When I began this book I have to admit that I didn't think the three words I'd be using to describe it would be drama, excitement and intrigue . In fa...moreWhen I began this book I have to admit that I didn't think the three words I'd be using to describe it would be drama, excitement and intrigue . In fact, I really had no intention of reading this book at all any time soon as a friend of mine had to study it in school as a teenager and told me it's the worst book she's ever read and that had stayed with me and filed into the "don't bother" part of my brain. So then, just before Christmas I saw or heard something about this book and that it was about a man who sells his wife and baby daughter at a fayre and immediately I thought that sounds intriguing and off I popped to pick up a copy. How glad I am that I did - The Mayor of Casterbridge has turned out to be one of my favourite books! I loved it!
Michael Henchard is a young man of twenty-one and walking the countryside of Dorset with his wife, Susan, and their baby girl, Elizabeth-Jane, looking for work. They decide to rest a while in a small village where there is a fayre and several drinks later, Michael starts loudly asking for bidders to buy his wife. After accepting 5 guineas from a sailor he wakes later to realise that they have actually gone and when he realises what he has done he swears not to drink a drop more of alcohol for another 21 years (as long as he has so far lived). He starts to make enquiries about where the sailor and his family may have gone but nobody knows who he is and Michael is too ashamed of his conduct to search too effectively and he sets off on the road once more, alone.
The story then fast-forwards eighteen years and Michael is now the Mayor of Casterbridge (modelled on Dorchester in Dorset). It's difficult to say more about what happens next as I really don't want to give it away - this book is much better read if you know nothing about the characters and what is to come yet as there are plenty of twists and turns along the way. The fuller title for The Mayor of Casterbridge is The Life and Death of a Man of Character, and that is really what this book is based around - Michael Henchard and his fall and rise (and fall again). The main cast of characters is small enough that we really get to know them well and care about them: Susan and Elizabeth-Jane become part of the story again as does a Scottish traveller looking for work, Donald Farfrae and a young lady, Lucetta Templeman, who gets caught up in something that will come back to haunt her in a big way later in the book.
Henchard really is a man of character, as the title suggests, and he is prone to jealousy, impulsiveness and malice but in turn he can be caring, warm and reflective meaning that the reader never hates him, but actually feels for him as he is his own harshest critic. What astounded me was Hardy's understanding of human nature: time and time again I was amazed that he had managed to get it so spot on; to really make me feel as the characters did and understand why they behaved the way they did.
What I really loved about this book, though, was the drama. This is why I love all the Victorian books I have read so far - they're like watching a soap-opera. The Mayor of Casterbridge has it all - love, hate, greed, jealousy, deceit and repentence. And watch out for a scene involving a skimmington-ride (what the Victorians - and those before them - used to do to humiliate people, particularly adulterous women or women who beat their husbands which involved a very rowdy and public parade with effigies of the persons concerned being ridden through town on the back of donkeys) which has extremely tragic consequences.
Verdict: I heart Thomas Hardy! This is the second book of his that I have read (the first being Tess) and I now fully intend to gorge myself on the rest this year. Forget your pre-conceptions about dry and dull Victorian literature - this book has it all! A firm favourite now and one I will definitely read again at some point. (less)
What a wonderful and charming book this is. Written in 1932, Greenbanks tells the story of the Ashton family spanning from around 1910 to 1925. It is...moreWhat a wonderful and charming book this is. Written in 1932, Greenbanks tells the story of the Ashton family spanning from around 1910 to 1925. It is centered around the house, Greenbanks, in the Lancashire village of Elton, and revolves mainly around Louisa Ashton, Mother and Grandmother. Louisa has five (very different) children who have all started to make their own way in the world too and so Louisa dotes on her 4 year old Granddaughter, Rachel. Greenbanks may be a lovely, beautifully written book about a family in a grand old house but there is plenty of room for sibling rivalry, illegitimate births, divorce, tyranical fathers and heartache. In fact all these are done so well that I was in awe of how well Whipple understood human emotion such as depression, jealousy, shame and love.
The book is set at during the early part of the last century when ideas and ideals are shifting and in particular Whipple explores the changing roles of women at this time. Louisa is the gentle, kind head of Greenbanks (after her philandering husband dies) but her daughters are exploring new territories that are still thought of as a huge embarassment to the gossiping folks of Elton. Daughters Letty and Laura both carving out new paths for themselves and lodger Kate Barlow still lives the shame and stigma of having an illegitimate child all those years ago. Granddaughter Rachel, much to her Father Ambrose’s profound disappointment, is intelligent and is desperate to continue her studies at University when she grows up, but Ambrose wants a dutiful daughter who will greet him at the door and “take his hat”.
The character of Ambrose Harding is actually one of my favourite characters despite his prigishness and I found him (unintentionally on his part) very amusing: he is so old-fashioned and is constantly baffled as to why people don’t behave the way he expects and wants them to.
“And he did not believe in all this education for women; in fact, he considered knowledge definitely unbecoming to them. It destroyed their charm; they did not listen so well if they knew too much.”
“That’s what this modern education did for them. These modern girls, smoking, riding motor-bicycles, flying airplanes, breaking speed records; they would do anything for notice. What else could it be for? Men did these things for the love of them, to try them out, or to advance knowledge, experience, but women did them for notice, just to get into the papers, to be made a fuss of.”
The quotes made me laugh, especially when I think of how times have changed now. But even with Ambroses sexist rants I could still sympathise with him to a degree as he was born in an age where men were head of the house and no one (especially a wife or daughter) would ever question him. His three other children (all boys) were a huge disappointment to him also as they didn’t follow the direction he wanted them to follow and went their own way; Ambrose felt unloved and and couldn’t understand why. Such a brilliantly drawn character.
A final quote that made me laugh (because it could have been me saying it) Iwas when Letty who in frustration cries:
“”Is there something wrong with me?” she asked in alarm. “This is no more than other women have to put up with. Why don’t I like housekeeping?”"
Verdict: I highly recommend this gorgeous book. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon with a cup of tea (or in the bath, or in the postoffice queue….pretty much anywhere really). Loved it!
I have been a huge fan of Lisa Gardner after discovering her books about 2 years ago, and I particularly like the Detective D.D. Warren series of whic...moreI have been a huge fan of Lisa Gardner after discovering her books about 2 years ago, and I particularly like the Detective D.D. Warren series of which Catch Me is the latest. Her books always start with an intriguing prologue that grabs you by the throat but actually gives away very little meaning that the rest of the book is up to you to work out. I still have a lot of Gardners’ books to read (yay!) so I can only speak for the ones that I have read so far, but what I have found (and liked) is that there is usually an ureliable narrator at the helm. In some cases this is deliberate (for reasons that become apparant later on) and in some cases (i.e. Catch Me) it is because the narrator can’t actually remember any more than she’s telling us so we are muddling through in the same way that she is.
Charlie Grant (or Charlene Rosalind Carter Grant as she insists upon being called) tracks down Boston Detective D.D. Warren on 17th January to ask for help: she thinks she only has 4 days left until she will be murdered. On the last two January 21sts her two best friends, Randi and Jackie, were murdered a year apart and Charlie thinks she will be next. As well as working on what appears to be a serial killer of paedophiles , D.D. is intrigued enough to check out Charlie’s story at the same time, and becomes more so when it appears that the two cases may be linked…
You don’t have to have read all (or indeed any) of this series to be able to get full enjoyment out of this book (I have read only the latest 4 which means I can now go back to D.D’s roots and see where she started out) but I do like the fact that I have seen her character develop. Once hard-nut workaholic D.D. is now mother to 10 week old Jack and living with partner Alex and for once actually looking forward to getting home after a shift. Old habbits die hard though and D.D. ins’t one to let a case go cold and her spidey-senses start tingling like mad towards the end of this one.
What I also liked about this particular book was that characters from some of her other series’ had cameos too; in fact quite a few of them did. Again, if you’re not familiar with Gardner’s books you wouldn’t even notice (and it wouldn’t spoil the book in any way) but for fans this was actually a real treat.
Verdict: One of my favourites. I ripped through it in no time at all and enjoyed every page. Highly recommended for crime fiction fans.
The hype for this book has been everywhere: if you’ve missed it you have possibly been under a rock for the past few months. Normally, if a book has S...moreThe hype for this book has been everywhere: if you’ve missed it you have possibly been under a rock for the past few months. Normally, if a book has SO much hype I give it a wide berth until it has all died down so that I can read it and savour it on my own but this one had me so intrigued and convinced that I would love it that I was itching to read it. Magic and Victorians, I thought; what’s not to love?
Unfortunately quite a lot. Despite loving parts of it, most of it left me hugely underwhelmed. OK, so let’s talk about what I liked about it first: the images created from this book were vivid – the costumes and the settings were largely well written and I could see them easily in my head. Infact, one thing that I loved was that several years ago I had visited the Cirque du Soleil and I remember a really heady smell of powder and costume paint in the tent, and reading this book managed to evoke that sense again which made me smile. I loved the tents and what was in them – acrobatic kittens, snowy wonderlands, the labarynth eating caramel and chocolate popcorn. I also loved the tent where whenever you took the lid of a random bottle you were transported to somewhere else, comeplete with smells and taste: it reminded me of what I love about books – you get so emersed in another world that it’s often a surprise to look up and realise that you are still in your front room.
Now on to what didn’t work for me: I never felt like I got to know any of the characters well enough; there were too many and none of them felt fully fleshed out to me. The books blurb has us believe that there is some epic battle of wits and skill between the two young aprentices, Celia and Marco who are pitted against each other in a battle to the end, despite them falling in love. I never bought their relationship at all – it came out of nowhere and it would be months, even years, between them seeing each other for only a few hours. Where was the passion or the tenderness or the longing to be together? It was the most understated relationship I have ever read about. Also, this epic battle that is eluded to in the blurb is hardly that – infact it takes about 20 years; the pacing was way off to make it in any way exciting or intriguing.
Verdict: For me, this was definitely a case of style over execution. The plot felt weak. The visuals were good but the plot was more of a whimper than a bang and I found myself rushing it in the hope of getting to the end and being rewarded which I never felt I was. It’s a shame – I wanted to love it but I really didn’t.
Just over a year ago I discovered S J Bolton’s books, starting with Sacrife which I absolutely loved. Since then I have gone on to read three more of...moreJust over a year ago I discovered S J Bolton’s books, starting with Sacrife which I absolutely loved. Since then I have gone on to read three more of her books and this latest book is every bit as good as all the others.
Dead Scared is the second book featuring Detectives Lacey Flint and Mark Joesbury and this time they are in Cambridge investigating an unusually high number of student suicides at the University over the last 5 years. Lacey is sent undercover to live as student Laura Farrow at the Universtity and only days into her “new life” she discovers that the suicides aren’t quite what the first seem. The students, usually female and pretty, are killing themselves in increasingly violent ways after complaing of nightmares and being terrified for weeks beforehand. Lacey/Laura delves deeper into the lives and histories of the student deaths with the help of University Psychiatrist Evi Oliver (who is apparantly a character from Blood Harvest which is the only obe of Boltons books that I haven’t read yet – to be rectified VERY soon!). Evi is the person who alerted the police to her concerns about the high suicide rate in Cambridge and soon finds that not only is she suffering from nightmares herself but strange and very scary things are starting to happen to her in her own home too.
Despite this being the second book to star Flint and Joesbury, I don’t think that it is at all necessary to have read the first in the series, Now You See Me. There are a few references to things that happened in that first book but I was really pleased to note that Bolton didn’t give away any of the plot that would spoil it for readers who haven’t picked that one up yet. Also, the way that this book ends means that surely there is a next in the series to come. YES!
Verdict: Highly recommended. I found this book absolutely fantastic and had trouble putting it down. It had me hooked from page one (which has been something pretty rare recently as I have struggled to get into a few books), and it was an intelligent and fast-paced thriller with genuinely creepy moments and if you are of a nervous disposition I would heartily recommend that you don’t read this book alone in the dark…. (less)