List now, of course, and the winner's next week, but I thought I'd post our book club's thoughts on the whole list. Very brief, mostly in note form, just to give you an idea. I can't even understand some of my own notes: people spoke very quickly!

This year the Booker Long List has: four American American authors, 1 from South Africa, six from the UK, and 2 Canada. So our worry that it was going to be taken over by Americans doesn't seem to be coming real...

The Sell Out (JT) - hard work, eventually worth it. Witty if able to be understood. Too American to get most references. Got going 3/4 way through. Best read fast. At the end got the point that being black in America it's impossible to not be aware of it. Black humour. childhood studies. reinstating slavery and segregates school. Radical, wacky. Maybe short list.

The Schooldays of Jesus JM Coetze (CN) - fascinated by Coetze. Strange challenging. Jesus doesn't appear in text. David recently been to Spanish country with mum and step father. Is David Jesus? Some parallels, might have been. David special, steadfast questions, strange school, disturbing events, previous/life next life perhaps. Easy to read. Simplicity misleading as confusing. Many interpretations. Maybe short list.

Serious Sweet (CG) - looong. Established author, side up comic, writes guardian articles. One day, 2 protagonists, middle aged man and woman start arranging a date, stuff keeps getting in the way. Stream of consciousness. Not nice people. Spin doctor for government, good with words. Up to date, Boris Johnson. Cynical. Funniest bits political. Not so bothered about date. Did divorce matter, seems a sideline while married people writing nice letters to women. Female, recovering alcohlic. Bankrupt accountant. Pays for letters. Thinking about date. Political diatribes all over the place, but soft idea of romance. 500 pages too tedious. Not short list.

Hot Milk (AJ) - better uses for trees, tedious. Mother daughter. To Greece for search for cure for ridiculous ailment, stereotypical characters, linear structure. Attempt to break from literary to poetic. Failed. Not short list.

His Bloody Project (CN) - suited title. Unendingly bleak&depressing but well written. Tiny hamlet Scotland 19th century. Violent killing of 3 people, 17 year old admitted and awaiting trial. Lengthy self written account of killings by boy encouraged by legal advisor. No self pity. Modern readers would sympathise with his awful upbringing, was he responsible or not? Suspense between whose fault it is. Extremely we'll done, but not nice. Maybe short list.

The Many (ET) - Nice to see debut novelist. Vague premise from the blurb. Man moves to isolated place to set up new home for wife and baby-to-be. Intriguing. Unwelcoming community. Moved into house of someone who died, shakes up village. Fishermen go out every day, usually catching nothing. Chilling premonition of what over-fishing and poisoning can do to our oceans. 'Who will buy this half-dead catch the sea has thrown up. Not restaurants, he’s sure of that. Perhaps the pharmas, hoping to extract god knows what from them.' Some bumper captures, but the fish are diseased, almost dead before they reach the surface. Governmental waits to take them away - possibly for testing? Frustratingly, we never know any more. Sparse writing, which makes sense as Menmuir also worked as an editor. Like a horror film when you're sitting on the edge of your seat waiting for something to happen... but nothing ever quite does. Effective writing unsatisfying. Probably not short list.

Hystopia (DF) - violence. Novel in a novel, by Vietnam war still going in 70s where Kennedy set up peace corps to brainwash people of bad experiences. Sometimes doesn't work, social breakdown - sent to Michigan. Lots of drugs, tracking Rake who wanders and kills at random. Would it have better about Iraq instead of alternate universe? V American, skulls, acid trips. Breakdown of American society, very American written, not personally enjoyable. Not particularly well written or vivid. Not short list.

My Name is Lucy Bartonuninspiring cover. Short. Well respected author. Linear narrative, but most are memories so not as such. Strange: main cha is in hospital for long time for unknown reason, away from family. Mother comes and remembers childhood. Cold, not enough to eat. Hints of things, piece together her life. Relationship with family took away from mother. Met published author and husband sent her on workshop, had some interaction. Piece together what defines you as a person. Nothing v dramatic, like spool of blur thread. Sparse writing, not as good. Individual's place in the family, quite an American thing. Delicate, strangely crafted. Hints, illusions, glimpses. Enjoyed. Good for short list.

Eileen (RA) - America 50-60s, woman, simply well written. Page turner, pedestrian parts. Linear. Thriller. Amazed it made the long list. Not literary but a good quick read. American author, New England. Short stories before won prizes. Young. Not literary enough for short list.

The North Water (AB) the limits of flesh and blood, grotesque but well written. Violent account 1850s Hull whaling industry, less lucrative. Casualties accepted. Desperation - owners and sailors. Violent opening, central prot. rapes, kills and wound in first 8 pages. Gory, wild, vivid description. Redeemed by weather description. About water character itself, huge elemental force, huge animals. Compelling, how they survive etc, good characterisation. Linear structure, back stories emerge. Good length. Liked cover. Everyone would be compelled, but disgusted, disgusting language, will make short list because of superb writing. Wouldn't want to read it again, or recommend. Maybe shortlist for language.

Work like any other  (JC) - readable. Historical Alabama 1920s, man works for power company, wife inherits the farm and he hates it,implications for marriage. Wife cold. Son Gerard, close relationship - violent response from dad, competing attention. Sets farm free up as charade for electricity, but is found out and manages to electrocute himself - is it his fault? Black man and cha get arrested for death - he 20 years to prison, black guy to nine. Nice description, detailed of countryside, prison and electricity. Reputation for being educated, spotted by a guard so covers up for guard who can't read. Confusion? Like Shawshank redemption, he gets out, sort of failure, writes to wife, never responds. Hurt with dogs, hallucinating - did wife come? Comes out and finds that black guy runs the farm, swapped situations, he's in the shack. No happy ending. Not outstanding, but readable, is it realistic? Black family accepted? Flits different perspectives, times but easy to follow. Not short list.

The Short List Authors.
All That Man Is (CF) - established author, awards. Anomaly as set of short stories, dispirit characters, nine men. 17-73 year olds, what being a man is. Linear. Is this a novel? Opposite of chic lit - bloke lit! A lot of sex, making money, being successful. Why is this a Booker book? Economy of description, written well, but not interested in plot. Not into reading it. Through ages resonate more? Curious to keep going. Compared to William Boyd, Us. Odd. Readable, some compelling, but left pretty cold. Each story in different country, reflects cover, too light weight for short list.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing (CG) - third novel, established. Discovery of who father is when committed suicide at 19. Long. Basic history, linguistic characters, cultures corrupted continuity, generations, mon linear, China civil war. Could have been more of bits, only touched on things. Composers became examples to denounce. Thread running through of historic records, copying texts by hand, hidden, caught, persevering history. Narrator, daughter, finding out through fragments about father but doesn't read Chinese. Lyrical but sometimes dense language, bored and frustrated bogged down. Very long. Inconsistent. May make short list, draw diagrams yo make sense of. Story is gripping when you can find it!

OUR SHORT LIST - The Schooldays of Jesus, My Name is Lucy Bartlett, The North Water, The Sell Out, Do Not Say We Gave Nothing, His Bloody Project (Work like any other as a back up)

THE REAL SHORT LIST - Do Not Say We Have Nothing, His Bloody Project, Hot Milk, Eileen, All That Man Is, The Sell Out. 

As usual, our opinions's differ from the judges! We'll come back with a few reviews of the short list before the big reveal next week! Well done if you read this far! 

Sunday 16 October 2016

Summing Up Sunday - 16th October 2016

Almost wrote September - shows how fast the week is passing!

A pretty non-eventful week as far as stuff we can write on the blog: just lots of meetings etc.

We had our Dutch neighbours over to make pizzas, and the little four year old burnt the roof of his mouth quite badly :( That was on the Friday, which was followed by an excitable game of 'Bird Bingo.'
It's very addictive for small children!

We had a three hour session booked the for the 'Lottie Project' - working on the polytunnel for Arch Care's allotment that we raised money for last year. Unfortunately, we scheduled 2-5pm which was when the rain started. We were all kitted out for the rain and didn't mind, but the wood became to wet to drill properly, and we wouldn't have been able to put the tape on as it wouldn't adhere. A rather frustrating afternoon - we were hoping to have completed it, minus the skin. Ah well, another rearrangement.

Also made a card for someone's 21st birthday, which was quite fun:

How was everyone else's weeks? Let us know in the comments!

Saturday 15 October 2016

26 Books: A Book with a Colour in the Title

So, keeping up with the 26 books challenge! If only we'd actually posted this during the year is was aimed at... It means no one's interested as they're all doing 26 Books 2016. Sad times :( Anyway, here it is:
A Book with a COLOUR in the Title!

This would have number 9 in Bringing Up Burns Challenge 2015.

'Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe' by Fannie Flagg (E): Well, I had written a nice review for 'A Spool of Blue Thread,' but it felt like we needed some variety. So I sought out another 'colour' book (I hadn't happened to read any others), and decided on a real classic.

I'd never really heard anything about this book apart from the name, the fact it was set in the US, and that I thought it had been into a film. So, it was quite exciting to read a book I knew so little about! own mother in an people's home - this is Evelyn's escape from her Mother in law! Mrs Threadgoode's story is much more exhilarating - the tale of tomboy Idgie and her friend Ruth who ran a cafe that sold (you guessed it) damn good fried green tomatoes. (I'd never come across them before. Are they a purely American thing?)
It's the story of Mrs Threadgoode telling her life story to Evelyn, the wife of someone visiting his

People seem to be highly interested in the question of 'were Ruth and Idgie lesbians?' I really think it doesn't matter. They were truly good friends, and that's all we know. It's all I assumed really, living back in the 1950s.

It's an easy read, although it took me a long time, because I couldn't really get into it. The intertwining relationships left me a bit cold if I'm honest. I was actually more interested in the 1980s story of Mrs Threadgoode (Ninny) and Evelyn - the way that the telling and listening to of the story changed both their lives. Evelyn has a brief release from her depressed slump, and that made me feel something. That was life affirming.

Overall, it was disappointing, I hate to dislike classic classics and go against popular opinion, but it wasn't for me. I'm not saying it was a bad book, I just wasn't enthralled. Maybe it would appeal more with a British setting, so I felt more of a connection. A lot of the references were American, and made little sense to me. I feel I've let the author down by not enjoying it and, perhaps, by being not open enough to American 50s culture? Not good, E, not good.

'A Spool of Blue Thread' by Anne Tyler (J): I think this was a perfect book. I know that is the general opinion, but never mind. I had some of the same feelings as I did when reading The Goldfinch last year, that is: I am in safe hands here. This author knows what she is doing and I trust her entirely to lead me in a way that will be entirely satisfactory. 

And I find it particularly interesting that these two books by top-of-their-form American women should both conjure up this feeling, as their subject matter is antithetical to each other. Donna Tart writes about people who are leading lives and having experiences that no-one I know is, and often I ask myself as I'm reading, "Has DT herself taken that many drugs or spent that much of her life drunk to be able to write about that experience?". Anne Tyler on the other hand writes about families doing the things that all families do: everyone I know has these lives (normal on the surface, tortured underneath, but it's not really torture, it's just life). And both are compelling. Is it cleverer to make ordinary life compelling?
It doesn't matter. What I like best is the writing, the use of words.
Thank you Anne T.

A also read 'A Spool of Thread' and, likewise, really enjoyed it. 

'til next time! x

Tuesday 11 October 2016

26 Books: A Book with a Blue Cover

This would have been number 18 for Bringing Up Burns 2015.

'The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet' by David Mitchell (J):
(read March 2015)

What an excellent book! All the right elements for me:
-compelling story
-characters I wanted to know about
-very good use of language, which only occasionally tipped over into self-indulgence, and when, towards the end, in my opinion it did with a paragraph that was in fact a rhyming list-poem for no reason, I was feeling indulgent. In fact as I write this, I am wondering if David Mitchell's knowledge of Japanese culture gives him a context that makes a rhyming list appropriate.
-information. I like finding out more about the world, and especially the historical world, and now I know more about the Japanese-Dutch relationship during the Shogun period of isolation. I have checked it out on the Netherlands embassy website, and it confirms the happening in the novel in some detail.

So: congratulations David Mitchell, may many more read this wonderful novel! I might even return to Cloud Atlas, which I gave up on some time ago, for reasons I don't recall.


What We Left Behind by Robin Talley

I don't usually go for romance novels, as they all seem a bit too... girly for me? Well, that's certainly bad terminology when reviewing this book.

What We Left Behind is the story of Gretchen and Toni/y, girlfriends, moving into college and discovering their identities to do with sexuality and gender. That's it in a nut-shell. It was really refreshing to see a young adult novel about transgender or gender queer people, rather than just gay people. Not that I'm opposed to LGB books - not at all! Just that this was something a bit more original.

It really made me think a lot more about the nuances of things - I've never thought about the use of pronouns particularly, or the difference between gender queer, gender nonconforming, non binary etc. Toni/y is struggling with all of these things throughout the novel. I liked the way that each chapter alternated the perspective (Toni-Gretchen-Toni-Gretchen), but, unfortunately, Toni was a much more dominant character. Until the end, Gretchen is fairly passive and a sort of vessel for Toni's continued rumination on her problem of labelling. She came into her own a bit by the end, but it was still much more Toni's than Gretchen's story.

Talley captured, I think, the confusion of indecision and identity very well. As a window in to what some people's lives can be like, I think this is a valuable book. But, because of the nature of a lot of the circularity of her ruminations, the book felt like it was also perambulating and repeating itself a lot. Sometimes perfect portrayal of a feeling or experience doesn't actually make for the most scintillating reading. Maybe some more editing wouldn't have gone astray?

Basically, I liked the premise, the story, and sort-of liked the characters, but I felt the writing let it down. It was fantastic and fascinating, though, to have some small insight into this world.

I received an ARC from NetGalley in return for an honest review, but all thoughts and opinions are my own.

'The Miniaturist' by Jessie Burton (A): 
(read May 2015)

This is the story of Nella, set in 1600s Amsterdam and her marriage to a merchant, woven with his odd household involving a black servant and his domineering sister Marie. It's very evocative of place with sounds/smells etc but an odd story with a mystic miniaturist model maker making a kind of 'real dolls' house.' Sad and tragic, but not ultimately depressing. An okay read.

Wednesday 5 October 2016

Blog Tour: Two Graves by Zoe Kalo

Title: Two Graves (Retribution Series #1)
Author: Zoe Kalo
Genre: Dark Psychological Suspense
Audience: New Adult/Adult
Word count: 18,000 words – 70 pages (short novella)
Launch date: October 1st 2016

About the Book
A Dante-ish descent through a sinister world of decadent shadows and woeful souls…
Seven years ago, he shattered her life. The town eventually forgot the headlines and the nightmares. But 23-year old music student Angelica hasn’t forgotten.
For the past seven years, she’s contemplated payback with as much intensity and unwavering faith as she puts into her violin playing. Finally, all the pieces are in place. Over the course of one night, disguised for a masquerade ball, Angelica orchestrates a journey of revenge.
About Author Zoe Kalo
A certified bookworm, Zoe Kalo has always been obsessed with books and reading. Reading led to writing—compulsively. No surprise that at 16, she wrote her first novel, which her classmates read and passed around secretly. The pleasure of writing and sharing her fantasy worlds has stayed with her, so now she wants to pass her stories to you with no secrecy—but with lots of mystery…
A daughter of adventurous expats, she’s had the good fortune of living on 3 continents, learning 4 languages, and experiencing a multicultural life. Currently, she’s working on a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature, which she balances between writing, taking care of her clowder of cats, and searching for the perfect bottle of pinot noir. She is the author of the YA fantasy series CULT OF THE CAT.
Connect with Zoe Kalo on the web: / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads

My Review:

I've read one book by Zoe Kalo - Cult of the Cat #1 - which I really enjoyed as an original and intriguing YA, so when I was asked to read 'Two Graves' I was pretty excited. Usually I find that novellas can be pretty dissatisfying, but Kalo's work here is very good.

It follows Angelica whose life was ruined 23 years ago, and takes place over one day after an orchestral performance at a masquerade ball where she exacts her well-planned revenge.

One thing that particularly interested me was that I am a violinist (and I didn't know when I agreed that this was the case) and Angelica is a professional violinist at all - how's that for coincidence? Kalo has a real way with words, this being my favourite example from the novella:

“Ever wondered the hidden meaning behind the word violin? Viol…once.”

As a psychological thriller there are lots of shards of portent throughout the narrative, and, as such, it is something worth reading twice - I certainly plan to. At only approximately 30 pages, it isn't a huge time investment (I read it in under an hour), but to fully appreciate I'd like to read it again.

Just a warning: If you have read 'Cult of the Cat,' this is very different. It's dark. Very dark. In a delicious way, but probably not suitable for the same kind of readers.

Congratulations Zoe Kalo.

(Disclaimer: I was given a free copy for review, but all thoughts and opinions are my own).