Full House Reading Challenge – The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell (contains spoilers)

Genre: Postmodern, Fantasy

Narrative Style: First person from different but interlinked points of view.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published: 2014

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Holly Sykes sometimes hears voices and has strange visions she calls ‘daymares’. She appears to attract psychic phenomena. Little does she realise what she is doing when she offers an old woman called Esther Little sanctuary. As a result, she is drawn into a war between the Horologists and their enemies the Anchorites. 

Reading Challenge: Full House Reading Challenge: Genre – Attractive Cover

This is a bit of a weird category for me. I don’t really take that much notice of a book’s cover. It’s not something that factors into the buying process particularly. I usually have a good idea of what I want when I go into a bookshop. And if I don’t then an attractive cover could easily be overridden by a dull synopsis. Or vice versa. The result of this was me searching through my books for what would pass as an attractive cover. There were less then you might expect.

This is my third David Mitchell so I knew what to expect: multiple narrators, spirtual nonsense about reincarnation, linking stories where you have to spot the connection. On all three counts, I wasn’t disappointed.

For the most part, I enjoyed this book. Mitchell writes different voices well – they are all distinctive and realistic. My favourite out of The Bone Clocks narrators was Crispin Hershey, author and artistic snob who is dealing with some of the worst reviews of his career. However, as I found with Ghostwritten, not all narrators are equally loveable and some sections of this book were easier to get on with than others.

I also found some of the spiritual details a little hard to take on board. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against all fantasy or anything like that. Just it was most enjoyable when the spiritual ideas were in the background. But when one of the narrators is a horologist and more details are revealed about what exactly is going on, I found it harder and harder to suspend my disbelief.

I was a little let down by the means by which Holly escaped the Second War. Although the reader is prepared for her survival by the knowledge that her little brother was really a horologist and had given her some of the means for her escape in the form of a labrynth necklace. The final detail of the golden apple just felt like a step too far.

Also, Hugo Lamb who until this point has been unbearably selfish and mean, psychopathic almost, suddenly has a complete change of heart. It is suggested that this is because he loved Holly but this did not feel convincing to me.

The ending was also disappointing. Holly’s final section shows a world that has destroyed itself. The Internet is all but gone, food rations are in place and there has been a nuclear reactor meltdown which is causing radiation problems. All of the details in this section were convincing and I was ready to give a higher rating. However, once again, a sudden piece of good luck allows survival to Holly’s children, if not Holly herself. As with the golden apple that saves Holly earlier, the sudden appearance of the Icelandic vessel is a bit of lazy plot device, a deus ex machina by any standard. Although the reappearance of Marinus, Holly’s saviour, was to be expected, this was heavy handed.

For all that, this is an interesting book which is largely well-written. The characters are rounded and their voices were unique. They all had well-developed personalities. Of course, the idea of reincarnation is fascinating and something that Mitchell is clearly interested in. However, it is not something I can really believe in, even in a fictional context and so that spoiled things a little for me.

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Full House Reading Challenge – Little Women – Louisa May Alcott

Genre: Childrens, Classics

Narrative Style: Third person

Rating: 5/5

Published: 1868

Format: Hardback

Synopsis: Little Women follows the lives of Meg, Jo, Amy and Beth as they grow from children to women. They are poor and their father is away fighting in the Civil War. They face many difficulties due to their lack of money, their gender or their character. 

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge: Book from childhood

I was a little nervous to read this as an adult. As a child, I read it many times and I loved it. Jo was my role model, I felt I was so much like her. I was concerned that it might not live up to my memories of it.

The one thing I didn’t really remember was how moralistic the narrative voice was – and the story itself is a series of moral lessons. This obviously didn’t bother me too much when I was younger (maybe because children often see things in straightforward black and white) but I found it a little heavy handed in places.

I’d also forgotten exactly how much I identified with Jo. She was clumsy, tomboyish, wants to be a writer and she even shared my birth month of November. She was definitely a huge influence on me, growing up. Little Women is often criticised for the way the girls are taught to be ‘little women’ but I found (still find) Jo’s difficulty with her role relatable. In fact, none of the girls find becoming a women easy or straightforward. All the girls are allowed the dream of different identities. This is what marks the novel out as a feminist classic.

I am tempted to read the rest of the series again, that’s how enjoyable I found it. I rescued the books from my mother’s when she died a few years ago. The edition I read was originally my mother’s and dated from 1939. It is not a joint edition with Good Wives. It ends with Meg’s proposal from Mr Brooke. And so now I am trying to remember how it works out for the girls. I think I will treat myself to a week of reading them when I am on half term.

Full House Reading Challenge – All the Little Children – Jo Furniss (Contains spoilers)

Genre: Post-Apocalyptic, Published in 2017

Narrative Style: First person, chronological

Rating: 3/5

Format: Kindle

Published: 2017

Reading Challenge: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre – Published in 2017

Synopsis: Marlene and her sister in law take their children camping. However, they soon realise that something strange has happened to the rest of England. Dead bodies are piling up and there are no news broadcasts or electricity. It transpires that there has been a terrorist attack which has released a deadly virus. However, this will not be the only problem that they face when trying to get to safety.

This book is about motherhood. The post-apocalyptic, virus ridden setting is almost irrelevant. This is about Marlene learning to become a ‘good’ mother. It reminded me of films such as Jack & Sarah where the mother is sacrificed by the writer so that dad can learn to be a good father. Only this time the entire population of England was sacrificed for Marlene to learn her lesson.

Marlene was previously a workaholic who had little time to spend with her children. She has little fellow-feeling for her sister in law, Joni and her teenage daughter. Nor does she feel anything for a lost boy they pick up. A contrast is drawn between Joni, who is hippyish and maternal to the nth degree and Marlene who is cool and practical. These positions shift as Joni becomes withdrawn and unable to cope and Marlene has to take over.

This isn’t a bad book. The plot trots along at a nice pace. It does take a little bit of swallowing. The virus does its virulent job of killing everyone off but somehow they survive despite being near a number of dead bodies. The virus then disappears completely. This seemed unlikely to me although the author does try and explain that the virus used chemicals somehow and obviously once everyone was dead, there were very few of those left. Still, it didn’t quite hang right for me

Marlene and Joni were both annoying and both stereotypical. Neither really escaped from the character trap they were placed in. Marlene is supposed to have transformed at the end when she leaves her family in order to find Joni’s daughter but it just seemed like one more abandonment of them to me.

The ending of this novel is ripe for a sequel and I found that a bit annoying as it ends in the middle of the action and I wouldn’t really be tempted to read on. I would have preferred a bit more closure but I guess the point is that Marlene has learned her lesson about motherhood and so the novel can end. As I said at the beginning, this isn’t reallly a survival novel, more a story of how to become a better mother.

 

 

 

 

 

Full House Reading Challenge – Gilead – Marilynne Robinson

Genre: Family, Religion

Narrative Style: First person

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2004

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: John Ames is trying to write a memoir for his young son. Aware of the fact that he will die soon and will not have much time with his son, he tries to write down what he feels is important – about his family and about history. Ames is a preacher and there is a lot of ruminating about the nature of heaven and what happens when you die. 

Full House Reading Challenge: Genre – American / Canadian Writer

I inherited this book a few years ago from my husband’s aunt and it has sat on the shelf since then. I was aware of Robinson as an important female American writer but when I read the blurb on the back of Gilead, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy it. I’m not a particularly religious person and I wondered if it would be too spiritual for my tastes.

It turned out that this was true to a certain extent – it was the reason I didn’t give it five stars. However, there is much to love about this book. Robinson’s prose captures Ames’ voice exactly and I could almost hear him talking in my ear. It was like having an intimate conversation with an older relative.

The historical details – the story dates back to the civil war – were interesting and vividly painted. I was particularly touched by the description of son and father setting out to find the grave of Ames’ grandfather who walks away from Gilead. Father and grandfather did not see eye to eye as the older man was a radical abolitionist and often preached in a blood soaked shirt.

Ames is particularly affected by the arrival of his namesake, the son of his neighbour and friend. John Ames Boughton had left town in disgrace many years ago and Ames finds he is worried by his reappearance and struggles to respond when the younger man reaches out to him. He has a number of theological struggles but the main one is to try to forgive Boughton his sins which he finds increasingly difficult.

It would be impossible not to feel for Ames who has been lonely for most of his life after losing his first wife in childbirth and his baby daughter not long after. He is now married to a much younger woman and has a child but is dying and cannot bear the thought that soon he will be nothing but a memory.

There isn’t a lot in the way of action in this story. It is mostly about the struggles of an old man who is about to die. The slow reveal of Boughton’s true situation offers some suspense but really the novel is about spiritual matters and how best to live your life according to your beliefs. In the end, Ames is able to respond kindly to Boughton, giving an example to his young son of how to live and be thankful for what you have.

Full House Reading Challenge _ War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

Genre: Classic, Russian Fiction, War

Narrative Style: Third person

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1869,

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: An epic tale of politics and private lives set during the Napoleonic Wars, War and Peace attempts to tell the history of Russia through looking at the progress of a group of citizens. The different perspectives and fortunes of the many characters are closely affected by the war. Balls and soirees are described in detail as well as councils of war and battles. 

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – more than 500 pages.

Well, that was a long haul. I can’t remember the last time it took me quite so long to read a book. I always knew that it was going to take some time but five months is a lot of reading time. It wasn’t just the length either. There were times when I felt that I didn’t want to carry on reading and I would leave it lying for days before I made myself pick it up again.

There were a number of reasons for this. I always struggle a bit with classics. It is not my favourite genre and it is a question of making myself read them because I feel I should. At times, I felt bogged down in Tolstoy’s philisophical ideas about history and free will. Not to mention the incredibly detailed battles.

I enjoyed the drawing room and ball room scenes much more and was interested in the fates of the main characters – particularly Pierre and Natasha, both of whom were very well drawn and convincing. But there were far too many small characters that were absolutely impossible to keep track of. I felt as though I ought to be taking a note of everybody just in case I should meet them again.

It was a relief to be finished it. Especially as the second epilogue is purely Tolstoy’s thoughts on man’s free will which seemed to go round in circles and I’m sure could have been considerably shorter. Overall, I’m glad to have read it though I’m not sure I’d wholeheartedly reccommend it to anyone else.

Full House Challenge – Room by Emma Donaghue (Contains spoilers)

Genre: Psychological thriller

Narrative Style: First Person from the point of view of a child.

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2010

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: To Jack, Room is his whole world. He has never known anything else. The only human he knows is his ‘ma’ who also lives in Room. Ma tells Jack that nothing else exists apart from Room. Everything else is just TV and doesn’t really exist. The reader gathers that Ma has been kidnapped and Jack has been born in captivity. When Ma decides they need to escape from their prison, Jack has to learn all about the outside world really quickly.

Reading Challenges: Full House Challenge – Book on a list – Bestselling books of 2010. 

I didn’t read this at the time because I really didn’t want to read a book written from the point of view of a child. Some of my reservations were well founded. Although I did enjoy this book, it was hard going at times. If you can imagine a five-year-old constantly talking in your ear for hours at a time, then you can imagine what it is like to read this book. It was unrelenting.

The book is split into two parts. In the first half, we learn of Jack’s world and how his mother has tried to protect him from the truth of their captivity. Everything in Jack’s world is imbued with personality – from Rug to Wardrobe to Floor – and he doesn’t seem to ever feel bored or lonely.

There are a couple of problems with this. First of all, Jack is incredibly intelligent. He is precocious and his vocabulary is truly amazing. He knows things and songs that it seems unlikely he could have picked up even from all his hours of TV. Second of all, it seems unlikely that his mother could have managed to so successfully keep him away from their captor ‘Old Nick’. She makes demands of Old Nick that I feel stretch the reader’s disbelief. If she really had so much power, why was she still a captive?

This section also gives the reader a chance to get used to Jack’s narrative voice. Much has been made of how well Donaghue has captured a five-year-old’s voice. I’m not sure I agree. It certainly seems to fit with an adult’s idea of what it might be like inside a five-year-old’s head and that is probably why he seems so precocious and has such a good vocabulary. Also, it is too exact. Jack says the same things, the same way every time. I’m not sure that anyone’s thoughts are quite as exact as that.

I must admit that one of the things I found irritating about Jack’s voice was the lack of the definite article. I understand completely what Donaghue was trying to do and it was very clever but it made me cringe everytime it was missing.

The second half of the book documents the escape. This is another moment that does not ring true. Jack’s world is suddenly turned upside down when his mother explains her lies and persuades him to play dead. Old Nick happily drives off with him wrapped in a carpet – not even checking if the boy is dead or not.

However, once he has escaped and his mother is rescued, the book becomes interesting again as Jack and Ma adjust to life outside. Jack learns that there are more people in the world than he could have imagined He discovers stairs. Everything is too loud and too bright. His mother also has difficulty re-adjusting. This is definitely the most interesting part of the book.

While I did enjoy this book, I would probably recommend the film more. The main reason for this is we are able to see things from different perspectives and Jack’s voice wasn’t constantly in your ear. It would have been good to hear Ma’s voice for some of the book as I am sure her story would have been just as interesting as Jack’s.

Full House Reading Challenge – Love, Lies and Lemon Cake – Sue Watson

Genre: Romantic comedy

Narrative Style: First person chronological

Rating: 2/5

Published: 2014

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Faye Dobson’s marriage has grown stale. She no longer has anything in common with her husband and she is bored with her life. She had had dreams once but now they all seem dead. When a new deli opens with a hunky Australian behind the counter, she realises something has to change.

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre – Food in title.

Okay, so I knew this might not be for me from the start. I was struggling to find a book with food in the title. All the obvious ones like Chocolat, for example, I’ve already read. There are a lot of rom-com sounding books with food in the title so I thought I’d give one a go. It’s good to read outside of your norm once in a while anyway.

So, the narrator of Watson’s novel is Faye Dobson. She is a bored housewife whose husband is a stereotypical pig who only cares about his plumbing. Her daughter is away at university and no longer needs her. She works in a hairdresser with an assortment of stereotypes and this is not fulfilling her. So far so typical. Everything in Faye’s life is a cliché. Which would be okay if she broke out of the mould and did something exciting.

Unfortunately, the trope of Antipodean hunk rescuing middle-aged frump is just a different sort of cliché. Dan is everything you’d hope he would be. Perfect on the eye, understanding, just longing for an older woman to be his mother substitute.

As you may be able to tell, I found this book rather irritating. It isn’t particularly badly written. In fact, it was one of the more enjoyable of this genre that I have read. It just wasn’t for me. I’m not going to deny my intellectual snobbiness. The main character was a hairdresser and her husband was a plumber. I really don’t think I was the target audience.

I think the thing that I found the most irritating was the fact that this was pure escapism. Faye leaves her husband in the most easy way possible and then we barely hear from him again. She is allowed unlimited time away from work to have her Mediterranean adventure with Dan. And when history repeats itself with her daughter, everything turns out rosy in the way that it didn’t for Faye. Real life has no place here.

It made me think about why I read. I wouldn’t say that escapism is very high on my list. I like to read about other people’s lives to find out about different times and places. This told me nothing that I didn’t already know.