Eclectic Reader Challenge 2016 – Small Island – Andrea Levy

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Genre: Historical Fiction

Narrative Style: A variety of first person voices

Rating: 5/5

Published: 2004unknown

Format: paperback

Synopsis: Gilbert Joseph is finding England after the war is a difficult place to be. No one cares that he too fought for his country. All they see is the colour of his skin. His wife, Hortense arrives in England expecting to find a golden future. She too is disappointed. Their landlady Queenie is kind enough but is at the mercy of her neighbours who don’t approve of her renting her rooms to ‘coloureds’. When Queenie’s long lost husband returns from the war, tensions reach boiling point. 

Reading challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge – Genre Immigrant Experience.

I’ve been meaning to read this for a while. I have read another of Levy’s books (Every Light in the House Burnin’) which I really enjoyed so when this genre appeared on the Eclectic Reader Challenge, it seemed a good choice.

Levy uses four different narrative voices – Gilbert, Hortense, Queenie and her husband, Bernard – to tell her story. All get a section to explain their past – before 1948 – and also explain current events. The voices are all distinctive and all allow the reader to feel if not empathy, then that they at least understand.

The racism faced by Gilbert and Hortense is dealt with unflinchingly. Immediately post-war is not an era I know much about but Levy appears to portray the hardships that people faced successfully. She draws distinctions between American segregation – which the British thought was terrible – and our own particular brand of racism which was in some ways more subtle but just as horrible.

I worked out some of the twists in this novel but not the final one. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t read this book but it was heartbreaking. I would recommend this book wholeheartedly.

 

Top Ten Tuesday – All time favourite books from a chosen genre

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Top Ten Tuesday is a meme created by The Broke and the Bookish.  Every week a new topic is chosen. Today’s topic is  September 13: Top Ten ALL TIME Favorite Books Of X Genre.

There was an immediate problem with this. Not picking all time favourites although I know some people find that hard but picking a genre. I don’t tend to think of myself as a reader of a particular genre. I try to vary my reading experience as much as I can. However, once I started to think about it, I realised that there was one genre that I came back to more than any other and that genre was crime or detective novels. I haven’t ranked the books as I love them all.

Top Ten Crime Fiction Novels

  1. Jackson Brodie series – Kate Atkinson – Although part of me thinks that Jackson Brodie is just a low-rent John Rebus, these novels are very enjoyable and well-written.
  2. Philip Marlowe series – Raymond Chandler – I haven’t read all of these books but it was impossible to pick a favourite from the ones I have read. Easily the best hard-boiled detective.
  3. LA Confidential – James Ellroy – I really wish I had read this before I had seen the film. It was hard to remember all the double crossing though so it was still a very enjoyable read.
  4. Resentment: A Comedy – Gary Indiana – A dark, satirical novel about the trial of two privileged brothers who murder their parents. Indiana spares no one in this dark look at the public’s obsession with murder.
  5. Adrien English series – Josh Lanyon – Adrien English is gay and owns a bookshop. He couldn’t be much further from the traditional American hard-boiled detective if he tried. The way Lanyon plays with the rules of the genre is what makes this series so enjoyable.
  6. Millenium Series – Stieg Larson – Although The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is undoubtedly the best of these three books, I enjoyed the whole series enough to include the other two as well.
  7. Shutter Island – Dennis Lehane – Another wish I’d read first. However, even reading it with the knowledge of the twist, it was suspenseful and exciting. I couldn’t put it down.
  8. A Kiss Before Dying – Ira Levin – This is a taut psychological thriller. Levin has the audacity to reveal who the bad guy is but the reader is still on the edge of their seat in order to find out if he will get caught.
  9. A Distant Echo – Val McDermid – An excellent thriller. A murder from the past is reopened causing problems for those who were involved at the time. I’ve just realised that this is the start of a series. I’ll definitely be reading on.
  10. Rebus series – Ian Rankin – I’ve mentioned before how much I love the Rebus books. John Rebus is the perfect antihero, the stories twist and turn and they are set in Edinburgh and Fife. What more could you ask for?

 

Help! Which publishing platform?

When I published Shattered Reflections through Amazon, I was fairly naive and had no idea of exactly how many self-publishing platforms there were out there. I certainly made mistakes. I was over excited about the idea of being published and that made me hasty. I did virtually no research. I wasn’t about to make the same mistakes again. If I use Kindle Direct or CreateSpace again, I want to be sure they are the best options.

Now, with Choose Yr Future finally looking somewhere near publishable, I want to make sure I get it right this time. There is a proliferation of self-publishing sites. All of which have their advocates, of course, as well as their fair share of doubters.

I admit that Smashwords does seem attractive but then so does Draft2digital. I can’t help but feel bamboozled. I suppose it was inevitable with the popularity of self-publishing that the field would become as crowded as traditional publishing routes. And that is good as they will have to work hard to keep their corner of the market. But it doesn’t help my head which is spinning.

So, anyone who has any experience of these sites, I would love to hear your opinion.  Anything to help me make this most exciting of decisions.

 

Back to the 80s – What now for Labour?

As the Labour leadership battle continues, I find myself coming back to the same point over and over. Why is there so much admiration for Jeremy Corbyn? I feel a bit like I’m stuck in the Emporer’s New Clothes, having failed to get the memo that would have explained it all. Why can’t they see he’s just an old man who means well but is ultimately hopeless?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that he is principled and that is admirable. And he is an alternative to the spin offered by most other politicians. But not, as far as I can see, a refreshing one. He is the 1980s personified and Labour were unelectable then and I can’t see them being any more electable now.

This isn’t the only problem with Corbyn though. It’s the fact that he cannot unite his own party. Okay, I understand that he has a lot of grassroots support. Great. But the party itself is more occupied with bickering and in-fighting. Not the way to win elections. (Of course, winning is not necessarily the object. Sticking to principles rigidly and making sure you have the moral high ground often seem much more important to the Left.)

Nor should this be taken as an endorsement of Owen Smith who has oozed his way into the public eye from absolutely nowhere. I can’t see how he would be good for the party either. And anyway, he won’t win.

Now that we have a female prime minister who is arguably a lot more able to lead than Corbyn, I can’t help feeling that we are heading for a re-run of  Thatcher vs Kinnock with the well-meaning but ineffectual left being no match for the strength of the Tory party. What a thoroughly depressing thought.

 

Top Ten Tuesday – Books set in Scotland

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Top ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.  This week they have given a little bit of a free rein with the choice of a Top Ten set wherever you choose. After what was probably excess consideration, I decided on a Top Ten set in Scotland.

  1. Emotionally Weird – Kate Atkinson. It’s a while since I read this one. Effie is desperate to know who her father is but her mother isn’t about to give her the details straightaway. What follows are typical Atkinson characters and strange tales.
  2. The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks. Perhaps the ultimate Scottish novel. Frank, the narrator is disturbed, describing the strange rituals and killings he has carried out.
  3. White Nights – Anne Cleeves – I’ve only read two of this series so far and I preferred this one to the first because it the main characters seemed more fully drawn. The Shetland setting is important to the story with the constant light of the summer months affecting people’s mental stability.
  4. The Trick is to Keep Breathing – Janice Galloway. Joy, the narrator, is depressed and struggling with her job, her boyfriend and life in general. The narrative reflects her fractured thought processes.
  5. A Disaffection – James Kelman – This is one of my favourite books of all time. Patrick, a teacher, becomes sickened by his job, his life – everything really – and slowly goes about destroying everything he has.
  6. The Distant Echo – Val McDermid – This was the first McDermid I read and it was compelling from start to finish. Four friends are suspected of a murder but there is no evidence. Now, twenty five years later, the case is reopened and a stranger is out for revenge.
  7. Rebus series – Ian Rankin. It is impossible for me to pick a favourite from these books. They are all superb and definitely could not be set anywhere else. Rankin’s descriptions of Edinburgh and the surrounding area are one of the main reasons I keep returning to this series.
  8. The Devil’s Carousel – Jeff Torrington. A series of stories set in a car plant in Renfrewshire, this is as funny as it is depressing.
  9. Morvern Caller – Alan Warner – Okay, so this is only partly set in Scotland but it is still Scottish through and through. Morvern wakes up to find her boyfriend has committed suicide but her reaction to this is not what you would expect. Superbly disturbing.
  10. Trainspotting – Irvine Welsh – The first and still the best of Welsh’s novels. This completely blew me away the first time I read it and every time I have re-read it since. There is still nothing like it.

The Non Fiction Challenge – If This is a Man / The Truce – Primo Levi

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Genre: Autobiography, History

Narrative Style: First person account

Rating: 5/5

Published: This edition published 1979, first published 1958Unknown-1

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Levi was arrested as part of an Italian Anti-Facist movement and then sent to Auschwitz where he remained for the last year of the war. If This is a Man is his account of life in the camp, The Truce details the liberation of the camp and his incredible journey home. 

Reading Challenges: The Non Fiction Challenge.

I inherited this book a couple of years ago and I’d wanted to read it for longer than that so when the Non-Fiction Challenge came along, it was the excuse I’d been waiting for. Reading about the concentration camps was never going to be easy so I was glad of a reason to make me pick it up.

In one way, it wasn’t as awful a read as I might have expected. In If This is a Man, Levi focuses on the will to survive and the different strategies that are employed by his friends and fellow prisoners. Like in Schindler’s List, the emphasis is on survival and overcoming so the book becomes a description of the strength of human nature.

This is not to say that Levi avoids writing about the horrors of the camp. He describes them in calm, rational manner that almost makes it harder to take than if he were angry. In the afterword, he says that he felt he had to bear witness and relate it in as factual a way as possible. In this he is successful and the reader is given a clear picture of what life was life. He does not flinch from details but also does not become overly emotional about them. Quite how he has achieved being so lucid and calm is beyond me but without a doubt it is what makes these books so powerful.

The Truce detailed his journey home. You might imagine – and I certainly did – that once the camp was liberated, that would be the end of it. But , of course, Europe was in complete disarray at the end of the war and so there were plenty of difficulties still to be overcome.

The map at the beginning of the book shows the ridiculous nature of the journey, heading at first in completely the wrong direction, into Russia. The journey was not without hardships but they are of a different nature because Levi and his fellow travellers know they are now free. This creates a different atmosphere to that of If This is a Man, a more positive and hopeful one.

Again, Levi details the many strategies used in order to survive and there are many interesting characters – some from the camp, some new – to interest the reader. It is more entertaining than the first book. I’m glad I read them together as after the horror of the camp, it was good to know that Levi managed to get home to his family.

Eclectic Reader Challenge: Treasure Island – Robert Louis Stevenson

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Genre: Adventure, Classics

Narrative Style: First person

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1883Treasure-Island

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Jim Hawkins is tasked with telling the story of how he came into possession of a treasure map and then how he took to sea to get the treasure. He comes into contact with a host of exciting characters along the way – Long John Silver, Ben Gunn and Captain Flint to name but a few.

Reading Challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge – Set on an Island. (I know that it isn’t entirely island set but the island is such a crucial part of the story, I decided to stick with it.)

When I mentioned that I was going to read this book, my husband was astonished that I hadn’t read it, as he had, as a child. I pointed out that Treasure Island wasn’t the sort of book that was bought for female children. I got Little Women, Anne of Green Gables and Black Beauty (a list confirmed when speaking to female friends who are my age). And then once I was buying books for myself, it retained some of its boyishness and I assumed for a long time that I wouldn’t like it.

This was not the case. This is a very enjoyable adventure story. I’m not sure, however, that I would have liked it aged 12 when I was reading Little Women. The single female character is Jim’s mother and she is barely in it. I’m not so in need of female companionship in a book now though.

The story itself is straightforward. Jim comes into possession of a treasure map and with the aid of Doctor Livesey, Squire Trelawney and Captain Smollet sets out to find the island and then the treasure. There are many bumps along the way but as this story is being told in hindsight, it is apparent Jim will survive. Not that this means there is no tension, there are plenty of moments when you wonder how Jim will escape but escape he does.

The best – and probably most famous – character is Long John Silver. He is superbly amoral, shifting allegiance so frequently, it is impossible to get a handle on him. He seems genuinely affectionate towards Jim but this may just be part of his ploy to avoid the rope. I like the fact that this is read by children and it isn’t just a straightforward morality tale.

I did find the ending a little bit disappointing but possibly only because I didn’t want it to be over. This is really good fun with an exciting plot and larger than life characters. Well worth anybody’s time.