Friday, 30 April 2010

April Book Review

Many thanks to those of you that contributed to the Grand Soup Debate of 2010, I’m pretty sure it will go down in the annals of time.

After the pathetic attempts at reading last month I somehow managed to get my backside into gear and get my reading groove on. A whole 5 books I tell you!! This was greatly aided by a mammoth train journey down to Devon which afforded valuable reading time and also the completion of a book which has been plaguing me for 2 whole months...

This month’s offerings are:

I must be one of the only people on the planet who didn’t see the BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s book and I now feel a strong urge to rectify that because this book is the equivalent of being wrapped in a rather large woolly blanket. It’s the kind of book that makes me want to fashion myself a bonnet and call on someone to take tea with me. It’s just lovely and I know some would take that as a criticism but I loved reading every minute of it, it was soothing and comforting and so funny in some places. At times I had to stop and remind myself that it was written in 1858. Incredible that it still has the ability to tickle your funny bone.

Man & Boy
One of those books that I saw in the shops and would pick it up, read the back and then reject it for something entirely different. However readitswapit stepped in and I decided to give it a go.

Tells the story of a guy who gets married, cheats on his wife, wife finds out, wife leaves him, he has to look after small son, grows up and realises the error of his ways. In a nutshell.

It was ok. It kept me reading and I sped through it at a rate of knots so it has that going for it. Is it a keeper? For me personally, no. It didn’t touch me on any other level, other than that it was a good story that made you smile in some places and feel a bit filled up in others. I hate saying this because it sounds horrible but, you know, it’d make a good holiday read. Not much brain power required.

Red Lotus
Not one I’d normally pick up but I’m an absolute sucker for the offer that The Times and WH Smith do. Each week a different book for £2.99 when you buy a copy of The Times. There’s not a chance I can resist that offer. This book was the book of the week a while back.

It’s kind of 2 stories. The first part contains the story of Li-Xia, who overcomes adversity blah blah blah and marries the handsome captain Ben Devereaux. The second part concerns itself with their daughter, the Red Lotus, also known as Siu-Sing. And sometimes it felt like you were reading Part One all over again, just with a few names changed. Yes, Siu-Sing is just like her mother and escapes really similar situations. We. Get. It. Ever heard of labouring the point? Also it went kind of weird at the end and a little bit Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon-esque.

Actually despite this I really enjoyed it. Lots of imagery a-plenty in this book and I may well keep an eye open for other books Pai Kit Fai has written. He’s definitely worth another shot I think.

Wolf Hall
Aaaahhh. My nemesis. I started this book at the beginning of time. No wait. It was actually the beginning of March and it has haunted my every waking minute ever since.

Because it is horrible! I actually don’t remember when I last read a book I liked less than this. Any other person would have given up but I hate to admit defeat and will point blank refuse to give up on a book, instead struggling to the bitter end. I started to actually dread going to bed because I knew it would be there, waiting for me, needing to be read. Bleurgh.

I just could not for the life of me get in to it. My friend, who absolutely loved it, said that apparently the Booker Prize judges had given the award based on the style in which she had written the novel. I think they were clearly out of their minds.

Mantel had the incredibly annoying habit of referring to Cromwell as ‘he’ throughout the book, this was so infuriating as there would be points when you would be rendered completely confused going “Who is ‘he’?! Which ‘he’ is she talking about?!” It was horrible. Just horrible. I couldn’t even tell you what it was about. Maybe the confused writing style was supposed to reflect the confusion of the times when you didn’t know what was up or down and things could change at the whim of Henry VIII? Maybe it was just irritating.

I was so disappointed. I mean I guess it must be me because the Booker Prize judges clearly disagreed with me (and obviously they know what they’re talking about. Surely?!) and I know plenty of other people have raved about it but it was horrendous. I would go as far as describing it as an ordeal. Not what you want out of a book.

By the way have you read Hilary Mantel’s Beyond Black? That’s very good and not annoying at all.

84 Charing Cross Road
After the horror that was Wolf Hall I needed something a little lighter (both physically and mentally, I had Wolf Hall in hardback and struggled to even lift the damn thing) so I reached for this one. Best choice I could have made. I skipped through this in 3 days, you could sit on a quiet Sunday and get through the whole thing no problem. Wonderful. Delightful.

The book is a series of letters exchanged between Helene Hanff, a writer living in New York and a bookshop situated at, you’ve guessed it, 84 Charing Cross Road. You know what’s good about letters? They are short. You can speed through them at a rate of nobody’s business.

The letters span almost 20 years, from 1949 until 1968. They show an insight into a wonderful friendship between Helene and Frank Doel, the chief correspondent, it is both funny and touching and I will admit to misting up at the end of the correspondence. I can’t tell you what happens or it will spoil it for you.

The 2nd half of the book is entitled The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street and documents Hanff’s trip to the UK, which she finally made in the early 1970s. She kept a diary during her month long stay and it is wonderfully written, I found myself there with her, revelling in her insights into the city she had never visited but always dreamed about.

Maybe it was the relief of reading this after the epic that was Wolf Hall but I loved this in to little tiny bits and pieces and would really like to see the film adaptation that was made in the late 1980s.


How to pick a winner?

I think I’ve got to go with 84 Charing Cross Road, although Cranford runs a close second.

5 books in 1 month? Get me. To be repeated next month? Erm....probably not.


Unknown said...

I remember reading 84 Charing Cross Road years back and liking it. Can't remember what the hell happens like.

Unfortunately, I wasn't 'allowed' to watch Cranford - I think the other half had had enough of my love affair with custume dramas by that point. Sounds like a book I could lose myself in when the little lady takes a nap tho, so I'll pop on over to Amazon and stick it on my ever growing Wish List.

Whilst we're on the subjuect of books, I must tell you that I can't get into that John Lanchester book (The Debt to Pleasure) at all, at all. So rather than it just sitting on my book shelf gathering dust for the next few years until I can be arsed to take it to a charity, I thought you might like it. If you do, just let me know an address I can send it to - my email's on my blog somewhere or other - and it's yours for the reading.

Have a fab weekend. x

Unknown said...

I have not read Cranford, but like to now! I have seen the program and really enjoyed it, especially the episode where there is a cow in a field with pyjamas on! Oh yes! there is! I have read Beyond Black and really enjoyed it, it was about 6 years ago, so I could happily read it again now! I haven't read 84 Charing cross road, but I think I will now! I love hearing what people think of books! Have a happy weekend! Suzie xxx

P said...

I remember watching the film of "84 Charing Cross Road" years ago (it was back when channel five began and it used to have a film at 9pn every night - I used to watch every film for some reason - boredom?) and I loved it. I may have to read the book at some point!

Any progress on the guest post? :)

Unknown said...

I saw '84 Charing Cross Road' years and years ago and I'd forgotten all about it until now, I shall most definitley buy it and read it as soon as I'm through with 'Wolf Hall', which I am enjoying immensely although I keep having to stop reading to look up various historical facts and I totally get what you mean about the 'He' confusion throughout it too.
Bloody hell that was a l-o-n-g sentence!
Enjoy the bank holiday weekend.
Em xx

Diane said...

Ive never read 84 Charring Cross road, so its on my list now. Cranford was indeed a fab series - you have to try and catch it. xxx

Unknown said...

Good going! I only read 2, and then another one over this weekend (technically May, boo!)

This is the third time in a couple of weeks that I've heard about 84 Charing Cross Road - it's officially going on my to-buy list!

The Curious Cat said...

ooo can you tell me more about Cranford? I have so missed the it like Lark Rise?! It sounds like my cup of tea totally...

As for Wolf Hall - poor you! My old department produced that beast... I could have warned you...I really could have...I know it is disloyal of me but Mantel...not my piece of cake...a v intelligent lady - I've seen her at talks etc- but I read her book - erm...forgotten the bloody name now...erm...Beyond Black, thinking it would be good from the blurb but man oh man did it just depress me. I didn't like the characters and I didn't care about them - although the writing was good and the ideas imaginative....

A friend was reading it and I was like - don't bother and she continued on and came to the same conclusion as me. So that inspired me to steer well clear of Wolf Hall...and yes, I heard the same thing about the Booker judging... so yet another reason! You should be proud that you managed to fight your way

Unknown said...

Did you receive my email yesterday? If you didn't my email address is:

Jill x
PS - hope the ankle is feeling alittle better and the swelling has started to go down.

Blue Eyes said...

I read Man and Boy. On holiday. So that proves your 'holiday read' claim correct this time. I enjoyed it but don't remember it with the great clarity that I remember 'An Offer You Can't Refuse' by Jill Mansell, 'Anybody Out There' by Marian Keyes or 'Vanishing Acts' by Jodu Picoult. All of which I would recommend.


Nose in a book said...

Ooh, 84 Charing Cross Road sounds great. Have added it to my list. The only one of these I've read is Man and Boy and I kinda agree with you. Enjoyable enough but also pretty forgettable.