Full House Reading Challenge – Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama

Genre: Thriller, Detective fiction, Japanese literature

Style: Third person from the point of view of lead detective, Yoshinobu Mikami

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2012

Format: paperback

Synopsis: Yoshinobu Mikami has just been transferred to the media relations department, not a role he relishes. At the same time, his teenage daughter has run away from home. When he has to organise a visit by the commissioner to the father of a kidnapping victim, on the anniversary of the case, he begins to discover problems in the original case as well as intrigue and scheming within the Criminal Investigations and Administrative affairs departments as they seek to gain power over each other. 

It is always interesting to read literature from another culture and I have to admit, I haven’t read much Japanese literature before. I don’t really know much about the culture apart from some stereotypical aspects. This book, not only is an interesting thriller but gives an insight into Japanese culture and the way that their police system works.

At the beginning of the novel, it was easy to sympathise with Mikami. His own daughter has just disappeared, he has been moved to a department he didn’t like and he missed being a detective. When he is tasked with arranging the visit to Amamiya, the father of the kidnapping victim all those years ago, we can see the toll it takes on him and his despair when the visit is refused.

Throughout the novel, my empathy level and even how much I liked Mikami changed quite considerably. It was often clear to see why he behaved the way he did, even when you could see the mistakes he was making. Mikami is not perfect and doesn’t always make the right decisions but I never stopped wanting him to win, if that is the right way to phrase it. I wanted him to succeed in his role, to win over the reporters, to help solve the crime.

Sometimes it was hard to grasp the bureaucratic details. Without a detailed knowledge of the different areas of the police force, it was difficult to understand exactly what the issues were between Criminal Investigations and Administrative affairs. Why was it so important that one of the divisions might lose their director? Why was media relations so looked down on? But ultimately, these questions were overridden by the tension in the book and, towards the end, the pace of the action.

I didn’t spot the twist at the end. It was incredibly clever and while I had some inklings of what it might be, I would never have completely worked it out. I found it difficult at the beginning to remember who was who as their were a lot of similar sounding names. I had no idea that this would become a crucial detail of the plot

Full House Reading Challenge – Turtles all the Way Down – John Green

Genre: Bildungsroman, young adult

Narrative Style: First person, chronological

Rating: 4/5

Format: Kindle

Published: 2017

Synopsis: Aza is trying to be a normal teenager but often she is caught up in the spiral of her anxiety and as result spends a lot of her time stuck inside her own head. Things change dramatically for her when she hears that an old friend’s father has gone missing in the face of being arrested for fraud. Not only is there the memory of Davis Pickett but there is the possibility of a $100000 reward for encouragement. 

Reading challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre – Coming of Age

This was very enjoyable, easy to read, compelling and I read it really quickly. I can see why Green’s books are so popular. As you can see I am heading for a couple of ‘howevers’. Well, here they are.

First of all, I always find that when you read Green’s fiction, you are always aware that you are reading fiction. Here is Aza, she is a ‘character’, here is Davis, he is also a ‘character’. Here is some faintly ridiculous ‘plot’ to throw them together. Let’s have lots of really deep conversations about the meaning of reality. There is so much meaning spilling about, it’s a wonder the characters don’t all drown.

Don’t get me wrong, I think Green captured Aza’s anxiety well but there is never any doubt that this is not a realistic story. There is an almost fairytale element although it seems to be Aza who is rescuing Davis from his fatherless, motherless castle. There are gifts of $100000 flying around as if that happens in real life. This becomes even more apparent towards the end when Aza miraculously and suddenly shakes off her terrible anxiety and seems a whole lot better for no apparent reason. That is the other ‘however’. The ending felt rushed. Suddenly they realise where Davis’s father is. Suddenly the story is over.

For all that, I still gave it four stars. It was interesting philosophically. The fight between Aza and her anxiety was well written and rang true. If I was a teenager, I would probably have loved this book. I’m sure that part of my irritation with it was just from age. it does make me wonder if I should give up reading books designed for teenagers. It was pleasing that it wasn’t a straightforward romance. Green must have felt the temptation to give Davis a happy ending but I’m glad that he didn’t.

Overall, then, a worthwhile read. It’s good to see a book about anxiety directed at teens and I’m sure many will recognise their own feelings in Aza’s. Just don’t expect this to be anything like real life.

Full House Reading Challenge: 1977: Red Riding 2 – David Peace

Genre: Historical Fiction, Thriller

Narrative Style: Two alternate first person voices

Rating: 3/5

Published: 2000

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: Bob Fraser is investigating the ripper murders but he has a more personal stake than simply wanting to catch the murderer. Jack Whitehead, reporter, is  jaded and desperate but he too wants to get to the bottom of the ripper murders. This is a dark and violent tale of corrupt police, brutal murders and desperate men.

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

I didn’t enjoy this as much as I thought I would and I’m not really sure why. I liked the first one and there wasn’t much difference in style but something didn’t work for me this time.

It does capture the era well. The police corruption, the racism and sexism all are written in vivid detail. I did find this difficult to take. I realise the reason for it – and it isn’t like this is the first book in this sort of style I’ve read – but it was pretty difficult to stomach.

I didn’t really take to Fraser or Whitehead either. Both men have dark secrets and to say they are flawed would be to put it mildly. They have no redeeming features and it was difficult to sympathise with either of them.

The plot should be driven by the hunt for the ripper and I suppose it is but there is a lot of other stuff getting in the way. Fraser’s relationship with a prostitute which eventually implodes, for example or Whitehead’s haunting memories of a former relationship which are incredibly disturbing. And. of course, there is no closure. Far too early in the ripper story for that.

While I knew this would be a dark book but I had no idea how difficult it would be to read about how the women in this book are treated. Not just the murders but Whitehead with his constant erections and Fraser with his jealousy and mistreatment of his prostitute lover. It was unremittingly bleak and while that may be true to the time, it didn’t make for a great read.

 

Full House Reading Challenge 2018 Sign up.

So I have decided that I will do the Full House Reading Challenge. Despite not finishing it last year, it did give me some focus and also it forced me to read some things from my bookshelf that I had been meaning to read. Hopefully I’ll get all books read this year.

I have some ideas for some of the categories but recommendations gratefully received for the rest of them.

  1. Mystery / Thriller – Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama
  2. Historical – The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes
  3. Over 500 pages – Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
  4. Four Word Title – The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan
  5. Most recent addition to TBR – The Mandibles by Lionel Shriver 
  6. A Classic – Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne
  7. Fantasy – Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  8. Adapted to a movie – The Bridges of Madison County – Robert James Waller
  9. Number in the title – Red Riding 1977 by David Pearce 
  10. Under 250 pages – The Quiet American by Graham Greene
  11. New to you author from another country – The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  12. Dual Time Line – White Rose, Black Forest – Eoin Dempsey
  13. Memoir / Autobiography = Americana by Ray Davies
  14. Reread – 1984 by George Orwell
  15. Humour – It’s not me, it’s you – Jon Richardson
  16. Favourite Series – Allegiant – Veronica Roth
  17. Has plot twist – Resurrection Men – Ian Rankin
  18. Coming of Age – Turtles all the way Down – John Green
  19. Set in Library / Bookshop – 84 Charing Cross Road
  20. Holiday season – So This is Christmas – Josh Lanyon
  21. Book to improve life
  22. Redemption theme – Les Miserables – Victor Hugo
  23. From TBR Randomly chosen – Gravity’s Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon – Currently reading
  24. Children’s Book – The Adventures of Tom Sawyer – Mark Twain
  25. N.F. Hobby book

Full House Reading Challenge – Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

Narrative style: Detatched, third person

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1961

Format: paperback

Synopsis: Yossarian doesn’t want to fly any more missions. He has done the required amount but the goalpost keeps moving. He doesn’t see why he should kill himself for the safety of others. However, whatever he tries, he is unable to escape his fate.

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – Genre: Published pre 2000 

This has been on my reading list for a long time. I seem to be saying this a lot at the moment but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

First of all, there are bits of this book that are brilliant. The satire is generally spot on and Yossarian was easy to identify with. This was all as I expected. So why only give 3/5?

Well, this isn’t any easy book to read. The language isn’t difficult. In theory, you should be able to trot through it at an easy pace. But I certainly didn’t find this to be a page-turner. This is because there is no plot to speak of. Things happen. There are events. But there is no overarching storyline. I realise that this is likely a ploy on Heller’s part to represent the insanity of the situation but it meant that it wasn’t compelling to read.

Also, I found it hard to keep track of all the characters and spent a lot of  time flicking back through the book, trying to remember who did what. Obviously some characters stood out more than others such as Doc Daneeka and Milo Mindbender but some of others just blurred together.

Overall, I’m glad I read this. It’s another classic ticked off and the ideas behind it were worthwhile and interesting. I just wish they had been delivered in a slightly different way.

Full House Reading Challenge – No Country for Old Men – Cormac McCarthy

Genre: Western, Thriller

Narrative Style: First person and third person sections

Rating: 5/5

Published: 2005

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Llewellyn Moss’ life changes when he finds a pickup truck containing money, drugs and some dead gang members. He decides to take the money and immediately goes on the run. He has no idea how bad the chain of events he has set in motion will be. 

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge – genre: Western.

I wasn’t really sure what to read for this genre. While I quite like a western movie, it is not a genre I have ever read – apart from Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy. It seemed like a good idea to read another of his novels for this challenge. While No Country for Old Men is not a traditional cowboy story it is very much a modern day version. And I’d seen the film so I was sure that I would enjoy it.

This is a dark and brutal book. The violence is well written and (like in the film) it is not glamourised. It is bleak and empty like the landscape. Chigurh is a relentless killing machine who is unstoppable and unsympathetic. He dispatches people with the same dispassionate efficiency as a farmer slaughtering his cattle. He is the only character who is completely bad and amoral and as such he is the most frightening. You definitely would not want him on your trail.

By contrast, Moss is ambiguous in his morals. He is a veteran who is a loving husband to his very young wife. When he takes the drug dealer’s money, he sets off a tense chase across the country and the bodies very quickly start to pile up. Although Moss tries to protect his wife from the aftermath of his actions, it is inevitable that she will also come under the killer’s radar.

The sheriff, Bell, feels that his country has changed and he cannot understand this kind of cold, emotionless killing. He is part of a past that is disappearing and he feels that his morality does not quite match with the murders that he is seeing. Here is a man who loses money running the jail because he wants to make sure his prisoners are well fed. It is inevitable such intellectually cold killings as Chigurh’s would be impossible for him to understand.

McCarthy’s minimalist style seems the logical successor to writers such as Chandler and Hammett. This is a gangster story as much as it is a western. It is violent and cold in places but the contrast of Bell’s homespun philosophies and his quietly romantic relationship with his wife suggest that maybe the future isn’t totally bleak.

Full House Reading Challenge – Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome

Genre: Children’s, Classics

Narrative Style: Third Person

Rating: 3/5

Published: 1930

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: The Walker children are given permission to camp on an island in the middle of a lake (somewhere in the Lake District.) They are looking forward to some adult-free adventure so when they spot another boat flying a pirate flag, they expect there will be war. And who is the grumpy grown up in the houseboat and why does he think the Walkers have broken into his boat? 

Reading Challenges: Full House Reading Challenge: Genre – Middle Grade

I was going to read a more modern book for this genre but my husband was so appalled that I hadn’t read this, that I had to read it in order to shut him up. I don’t remember having heard of it when I was younger and as I was obsessed with horses, my books tended to revolve around them.

This was a very old-fashioned book. That’s not necessarily a bad thing but it had clear differences from modern children’s fiction. Like Little Women, it was less strong on plot and was more a series of events involving the same people. It was a set of adventures rather than one over-arching storyline. As such, it took a long time to get started and I could imagine young readers getting bored waiting for something to happen, being used to diving headlong into the action straightaway.

It is hard to imagine modern parents allowing their children to go off unsupervised onto a deserted island. There is one moment when the Walker mother visits to find Titty alone on the island and despite her worries, leaves her their alone. As a child reading, I know I would have appreciated the idea of an adult-free environment. As an adult, I found it a little harder to deal with.

Overall, I did enjoy it but I must admit, I wished for more to happen. I had thought it would be a little like the famous five, with a mystery to solve but although there was some intrigue involving the houseboat owner, it wasn’t really enough to satisfy me. The children – particularly the Walker family – were fairly well-drawn and I didn’t find them too annoying (unlike a lot of modern novels). I probably wont carry on and read the rest of the series though.

 

Full House Reading Challenge – Life Class – Pat Barker

Genre: Historical fiction, war

Style: Third person from various points of view

Rating: 3.5/5

Published: 2007

Format: paperback

Synopsis: Elinor and Paul are both artists, studying at the Slade School of Art when war breaks out. They have just declared their feelings for each other when Paul leaves to be an ambulance driver in France. Will their relationship survive the distance and the changes that war brings about in Paul’s character.

Reading Challenge: Full House Reading Challenge – genre: borrowed. 

I borrowed this from my in-laws. I asked my father-in-law to recommend something for me to read as there was no specific book I wanted to borrow from them. After picking out three or four that I had already read, he gave me Life Class. As I had already read the Regeneration Trilogy, I was looking forward to reading this one.

It took a while to get started. There was a lot of the story set in Slade School of Art, relaying Paul’s relationship before Elinor and analysing his feelings about his art. While this was well-written, I didn’t find it as interesting as the second half of the book. It felt a bit like doodlings, compared to the real picture later on in the war. This may have been deliberate as Paul – and his painting – only come alive during the war but it made the novel drag a bit.

Paul’s experience’s, first in a field hospital and then as an ambulance driver, are as brutal and soul-destroying as you might imagine. Paul begins to paint the injured soldiers, aware of the fact he may never be able to show these paintings. Nevertheless, he feels compelled to record what he sees, feeling that he has found the true function of art.

When Elinor visits him in France, she finds it difficult to relate to his experiences. She refuses to involve herself in the war in any way. She will not train as a nurse or any of the other possible female roles. This made it quite hard to like her. Instead, she becomes involved with the Bloomsbury Set and puts her art above everything. While I can see why you might feel like that, it made Elinor into a distant character who refused to engage with the horrific events around her.

As with the Regeneration books, it’s the details that stick with you. In the field hospital, Paul is helping to nurse a suicidal soldier back to life, only for him to be shot when he was well enough, a soldier’s penis is sliced off by a bomb and so on. The brutality of war is very clearly drawn and these sections were the best in the book. Also, the friendship between Paul and fellow ambulance driver, Richard Lewis is touching and much more believable than his relationship with Elinor.

Overall, I finished this feeling a bit let down. This is well written, it was a new point of view on the war (for me anyway) and left wanting to find out more about the true stories behind the novel. However, it seemed a bit flat overall, perhaps because it took so long to start talking about the war. And I was left wanting to know more about Paul and how his experiences had changed him. For me, this book could have started at part two and carried on. (I know there is a sequel and I will probably read that at some stage.)

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.