I usually try to leave my editorial hat at the door when setting out my thoughts regarding a recent read so that I can concentrate more on the subject...moreI usually try to leave my editorial hat at the door when setting out my thoughts regarding a recent read so that I can concentrate more on the subjective side of the experience but in this regard I failed utterly. Although generally the writing was of a decent standard I felt that editorially the author rather sabotaged her own work.The first scene in any book is very important but here it gets broken up into little gasps of writing, breaking off incredibly after a page and half and stuttering on through several more literary burps. I never felt like I was allowed to settle into the narrative without being jerked back from the page by the constant chapter breaks. (less)
Review from Badelynge The heroine, and faithful scribe, of this tale is one Bessy Buckley, or so she introduces herself. She's a young Irish girl, runn...moreReview from Badelynge The heroine, and faithful scribe, of this tale is one Bessy Buckley, or so she introduces herself. She's a young Irish girl, running away from a mother who has ruthlessly exploited her from an early age. She arrives at a ramshackle mansion, somewhere near Edinburgh, where she is taken on as a housemaid by the mistress of the house, Arabella Reid. The 'missus' as she calls her soon has young Bessy confused and bewildered by a succession of seemingly random and mostly pointless requests. And every night she must write an account of the day's events along with her inner thoughts. Despite all this Bessy develops a fierce loyalty for her mistress and then she finds out, by the chance discovery of Arabella's in-progress book 'The Observations', what the object of her devotions is really up to and tellingly what her opinions of Bessy are. What happens next is best left for the story to tell, but it is a fascinating read that weaves Bessy's dark past, the mysterious fate of her predecessor, Arabella's paragon of all house maids, Nora, and Arabella's own secrets into a startlingly engaging narrative mystery. Bessy is a wonderful character, who colours her tale with the most vivid and sometimes lurid slang and colloquialisms. I'm often put off by such inclusions, though in this case they are pretty much essential to the style and don't distract at all. Though being a native of northern England, where many of the expressions are still in common use or fondly remembered from use by my Grandparents, I could be more immune from irritation than the average reader. Bessy is also not averse to casting ridicule on the people she recounts by exaggerating or over annotating their speech patterns and accents. The more she despises them the more extreme the exaggeration. I think it's no accident that Hector, the sex obsessed Highlander, gets the brunt of it. The Observations is an excellent début novel. I've read the latest book by Jane Harris, 'Gillespie and I', which appeared some 5 years after 'The Observations' - so if you enjoyed this book I'd recommend you look it up with all due dispatch. (less)
Review from Badelynge. The sixth book from Susan Hill to feature the inhabitants of Lafferton. The two main characters are siblings Dr Cat Deerbon and...moreReview from Badelynge. The sixth book from Susan Hill to feature the inhabitants of Lafferton. The two main characters are siblings Dr Cat Deerbon and top cop DCS Simon Serrailler. The plots and themes explored usually feature the family's ongoing story and topics and situations thrown up by the pair's respective professions; health or lack of it, crime in society - all sensitively addressed in Hill's brilliant prose and her thoughtful insights into human emotions. Crime fiction? Well yeah, but not really comparable to much of the genre's staples and conventions. In this one flooding in Lafferton has unearthed the bones of a young girl missing for 16 years, a mystery from the past that caused a big splash on the national consciousness. But alongside them are the bones of another young woman whose disappearance contrastingly caused not even a ripple. Serrailler is tasked with the cold case but is hampered by severe budget restrictions and he's just met the love of his life. Cat Deerbon deals with financial problems directing the local hospice, calling on the expertise of a newcomer to the town who is setting up a new care home for Alzheimer sufferers. In her general surgery she is consulted by a woman called Jocelyn with the early symptoms of Motor Neurone Disease, which leads to the thorny subject of assisted suicide. I think Hill tackles the subject as objectively as possible, though of course her characters are more swept along with the emotions of the terrible choices they face. Age, mortality, memory, lives lived and lives cut short, all played out in the setting of a Cathedral town and tied together with the lines of synchronicity within a cold case murder inquiry. I would add the advisory that this one is probably going to have more resonance with older readers or folk who have had their lives touched by terminal illness. (less)
Review from Badelynge I read my first Susan Hill book back in the dim, misty past of my college days. Nestled in my English Lit reading list amongst Th...moreReview from Badelynge I read my first Susan Hill book back in the dim, misty past of my college days. Nestled in my English Lit reading list amongst Thomas Hardy, T.S.Eliot, G.B.Shaw, Grahame Greene etc was I'm the King of the Castle by Susan Hill. To an 18 year old who was more used to reading wall to wall epic fantasy and sci-fi I found Hill's writing the most accessible, though I admit it wasn't until a much later reread that I really appreciated the sheer depth and truth of her writing. Although A kind Man doesn't hit the heights of her earlier works it is as ever a very emotive read. This short book initially seems to be a somewhat prosaic story, set in a northern mill town during a hard depression, about the life paths of two sisters and the petty resentments that follow. One sister, Mirriam, marries a selfish and inconsiderate man, the other, Eve, marries the titular kind man, Tommy Carr, as selfless and giving a man as it 's possible to know. Mirriam can't stop having children, all boys, and Eve struggles to conceive at all. Eventually she has a single girl. From early on in the narrative, Hill generates a sense of anxiety, which is very subtly felt at first, but as the story advances and tragedy strikes, this anxiety slowly increases. What happens next is totally unexpected and far from prosaic. It's Hill's skill in engendering empathy from the reader for her characters that draws the reader in, making you worry for them and pre-empt their decisions. Essentially the book is a parable about love and kindness in a world that seems to be forgetting their value in a self made hell of drudgery and selfishness. (less)
Review from Badelynge This sturdy and well presented edition by Hesperus Press presents eight stories by E.M.Forster with foreword by Amit Chaudhuri. I...moreReview from Badelynge This sturdy and well presented edition by Hesperus Press presents eight stories by E.M.Forster with foreword by Amit Chaudhuri. It's a shame these stories were never printed during Forster's lifetime because, in a way, they were written to challenge a different age. That isn't to say that the stories are worthless, Forster remains one of the shining lights of the last century and his powers of irony, symbolism and good storytelling are all showcased here again. The societal landscape of moralists and mores may have shifted but hypocrisy and class differences are targets that Forster can still hit even from beyond the grave. (less)
Review from Badelynge Maybe if Joe Dunthorne's Submarine had clothed its covers with far fewer off the mark testimonials, I would have been a little mo...moreReview from Badelynge Maybe if Joe Dunthorne's Submarine had clothed its covers with far fewer off the mark testimonials, I would have been a little more forgiving in my judgment of this book. But for the sake of balance alone somebody has to pooh-pooh all the best thing since Catcher in the Rye statements. To live up to such statements Oliver Tate (our narrator) would have to seem like a real character - but he never does. Maybe he was never meant to. Submarine sort of lives in a skewed reality not far removed from a post watershed episode of My Family. Other times it's hard to believe Oliver's ramblings are anything other than the voice of the true author, Joe Dunthorne. To be fair the first chapter was ok. It seemed quite light, quirky, with some pretty clever lines: 'Depression comes in bouts. Like boxing. Dad is in the blue corner.' Unfortunately that line was the last of them and even that one had been wasted on a cover quote. Are there any truths uncovered in this book, other than suggesting that 15 year olds aren't always as right as they think they are? Back to those pesky testimonials. No, no, no. 'Adrian Mole for adults, with a much more complicated protagonist, truer to life and infinitely funnier' Big Issue. I think somebody should go back and read the Adrian Mole books again, because this couldn't be further from the truth if Oliver Tate had written the quote himself. (less)
Review from Badelynge. Willy Vlautin is the frontman of a band called Richmond Fontaine who also writes novels. Lean on Pete is his third such book. It...moreReview from Badelynge. Willy Vlautin is the frontman of a band called Richmond Fontaine who also writes novels. Lean on Pete is his third such book. It introduces us to Charley Thompson, a 15 year old boy who lives an unsettled life with his dad. Pretty much left to his own devices and uprooted from his previous life in Spokane, Charley tries to make the best of things. He pines for his old home and friends while doing his best to stock a fridge that is as neglected as himself. His dad isn't a bad sort but doesn't make spending time with his son a high priority. Charley just wants a bit of stability in his life. He doesn't get it. Tragedy and bad luck dog the boy's steps from page to page and an already introverted personality starts to slide. The book charts an emotional and fraught journey as Charley takes responsibility for a no-hope race horse called Pete. It's all told in a spare and economical first person, with the eye and imagination of a 15 year old. Is there no hope for Charley? Can he save Pete? There is only one way to find out. This review is from an uncorrected proof.(less)
Review from Badelynge It seems like I've been reading Mary Shelley's The Last Man all year. I'm not the fastest of readers but whenever I read poetry I...moreReview from Badelynge It seems like I've been reading Mary Shelley's The Last Man all year. I'm not the fastest of readers but whenever I read poetry I read even slower. The Last Man isn't poetry but it is written using poetic prose, which keeps tricking me into thinking I'm reading an epic poem. The primary characters are based on Shelley's recently deceased husband poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Lord Byron and herself (although personified by the eponymous male character). The woman can write some. The novel really shines when the story finally concludes on its note of tragic isolation. Unfortunately to get to this brilliant finale of loss you have to first present fully what is being lost. Shelley spends over half of the book setting this up and it is, admittedly quite a slog. And then the plague hits. This part of the book is unrelentingly morbid in what it depicts although Shelley's writing and exploration of themes and ideas during this section are delivered with great acuity. If I'd been aware how dark much of the book was going to be after such a long set up I would probably have given the book a miss. I'm glad I read it though because the writing is so good on certain levels but it is often rather daunting in its density.(less)
Review from blog. This is one of those novels that might be better enjoyed if the reader comes to it without the knowledge that this is a ghost story....moreReview from blog. This is one of those novels that might be better enjoyed if the reader comes to it without the knowledge that this is a ghost story. Although it does have strange goings on at the big house, it has a lot more going for it than just a few ghostly chills. The story is told to the reader by a country doctor, who documents a year in his life, slowly becoming embroiled in the struggles of the last three members of the local landed gentry. A glamour of nostalgia draws him to their manor house even though its best days are long past. The old and the new collide again again throughout the story; from the doctor's country practice to the proposed NHS; superstitions and science; traditional remedies and the doctor's new treatments; the old manor encroached by new cheap housing; even poetry gets a mention - "What's wrong with nice long lines and a jaunty rhythm?" asks the old lady of the house, comparing Tennyson to Emily Dickinson. An air of melancholy slowly builds into foreboding before the first terrible event rips into the family. It's all very well written with lots of little undertones that keep the narrative interesting. The old matriarch lost in her memories and clinging to a world that has largely been washed away. The young son, scarred inside and out by the horrors of war, driven too far by the responsibility expected of a male heir. The doctor falling in love, but with the young daughter, or the house, or an ideal and too quick to fit everything into what is rational or reasonable. I lived in Warwickshire when I was away at college back in the early 1980s and I felt that the place depicted here could just as easily have been any rural area in an English county. The book doesn't really work as a ghost story. It's too long and not paced right but I don't think that matters, because I don't think the book was ever even trying to fit into that genre.(less)
Take what I say about this book with a pinch of salt because beyond reading the odd gothic classic I don't read romances. This was an easy gentle rea...more Take what I say about this book with a pinch of salt because beyond reading the odd gothic classic I don't read romances. This was an easy gentle read with characters whose secrets are revealed bit by bit as the story progresses. There is a fair amount of muscle admiration going on equaled only by the frequent passionate kissing sessions. Not really my thing. I'm not averse to a bit of romance but I generally enjoy it if it is part of a story rather than the romance being the story. The writing was unpretentious and never tries to be anything other than a light romance. I did quite like Betsy though and if you never got past chapter one you probably now believe I'm completely bonkers. If you like books about young lovers who have to overcome an obstacle course of misunderstandings, bad luck and the odd snake in the grass, then you'll probably like this.(less)
Review from my blog. An emotional read. Rowan is 13 and it's 1939. The Second World War has just started. The country is gripped by paranoia and fear....moreReview from my blog. An emotional read. Rowan is 13 and it's 1939. The Second World War has just started. The country is gripped by paranoia and fear. Fears of German spies are running wild. Thoughts of threat of invisible killer gas attacks and wondering when the bombs will start to fall occupy the minds of the nation. This is a very bad time to be exhibiting the first signs of schizophrenia as young Rowan does. After an incident where he violently breaks three of his sister's fingers with a piano lid followed by another incident with a knife, the boy is admitted to a place which promises to put him to rights. Unbeknown to his family, he is soon used as an experimental test subject in the use of a new process being trialled in Italy. Electroconvulsive therapy. The book is extremely well handled with some great characters. I loved Dorothea. But there are other fascinating characters to get to know like Doctor Von whose psychological journey is almost as traumatic as some of his test subjects. The passages where the Nazis' policy is revealed to Doctor Von for killing children who are institutionalized disabled or mentally ill by compulsory euthanasia are truly chilling.The story has some clever parallels with The Wizard of Oz, and the physical performance of Peter Pan as the Christmas pantomime has a profound affect on many of the troubled inhabitants of the psychiatric hospital. Very compelling and memorable. There are two other books by Julie Hearn that are about Rowan's mother and grandmother. I shall seek them out.(less)
Review from my blog. Yes I know publishers use the cover of a book as their primary method of targeting a specific readership. But I've never fielded s...moreReview from my blog. Yes I know publishers use the cover of a book as their primary method of targeting a specific readership. But I've never fielded so many, "Oh my god. What the hell are you reading, Michael?" and "Michael. You are reading a romance - what!!" as I did reading this. If I'd bumped into Violet (main character) while I had my head in this, she would have muttered something scathing about chick flicks or bloody Mills and Boon. I'm sure she would have been horrified to be a character in either and would probably have much preferred to be horribly murdered on page 33 of a Minette Walters detective novel. These headless women photos are just too redolent of pulp romance or even mail order catalogue to carry around in public. I think I could have lived with the compromise of a quirky though still misleading chick lit cover.
I didn't enjoy this one as much as Fiona Robyn's other book The Blue Handbag. That book was well structured, with a mystery that developed along with the characters. The Letters doesn't seem to have much structure at all. It reads more like a prolonged character study, interspersed with some old letters that seem to have no connection to the narrative. They do have a connection but it is so obliquely hidden and largely ignored by Violet that it is hard to even care what it is. That's not to say the book isn't worth reading. Violet is an abrasive, impulsive, opinionated, sometimes volatile, though interesting character, who has a softer side hidden below all the brash bossiness, and she does have some stories to tell. Her relationship with her children, mainly her son, add a dash of amusement, as does the hopeless ensemble of the Village Committee, which kept giving me flashes of The Vicar of Dibley minus vicar and bottomless puddles.(less)
On the morning that Fiona Robyn emailed me to tell me I’d won a signed copy of The Blue Handbag I also got another unexpected though pleasant surprise...moreOn the morning that Fiona Robyn emailed me to tell me I’d won a signed copy of The Blue Handbag I also got another unexpected though pleasant surprise. A Greater Spotted Woodpecker was seen in my garden… or so I’m told. I didn’t see him myself. I missed him. I’ve seen them before on my travels but never in my own garden. Maybe he’ll come back.
A few days later the book arrives. There is still no sign of my elusive new visitor and the weather has gone to clouds and showers, turning the garden into an unfit place for either bird watching or book reading. I start the book anyway and begin to get acquainted with the main protagonist. I like Leonard almost from the start. He has a quality that reminds me of my Grandad, who was probably one of my most favourite people in existence. But Leonard is far too fanciful, and on occasion silly, for that comparison to stand much scrutiny. I soon realize that a closer mark for comparison might be myself. The clowning about, the wandering imagination and sadly the Ta-da! moments are all things I’ve been guilty of. The paragraph about Leonard not being able to stop himself mimicking accents even elicited a 'Bloody Hell!' of self recognition from me.
The characterisations throughout are one of the books strengths. The book never overloads with too many characters at a time. You can imagine these people having a life beyond the last page of the novel. I caught myself wondering what Leonard thought of the new bloke on Springwatch this year. And was he missing Bill? Was he drawn to the science or the aesthetics of nature? Probably a mix of the two I conclude. I’m glad he learnt that ducks aren’t just for kids. Ducks are great.
The mystery that begins with a blue handbag takes it’s time to unfold, small clues are uncovered as the months pass and the seasons turn. I like Fiona’s writing. Some of the passages seep into your head like a cool balm straight to the brain. The only time my eyes started to slightly glaze over was the penguin sequence.
It was such a shame that the weather remained dull over the weekend when I read this because it would have been a perfect read in the garden book. I haven’t read The Letters yet, so I’ll just add that to my to-read list after I finish up here. Maybe by the time I read it I’ll have caught a glimpse of that woodpecker. The tree he landed on now has a new birdfeeder. He’s out there somewhere - probably in the wood further up the hill. One day he might come back.