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.

Books Read in 2015 – 9. How to Fall in Love by Cecelia Ahern

eclecticreader15

Genre: Romance, Chick-lit

Narrative Style: First person, chronological

18161265Rating 3/5

Published: 2013

Format: Kindle

Reading Challenges: Eclectic Reading Challenge – Contemporary Romance

Synopsis: Christine Rose fails to stop a suicidal man from shooting himself which sends her into a tailspin of self-doubt and causes her to end her own marriage. When she sees Adam about to jump off the Ha’Penny Bridge then she knows she has to stop him. 

I thought I’d get this genre out of the way early. As I have said before, I am not a fan of romantic literature. I keep hoping I will find a romance writer I will actually love but it seems it is not to be. I picked Cecelia Ahern because she has a lot of five-star reviews and I wanted to at least know what I was reading was a good example of the genre.

I have no doubt that this is the case, that Ahern is one of the better romance writers around but I still found it a chore to read. There were a number of reasons for this but the main one was there was never any doubt that Christine and Adam would end up together. Not for a moment did it seem that any of the “obstacles” in their way would actually derail the romance. There was no tension at all.

Secondly, I found the characters were all a bit like characters in a romantic movie rather than having any sort of reality. Christine was either ridiculously upbeat or a mess of tears. (This is the second novel I’ve read lately where the lead woman spends most of the time crying. Whatever happened to a strong female lead?) The other characters were just there for her to react to and had no life of their own. Adam’s turn around at the end was not convincing. It was very clearly a work of fiction. That might seem like a stupid thing to say but I felt I could never completely lose myself in Christine”s world because I didn’t believe it could exist.

However, for all my problems with the genre, this wasn’t badly written and I did want to see exactly how it would end so Ahern is clearly doing something right. I won’t be returning to read anymore though.

Books Read in 2014 – 58. A Kind of Loving – Stan Barstow

Genre: Romance, Masculinity

Narrative Style: First Person, Chronological11816034_f260

Rating 3.5/5

Published: 1960

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Vic Brown is looking for the right woman and when Ingrid catches his eye, he thinks she may be the one. What starts off romantic quickly becomes lustful and Vic is caught between his longing for sex and his knowledge that he doesn’t like Ingrid that much. Then the worst happens: she gets pregnant and he has to marry her. 

I had seen the film A Kind of Loving about twenty years ago and I really enjoyed it so I was looking forward to reading it. And it was quite enjoyable. There were just a few annoying little things that kept me from giving it a higher rating.

Vic Brown is a typical man of the fifties. He is young, employed and has money in his pocket. His narrative voice is quite charming and flows along nicely. He is cultured and wants to make something of himself. He is on the cusp of manhood, thinking himself to be the only one of his friends who hasn’t had sex (this turns out not to be true) and also wanting a loving wife who would also be a friend.

At the beginning, he adores Ingrid from a distance, thinking himself in love with her. And at first, they get on well enough. However, when Ingrid lets him go a bit further than he expected, he becomes confused as to whether he still likes her or just lusts after her. He vows not to see her but she drags him back in. He finds that although he should behave better towards her, he does not because he is caught by his lust.

There is no doubt that Imogen is shoddily treated by Vic. She is similarly caught in the mores of the day, wanting to discover her own sexuality but also knowing that it wasn’t approved of. One of the difficult things about reading this was not to give her a more modern psyche and make her voice stranger and louder.

When she gets pregnant, Vic agrees to marry her and then has to move in with her and her mother because they haven’t the money to find their own place. It is here that Barstow really gets to criticise the current morality. Ingrid’s mother is monstrous, attempting to control her daughter and determined that it must have been all Vic’s fault. She very nearly destroys any chance they have of making any sort of loving out of their situation.

The ending is quietly optimistic and Barstow buts his faith in the younger generation being able to sort out their own lives without the interference of the older generation. They move out of her mother’s house and into their own space, giving their future at least a fighting chance. But it isn’t a cloying they all lived happily ever after ending either. The moral being if they mess it up at least they’ll know who to blame.

So to the things that stopped it being rated higher. I always find it a bit difficult to read a novel like this because I can’t help hoping for the female character to fight back a bit and Ingrid was a bit of a drip. There were strong women in this book but they both used their strength to control everything and everyone so they weren’t exactly positive. And while I obviously understand that a novel is definitely of its time, that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier to read. The final thing that annoyed me was Vic’s choice of bint as a generic term for all women. I really dislike the word. And while he uses it in much the same way as you might use bird, it still really got on my nerves.

Books Read in 2014 – 52. Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

200px-WillGraysonGenre: glbt, young adult, romance

Narrative Style: switches between two first person narratives, chronological

Rating: 4/5

Published: 2010

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: On the streets of Chicago, two teenagers called Will Grayson are having the worst night of their lives. Then they bump into each other and their lives change. 

This was, for the most part, a very pleasing read. The chapters alternate between Green’s Will Grayson and Levithan’s will. They are suitably different from each other and have different problems. I preferred Levithan’s will from the first as I felt I could relate to his depression. Green’s Will seemed more determined to make problems for himself and was less likeable. I liked the lack of capitalisation in Levithan’s chapters as it fitted well with that characters low self-esteem.

The story moved along quite quickly and the romances were well handled. Will Grayson’s confusion over whether he liked Jane or not was funny and apt whilst the romance between will and Tiny was touching and difficult. Between them they seemed to cover all the possible teenage romance problems without being too unsubtle.

In fact, I was close to giving this novel 5/5. There were a number of reasons why I didn’t. First of all, I felt Green’s characters were too large for the page and like in The Fault in our Stars, they were hard to get attached to because they seemed to represent so much. Tiny, in particular was annoyingly loud and painfully self-centred. He seemed to embody every gay stereotype. will was more convincing because he was just a teen who happened to be gay. I was actually pleased when the romance between will and Tiny did not work because I felt that will deserved better.

I’m not a fan of musicals. Although there was no singing, obviously being as how it is a book but even so there were songs. And while they were often witty, they were annoying. People bursting into song – hypothetical or otherwise – does not appeal to me.

Finally, the ending seemed to be quite sudden. Partly, this was due to reading on my kindle which claimed 91% because there was an interview with the two authors and an extract from The Fault in Our Stars but I could have read more. I thought that all the Will Graysons offering support to Tiny was a little sentimental although the two Wills were both in better places at the end so that was pleasing.

All in all, a witty and insightful look at teenage romance. The sort of book I wish I could have read when I was sixteen.

 

Books Read in 2014 – 21. The Fault in our Stars – John Green

Genre: Young Adult, Illness. Romance

Narrative Style: First Person Narrative, Chronological Timeline The_Fault_in_Our_Stars

Rating: 4/5

Format: Paperback

Published: 2012

Synopsis: Hazel has cancer and even though she is taking a drug to shrink her tumours, her prognosis is still terminal. At a cancer support group, she meets Augustus, seemingly recovered from his cancer, and discovers what life is all about.  

This is an excellent book for debunking myths and showing exactly how difficult it is for teenagers with cancer. It is funny and lively as well as being devastatingly sad. From the moment that Hazel meets Augustus, there is a sense that this cannot end well. (Otherwise what sense in telling the story.) There was always a sense of grabbing happiness while you can and one of the lessons Hazel learns is that you cannot stop people from loving you just so they don’t get hurt and equally you cannot stop yourself from doing the same.

I was impressed with the gallows humour in this book and it always felt right and didn’t step over the mark at all. I was a little wary of reading it, thinking that it might be too upsetting but in fact I found I laughed more than anything. There was one point towards the end when it is obvious what is going to happen and I put the book down, thinking I might not pick it up again. But I did and it was painful but not impossible to read.

One of the reasons I didn’t find it more upsetting, I think, is that it never stopped feeling like a book. The characters were well written and the plot moved well and wasn’t cliched but I never really suspended my disbelief. In the book, Augustus is obsessed with the metaphoric resonance of everything he does and the story often seemed symbolic rather than real as if everything was imbued with too much meaning.

Still, undoubtedly an important book about the importance of living even when you are dying.

 

 

Books read in 2014 3. – Starter for Ten – David Nicholls

Reading Challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge 2014eclecticchallenge2014_300

Genre: Romantic Comedy

Narrative Style: First Person Narrative, Chronological Timeline

Format: Kindle

Published: 2003

Synopsis: Working class boy, Brian Jackson goes away to university and makes an utter mess of it. 107896He enrolls for University Challenge in order to impress posh girl, Alice and spends the rest of the novel chasing after her hopelessly. He also finds time to annoy his childhood friends and just about anyone else who has the misfortune to bump into him.

Rating: 3/5

I thought I’d try to get this genre out of the way near the beginning as I have very little patience with the idea of romance even when joined with the more fun genre of comedy. I’d read One Day and The Understudy which were both okay so I thought I’d give Starter for Ten a go.

I thought that I might be able to identify with Brian Jackson, a working class boy going off to university albeit in the 80s and I went in the 90s, however he was very quickly unlikeable and annoying. Of course, Nicholls’ aim was undoubtedly to show a young man’s journey from annoying little boy to mature and sensible man but Brian never seems to learn any lessons and, indeed, at the end he is still making the same stupid mistakes.

While I understand that a working class boy at university might meet a lot of people who were posher than him, most of the characters in this book seem to be stereotypes of one type or another, none of which are very pleasant. This is also true of Jackson’s working class friends from home. I don’t know if Nicholls was trying to make a point about class difference but it was somewhat lost because none of these characters seemed like real people.

The romance with Alice is supposed to be amusing and Brian’s patheticness is a little funny, I guess but mostly I just wished he would wake up and realise that she was stringing him along. Alice is contrasted with Glaswegian socialist worker Rebecca who is angry and tough (Just another stereotype) and much more Brian’s type if only he could see it. I chose this book because I thought I’d find a romance with a male protagonist less annoying. It turns out that this was not true. Reading this reminded me of reading Bridget Jones’ Diary. I wanted to shake him just about all the way through.

The University Challenge storyline is more amusing and (unsurprisingly) I found all the angsty romance a little distracting at times. I do think that there are parts of this story that could have been developed and maybe then Brian’s character would have developed a bit more. Because he viewed Alice as some sort of unattainable beauty queen, as long as he is involved with her, he will always remain a boy.

The end of the book was not a surprise. I won’t spoil it but needless to say Brian has not learned his lesson. Even though he will be starting again at a new university, he has learned nothing and there is potential for the same mistakes being made.

Finally, all the way through this book, Nicholls makes reference to great works of literature – Tender is the Night, Brideshead Revisited, Great Expectations, to name but a few. If you are going to remind people of some of the best works in the English language, it might be a good idea to write a better book. All the many references made me think was, I wish I was reading that instead of this.

Chrys Fey’s 30 day Writing Challenge – Start a story with Once Upon a Time

First off, before the story, an apology. As ever, life is hectic and when I posted that I was starting this challenge I really thought I’d be able to do it the next day. Due to circumstances beyond my control, it has taken over a week to get this to you. This is the first challenge of Chrys Fey’s 30 day writing challenge. Hopefully the next one will be quicker but on her website it does say that you don’t have to do one every day which, given my busy life, is just as well.

Start a story with Once Upon A Time. 

Once upon a time….

There was a princess called Lucinda that lived in a big castle. I know, that’s not unusual for princesses but she really didn’t like living there. It was dull and cold and too big. Sometimes she thought her entire family could leave and she wouldn’t even know. The worst thing about that was the fact that it wouldn’t surprise her if they did go. And it was likely they would leave her behind.

The castle had big towers that filled the princess with foreboding although she wasn’t sure why. She just knew that when she was on her way to princess school and she looked back; she shuddered involuntarily when she saw them. There was one at each corner, tall and proud with only the one window at the very top. She didn’t like them any better when she drove back from school and they seemed to stare down at her, one cold dark eye each. It made her skin cold all over.

The school wasn’t much better. It was grey and imposing with the same stark towers on the corners. Perhaps, she mused, they would be frightened into behaving as they were supposed to. It was true that no one seemed to step out of line so maybe it worked. They all trooped into the classroom and sat at their desks and learned the many things that princesses needed to now. Like how to be radiant. Or how to talk down to your subjects. The princess wanted to ask about the towers. Questions like why are they so tall. Questions like what happened at the top with the one eyelike window. Once you got in, she reasoned, you would not get out. But she didn’t ask. It was unspoken that the towers suggested punishment. And they were all good girls really. Even Princess Lucinda.

It was hard enough for Lucinda. She knew she didn’t really fit in. The other princesses were pink. They were flouncy. Lacy. Well, so was she. That was the uniform. But she didn’t like it. The dresses got in her way and when she sat down; they could always see her underclothes no matter how careful she was. She had failed that this year. Ladylike posture. It just didn’t come naturally. She looked on with envy as the others stuck their little fingers out when they picked up their cups and when they moved slowly and elegantly across the room in their sharp healed pointy shoes.  

Their hair was bouncy. Her hair refused to do that. She had asked to have it cut short but they would not let her. Instead, it tangled itself into knots or unravelled from however it was supposed to be. And she couldn’t stay clean. The other princesses sat and waited for things to be brought to them, for things to happen. She wanted to go and find things. Although most of the time, the only things that she found were dirt and the corners of tables that were intent on ripping skirts and tearing lace.

There was a lot at stake of course. If they didn’t pass all levels of princessing, then they’d never get a prince and go on to have lots of other little princes and princesses. The thought of marrying a prince filled Lucinda with nearly as much horror as the thought of the tower. What a choice! She supposed it would be different with real babies but when they had to practise with the dolls, well, she genuinely couldn’t see the point. All the others cooing and exclaiming and dressing the dolls up. She wasn’t sure what it was but there had to be something better than this.

So that is what they were doing, they were still waiting. For their prince to come. Lucinda sniggered but they were far too delicate to think such vulgar thoughts. They knew that you had to be to snag a prince and sniggering didn’t really figure. Probably, Lucinda reflected, it gave you wrinkles and that was tragedy beyond measure. They spent long hours shaping their nails and curling or straightening their hair depending on what the fashionistas said. Then there was the rubbing on of creams. She looked at them and thought how they all looked the same.

They all had that careful voice, as well, not too loud, not too quiet. The exact right tone. She couldn’t manage that either. Too loud. When she laughed, not only did it come out in guffaws but also her whole body joined in. They tittered carefully behind their hands when that happened although she had no doubt that nasty little thoughts existed behind those careful eyes. She almost hoped they did. At least that would make them interesting.

The princes were equally boring. All vying for position. All carefully styled, of course. Perfectly clothed. That was the problem. Nothing wrong with them. She was fed up with feeling less than perfect. They talked about themselves constantly. The whine of them contrasted horribly with the giggling from the princesses. They were all handsome and that struck Lucinda as odd. Surely they couldn’t all be. What happened if a less than perfect baby was born? Were they sent to some lesser family where it mattered less if you were beautiful? Another question she would never ask.

It was not like Lucinda to be early. Things eluded her. The things needed for school that day, for example. So often, they’d have to turn back and get a servant to run and find some book or other or some homework she had forgotten. Sometimes she’d realise that she had odd shoes on. This morning had run smoothly. She was the first one into their classroom. Or so she thought

She was trying to decide what to do with this small piece of freedom when she heard a noise from the cupboard at the back of the classroom. She knew what she was supposed to do. Scream and then run. Alert the nearest male. Lucinda had no intention of behaving in such a princessy way. How very tedious. She wasn’t frightened, she was intrigued. With a delicacy that usually eluded her, she moved quietly towards the cupboard. The noises – rustles and swishes – made her think of a small animal. No threat.

She paused briefly to make sure she was ready and then she yanked the door open. She couldn’t believe her eyes. One of the princes. In there, among their clothes. Lucinda tried to recall his name. She knew she had seen him before. With the others but they came as one mass. They were the princes. She didn’t try to pick them apart. Then she tried to recall what it was that was different about him. He was slim, slight. Probably the smallest of the princes. But it wasn’t that. It was something that she couldn’t quite place. A delicacy perhaps. It was hard to see him rescuing or duelling or any of those things the princes learned about. Lucinda realised that she quite liked that about him. That and the fact he looked more frightened of her than she felt of him.

“What are you doing in there?” She asked with as much authority as she could muster. There was a pause and Lucinda thought the prince might cry. That wasn’t allowed. Boys don’t cry. She was ready to put her arms around him though, if she should need to. But instead, he spoke. The same thing that Lucinda couldn’t quite grasp about his body was wrong with his voice. It was smooth and had none of the depth that the other princes aimed for. It was soft like silk. Lucinda felt it rub over her skin.

“I picked up my sister’s bag by mistake. I was just leaving it for her.” That sounded fair. Lucinda wished she had a brother that would be so helpful but they were all hateful.

“You probably should go.” He nodded his head. After all, the princes were not allowed in here and perhaps, he knew that the towers were for punishment as well. She couldn’t imagine that he found being a prince very straightforward.

As she watched him leave – his steps were small and dainty – she thought he moved more like one of them. More like a girl. She felt sorry for him. He was as out of place as she was. He turned just before he left. Smiled.

“My name is Sam.” He said. Samuel, thought Lucinda. She would not forget.

“Lucinda.” She hadn’t realised until that moment, how much she had hated her name. It was clunky and awkward. Well, it suited her; you had to agree with that.

Lucinda thought about Sam a lot. She called him the prince of the cupboard. In her head, anyway. For once, that lunchtime, she sat with the others while they giggled over their possible future husbands. Some of them had been promised to princes already. Providing they got the right grades at princessing, of course. Quietly, she asked if any of them knew anything about Sam. They seemed surprised to see her and hear her but they soon recovered.

“Trust you,” said Marianna, “To notice a fellow freak.” Lucinda realised that it was true. That was what was so similar about them. They were all wrong for the role. The others all laughed and she moved back to her lone seat. The prince of the cupboard was wrong in all the ways that made him right for her.

Weeks passed and Lucinda made an effort to make it into school early but she never saw the prince of the cupboard in their room again. It disappointed her every time. She began to think that she would never be able to speak to him again. Not that it would matter anyway. Not when she was going to fail her princessing exams. What happened then? No one wanted to say but she felt the presence of the tower whenever they spoke about it. A lot of good it would do her. Sam didn’t look like the rescuing type. She pictured herself looking out of that one window. That small square her only view.

It was soon to be the end of term ball. Lucinda always hated it. They didn’t pick her to dance. Or if they did, they didn’t do so again after she had trodden on them or elbowed them of in some way or other injured them. These days her reputation went before her so she stood on the sidelines and watched them glide effortlessly around the dance floor. She wished she had the grace to do so herself. It was a strange feeling, to want something she so thoroughly hated but it would be easier, fitting in. Easier than standing watching everyone else enjoying their life. Okay so they were thoughtless but maybe that was better.

This time she tried really hard to stay clean and tidy by sitting in one place before they had to leave and even her mother was impressed that she hadn’t managed to mess up her hair. She was wearing her best dress. (The most expensive one not the one she liked the best. She liked none of them but trousers were not allowed.) She wanted Sam to think she was beautiful. She assumed that he would like this perfect version. It was what all the princes wanted. That was the whole point.

So she giggled not sniggered. She wiggled not stomped. She hid her face behind her hand. She was that shy, sweet girl. A couple of the princesses asked if she was feeling okay. She said she was although it was a lie. She had never felt worse. She was pretending to be what they wanted her to be. What he wanted her to be. Not even that. What she thought he wanted her to be. It was difficult but he was the prize. It had to be worth it.

It was the opinion of the princes that the ball was really for the girls. They had to be there and they had to dance but it was not their thing. Jousting and archery and sports that was their thing. But they had to be impressive and to be impressive, you had to be there. So mostly, they came and stood and watched and decided who was the prettiest. They fought to be the one who danced with the prettiest. They looked at Lucinda and sniggered at the way she giggled, at the way she wiggled. She might be trying but she lacked grace. She lacked feminine charm. She was still a little scary. The princes were taught what the princesses would do and that was fine. None of them was really bright enough to work out someone who did not follow the pattern.

Sam watched her carefully. He patted down his own clothes. They would probably suit Lucinda as well. Maybe he should share with her the secret of his success. He supposed it was probably too late. Watching her, trying so hard, it was heart breaking and Sam knew his heart was already soft with feeling for her. He wasn’t sure what he should do.

She was more like him than she realised. He had to find some way of letting her know that. He thought he’d seen recognition in her eyes, that day she had caught him changing his clothes but she had easily bought the lie he told so maybe she was clueless. Maybe she thought him just like all the rest, hence the terrible trying to fit the role

He couldn’t remember the first time now. Just that it was a long time ago. Long enough that he had abandoned all thoughts of femininity. Even in his own head. Every time though, he felt that small thrill of it being right and proper even though everyone else thought it wrong. He had to be at school early to ensure no one saw him arrive, stay late so he could change again before home. Now, at home, in girl clothes, that was when it was odd and opposite.

“May I have this dance?” Sam looked up and there was Lucinda. His heart pounded unsteadily. She must have grown bored with waiting. Sam had decided that there would be no dancing for him tonight. He was too small and too nervous and he feared whoever he chose would just laugh. He grinned at the way everyone was staring. He hadn’t been concentrating or he would have seen the entire hall come to a stop.

“Of course.” He said, taking her hand. She let her hand sit on Sam’s waist, gently ran her hand over the hip. She noted the curve and nodded.

“You’re just like me.” She said. “Just like me.” She emphasized each word and Sam was glad she had figured it out.

“Do you think we’ll be able to live happily ever after?” She asked. Nobody else seemed to have figured it out and as far as she could tell, no one else wanted either of them. Her own mother would be pleased just to see her married.

“Oh, I think so.” Sam said grinning. They were floating across the dance floor now and much to everyone’s amazement, they moved well. They fitted together. Lucinda grinned as well. She was thinking about the lack of towers in the future and how it pleased her immensely.