The Full House Reading Challenge – So This is Christmas – Josh Lanyon

Genre: Detective, LGBT, Romantic suspense

Narrative Style: First person, chronological

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2016

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: On returning early from a trip to London with his family, Adrien English is greeted by an old acquaintance who is clearly in a mess. His boyfriend has disappeared and he suspects the family of foul play. Adrien knows just the person to help. 

Reading Challenge: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre – Seasonal. 

Okay so this is not something I would normally do – read a book set at Christmas. Obviously sometimes I do read things that happens to be set at Christmas but that would not be the main selling point. That would not be why I chose to read it. But I knew that if I continued to read this series I wouldn’t be too irritated.

And I wasn’t. This was an enjoyable – and fitting end to the saga of Adrien and Jake.  I won’t spoil the ending but needless to say, anyone who has followed the on-off-back-in the-closest nature of their relationship should be pretty happy.

The family details were interesting and Lanyon captured the difference between Adrien’s family and Jake’s really well. To be honest, I would have been happy reading that without the mystery of Kevin’s disappearing boyfriend.

The mystery did feel a little tagged on. There were some of the usual ingredients such as Adrien rushing off and almost getting into a fight and some tension as Jake was hired by the family that Kevin suspected had bumped him off but mostly it was not very involving.

Overall, though, it was enjoyable and the season too be jolly wasn’t too difficult to take.

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Full House Reading Challenge – The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

Genre: Spirituality, Magic Realism, Brazilian Literature

Narrative Style: detached third person similar to a fable.

Rating: 2/5

Format: Kindle

Published: 1988

Synopsis: Santiago is a shepherd and seems quite happy tending his sheep and waiting to see the girl of his dreams. However, a recurring dream of treasure sets him on an adventure that will take him far from home. Along the way, he learns lessons about human nature and spirituality.

Reading challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre – new to me author from another country.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from this book. I knew that it was pretty popular and that it was sometimes described as magic realism, a genre I am fond of so I thought I’d give it a go. I haven’t read any Brazilian literature before so I was curious to see what it was like.

It wasn’t long before I realised it wasn’t really going to be for me. The novel is written in the style of a fable or parable and the characters are archetypes – e.g. the simple shepherd, the king, the alchemist of the title. Right from the start it was clear that the moral was going to be a little heavy handed. I lost time of the number of times the boy was told to listen to his heart and that if you want something strongly enough the world will give it to you as long as you never doubted your purpose. It was all a bit new agey for me. I’m too cynical to really be able to believe that this is the way of the world.

Also, it seems a bit of a dubious moral philosophy. If everyone was off following their heart’s desires, the world would be a very different place. After all, not many people have the heart’s desire to work in McDonalds or be a refuse collector. Even deciding to do something that is more like a vocation may be a pragmatic decision rather than a following of your ultimate desire.

The boy finds his treasure. I must admit that I hoped that it would turn out to be other than simply monetary. I understand that his search is what is really important – he learns valuable lessons along the way. Because he follows his ‘personal legend’, he is duly rewarded by God but I couldn’t help but feel that this reward being gold somehow undermined the message that following one’s dream is spiritual and about oneness with the world.

Having looked at reviews of this novel, I can see that many people feel it has changed their lives. If I’d realised that before I started to read it, I probably wouldn’t have bothered to read it. I’m not really in the market for a life-changing experience. It’s not something I look to reading to give me.

Full House Reading Challenge – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain

Genre: Children’s, Classics

Narrative Style: Third Person Narrator

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1876

Format: Hardback

Synopsis: Tom Sawyer is a typical young boy, always in trouble and skipping school, despite the best efforts of his Aunt Polly to make him tow the line. However, his need for adventure soon gets him into real trouble when he gets trapped in a cave with a murderer and thief.

Reading Challenge: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre – Children’s

This was a very enjoyable read. I’m not sure why I didn’t read it when I was younger as I was obsessed with a TV version of the adventures of Huckleberry Finn which, even now, very much influenced how I saw the characters.

The story begins with some establishing pranks to let us see Tom’s personality. He is always dirty, will do anything to get out of work and prefers to use his intelligence to avoid anything that might involve learning. It is hard not to be charmed by him despite the trouble he causes Aunt Polly.

Tom is also hopelessly romantic as is shown by his infatuation with Becky Thatcher, the new girl in school. Tom reacts in the only way he knows how by showing off and generally getting into trouble. Their childish relationship is touchingly portrayed by Twain and he manages to portray how much it means to both of them without being patronising or overly sentimental.

Tom and Huck get into many scrapes. Having accompanied Huck to the graveyard to witness some superstitious ritual, they actually see a grave being robbed. When the robbery goes badly, Dr Robinson is killed by Injun Joe who flees the scene, leaving his accomplice, Muff Porter to take the blame. The boys swear they will not tell. There is a good deal of tension while Porter is in jail and then on trial for a murder he did not commit. In the end, Tom does the right thing and tells the truth. Porter is freed but there is no sign of Injun Joe.

Later on, Huck and Tom go searching for treasure and instead come across Injun Joe and his stash of stolen money. They resolve to find out where he is going to hide his money. While watching Injun Joe, Huck stops an attack on the Widow Douglas and becomes a hero. Meanwhile Tom and Becky get lost on a picnic and end up in a network of caves where they almost dies. During this, Tom is horrified to discover Injun Joe is in the caves with them.

Eventually, Tom finds a way out and as a precautionary measure the caves are sealed up. Tom is horrified and has to confess that he saw Injun Joe in the caves. Twain does not skimp on details that show how horrible his death must have been although there is little sympathy for him as he is a thief and a murderer.

Tom and Huck then sneak back into the caves and find the money which has been stolen. They have enough money to keep them comfortable for the rest of their lives. Huck has also been adopted by the widow and is finding civilisation a little uncomfortable. It is amusing – and I’m sure most young boys would sympathise – to find Huck sleeping in a barn again in his old scruffy clothes.

Twain has been accused of racism and the whole character of Injun Joe makes for slightly uncomfortable reading. Twain lets his characters speak their minds and they are not very open minded when it comest to native Americans. However, this does not mean Twain is racist. Authors are not synonymous with their characters and there is no doubt that characters such as these would have held these attitudes. More concerning is the portrayal of Injun Joe as completely unsympathetic and as Twain does not offer an alternative perspective, the character’s views are never challenged. Although Twain was an ardent supporter of abolition, he didn’t extend this to Native Americans and his views were much harsher. It is hard to know how judgmental to be and it is unfair to judge a man by standards not of his time. However, if he could see that Blacks should have equality, then it seems strange that he could not extend this to the Native Americans.  It certainly makes the book less enjoyable.

Full House Reading Challenge – 84 Charing Cross Road – Helene Hanff

Genre: Epistolary, Non-fiction

Narrative Style: Exchange of letters between Hanff and Frank Doel of Marks & Co.

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1976

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Helene Hanff is an American with an interest in classical literature and old books. Marks & co are the British bookshop that she writes to to try and get her hands on some of these books. What develops is a funny and touching relationship between Helene and Frank mainly but also others who work in the shop and Frank’s wife. 

Reading challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Set in a bookshop 

I was quite excited by the thought of reading this as I loved the film. Really, I should know better. This is already the second post I’ve started off in this fashion this year. It is truly amazing that they managed to get such a rewarding film from such a slim volume.

Not that this was terrible. It certainly wasn’t. It was interesting to watch the relationship between Helene and Frank develop. The contrast between her open and easy going personality and Frank’s careful British reserve was amusing. Watching Frank slowly let his guard down was one of the more interesting aspects of the book.

But I have to admit, Helene got on my nerves. And nothing really happens. Books are ordered and received. Gifts are sent both ways. I suppose if you were reading this blind, then you might have the wonder of whether Helene was going to get to visit London but having seen the film, I knew that wasn’t going to happen.

The main thing I thought when reading this book was how old fashioned it seemed and also how difficult it would be for this  to happen these days. Not only because we don’t really communicate be letter anymore but because these friendly, small businesses with time to treat their customers so well also seem like a thing of the past. I must admit that it gave me a strong sense of nostalgia for when we used to write letters to each other and we didn’t know every aspect of each others lives  through social media.

 

 

Full House Reading Challenge – The Quiet American – Graham Greene

Genre : War

Narrative Style: First Person, Non-chronological

Published: 1956

Rating: 4/5

Format: Paperback

Synopsis:  Fowler is a cynical journalist following the battles of the French against the Vietminh. Pyle is the naïve American who has idealistic ideas about how to end the war. When Pyle is murdered, everyone is suspect, including Fowler. As Fowler recounts his story of meeting Pyle, it transpires his own motives are less than pure.

Reading Challenges: The Full House Reading Challenge – Less than 250 pages.

I can’t say that I fully understood the political situation in this novel. I haven’t very much knowledge of the Vietnam War but Greene paints his picture in a very human way, looking at individual motivation and personality so it is relatively easy to follow.

As with other Greene novels I have read, motivation is nothing if not complicated. Fowler is attempting to keep himself on the side lines. But he finds it harder and harder to remain uninvolved. His relationship with Pyle is complicated by the fact that Pyle’s first act is to steal Phuong, Fowler’s beautiful mistress.

The story unfolds in flashbacks after Pyle’s death and the reader slowly realises that while it is true that Fowler did not kill Pyle, he is also not completely innocent. Fowler cannot let Phuong go. Pyle has to be removed from the picture. The novel shows how complicated personal and political motivation can be.

The one thing that made me a little uncomfortable was the way Phuong is passed between the men. I’m not accusing Greene of sexism or anything. I’m sure it is an apt description of the way Vietnamese women were treated by Western men.  But nonetheless, it made the novel a little less enjoyable for me.

All in all, an interesting novel that made me think about war, about the personal and the political and about relationships in general. Definitely worth a read.

Full House Reading Challenge – Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides

Genre: LGBT, Family, History, Bildungsroman

Narrative Style: First person, non-chronological

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2003

Format: Kindle

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre Over 500 pages.

This has been on my list for a long time so when it came up for £0.99 on my Kindle, I jumped at it. I’m not really sure what I expected from it (I’d read The Virgin Suicides and had been suitably weirded out by the tone and subject matter) but the story of Calliope / Cal wasn’t it. That isn’t a criticism. I couldn’t have possibly imagined anything as wildly exciting and interesting as the novel actually is.

The story actually starts long before Cal’s birth, on a completely different continent. Admittedly, I know very little about recent Greek history but the details supplied by Eugenides seemed to make sense. And as ever, with really evocative writing, it made me want to find out more. The boat trip to America and the treatment by the American authorities were also emotionally described and I really felt for Lefty and Desdemona (Cal’s grandparents).

Although this novel is described as being about Cal’s transformation from Calliope to Cal, it is a long time before we actually get to this part of the story. Hints are dropped and events alluded to but the main story moves through Cal’s grandparents to parents and then to the present day in order to explain the presence of the genetic mutation that causes all of Cal’s biological problems. There was no sense of impatience on my part though. No detail felt superfluous. The beginning of the novel in particular is a story beautifully told.

Later, it becomes more sensational and a little like a bad TV movie at times. Cal’s hermaphroditism is eventually discovered and he is taken to a doctor who is excited by the possibility of such an exciting case study. Cal is displayed and photographed in a way that seems just as seedy as later on when Cal has run away and ends up in a freak show with other transsexuals at various stages of transition. There is a certain element of magical realism in this part of the novel as Cal tries to come to terms with a new identity. It reminded me of Angela Carter’s Nights at the Circus when Fevvers lives with other freaks such as Sleeping Beauty.

What was pleasing was that Eugenides doesn’t make it straightforward for Cal who feels there is nowhere that he fit. Not male fully or female, not able to fit in with the intersex community, Cal was a little lost. In the present of the novel, Cal is working through a possible romance. Having revealed the entirety of his family history, he was ready at the end, to reveal his body to his lover. It felt like the right place to leave the story with the future possibilities wide open.

 

 

 

Full House Reading Challenge – The Bridges of Madison County – Robert James Waller

Genre: Romance

Narrative Style: A mix of first person, third person, and letters.

Rating: 2/5

Published: 1992

Synopsis: A writer is presented with the diaries of Francesca Johnson by her children. They detail the brief affair that she had with Robert Kincaid who came to photograph the covered bridges of Madison County. It shows the sacrifice she made by staying with her family. The writer promises to tell the story. 

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge: Made into a movie.

I read this because I really enjoyed the film. Romance is not really my thing but I remembered crying at the film so I thought that maybe the book would be as emotional. Instead, I found it sentimental and slightly irritating.

At the beginning, there is a preface explaining how the writer came by this story when Francesca’s children brought her journals to him. This makes it feel like you are reading a true story and I admit, this made me like the story more. It also explained some of the worst excesses of the text – Kincaid’s pseudo hippy talk, for example – as he was working from real people. However, about halfway through, I decided to investigate whether it was true or not and it isn’t. I admit, my impressions of Waller as a writer went down from this point.

Looking at the Goodreads reviews of this book shows that it completely splits opinion. There were a whole raft of one star and five star reviews. I don’t really understand this book inspiring either extreme love or extreme hatred (and some of the one star reviews are pretty angry). It left me feeling empty. I felt little sympathy for either party.

Of course, in the film you have Clint Eastwood (who easily embodies this sort of masculinity) and Meryl Streep, both capable of making an okay story into something special through their performances. Things that had niggled only a little after the movie became downright irritating after the book. Why was it that Francesca had to sacrifice her happiness and stay with her family and  then spent all her time holding onto the few things that reminded her of Robert. The whole ‘last cowboy’ and Kincaid as the end of an evolutionary line of masculinity was irritating as well. Presumably this is the type of man Waller would have liked to be: no ties or responsibility but with the secret of a lost love in his past to explain his solitariness.

At the end of the day, the best thing I can say about this book is that it didn’t take long to read.